GenCon Wrap Up; or, Confessions of a 40 Year Old LARPer

Rhaena Targaryen
Favorite new costume, and first time I’ve used a wig. From the Dragon’s Feast by Iocane Productions.

In my young table-top roleplaying game years, the GenCon gaming convention was game, game, game, sleep, game, game, game, sleep? game, game, nap at table, game, sleep, game.  Today there’s a little more sleep and a little less gaming, but there’s also friends. Every year since I started seriously LARPing, I’ve made a new set of friends at GenCon, and somewhere in that game/sleep cycle, we set aside time for food and beer.  (Game, game, beer, sleep, game, game, beer, game, sleep, game, game, beer, beer, sleep, game.)

Why is that? I’m socially awkward.  Always have been.  Give me a LARP character, however, and I’ll play the hell out of it, win or lose.  And it’s not just about being something I’m not, because by the time we reach the “beer” portion of the evening, we’re long past being characters. (Yes, we do know the difference between fantasy and reality.  That’s the point.)

LARP isn’t just about being someone else.  It’s about storytelling.  LARPers generally have more influence on how a game develops, and that makes us dependent on one another.  The good players quickly stand out, even if they’re new to LARPing.

A first-time LARPer was handed the Master in a Doctor Who game.  Dear gods, he was spot-on.  Yes, he knew the character from the TV show, but that doesn’t inherently mean he can play it.  There’s a tremendous difference between knowing and doing. He was so dead-on I even knew from a single scene which version of the Master he was playing.  (Anthony Ainley, for those who care.)

We need to keep that one.

It’s not rocket science separating the good from the bad.  Bad players drag games down not through ignorance but  through generally bad behavior.  These are the guys who are out to “win” even if it means bullying players.  They aren’t interested in character-building, and the only sotry they are interested in is their own.  They certainly are not going to do anything that might hurt their chances of achieving objectives even if it’s in-character to do so.  (If you’re Captain Picard, the first solution to a problem probably shouldn’t be trying to roll the aliens to steal their dilithium.  Just sayin.’)

Good players, on the other hand, spontaneously applaud after a cylon wanders onto the bridge of their battlestar and blows up, very potentially killing their characters.  Well done, Mr. Cylon.  We who might have died salute you.

Good players sometimes know their characters are supposed to lose and do it with style.  Our aforementioned Master understood the Master never wins.  He does, however, monologue like no-one’s business.

There’s sometimes even a certain joy in knowing your character is going down in flames.  You stop worrying about winning and just ride the game into personal catastrophe.  Years ago, I started in a game with a team of 26 and ended with a team of 5, three of which weren’t members of the original team.  The character was self-absorbed, abrasive and divisive, and by that measure I was more successful than anyone could possibly have imagined.  What did I accomplish?  Absolutely nothing other than managing to survive my personal, political apocalypse.  It was epic.

House Targaryen at Gencon 2014
House Targaryen in the Dragon’s Feast. A collection of new players and old, the entire team was awesome.

Makings of a Good Player

LARPs get personal, and you want to be sure the personal stuff stays in character.  You can play an ass without being an ass. Good but new players can be shy because they are hyper vigilant about politeness.

Feel free to interject yourself.  This was a big one for socially awkward me.  You have about 3 hours to get a lot done, and everyone else is in the same boat.  You can’t wait for every person to be free of a conversation.  Jump in.  If the conversation needs to not be interrupted someone will politely say so.

Don’t touch anyone.  This is a frequently unspoken but always absolute rule.  You don’t touch other players even in the most casual of manners without explicit permission.

When in doubt, ask.  We want quality players.  If you ask for help, we’ll offer it.

Speak up if you’re uncomfortable.  While we like people to stay in-character, we also want them to have fun.  No one should feel embarrassed by what’s going on in-game.  Ever.

A newish player in a Game of Thrones LARP asked me to tell him if he ever made me uncomfortable, because he expected his character might get flirty, and he wasn’t sure of game boundaries.  That’s exactly the type of player I can fake flirt with.  He’s clearly not a creeper.

Invent objectives.  A lot of games assign goals to each character.  If you don’t find a goal fits, or it simply doesn’t interest you, find something that does.

As the head of Torchwood Manor in another Dr. Who game (if you haven’t figured out I’m a Whovian, you’re apparently new to this blog), I had a single, fairly simple goal, so I decided I would also be out to steal every piece of alien or anachronistic tech I could find.  And, boy, did I.  It made sense for the character, didn’t disrupt the game, and amused the STs.


What Makes a Good LARP

Minimal rules.  RPGs have a lot of stats and offer a lot of scenarios that require stats like killing monsters.  It turns into ROLL-playing rather than role-playing.  LARPs are primarily about character interaction.  Get the damn stats out of the way.

Some of my favorite games have no stats at all.  If someone has a notable skill or item, it’s a card or token to be spent as needed. Beyond that, it’s mostly clever explanations, perhaps a bit of randomness, and STs deciding if it’s feasible (or sometimes amusing).

Myself as a scion of Athena in a Dresden Files LARP
Gewndolyn McGuire, scion of Athena, in a Dresden LARP by Urban Myths. The numerous STs marked themselves with lab coats for easy identification.

Enough STs.  Since much of the game occurs in real time, having to wait several minutes for an ST to arbitrate something kills the mood real quick.

Plot.  While LARPs are character driven, you can’t simply throw twenty characters into a room and expect something to happen (although it sometimes does).  Stories need plot.  That means a start point, an end point, and things in the middle, and don’t expect that middle bit to just be supplied by players.  Even great players need something to play off of.   And there has to be some sort of resolution at the end.

Fluid end-point.  If the players come to a different resolution than expected, let it fly.  Otherwise, what was the point?

Good characters.  LARPs are character driven, so why on earth do some games hand out two sentence characters?

Players become loyal to good game creators.  They’ll work their schedules around their events.  And once you get a few games under your best, you can also start identifying the good players, the ones you enjoy playing with even if you’re at odds in-game.

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