Actual Play – _CENSORED_ (02/28/2009)

We weren’t told the name of this game. I think it came out after it was over but I didn’t catch it (maybe Tempus Frigit, not sure). Zach and Amanda ran a special 10 person LARP as a birthday present for Justin. The LARP centered around his character Mordecai (usually just called Mortie) and the trouble he was in. I won’t say much about the LARP as I’m not sure that Justin isn’t planning to run it again and I don’t want to give anything away.

What I will talk about is my experience. Though I’ve been a fan of using props in my games, having players emote their actions and even a fair bit of moving around to get immersed I’ve never properly LARPed before. There is a lot about LARPs that have been interested in, the costumes, the props, the immersion and the focus on player driven story. There are also bits of LARPing that have intimidated me; the constant immersion, the expectation of acting skills, fear of having an inadequate costume, being outside the LARP clique, etc. This opportunity seemed like a great way to check out all that was cool about LARPs without worry about my fears. My costume was created by the GMs, most of the players were people I knew and liked, and most people knew I had never done this before so there weren’t any huge expectations of me.

What rocked

The story presented was one that while confusing during the game made sense by the end. I don’t think this is an easy thing to do. Even in good mystery movies and books, sometimes the plots get complex enough you can’t understand what is going on, add players to the mix and it’s even more chaotic. This story unfolded as we played and the GMs had certain tactics including the timing of clues being presented and of flash-back/flash-forward scenes to further illuminate otherwise clouded mystery. I give them mad props for holding it all together.

Some of the players were really great, having just met a number of them, I was really impressed with their skills as player, actors and collaborative storytellers.

The GMs fed us just enough information to keep things constantly active. I can’t remember a scene when I wasn’t talking to someone about something we thought was very important. The space was very closed off (only two rooms, both physically and within the context of the game) so we were always in one of a few conversations.

You didn’t know who you could trust. I could read minds and I still didn’t know who I could trust! Now that is impressive!

Flash-backs and Flash-forwards. The game was regularly interrupted by scenes where some of the characters remembered something or saw something in the future. These were VERY cool. They allowed two things: One was a window into the mind of the characters and the other was an opportunity to break character for a moment and either observe or change roles.

What didn’t work for me

I normally call this “could have been improved” but the thing is I don’t know what the standards for LARPs are so I don’t know if my concerns are actually something that should be addressed. All of the LAPR veterans at the table said this was a really killer game, so my feeling is that my issues are more with LARPing in general than with this one in particular. Anyway, here I go.

Engaging the system. When I got my character sheet there was a rating system (1-5 I think) and the trait I had of mention was Intelligence (5). I was supposed to be a brilliant child (only 11 years old) but the problem is that Sean isn’t brilliant, he’s only moderately intelligent with some areas of retardation (like languages, spatial orientation, and rote memorization). My character should have been able to figure things out that I couldn’t but I didn’t have any way to “use” that. When I asked a GM I was told that if something needed to come out she would pass it through me, I assumed like the way the plot of many Harry Potter books is pushed through by Hermione. That didn’t happen however, so my “ability” didn’t even serve as a plot device. I think I would have far preferred to not have any system at all and just be told that I was very curious and a critical thinker. I’m not sure what the other characters had but I never saw someone say “I’ve got a 5 in X so I want to use it.” My guess is that nobody thought about this, but being someone who thinks a lot about game mechanics, it troubled me.

Fear the GM. Here’s another case of game engagement that I felt uncomfortable with. In a tabletop game there is usually four ways to find out if you “can” do something. Look on your character sheet, ask the GM, make some kind of roll (either to know if you can or declare that you can), or just try it (usually meaning announcing to the GM that you are trying something and then finding out the results). In this game it was alluded that my character was more than he seemed, that he had powers in fact. There were no signals however given to me and none of the other players knew more than what I did. So eventually I just walked up to a GM and said “I want to get in his brain… can I do it?” The reason I say “Fear the GM” is that we were specifically directed on our character sheets to play out our characters and to avoid asking the GMs if we could do things. So I often felt like I was “breaking” the game by trying to figure out what I could do. What I would have really preferred was a prop that could be given to me in the game once I figured out my powers that said something to the effect of “give this to someone and they need to answer a question honestly or obey one command, then they give it back to you and you cannot use it on them again for X minutes”. That way I’d be able to keep my actions in game rather than constantly running to the GM for help/guidance/refereeing.

Constant immersion. While I did like the confined nature of the game, I’m not particularly good at staying in character non-stop. There are times when I step out of actor and into author role. I’ll talk about my character in the third person, for example “Mirumoto is stunned by your actions, his face blushes and his eyes widen in confusion. He looks away, ashamed.” That is easier for me to say than to act out. Sometimes I want to act it out, other times I’m just not up for it. That wasn’t an option in a LARP.

Concentration of plot. I was having a pretty good time during the game just figuring out who I was and what was going on with some of the other characters. When “end game” came however and the shit was hitting the fan, the only thing that mattered was solving this mystery. A mystery that others had been working on for hours. When I tried to contribute I just felt so far behind that my actions were actually slowing people down. I was told  when trying to create a process that it had already been done elsewhere, so eventually I just checked out. It felt like there was enough plot at that time for five characters, but there were 10 players concerned. There were some other people who joined me on the sideline.

So, there it is, my first LARP. I had fun, but I don’t think I’ll do it again, at least not till next year when they have another one. At the end of the game I was told this was the best LARP I’d probably ever be in and while I was really happy to participate in such a good specimen of LARPing that statement doesn’t bode well for my appreciation of the species as a whole. There were as many things that I really liked as there were things that didn’t gel with me and I can only imagine in other LARPs the ratio would be worse. My mind is still open and I’d probably go for something if the theme or setting was really attractive, but I won’t be tearing down the walls to get into every LARP I see on the roster.

I’m curious what mrboy or anyone else that was at the LARP thinks, specifically of the things that didn’t work for me. Are these normal? Am I “wrong” to have issue with them? Do you agree? Is this a case of managing expectations?