Intercon O Post Event Report: Part I — Thursday Evening at PreCon

Intercon O has come and gone. It was an incredible weekend. I helped out with two workshops at PreCon, attended a handful of panels, and played in seven LARPs. I danced a bit too much on Saturday night, hung out in suite parties, and stayed late on Sunday to socialize with LARPers I don’t see enough of long after con wrap has come to a close. I can still feel the convention in the muscles in my legs and feet. I was busy with all things LARP from Thursday to Sunday.

I love this community.

PreCon — Thursday Evening

On Thursday evening, I arrived just in time to set up my first PreCon event, the “Making Your Own Banners Workshop“. My purpose in bidding this was twofold — one, I like the idea of PreCon having some amount of variety in content, and a workshop seemed like a fun idea, and two, not everyone has heard of this iron-on adhesive stuff which is so wonderfully useful for set dressing, costuming, and props. (The basic ideas can be found in this post. It’s the same method I used to make banners for Venezia and Cracks in the Orb, and pirate flags for Devil to Pay.)

Only one person attended (the same creative LARPer who introduced to me to the fluffy flowers project.) I spread out the supplies I had picked up from dollar stores (tasseled table runners) and art stores (iron-on adhesive and scissors) and talked a little bit about the uses of adhesive and the tips I had picked up through my own trials and error while we worked on our respective banners. I also shared a few tips on how to make heraldic five petal roses come out nice and even. The iron we used was swiped from a hotel room.

A few things I learned from this workshop. One, I should have printed some images to trace. I had considered it and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the bother, but then I regretted that when we sat down to work. Some traceable letters for people who want to try that would also be good. Two, some brands of iron-on adhesive have the problem of the glue and wax sheet separating before your cut-outs get ironed to the fabric. I’m actually not certain of the best solution for this problem yet, but I’m going to experiment with some ideas and report back here. Three, this workshop could easily be extended by half an hour to an hour, depending on how complex participants’ designs might be.

These are the banners we made. (His banner was originally going to say “Intercon O” on it, but we ran short on time, so he just ironed on a few letters.)

Our ONCIO and Green Rose Banners

It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a market for this at Intercon, but who knows. This might go over better at Time/Dice Bubble, especially since I have plenty of materials leftover. (It could also possibly be converted to a “make your own tabard” workshop with more fabric.)

My next PreCon event was a panel called “Turning a Work of Fiction Into a LARP“. Three panelists discussed the pros and cons of taking pre-written works of fiction, whether it’s professionally published or amateur content, and creating LARPs based on them. The examples that came up most often were Steven Brust’s Dragaera novels (which were the basis for two theater LARPs I’ve played, the weekend long Dragon and the four hour Cracks in the Orb, which I’ve played twice) and a webcomic called Girl Genius. (I’ve played in one LARP based on this series.) Harry Potter also came up a bit.

The advantages we discussed during the panel included things like pre-existing works providing excellent inspiration and ideas for material, as well increased player investment and excitement up front. Players often know right from the title whether they want to play.  Disadvantages include what panelists and audience members referred to as “main character syndrome” (in which one character is the star of the LARP and other characters are/feel secondary to them.) For those who stand by the “every character should feel like the star from their own point of view” it can be very difficult to avoid when one character is canonically known as the star of their world. Player expectations for who is central will heavily color the experience even if you go to great lengths to avoid this. Also, players get very attached to the original version of the source material and their ideas and interpretations of it, and the LARP risks crashing if expectations aren’t met. The content of source material, while inspiring, can also feel constraining.

Some tips: if there are multiple valid fan interpretations of the source material, it’s a good idea to be upfront about which version you’re using. Don’t be afraid to break canon for the sake of your game, even if you risk offending tried and true fans. Mashing up multiple source materials from one genre helps reduce player expectation (and may help spread around the “star power”). Super genius characters are always incredibly difficult to include (Sherlock Holmes was mentioned as a repeat offender).

One of the questions I posed to the panelists was how to include a character who is known for betrayal in a way that is still fun to play. Suggestions included “file the serial numbers off,” meaning they can appear in game in disguise. It’s also helpful to provide them with allies and additional depth and complexity, and make sure that other characters in game need them for something irreplaceable.

We also talked briefly about copyright issues (the authors of Girl Genius have requested that they be contacted if money is made, photos be sent their way, and that the LARP writers not claim that they wrote the setting.)

After “Turning a Work of Fiction Into LARP,” I went off to help present “Introduction to Accelerant System for Theater Players“. We went over the principles behind the system and the specifics, with an emphasis on the types of rules that were likely to come up in the two Accelerant LARPs running that weekend. (Stop That Moon! and Rabbit Run.) With the last ten minutes, we picked up some weapons and practiced a bit with some one-on-one, with the other two presenters offering some tips.

I had a lot of fun and even learned a bit myself (even though I’ve been playing Accelerant LARPs for years now). I think it’s particularly valuable program for Intercon to be able to offer — hopefully, writers and GMs will feel more encouraged to run Accelerant LARPs, knowing that newbies will have the chance to go over the system prior to an event if they desire. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of workshop happened again in future years. I think would probably like to restructure it a bit — focus more on the most common effects and less on the uncommon ones (which we tried to do, but admittedly we got a bit sidetracked sometimes) and include a white board/projector with a powerpoint for clarity’s sake. I would probably also try to work with the GMs of the LARPs to get actual lists of of abilities from their PCs and NPCs for reference. But most importantly, I would extend the duration of the workshop — the presentation part was a bit rushed and the practice part could have gone on much longer, and maybe included more variety (such as including PCs vs. NPCs instead of just one on one practices.)

Between “Turning a Work of Fiction Into LARP” and “Introduction to Accelerant System for Theater Players”, I caught a glimpse of “Props 101“, which had a bunch of examples spread out on a table. They had a lot of neat looking electronics and such, and some lovely parchment props. I really wish I could have attended that panel, or at least gotten pictures of it. If someone should happen to share the slides involved online, I will try to track down a link to share here.

My last panel of the evening was “Writers are Total Cocks“. It was the latest in a line of British run panels/presentations/round table talks that include “Players are Scum” and “GMs are Bastards.” This one was much more of a round table discussion, with members of the audience calling out various common pitfalls of LARP writing.
Some of the suggestions for how not to be total cock as a writer:

  • Don’t write in a system where GMs lie to players (apparently, there is a game out there with a mechanic for players to force GMs to tell the truth… which of course implies they often don’t.)
  • Give characters who are secret mongers secrets to monger. Blackmailers should have blackmail material.
  • Give characters different interpretations on events, but the basic facts should be consistent.
  • If a goal is intended to be impossible, let the player know.
  • Characters should not be completely replaceable with an item card or a mechanic.
  • Important items should be well described, not just “this is an important artifact.”
  • Don’t give characters pressing reasons to leave (unless everyone trying to escape is the point of the LARP.)
  • Massive surprise genre shifts are a bad idea.
  • Avoid massive bomb or “woo” (supernatural) plots that cause nothing else to matter if not all characters are involved.
  • No character should have only allies or nemeses — it’s better to have a combination of both.
  • Boredom is not a mechanic. Avoid mechanics like, “sit here and wait for ten minutes in order to build a machine.”
  • Letting players leave inquiries in a box for GMs is better than letting them wait in a queue for answers.

The discussion concluded with a brainstorm for ideas for the next topic for this series. Con Organizers are Tossers? NPCs are Prats? Or maybe some non-human topics, like Mechanics are Codswallop.

Next up, Friday of PreCon!


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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4 Responses to Intercon O Post Event Report: Part I — Thursday Evening at PreCon

  1. Lise says:

    Ooh, neato banners! I of course have first-hand examples of my own, but I still would have liked to attend. Unfortunately I was at dinner at the time, and had three hours of panels ahead of me that evening 😦

    I like the idea of a question box for GMs… as a GM, so many times I am running away saying, “Now, what did that player ask me…?”

  2. Chad B says:

    “Massive surprise genre shifts are a bad idea.”

    Not to say it can’t work, but it depends on having a natural transition point, and a shift from one genre to a related one. I’ve seen more than one example of an exploration genre game shift into a first contact game when such an event was unexpected. It’s a nice way to give different characters the ‘lead’ and emphasize different skills and resources. But this is a case where, perhaps unexpected, it’s a shift that works because of the two points I made above. For a mainstream work that does this all the time, look at Law & Order, which regularly shifts from police procedural to courtroom drama, although there is a lot less surprise here.

    -So- tired of ‘mechanics’ which take a player out of play just to slow them down. I agree that boredom is not a mechanic, it’s a punishment.

    I too like the ‘question box’ idea to smooth out the wait times. Not always practical, and sometimes the right answer is to have more GMs, but there’s definitely a place for this one….

    • Fair Escape says:

      Yeah, the sentiment “you can break the rules, but you should know what the rules are and why they are (and maybe why previous attempts had failed) before you try” comes up a lot at PreCon and NELCO and anywhere LARP discussions are to be had.

      I think the keyword is surprise — if your blurb says “this is a western that will switch to sci-fi” (suddenly Cowboys and Aliens comes to mind) then you’ll get players who want some of both. Law & Order says it right there in the title and the introduction.

      I once played with a search mechanic that was “put your hand here for five minutes, then there’s a chance you’ll find something” so if five minutes got you nothing, you wondered if you should try again or if there was nothing to find in the room.

      I’m sure there are some questions that can’t really be addressed by the box, but I think it’s a good idea to supplement most GM interactions… Cottington Woods has some information skills that you can use during the game, and they always involve dropping a note off in a box in the tavern, which the NPCs check from time to time.

  3. Pingback: For Auld Lang Syne 2015 | Fair Escape

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