Color of Dreams is a LARP campaign that I am co-GMing with a friend. I don’t know how much of the story of this Larp will end up on the blog, but certainly some of the realizations and experiences will. You’ll have to bear with the lack of complete context. As this game is mostly larp and minimally tabletop, we use dice sparingly, and heavily encourage role-play encounters to determine outcomes. This can lead to some intense scenes. (Just so it is clear to current players, there aren’t any big spoilers below that you need to avoid, but keep in mind that your characters know nothing of this exchange, and currently have no reasonable avenue to uncover it.)
One of our characters, Kalarus, is a 16 year old boy from a proud people. Through tragic circumstances, he has just been elevated to acting duke of his duchy. He finds himself facing war with the Empire to which his duchy belongs due in part to the traitorous actions of one of his own people – the weaver Abigail (a magic user able to communicate long distances in a world where the telegraph has yet to be invented). He demands the fugitive captured and brought before him.
Kalarus is himself a magic user, of the confessor brand. Through force of will, a confessors can determine guilt or innocence of their target. Kalarus confirms that Abigail had passed information to the Empire, thus compromising the Duchy, and that she felt no remorse for her actions. When Kalarus sentenced her to death, she welcomed it, and claimed that she would be counted a martyr.
I’ve never played so intense a scene. Sure I’ve been killed as a PC in LARPs, but it’s always been in a surprise attack. I’ve also played NPCs in tabletops that die. When Abigail was killed, she had been a named NPC for only an hour or so. I had no idea how quickly I’d fall down the rabbit hole of her mind. But something about going through the physical motions of being thrown to the ground, and forced to look up at the man you know is about to kill you is intense.
Everything was compounded by the fact that Kalarus’ player is an amazing roleplayer. He does an brilliant job of creating compelling characters and NPCs, and inviting you in to join him in the world they live in. We had also been running various scenes for almost 3 hours together. We were both immersed in the world of the game, and the mindsets of the characters therein. So when Kalarus demanded the traitor be identified, it took only a few words to sketch out Abigail’s known role in the world. In a flash, I had her motivations, actions, all of it – everything I needed for her to be as real to me as the NPCs I’ve been playing for months. When we’re so immersed in the world, as is only possible deep in role-play, thoughts and ideas come to us, that just fit. It’s like you turn around and the NPC is standing there, fully fledged and ready for you to step into the role.
It wouldn’t have been possible if the world of Color of Dreams weren’t as well defined as it is. If the wider world were not well defined, the NPCs would exist in vacuum, instead of synergizing with the world they are part of. Both GMs, and all the players, are playing in the same world, understand the same expanses and limits of it, and when inspiration strikes us, the world becomes progressively richer, deeper, and more immersive. A well defined world, albeit with plenty of hooks left open to hang things on, encourages this cooperative creation in real time.
Abigail is a prime example of something I originally observed in the first ever tabletop I ran. Some of my favorite content, and the content my players resonate with most, are made up on the spot, in whole or in part. I used to be terrified of the thought of “winging it” when it came to GMing, especially in a co-GM situation. What if I said something inconsistent? But the more I work with Color of Dreams, the more I realize that this isn’t possible as long as we act and create in the good faith of cooperative storytelling. Don’t fight the ideas that come to you. Embrace them, let them grow and flower. Rely on your skill as a storyteller to guide you. And even if it takes you in a wholly new direction in the plot, or as in the case of Abigail for me, into role-play situation you never thought you’d know how to handle, follow it. It is in these moments of strongest connection with the world that we create the characters, plots and scenes that are most compelling for our players – and for us.