Why Doesn’t National Do This Thing? 

Something that comes up every now and then is the idea that there should be some degree of work, process, project, or design that the National team of Dystopia Rising should do on behalf of the Directors of all of the DR Network Chapters. The suggestion of National taking on more has come up a few times, in particular when it comes to direct player resources, without much of a consideration of what is being asked. Some examples, just to make sure we are all on the same page about the subject matter at hand, include things such as having a national team that all players can field questions to, running logs of any rules clarifications given to Directors published to a single location, updates of all actions and direction that the Dystopia Rising LARP network is doing, and outlines of a more in depth character database that allows real time use like an app. Why didn't National put up full disclosure of all the steps, offer a single public document that is updated, or take system and mechanics questions in a single easy to access spot for players.

I would love most of these things as well.

The issue is that for as much as people have been arguing over “it’s a community” or “it’s a business” there is truth that exists between the two. It is a business where local game companies franchise the tools and materials required to create their own local game communities to provide a product and service while improving gaming culture overall.

What does that mean?

It means that the lion’s share of the money that players pay to a game, stays at that local game instead of being handed up to National. It also means that costs for 3 day events need to be kept lower as to allow the growth and ongoing development of a community (unlike single shot LARPs which don’t create as much of a networked culture). 

As a general idea, the average person pays around $60 for a 3 day DR event. Of that $60 per person, $55.80 stays in the local games funds to handle local taxes, costs, and expenses. $3 goes to national and $1.20 goes towards a marketing and advertising budget which handles online presence and advertisements. That $3 that goes to national handles all our national level taxes, federal fees, lawyers, accountants, and development costs as well as pays the payroll for your 3 national team members. 

The funds that get put towards payroll are less than $1 per person per event attended.
This is where the business aspect comes up. As much as we are a community and as much as the general goal is to try and make everyone’s life a bit better, we have a restricted budget at National and a limitation to the number of manpower hours that 3 people are capable of putting into the DR LARP network. For us to continue to add more resources, we need to hire more people. Currently 3 people oversee the development, production, creation, training, support, and even tech needs for all of the Directors who in turn run games. We work about 80+ hours a week (it’s hard to say because we really don’t ever STOP working).

And part of the issue is a strange sort of parallel of the argument between “Federal Focus” or “State Focus” governments. If you want the larger group to handle more of the things that engage everyone’s individual lives, we need to find a way to provide more income to pay and support the support net that is needed. Otherwise we need to rely on more of a Director (state) driven policy where the individual businesses that run their local games take the responsibility to communicate, interact with, govern, direct, and see to the needs of their local chapter’s base. 

Understand that when we say, “You need to talk to your Director” it’s not passing the buck. Your Director is the person who is responsible for engaging your local community, for providing local oversight, and for ensuring that your player needs are taken care of. Your Director has a game of 100-600 players and is responsible for ensuring the health, safety, and success of their local game. They have the ability to host rule update blogs. They have access to the source material producers. They have funds to ensure local level resources are taken care of. They handle 100-600 players instead of handling all of the source resource production, all the Director needs, and then helping oversee 7,000+ people.

“But my Directors are just so busy… I don’t want to bother them.”

I promise you that they aren’t as busy as us.


 

“This is an invasion of my privacy.” - Dystopia Rising group oversight

“This is an invasion of my privacy.”

Yesterday an announcement went out saying that if you have a multi-game in character faction or group within the Dystopia Rising LARP network that either functions as an in-character medium for conversation or is based on the network and has the Dystopia Rising name as the header, that a Director from some chapter needs to be involved in the group. Some people have seen this as an invasion of privacy, some people think its “offensive because it treats players like children”, and others have no opinions on it (or are from SoCal and already have this in place).

First let me state why this is on a blog instead of a giant post to the entire network as a whole. The first reason is that many people won't actually read a publication that is long enough to actually properly explain the thought process behind a decision or a rule. Explanations for simple decisions, when explained in steps, often require a lot of words and examples to be provided. In addition to the length of such a post, many people actually don't care about the "why" a rule is made but instead focus on how it directly influences their lives.

Now, let’s start with the background as to why this was brought into play. Over the past few years there has been a recurring scenario that Directors dealt with that came packaged in many different degrees of urgency. This scenario is where two or more members of the DR LARP Network community would come to their Directors to mediate, engage, or punish individuals within the larger community based on interactions that happened in mediums and formats that arguably have very little to do with game or were in groups that added the Dystopia Rising name to the group without actually working with staff for use of the name.

Seems a little foggy of an area? That is understandable. The issue that Directors face in regards to this is the sort of argument that you would have in a philosophy course in college instead of deal with when managing a community. The abstract issue is “oversight and application of community standards verses right to privacy”.

But let’s take this out of the abstract and give examples of what we are talking about.

Actual examples from the past year (just a small section of many).

A) A large IC group tells its members (new and old) that if there is an issue they need to come to their group leaders instead of going to the DR community leaders. This includes if any member is accused of cheating, breaking the community guideline, and in multiple instances with multiple groups there were issues where players went to “leaders” of their in-character group to address real world issues well outside the scope of an in character group. Issues like addressing the fact that other members s of this in-character group were actively sexually harassing them. In this last instance, Directors of the social community were not involved until years after the players left the DR community feeling that the “DR Community had let them down” because they thought the leadership of their IC social group were also leaders in the DR community.

B) Directors have been asked to ban players from Dystopia Rising Network events based on interactions that people have had during the ending of their personal relationships, citing that arguments were happening in “Dystopia Rising” groups… which were again private groups that weren’t overseen by Dystopia Rising.

C) Community members have come to Directors to be punitive or ban other players from the Dystopia Rising Network based on social, political, or hate based groups and organizations outside of Dystopia Rising. As two examples: Directors were asked to mediate between two players who were arguing about the use of the confederate flag in a social media group that had the Dystopia Rising name (but again wasn’t actually overseen by anyone in Dystopia Rising). The second instance involved players going to Directors to mediate and settle a pro-life and pro-choice argument that had gotten incredibly heated between members in the community in a group using the Dystopia Rising name but without any actual involvement from the Dystopia Rising community leaders.

As it stands right now there are two issues that need addressing. The first is the existence of IC groups that involve large numbers of members that appear to be a real world authority to some players, and the second issue is grey area of “what is and is not a part of Dystopia Rising” when it comes to community guidelines and engagement.

Your Directors don’t want to tell you how to live your lives. Your Directors want to run a community that has a game that people come together to enjoy, and there is nothing sweeter to a Director than being able to leave an event without needing to put out dozens of vaguely tangentially related issues. And as much as your Directors would love for everyone to get along, the fact is that with larger social groups it becomes more likely that a conflict of philosophy or a clash of personality is going to cause arguments between people.

So there needs to be a division between what is, and is not, communications that are part of the overview of your Directors.

To answer this, if an OOC public group wants to use the name “Dystopia Rising” in its title then that group needs to have a Director from somewhere in the group. That Director is then going to “unfollow” the group and then only engage the group when mediation is needed. If there is an IC posting group that spans across multiple networks, there needs to be a Director from somewhere in the group so that the members of that group know who they can go to if there is a community, safety, or health issue that needs addressing.

If a group is not an IC cross-network posting group, and does not list itself as a “Dystopia Rising” group, but still involves a number of people from within the Dystopia Rising community then there is no need to add a Director to the group. That group in question is a private group that is overseen by people who happen to be a part of the Dystopia Rising community, but isn’t a part of the oversight of the Dystopia Rising community guidelines.

What does this end up really meaning?

Groups that are based on in character groups that go cross network need a Director available in the group because IC posts and engagement actually are a part of the community management and oversight guideline that Directors have as a responsibility.

Community groups that list themselves as “Dystopia Rising” need to have a Director in them since that group is presenting itself to the world as a representative of the Dystopia Rising community and members within that group are held to the community guidelines.

Community groups that do not list themselves as Dystopia Rising, are not an In Character group that crosses the network, don’t need a Director in them. This also means that these groups are not held to the standards of the community guideline and will not be overseen by Directors.

The response that I have seen the most in regards to this is “my OOC friends across the network are all part of this group and we chat OOC and have private conversations… but they also are part of the IC communications as well.” The suggestion I would give is to just make an IC and OOC group listing for this and make it very clear that communications happening in the IC group are under the DR Network standards and that stuff in the OOC group are completely for social engagement between friends.

The second response I have seen has been in regard to groups such as trans and LGTBQ groups. These groups have multiple options as well. If the group wants to list itself as a public resource with the name “Dystopia Rising” in the title and show itself as a resource for the community, there are any number of Directors that are willing to be put into the group. If the group does not want to have a Director involved in the group and wants anonymity or self-definition outside the oversite of Directors, National, or any sort of “official” capacity then the group just needs to not list itself as the “Dystopia Rising (fill in sub-definition)” group. This will allow the group to operate with complete and total self-definition, can exist outside of the oversite of the Dystopia Rising Network, and has the abilities to make decisions and share information and make guidelines as is appropriate for that groups members. This also lets the members of these groups know that while these groups are made up of people who happen to also be members of the Dystopia Rising community as a whole, that joining these groups does not assign the restrictions or protective oversight related to being a DR group.

In short, this actually changes very little other than giving a clear definition of boundaries and more transparency in regards to “what is and is not within the purview of the DR community”. Want to do IC communications for a group or IC org that spans across multiple chapters? Then get a Director involved to ensure that these groups are doing right by its members and that players have a clear “person of authority to go to”.  Want to shoot the shit with your friends, join some rant/bashing group, or do something that really isn’t under the purview of Dystopia Rising? Then don’t list it as a Dystopia Rising group to the world.  

 

Strange Philosophical Issues Related to LARP - Part One of a Series

Creating, producing, and running LARPs for a living has created more instances than I can count where I have to chew over larger philosophical questions that you wouldn’t imagine being a LARP designer would bring up. Lately a mental debate that I have with myself that I never thought I would have outside the realms of considering government. Lately the idea of the modern republican and the democratic approach to overseeing social groups has been one that is taken a lot of my time.

There are people, like myself, who believe strongly in the freedom of speech (and the freedom to respond and challenge speech) is crucial in modern day social circles. Through censorship, muting, and “shouting down” others we prevent the expression of ideas, thoughts, and emotions and stunt the potential for social growth and evolution. As a writer, a creative, and a community organizer the idea of the individual being able to express themselves is incredibly important to me. That desire for self-expression has driven me to create LARPs, publish over a dozen books, and express my philosophy to the world.

This same freedom has allowed me to be questioned, have my thought processes challenged, and to improve as a human. I have learned, grown, and considered many different aspects of life and philosophy inspired by the expressions of others. I have grown as a person based on being able to engage in philosophical debate and discourse with people who do not share my exact view. It has allowed for discussion, and at times still not being able to agree, but providing a medium to process and really digest an idea.

This same freedom of speech and self-expression is the tool that allows individuals to threaten, abuse, and mistreat other humans. This freed of expression in social groups introduces pain, suffering, spite, and toxicity that poisons the well of human potential. It threatens, it endangers, and can cause harm.

When the use of language causes harm, endangers, and threatens others many times the individuals within a community look to the community leadership to make the harm stop. The individuals look to the community leaders to provide guidelines of acceptable behavior, to act when any individual acts against the health of the group, and to do what can be done to take the route to cause the least harm.

But how do you keep the ability to express yourself without fetters when you also are asking an outside force to act as a leader, guardian, or mediator?  By the simple act of asking for a third party to tell others what you can and can’t do, you are not only giving up a portion of your own free speech but also asking a third party to enforce limitations of free speech on others.

This gets murkier when the idea of privacy comes into play as well as the definition of the board of what “is and is not” under the purview and operation of a social group. When two individuals who are a part of the same faith who are also members of the same hobby social circles have a disagreement, and the disagreement occurs in a virtual communication space outside of the control of either groups, what authority is involved and to what degree? Should the individuals even involve the social groups at all for moderation, mediation, and involvement?  As individuals, when we attempt to force our social groups to expand their involvement outside of the direct engagement relating to their social group focus, are we then abusing the entire design and validity of social safety? What do we do when the activities of a private third party group endanger, threaten, and cause harm to members of a larger social group and organization?

The issue at hand becomes worse when the freedom of expression and the limitations of it comes into play. As a child of a military family I find the destruction of actual American flags to be distasteful (along with a hundred other emotions). However do you allow a member of your community to tell others how not to express themselves regarding the use of the American flag? Moreover do you silence the person looking to impose their will and philosophies on others using the medium you oversee?

There are number of these debates, questions, and issues that crawl through my brain while people yell about errata details and their favorite blueprints. I think I will spend some time sharing these different scenarios and issues. 

The day the DR General Forums Died.

About two years ago the Dystopia Rising network did away with our national public rules forum server. For those that were around back to when the forums existed, memories of either dread or remorse of their loss fills the memories. Some people bemoan the fact that the national forums were taken away and others whisper “thank god” that they don’t exist any longer.

So why did we get rid of the forums? There were a number of reasons that I don’t think a lot of people would think. Since I think there is at least enough interest, I’m going to take a few minutes to put together a snapshot of the more generalized thought processes that went into the decision to remove the forums. So, not presented in any sort of order (and definitely not intended to give any degree of scale of importance) I present to you the reason public forums suck and needed to die.

1)      Your local Directors were being cut out of the loop with the old forums. The fact is that there are very few “rules changes” that happen on national level. What actually normally happens is that roughly once a month or maybe two times every three months, one of the Directors raises a question based on how they heard a skill was being used at another game. The Directors talk and then the initial intent behind how the rule was designed is put out there by either Jeff or Myself. In the instance that it is coordination based it comes from either Ashley or Jeff. In either case, Jeff handles most of those questions.

So, when a Director asks that question, suddenly all of the Directors pick up the book and reread the description of how a rule works. For most people absolutely nothing would change, but in some instances a Director would read a rule again and go “Oh damn, we been running this wrong” and the Director then adjusts their game to the shared network standard. Most players shake that see a change shake their fist at “National” and curse and spit for roughly 48 hours, but then shortly after the Director and all of the games are closer to running on a standardized set of rules.

The old Forums setup made it so that Directors had to read dozens of posts in the instance that one of them might introduce something that they were doing differently… and often times things were missed. As the network got larger the number of fluff posts increased and it became more difficult to get all of the Directors (and with that all of the chapters) close to being on the same page.

2)      Over 80% of the questions asked were created by less than 5% of the total community. One of the greatest things about data management software is that you can see post counts and total post saturation by area. What we found in the last year of running the national forum was that the vast majority of all of the questions that came in, and commentary on rules questions, and opinions on rules calls came from less than 25 people. If I remember correctly the exact number was that 78% of all non-director rules posts came from 23 people in the network. There were so many questions being asked by such a small portion of the community that we had players who signed up to help answer questions, Directors, and full time staff from National handling the questions that came in and it felt overwhelming with a team of like… 30 people. And many of the questions that were asked were based on hypothetical unique scenarios that combined two to three different variables that hadn’t ever come into play.

Now I love both the role-play focus and gameist minded focused player. I personally have spent a number of years taking classes, teaching classes, and engaging other professionals in the field in discussion relating to game design.  It’s something I love shooting the shit about with friends or at game designer conventions. However, I have to make a choice. I can either spend my time TALKING about games and explaining to every person who wants to chat my thought process or I can actually MAKE GAMES.

But even taking that personal investment aspect out of the equation, the Dystopia Rising network isn't a game design medium. It is a community and event based network that provides to its audience. It's sort of the difference between a car hobbiest website and a car companies website. It wasn't the right medium for players who enjoy dissecting, discussing, and debating rule design theories.

As an aside, there is an entire forum in the Home of LARP pages that is set up for people to use it for just that. It’s lonely and under used. If you love rule and design discussion, pop your head in there and start something up. 

3)      The technology didn’t support our needs. So here is the real deal that should be reason enough. Most standalone Forum applications are digital dog shit. They crash regularly if used at high volumes, they are not supported by the companies that release them, and they have the same level of security as wet paper stretched over a door frame.

“But Michael, X number of games use forums for the community now!”. Funny response to that: the software that Home of LARP uses is the same source engine that most of the forums that game systems use. It’s a wonderful engine base called “SocialEngine” that is adaptable to host website, forums, and other multi-media plugins. The software is supported with regular updates, has higher adaptability for functionality, and offers better security.

Right now Home of LARP is actually hosting a series of Directors Boards for the Franchise Owners of Dystopia Rising, a public medium space for Chronos game discussion, newly created boards for the American Freeform events hosted by Imagine Nation, and has the ability to host any number of categories and sub-boards. The system is actually designed that any game (not just ones we run) that gets a premier account can have public forums hosted by Home of LARP in the forum tab. Or, if they chose to use the option otherwise, they can have private boards created where only their staff members would have access to the boards.

5)      Viability for future support. Something that is public knowledge but not openly known is that the Dystopia Rising network only gets 7% of the income that comes in at your local games plus a yearly federal fee. That 7% pays for marketing, insurance, accountants, lawyers, hosting costs, development, and payroll. If we were to expand national to the point where we had enough paying participants to centralize most of the direct player support for the franchise, that 7% would have to go up probably closer to a 15%-20% cut.

That degree of an increase would be a death stroke for a number of smaller games where property rental and operation costs eat up a large portion of the gross income. To counter-act that sort of a percent being taken out from the local chapters prices across the network would probably have to go up by an additional $10-$15 a person. We reached a point where we could not provide more without it costing more to the players. Fighting to keep the prices lower for our events is a primary focus for National, and realistically we could not continue to invest in supporting the majority of the community support on national level instead of it being handled on the local chapter level.

Unplug

Do you know what I did today? Please don’t answer that. Unless you were my wife who works in the same room as me, answering yes would be creepy as all hell. I would rather not like to know that there are people monitoring what I am doing all the time. I write enough fictional conspiracy theory content that I don’t need to make myself check over my shoulder more often.

This morning I woke up at 7 am and immediately jumped into work. I was about four pages of twenty-three pages of content production when my amazing wife walked into the room and scooted a cup of coffee next to my left hand with a piece of toast with jam. I absent mindedly drank my coffee as all my attention was focused on taking the ideas I chewed over in my sleep and get them out of my head onto paper.

It was around 11 o’clock when I found out that a system update to the core program that runs Home of LARP caused some security issues regarding the forums portion of the page. So, I had to suspend the entire site and start checking all of the plug-ins to see if there was a conflict between an old version and a new version of the software.

Sometime around early afternoon I put up the notice that Home of LARP would be down for a bit while I was talking with some of the app support staff as well as activating my 5-hour backup (just in case something major broke).  Around this time, I started hearing dozens of pings from Facebook, and after taking a glance, I turned the messenger off so I could get work done.

Around 3 in the afternoon we determined that the search function of Home of LARP was part of the core code, and I had to edit the index files that referenced the mini-search function by hand. This took about two to three hours which brought me to literally grabbing a hemp protein shake before heading out the door for my CrossFit class between 6:30pm and 8pm.

Do you know what I didn’t do today?

I didn’t monitor everyone’s personal Facebook feeds to be involved in brewing drama.

Neither did most of the people who run your games and gaming groups. While some of your game organizers may have desk jobs during the day that allow some additional Facebook time, but many the people who run your gamer groups either have day jobs, or are looking for a day job, or are so ingrained in game design and running that they spend an incredible amount of time buried in their work.

What does this mean? While the the vast majority of leaders of your social communities and gaming groups care about what is going on in their community, you need to give your leaders some degree of clear communication and reasonable time to look into and address potential situations.  Most of us don’t live on Facebook tracking who is saying what at all times. We have shit to do, not enough time to do it in, and some of us actively avoid Facebook because of the volume of communication it shouts at us daily.

And while a game community’s guidelines can’t govern and direct you in your everyday life (unless that is the nature of the group you sign up for) they can allow your game runners the tools to address, approach, and adjudicate situations where an individual may not be acting in a way that is healthy for the people in your community. Your community leader needs to look into the reported situation, sometimes check the community guide when a scenario is splitting hairs, and then talk to the people involved so they can make an informed and well developed action. But as a community member you need to give your community leaders reasonable time to address potential issues that are occurring (and maybe give them enough time to get home from work first too) before lighting everything on fire and running around with arms flailing.

Otherwise easily handled situations start to look like the “she’s a witch” scene from Monty Python and everyone is screaming about what to do. 

Catching a breath from the past few months and giving an update.

It’s been almost two months since my last update, and without a doubt it has been a busy two months. Every time it seems like I’ve cleared some space on my work table, I turn around and add another two projects to my workload. However a lot of what I do these days is a unseen by the public, so there is no way for everyone to know what is happening on my side of the internet.

So, for today’s update I am going to run you through an example of the last two months of my work so that you can see what I’ve been working on as well as providing a bit of transparency to the process that goes into making all of this happen.  While this isn’t going to be all the details (I won’t bother mentioning things like fixing a typo in a single page print or every quick meeting to confirm work) it will give a bit of an idea what goes into all of this madness.

First of all, we’ve opened a new branch of Dystopia Rising which is DR NY and we have interviewed a few others. These days I don’t do a ton of direct interaction and work with the Directors that are running chapters and instead most of my resources and teaching tools and techniques are handled by Jeff Moxley (the lovable rock and roll martial arts moppet). While Jeff handles a lot of the oversight, training, and monitoring of the chapters it allows me the time to produce local blueprints, create additional resources such as antagonists, and produce new adaptations to make what we already do well… better. An example of this is I’ve been working on the layout of item cards to produce more notation space and I have also been working with Jeff and the Directors to get localized equipment and materials produce that provide unique flavors for each chapter without making any single branch “better” in regards to their unique resource. 

In addition to the DR LARP materials I have been working on the production of the next DR table-top book. Overall the breakdown of the book is roughly 150 pages of materials written by me and then I work with two freelancers who each produce about 75 pages of content. After the initial draft I will cut that material down to closer to a total of 250 pages, and then it will go to our freelance editors to cut it down again to about 200 pages. I will then put together a list of key pieces of artwork that we need done, I will handle initial conversations with the artist, and then the project artwork will be contracted and processed by Ashley Zdeb and Megan Jaffe. Down the line I will do the layout work for the book and make it published materials, but that is a down the line project for me.

Rounding off DR, Uprise has been super easy for me this year. Steve has spearheaded the event and then after a few meetings all I have had to do is occasionally poke Steve and say “Remember when you were one of my STs and you used to do the same thing? God it is great seeing you have to manage it from the other side.”

Then we have Utopia Descending. Utopia is a very exciting project where the first event is literally one week after Uprise. So what that means is that over the past few months I have worked with Evan Tessier and our amazing team of storytellers (Jessica, Brianna, Kelsey, and Catie) in bring this event to life. What does that mean? Everything from creating documentation to organizing meetings to doing fan AMAs. Beyond the actual technical design and organization work it also means that my living room has become a crafting room and I have not seen more than a two-foot square of my living room floor in many months. Since we are using a lot of custom materials, much of what I am doing is literally being crafted by our own hands.

Crafting is also digital as well. Many of the promotions, web pages, and posting content for Utopia Descending come through Evan, Catie, and myself. This means producing a dozen or so adaptations of existing contracted art or creating new materials from the bottom up.
Most would see this as a full load of work, but I am not that good at taking breaks. So in addition to all of the LARP design work I am finishing the layout and final stages of a Utopia Descending short story book that HOPEFULLY will be available within a few weeks. The PDF portion of the book is already complete, cover and all, which was at least a couple days of work these past two weeks. 

Next there are the two mega-projects: Roadtrip and Battleship. These two massive events are the sort of thing that will really shake the world up. Roadtrip is one that as long as a handful of people are into it, we can scale the event to match what we are looking for. Jeff is doing the lion’s share of the work on this project and the only things I really need to add in now and then are content for web-site PDFs. Battleship on the other hand is a “all or nothing” sort of scenario with a huge startup cost and a limited number of spaces. Normally we could run an event at $100 or $200 tickets and do 200 players for an event for 4 weekends in a row, but with the scale and cost of running this one it would take us just about $80K just to make one weekend happen. While I know it’s a longshot looking to make this one happen, since it is well on the north end of what people are accustomed to paying for LARPs, it is without a doubt a project worth the attempt. 

I also had a couple of publications go live these two past months. Imagine Nation released its details for American Excess as well as ASH (A Series of Hauntings). We have a couple more of these single event LARPs getting set up with their future sites.  It looks like that we will have American Excess running multiple times this winter, and if the site pans out well, ASH running in the fall.

In addition to these projects I have an short piece that I adapted from theories I have on guiding immersion overall that has been refocused for Vampire and Werewolf LARPS that will be in a By Night Studios story telling secrets book. Working with Jason to make sure the content reached that companies audience instead of the LARP audiences I have been working with for the past decade took a bit of patience on their part and a couple of rewrites on mine.
So yeah, there is a snapshot of the last two months. Add in the fact that I’m getting married in two months, will be running Downfall in less than 6, and have half a dozen conventions I will be at… I hope yall can forgive the slower updates to the blog.  
 

Conflict between Competitive & Collaborative LARP

Lately there has been some notable discussion in regards to the direction of LARP design and culture with a primary focus on collaborative storytelling and game design styles. As a game designer, I find this discussion a wonderful direction for investigation, development, and implementation. Having story focused events where all parties involved negotiate to find a middle ground of collective acceptance for story direction provides an amazing environment for some in depth and inspirational transformative experiences.

verses.jpg

As these ideas are discussed, theorized, recorded, debated, and implemented we see an addition to the greater LARP hobby in the united states. This is, without a doubt, a good thing to see. The hobby of LARP is still fighting for acceptance, making moves to get out of the negative light that has been cast on us for decades, and provide both small and large scale experiences.

Unfortunately, much like any other medium, there are some people in the industry that tend to try and tear down old statues just for the sake of making room for new ones. Collaborative play is in, so conflict and contest play is out. Freeform and pre-designed narrative play single events is in, so chronicle sandbox mechanical simulation systems are out.  Cultural transformation and therapeutically focused events are in, so now entertainment focused events are out.

This, unfortunately, is causing as much harm to the hobby as it is causing good.

Saying you are a fan of the hobby of “LARP” is like saying you are a fan of “board games”.  You can be a fan of a number of board games, both collaborative and competitive, without one of the formats of play being “wrong” and the other being “right”. You can enjoy both Chess and Sentinels of the Multiverse. Just because you love Pandemic doesn’t mean that you have to throw your Risk board out the window. Save throwing the Risk board out for when your jerk friend just builds for ten rounds on Papua New Guinea while you mathematically can’t match their growth ratio.

The same applies for LARP. We don’t need a new form of LARP to replace the old. Instead, we need new techniques and forms of LARP coexisting in the same general descriptor of the hobby. That way as the tastes, interests, and focuses of our collective LARP culture of players shifts and changes there are different options for people to pursue. We need to embrace competitive play and collaborative play while we develop new hybrids and interesting forms of augmented live action experiences. We need LARPs that are designed to be tools for social and psychological care and LARPs that are nothing more than entertainment. 

TL:DR - To quote the worlds forefront taco aficionado... "Why not both?". 

Opening our eyes to the world that is instead of the world we dreamed.

This morning was a shock to many people. A person who had ran a political race based on hatred, division, racism, and opposition was elected into the White House. I could spend multiple updates outlining his quotes in regards to the people he marginalized and threatened, but that isn’t the focus of my blog. The focus of my blog is gaming and LARP culture.

I am going to say something that needs to be said, but, very few want to say. Keep in mind, this isn’t just about DR. This is about parlor LARP networks, about other boffer LARPs, freeform events, and damn near every LARP community I have been witness to over the past 24 years of running LARPs. This is about our culture as a whole.

LARPs that focus on inclusive communities, equality in our culture, and creating safer spaces have been fighting an uphill battle for years against a sea of bullshit that sometimes seems insurmountable. I think I speak for most of the game designers I know and community organizers when I say we want a perfect, safe, play space that is a utopia for everyone.

We don’t have that and for the most part it’s not due to a lack of effort on our part.

Game organizer can’t wave a wand and make all real-world issues go away. We can make little social changes here and there and we can set guidelines to try and build safer spaces, but we are limited to the culture and larger social system we operate in. We have been and are fighting an uphill battle of ingrained toxic culture in both our hobbies history as well as in the real toxicity in the world. We are approaching subjects that our government (and we the voters in the US) can’t seem to grapple and overcome. Somehow people expect their gaming community and its leaders to operate at a higher ideal function than our own law enforcement, legal, and judicial system.

This conversation might get less comfortable here.

Attempting to hold your smaller social groups (LARP groups) as the utmost authority in regards to social safety, real world crimes, and potential breaches of legality is a displacement of authority. Your game designer and smaller community leaders are not actual authorities outside the scope of their creation and operation. If two players get into a fight away from an event and the police are not involved, there is very little that your event host or community leader can legally do. Your community leaders do not have authority to determine guilt or innocence, or to dictate actual punishment. While a group of friends can easily not invite someone back, public LARP events have to follow tighter guidelines in regards to operation.

What we as a culture need to do is involve the due process of the legal system as well our political leadership in regards to the social, legal, and standards of our shared culture. As people, if we do not have faith in the due process or our system, then it is our responsibility to work to enact changes in the systems that we choose to govern us. For those that feel that these changes are impossible to make, and that going the route of the actual authorities will not create change, I ask you how it is in any way fair for you to shift the responsibility of taking agency for change off yourself and moving it to a game organizer.  Your game organizers want to make a perfect utopia, however, they are game designers and event runners. Your event runners, unless they are coincidentally involved in social/political/legal processes and reform… can’t really change shit. We can just make small pockets that the systemic issues in our culture sometimes don't effect. 

Despite this many people are fighting hard to make safer spaces. We are fighting to make “safer spaces” and not “safe spaces”, because the fact is there are no such things as safe spaces in this world. I think that we were lying to ourselves whenever we thought there was something close to an actual “safe space”. As of the time of the writing of this rant, it is illegal to be homosexual in 72 countries and 5 sub national jurisdictions around the world. Several major religions in the world still treat women as second class citizens. Racism is still entrenched in our collective cultures. We, the United States of America, just elected a president that rode into office on a wave of hatred and division.

So with this in mind know that many of us are working REALLY HARD to institute change and provide a safer environment where we can. We are, however, limited in the degree of change we can make while the world continues to tumble around in a shit show. If you want to yell at the people making change about how what they are doing is not enough, then I challenge you to do something to engage change. While game designers can tell you how their fictional world mechanically and socially interacts, we can’t tell you how the REAL WORLD socially and mechanically interacts.

And if the safer space being provided is not good enough by your standard, I would ask that you first take a few moments to reopen your eyes to the real world. The real world that many of us do not have to look at on a daily basis due to the privilege we are born with. The fact that your game runners, people who are designing pretend for you,  have to focus on making spaces that are safe for you to be yourself in says a lot about the world as whole. Think about that and take a step back and look at our world situation with a critical mind. Reform of our social and political systems is how we truly make safer spaces. Gaming groups working to make safer spaces is just a series of oasis in the desert… ones being forcibly made against all odds.  

Killing the Culture of Extremes and Absolutes

   The Culture of Extremes is an unhealthy phenomenon that has grown in the United States online LARP culture, and has signs of existence outside US LARP culture, is the concept of extremes being used as the mainline basis of all discussions, debates, and arguments in regards to culture, mechanics, and game content. The “slippery slope” debate if you will, only we have cut the transitive property of the slippery slope out of the equation and instead assumed the utmost extreme scenario as the default logic and reason.

   Some potential signs of the slippery slope or concept of a “culture of extremes” can be found identified in posts and communications with certain reoccurring traits. Now, speaking just from my observations and my opinions, the following reoccurring phrases and trains of logic are good warning signs of content that is following a slippery slope, culture of extremes, or sensationalistic focus.  These do not apply 100% of the time, because to assume that they do so would be to also give in to the culture of extremes.

“A lot of people feel/think/said…”

Statements that have this precursor in its content often are attempting to add validity to whatever comes next by suggesting representing a majority voice. In LARP culture it is unlikely that any one person speaks on behalf of a large number of people. I have personally found that what should be said instead of “A lot of people…” is “I talked to a couple people, and I agree with them.” The fact is that any social group of any notable size is going to have conflicting opinions. Just because an opinion is yours doesn’t make it better than anyone else’s unless you can define and structure your opinion with actual logic and facts. To quote another great game designer, Caias Ward, “Citations or G.T.F.O.”

Use of a product name or organization name instead of the actual source (the largest umbrella).

If a person has an issue with another person, and both of those people are a part of the same culture and community, transitive association of the experience between two individuals is often assigned to the group or organization instead of finding the most rational connection. If you meet a total asshole at an event, and you then say “X event is a culture of assholes” you are assigning the traits of an individual to a larger group or product. Maybe a product or group does have a platform or content focus that encourages certain negative social aspects. However, if you assign a definition of “negativity” to the product the assholes are participating in without finding a direct correlation… you are illogically assigning the blame for social conflict on the largest umbrella instead of the actions of an asshole (or really, sometimes it’s the case that the person speaking is the asshole).  Pabst Blue Ribbon and flannel did not create hipsters, hipsters adopted these items and incorporated them into their identity.

Citing the exception as the common rule.  

This scenario is the game designer’s anathema. When a player identifies a ten to twenty step process to cause a specific situation and a certain extreme outlining use of a rule set, this is a textbook sample of an argument of extremes. To use Dystopia Rising LARP terms, sure, a person may be able to combine a certain weapon, with certain brew, a skill buff, with two unique gizmos, a Strain advantage, a profession concentration, and two advanced profession skills to technically produce an amazing single scenario situation… but how fucking often is that stupidity going to happen? And if these steps are super readily available for the situation, allowed without the local story teller or Director saying “no”, and you must make the argument of technicalities then “No, the rule book does not need an additional 50 pages of errata to patch a situation that only exists in theory and technicality”. Just because a game runner could say “your dead” doesn’t mean they will, because all the mechanics and design work doesn’t create an experience. It is the framework for one.

The effortless cause.

This one is going to make some people angry, and really, I am OK with that. Often it is easier to look at the work and efforts of other people and criticize with theoretical extreme scenarios in regards to what they are doing instead of doing something productive. Unless a person, group, or organization has some fundamental massive flaws, chances are good that most groups are attempting to do something on the scale of “good” and may not be functioning on the same experiences and knowledge base as you are. However, in a culture of extremes, it is easier to vilify and damn entire swaths of people with carefully selected scenarios or situations pulled out of context instead of facing our own individual lack of constructive productivity.

I would guess that the social void that is the human condition sometimes causes people to assuage their own guilt of inactivity via making others appear to be “the devil itself” or take the frustrations they have with their own involvement and project it on others. In doing so an individual does the minimal efforts of sharing someone else’s meme or attack post instead of actively doing something to help. Just a theory, and one that scratches on something I would rather talk about around a hookah instead of doing a blog post on, but I think it has some merit. I think the idea can be summed up with “Sure, you reposted about how shitty something is. Now what are you going to do about the situation you are aware of other than pass the buck?”

The need of a voice.

This is a situation that I believe is tied into the greater social design of the political, economic, and cultural zeitgeist of the United States overall. It is my theory that individuals feel powerless, meaningless, and unable to change the real world. Our political system has representatives that I do not believe have the support of most the people (to quote the Washington Post “Breaking News: People hate all their presidential options”). It is my opinion that people feel that the current state of the world environment, our economy, our government, and the overall tension of the world is not something that people can make change in (connected to the effortless cause).

But you know what I can do? I can call the person who designed my entertainment a piece of shit because of a minute thing and prove to the world that I too am smart. However, to make the degree of investment some individual puts into arguments about the minutia not seem irrational, the subject matter needs to be inflated to be a “bigger problem” or to be a trigger for a “something larger”.

       Now, to not be trapped by my own design, I have stated that these are my opinions and observations. I also do not think that every single use of these examples ARE a sign of a culture of extremes, however, to my experience they are COMMON reoccurring examples and signs. Every single one of these examples that are provided could have the smallest details blown up, applied to a specific scenario, and debated by looking at a microcosm instead of a macrocosm. I get that. These are simply items that I personally find as good warning signs to become more aware of what you are reading and what you are expressing in your day to day life.

  I do not believe in extremes and absolutes. Even my disbelief in absolutes is not absolute.

Decisions Made for LARP design.

There are a few decisions that are made for LARP design, in particular for Dystopia Rising, that are focused on making the real-world LARP interactions run smoother at the smallest expense to defined “realism”. I put realism in quotes due to the fact that by definition anything that is writing as source material for Dystopia Rising is real for the world, no matter how fantastical that material may be.

So before you start arguing minutia about crafting times, volumes of brews, and “head shots should hurt more” remember that you are arguing realism in a world with zombies that walk around without reasonably functioning organics, Raiders which are their own species that you can become a part of by being born a raider or becoming infected by raiders, and people who can move objects and start fires with their heavily infected brain juices.

But, for those of you still wanting to know the decision-making process on some LARP specific items (and a couple business related items), I am providing answers for the most commonly asked questions.

Why do you have injection (needle based) brews that are such large volumes?
Sure, you can see the actual Waldo... but can you see the one Waldo not wearing any glasses? You know what glasses are bigger than? A needle. 

Sure, you can see the actual Waldo... but can you see the one Waldo not wearing any glasses? You know what glasses are bigger than? A needle. 

The injections are given larger volumes than normal for multiple LARP mechanic reasons. The biggest reason for the larger than normal volumes in brews is so that the physical representations for these items are large enough to be seen by marshals while you are in the field. Since we are a “what you see is what you get” game, and without a physical representation for brews and materials you do not get the benefits of the item, the larger brew choice was to make physical representations easier to see at a distance.

Some brews were made with smaller volumes later, but most of those brews are harder to make and if someone uses them in game the marshals would have an easier time checking for that card.

 

Why do Strains have roleplay and costume details that are closer to culture than genetic design?

If you read the tabletop books you will see that the requirements are different for the Strains. This is due to the fact that in a tabletop game you are not actually providing a physical representation for other players. In a LARP setting, your character would be able to tell the difference between a Pure Blood and a Yorker at a glance the majority of the time no matter how they were dressed. However if you, a human, dress like a Pureblood while playing a Yorker, chances are good people will mistake what you are on a Meta level. This is also the reason why the LARP focuses so much on visual requirements instead of just mechanical requirements… to make immersion easier for other players. Sure, a Yorker COULD dress like a Pure Blood “realistically”, but if you are playing a Yorker you should dress and act like a Yorker.

Now this doesn’t mean you need to become a caricature visually and via your role-play, but it is a good idea to aim to be as “iconic” as possible in regards to your Strain.

Why can't players bring in books from the outside?
No... you can not have item cards for all of these. 

No... you can not have item cards for all of these. 

Not allowing the majority of books in play is primarily due to two reasons. First, it is a common enough occurrence that players do not understand the difference between “could” and “should” in regards to what books they bring into play. Just because a player was able to find a book on nuclear physics at the second-hand book store doesn’t mean a character SHOULD have access to that book or the information outlined within it at game. On a sillier scale, we even had people try to bring the table-top books into play as “old world Arcadian reliquaries that foretold the future”. As much as it was cute that the throw-away character foretold me and the other writers as ancient gods, not exactly appropriate for play.

The second reason for not allowing most books is that it puts the imputes on knowing the content of all of the books a person could want to bring into play on the Director of a local game. This means that any book you would want to bring in the Directors would have to read the book to see if it is appropriate and not damaging to genre.

 Why is so much of the mechanical augmentation skills for combat covered with equipment instead of being skills that can be learned?

The answer to this is the same as the reason why we use damage calls instead of silent notations for combat: to force players to engage with social and economy focused players to encourage more roleplaying. If someone who loves combat had no reason to get more equipment, expendable equipment, and equipment improvements then the system would provide no reason for players to break out of their normal RP circles and engage each other. Combat focused characters expending resources drives the economy which supports social roleplay within game and across the network as a whole.

Why are there skills that would be beneficial to a profession list not on those lists?

Think of professions like atoms in a molecule that are defined in 3 categories: combat, economy, and support. If you put these three different types of atoms in a wheel around the nucleus of the molecule (in this instance the professions a Strain has), you will find that each category of atoms has connections that draw it closer to atoms in other categories.   You will find natural bonds between professions that would make sense in both a roleplay and character growth sense.

The less connection these professions have, the less they complement each other and oftentimes the more overlap you see.

What comes to my mind when I think of the phrase "Fishmongers Bane".

What comes to my mind when I think of the phrase "Fishmongers Bane".

Some people say “Priest, Assassin, Psion as a Remnant becomes the win” (sometimes they replace priest with something else). This normally makes me smile because this concept as a “win” only exists in a vacuum without engaging the rest of the game world mechanics with the profession combination. What do I mean by that? Well, have you ever heard a zombie or a raider call out “Fishmonger Bane” before? Nope. However, there are many things out in the world that mess up a Psions day really bad.

Are there any lists other than “assassin” that has a caveat of “there is an entire group of killers that, if you get caught being a part of this profession without joining them that they will mess your day up”? Nope.

And also… hit a Psion with blinding and see what happens to their list. Or hit them with equipment that saps away mind points or makes them unable to spend them for short periods of time.  I could also go into the cost of materials for Psion and Assassin specific equipment, but, that goes really far away from the topic of “why can my profession can not haz”.

Why can people buy two extra experience points per character. Isn’t that pay to win design?

This is a little harder to explain, because there are some facts that people may not like. Sure, you may have gone to a $25 game or a $5 game or a donations only game or a $0 game. Your game host may have bled money to provide a really cool event for their friends, or maybe the quality of the visuals of the game are only really good with rose-colored glasses of "the good old days". 

90s LARPs are more like 80s cartoons when it comes to our memory vs the truth of what the experience was.

The first thing is that Dystopia should be over a $65+ event weekend to start. Think about the content you get, the duration of time of entertainment you are getting, and the costs that the game hosts are paying for with the money you are putting in. Compare the cost of going to a bar for 4 hours, or a local show, or ordering delivery to the cost of a weekend long Dystopia event.

But, we know that at times younger LARPers it may be harder for them to be able to afford to play based on that $20 difference. So we offer a cheaper way for people to get into game, and, provide the standard cost with full benefits for everyone else who can actually afford it. The fact is that by the time credit card fees and taxes are taken out of what you are paying, a $45 paying player is providing closer to $39 to the game. Combine that with the fact that these games actually are completely on the books and by the books as business, and really, the price should have went up a year or two ago to match expenses and costs.

But also, you can’t "pay to win". It is primarily a PvE game where the number of players you have linked up with provides mechanical benefits much greater than years worth of experience points on a single character. We also greatly cap the volume of XP a person can get per game via cash, and offer people the ability to help out the game more (extra NPC, etc) to make up that 2 XP difference. 



 

Social Politics And LARP

There is a subject that I have been struggling with in my mind for a few years now, and that subject is the place and influence of applied activism and social reform integrated into LARP. The reason for my ongoing thought process about the subject is that I do, beyond a shadow of a doubt, see the potential to use LARP as a medium to enact social reform. By designing environments, situations, and communities to adhere to a set guideline of interaction a game designer can have a degree of influence on the direction and growth of their participants.

This is part of the reason I have always tried to err on the side of entertainment LARP with a touch of social commentary instead of focusing my LARPs on the constructs of pushing any form of direct medium. I am a LARP designer and a writer. There are dozens or so of people like me in the world, and, in my opinion most of us are not qualified or entitled to tell other people how they should live. That may be a part of my “define your own life and buck authority” thinking bleeding through but I don’t think your TV, music, or games should be used as a means to program the masses. Just thinking about that idea makes me want to yell “drugs and guns” while shaving a Mohawk into my hair.

Artistic rendition of how I feel when people start getting political around me online.

Artistic rendition of how I feel when people start getting political around me online.

The two primary influences in my decision making process that I use now are “can we make a fun experience for as many people as possible” and “can we do so while hurting as few people as possible”. So far that has worked pretty well for me. Sometimes people reach out to me and go “hey, could we do this to make things a bit better?” and I respond with “sure, lets figure it out”. Seems like a good process, and, overall it’s kept me from becoming a raging alcoholic.

However there are people who urge me to the protective extreme. I occasionally get commentary or emails or feedback from people that want to sand off all of the edges of a world’s content, what to control the in character concepts of conflict, and actually aim to censor or control what I write with threats of “making efforts of public shaming” as their weapon. I have, beyond a shadow of a doubt, been threatened a number of times by individuals that they would “go public” about something or another if I didn’t do exactly what they said. It is a frightening throwback to some ideas that the comedian George Carlin used to rant about in regard to people wanting to control your language. If only I hadn't given up on the idea of a public identity years ago, it probably would work incredibly well. 

But people pushing me to be more and more protective isn’t the part that makes me feel fuzzy about the entire situation. I get it. People want to create a better and safer community based on their viewpoints and expressions, and I can’t fault people for wanting to influence others to do more. I can fault them for not actually going out and making the change happen instead of poking other people, but, that is a different concept and discussion for another time. No, the part that scares me is when the lash-back eventually happens.

Whenever any group, organization, or system attempts to police and define degrees of what is acceptable and what is not we end up in a situation where there will be a number of people who rebel against that standard. Creation of a system, to a degree, inspires and drives a resistance to that system. So far, from my perspective, we have been lucky in the fact that LARP as a medium has been primarily populated with more free-thinking and liberal mindsets. However, I am concerned for the day when the push-back begins and one form of pressure to move to an extreme is met with a push in the other direction. LARPs that focus on more conservative, closed off, and exclusive mindsets are just an eventuality. While one group focuses to push the medium towards a very liberal and progressive thinking, it won’t be long before we start seeing conservative and nationalistic or religious traditionalism LARPs. I can see environments where people play “religious soldiers” fighting against the influences of damnation. I can see LARPs being made where the world is designed with clear cut “good and bad” influences defined by political interests. I can see LARPs that recreate historic events in such a way to rewrite history to serve a single interests group’s perspective.

And when the day that the political and social war becomes that embroiled into our hobby, I will watch the flames of the internet grow so high that the purpose of having fun at a game would forever be lost.  

To summarize with a joke that really isn't that funny if you think about it... this is how we get Trump the LARP.

Unfurl the geek flags! Raise the banners high!

I live in New England.

More specifically, I live on the shoreline of Connecticut on the Hamden - New Haven boarder. This means that my taxes are high, my weather is fickle, and my home city looks like a bloody castle. No kidding! If you walk around New Haven you would think that you are on the set of some sort of amazing film where the modern world has collided with a fantasy realm.

New Haven, you are a sexy and expensive beast. But I wouldn't have you any other way.

New Haven, you are a sexy and expensive beast. But I wouldn't have you any other way.

Yet despite the amazing backdrop of visual inspiration, New Haven has not ever really been a known hub for nerd and geek culture. For the most part  when I wanted to scratch my design and event itch, I would seek out people outside of Connecticut to work with. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts all got a lions share of my time because it was easier to find others of my ilk. New Jersey and Pennsylvania both have properties that exist just to rent to LARPs, New York has so many people that simply by probability any time you walked down the street at least one person in your line of vision was a fellow nerd, and Massachusetts had amazing beer.

What? Beer is important for creativity.

Elm City Games is awesome. Click on the image to check them out.

Elm City Games is awesome. Click on the image to check them out.

But New Haven never really let its geek flag fly. We all knew that it was there, we all knew that Connecticut had thousands of larpers and geeks and nerds across the state... but they all were hidden away and for the most part unorganized.

But now New Haven has businesses that actively support the Geek and Nerd communities. Elm City Games is a cafe where you can spend $5 to get full day access to an amazing library of geek materials and a place to play. On my first visit, a kid I didn't know walked up to me and asked if I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. We also having Barcade New Haven opening on May 1st where people can have craft beers and play vintage video games. 

It may be that I am a bit deranged, or maybe I am seeing opportunity,  I am seeing the businesses in the area actually investing into the culture that I know is strong and in need of support. I am seeing an opportunity, one of those rare ones like I saw when I created Dystopia Rising 8 years ago, where this could be something huge and amazing.

I have been a huge fan of Barcade NY and NJ. I have done a number of book release parties at both locations. Click on the image above to check out their web page. They are opening 5.1.16.

I have been a huge fan of Barcade NY and NJ. I have done a number of book release parties at both locations. Click on the image above to check out their web page. They are opening 5.1.16.

That being said, I have invested a lot into the gaming community on a national and global level for the past few years. Introducing new standards and techniques in US LARP, founding a publication company, working to design a universal LARP system, published a number of RPGs, and now I am getting ready for multiple new LARP lines to become public access. I've done a lot of great work with some amazing people and accomplished a number of things that many of my friends told me were impossible.

Maybe it's my hubris, but I think I can help make the Elm City into a hub for gamer-geeks around the world. So I am going to invest in New Haven. I am going to set up an ongoing LARP community that networks geek social events with different bars and coffee houses. We are going to organize the sort of nerd-sexy-geek-chic that I love in my greater community. Maybe it's time to change the Imagine Nation Festival from a small group of 40 or so friends into a public access event. 

I mean... why not? It's not like I was going to slow down or take a break anytime in the future anyways. 

Starting the Year Right: On The Best Way To LARP

Sorry its been two months since I updated this. In the past few months I have written 3 books, attended 3 conventions, and have been doing a ton of production work for the D.R. LARP Network. PLUS, I got engaged and started wedding planning. Sleep has been delayed until 2018.
 

For the past few years I have heard an increase in noise in regards to the “right and wrong” mediums of LARPing. Literally every approach and subject point on LARP has people arguing both for and against aspects of LARP system design, content, and mediums. People for skill calls, people against skill calls. People both for and against high small group experiences. People both for and against large sandbox type games. People both for and against LARPs that handle controversial subject matter. People both for and against contact and non-contact system design. People both for and against the use of LARP for social education. People both for and against the idea that LARP can be pure entertainment.

It seems that as soon as a decision in design and process is made, there are people willing to argue and debate both sides of the spectrum of the subject. Skill calls, non-skill calls. Spoken narrative or WYSIWYG. Campaign or single shot.

So I am going to settle all of these debates once and for all, and put a stop to “the game of whose better”. Much like the pope expressing everyone is free from another well-known game (which you just lost), I now free you from the need to argue and debate design decisions in regards to a “right and wrong” way.

LARP is such a wide hobby that appeals to many different sorts of people for many different reasons. I mean, look at the name! Live Action Role Playing. Literally our hobby is about the embodiment of another persona to experience a different or augmented reality via the medium of play. And much like any other game or form of play, there are varied levels of rules and systems that go along with the different games you engage in. Some games are super simple rules like checkers. Other games are much more complex in implementation like “World In Flames”. Both are games, both are valid forms of entertainment, and neither of these options are “right or wrong”.

Now if you want to debate the design of a system in relation to the experience that it is attempting to present, THAT is a valid debate. A game world that is designed with antagonism and conflict as a primary focus needs a system that streamlines combat and allows for a wide range of player involvement. A game world that is designed around player verses world interaction on a cerebral and influential level require a system that focuses primarily on the reward and benefit of non-combat activities. If you want a world simulation for an ongoing chronicle sort of event, you need to design something that addresses all forms of play. Often times this results in a very large rulebook.

Another thing to keep in mind as you are considering different design systems is the fact that single shot or limited occurring games are seen through rose colored glasses. Most games and world interactions have “a perfect system” for roughly one game event due to the fact that players have not had the ability to review systems objectively from an out of character perspective over a period of time, players do not have to face stagnation vs growth, and players don’t have the time or the investment to be able to gauge an system based on a relative scale. When players first start to engage in a game world, the mechanics and definition of system design means little to nothing to the participants. Everything in the world is shiny, new, and AMAZING (or bad, boring, and horrible). The system for the game has not had months and years of people looking for flaws, exploits, and limitations in the system. 

This is why, in my opinion, running single shot events for existing Intellectual Properties is SO MUCH EASIER than building your own materials from the bottom up. I have run a series of independent fan LARPs based on widely popular TV and Movie intellectual properties. PEOPLE LOVED THEM. People begged for the games to be done again, for the games to be run as serial games, and for me to push to get official rights to these properties. While I love the energy, the fact is that a one shot fan LARP is game design on easy mode. You don’t need to explain or design an engaging world for your players, they already know it from the TV, comics, and movies. You don’t need a fantastic system because people are going to be so enraptured with the world materials, and don’t have enough time to nit-pick your system design, that everything will be rolled together as a big ball of perfect in their mind.

But, the hoops of self-production vs being carried by existing fandoms is for another time. 

Perspective and Association of Interaction

Honest conversations require a lemur outfit.

Honest conversations require a lemur outfit.

Let’s have some honest chat time.

And if I am to be honest, it is going to be mostly me chatting and you reading because it’s a blog. If I were to talk to every person on the internet direct I would have gifs leaking out of my ears and more dick pics than on all of the cell phones in all of congress put together.

That being said, let’s cut through the preamble and get to the meat of the conversation.

DON’T BLAME A GAME FOR INTERACTIONS YOU HAVE IN YOUR REAL LIFE.

I get it. Being a LARPer means that you have a lot of passion for your hobby. We have not reached a point in cultural swing that there is much of a field for “casual LARPers”. Most people either are LARPers, consider themselves former LARPers, or are born again LARPers. So with this unique sect of culture we are a part of, I understand that we wrap a lot of our life up in a hobby that many people don’t understand.

Do not think that I am, in any form, playing down how much influence LARP has on our lives as well. I know a number of people who have come to terms with gender issues, sexuality, social hurdles, and even phobias and emotional issues within the medium of LARP. LARP is used for education, it is used for entertainment, it is used for therapy, and it is used for unique forms of artistic expression.

Much like damn near every other form of expression in the world. Dance. Painting. Music. Writing. Sports. Many of these things can be used as a medium to help a person improve themselves.

However, when someone who attends a football game runs into that drunken shit bag in the parking lot who is vomiting on their car, you don’t blame the sports team or the sporting event you just came from. When you meet someone at a club, and they turn out to be an emotional Godzilla, you don’t blame the band that was playing when you met over your 8th kamikaze. When you find someone at the pottery class who smells horribly but for some reason you can’t escape hanging out with them after the class, it sure as shit isn’t the pottery wheel that did you wrong.

What did you in was that you assumed that just because you shared one thing in common (LARP) with another person that somehow all of the other details in regards to human interaction would just work out. That isn't how shit works. Eventually, you stop talking about how much of a bad ass your story tellers are for entertaining you and you stop talking about how cool your own character is and eventually you have to interact as a human.

So here is the deal: meet people at LARP. Become a giant loving family. Get to know one another AWAY FROM GAME to determine if you are a match. If you find one that matches, AWESOME. If you find lots that match, MORE AWESOME. If you find a few that match you in that special way, BANAGARANG! But as LARPing gets bigger and bigger as a hobby you need to understand that you are going to find more people that you DO mesh with and more people that you DON’T mesh with. If you went anywhere in the world, and pulled three hundred to ten thousand people together,  there is going to be at least one person that you personally just DO NOT MESH WITH. And that is OK. That isn't the fault of the game, or the community, or even humanity... that is just fucking probability. 

But in the end getting along or not and making that human connection  has very little to do with the game you play. That is, of course, unless you are an asshole when you play too. Then gaming works as a nice warning sign for the rest of us.

Going Legit: A Prediction of Growing Pains

Cosmonaut into new frontiers of make believe. Either that, or we replaced his normal morning coffee with a vat of LSD.

Cosmonaut into new frontiers of make believe. Either that, or we replaced his normal morning coffee with a vat of LSD.

Right now US LARP is just starting to grow into what I believe will be considered, in the future, a renaissance of LARPing. What was originally a hobby that either involved hitting your friends with plumbing supplies, or playing rock paper scissors at your favorite goth club, is evolving and being introduced into more and more aspects of public consumption. With the introduction of GPS based app games which create an augmented gaming reality, to academic consideration and analyzation of techniques and care, we are thinking and doing more with LARP now than we ever have in the past.

Even major entertainment corporations are trying to start to learn techniques and information that we have developed over the past twenty years.

However, in this time of new growth and advancement, there is also going to be a period of time where we go through some community sized growing pains. There are some things that we have done, as a community that will either need to be adjusted or just outright cut from what we do as a culture. So, without further ado, I will provide my Growing Pain Predictions for the LARP community as a whole. Understand that the following are predictions I am making based on experience and from what I am seeing in the tarot cards, not from the place as a lawyer or accountant. I am neither of these. I hire lawyers and accountants to handle that sort of things.

TOP 5 PREDICTIONS:

1. Much like in most music scenes, we will have to fight a culture of “real LARPers” verses “hobbyist LARPers”. As corporations start to introduce more and more LARP techniques into entertainment, and as IPs are developed into the realm of augmented games, we will see the “Real Gamer/ Fake Gamer” or “Real Goth/ Fake Goff” argument expand further into our culture. While we already deal with the entire “nerd cred” and “nerd card” bullshit, I anticipate with a larger influx of division.

2. Death of the Micro Game. I used to play in a few LARPs in the early 90s that were effectively table top games that we walked around and talked as our characters when we played. It took place in one of our friend’s parents’ house, and, there was zero of the way of production value. The occasional costume piece made someone stand out like WOW and we passed the hat for $5 each to help offset the cost of toilet paper and cleaning. There were 20 of us at the most at our friends house, and, it was my roots in LARPing. In October 2015 I ran an event for 802 people who lived in a simulated town environment for 4 days. This included building structures, having a custom made 14 foot long and 10 foot tall dinosaur, vehicular combat from the back of real moving vehicles, a side show, a stage, 20+ performers, and over $20K in event creation costs. Players could attend that event for $55.

When I was growing up I would spend $5 and get maybe 5 hours of half-assed (but fun) involvement. Now players are accustomed to 48 hours plus with massive investment for only about $50. If it was 1993 again and you told me that I could either spend 5 hours with my friends for $5, or $50 for 48 hours and get giant dinosaurs and incredibly immersive content, I would not even blink as I ditched my micro game for the macro game.

3. Loss of LARP as a hobby, and creation of LARP as a medium. Again, back in the angst filled early to mid-90s, if someone asked what I was doing on the weekend and I said “I am going to a LARP” there was one of three responses. Either they had no idea what LARP is, or they thought I was getting a foam stick and running into the woods, or they thought I was going to go listen to Bauhaus while discussing the state of undead affairs. Already when you talk to people, and they say they LARP, it could mean a thousand different things. Immersion weekends, parlor LARPs, Nordic LARP, American Freeform, education LARP, augmented reality LARP, etc. etc. With this in mind we need to stop looking at LARP as the hobby and instead look at it as the medium. Much in the same way that there are people who love different sorts of music but dislike others, we need to start accepting that LARP as a whole is a medium instead of the message. It’s OK to love rap and not rock, or to like classical and not modern, or to like Ska but not rockabilly. It’s all music with well-defined subsects.  We need to stop saying “I am running a LARP” and start saying “I run an immersive contact safe LARP event”. We don’t say “It’s a music concert” we say “It’s a rock concert”.

4. Catching up with legalities. Not to blow whistles, but, there are a number of LARP groups out there that are operating illegally or dangerously. Either they are franchises that have not taken the proper steps and financial requirements to file, or they are not handling their taxes correctly, or they don’t have the right insurance, or they are operating without any sort of business structure. All of these points leave event operators open for litigation, lawsuit, and potential future issues. From as large as IP theft to as small as knowing the legal definition for a bow in your region (sometimes it is sporting goods, sometimes a firearm, sometimes a weapon, sometimes not). For a while now LARP has been able to sort of fly under the radar. As it grows with corporate and financial investment, so does the attention brought to it.

5. Less of a playground, and more of a contest. One thing that the LARP community has that many other gaming communities do not have exists on the professional level. Many LARP designers work together, discuss techniques, help one another out, and advise one another. As time moves forward and these larger entertainment companies become involved in the LARP community, at least a portion of that sense of mutual promotion is going to go away. Competition between professionals searching to net the highest degree of profit for their big name IP product is going to make it so that the growing independent developer has to fight harder uphill to scratch out a place for themselves. Some of the company names looking to get into LARP as a means of entertainment is astounding, with billion and trillion dollar backings looking into our dusty and forgotten playground for the first time. Once these financial giants go public with their investment into our playground, the terrain will change forever. 

Living Games.

In 2016 I will be attending the Living Games Conference in Austin Texas. Not only am I going as an active participant, but I also will be attending as a speaker. It is few and far between where I actually open my mind and mouth up in regards to my processes, design theories, and ideas in regards to how we make the Magic of LARP happen. For myself, the past two decades have been a lot of learning by trial and error, forging my way into new territories, and fighting uphill against seas of naysayers and couch quarterbacks. So when people basically ask for my short notes, I often bristle up and go silent. What I do has taken a lot of work, a lot of time, and I sometimes get defensive of other people "taking the short route".

However, at conventions such as these, we can come together as professionals and equals to not only address concerns and development issues but also expand on our own experiences. We can learn from one another, network, and make new dreams appear where once there was nothing but opposition and restrictions. 

But conventions like this, in particular the first years of them, cost a ton of money to get going. Without the help of kickstarter backers and attendees buying their tickets in advanced, events such as this can not happen.

So if you want to go, or if you just want to help, check out the link above for the events Kickstarter. 

I hate Story Tellers in gaming.

I’ve grown to hate the term “story teller” in regards to LARPS and RPGs. The name suggests something that should be inaccurate in regards to what your staffers do when at a game. Story Tellers don’t actually tell stories, or at least the good ones don’t. Telling a story suggests that there is one side of the staff to player equation that is producing the tale, and the other side of the equation is observing the tale. “Story Tellers” shouldn’t be TELLING a STORY. Story Tellers should be organizing story enriched scenarios and situations so that the players can interact with a story telling vehicle to be a part of a collaborative story telling situation.

The “story telling vehicle” of a plot or module is the mechanical design, situation, or actions that cause a plot or module to move forward. Think of the vehicle as the driving platform that your entire module rests on. A vehicle can be a series of threats coming into the area, a merchant looking to do business, a shipwreck, or any other unique “moving parts” that make action occur in a plot. Vehicles are often times the points of interaction where the player has their proverbial videogame controller and can influence what is going on in the game.

The “vehicle” is how a player interacts with your plot and module. It is the variable, the control point, and often times the gauge of success or failure. Maybe your vehicle is a toyetic device where players have to build or destroy something hands on. Maybe players need to socially negotiate or engage your NPC to get specific information. Maybe your players need to run around a ship simulation and physically move portions of the ship to replicate sailing. All of these are fantastic vehicles, however, none of them make a full module.

The second part needed in a module is the “story situation”. The situation is what most people traditionally call the story in regards to a module. It is the who, what, when, where, and most importantly the WHY that makes your scenario both interesting to engage as well as a part of genre. It is the immersive element of the module that makes it so that the module is part of a living and breathing world. It is the portion of a module that actually makes your module/plot be a part of the over-arcing games story and genre instead of being its own standalone island. WHY is the merchant coming into town to sell these goods? WHY is this farmer coming into town asking for help? WHY is this assassin trying to kill your players?

And when you are writing the “story situation”, DO NOT REFER TO YOUR VEHICLE AS THE SITUATION. A merchant coming into town to make money and sell goods is not a situation. It is a vehicle. If you want to make this merchant into something worthwhile of sending out an NPC have the merchant be a representative of a farming collective who is looking to make future ties come the bounty of the harvest. Or have the merchant come into town with a tale of woe, suggesting that they have information about the big McGuffin or long standing antagonist that can be coerced out of them once they have finished business. That very same merchant could be coming into town to sell goods so that they can engage players as a representative of a particular faith and as business is being done see about having the players baptized into their faith.

Here is a good set of litmus tests for your module or plot before releasing it into the field. Take a look at the sum total of what you have put together for your plot. If you were to completely remove the players from interacting with the plot, would your plot just keep going? If your answer is yes then chances are good then your plot lacks a solid vehicle that allows for player agency. Now take a look at your module again. If your plot could exist at any LARP of any Genre without having to change or remove key points, then your plot needs a better situation. If the tale you are weaving around your genre is able to be applied to any LARP, then chances are good the situation is too generic and needs more detail and flavor to become something that is engaging.

Sometimes turning a flop of a module into something amazing just requires that little extra touch. Turn a field of zombies into a field of zombies around an unconscious child whose family now shambles in the masses. The vehicle becomes the combat with the zombies while the story situation is a vulnerable child that will draw the undead to them once they wake up… just to be eaten by their former loved ones. It’s up to the players to save the child before they wake up screaming.

Take your merchant selling goods or buying materials, and give that merchant origins with a shady organization to provide or pick up “black book” type work to the people who are in the know and want to grease the wheels. This person now not only provides the merchant support you want, but also has a personality and an drive to try and find the right crooked folks to do some dirty work. Even this little scenario is incompletely as the merchant functions as a hook for a future story, but it allows your vehicle to have a little bit more of a reason to exist and allows this individual to be the gate keeper to a future interaction.

Always strive to make your vehicle more engaging and your story situation more robust. As both ends of the equation grow, so does the quality of your work.