NELCO 2013 Post Event Report – Blogging LARP

My last panel before dinner on Saturday at NELCO 2013 was Blogging LARP.

To be honest, I was quite surprised when I found out this was on the schedule. I know it has been suggested in the past, but I didn’t think anyone was going to check off the “I’d attend this panel” box on the schedule questionnaire. In fact, I emailed someone on the NELCO staff to confirm that there had actually been interest in attending the panel. Apparently, interest was low compared to most other panels that made it onto the schedule, but the interest was still higher than a good number of panels that were left off the schedule.

I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about blogging about LARP that people wanted to hear, but I compiled a list of blogs and tumblrs and websites that I regularly visit and read and typed up some thoughts about various suggested questions related to blogging about LARP.

In terms of attendance, the panel ended up around where I thought it would be. There were four panelists, and I think five people in the audience. But they seemed engaged and actually had questions to ask, so I think it went at least as well as could be expected.

The panelists included one person who has a tumblr and posts occasionally under a LARP tag, one who runs Northeast LARP News (a site for LARP news and announcements in the Northeast United States) and a member of the Alleged Entertainment LARP writing group who blogged about their LARP writing process for awhile before stopping in 2011.

We introduced ourselves and talked about our various online projects while our websites were projected onto a large screen behind us. We talked about why we did, what benefits we got, the challenges we faced, and who our audiences were. We also fielded a few questions on various random topics, such as using other online tools, like pinterest and facebook.

I admit that for about the first half of the panel, I felt as though I was being too quiet and timid and didn’t really speak up much. I let the other panelists answer and if someone my had a question before I’d gotten my full answer, or any answer at all, out, I let them move on. And then I became slightly annoyed with myself for not actually contributing to the discussion. I think I talked a lot more during the second half.

Here are a few thoughts I shared during the Blogging LARP panel (and some thoughts I wish I’d shared but either forgot or was too shy to push into the conversation.)

Originally, I started my blog because I found myself poking around online looking for interesting writing and conversations about LARP. Partly because I really enjoy discussing LARP, but also maybe to get a little bit of a LARP fix in between events, especially during the slow season. Relative to many other hobbies, LARPing has a high threshold for engaging in it. Hobbies like knitting, you can pretty much enjoy anywhere, anytime. Most forms of LARPing don’t afford that sort of convenience, so getting involved in online conversation is the next best thing for me, a way to scratch the LARPing itch in between events.

But I just wasn’t finding much about LARPing online beyond the same basics over and over. I saw a lot of “list of tips for LARPing in cold weather” or “lists of tips for LARPing in hot weather.” (Typically nothing but basic common knowledge regurgitated from outdoor sports webpages, without anything specific to LARPing.) I wanted to kickstart conversation about LARP craft and LARP theory, and share personal experiences about the hobby.

It turns out, there is plenty of good stuff about LARPing out there on the internet. And creating this blog has helped me find it. It put me in contact with LARPers all over the world, which is really interesting. (I found out that the same weekend I tried Ars Amandi in a workshop for the first time, there was an Ars Amandi workshop going on in Croatia. That’s pretty neat. And someone told me that attendees of the most recent Knutepunkt mentioned that they’ve read my blog.) I’ve found a lot of tumblrs that have nothing but tons of fantastic inspiration for costuming and other LARP based art projects.

And I’ve discovered something about the public face of LARP. It’s pretty poor. Most of the stuff that I’ve read and seen that is created to explain LARP to non-LARPers (articles, books, videos) does not do a good job. They often strongly indicate that the person who wrote it has a very limited experience with LARP, and one form of LARP is misrepresented as the entire thing. Often, non-LARPers paint LARP in an unflattering light. And it’s an unfortunate truth that a lot of stuff that is created by LARPers is just as bad.

Why do we let non-LARPers produce most of the stuff that presents who we are and what we do to the world? They’re really not doing a good job. Clearly, it’s up to us LARPers to fix it, to present a more accurate (and hopefully, more flattering) version from those of us who actually identify as LARPers. If we don’t put effort into showing how much fun it is, how LARPing doesn’t have to be awkward, how beautiful our costumes and props and set dressing is, how exciting and deep the stories we collectively create can be, we’re never gonna get out from under that god-forsaken lightning bolt video.

I also think there’s some value in producing an archive of LARP events. Some sort of record so that we have something concrete to show one another when people want to know what other LARP communities are up to. Something to use as a comparison when years from now, we want to analyze how LARP has evolved over the years.

One little unexpected bonus of maintaining a LARP blog? It actually provides some extra incentive to attend LARP and LARP related events. For example, I attended a book signing for two books that were LARP related because I wanted to be able to comment on it in my blog.

We also discussed challenges in blogging about LARP at the NELCO panel. For me, my intended audience is primarily LARPers, but as I enjoy both theater and boffer LARPs, I find it can be difficult to remember that boffer LARPers may not understand my writing about theater LARPs, and vice versa. I have to keep in mind that boffer LARPers may have no familiarity with the concept of casting prewritten characters for players, and theater LARPers may not be familiar with the distinctions between HP and location based combat systems. Terminology can also be highly specific to the form of LARPing (“fair escape” being a good example of a term that is common in theater LARPs but pretty much unheard of in boffer LARPs.) So even though I expect many of my readers to be at least as experienced as I am (and often much more so), I still need to be aware of what needs clarification in my posts.

I find anonymity to be an important issue in blogging about LARP, because there are a lot of LARPers who really don’t want their name/online identity connected with LARPing on the internet. Avoiding names can sometimes create awkward, stilted writing, it can deny proper credit for people who want it, and it limits the sorts of pictures I can share here. (Hence the numerous pictures of only me, or shots of LARP scenery, devoid of people).

One other challenge I find in blogging about LARP comes in the form of reviews- I personally prefer not to spoil LARPs, and I find it extremely difficult to give honest critical feedback for various reasons. (I’m afraid of hurting people’s feelings, I often worry about being seen as a difficult person to please, I often think it will be ignored at best, etc.) This often makes for very bland reviews of LARPs, and more importantly, I think a lack of honest feedback is a problem in the LARP community. (Especially in the theater LARP community, where we don’t write PELs — post event letters — like in boffer LARPs). It can make it very hard for LARP writers who want to improve their LARPs. I think we should be better about offering constructive, honest feedback when it has a chance to be productive, but I almost never do it. What can I say, I’m a hypocrite.

Though I do always fill out feedback questionnaires when asked.

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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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27 Responses to NELCO 2013 Post Event Report – Blogging LARP

  1. I have noticed your reluctance to mention names and/or be critical of larps. I understand why you do it–you have an ever-growing audience and the last thing you want to do is make enemies, plus you want to represent larp in a positive way–but it does sometimes make certain conversations blandly non-specific.

    FWIW, if you’re ever talking about me, you are more than welcome to use my name, and I encourage you to provide whatever constructive criticism you feel comfortable giving. I’m a big girl and I can deal with it.

    I was interested in attending your panel, but I sadly had to be on another one at that time, I think. I’m sorry I missed it!

    • Fair Escape says:

      I’m generally happy to give more honest, full opinions when speaking privately and in person with other LARPers. If I think a LARP writer and/or GM wants to hear my honest opinion, I’d rather be able to give it to them in person where the context and tone is clear, or in the manner they choose (like a post-LARP online survey.) Also, if it’s not on a public blog, I can explain my opinions using specific examples from the LARP without spoiling people.

      Hmm. Spoilers in the LARP community. Mental note- that might make a good topic for a blog post. Or a future PreCon or NELCO panel.

      That’s good to know, since you and your LARPs and costuming and blog posts come up in the blog from time to time! I do have a handful of people who have told me they don’t mind if I use their real name (or internet moniker), so I might use it once, but I still tend to leave it out in later posts in case they’ve changed their mind or I’ve made a mistake and mixed up someone who doesn’t mind with someone who does.

      Also, now that I think about it, I think I actually have given you all my honest opinions of Cracks.

  2. eurveinofair says:

    Have you considered asking people you want to blog about which ones are and are not ok with having their names mentioned or pictures shown? If you get even a few of the people you want to use as examples to give their permission you’ll add a lot to your blog.

    Or perhaps use pseudo names that will be recognizable by your audience, such as character names. That is frequently what my friend Amanda does on her LARP blog (http://istamira.wordpress.com/). She is not afraid to use her own name, but she avoids most other peoples’ names unless she has their explicit permission.

    I admire your reluctance to hurt peoples’ feelings with your comments. I’d admire your writing less if you *wanted* to hurt peoples’ feelings. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give feedback. Having staffed several games over the past 20 years, good, bad or indifferent, feedback helps us improve the game and is one of the biggest rewards that fuels our desire to keep doing it.

    This is my rule of thumb on LARP feedback (based strictly on boffer LARPing). If multiple people are going to see it, start with something positive and end with something positive. If there wasn’t enough positive to do that you probably shouldn’t have been there and probably won’t go back anyway. At that point, send your feedback directly to the one person who has the highest stake and say what you have to say in as positive a light as you can with specific criticisms and specific suggestions for improvements. They won’t be happy, but they will most likely be appreciative.

    Assuming you can bookend the feedback with positives, pepper the rest with as much positive as you can along the way. Don’t hold back the negatives, but just be as kind as you can be in saying them and always include the upsides if there were any.

    If you want to read through my mostly unedited PELs (other player plot points are redacted), just friend me on LJ and I’ll add you to my PEL filter and point you toward them. With the permission of the GMs of the games I play, for a couple of years I actually posted my PELs on-line as a a share and learn exercise. Comments are from other players and staff members of the games. I’m kumir-k9 if you’re interested.

    It sounds like there’s no formal feedback system for theatre LARPs, but do you think that the writers would object to informal feedback or do some of them do that anyway?

    Your blog work is really interesing and enjoyable. I’d love to see you do even more with it. This all assumes you want to stop being a hypocrite (your words, not mine) :-p but seeing as you put as much work into your blog as some people put into their PELs, I think there’s a bright future. 🙂

    • Fair Escape says:

      I do occasionally ask people if they mind if their pictures or names appearing on this blog. Most commonly, people don’t mind. A few ask me to use online monikers. I don’t think I’ve ever asked and had people say “please don’t,” but I have heard people talk about how hard they work to keep their name apart from LARPing on the internet, and I’d much rather err on the side of caution. (Also, people do change their minds sometime.) I’ve started seeing people use the first initial method to make the writing sound a bit smoother. I should probably make more use of it. Character names is also a good idea, especially when speaking about in-game stuff.

      I definitely give feedback when it’s asked for. Some GMs really want it. But there are a fair number of people who either explicitly don’t want it, or think they do, or think they’re neutral on the subject, but take it very personally or get defensive or whatever. I’m pretty free with the positive stuff, both here and in person.

      I’ve heard that method referred to as “the compliment sandwich”. I try very hard to use it in my PELs and feedback forms. And I would definitely like to see your PELs.

      Thanks for the kind words! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my fear of confrontation enough to post more complete reviews, but it’s good to know that people are actually interested in reading it.

  3. Philip Kelley says:

    With regards to non-positive larp reviews, I pretty much agree with what has been said. If asked, I will give feedback about a game, and if there are “less than good” parts worth mentioning I’ll always offer some ideas on how to address them, wrapped with lots of “this is only a suggestion”-type wrappers. I would be very hesitant in publicly posting negative reviews, because—without any kind of in-person context or discussion—such comments can be taken very poorly. (I recall this being an issue that came up from reviews in the old Metagame magazine of the ILF.) And the image of larpers is not helped if da net is loaded with negative reviews and their ensuing flame wars.

    Requests for feedback on theater style games is uncommon because (a) they are generally stand-alone run-once games, and (b) more often than is readily credible, writers don’t plan on running them more than once. If you’re not running the game again, why bother with serious feedback? (No, I don’t understand it, it’s just the way things seem to work.) For chronicles and ongoing games, regular feedback in the form of PELs (first time I’ve heard that term, though I’ve written a number of them) would seem to be essential.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Huh. I was under the impression that nowadays, most one-shot theater LARPs run more than once. But that’s just an impression, I have no idea what the statistics are. Would be interesting to find out.

      • idiotsavant23 says:

        Huh. I was under the impression that nowadays, most one-shot theater LARPs run more than once. But that’s just an impression, I have no idea what the statistics are. Would be interesting to find out.

        It should be easy enough to find out for the Intecon circuit, at least – there’s public records going back over a decade.

        • Fair Escape says:

          Easy but time consuming!

          • The LARP resume database probably has some numbers, no? For my own team, Bess and I have written four games together and three out of four have been run exactly twice. Having our first game run by another group was weird and an incredible compliment.

            • Fair Escape says:

              It’s not a very complete database, but I can’t think why it might reflect a bias that would skew the results, so why not.

              • idiotsavant23 says:

                Its quite complete for Intercon/SLAW/Bubble/Festival/KapCon/Chimera/Hydra (and some Consequences and the other UK con) for the last few years – I’ve been entering stuff in as it pops up.

                Quick analysis: Looking at everything up to “C” (101 larps): 52 had been run once, 26 twice, 7 three times, 6 four times, 5 five times, and 5 more than five times. The greatest number of runs was 9, for “A Midsummer Night and the Livin’ Is Easy”.

                • idiotsavant23 says:

                  Done the complete data set. As expected, its a power-law distribution: 606 larps listed (note, includes some duplicates). 4 have never run (!); 299 have run once, 139 twice, 72 three times, 38 four times, 19 five times, 13 six times, 6 seven times, 4 eight times, 1 nine times, 4 ten times, and 7 more than ten times.

                  Also, the most popular games in the database: Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste (14 times in 4 countries), Two Hours in London (14 times in 1 country), and Dance and the Dawn (13 times in 3 countries). Most of the 10+ timers are published or available on the web, which makes sense. But the authors of “Happily Ever After?”, “The Morning After”, “Collision Imminent” and “Two Hours in London” will probably find a strong audiance if they stick their games up on the web.

                  Full dataset is here:

                  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqPi1w-D4ydLdExnXzAyU2dDVDlHaTFJaW1nbkFXSVE&usp=sharing

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    Are you sure you have all runs, including one-shots outside cons? I heard slightly higher numbers for Dance quoted once, on the order of 15. (I also heard that nobody really knows.)

                    • idiotsavant23 says:

                      Of course not. Larp resume only includes runs people have put into it. Standalone runs are likely to be invisible, unless the player or GM is an active user of the site, or someone is ego-googling them to track their spread. And that BTW is the answer: for people interested in a particular game to actively curate it in the database (I do this for a bunch of NZ larps)

                      Still, I think it tells us something about the US con circuit. And its given me a list of games worth trying.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Looking at the site, it’s missed two runs of Dance – one that I just entered, and one that I can’t find the exact date of (it was Vericon 2010, but I don’t know on what day).

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      *Actually at least three – the first run was in 2004 and not at a con. (Warren, help with details?)

                    • idiotsavant23 says:

                      For runs where you know the con but not the date, you can just hit the “past” box and note what you do know in the “notes” field e.g. here.

                    • Warren Tusk says:

                      At this point, I have no idea how many times Dance has been run, and I don’t think there’s any possibly way to find out; I’ve released the materials to my Kickstarter backers, and they’ve done whatever they pleased. I do know that there have been runs in at least 4 countries (US, China, Ireland, New Zealand), and that there are two more semi-professional runs happening in New York in the coming month.

                    • Stephen Kohler says:

                      I know, offhand, Foam Brain did 20+ runs (Andrew Z. would likely know the exact number) of Mary Celeste. Also, there are more Marin runs, Marlowe, the Miskatonics, Hart Manor has run around 10 times (that’s my game, so I’ve actually been to every run)….in other words, while a power set distribution might be accurate, that also just might represent the amount of reporting of runs that happens.

                  • Fair Escape says:

                    Wow, ask and I shall receive, huh? The results surprise me. Thanks for doing this.

                  • Chad Bergeron says:

                    As a note, the official count of runs for The Morning after is well more than 10. The last run, in April of 2010, was run number 23.

    • eurveinofair says:

      Sorry about that. PEL = Post Event Letter. It’s something of a boffer LARP related term and strongly associated with the Accelerant LARPs, though it’s picked up popularity in the northeast NERO games too. I don’t know about others. I’m sure they have them but apply their own names to them. They are so useful that most games actually give character building incentive if you turn them in in a timely fashion.

      I have not yet broken into theatre LARP, though I’m developing quite the fascination with it, so forgive me if I ask questions that might seem naive or even (*gasp*) stupid.

      I can sort of understand why a writer might write just one and then never again not wanting feedback. That’s a stretch of understanding for me because feedback, good, bad and everywhere in between, is the best way to tell how you did at something. We are our own worst critics and we should never proof our own work because we’ll never catch all of our mistakes. This seems to fall into that category to me.

      I would assume (I know, never assume) that most theatre LARP writers will write more than one, that they will go on in the future and do more. How are they going to get betteer at it if they don’t get feedback from their target audience? How do they know what their actors felt worked well or didn’t work so well? How do they know what their actors felt could have worked better? How do they know what elements their actors liked or didn’t like?

      While feedback won’t help the one that just went by, wouldn’t it help future ones?

      And I whole heartedly agree that “negative” feedback in a public forum must be presented very carefully. I think it should be presented carefully no matter how you present it. However, as in anything, LARPing or “normal” hobbies (or anything really) there are always negative aspects and people are drawn to point out negatives by nature.

      That’s why the PELs I most enjoy are the ones that only ask neutral to positive questions to make people remember and point out the good stuff and that have an “Other comments” field which people invariably use for, well, other kinds of feedback.

      As long as a review is realistic and relatively complete, a bit of negativity is not going to scare anyone away. If you talk about the 98% (for talk) awesomeness of the LARP and sandwich the 2% (again for talk) not-so-awesome aspects in among the awesome, people should still be drawn to it… assuming they’re not trolling for the negative to begin with, in which case you’re not going to sway them regardless. All my opinion of course.

      Since you mentioned it and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it, how do you present feedback that isn’t going to get at least one person flaming? It seems to me that there’s always that one person out there who’s out to start a war even if they have to argue with the good things you’ve said to do it. I’m serious, that’s not intended to start a flame war. 😉

      • Brian R. says:

        It’s definitely true that at least for New England/Intercon style theater games, most games do get re-run and the vast majority of authors do go on to write more larps. It’s also very true that we would get benefit from a lot more formal feedback than we have. There is a fair bit of informal feedback, but that has its own problems, and the lack of formal feedback is in my opinion an area that is an opportunity for improvement.

        Part of the lack of formal feedback is cultural, but part of it is also due to the structure of the games.

        In a campaign boffer larp, players have a vested interest in filling out PELs, both because they want the game they are invested in to be as good as possible, and also because they are bribed with xp (or cp, or bp, or whatever you want to call it). In theater one-shots, your involvement in the game is over after the first session. People who have tried to collect formal feedback often find their response rates to be low. Also, because boffer larpers are more experienced writing (and reading!) feedback in the form of PELs, they have built up more skill at relaying criticism in a way that is constructive and doesn’t hurt feelings.

        Also in campaign boffer larps you have some self selection at the beginning of the campaign. People who aren’t digging the tone, style or ruleset of the game often drift away after a session or two. After that the feedback the game gets is more about fine tuning. For theater style one shots, its as though every event is a first event. That self selection isn’t there. The price of entry is also almost nil, so players will sign up for things that aren’t necessarily their favorite genre/tone/style just because it’s running. You end up with a group of people with wildly different tastes.

        Also, in a theater style game, players’ games can be radically different from one another. At many boffer games, everyone goes to the big field fights. Each player will experience those field fights differently, of course. But in the broadest strokes, they are experiencing much of the same content, and seeing many of the same events. In contrast, in theater style you’ll have players who are almost playing completely different games from eachother. They’re often experiencing none of the same events. And since theater-style oneshots often make scant (or no) use of NPCs, very few (if any) of those events are in the direct control of the organizers anyway.

        So you have players with wildly different tastes, experiencing wildly different chains of events from one another. What this often leads to, is that when you ask for feedback, you get a cacophony of contradictory opinions. You’ll have some people tell you the mechanics are too complicated, others will tell you they’re too simple. Some will tell you the tone was too dark, others will tell you it’s too silly. Feedback is often all over the place, and it’s hard to find good objective take-away advice.

        None of which is to say that it can’t be done, or that we shouldn’t try. Just to explain some of the challenges the style faces in getting good formal feedback.

  4. Philip Kelley says:

    There are no stupid questions. Ok, that’s a blatant fallacy, but you didn’t ask any, so there.

    I think we’ve been talking about “formal” feedback processes, such as the game runners sending emails or the like specifically asking their players for feedback. When you think about it (which I didn’t before my first post) the common, indeed ubiquitous, ways of getting feedback become clear: first, you (or, presumably, people you know) are running the game, and can watch what happens; second, odds are very good that you’ll be hanging around with your players after the game, and will get all kinds of direct and indirect feedback, during the formal game wrap (if any) and generally hanging-out afterwards. If things ran (or are running) well, there will be a good “buzz”; if not so well, people are likely to drift off fairly quickly, or the game will have an “off” mood to it. (It actually gets more complex than that, but I’m keeping this short. A sampe side-issue, if one person had a poor time, and if they’re the kind of person to let you know about it, that’s all you’re likely to recall of the game no matter what anyone else said or did.)

    Theater-style games tend to be small (10, 20, maybe 30+ players), with a high GM ration (1 per 10 players is *very* rough guess—so what are GM/player [NPC?] ratios like at long live combat games?). More often than not theater-style GMs are answering player questions, dealing with rules-mechanic-like stuff as it comes out, and generally keeping an eye on things from the edge of the relatively small game-space. They rarely play NPCs or [guessing here, I’ve never done live-combat games] orchestrating the activities of the “monster tent” [Ok, not you, but some groups call it that.] So, yes, they are likely to know how things went, but also yes, they’ll know more and get more detail if they ask after the game.

    If I had a poor time at (say) your game, I’m not an “in your face” type, I’m more the “stand quietly at the edge of the crowd trying to figure if I’m the only one who had issues” guy; if most everyone else had a good time, I’m not going to rain on their parade. In such cases I will offer my opinion and advice *if asked*, and then just as a private email or perhaps conversation with the game runners. [One of the myriad side issues I wasn’t going to talk about: you run a game, afterwards see how many people aren’t talking about it. 90% or better is good, as you just about never get a 100% player satisfaction rate.]

    I’m in a theater-style high fantasy campaign game just now (5 hours +/- every two months), and they both ask for a “Post-Game Report” on what you did and what you say, and offer extra bennies if you turn it in quickly. (GM to player ratio is over 1 to 10, they tend to get busy doing NPC work and “expeditions”, you know the drill.)

    The above discussion on game reruns is actually very interesting. (Where do I find this LARP resume database? Google has failed me!) I was referring to larps run at Intercons; there, the re-run rate is very, very low (I’ve been attending since XII, and there are lots of games I’m still waiting to show up again). Based on this, it could be that half of all larps do get re-run, though it raises lots of questions: same or different GMs, same or different venues (i.e. only ever run once at any con/location), re-run over a short period of time or spread over years, overall accuracy (only shows what’s been logged by whoever/whatever data entry), and so forth. Too much to go into here… but I’m getting some good ideas for panels at the next Intercon pre-con.

    That went on a bit long, didn’t it? We now return you to your regular blogger…

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