Sunday, June 26, 2005

On and Off the Stage

"Preparation, preparation, preparation."
-Ben Kingsley in the movie "Sexy Beast"

I liken most gaming endeavors to acting on a stage. It's a pesky habit but it fits with my experience both as an actor and gamer. As I become more and more interested in Larping, the comparison becomes more useful.

What makes an actor an artist is not the ability to stand on a stage. Although it should be pointed out that many people would rather be set on fire than do just that. What makes an actor an artist is his ability and inclination to prepare for the role that he performs onstage.

Now, If you've never actually had a situation where you've been involved with a stage production, let me give you a sneak peak into how it works. I'm sure that there are people who think that actors just show up and make it up as they go along. (leaving aside Improvisation) but it just ain't the case.

4-6 weeks before a show goes up, the people who want to be in a particular show audition to be in it. Once the director has chosen who he thinks will make the best show, then he sits down with them for the first couple of rehearsals and they read through the play and discuss what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.

Over the course of the next weeks the player work on the play over and over, piece at a time. Usually, about three weeks in, the actors are asked to be off book (but are still allowed to call for lines) about two weeks before the show goes up, the actors begin to assemble all the pieces of the play into a sequential order and are now working on rehearsing the play whole acts at a time.

Usually, at the 1 week mark, All of the technological elements are added in. The actors are put on the stage for the first time, The have to deal with all of the sound and light cues that up until now have been missing. They have to deal with costume elements and make-up for the first time. And at this point they aren't allowed to call for lines anymore and in fact get notes if they get lines wrong or paraphrase them.

An exhausting amount of energy and time and preparation go into each production that goes up on the stage before the curtain goes up on opening night. And if your production is a musical of some sort...My god, you just have no idea what goes into something like that.

So what does this have to do with Gaming?
One of the things that I find hard to understand is that there are many players who seem to not have a single thought about a game outside of the actual game night. This is totally confusing to me.
Most of the really good ideas that I have about playing a particular character for stage or game come from those times when I am far from rehearsal hall or gaming table.

In fact, in the case of most larps. The best sort of work one can do is done entirely offstage.
Let's take a look at Mind's Eye Theater. In most games you have both influences and backgrounds.
The use of these things is mostly offstage activity. Say you have a game that meets monthly or bi-weekly. If you take a single night between games to e-mail your GM some thoughts about what you'd like to do with you offstage resources, then as like as not, you'll have a nice active agenda when you hit the door on play night. Not only that but those things will have been going on while other people are not paying attention.
Most people who don't take advantage of their offstage time usually spend the first hour of any larp session trying to get into character and figure out what they're going to do. Preparation beforehand makes a huge difference.
Even if you have a character that is heavily combat based (and thus is primarily an "Onstage" character.) There are things you can do to prepare for the game ahead of time. Take your basic gun bunny character. What are a few things you can do in your off hours? You could train, study tactics,buy and modify guns, plan escape procedures, create bolt-holes, Engineer ambushes, create ideal places for those ambushes to take place. lure foolish enemies into the places to have the ambush. create the necessary resources to find people who need to be found...If only so you can stomp them at appropriate times.

There are also characters that seem to be onstage characters but in fact are not really. Take the example of a Hacker. Hacking is a vitally useful thing and a hacker character is not liable to be without work long in any given larp. However, Hacking runs in a larp setting are hardly high drama,visually interesting, or fun for anybody but the hacker player. So, for the most part, actual hacking runs ought to be conducted out of play. Hell, in real life, it might take several hours.

So, if a hacker can't hack during an actual game session, What does he do?
He networks and lines up jobs. He gathers and evaluates intel. He identifies targets and assesses security. He figures out ways to get to paid for work without getting himself killed. He acquires new toys to work with. He hires people to help him get information that isn't on the net anywhere.(like cat burglars, and rumor mongers.)

The bulk of this sort of work is about understanding your particular role within the story structure and the nature of your particular character's role in life. In order to make most character concepts work it's necessary to find the balance between the Offstage life and the Onstage life. It's not exactly a fine line to walk, but it does take a bit of thought. For instance, Say that you create a character that is heavily invested in his offstage life. Perhaps you've got character that is built mostly on backgrounds and influences. But when it comes to raw onstage power, you don't have much at all to work with. This means that you might have great time being the spider at the center of the web but during the actual game you might find yourself bored. Especially if there is a lot of onstage activity that you can't get involved with for whatever reason. (Like, you might get horribly killed.) So how do you fix it? You might start using your social skills and your backgrounds and influences in the same way the Hacker does that I described above. This might at least give you some allies to help you out and an enemy or two to have to deal with.

Another thing you can do offstage is make plans that come into effect when whatever you have got going on goes tits up. You can even put this sort of thing into a letter and put it in the hands of the ST staff or appropriate player characters with the legend. "To be opened in the event of my horrible, horrible DEATH!"

The point I'm trying to make is that there is a lot you can do to create interesting plot that has nothing to do running up to the ST prior to the game and filling his/her ear with what you've been doing for the last month, and expecting them to remember any of it, answer any questions, or be able to process it all. Especially when there are 10 other people who want to do the same thing as soon as you stop to draw breath.

Sono Finito


At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....And the opposite of the player who shows up and forgot his sheet, dice, and "hey can I borrow a pen?", is the player who emails you EVERY day, and has a 25 item list of things his character does. And expects you to have read and ruled on it. "You didn't say anything about me getting my National Guard Supply Quartermaster getting me a new 25mm Barrett, why can't I take it to the party?"

.....This is the gamer who makes you turn off your IM client, turn the ringer off, and hide behind caller ID. Ever had one of those?


At 7:22 PM, Blogger kinesys said...

Yeah. I've had that too. There are folks who've been burned so badly by playing with other people in the larp, so they monopolize the GM's time and stay away from everybody else.

The only way to fix that is to make sure that that player must go to other players for some things.

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

Typically, I like giving XP for off-screen action, especially character backgrounds, and usually enough to almost double the starting power of a new character. (Say an extra three dots in disciplines -potence, celerity and fortitude- for vampire or an extra level level -lv 2- for D&D.)

I know it sounds like a lot, but most players can attain that much change in a new character in only a couple of sessions. However, it still sounds like a lot, (and most new characters can use the boost anyway) so players are thus encouraged to make up at least something.

Unfortunately, I've never had the "pleasure" of getting too much from over-achievers, although I have been the player to make the GM hide. (He talked to me about it and he convinced me I needed to cut back.) I tell my players I want between two-thirds and one full page of typed character history for me to even consider passing out XP.

It mostly works...


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