[Lumberjack Academy] On the eve of the workshop

So, I’m sitting here, at a quarter to twelve, the night before I’m doing my first workshop in Larpwrighting, and I’m not exactly feeling ready for it. Not that I’m unprepared – I have a bunch of excercises and good points for the budding lumberjacks I’ll be meeting tomorrow, and I have a good idea of the flow of the two weekends. I just don’t know if I’m setting the level right – I might be setting it too low, and they’ll be bored, or I might be setting it too high, and they won’t understand a thing. Ah, well – I’m good at improvising, and if I need a think, I have bundles of little excercises to throw at them while I go off to a corner to have a serious chat with my brain.

At the very least, I feel I have a set of points to go over that will enable them to make simple larps very easily. There may be other ways, there may be better ways, and this way of doing things certainly has a few weaknesses if you want to use it for groups of players over 10-20 people.

Posed as questions, the points are (only in very rough order):

  • Who are the players? This question is one of the two most important questions – obiously, as this is what determines the “roles” of the “role-play.” The first answer to this should most often be a group – “a clique of high school bullies” or “a squad of police(wo)men,” and then elaborated later into the individual members – the point being that a larp works better for the individual player if he feels like he has a strong belonging to a certain group, but if you determine individual members first and try to make them into a coherent whole afterwards, you run the risk of making a group that doesn’t have any real connection to each other. Of course, this way, you risk having someone there because “they have to be in the group” – something you have to watch out for. Note, that external people that are important to the group should be considered as well. Maybe the nerdy boy the clique’s picking on, or the police seargent’s wife. And how are we going to see that? In other words, what kind of props or costume will identify the players as belonging to the group, and comunicate who the individual members of the group are?
  • Where are we? In many cases, the excact location of the characters can be changed while retaining many of the dynamics of the play. But it must still be though of with care, as it gives colour and has great effect on the point below. Of course, sometimes, the location dictate the characters, instead of the other way around, as with the game “Boxen” (“the Box”), from this years Fastaval, the premise of which was (as far as I heard) sticking four people in a blocked elevator, and seeing what happened. And how are we going to see that? As with characters, one must give careful consideration to how to communicate what kind of a place the characters are in. A sofa and a coffee table makes a living room, while you need some sort of workdesk for an office.
  • What will make the players move? This may seem an odd point, but it is important nonetheless. One of my philosophy professors once told us that “every difference must make a diffference” – and if the characters are just sitting or standing around a table and talking, why is it different from a tabletop game? I made this mistake with my game, Karma Airlines from Hyggecon 2007, and it was clearly inhibiting the players that they were stuck just looking at each other over the table. Also, you can’t, as with one game I was in recently, just plant leads and expect the players to find them – they will only find it if they have a reason to go there. We did all right with the Bute Will, in which we had three different rooms and was serving dinner in one, tea in another, plus the characters would want to speak privately with one another. Also, there were plenty of props, inviting exploration. In other words, you must make sure there’s a reason to utilize the room as a room, and not just as a place to contain your discussion.
  • What is the conflict? Here, we get to the “play” part of “role-play.” Each player should have something that makes it important to him to go up against one or more of the other players. Sometimes, you can have one conflict that everyone has an interest in, but often it will make sense to have individual ones as well, to improve the odds that everyone has something to do. And why do the players care? Another pitfall is making conflicts that the players just ignore. Each conflict must feel pressing and important – preferably with both NPCs and other players pressing the conflict if the player himself doesn’t get around to it. And what will the pacing be like? If there is one thing that can kill an otherwise good story, it is slowing it down. The players should feel the need to press on with the conflict, rather than waiting around for the perfect way to strike. Of course, the prescence of the other players’ characters  can create some pacing – but only if they are making a grab for the Golden McGuffin. In the Bute Will, we had the solicitor announce that the police was on their way, thus demanding immediate action. In Karma Airlines, I hade a (in my oppinion) a stroke of genious: the players were placed outside the normal timestream and told they had “one minute” to come up with a solution – thus giving them a time frame they weren’t sure of, yet with a feeling of urgency – plus, it allowed me to yell out “30 seconds have passed” when I felt they needed a little prodding.
  • How are the game masters going to interact with play, including starting and (especially) ending it? This question is more of a practical meta-question than the kind of scripting question the others are. It is still important to consider, however. At least in Denmark, the concensus is, that when play is started, the GM shouldn’t interfere. That means that the GM’s primary way of both observing and interacting with the story is through npc’s (even if many Danes seem to be experimenting with webcams). These must be thought up in advance. The GM should also know in advance how to start the game, and preferably have an idea about how to end the game.

These are the words for now. I must to bed, having spent far too long writing this. But, ah well, it’ll be good. I’ll give a status update, maybe tomorrow, but definitely when the whole thing is over.


5 responses to this post.

  1. When Monica and I wrote Memoratoriet: Det rare sted we also took into consideration, what kind of players we wanted. I’m referring to their skills or their experiences, but to their preferences in playstyle. We wanted players, who delighted in immersive playstyles, and who didn’t play in an extrovert manner, and we also wanted players, who didn’t want to go looking for a plot or who wanted to play out intrigues.

    My point is that you can also include playstyles in a scenario-design.

    A different approach to ‘conflict’ and ‘pacing’ – which are important tools – is to ask, what kind of (thenatic) story will the players be playing? Is it the same story on a macro-level as on a micro-level? In several of those scenarios, that I have witnessed or participated in, there is often a difference between the the grand story [macro], that the whole scenario is about, which influences the all the characters and which was the story, that the designers wanted to tell, and then the story, that the individual players experience [micro]. My preference is for those scenarios, where the two levels match – so that my individual play was about the themes as the whole of the scenario (and which are only witnessed by a few of the players).


  2. Posted by Simon James Pettitt on May 13, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    so how did it go?


  3. Posted by eliashelfer on May 14, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Morten, you are certainly right – it is extremely useful to include playstyles in scenario design – and it’s something I completely forgot to think about.
    To my defense, I think it is on the level 2 course. You used to teach roleplaying games to kids – would they know what you meant if you told them of a player who “delighted in immersive playstyles, and who didn’t play in an extrovert manner” – and more to the point, would they know how to create a game that catered to him? I hardly think so, and I’m pretty sure my students wouldn’t know it. They need to know how to create a game, before they can make one that caters to certain players.

    On the other hand, I need to think about it when I make games – and I do it already on an instinctive level. When I know who my audience is, I try to cater to them.

    The same can be said for using thematic story instead of pacing and conflict. It is definitelty a good way to go, and coherency between the overall story and the individual one is something to strive for. But it demands more of the larpwright to make such a game. Whereas a conflict is something concrete, a thematic story is more abstract, and thus harder to get a hold on for the young roleplayer. I’m thinking that people knowing of storytelling in other media (film, theater, etc.) will have an easier time understanding thematic stories, whereas young roleplayers will understand more of the different playstyles.- meaning that playstyles is learnt from other players, whereas thematic story is something you learn in shool.


  4. Btw about my suggestion being for lv 2 or not 🙂 It isn’t wholly clear to me for whom you’re creating the workshop – which also btw is a splendid initiative.

    But I guess you’re right. Playstyles can be a bit tricky for inexperienced roleplayers and writers. However I do think, that you can use the thematic aspect with even young people. That was all for now. I’ll skip ahead to your new posts.


  5. Posted by eliashelfer on May 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

    You probably can – especially with the right group. I remember Anders Sinding (I think his name is) making some pretty clever larps for Hyggecon when he was about the same age as my students. For this, though, I really wanted them to experience a success, so I wouldn’t gamble on their being able to grasp the concept of themes and different levels of storytelling.
    To be honest, it is probably something to do with me, as well. I haven’t WRITTEN a lot of games. I’ve MADE a lot of games – for me to run, in a certain setting, more designed to fit a certain group than to communicate a certain message or theme. The only game for a major con that I’ve made, the way you might have made Memoratoriet, is Karma Airlines, which isn’t written down. And while Karma Airlines was strongly thematic and designed to ask, how you can choose one human life over another, that wasn’t something I was all that conscious about. I knew it while making the game, but I didn’t think of it. So I guess of it’s a case of only being able to teach what you know.


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