The Squeaky Wheel

I strongly believe in feedback for LARP writers, and open commentary on LARPs.

During my first year or two of LARP, I was often surprised when I came across some aspect of a LARP, particularly characters, that seemed deeply flawed.

Two things I’ve learned since then. One, a character that seems deeply flawed to me generally isn’t inherently flawed… it may appeal to a relatively small minority of players, but the issue is often actually with casting (which is often impossible to get perfect)- that is, I was the wrong player for the role. (Or, alternatively, the complaining friend I was listening to was wrong for theirs.) I was once discussing a character whose one ability turned out to be a delusion designed to amuse the GMs (As mentioned in a previous post.) I thought the entire concept was flawed, and that no LARPer would actually enjoy that, but then a fellow LARPer said he actually would probably enjoy that part.

To each their own, right?

The second realization was that unless a GM and/or writer specifically asks for feedback, they don’t often get much, if any. People are afraid to offend GMs/writers. Maybe some people think, “I’ve already played this LARP so giving feedback now doesn’t help” (if it’s a one-shot and not an ongoing campaign or series).

I definitely find myself thinking the former, fairly frequently. Unless the GMs specifically ask for feedback (in which case I always try to use the Compliment Sandwich)… I’m usually too worried  about developing a reputation for being one of the problematic players. Hard to please, whiny, unable to look at a character or plot they’ve played from an objective point of view (i.e. regularly saying, “this character’s goal was completely impossible” whenever they fail.)

It’s a pity. I remember playing a LARP, very early on in my career, and wasn’t happy with a couple of easily fixable aspects of the character, and wondering how it could have run so many times with the same flaw. It’s possible that all of the previous players cast as that character didn’t mind or even liked what I didn’t. It’s possible the things I didn’t like were very recent changes, so they just hadn’t been tested yet. (Though I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the case.) But if I had to place money on it, I’d guess no one had bothered with feedback.

Vaguely distressing to think that maybe my four hours, or even whole weekend, might be been significantly improved if people before me had said something.

And some future LARPers’ four hours (or even whole weekends) might be improved if I would say something.

And yet the LARPs that have run many times can seem particularly intimidating to me… I find myself thinking, “they must not want feedback, otherwise someone would have offered it” or “if only one player complains out of ten that have played this part, they’ll just dismiss my experience as an outlier anyway.”

Which means I’m thinking in a contradicting, self-defeating and rather hypocritical manner… likely born out of my own fear of confrontation; I just really don’t want to risk offending a writer. Besides, I also worry they think I don’t have a leg to stand on, having pretty much no real writing experience (the ten minute Colonoscopy; The LARP doesn’t exactly count for much), and very limited GMing experience.

But if I’m trying to give the writing of the LARP the benefit of the doubt, and I say, “the issue is with the imperfect casting, not inherent to the character” then logically, it’s likely the fault is at least half mine, if not all mine. I spend a pretty decent amount of time on character questionnaires. And I enjoy talking to GMs about methods they use for casting. The panel on casting and questionnaires at a past Pre-Con was a rather fascinating look into the topic.

Clearly I’m still no expert at filling them out… For King’s Musketeers, as I’ve mentioned, I looked back over my own questionnaire, and I can see how I received my particular casting… even though it’s not at all what I had in mind.

I’m fairly certain part of my problem was trying to seem too accommodating, like an easygoing player a GM would actually want in their LARP. I would hate to be seen as too picky or demanding or difficult to please on the basis of my character questionnaire alone. I suppose it’s about hitting the balance between being so accommodating that the wrong character seems like a fine choice for me, and being so picky that one comes off as impossible to please. Been filling out these questionnaires for 7+ years, still trying to hit that balance.

I think there are some GMs that might say, “stop trying to walk the line; say exactly what you want.” I know for Feast of the Minotaur, I asked a GM if I’d gone on too long in response to the question, “what would your ideal character be” and his response was, “there’s no such thing as too much.”

On the flip side, I’ve heard GMs express frustration with players whose responses are very long and particular, especially when they express their desires in absolute terms. So maybe it depends on the GMs.

I wonder how much of this came up at the Players are Scum panel at Pre-Con. Wish I hadn’t missed that.

Small anecdote to end on. For Blackfyre Rising, the LARP based in George R R Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, I had very particular ideas about what sort of character I wanted to play. I thought I had been very particular on my questionnaire. But I was initially quite unhappy with my resulting casting. (This part of the anecdote has a happy ending; I ended up having a complete blast in that LARP… though I’m fairly certain I took my character in a direction the writers hadn’t intended.)

I played Blackfyre Rising a second time, at Intercon Mid-Atlantic. And that time, I was as particular as I thought was possible… and even had knowledge of the LARP from my first run to draw on while filling it out. Definitely was trying to be a squeaky wheel and get the casting I’d initially hoped for.

I did have a ton of fun in that second run. Though I definitely didn’t get the character I was hoping for (or, actually, any of the others ones I considered to be secondary choices, for that matter.)

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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