Novelist, editor, and print and digital journalist. Co-author of the Dystopia Rising tabletop books, Embers of the Irradiated West, Diaries of the Rum Coast, Scraps of the Rust Empire, Overgrowth of the Undying, and Sleepy Hollow. With under a decade of LARP experience, as a journalist Catie Griffin has covered events that range from LARP to Comic Con to New York Jedi.
LARP is growing by leaps and bounds. With the College of Wizardry, Dystopia Rising and other LARPs gaining steam, it’s high time to show what LARPs are all about to the general public. Catie’s focus is taking LARP and gaming and showing it in a format that's appealing to the world at large rather than just the gaming community.
“My character wouldn’t do that.”
That phrase? That phrase right there? That’s one of my pet peeves in LARP. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a phrase that’s completely fine if you enjoy staying true to the essence of your character. At the same time, though, you shouldn’t sigh theatrically and say it with a sad look in your eyes as you learn about something that’s going on within a game.
Today, I’m going to talk a bit about Dystopia Rising: New Jersey. For those that don’t know, this is the New Jersey branch of a post-apocalyptic horror survival game that spans across the United States. For the past few months, I’ve worked as the game’s Director of Storytelling, managing storytellers and bringing the world to life. And I’ve loved every minute of it.
First, I’m going to tell you a bit about my history with the game. Before becoming the director, I was a storyteller. Before I was a storyteller, I was a coordination marshal. Even before that, I was an avid player, attending almost every month to enjoy an escape into the apocalypse (I started back in 2012, when I was covering DR:NJ as a journalist. I know. I’ve played a LOT.).
Because of this history, I have a very good sense of what happens both “on the stage” and “behind the scenes” when it comes to running the game (Seriously. One of these days I’ll write a blog post about the ridiculous things we’ve had to deal with on a staff side.). And that’s exactly why today, I’m going to talk a little bit about the game’s “gang system.”
Today, I want to talk about being a storyteller for a game that regularly averages 200 to 300 people. Why? Storytelling for a larger game comes with its own drawbacks and challenges—things you don’t necessarily face with smaller games. I’ve encountered these challenges time and time again not only as a storyteller, but also as a director for Dystopia Rising: New Jersey. And it’s also a topic that I haven’t seen covered much.
One of the things that really attracted me to LARP was the story--the ability to create a character and enact their actions in real life. It's a bit like walking into a novel or movie. There's the suspension of disbelief as you watch everyone around you act out their own small chapter in a larger narrative.
By that same token, I always viewed LARP rules as a way to facilitate the larger story. Conflict will happen--it's a story. I'd go so far as to say that conflict is inevitable and helps drive story at LARP. This means that having rules to help resolve that conflict and show what the outcome would be are useful.
When you create a character at a campaign LARP, you put a lot of time into that persona. You get the appropriate costuming, you create a personality and history for that character, and you form relationships and goals with that character. So what happens when that character’s story is at an end? What happens when your character dies?
ARP: It’s a catch-all term that’s used to cover everything from entertainment to education. And that’s part of the problem.
There’s nothing wrong with LARP itself, of course. Instead, it’s the way people look at it. LARP can include fantasy, post-apocalyptic, American freeform, Nordic, and a host of other categories and styles. It can be anything from a parlor LARP to a boffer LARP, or anything in between. But time and time again, I see people looking at LARPs through the lens of another LARP.
A stealthy assassin sneaks into someone’s house and then stabs them to death before leaving quietly by the door. A thug beats up an unsuspecting victim and then finishes him off. A man is beaten down, tied up and tortured before being killed.
Today I want to talk about something that has fascinated me since I began LARPing: Player versus Player, or PvP. It’s something I’ve watched time and time again as both a player and as a storyteller in LARP at Dystopia Rising. And it’s something that I’ve seen very few people talk about as a general rule of thumb.
Three years ago, I had no idea what LARP was. I had this vague notion that it was an event where people talked in British accents and wore medieval-style outfits with pointy ear tips. In other words, I thought LARP was a big game of dress-up on a campground in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t wrong, but anyone who LARPs can tell you it’s far more than that. The problem is actually finding someone who LARPs to explain it to you.