For those starting my Intercon M post-con report with this post: Intercon is the annual all LARPing convention. Pre-Con is the event that extends Intercon back an extra 24 hours (into Thursday) to host a series of panels about LARPing. (Here are Parts I, II, and III.)
My Friday started with the panel What Boffer LARP Can Teach Intercon. I believe the topic may have been suggested by someone who had read Brian R.’s guest post, Boffer Lessons for Theater, so I was eager to hear other people’s take on it. (And, admittedly, kinda curious to see if the guest post might be mentioned. It wasn’t.)
For clarification, “boffer” in this case was shorthand for “live action combat LARPs”- so that includes LARPs that use both boffer and latex weapons, typically of the ongoing campaigns sort, while the theater LARPs discussed were typically of the one-shot variety.
The panelists were all involved with both theater and boffer LARP. The panel opened by describing the notion that theater LARPing typically has the goal of getting anything that isn’t actual roleplaying out the way as quickly as possible, but often fails. (As classically seen with the dreaded combat bubble.) And that boffer LARPing actually possesses the tools to do just that. Combat is as quick and real-time as possible. (Though battles are set up to last longer not because they have to, but because for many boffer LARPers, that’s a source of entertainment. Theater LARPers don’t typically see rocks-paper-scissors as a source of entertainment by itself, though a few theater LARPs do employ card games to represent combat, and some people may find that legitimately entertaining by itself.)
The panel spent some time discussing the relative strengths of theater and boffer LARPing. Theater allows combat any time, any place. Boffer requires a minimum amount of space to fight in at a venue that allows it (which often requires insurance.) Theater also allows any person at all to play the greatest swordsman in the world, while boffer can mitigate the influence of skill somewhat (for example, by granting people dodge abilities and extra damage abilities) but that can only go so far.
Meanwhile, character actions that are real time and strongly mimic what the player is actually doing is far more common in boffer LARPing. The classic example (which came up during the this panel was lock picking. It’s far more common for lock picking to involve a player actually picking a lock in a boffer LARP, while lock picking is typically represented by something like displaying an index card in a theater LARP. I think this is partly encouraged by the fact that theater LARPing generally values being able to roleplay characters with skill sets the players don’t actually have more than boffer does (while boffer tends to place more value on in-character actions mimicking out-of-character action) and partly because theater tends to value keeping things cheap (and locks are more expensive than index cards). Basically, one of the lessons for theater was to give more consideration to the possibility of allowing players to actually pick locks.
One idea from the panel that really struck a chord with me was the notion that boffer has lessons to learn from theater as well- notably, theater tends to have much heavier interpersonal writing/plotting between PCs. (Some of what I’ve read from the Shadows of Amun boffer campaign LARP makes me think that LARP will be excellent in this regard.)
The panel briefly covered some ideas that also came up in the aforementioned guest post, notably that part of what allows boffer to have real time combat is that LARPers can be expected to be completely familiar with the rules systems for multiple events (instead of trying to pick up a new one for each individual event.)
Overall, I felt the panel addressed the first two questions from its blurb (“What’s cool about boffer LARP, why does it work, and what of it can we steal to use in Intercon games?”) very well, though we could still use another future panel fleshing out answers to the third question at future Pre-Cons or NELCOs.
After What Boffer LARP Can Teach Intercon, I attended the Introduction to Nordic LARP panel. It was a good panel to attend if you’ve ever gotten confused about the technical differences between the terms “Nordic LARP,” “Nordic-style LARP,” “Jeep” and “Jeep-style” LARP. The panel described the convention whose name translates to “Nodal Point” (frequently referred to as Knutepunkt around here, but as it rotates around Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, the name changes year to year depending on where it is hosted.) They also talked about Fastaval, the Danish convention for whats the Danes call freeform (which lies somewhere between tabletop and live action) and passed around some neat publications on LARPing, including a beautiful book of photos titled Rollespilsfotos.
The panelists also talked about a stronger tradition in Nordic LARP to document their LARPs, definitely something I’d love to see happen more in the US. And they listed a few Nordic LARP techniques, such as the “black box,” a meta-technique that allows players to step out of time and space to play out dreams, flashbacks, fantasies and potential futures for their characters. Or the “bird in the ear” technique which allows directors to whisper into the ears of players during a LARP. They talked about the extremes Nordic LARPers have gone to to create 360 degrees of immersion (such as living the lives of the homeless) and how in some Nordic LARP, they use complete transparency (the players all know everything about one anothers’ characters in order to focus less on the unfolding of plot and more on the emotional experience. They talked about pre-game workshops and post-game debriefs.
The panel ended on a suggestion for how to prepare an American audience for a Nordic-style LARP experience- start with smaller LARPs and be very upfront about what to expect. You want enthusiastic consent.
The next panel was Sexuality in LARP. The panelists discussed various mechanics for sex in LARP. I think my favorite was “go into the next room and bang chairs against the wall for five minutes.” Techniques for incorporating sexuality into LARP included allowing players time to meet before a LARP in order to talk with potential romantic partners of their characters, and to have a system for players to mark their badges and indicate what level of touch they are comfortable with. The panel also discussed the “cut and break” technique, which allows players to say, out-of-character “break” to mean “I’m fine with what’s going on, but don’t take it further” and “cut” to mean “I’m uncomfortable, let’s stop.”
One issue that came up is that themes of sexuality can make players uncomfortable, and players may feel pressure not to drop LARPs or individual plots even if they want to. One panelist suggested that this was crap and anyone should feel able to drop LARPs or plots… While I think this would ideally be true, the truth is the pressure still does exist. I don’t know if there’s a good answer to this issue, but I do think this ties into the panel on writing blurbs. A good blurb should warn players about themes of sexuality in LARPs so that a player who may be uncomfortable will know in advance whether or not they should sign up.
A thought occurred to me during this panel- people discussed the differences in cultures in various countries. In the US, we’re more comfortable with violence than nudity, and you’re more likely to see guns that topless women on tv. In England, nudity on television is a lot more common, because their culture has different values with regards to what’s taboo. I think have a non-American LARPer (which at Intercon, likely means a British LARPer) might have rounded out this panel well.
The next panel was Casting Your LARP. Casting is a topic I personally find very interesting and important, (this isn’t the first panel I’ve attended on the subject.) Casting well can make a mediocre LARP into a great experience, and casting poorly can ruin a great LARP. Looking over my Master List of LARPs (a spreadsheet of information on every LARP I’ve played,) I can spot a few LARPs that I thought weren’t so great, at which I still greatly enjoyed myself thanks to being cast a character that particularly fit me well, and LARPs that I thought were fantastic overall, but I didn’t enjoy much because I was cast as a character that was a poor fit for me.
Unfortunately, I think I missed a bit of this LARP because I had to run out and remake two of the signs for Intercon, but the parts of the panel I heard were very interesting.
The panelists of Casting Your LARP discussed some current trends in casting. They claimed our community seems to be trending away from using number scales on casting questionnaires (though I personally haven’t noticed this trend), and trending away from mentioning the GNS theory in questionnaires. Which I think is great, because I’ve never been a fan of the GNS theory, especially not for use in casting. Another LARPer in the audience brought up one objection of mine and put it rather well: saying you’re a Simulationist on a casting questionnaire is often mistaken as code for “give me a boring character.” Panelists suggested that it was better to ask “why do you LARP?” than it is to ask “which of these three labels are you?”
I learned a few new things that GMs consider when casting. Some GMs take a players’s experience level in LARPing as a way to indicate how much they can take the rest of the questionnaire at face value. (In other words, the more you LARP, the more accurate your stated preferences are likely to be.) And “I” statements are particularly useful for casting. What a player hates is also more likely to be useful than one a player likes.
The panelists also discussed the technique of listing all of the available characters and asking players which appeal to them. Once Upon a Time in Tombstone, the Western weekend LARP I played last autumn, did this, and apparently everyone wants to play Wyatt Earp. An improvement might be to list available archetypes instead of specific characters.
One particular topic that came up was the issue of gender in casting. Journey, a website for creating surveys, is a tool commonly used for character questionnaires, and until recently, it had a binary option for selecting a gender (male or female.) Thanks to this panel, it’s now a field where players can type in an answer.
One thing that bothered me during this panel- we talked the issue of asking about preferences for romance on questionnaires. Many casting questionnaires will ask a player how they feel about being cast in heterosexual or homosexual romances (or other forms) and this was described as “where players can reveal their prejudices.” I can’t recall who first used that word- an audience or a panelist, but the term got taken up and used a few times.
This bothers me. I do not consider being more comfortable with one form of romance over another to be a “prejudice” (whether it’s a heterosexual LARPer preferring romance plots with a different-sex LARPer, or a homosexual preferring romance with a same-sex LARPer, or some other combination.) Personally, I’ve found through experience that I am perfectly willing to roleplay any form of romance and will always try my best to engage in any romance plot I’m given, (at this Intercon, I played a lesbian, a bisexual character, and a bi-curious character) but in practice, I am just most comfortable and better able to naturally roleplay a romance plot when I am cast as a female engaged in romance with a male character played by a male player. ( I guess you could call that cis-cast?) The notion that GMs might see this described on my casting questionnaire and consider me prejudiced is, frankly, noxious and closed-minded. And as I stated out loud during the panel, I’d rather omit the truth on a questionnaire and be cast in a non-ideal character with my lesser preferred forms of romance than risk judgmental GMs labeling me a bigot.
This got a reaction from others present. People said they’d much rather know about a player’s prejudice and be able to take it into consideration for better casting. I think this missed my point. I don’t care if a GM considers it more important to cast me according to my preferences; if I knew for a fact that a GM would consider me being able to more naturally roleplay a heterosexual romance a form of prejudice, I’d still leave it off my casting questionnaire. Regardless of what they prefer.
A few people clarified (and/or backpedaled) and said they didn’t consider having preferences for romance plots a form of prejudice, and we didn’t get much further into the topic from there. I guess this might have been something to discuss during the Gender and LARP panel that ran on Thursday night. (I missed it in favor of “GMs are Bastards.” I hear the Gender and LARP panel ran over an hour longer than expected. Did anyone reading this attend it? Have any thoughts or notes on it to share? Please do!)
After the Casting Your Game panel, I attended the Ars Amandi workshop run by Lizzie Stark, which was a fascinating experience that I’m saving for its own post. And then I only caught a small portion of my final panel: Combat/Conflict or Narrative? My very brief notes from this last panel include a quote from a panelist “Without conflict, you’re just playing the Waiting for Godot LARP.” And another panelist described the various forms that conflict can take in LARP besides physical combat between two characters- conflict can mean bombing another person’s county, or wanting a bigger piece of the pie, and pie can be any kind of resource, including time.
As I mentioned in my previous post, if anyone has any reviews, thoughts, notes or copies of the presentations from any panels (that I either attended or missed) or knows how I can get them, please share! I’d love to know.