Posts Tagged ‘exercises’

[Lumberjack Academy] The lessons

This weekend, I completed my Lumberjack Academy – aka, workshop in simple larpwrighting. This is the account of the lessons I held Saturday – soon, I’ll have a report on the Sunday, in which I threw the participants in the deep end by inviting guest to come and play their game.

I had only very few participants – three – one of whom wasn’t coming on Saturday, but only on Sunday. So when one participant didn’t show up till an hour fifteen minutes after we were scheduled to start, I was not feeling particularly happy about it. When the same person suddenly had to leave an hour fifteen minutes early, and didn’t show up at all Sunday, I was thinking rather nasty things that I shan’t repeat in public.

But apart from that. I was happy with the outcome. We started out with a bit of warmup – telling a story, each of us saying one word at a time. Then I asked them what tabletop roleplaying was, then what Larp was. We got far about, and they even came up with a point or two I hadn’t expected (I’ll look at the list again, and if it still looks interesting, I’ll put it up).

Designing groups (but what is a group?)

Then, I asked them to make a list of groups. The idea was that making a larp based around a group of some kind is a good idea, as the characers will have a natural relation to each other. A pretty basic idea, but many people seem to make the characters first, the group second. That is ok in a tabletop rpg, where the characters can be moved into action by the GM, but less ideal in a larp where you want the action to arise amongst the players, maybe as a result of a little GM prodding. And having a list of groups would make the actual process of making the larp easier, as you could just pick from your list of groups.

Unfortunately, they misunderstood what I meant by groups. I meant things like “a high-school clique” or “a small plumbing firm.” What they wrote was types of characters, like “high-school students,” “plumbers,” “good/bad people,” and so on (many, many professions).

I think my mistake was in my choice of example. I knew one of them played in a fantasy larp campaign – so I try saying something along the lines of: “There were different races in that larp, right? (larpwright?) And they have each their own group, right?” “Ooohh!” she said, and wrote “Orcs” and “elves.” Note to self: give them a very specific example of what a group is next time, so they know exactly what you mean. In fact, next time, I think I should reverse the order of the groupmaking exercises.

Because next, we made groups – together, all three of us. I started out showing them how each of the the “groups”  they had made could be turned into a group of the kind I wanted – turning “plumber” into plumbing firm, for instance (I stayed well away from fungophile Italian a-plumbers).

Then, we chose a kind of group we wanted to make, and then we filled it with members.

First up was Santa’s Elves (Julemandens Nisser). Here, we had memorable personages such as “Santa,” “Santa’s wife,” “the Oldest Elf,” “the Cheeky Young Elf,” and, not to forget, “the IT Elf.”

Next was Christiansborg. This group included divers members of parlament (and no alarums), the Prime Minister and his wife, and assorted journalists.

Finally, we made the High School Clique. A vicious and nasty group of girls if ever there was one. This group included the “popular snob,” “the snob’s boyfriend, the quarterback,” “the nerd,” “the make-up doll” and “the copycat.” Apart from these, we included a number of important supporting characters: the good parents, the controlling parents, the teacher they hate, the hot teacher, and one or two more I’ve forgotten.

We used this group for the next exercise as well: writing character descriptions. First, we brainstormed elements of a description. They came up with (I may have helped – I’m not exactly sure how much) Background, Personality, Relations, Hopes for the future (I definitely provoked this), Appearance and Skills. I added Behaviour.

Then, they each chose one character and wrote them out, using the above as guidelines. Here, I discovered that their idea of what “appearance” ment was radically different from mine. They thought it meant body, hair etc. I thought it meant clothes and style (at least when doing a larp character that should be playeable by many different players. We had a rather long discussion about this, with one of them being adamant that what I was referring to was something completely different. (Danish readers: what does “udseende” cover?).

Another point we had to discuss was “Hopes for the Future.” They both included long term goals. But I wanted them to include short term desires as well. They quickly caught on to this idea, and had a good idea of their character’s immidiate goals.

One final point of discussion was the difference between personality and behaviour. They thought the two was more or less the same. I thought a character should include references to both how the character thinks (personality) and tips as two how to play that character. But I guess this is a matter of oppinion: should you explicitly brief your players on how to act their characters, or should they be able to infer this from the description of the character?

Adventures from Primetime

Next up was conflict. I started this out with an exercise. I asked them to think back to a tv-series they’d seen recently. One had Moonlight, NCIS and Sex and the City, the other had Detective Monk and Desperate Housewives. I then told them to choose one episode of one of the shows, and write out, as briefly as possible, what that episode was about. The idea was to end up with descriptions of two conflicts to serve as examples of how to make conflicts for a group, the tv shows providing short and simple stories typically with only one major conflict per episode. I asked them not to choose NCIS or Detective Monk, as I knew detective shows have a tendency to have the conflict be the detectives’ struggle to find the bad guy, the real conflict (between the killer and the victim) having reached an important climax when the victim dies.

In the end, we ended up with a couple of nice conflicts: one was from an episode of Moonlight, in which the character (a vampire striving to become human again) must choose between giving up his loved one, or his hopes of humanity. The other was the finale of Sex and the City, in which Carrie must choose between two men and the cities they’re at home in.


After introducing the concept of conflict in stories, we went on to making plots for a number of groups. Not all of them were entirely serious, but I found them surprisingly rich on potential for good stories.

The first was a pirate ship, dividing the loot. The Captain wanted the main share, because it was his ship, the First Mate wanted the main share, because he brought the map to the ship, and the navigator wanted it because he cracked the puzzle and led them to the treasure. Mixed into it was the decksboy, who was the captain’s son, the chef, who was being bribed by the captain, and the lookout, who needed to get home to get medicine for the parrot who was his only friend in life.

Next, we had a band of Dwarfs, chasing a group of Hobgoblins who had broken into their mine and stolen their gold and abducted one dwarf wife. In this group we had the husband who wanted his wife back, the husband’s brother who’d had an affair with the wife, the son who was probably the brother’s, the woman’s cousin, who knew of the indicression, the Guardian of the Gold who let in the Hobgoblins and, finally, the elf whom the Guardian was protecting from being discovered as the elf who brought chaos to his forest.

We then briefly went over the over the groups from the groupmaking session, discussing what conflicts could hit each of them. Then we had to end, and I gave them their homework: to look in their wardrobes and find seven characters they could make with costumes from their own clothes – an assignment they handled brilliantly.

Next up: the game they actually made on Sunday.