Posts Tagged ‘larp’
Houses of the Blooded
John Wick’s “anti-Vampire” game, Houses of the Blooded, has a fantastic LARP setup called Blood & Tears. I’ve played this multiple times and was a co-ST twice (once because I was killed partway through and hung around to help, and once from the outset). It’s a total fucking joy to play Houses.
This is a courtly LARP, where a party’s thrown and political machinations begin. But unlike other courtly LARPs, there are no NPCs — no characters that the Storytellers need to set up as plot machines. Everyone is a player-character (aside from the two or three STs). One person is set up to be the host of the party, and various players how have experience in this LARP act, on their own, as plot generators for other players.
There’s one simple mechanic, the Style point, which works as a way to bribe other players to accept facts and do favors. Style is this fantastic, amazing currency that I cannot explain well enough in brief. It’s used to get other people to do things for you, to create Rumors on another person (sticky notes on their backs that people in the party know about from whispers), for use in Duels, and so on.
What’s really awesome about this: the Rumor mechanic is about authoring scandalous content about another character that may or may not be true. Things like “Ruts with her servants” (which is considered disgusting in the culture) or “Dabbles in vile sorcery” (which is forbidden in the culture, even though every single character has technically done it at least once) are good rumors, as are plot-based ones like someone being in love with another character. You can also try to convince someone else to spread a godo rumor about you — last time I played, I had (paid) a friend to put “Not to be fucked with” on my back as a rumor.
And I love the dueling system. In Blood & Tears, duels are fun. Here’s how they work: once you’ve been given permission to have a duel by the host, then the duelist and a ST go out into the hall to script it. Everyone pools style together, and the ST puts a bunch more style in this pot. Then he asks the duelists: “So, which one of you loses?” while holding some of the style from the pot out to the one willing to say “I lose!”
That continues with”So, does one of you die?” It’s acceptable to say “no,” though last time I played a duel I said “Listen, I’m Not To Be Fucked With, right? You should totally fucking kill me. You’ll be SO BADASS.” :) Further questions and scripting are prompted, with style handed out as awesome moments are described. Then the duel’s practiced, and once the duelists feel confident, then they go back into the party and the party stops to watch the duel.
There’s much more to the Style economy and what you can make, but we’ll stop there.
There is another mechanic, called “Private scenes,” which addresses the issue of other LARPS where you have this awesome idea for a scene that everyone should see because it’ll help them hook into ongoing machinations, but everyone’s doing their own thing. You can ask the ST for a private scene, and at a point he’ll shout and get everyone’s attention. He’ll collect style from anyone in a position to see this scene in character, but otherwise it’s just player knowledge. And they you’ll play out your private scene.
Seriously, I love playing Blood & Tears. But all said, I do have to say this: much of the great stuff in the LARP is poorly displayed in the book. Fair warning. (And in LA, we have tweaked the rules a bit, to what we call Queensbury rules, but that’s mostly about the off-scene stuff that happens between one LARP and the next.)
Next time, I’ll talk about parlor LARPs.
In the last few years, I’ve started experimenting with live-action roleplaying. In my youth, I looked down on it — particularly on Vampire LARPers, because that’s all I knew about LARP. Today, I’ll talk about how this non-LARPer starter approaching LARPs.
(Holy crap, this got super long. I’m going to split this into multiple posts over the week.)
My first foray was a bit of a doozy. At Dreamation 2008, I played in my first jeepform game. In Scandinavia, LARP is huge, far bigger than tabletop. They’re massive events. So, a number of people same to the same idea: what if we challenge all of these assumptions in our hobby. The jeepform movement was born, which is pretty much to Nordic playing as the Forge is to North American gaming culture.
(Note: before you click on that link, if you’re the sort of person who needs trigger warnings, be warned. One of the games there is…yeah.)
Jeepform draws more on improv than any other tradition I’ve played. There are no resolution mechanics in these games, but that isn’t to say there aren’t mechanics and structure. I’ve seen some jeepform games with inherent pacing mechanics. Others with mechanics revolving physical space — the Upgrade! (which I’ll get to in a moment) has this. Structures like “the story will end with this scene, no matter what.” Roles that change the social dynamic, like one person playing the inner thoughts of other characters.
I played in a game of Night of Nights (the site lies; it’s old, there’s no English version forthcoming), a game about a 20 year old college student and virgin who meets by chance a 40 year old prostitute, and they have a romance for a night. I was playing with Jason Morningstar and Alexander Newman, so I was honestly nervous. In Night of Nights, two people play the lovers, and one person is the GM, playing any other character that has to come up, and whispering what our characters are really thinking into our ears.
Focusing on that bit, a technique called “bird in ear,” that’s really fascinated me. Alexander played the GM, and he played up the shame my character (the 20 year old virgin) felt at being a novice when it comes to wooing and sex. I would say something nervously, and Alexander would stage-whisper “Look at her. She’s beautiful. What hope do I have?” Alexander was playing my self-doubt, and in a way that allowed Jason (obviously playing the whore) to hear it as a player and work with that, just as I was able to work with that prompt.
It was an amazing moment with a lot of poignancy. I wish the English translation was available, because it’s a beautiful game.
The next game I played was The Upgrade!, which I’ve played and run multiple times. It’s great for introducing people to jeepform, because it takes a large group (7 to 10 players) and uses a number of jeepform concepts. And it’s wacky! It’s essentially the horrible reality show “Temptation Island” as a LARP. What’s really interesting about it is that it uses space in different, deliberate ways. The conceit is that this is the show’s finale episode, with most of it done as a clip show of events over the season. There’s a main stage area, where those clips are played out. There’s an audience area, where the contestants and host sit and play out the occasional moments that are live (like answering embarrassing questions), a “past” stage to the left of the main one, where we as the players get to see what happened in the past, and a “possible future” stage to the right, much like the past stage.
The past and possible future are sort of like advanced “bird in ear” techniques, and they showcase another element of jeepform where “character monogamy” is eschewed. (That’s the idea that you entirely own your character and just your character.) Other people can step up to a past or future stage while you’re playing something out, and play your character in the past or possible future to give that scene nuance.
Enough about jeepform. I love it, think there’s a lot in jeepform to explore for other games, and will happily run The Upgrade! if given enough people and space.
Next time, I’ll talk about Houses of the Blooded!
 This is because my GURPS friends did this, and I didn’t know better, so I parroted them. If I had known that they were full of shit, and that being a Vampire LARPer would have gotten me laid, my tale would be different today.
The other day I said on Twitter:
My method of making antagonists: come up with a hurtful behavior & a target, then backfill the history until the antag becomes sympathetic.
It met with some resistance, as people said they find players want one-dimensional villains. But then I said “antagonists” and not “villains.” There is a difference, though I’ll leave that as a thought-exercise for the reader.
In any case, I like antagonists (and villains) to be more than one-dimensional for three reasons:
- If I understand their internal logic, I can play them consistently.
- One-dimension people can only be beaten. Complex characters can also be manipulated.
- Playing one-dimension characters bores the crap out of me.
At the Mage LARP I played in this past Saturday, I was asked to play an NPC that would be harassing one of the PCs. I was told the situation (said PC moved very quickly after a fire in her bar) and the NPC’s belief (that he was pretty sure said PC burned it down for the insurance money). I got to go from there. Oh, and the PC was a totally clueless sleeper.
Given the situation (said PC having moved across state lines), I decided to make him a fraud claims agent for the insurance company. And the STs gave me fairly broad narrative authority to declare things about the situation that would make it complicated. So, with that authority and background, here’s what I had:
Hurtful behavior: figuratively crucify someone you believe to have committed arson
Target: Amber’s character Allison
So, I could be “some asshole that just wants to make someone’s life hell” but I needed more in order to make him feel believable. I didn’t have much to go on, because suddenly I was in character. But I knew that I could backfill the history of this guy and justify why he was an asshole during play.
Oh, and he had a name. I was Agent Frederick Hicks. Because I like naming antagonists after my friends.
The thread of justification:
- Allison (character) was at her bar, where I walked in and interviewed her about the fire. I was charming and nice enough, but I personally knew that was a front to be disarming.
- I then asked about her friend in the bar, Charity, by name. Apparently this was exactly the right thing to do, because she (played by my dear friend Jennifer Brozek) was totally paranoid at this point. And said that I would be in touch. Her eyes went wide.
- At this point, I walked away. I knew they needed time to stew. I didn’t have anything else to do as an NPC, so I went up to the STs are and just watched. Made a little small talk about how I was fucking my friends over, and confirmed that I could do big things, like pull the fire department or play related NPCs that this guy was connected to. The Head ST, Matt, was all for me rolling with it.
- I still didn’t have the history yet, but I was starting to get the feel for it. I came back, and played out a phone call with Charity, where she was fairly defensive (and a bit rude). I knew that was the catalyst for Bad Things. And I needed a couple minutes to figure out why.
- My mind worked fast. I decided that this guy was a (quiet) misogynist. And a woman just challenged his authority.
- That wasn’t enough, though, to not be one-dimensional. I had to understand why, so his behavior wouldn’t just be “uh, because he hates women.” That’s morally equal-weighted to “uh, because he’s evil.”
- I then walked up, telling them that they got a call from the insurance company that the current policy was under suspension. That was Allison & Charity’s (and, really, Amber & Jenn’s) Oh Shit moment.
- I knew they were going to start using magick to figure out what the fuck was going on. So I took a step back to finish up the history. I was walking with a cane at the larp, and I decided that Hicks was crippled. Crippled by a famous in-game event that happened years ago. Was a firefighter, saved a famous person’s daughter, like the governor’s. Declared a hero. But his wife still left him when she didn’t want to take care of someone going through intense physical therapy and was scared by the experience. Which turned him into someone bitter. He doesn’t think of himself as hating women, but he does out of a fucked-up vulnerability.
- I had to add the counterpoint that once he got his job as a fraud claims agent, he was good. Good, and because he was a hero who lost something, others in power sympathized with him and thus he was connected.
- Admittedly, I hadn’t quite clicked on that one until about five seconds after I walked back in the scene, and said I was a different character, a “guy dressed as a fire chief.” He just walked in the bar, looked around, tipped his hat, and walked out. They were unnerved as all hell. (And for the record, that was the fire chief, but I said “dressed as” because I wasn’t going to give him a speaking role enough to declare it fact.)
- And to add to the end, and this might have been jumping the shark, he was pretty sore on this one and not thinking clearly because (a) his wife was also named Allison, and (b) he is a self-hating moron who still has his ex-wife on Facebook and recently saw pictures on her wall with her new boy-toy.
- Which mean suddenly I had history to explain why this guy thought he was right (or, rather, skipped from “strongly suspect” to “guilty under proven innocent”) about Allison burning down her own building. He had sleeper evidence that lead right to her, was damned good at his job, and was in a bad headspace for dealing with someone with the same name as his ex-wife.
That took around two hours, partly formed in response to reactions from Amber & Jenn, partly formed from my own actions and backfilling why they make sense. Sure enough, they used magic to figure out what was up with my character, and Allison (or maybe Amber) was left with an “oh fuck, I’m screwed” feeling.
Later, they figured out how to use my tenaciousness to their advantage. Since my character felt he was right, all they had to do was break him of this notion and he would get set on the next path. So they did their own digging, with magick, and Charity apologized and made herself uncharacteristically humble to a subtle, woman-hating asshole. The end result: they fucking co-opted him, made him someone they could use to do some sleeper policing.
That’s why I play complex characters. So that they can be treated like complex characters and the situations that arise can be dealt with in a number of ways. If I’m running a pulp game, sure, one-dimension villains with faces primed for punching. But for real drama, you have to remember that every character who acts thinks they’re right and have reasons to justify hurtful behavior.
I’m reminded of the first time I saw this that I can recall: In Final Fantasy 8, Seifer (an early-on antagonist) talked about how he was the hero and Squall (your character) was the bad guy. That blew me away. Sure, it didn’t change how I treated Seifer, but it did make that moment awesome.
 Do this and I will happily be a vessel for your truth.
 Which, incidentally, displays an incredible amount of trust in a large-group dynamic. Something I’ve been pondering since the game for when I write up about my larp experiences thus far.
 I swear, I thought this was going to be a shorter post.
Last week, I was having a Twitter conversation with the bane of my existence Clyde Rhoer, sparked by this comment:
I suggested that this was not particularly possible, and he asked me to unpack why. Now, I haven’t played in many American LARPs, but I have done enough to feel like I have a sense of those social dynamics. And something like Primetime Adventure’s Fan Mail system wouldn’t carry over.
See, in LARPs, you’re talking about 30 people, give or take, doing a lot of small-group interactions. Rarely (and it happens, but rarely) is the entire room paying attention to the same thing. So, any positive reinforcement mechanism will have to complete with the medium, rather than cooperate as it does with tabletop.
The point of positive reinforcement is two-fold:
- Reward the person for good behavior (whatever that is)
- Demonstrate to others the benefits of said behavior
In a LARP, the first can happen provided those with the ability to grant rewards are paying attention to you. Good luck with that. But the second? Hell no. There’s too much going on. Five people can sit around a game and throw Fan Mail around when people are being, well, whatever we want to reward. (Eric Boyd got Fan Mail for being particularly evil in several scenes of my first attempt at Blockbuster Adventures, the PTA-for-movies hack. Which made me realize the power of Fan Mail to be use in more specific ways to different characters/players rather than general.) But 30 people have 10 different constantly-splitting-off conversations cannot do so with the same effectiveness.
“But Ryan, we could tell everyone why X Dude is totally awesome and deserves this bennie!”
Yes, yes you could. But that’s way, way diminished in value. There’s being demonstrated behavior and its reward in person, and there’s hearing about it. When you hear about it, some of the emotional resonance of that moment are lost. You’re retelling a story whose context was moment-dependent, and while people can intellectually understand why a X Dude got his bennie, there’s much less of a lesson to connect to, if at all.
Furthermore, we can also intellectually re-equate hearing someone else’s tale with something we did. If I hear “X Dude got the Good Roleplaying Award for being true to his character even when his secret of being a necromancer was out and he was beheaded” or whatever, rather than actually see the quality of that moment and the emotional resonance around it, I can re-equate it with “Fuck, man, I did that last week and I didn’t get shit for it.”
(Why, yes, I have worked in a large institution that has given out little certificates of achievement for years and seen how they depress morale in staff that gets little attention. How can you tell?)
This is why I responded to Clyde at the time with the following:
There’s something I tell software people that I feel applies here: be wary of using technology to solve social problems.
Not “don’t” but “be wary of”
And I’m wondering if it’ll end up backfiring due to social dynamics.
Something that works well for five players constantly communicating might not for 30 split up.
Positive reinforcement is a different beast when everyone is able to pay attention to both the act and the reward.
I naysay not to discourage but to make sure you’re armed properly for the attempt I’d like to see. :)
We’re talking about a social issue that the innovation proposed might be ill-suited for. Granted, I’m all for someone trying. I hope someone proves me the fuck wrong.
 For the love of fuck, Internet, it’s a joke. I know, I have to say that upfront. Y’all are a touchy bunch.
 I was pretty mouthy that moment on Twitter. Clearly I was bored.