Intercon M Post-Con Report Part III: Thursday at Pre-Con

For those unfamiliar, Pre-Con is a relatively recent development for Intercon. I think the first one was at Intercon J, back when we used to call it the Thursday Thing.

Basically, Intercon extended its schedule back to include Thursday evening and the rest of Friday, and used the time to host a series of panels on LARPing. The panelists are mostly members of the Intercon community, though a few panels have had people who had yet to become involved. It was enough of a success that we also started NELCO, or the New England LARPing Conference, which is an entire weekend of panels in the summer. NELCO was awesome. I’m looking forward to the second one.

I’ve missed chunks of Pre-Con in the past due to schedule conflicts with school, which was a bit of a bummer, but this year, I was there for the whole thing. The schedule has gotten a lot fuller. We had 13 panels at the first Pre-Con (including my Costuming for Beginners.) This year, we had 29. I was almost a little bit disappointed, because the schedule had so many cool sounding panels, many of which were in the same time slot, so attending all of them wasn’t possible. I kind of tried to hit multiple in one time slot by only going for half of each, which turned out to be a mistake- instead of getting a taste of all of the panels I wanted to attend, I felt like I was missing the best bits of both.

The first panel I attended Friday night was “Boxing” a Game. I was particularly excited about this panel, because I think I was one of the people who suggested it, and I think it’s a very important topic for our community. We have a lot of great LARPs that sort of die out because the original writers get burned out from running them, and though they say they’re willing to let other people run the LARPs, the LARPs themselves are in no condition for someone who wasn’t intimately involved in the writing process to understand them well enough to run. And having those LARPs available would help a lot, because the various LARPing weekends are always looking for more games to run (Festival this year seems to have a lot more interest than there are spots open in LARPs) and people say, “I’d like to run something already written, but everything that’s publicly available has been run too many times.”

My notes on the panel included a list the panelists created for things that should be contained in what people call a “GM Bible”- a guide for the GMs running the LARP. It included:

1. Mechanics

2. Setting description (and how to create immersion)

3. Master Narrative – a 3rd person omniscient narrative of everything important that has happened leading up to the LARP.

4. Tips for casting and stuffing  (i.e. prepping the materials to hand out to players.)

5. A casting questionnaire, with comments on what has worked and what hasn’t for casting.

Other suggestions included appendices, recommended crew size, all of the character sheets (that’s a bit of a no-brainer, I think) a list of needed props, space requirements, and instructions for setting up the space. (“Remember to hide the McGuffin prop in the locked treasure trunk, and to tape instructions for opening the trunk on the outside.”)

One of the panelists suggested that there be two versions of the GM Bible- one for prepping for the LARP, and one run-time GM Bible. (Presumably, the latter doesn’t require the notes on casting or the casting questionnaire.)

As this was an introductory sort of panel, with people kind of spitballing ideas for how to box a LARP, we never got into very specific details or instructions. I’ve never run another person’s LARP on my own or even written a LARP, but I do have a few thoughts. I know some GMs come up with a list of plot ideas when they’re starting the writing process. If so, I would say go back to that list and use it as a resource for creating the master narrative by summarizing each of those plots and how the relevant characters and/or items are involved. It might help to put it in the form of a timeline.

The next panels I attended were Writing Blurbs and Fashion Makeup for LARP. They both ran from 9pm to 10pm, so I tried to attend the first half of Writing Blurbs and then the second half of Fashion Makeup.

I think the topic of blurbs is actually a very important one. With large conventions, writers can afford to run LARPs that appeal to a narrower range of LARPers, and LARPers can be choosier about picking LARPs that are right for them. Part of what makes a LARP successful is having players whose preferences are well suited to a LARP’s particular form. But blurbs are often vague on details and lack information about things people want to know- how mechanics heavy is the LARP? What can we expect to do? What will the tone be? How likely is combat? In what ways does this LARP deviate from the typical structure? How strictly historically accurate is it? etc. etc. That just makes the process of choosing LARPs to play more of an exercise in guessing and less about making deliberate choices.

Writing Blurbs opened with a series of sample badly written blurbs (not real ones), and the audience offered suggestions on what the flaws were in each one. The first one’s flaws were primarily issues with grammar and spelling. The next few lacked clarity in terms of the setting, and what the players would actually be doing.

As I didn’t hear the second half of the panel, I’m not sure what suggestions or guidelines people offered. I know the idea of asking GMs to fill out more questions when bidding their LARPs has been suggested (as I hear Consequences, the UK LARP convention, does) though some think the GMs already have a lot to fill out and adding more is a bad idea. I know the question of how to assess how mechanics-heavy a LARP is came up, though we have yet to come up with a solid answer, since every sub-community of LARPers has their own set of standards for what is a little or a lot of mechanics in a theater LARP.

All I can say is… one of my favorite things to see when looking over LARPs on a convention schedule is to see a link to a website dedicated to the LARP. GMs afford themselves as much room as they want to go into details about their LARP, and if the mechanics go up online, a player can judge for themselves whether or not the level of mechanics is to their taste. Obviously, websites add non-crucial work to a LARP writer’s already large workload, and many LARPs aren’t written at the time they’re bid to Intercon, so it’s not a universal or ideal fix for the issue of imperfect blurbs, but it is something I’d be happy to see used more often.

Fashion Makeup for LARP was very cool. The presentation included lots of tips, and a basic overview of trends in makeup from the Victorian era to today. My favorite bit was the slide with lots of examples of makesups the presenter had done. I wish I could have gotten a longer look. I know one of the questions suggested for the panel was how to make makeup last, which is an important issue for LARPers who don’t want to take breaks from LARPing to reapply, regardless of whatever sweaty or damp conditions they may be LARPing in. But I suspect that came up during the part of the panel I missed.

Two good tips I picked up to do aging makeup: scrunch your face to find the creases, then put makeup on before relaxing your face. It will highlight the lines to look like wrinkles. Also, desaturating the color of your lips helps.

Next up was Jam and the Craft of LARP Manufacture, which addressed the question of whether or not LARPs are art. I attended this panel because I was genuinely curious to know what reasons someone could possibly give for arguing that LARP wasn’t art. Of course, this panel was largely an exercise in semantics- how does one define art and how does one define LARP? And are we talking about art or Art? (The capitalized form meaning “high art.”) The primary argument the panelist gave against LARPs being labeled art is that he felt the primary purpose of LARPing was to have fun, and trying to insist it was Art will likely detract from the Fun.

My answer is an unequivocal yes, by the way. I understand the resistance to worrying about LARP having prestige as an artform, because while LARP is capable of more (see my description of hospital workers essentially using a horde LARP to drill for a disaster) my primary purpose is absolutely entertainment. And I feel no pressure to take part in LARP that could be confused for modern performance art, like some Nordic LARPers who apparently get naked and coat themselves in… what was it? Corn meal? To talk about cancer? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just personally don’t feel compelled to do it in order to counteract the impression LARPs create with the sheer low-brow comedy that is The Other, Other All Batman Game or Slash!

I think the reason non-LARPers would have difficulty seeing LARP as Art (or Fine Art or High Art or whatever) is because it’s thus far pretty much entirely a hobby of amateurs. Which is kind of beautiful in its own way- we don’t need national leagues or guilds or associations or whatever with their associated official rules, or guidelines or whatever to accomplish huge, amazing things. But I’ve read character sheets that were just as beautifully written and entertaining as some of the fine literature I read in school, and I’ve seen costumes that rank up there with stuff on Broadway, or in Hollywood. Granted, it’s not terribly common, but we’re working with limited budgets here. The potential is there.

Some people say LARP isn’t art because the creator isn’t in control. The “audience” for a LARP has just as much control over the LARPs quality and form as the author does, if not more. But I think that’s a weird place to draw the distinction. We have interactive theater, and interactive art installations. This is just further down the spectrum.

I’m a big fan of turning to the dictionary for these kinds of semantic discussions, and here’s an excerpt from the Old English Dictionary:

1. the creation of works of beauty or other special significance… 2. the exercise of human skill (as distinguished from nature ) 3. imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination 4. the products of man’s creative activities; works of art collectively, esp of the visual arts, sometimes also music, drama, dance, and literature…

Don’t tell me creating a LARP isn’t an exercise of human skill, or that it isn’t imaginative skill as applied to the representations of the natural world… or that it isn’t a product of man’s creative activities. I don’t see the nature of the audience in these definitions.

My last panel of Thursday was GMs are Bastards, which was a sequel of sorts to a previous popular panel entitled Players are Scum. This panel consisted of a humorous list of things GMs Shall Not Do, which you can read here, along with a list of suggestions from the audience and some discussion of the panel. I think my favorite is “Thou shalt not try to look clever” because it’s not as intuitive as the others, but is actually pretty important.

This is getting long, so it looks like I’ll be dividing the post into two. Next post will be a summary of Friday’s panels.

Incidentally, if you have any reviews, thoughts, notes, or copies of the presentations to share from any panel I went to or missed, I would love to see them! Please share!

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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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7 Responses to Intercon M Post-Con Report Part III: Thursday at Pre-Con

  1. Aaron says:

    I did a shitty job of arguing why larps are art, and I apologize. I planned on bringing a bunch of quotes from people smarter than me, but I ran out of time before the con. Not an excuse, just an explanation. Anyway, I have a big argument on the “fun” aspect of larps. That is probably the #1 argument I hear for larps, that “THEY HAVE TO BE FUN!” I don’t disagree with that, but I do want to know:
    fun for whom?
    and
    what is fun for you might not be fun for me

    I would love to play Luminescence, the Nordic larp where they were cancer patients and rolled around in flour while only wearing skivvies. It would probably set off my asthma, but whatever. To me, fun is irrespective of art (or even Art). I believe that you can have fun with art (Art), and it’s still art (Art), or, you can NOT have fun with art (Art), and it’s still art (Art).

    For example: the Mona Lisa (I saw it) = not fun
    the movie Citizen Kane (I’ve seen it) = fun

    Does my fun make or unmake the art? No.

    And I see larp as an art FORM, that is, the crafting of the larp itself is an artistic endeavor done by artists (as a communal thing)–that is, art. Just like I think every stage play is art, every movie (even Michael Bay) is art.

    Now, we can easily argue about is it GOOD art or BAD art, or noteworthy or significant or important art, absolutely. But again, I am very liberal in my definition of art: creating something for aesthetic reasons.

    One of those aesthetic reasons might be to laugh and celebrate life (fun). Or, it might be to explore the inner darkness in our souls (probably not fun for most people). That doesn’t matter, to me, in indicating if the larp is art or not, though it certainly affects if it is good art or bad art (or significant).

    Now, is it going to be difficult to get larpers to consider larp as art? Yes; I find that issue. But why? Why is calling putting pointy ears on and hitting your friend with a foam sword at a Boy Scout camp not artistic? What harm comes from calling it art?

    I don’t see art as inaccessible, difficult, confusing, painful. Some of it, sure, yes. But what a sad state of affairs when our most human of human actions–creating something for purely human aesthetic satisfaction–is denigrated to things that are bizarre, sad, tragic, narcissistic, etc.

    I am going to continue calling larp an art form, because I want grants. So there. 😛

    Again, sorry that I flopped that panel, it wasn’t my finest. Thanks for coming, though.

    • Ivan Zalac says:

      Interesting points there! 🙂
      If arguing about semantics, I’d say that larp is first and foremost a medium. That’s how I usually describe it to the people who never heard of it, and it’s less confusing to define that way than art. It may or may not have conscious artistic tendencies. It may or may not have artistic value. It may or may not be fun. All of these points are pretty much independent on one another, I’d say.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I don’t think you flopped it!

      I think you both made it pretty clear by “art” we were talking about an art form, or medium. I don’t think Tony was arguing that there was no dictionary definition of art that could possibly encompass LARP. I got the impression that he was more asking “What harm comes from calling it art?” and his answer was, people have associations with the term art whether we like or not. People hear “art” and think “Art” and, even though it’s a faulty interpretation of art, we stop prioritizing entertainment and fun.

      Or at least, that’s how I understood his opinion.

      I have no objections to LARPers going after grants.

  2. Ivan Zalac says:

    Thursday sounds awesome.
    Boxing a Game sounds like a very interesting subject. I make my one-shots publicly available, so naturally the discussion about this is something that concerns me. GM Bible sounds like good advice for lots of larp styles where it can apply.
    Writing blurbs is something that’s only now gaining importance here, as our convention larp scene is in its early phases. Also, I wrote what was possibly one of the worst blurbs ever this PoRtaL… which was actually the first event that mattered. From what you describe, there’s some quite useful advice there.
    Other panels also sound quite interesting. If there are any more materials provided online, I’d love to see them! 🙂
    Looking forward to the Friday report.

  3. Pingback: Intercon M Post-Con Report Part IV: Friday at Pre-Con | FairEscape

  4. Philip Kelley says:

    With regards to the “Writing Blurbs” panel, Jeff created most of the blurbs, and I have a page of moderator notes that went along with them. Not sure if it’d help to copy any of that here (they were just reminders of topics to raise and discuss), but I could if you’re interested. The final summary points were:

    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    What do the good blurbs do?
    Sell your game to your target audience.
    Know your target audience (vampire, chronicle, genre) , reach out to them
    Be clear enough to warn off players who might not enjoy it (mature/triggers, and all the above)

    What do the good blurbs have?
    Two aspects:
    – what the game is about, what a player will do in it, and
    – more factual data, how the game is organized, run (ref. Intercon default data)
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    When we were plotting out what to talk about, we reached a topic that we couldn’t really agree upon, and thus it became perhaps the latter third of the panel: what to do with or about the “Mature Audiences Only” line? (Issue: “Mature Audiences Only”, which says too little, and excessive details, which can be a turn-off.) It was a good discussion amongst panelists and audience. [Intercon panels are cool because the audience members may know at least as much as you do!] My take-aways from the discussion were to provide details of why the writer considers the game “mature”, without the text coming off as warnings or a laundry list of horrible things that might happen in the game.

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