The Danger of Falling Into Character

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One of the many things I lost after my bad weekend LARP experience was my willingness to slip into character. For as long as I’ve been gaming, I’ve been able to just kind of relax while thinking about my character for a game, and then I’m thinking -as- that character. No joke I could have dreams -as- my character, not just about them. I used to love doing that. Getting into character was never a problem before.

The ability theoretically persists even now, but I can’t relax. I’m too scared to because when I do fall into character like that, I lose my you ability to steer a story. I can only conceive of acting the way my character would. Getting into character is easy. Getting out is hard/borderline impossible for me. This is particularly unfortunate when I’m offering a version of the character that other people don’t pick up and engage with. I don’t have the ability to course correct and reinvent part or all of how the character presents or what they care about most in order to meet people where they are actually at.

A separate, but related problem is bleed. Some of you may have heard me say in the past year that I can’t play angry characters. This is why. I get in their head, and they get in mine, and then I bleed. And let’s just say that angry me never ends well.

I feel that to continue to indulge in either, now that I’ve recognized them as problematic behaviors, but before I find and establish appropriate safeguards, would make me an irresponsible gamer. Continue reading

Intercon S Review: The games

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My review of intercon S continues with some discussing of the games I played in. I generally don’t think that a public blog is the right avenue for submitting feedback about games to the designers, so this piece is going to focus primarily on general and unique things the games did well, or general things that I think any game could benefit from considering. In other words, no specific criticisms. That information I reserve for private conversations with the people in a position to change it.

I’ll be marking spoilers that I can’t avoid discussing under white text. You can read them my highlighting/selecting the text with your mouse. Here is an example: these would be spoilers. This allows people who want to avoid spoilers to do so fairly trivially.

For any of you that might have seen my role call, this is kind of a more in depth version of that. I want to introduce people who didn’t play these games to them, and create a literate audience for the last piece in this series where I’ll talk about the ways some of the games did or didn’t help with the many things I’m trying to change about how I approach gaming.

Aes Sidhe Thursday Night

This game is about the fae in modern times, meeting for a conclave in Arcadia, trying to figure out about what to do about fading belief in the human world that is of course the source of fae power and magic. There’s obviously more going on, both bigger and smaller, but that’s the basic premise. Over the course of game, I spent a lot of time ineffectual trying to badger the the remaining fae leaders (Oberon, Titania, and Mab) to talk to each other, reconcile, and figure out how to bring back the fourth leader. I spent a lot of time trying to help two of my friends, who it turned out needed the same set of limited resources to do two different things. That led me to calling a GM and burning my remaining 6 uses of “research a solution” cause we were in end game and I didn’t really have anything better to use them on. I also helped orchestrate a few people getting their memories back, for better or worse. That activity did not exactly endear me to Queen Mab when I was involved in helping the Ruler of the frost giants (whom she had all turned to statues) remember who they were.

I got pulled into this game off the waitlist on Wednesday night, an hour before I had to leave for the airport. This was a hard game for that. Boy did I feel under dressed – the costumes were awesome. And oh boy did I feel unprepared. My character sheet was 31 pages long. The remaining game content another 20 pages. And I had a red eye out Wednesday night. Hard to play an information broker when I hadn’t managed to absorb all of the information. So I was pretty glad the character was a little gnome, canonically known for being kind of over excitable and over eager to prove themselves compared to their ability to actually help. I tried not to OOC annoy my fellow players, but I was probably pretty annoying IC on a couple of occasions.

Overall the game was good. It was fun and fairly immersive. There was a lot of content though. Even for a game with 25 players. And too many plots required overlapping character sets. This made it very difficult to make progress on plots, and led to kind of a RotK style ending, where we had like 6 or so climax/resolutions one after another at the end of game as people churned through their goals and became finally available to support other people’s plots.

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Intercon S Review: The Con

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I went out to Intercon S in Rhode Island this year, at the behest of a number of friends. I’m going to split my analysis into 3 posts, as the commentary on the con itself, the games, and the impact on me are all unique, if interrelated, stories.

Intercon has been running for many, many years. There is institutional knowledge that has its benefits and pitfalls, and there is continuity of community, and it’s related consequences. Overall, I found the Con a positive experience, and will probably endeavor to return next year.

Having a long running con implies some measure of continued success. Theoretically it implies some knowledge transfer from organizers from year to year. Which hopefully means not having to reinvent the wheel over and over for the basics, allowing organizers to concentrate on improvements, and keeping up with the times. All of these things bode well for a long term project like a Con. I can’t actually speak to whether this is happening here or not, but I can say that the basics of a functioning con like having a schedule that’s easy to find, having a knowledgeable ops staff, and having posted signs for directions were all in place.

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Learning to Play a Character That Changes

I suck at changing character trajectory part way through game. I manage it at some low frequency, by accident, but the vast majority of the characters I play are immovable and inflexible in their world view and decision making. On the positive side, these characters can be anchor points for other people to play with and interact with. On the negative side, that rigidity leaves me unable to adapt to IC or OOC changes.

Some games benefit from having a rock at their center. Spock in his unshakable logic is a reliable fixed point from which other characters can deviate. They create contrast that highlights the impact of actions and decisions that change things. Steady characters are predictable from an OOC perspective, and so can provide play of an expected kind. But their predictability can also mean they get left out. Why talk to the second mate if you already know they’ll try to stop you? Unchanging characters get old, even in short games.

Some games rely on unchanging characters to create tension. This is a common tactic in our Secrets and Powers games. Writers rely on players and their characters resisting compromise in order to create resource and time shortages, or on them refusing to share secret information to resolve confusion. Those shortages often make up the bulk of drama in games, and if players capitulate too early game games can run out of content. On the other hand, if players refuse to budge ever, then some plots will find no resolution. They may even struggle to really transition from plot hook to actual plot. Call it too much of a good thing if you’re being generous.

Playing the static character over and over has earned me something of a reputation for it. And is not always a good one. A lot of LARPs are about change, – about the key moment, the key decision, the tipping point. And characters who don’t change to keep up get left behind. Players too maybe. Why talk to my character at all, even in a new game, when you can fugue out what I’m going to do without it?

So I’m trying to figure out how to play characters that change. And I don’t really know where to start. I tend to dig into my character’s psyche pretty deeply. I get pretty lost in their heads, but somehow it is just a snapshot. It isn’t dynamic, I can’t see them change or grow. In exploring their past, I focus on what aspects of their life, what decisions, what philosophies brought them to the point they are at now. I want to be in their heads, I want the immersion, I want to react as they would react, not as me. But this approach doesn’t seem to leave room for growth and change.

But I’m not sure how to let go of, or modify, this approach either. I dislike silly games, and I can’t stand character inconsistency. I want predictability, or at least reliability. People doing random stuff in games just for shits and giggles drives me nuts. I guess I’m not that kind of a happy-go-lucky person? I prefer my entertainment with at least an undertone of seriousness, so I self select into more serious games, sometimes dealing with pretty dark topics that require respect and careful attention from the players and organizers.

Maybe that’s my problem? I was better at changing direction when I first started LARPing, back before my anxiety got a hold of it and I developed a need to be seen as a “real gamer,” and “someone who takes this hobby seriously.” Because ultimately I want to be in the room where it happens. I want to be known in the wider community, I want to matter, I want to have an impact. But back when the stakes weren’t so high, when it didn’t matter so much to me, I just did whatever. I acted semi randomly. So not actually what I’m trying to achieve now (conscious, deliberate change), but something more dynamic and adaptable than where I’m at now.

Another road block is the need to “win.” I know, I know, LARPing isn’t about winning, but let me explain before you get the torches and pitchforks. I like winning. By which I mean I like feeling like I accomplished something. Which means that switching up my character goals feels like cheating. Like I’m abandoning the true and right in favor of the easy. I know intellectually that doesn’t follow from a character that is growing and changing and adapting to their world, but the mental block exists none the less. And I really don’t know how to dismantle that one.

A friend from L.A. recommended playing games that have a structure that encourages character change and growth like “Just a Little Loving,” which takes place in the acts that span several years. I’m the one game I played in such a style, which was a 3 hour game, not a weekend long to be fair, it fight really help. I played “will that be all?” A game about servants on an English estate during the first and second world war. And all I ended up doing was doubling down on who my character was too start. She just got more intense. She didn’t grow, or change her mind, or anything of the sort. Like a dog on a bone, I get my teeth in something and I just can’t let it go.

Much musing and many experiments to follow as I try to figure out how to do this.

End Your Game On Time

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My first LARP tradition was about as Secrets and Powers as they come. MIT Assassins Guild style. Cutthroat, brutal, deadly, high stakes, drama, excitement, and always, a running timer. Game is 4 hours long (or 6, or 8, or whatever, but always a hard cut off). That’s how long you have to do the thing, whatever the thing is. From a player perspective, this lends urgency to the situation, and when properly accompanied in game by the possibility of success (or the consensual illusion of the possibility) creates really exhilarating success and failure.

From a game writer’s perspective, it obligates the question “why now?” And it is an important one. Why can’t the thing be accomplished tomorrow? Why can’t someone else, someone not the PCs, and beyond the scope of game fix this instead? If you can answer these questions well, the system works together, and the time pressure adds to the experience. If you can’t, it feels forced, railroaded, or simply not compelling. And then players start to punt goals that they can deal with tomorrow, and your careful web of mutually exclusive desired outcomes starts to unravel.

So if you can’t find a compelling in-game reason to tightly bind the game time, what do you do? Some GMs talk to their players and get buy in out of game that the event will last x amount of time, and will not be allowed to run over. Sometimes circumstances like being at a Convention, or playing in the evening instead of the afternoon can provide additional external constraints that encourage or even require this. And some GMs just ballpark the duration and see what happens.

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So what is the LRS?

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I mentioned my non -profit in the last post, and I figure I should share something about it. The Luminary Roleplay Society, or the LRS for short, is a 501 (c)(3) non profit located in the San Francisco Bay Area. We run short one shot LARPs primarily, about one a month. If you want to learn more about the group, check out the website.

For some reason, probably having to do with it being my idea, I’m the chairperson of the board. I’m very grateful to work with a fairly large board of seven people, since we have very little support from our members to run events, except occasionally as GMs. My right hand man is still around, and serves as the Secretary. Together we do what we can to keep games running, and ease the burdens of finding venues, finding players, and handling money (so GMs aren’t paying for games out of pocket) a little easier. We’ve been around a little over 2 years now, and are growing slowly, but about as fast as we can handle.

Our biggest challenges are finding affordable, multi-room venues, and community involvement. Namely the bay area has very few of the former, and our community has vey little of the latter. If anyone has any bright ideas on how to convince larpers to help make there be more larps for them to play in, I’m all ears.

We decided to incorporate as a non profit for a number of reasons. One, being more than just a group of friends makes it easier for us to handle small to moderate amounts of money. This is necessary for our annual weekend game, which usually budgets at about 5k. Being a non profit means that people can also donate money, and good to us for a tax deduction if they want. It hasn’t been a thing much yet, but it exists, and we do get enough of it that we have so far been able to stick to a “pay what you can” model. This financial accesibility model is really important to me because it is rooted in taking care of each other. Having access to LARPs can change someone’s life, with a new perspective, a new friend, or a key connection. It can also be part of self care, having access to an opportunity for an emersive escape from current life circumstances. Intense experiences in LARP can also bring the communities that play them closer together, and in an age when many of us are feeling more and more isolated, every opportunity for community building is precious.

At this time, we exclusively offer one-shot LARPs, many of which are written and run by our members. The majority are Secrets and Powers games, with occasional forays into American freeform. We rarely run games we borrow from others since we don’t have many soild exchanges for the types of games or players are used to. If you know of such games, let me know! We run LARPs at some frequency between once every other month and once a month. The board can’t sustain once a month on our own, but occasionally we persuade GMs who are intimidated by our 6 month planning horizon to help set up a game off the normal schedule by locating their own venue. I also run games at a growing number of conventions, often with the help if my right hand man, but increasingly on my own as well, as I have a more lenient vacation policy than he does.

If you’re ever in the bay area, look us up and see if we have a game running!

Reboot the first

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It’s been over 2 years since I wrote something for this blog. I haven’t stopped LARPing, but I lost faith for a while that I had anything worthwhile to say about it. It was also complicated by the fairly stealth operations of my non -profit at the time; I didn’t feel like I could share stories about my experiences there, but we’ve opened up a lot since then.

In the time since my last post I’ve done… a lot of LARPing. I played my first two blockbusters (Event Horizon, and Event Horizon 2), wrote my first weekend game (a less than stellar attempt to combine a Secrets and Powers game with something more Freeform and blockbuster-y) and sort of got my feet under me in my LARPing non-profit. I’ve mostly sworn off tabletops, and the ratio of playing to gming continues to skew towards GMing. I still miss playing, but playing has gotten a lot more complicated. I had a really great experience at EH1, but a really really bad one at EH2, that nuked my confidence in my playing back to the stone age.

I still have thoughts about gaming but I also still struggle with how much it feels like hustling to have a blog. I hate hustling. But I also want to bee in the room where it happens – this is a problem. So for now I’ll talk to the void – I guess that’s an advantage of reviving a dead blog – no one reads it any more, so no one is expecting anything.

Here goes nothing.

Grand Larp: Epilogue

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Like I said yesterday, Zikara is still embedded in my psyche, and her arc still pains me as a player. My right hand man, who if you haven’t put it together by now played Asbjørn, does his best to take care of me, in and out of particular roles (be them characters, or jobs relating to an event.) He’s been worried about me, lost in this pain and frustration. So he proposed a way to try to help: more roleplay.

We spend a lot of time roleplaying across all the games we play together. It is always a powerful experience. When we play, we both get so lost in our characters. I have no formal teaching regarding acting or roleplaying. My own brand of method acting is home-brewed and the only way I know. It is part of why characters like Zikara affect me so much. He understands the power of roleplay to devastate someone, but he also knows that it can be cathartic, and has incredible power to heal a player as the character wrestles with and conquers pain.

So we set up a scene. Some unspecified time not so far in the future when the talk among the Coalition reaches Zikara and she puts it all together. Her worldview is shattered. Ozda is not real; he does not exist. Nothing and no one is looking out for the Jeskeri, or for her. Scientific explanations were waiting, just under the surface (literally). She and the rest of the Jeskeri had refused for 500 years to search for answers. They we complicit in their own ignorance. She is broken in a way she’s never been broken before. Asbjørn notices that Zikara has shut herself away from the other Jeskeri and comes to investigate why.

Zikara wildly oscillates between utter despair and burning anger. She contemplates suicide because she doesn’t want to face a world without a higher power watching over her. She contemplates running away because she can’t bear to lie to the Jeskeri. She contemplates inflicting the same pain that claws at her on the Jeskeri with a  callous reveal of the truth. And through it all, she laments yet another loss in her life which it seems is doomed to forever be defined by loss.

Through it all, Asbjørn sits with her. He himself is in a unique position. He never believed that Ozda was real. He saw the beauty in the community that the Jeskeri built. That togetherness, that peace, that faith was what drew him in. That is what he tries to show her. He holds her when she cries. He begs her to stay when she threatens to leave.

At first her heart is too broken. Her faith has sustained her for the past 12 years. It has bolstered her through losses, comforted her in times of pain, and given her something to believe in when she couldn’t see the good in herself or the people around her. She took comfort – too much comfort it seems – from the idea that a benevolent deity would ultimately protect the innocent Jeskeri, even if it proved too much for her.

Eventually, with time and patience, Asbjørn convinces her to stay, even if she steps down from her leadership role. How could she leave the Jeskeri? She’s suffered so much loss, how could she choose to inflict that on them – on him? It may not have been the most elegant argument, or the most dignified, but Asbjørn had already tried those and he was getting desperate. The pain in his voice is finally enough to pierce the storm of emotions raging through her.

The rest of it is a harder sell. Asbjørn tries to convince Zikara that the thing worth protecting – the thing that makes the Jeskeri beautiful – is not Ozda, but their community. Zikara struggles to believe that the community can exist without Ozda. Still, in Asbjørn’s conviction and tenacity, Zikara sees a spark. Eventually, in defiance of all the pain she’s feeling – and contrary to her claim that she has nothing left to give – she offers Asbjørn a weak smile.

Asbjørn is right that it is not guaranteed that life in the Coalition will destroy the Jeskeri. But what Zikara chooses to do will go a long way toward protecting or destroying them. Ozda doesn’t have to exist for Zikara to live by the tenets ascribed to her. The Jeskeri give freely what is asked of them, and Asbjørn has asked Zikara to stay, and continue to protect the Jeskeri. So that is what she’ll do. Even if it all feels hollow. Even if it is secretly all a lie. She will keep living, for their sake. And maybe someday, she’ll find the faith in the Jeskeri that Asbjørn has. The flipped script is not lost on her.

When the scene was done, we were both emotionally exhausted. I didn’t hurt anymore, but I assumed that was because I just felt tired. It wasn’t until several hours later, in a break between playing NPCs for the campaign Larp I am Co-GMing, that I realized that something had been unblocked in my chest. I am still upset about the treatment of religion in the game. I still intend to reach for better. But I feel that I can put Zikara down. I can take that mask off, extract myself from that character, and move on. She won’t ever not be with me on some level, but that is true of all of my meaningful characters. Like letting go a paper boat on a river, Zikara can move on, and so can I.

Grand Larp: The Aftermath

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I’ve never played a LARP for as long as Grand Larp before. Neither have I played a character quite so tenacious in my psyche. I’m not sure how much of that was how good of a fit Zikara was for me, and how much of it was just how long I spent in her head. Regardless, the end of the game was heartbreaking for her. Despite her every attempt, the Jeskeri were swept up into the Coalition where they will be as sheep in a pack of wolves.

In wrap up, our GMs explained the underlying metaphysics of the world, including the scientific underpinnings for the perceived miracles of Ozda. As a player, I knew it was very likely, since I know the GMs. Still, it stung at the time. And to my surprise, it still hurts.

I don’t go in personally for organized religion. The hypocrisy I grew up with from both the LDS and Catholic churches turned me off from that. I consider myself reasonably spiritual, with a strong belief in people and their potential. But Zikara grew up without religion, and found it in her darkest moments. To Zikara, Ozda had reached out her hand and saved her. Ozda brought Zikara to the Jeskeri to help them, to protect them, to guide them. She had meaning, she had hope, trust, and faith. And technically she continues in that role. She does not not know that the entire religion is bullshit. She does not know that the entity in which she and her entire extended family puts their trust doesn’t exist. But as a player, I know. And it makes me want to cry.

Trying to explain why has proven challenging. Frankly I keep coming back to frustration over a lack of respect for religion. I find it ironic that I of all people should  be championing respectful treatment of religion, when I myself find very little to respect in the religions I am familiar with. Still, I’m tired of it even, or maybe especially, in science fiction settings.

In the same way that I made a plea for treating “Crazy” in it’s myriad forms with respect, this is me asking for respect for religion. What that looks like I’m not quite sure, but having a scientific explanation for everything the religion believes in, that is trivial to uncover in game is not it. Maybe it involves some mysteries that have no answer. It would leave your scientist characters frustrated, but I think you could get around it with enough other avenues of exploration that the could discover. Maybe it involves the scientific discovery of a being that is powerful enough to be a god? I’m not sure. And that frustrates me too. Not having an actionable answer frustrates me. Oh look, more irony…

I’ll keep thinking about this, and keep trying things. Expect the next few games I write to feature religion in some manner. I want to figure this out. I want to find a solution that doesn’t leave me feeling sick to my stomach and crying for made up characters that don’t even exist in a book such that others might share my frustration.

Grand Larp: Right Hand Man

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Yesterday  I linked you to a song from “Hamilton: An American Musical” entitled “Right Hand Man” because it contained a line that I threw out as my character’s parting sentence as the game faded to black. Today I link it again, in case you didn’t go listen to it, and by some chance haven’t yet heard the musical in another context.

The song “Right Hand Man” was always just one song among many in a musical that I thought was fun but not my favorite, until my Co-Logistics manager played it for me on our drive up to Tahoe. He is my Right Hand Man. This is the same amazing person who served as the master mark to the magic that was Baycon 2016. I couldn’t have made Grand Larp happen without him. He handled so many things with such grace, from a massive list of tasks that I didn’t want or didn’t have time to do (eg: I hate chasing people around for carpools), to dealing with my meltdowns.

I’m one of those silly people who are adrenaline junkies, but are not properly equipped to handle the associated stress. I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, and then I’m bad at asking for the help I need. My Right Hand Man is the one who calls it like he sees it. He steps in and lightens the load. He tries to talk me out of doing it again. Rarely, he even succeeds.

Grand Larp would not have happened without his help. I salute him, as an incredible logistics manager, as a dear friend, and as an amazing role-player. It is through the effort of people like him that amazing events like Grand Larp get put on among our friend group.