My second panel of NELCO 2012 was Game Wraps. I don’t remember much in the way of detail that I didn’t already mention in my general overview of NELCO post, so I’m just going to jump into my thoughts on the topic, as presented at the panel.
First of all, on the off-chance there are boffer LARPers reading this (or campaign-only theater LARPers) who aren’t terribly familiar with the concept (though I imagine anyone could guess most of it just from the name): Game Wraps usually happen right after a one-shot theater style LARPs. Generally, GMs call the LARP off, then people gather in a circle to find out all the stuff they missed in-game. Typically, people take turns saying who they were, their secrets, and what they did in-game, and the GMs explain what was going on behind the scene.
Of course, if you take a typical LARP of 20 to 30 people (that contained about four hours worth of plot and secrets) and everyone speaks for at least one to two minutes (and some people can take much more) it quickly adds up to a very time consuming process. Maybe not so terrible if you’re at a standalone LARP and have no rush to be anywhere afterwards, but at conventions like Intercon, it can potentially make players late to their next LARP (and keep GMs from setting up the next LARP in the room).
And then there are weekend long theater LARPs, where everyone has a weekend’s worth of plots and secrets, and there are typically somewhere between 40 to 70 players. You simple can’t let everyone speak for even two minutes (and many would talk for longer if they could!) because you will probably run into the time where you are no longer allowed to be in the space you have, be it a hotel’s event space or a university building. (Plus people are typically hungry and want to get to the Dead Dog, or Dinner Mob as some call it, where they’re going to continue rehashing the LARP anyway.)
Side note, I’ve never figured out why my LARPing community refers to the dinner that follows a LARP a “Dead Dog.” People tell me it’s from the expression “beating a dead horse” because people go over and over the LARP… but then why don’t we call it a Dead Horse? Does Dead Dog just sound that much snappier?
I’ve seen a few different tactics for dealing with Game Wraps. Just letting players go around in a circle is good if your LARP is fairly small and the plot isn’t particularly complex. Sometimes there’s a bit of guidance from the GMs so that groups of characters can all speak one after the other, i.e. the royal family might all speak one after another, or everyone who is secretly a member of the Illuminati might have one person explain their group goals so that it doesn’t have to get repeated.
I’ve seen GMs do the entire game wrap by themselves, start to finish. I wouldn’t recommend this method, even if you’re the only writer and thus very familiar with every character, because people like to have their moment in the sun (which is part of why Game Wraps even exist) and talk about stuff that actually happened in the LARP that GMs might not be aware of. Supposedly, the advantage of this would be speed, and potentially organization if it’s planned in advance, though I’ve only seen it done once and it was still a very long Game Wrap.
For very large LARPs, I’ve seen GMs use a timer to give everyone a certain amount of time (say, 45 seconds) and interrupt players if they start to go over their allotted time. Very useful for making sure the Game Wrap doesn’t drag on for hours, but it’s hard to do (as some GMs feel bad interrupting players).
Personally, I feel very sympathetic towards GMs who are willing to interrupt players, because — and here is my confession — I get pretty annoyed with Game Wraps where people are rambling. I particularly dislike it when players go into excessive detail about their background history, which isn’t really relevant to any other player there. I shouldn’t be so grumpy about it, since I know having your turn in Game Wrap can feel like you’re being put on the spot, and if your thoughts aren’t organized in advance, it can be really hard not to ramble.
My personal method for speaking at Game Wraps involves not going first (unless the players were given a moment to collect their thoughts) so that I can mentally prep the most concise answers to the following three questions.
1. How would I sum up my character in one sentence?
This often involves the character’s full name (including their cover identity and secret identity, if they have them) along with commonly known tropes and titles. For example, “I played Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter who was secretly Superman, the strongest superhero on earth and all around good guy!”
2. What was most important to me in the LARP?
This is usually a list of the two or three most important goals on my To Do list (if I had one.) It might sound like “I wanted to protect Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen and find out what Lex Luthor was up to and stop him.”
3. What big secrets do I have about what I did that people are likely curious to know?
This isn’t about summing up my major accomplishments — everyone knows I defeated the Big Bad if the last moments of the LARP involved a mass combat. But people might be curious to know who the killer really was if it was never solved in-game, or who ended up with the coveted MacGuffin. If I secretly poisoned a cup but no one drank from it (and therefore no one is curious about it), I can tell people later, not during the Game Wrap. I might tell people that the only way to defeat me was kryptonite, if there’s a good chance someone spent the game trying to figure out my one weakness but never did.
You’ll notice nowhere in here do I mention how my parents found me in a spaceship or how finding out I was adopted made me sad, or that my combat score was a whopping 100 on a scale of 1 to 10. (In fact, many GMs will send you a character sheet or two if you request them via email after a LARP, so if someone is really curious about why my character was so depressed, or how I really felt about their character, they’re able to find out later on their own.) I also wouldn’t mention stuff that has to do with the Justice League, since that probably has been/will be covered when Batman and Wonder Woman take their turns. There’s probably tons of other cool flavory bits in my character’s past, or explanations for aspects of my costuming that I’m proud of, or abilities I unlocked, but that can all wait until the Dead Dog. I might add my favorite moment in the LARP if I can sum it up one sentence.
Generally, this takes up a lot less than the allotted time.
Another great suggestion I’ve heard is not to go in chronological order. Some people start with their character’s births, or whatever the first thing on their background sheet was, but if they end up going on too long (whether or not someone actually has a timer), they often haven’t yet gotten to the important parts… and they’ve either gotten buzzed or people have tuned out/gotten annoyed.
I think the best summary I ever gave at a Game Wrap was, “Hi, I’m Princess [redacted] and I’m exactly who I appear to be. My likes include my home country, my current country, and art. My dislikes include people who hurt my countries, people from warlike country X, and whores who sleep with my husband.”
It was quick, allowed people to get a very basic understanding of my character and my general goals — support and protect my home and its works of art, bear a grudge against one other nation, and keep the prince from philandering. I think it’s a little unfortunate when a character can be summed up as “I’m exactly who I appear to be,” but I use that sentence whenever I can at game wraps, because it’s a lot shorter than “I’m the daughter of X, the wife of Y, I’m loyal to the group I appear to be with, I’m not secretly a superhero or time traveler, etc.”
I actually have an experiment I’d really like to do if I ever run a LARP. I’d like to create and print a one page survey to hand out at the end of the LARP, that essentially asks those three questions (maybe modified a bit, depending on the LARP.) Then everyone would be given pens and a short amount of time to fill them out. After that, I’d post them up on a wall and let people wander about and read them (or leave if they want to slip out without interrupting anyone.) If people still have questions, they can stick around to ask me or other players… and maybe the sheets themselves could be collected into some kind of packet as a keepsake from that run.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear what any GMs or LARP writers think about this method of Game Wraps.
And to end on, there’s one other common purpose of Game Wraps, and that is to answer “what happens next?” A lot of players want to know if there were further consequences of their actions and what they were, both on an individual level and on a larger scale. Some players will even get into arguments during Game Wrap, explaining how their characters are poised to take down another (which can sometimes devolve into arguments about stats and mechanics…) It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. And I recall one time, after a LARP, a small group of players came up to me and explained that my character should now abdicate, because they were guaranteed to take my throne. I was mildly put out — I found it a bit insulting and presumptuous.
Which leads me to a policy that I’m incredibly fond of: what happens after the LARP is over is up to each individual player. There’s no one “canonical” storyline. I think some may find this unsatisfying in some cases (I recall that at the end of a LARP that involved a massive build up to a civil war, players were very curious to know the result of the war), but I think it’s almost always the best policy. In the case I mentioned above, in those players’ story, their characters took over the throne. In mine, my character continued to crush anyone in her way beneath her heel. And both versions are correct.