A Vision for NJ-CA LARP!

Lakota storyteller: painting.

Lakota storyteller: painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of reason why people want to be a storyteller. In MES (Mind’s Eye Society) that reasoning ranges from needing a volunteer so a venue can exist as a live game at all, to people who just prefer to storytell. I fall into neither of those categories, in fact, when Masquerade was re-released as a venue in the MES (Mind’s Eye Society) I was quite hesitant about trying it all since I was already well-versed in the Requiem LARP.

A lot of my friends were fans of Masquerade – in particular: Cam-Anarch. However, hardly anyone in our domain, were even familiar with the mechanics – so partially for recruitment and partially due to need for skilled players we called in folks from troupe larp scene to help us with the game. Our first iVST left after the interim term was over, our first VST had a hard time making it to the games, and our games suffered small attendance — and I mean between 4 and 7 player games.  It wasn’t a very exciting game.

At this time two things happened, I started attending more local troupe LARPs – and one of my friends started pushing me to change the game IC (In-Character) to make it more dynamic. This required a lot of IC maneuvering, that got me involved both locally and nationally — I finally got to see what it was about Cam-Anarch that made it exciting – the hypocrisy and the hierarchy, and the EPIC adventures. We went through another recruitment spree and the game swelled and for a while seemed pretty healthy – as the chronicle progressed nationally I got to go on adventures around the world, politic with PCs, and really experience the game. It became my favorite game.

Over time, no matter how much I enjoyed myself – and I did, I found a strange urge to want to help with storytelling. I say it was a “strange urge” because I never experienced that desire before. Previously, I story told “Mage the Awakening” out of a sense of obligation; I was on of the more veteran members of the game and our previous storyteller was mentally fried.

With Camarilla-Anarch it was different.

I wanted to share my experiences with the other players, I wanted them to come to love the game (and the world) as much as I had. Still I was shy about being an actual direct storyteller, I took a job assisting the regional storyteller with building setting, and that was pretty fun although largely administrative. Slowly, I came to realize that I really wanted to directly storytell this game, and that was the best reason to do it.  Because you’re excited about it – and want to share that excitement with others.

English: Colored Gears

Using Metrics to Build the Better Game
Becoming a storyteller in the Mind’s Eye Society (MES) can be as easy as signing up, much harder was really understanding what I was supposed to do as a storyteller. Worse, my first month storytelling coincided with my finals/graduation deliverables which caused no small amount of frustration. But the biggest hurdle was understanding that the way I would story tell would would not be the same as anyone else.

I could borrow ideas from other storytellers I admired, but in taking those ideas and using them, they would be different because storytelling is a creative act. When I realized that I needed to build a system around my personal strengths and weaknesses, I really started to wrap my head on the task ahead of me.

In particular, I needed to find a conceptual metric to gear my games toward. For me that metric is “PC interaction”. I stumbled over this concept during a period of time where I quizzed all my friends, who I also admired as storytellers, about what skills would be needed to story-tell.

The idea is based on a simple formula:

  • People attend LARPs to experience a story, the more the game feels like characters in a story the better the game will be.
  • Every time a player-character interacts with something ( game setting, NPC or PC) they are reminded of the story they are involved in.
  • Therefore, all other things being equal, the higher the average PC Interaction, the better the game will be.

This also has implications for players, OOC chatting takes away from PC interaction. Late game start takes away from PC interaction, the quality of PC interaction is an important variable, as well as the type of player (What kind of story do they want to tell?), and the size of the game.

While, all of this may seem obvious, for me and many others taking a systems oriented approach makes defining and completing the functions of a storyteller much easier. And, serves to define the approach I plan to take as a storyteller moving forward. Its important to note that different storytellers will have different styles – while my approach works for me it may not work for others.

While it possible to tell a great variety of stories in the NJCA LARP, in particular, I feel Camarilla-Anarch has a number of stories it excels at telling:

A theatre-style LARP in a decorated room

A theatre-style LARP in a decorated room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elements of a Masquerade-Camarilla Game:

  • Politics and Social Hierarchy
  • Caste-based Intrigue
  • Prestation
  • Supernatural and Mundane Events
  • NPC Motivations and Perception Play
  • Humanity Loss as a Horror Element
  • Mythology as a Horror Element

National LARP Organization vs. Troupe LARPs
I feel that its important to note and include national and regional elements of the game and encourage all players to get involved via multiple roads. I think this is a particular asset of games as part of the MES organization and it would be a disservice not to make it available to the players.

In addition, I think there are many strengths that troupe games have that we can learn from as a LARP. In particular the personalized feel I’ve experienced as a player in many troupe games is something that I aspire to for my game. Another note that I aspire to as a storyteller, is the high-quality production value of troupe games which (at least locally) vastly exceeds MES organization LARPs, ideally I would like to emphasize this our games.

Building A Strong Team
Finally, I don’t really believe that its reasonably possible to do all of this by myself. I need the space and time to create, but also to have a real life. In order to supplement the needs of the game with my personal needs as a human, I need to create a team of storytellers (AVSTs) that are armed with information about plots they will seed into the game, organized in terms of timing and plot release, and educated about how to run games.

I plan to run this game for 1 year, and act as an assistant to the next VST for NJCA. I would like to thank all of the AVSTs that have helped me to this point and I hope we can tell great stories moving into the future.


What is a LARP?

I am a storyteller.

Not just someone who tells good stories, or likes to tell stories, but I literally have the role  “storyteller” in an organization built around collaborative group storytelling.  Formally its called a LARP organization, but most people (read: non-geeks) don’t know what LARPs are.  It feels like I spend a lot of time explaining what a LARP is to my non-geeky friends.

So here it is, a whole entry dedicated to defining LARP!

I imagine to my non-LARP friends it [LARPing] is a hobby that has slowly cannibalized my life. I used to make plans to go out and see a movie – instead most of my weekends are already committed. My friends that don’t LARP have seen me less and less over the past six years.  Which doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it  just means that I’ve become obsessively engrossed in a time consuming complicated hobby.  But  the real question seems to be:

What is LARP anyway?

LARP stands for:

Live – Action – Role – Play

And, that’s a mouthful –  so most people just say “LARP” for short. Immediately, some people will assume its some sort of sexual roleplaying “Eyes Wide Shut” type of thing – it’s not. Well, to be fair – within the scope of the events I’m aware of LARPs aren’t – I suppose there are probably underground swingers LARPs, I’ve never heard of them but then again I’m probably not the target audience either. I’ll assume they probably exist on the periphery, along with other unusual but overly sensationalized recreational hobbies – like underwater basket weaving, or curling.

LARPs usually center on a particular story like Game of Thrones or Battlestar Gallactica – to name a few of the more popular ones. They can also center around a particular roleplaying game. The most famous roleplaying game is “Dungeons and Dragons” put out by Wizards of the Coast – and this is the game most people are familiar with when referencing roleplay games. However, LARPs can be based on almost any roleplaying game. Many LARPs are custom designed stories that are made specifically for LARP events. I prefer the games published by White Wolf publishing, which are based in a setting called “World of Darkness” these are all horror stories with various themes – although I also enjoy the Game of Thrones style setting and themes.

Usually, if its a book, TV show, or movie it can be made into a LARP. You just need someone willing to break down the the character types, and decide on a system or rules.  I’d like to note that you don’t actually need rules either, it just makes it easier to resolve conflicts between characters if there is some sort of predetermined method for resolving that conflict.

Once you have a setting you ask people if they would like to play in this LARP – these people are called players or “LARPers”. A small LARP is anywhere from 10 – 15 people.  Most LARPs can range from 20-50 people.  I tend to think more than 50 is my threshold for a large LARP, other (more experienced) LARPers will have different ideas about LARP sizes, this is my basic and serviceable explanation.

Once you have a setting (with or without rules of some sort) and you have players (or LARPers) you need a storyteller. You can call this person anything: gamemaster,  administrator, director, storyteller – the title isn’t important. What is important is that you have at least one person willing to run the game. This role includes producing material about the setting, finding a place to hold the game, and approving or generating characters for people to play. Think of storytellers as part police officer, part movie director – they are there to make sure that the game goes on, that the characters fit in the setting, and that the players have stuff to do. Usually this isn’t just one person but a team of people who work to make sure the LARP event runs smoothly and is fun for everyone.

Once the game, the players, and the storytellers are set — characters are created. Either by the players, the storytellers, or a collaboration of the two. This part is usually pretty creative. It requires taking the time to suss out what kind of character you would have the most fun being. Certain archetypes are common like:

The Tough Guy – I am Billy Bad-ass. I can beat up everyone! Bad guys hate me, the opposite sex loves me, I’m a hero here to save the day. I am the hero in every action movie.

The Prettiest Guy – I am so pretty that when you look at me you are swayed by my words. Everyone does what I say because I have all the pretty. All of them! I am the center of many day-time soap operas.

Funny McTricky-Pants – I am super cunning and funny, because I am super smart. You will never guess all my tactics, because they are just so good. If I had a mustache I would totally twirl it – sometimes I need a mustache. But I will continue to crack jokes instead, because that is easier and way less work. All those cool indie movies you love – totally me.

There are a lot more archetypes – just think of the different types of characters you see in movies and you’ll get a good idea.  Take twenty or so characters made for a particular setting, one set of game mechanics, and at least one person willing to weave it together to form a story for 4-6 hours and you’ve got yourself a LARP.

Pretty neat – huh?

Preparing to Launch a New Game.

I’ve been wanting to story-tell for a  Vampire: The Masquerade (Camarilla-Anarch) game for almost a year. This game has a very simple set of rules that are based on the resolution of Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS). Designed in the early 1990s, the players portray vampires (functional immortals) who must politic within a limited organization for status, resources and power.

Oh, and its meant to be a game of horror.

As you can imagine, the plotting and intrigue can get pretty intense – I’ve seen it first hand in the limited three-year experience I’ve had with it. The simple mechanics, rather than detracting from the game, add greater focus to the social details. For the past year I’ve had a desire to story-tell (ST) for this game.

My gaming group is just finishing a three year story, and I signed up to start the beginning of a five year year story. The prospect is a bit intimidating, but also exciting. I can do all the things that I loved in other games I played in, I can combine these techniques to make an amazing story. It could be a wonderful experience that I will look back on with great fondness.

Or, it could totally blow up in my face.

When I started playing this system three years ago, I was somewhat skeptical. Through playing the game I have been made into a fan of the system and, I honestly feel like I’ve grown as a player. The status aspect of the game helped me to understand the class system that is displayed in everyday life; and I think that is the real value of a any game or hobby, when it is not just something to pass the time but actually teaches you to see the world around you in a different way.
In a sense I want to give that gift to others – we’ll see how it goes 🙂