It has been a long time since I have posted a blog, but as I sit here in the off-season of Sacred Grounds, a lot of thoughts have run through my head. With some rough college courses and a holiday season, it isn't always easy to have the muse to work on something that you want to work on. Then, there's other times when the muse is staring at you from your keyboard like a lady on a piano, urging you to type away while you unfortunately have to work on something else; something unrelated to whatever you really want to work on. Then, you finish, and with a ballerina twirl she is gone and you are left with a blank Microsoft word document and a blinking cursor.
"Bleed," you can hear Hemingway urging you. "Suffer for your art. I don't care if you have a headache, or if it's 3 AM and you have to be up in 4 hours. Sit at your keyboard, and bleed, dammit."
They will either love what you do or hate it. Some might not express their unhappiness except in hushed whispers. Others might make a point to question everything that you do. I wonder sometimes if I should include in our rulebook a page about game philosophy. Is it worth explaining the thought process behind why certain rules are the way they are? It seems like the biggest sin in the rules-making world is to do things arbitrarily. Maybe if I write a thesis on the defense of every lore and rules decision, it will make me feel a little better.
"Nick, don't do that. Just say how it is. People will either trust your decisions or not. If they don't trust you, they probably shouldn't be playing," one of my Marshals says. I'd like to agree, but a large part of me does not want to be dismissive of anything. I have learned from experience where dismissing criticism gets you. There is also value in being confident in the decisions you have made. So there's somewhere in between. Take all you hear with a grain of salt, and do not compromise the game philosophy you are trying to achieve.
Games are different from each other. Thankfully they are. If LARPs were simply carbon copies of what has worked in the past, there'd be no reason for as many to exist as do. Are there too many? No, because each one offers a different experience. At one game I learned that value of personal stories, at another the value of player interdependence, at another the value of dramatic non-combat scenes, another the value of large scale combat and players working together. I hold the position that just because you do not like the way someone does things it does not make their game bad. Someone likes it, or they wouldn't exist. Some people feel it's simply because they haven't found something better. But hey... at Faire Play? Four games run. Camp Sac? Four games. Ye Olde Commons? Probably more. Then you can go take a look at LARP United and find many more games. And those are just the LARPs close enough that I'd be willing to drive to.
People stay at games for many reasons. Your presentation gets them there, for sure. Friends tell friends when they like what you are doing, but that doesn't guarantee their friends will like what you are doing.
And that's ok.
The game I run doesn't have to be, objectively, the best game in the world. Neither does yours. It does have to subjectively be someone's favorite game, and you have to make decisions that will make it that for enough people that you can continue to exist. There has to be uniqueness to it. You have to do something other people do not. If you do what other people already do better than you, you threaten to fall into mediocrity.
This is the position I watch from. Game runners sometimes do not get to play their own game enough. Playing a game is how you learn about it. The career DM doesn't understand all the challenges their players face. Playing makes them a better DM. I am reminded of sitting and watching a LARP documentary called Monster Camp a few years ago about an Alliance game in Washington. It is one of many movies that I feel does not properly reflect LARP, but one thing really struck home for me. I was sitting on my couch next to the person I now own Sacred Grounds with. The documentary showed the larp-runner, Shane, going through the rituals he does before the game runs. Then the words appeared on the screen without any images: "Shane doesn't get to play." We both looked at each other, years of time spent behind the LARP curtain, runners of other people's games, writers of Star Trek, Vampire, and homebrew theater LARPs, always looked to as the DMs and not the players, and could not help but laugh. Those words sort of became a mantra for us whenever we became overloaded with behind-the-scenes work.
People forget you are human sometimes, and that a lot of what you are doing is to attempt to provide the best experience for them. At the same time, you have a right to your creative vision, and should not have to compromise it. You are entitled to a game philosophy, and a code by which you make your rules and lore decisions. Players are entitled to either like it or not like it. Few people go to film school to be millionaires and create the next Hollywood-formula blockbuster. Most go because they enjoy the medium of film and want to use the camera to tell stories.
Well, we studied for years experiencing different games, running smaller scale games, and playing in whatever we could get our hands on so that we could make informed decisions about the type of game we want to run, because we have stories to tell, and LARP is our chosen medium. Some players are the audience that enjoy your brand of indy film, and some are the critics that will devalue your choices.
Hopefully, you can find a way to see how well your decisions play out through your own camera lens. Unfortunately, many players sometimes forget, "Shane doesn't get to play." Or some don't care, and just want to be fed so they can Gordon-Ramsay your cooking. Either way, some people will like what you do and some won't.
We're not in the service industry, we're in the entertainment industry. We probably shouldn't apologize for considering ourselves game and media companies.
Monster Camp. Dir. Cullen Hoback. Hyrax Films, 2007.