Intercon M Post-Con Report Part IV: Friday at Pre-Con

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.

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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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10 Responses to Intercon M Post-Con Report Part IV: Friday at Pre-Con

  1. Aaron says:

    Thanks for this recap of everything, I love hearing about the things I missed.

    I don’t understand why GNS theory gets such a bad rap. Personally, it makes things very clear to me, but they aren’t labels, they are dyes that color a person. Just like red green blue (RGB) combines for images, GNS combines for role playing. To me, at least. I see that there’s no right or wrong unless a player expects a certain combination of GNS and the creators give a different combination. Personally, I am usually a 50% Immersion (simulation), 30% Narrativist, and 10% Gamist larper. But that might change depending on the larp. If I know I’m in a jeepform, I will lower Gamist to nothing and even reduce Simulation to increase narrative. I tried to do that when I was in “The Yearbook” at Intercon M: make for a good narrative was about 65%, and my immersion (simulation) was at about 35%.

    What’s not helpful in a questionnaire is “Are you a gamist, narrativist, or simulationist?”

    But having three “colors” to play with, like RGB, is extremely helpful for me to know as a player and as a GM, at least what the other side (GM if I am player) EXPECTS from the larp. The worst larp experiences I’ve had were when there was a huge difference between what one person was expecting and what the other was giving. I would think that being up front about it would go a long way to mitigating those instances. Maybe I just want to play a widget hunt one night, someone please tell me where the gamist larp is!? Oh, MIT Assassins’ Guild, right. 😛

    • Brian R. says:

      I dislike GNS for many reasons, but the biggest is because I feel that there is a poor degree of agreement among larpers about what each of the three means with respect to larp. So when a GM asks that in casting, I can give an answer, but I have no confidence that he or she will be thinking of those terms in same way I am.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I could probably write a long essay on what I dislike about GNS theory (and maybe I will in the future!) but I find it particularly troublesome on questionnaires. For one thing, there’s enough variation on interpretation of the terms that there’s no guarantee you and the GM are understanding one another. (Simulation in particular seems to have two distinct meanings, feeling what the character feels and experiencing the setting as a real environment are two very common and very different understandings I’ve heard. Some people think it means one or the other, some both.) More importantly, it’s very hard to predict how this will be interpreted into an appropriate character. As one of the LARPers in the audience said, and I agree, some people seem to think “I’m a Simulationist” means “give me a dull character- I don’t need plot or dramatic moments, I just want to feel like the character.”

      More specifically, I’ve never heard anyone define themselves strictly as one of the three (though people do use labels to insult other sub-community of LARPers- I’ve heard an RPI LARPer express offense because she keeps hearing people dismiss RPI LARPers as “just a bunch of Gamists” implying they don’t care about good stories, or won’t roleplay romance, they just want to win.) And when everyone is some combination of the three, how useful is that to a GM when casting? Can they say for certain that “this character we wrote is 40% about Narrativism, which perfectly matches this player who put 2 out of 5 on our questionnaire”? In certain extremes, it can be useful, but even in that case, it’s better to ask “why do you LARP? To enjoy a challenge? To play out dramatic moments? To experience life as 17th century noble?” as the panelists suggested.

      • Aaron says:

        To both you and Brian R, I completely agree that we don’t have common terminology or definitions, and that causes confusion. This is why we need more documentation and academia, so these terms and ideas can be codified. Hell, I bet we don’t even have the same definition of a larp (or there are camps who think one or the other).

        To me, “why do you larp” (note that I use all lower case–we don’t even use the same capitalization) isn’t helpful in a questionnaire, it’s way too vague (for me).

        Back when Enigma (UCLA sf/f/game club) was doing character questionnaires for our live games, we used the 1-5 point scale similar to Intercon, and it would be something like:
        On a scale of 1-5, how involved do you want to be in a big, overreaching plot? 1 being “I am scenery!” and 5 being “I am a critical part of the big plot.”

        Instead of 1-5, we could have used percents. In my post, I could have used stars instead of percent.

        But the problem is that “why I larp” is not necessarily the same answer as “Why I signed up to play and what I expect to experience in YOUR larp.”

        The GMs for “The Yearbook” only asked the players one question: “Why did you sign up for this larp?” which I think is a very apropos query.

        FYI, I don’t really use GNS theory on larp as much as I use the Three Way Model from Petter Bøckman, which is a derivative of GNS: http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/threefold/faq_larp.html

        Furthermore, Rob McDiarmid wrote a longer breakdown of player motivations in the second Wyrd Con Companion Book. Some German larpers turned that into a survey and asked a few hundred players about it, and the results were published in the second WCCB. Both of them (as well as the first, from 2010) are available here: http://wyrdcon.com/academic-programs/

        Lastly, I like to apply the Three Way (or GNS) to GMs as well as players. I like to know why a GM runs or designs a certain larp (if possible), or how they view their responsibility and expectations at a larp.

        I do find it interesting, because a good friend of mine out here said he “wishes GNS would die a painful fiery death.” But to each their own. Again, it is very useful to me to look at what aspects are being emphasized in a larp, as I can extract useful data from that affects my play style (hopefully, sometimes I’m lazy or not paying attention or just in a foul mood).

        • Brian R. says:

          More academia only helps foster terminology agreement if it is widely engaged with by the average player, which so far I’m not sure it is. And more academia using old terms in new ways is only going to be confusing, as different people will be talking past eachother using different definitions. This is part of the problem of GNS (which grew out of the threefold model which used largely the same words, with slightly different meanings). It sounds like the threeway model is just continuing that mistake. When making jargon “same word, slightly different meaning” is probably the worst jargon you can make.

          But lest I seem all negative: I’m familiar with Rob McDiarmid’s article and think it is both quite good and an excellent alternative to GNS.

          It also illustrates why I dislike GNS used on larp questionnaires, that different people use each of the three to mean completely different motives.

          When people say they’re “Narrativist” they sometimes mean they have the Protagonist motive, sometimes mean they have the Audience motive and sometimes mean they have the Catharsis motive.

          When people say “Gamist” in a larp they could be referring to Comprehension, Competition, or Versatility motives (or Exercise in live-combat games)

          When people say “Simulationist” they sometimes mean Exploration, sometimes Embodiment, or sometimes just mean Immersion.

          And finally when people say “Immersion” they could mean Flow or Embodiment or just expressing a preference for 360-degree WYSIWYG physical immersion 🙂

          So you can see why I find the terms confusing and unhelpful!

        • Fair Escape says:

          I may have oversimplified it when I said the panelists suggested to ask “why do you LARP” instead of “which of the GNS options are you.” That was intended more as shorthand for questions like “do you enjoy succeeding at challenges? Roleplaying intense interpersonal relationships? etc.”

          The idea of categorizing motives for LARPing into 3 things strikes me as somewhat absurd- I haven’t liked any of the other forms (Threefold, Three Way) much better. LARP is far too complex and deep for that to be useful. Rob McDiarmid coming up with a list of 16 motivations helps illustrate why.

          Thank you for the links! It took me some time to find McDiarmid’s article last time I went looking for it. And now I’ve got a few new ones to read, as well.

  2. Brian R. says:

    I was disappointed to hear that about the casting panel. I think it’s extremely counterproductive whenever a casting panel encourages people to be dishonest about their preferences when filling out casting surveys. And pressuring people to app for romance plots they don’t want, or aren’t comfortable with, is even more destructive.

    I’m sure that creating that pressure wasn’t their intent, but it’s really easy to see how that pressure is the natural result of what (it sounds like) they were saying. So while I find the opinion that it’s “prejudiced” to only want certain types of romance stupid and ridiculous, I think that expressing that opinion as a GM on a casting panel is downright irresponsible.

    As a GM I’ve never judged anyone for the romance plots they did or didn’t app for, and I don’t want anyone in my games to app for romance they’re not comfortable with based on the idea that the GM will think it’s prejudiced.

    (disclaimer: I wasn’t actually at the panel, this is just a reaction to what I’ve read).

  3. Philip Kelley says:

    Perhaps the most intriguing panel I attended was the “Social Conflict and Bleed” panel by Sarah Lynne Bowman. While I took two pages of notes and intend to use some of the techniques discussed in a local chronicle, I can’t do her presentation justice here. I strongly recommend looking out for her paper on the subject when it gets published later this year. (To be fair, from some to much of what was discussed would be familiar to anyone who’s larped for a reasonable amount of time, but having all of it and more wrapped up and presented in a coherent single-package form was very useful.)

    • Fair Escape says:

      Sorry I missed it then! It sounds like a very interesting panel.If you’d ever be willing to share your notes or the description of techniques, I’d be very interested to hear or read them. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her paper.

  4. Pingback: Intercon Post-Event Report Part IV: Thursday Evening at PreCon | FairEscape

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