Monday, August 01, 2005

Know your role and shut your mouth! (Part 1)

There are social dynamics at work in large groups of people. I've been trying to study these things of late, with regards to Larping and Larp organization. By keeping a handle on social dynamics, you can maximize the fun of a larp and minimize the out of game politics that can be so damaging.

Damn. That sounded dry and corporate...Let me try again.
Each person in a group of people plays some kind of role in the make-up of any group. Look around the gaming table and you can usually pick out who is whom. Look for the person who's most able to deal with people and is usually pressed into service as the spokesperson for the group when dealing with civilian types.
Who is the person that would be the type that you would call if you had to dispose of a body. No, not the guy who THINKS he's able to do that sort of thing. I'm talking about the guy who would keep his cool and keep his mouth shut afterwards.
Who is the guy who knows goddamn everything. Not just that, but if he doesn't know something, he knows where to find it.

Now...Mix up the roles. Would you ask the guy who knows stuff to help you move the body knowing that his mind is churning out all sorts of permutations of what will happen if the two of you are caught?

In a larping situation, You actually have an opportunity to choose the sort of role that you'll fulfill in a large group. Also, you might be able to give yourself a bit of a leg up if you figure out how to determine who is playing what sort of role.

So with that in mind, Let's take a look at the sort of roles one is likely to find in any large healthy Larp, and maybe clear up some basic misconceptions about them.

Social Bee
If you've been to most modern vampire larps it can be a bit difficult to get things rolling at times. Most folks have a tendency to think of their vampire character as some sort of lone wolf type with no attachments to anyone or anything. Also; there is the tendency to be aloof and standoffish.
In other words, most vampire players consider themselves too cool for school. With the practical upshot of a bunch of players standing around staring at one another like a junior high dance.

Dull. Boring. Let's NOT see it again.
Thank Jeebus, there are such players like the Social Bee. This is a fellow who has glommed onto a few basic concepts of role playing and is putting them to work in the best way he knows how. People, like guns, cash, and law firms, are a useful resource when properly cultivated. While trust may be hard to come by in many types of larps, the Social Bee at least strives not to be actively disliked by anybody. And furthermore, A Social Bee understands that it is important to make the rounds and get to know everyone one can possibly know in the game.
There are many reasons for this. One reason is that it's always a good idea to meet people and chat them up and find out what it is they bring to the game in terms of goods and services. Such things get filed in the old mental rolodex until they turn out to be useful. Another good reason to get to meet people is because sometimes larpers can be cliquish and as noted above, somewhat inaccessible. A Social Bee realizes that a new player is not only a potential new resource but a new person trying to break into a new social scene (I.E. the Larp itself.) A smart Social Bee will go out of his way too meet new players and be nice to them, so they will, ya know, COME BACK! Even smarter, Once the Social Bee has chatted them up, he will naturally say to the new player, "You do that? Oh well let me introduce to character "X". You and he will get on like a house afire." Thus enabling the new player to meet and interact with at least 2 players in the first session. This also has the nifty side effect of having both players owe you for putting them in touch with one another.
The rewards of being a Social Bee can be very nice if less than tangible. Social Bees, by dint of being the first to meet a new player are often able to pick and choose the sorts of people they want to have in their organization. This also means the ability to choose those that will be fobbed off on other people. Social Bees are also rarely the focus of concerted efforts on the part of large groups of players to be horribly horribly slain. And even if they are, it's likely that someone will pass them the word before it happens.
A Social Bee also may find himself in the role of playing negotiator or ambassador and at times the rewards to be reaped from this can be great. In fact, the point when a character like this is in most danger is when someone has a vested interest in seeing that peace doesn't break out and spoil their plans.
Smart Social Bees tend to cultivate abilities that they can put to use on behalf of others that feed into their social skills. Influences and certain types of background abilities tend to be the Social Bee's stock and trade. Not only that but they might also possess skills like Law and/or finance that have applications in social realms.

Dead Man Walking
There are times when you are playing a character in the larp, that is up to no good. In fact, you are up to something so very heinous that if anybody knew what it was, every single other player would do their best to waste you at their earliest opportunity. Sometimes this is something that is handed to you. Other times it is something that you choose for yourself. When you are playing the DeadMan, There are a few rules that you should observe:
Firstly, you should keep your mouth shut. Not everybody is really good about keeping out of game knowledge separate from in game knowledge. While Metagaming is not quite cricket, it happens. So keep your plans under your hat both in and out of play.
Secondly, You should get used to the idea that you ARE going to get whacked at some point. No secret is watertight and most larps function like good soap operas insofar as secrets always eventually come out. Naturally, you don't have to make it easy for anyone. Short of cheating, you should always look for ways to protect yourself from the inevitable shit-storm to come. I've seen at least a couple of situations where a group of people went hunting a particular antagonist and attempted to whack him only to find themselves whacked instead. (In at least a couple of these situations, there was a lot of whining and crying that the target didn't lay down and die. Which is immature horse shit as far as I am concerned.)
Third, go to great lengths to acquire another role in the larp so that nobody suspects you, based on the fact that you don't seem to fit into any other role. Be visible and high profile, so that people find it hard to believe that you CAN do something secretly.
Fourth, Go slow. Be subtle as you can. Make them work to smoke you out. Also, make a deal with the ST's that they don't let you go out cheaply. Nobody likes to die cheaply.
Playing the DeadMan can be very liberating. It's a bit like driving a rental car

The Dick(private)
The are a number of different permutations of this basic premise. The ex-cop who got embraced and is right out of a Joseph Wambaugh novel, The Mickey Spillane/Robert Parker tough as nails guy. The Daryl Zero intuitive loon, The hacker who's nosey as hell. The Occult investigator who's in way over his head ("Carl Kolchak, white courtesy telephone...") The Government Guy who's in over his head like your basic Mulder and Scully types. Or maybe, you just have a knack for getting to the bottom of things but don't really make a serious pursuit out of it or a job. Travis Mcgee would be a great example of such a person.
If you take on the role of a person who's particular bent is finding things out, then there are certain things that you need to do. You need to ask questions, you need to find things out, you need to check facts, Then when you've done that, go back and ask some more questions. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. When people start trying to scare you off or kill you. You are getting close.
I will say this, Being the Investigator guy is simpler and harder when you're first starting out. At that point nobody will bring you their In-Character problems just as a matter of course, so at times it takes a while to build up a rep for being able to do this. However, because you don't have a rep, it's often easier to navigate under people's radar and get more done. As you progress, other characters will come to you to find out things about their enemies and about strange circumstances and whatever else. But once you have a rep for finding out the truth, Those who have much to gain by your failure will be unwilling to talk to you or will move to cross you up. Particularly clear minded miscreants will elect to whack you before putting any other nefarious plans into action. After all, once you're out of the picture, nobody else will be good enough to figure it all out.
Naturally, there should be a good reason for this sort of activity. Investigating things can be a dangerous and tedious occupation. Wild curiosity will only go so far. And as every episode of "Rockford Files" has shown, it's a bad idea to go into it for the money.

The Lawman
I list this fellow separate from the "Dick", for a reason. While their particular bailiwicks do have a great deal of overlap, they are separate and distinct from one another. The Lawman, in any particular social dynamic is the one who preserves order. Chaos is an offense to his aesthetic and a sin in his eyes. He exists in a social dynamic because there are those who have a vested interest in either creating or maintaining a status quo and the Lawman is the most tangible extension of that status quo. He is a force for Order, with a capital "O".
His own personal morality is what differentiates him. If his heart is true, He'll be a paladin-like figure and might even stand against an orderly regime that has become corrupt (but only after becoming completely satisfied that that, is in fact, the case.) If his heart, is, well...Less true, He will use the rule of law and his own position in it as a club to suppress others. He becomes the fellow that those in power use to do their dirty work. Mainly because he enjoys it. And the only thing they have to worry about is the possibility that he might take it into his head that he could run things better than they.
In any event, a Lawman must be ready and willing to stand against threats both internal and external and he may end up doing so even though he may not have an official position to back him up. It's just his nature. A player who is playing a lawman needs to spend his time preparing himself against trouble but also being proactive and keeping a weather on eye on things as best as he can.
Smart Lawmen, gather like minded persons to their banner. The main reason for this is that there are few threats in a larp that can't be brought down with a bit of dog-piling. Smart Lawmen also pay attention to every piece of Intel that floats across their desk, and go to some lengths to maintain a spy network to keep them up on things. The best players of Lawmen develop a sense of when other characters are pissing on their boots and telling them it's raining. It's also a good idea to figure out when to rush and when to go slowly. It's too easy to get ganked, if you can't tell which one to do for any given threat.

The Walking Encyclopedia ( AKA "The Sage")
In any Larp there is usually one person who is so conversant with the game world that he knows the books cold and may be more up on the setting than the ST's. This fellow is eminently suited to become the "Sage" of the game and be the one that people consult when trying to deal with the strange or unusual. Most people tend to think that this sort of role is more suited to NPC's because it seems that this role is somewhat sedentary and passive. It certainly can be played that way. The Sage might be the sort of person who approaches groups of players with incentives to find out this bit of information, or that bit of information. Some are for him, others are for other people who have queried the Sage.
However, there are times when a dry recitation of facts are not what the Sage desires but a more hands on understanding of information or phenomenon. In which case the Sage gathers up his materials and goes in search of it himself or gathers a group to help him do it. Other times, the sage is pressed into service to perform some ritual or handle some freakish situation that only his specialized knowledge can handle.
Naturally, this role shares many things in common with the Dick, but the Sage's interest and purpose is much more general and broad. He loves and needs knowledge for it's own sake. And his general activities to gather same are far more general in nature. While a Dick might go looking for a specific book to handle a specific case, the Sage might have that book because he bought it in an estate sale along with 5000 other volumes. Sages tend to be collectors and you might consider the idea that the obsessive need to collect is an intrinsic part of these kinds of characters. It also gives other players an in with the Sage. Sages might not give a shit about money, but if a player can find an original annotated manuscript of Dante's "Inferno". then the Sage is interested and engaged. Work for hire is far too dull.
Another role that the sage fits easily into is that of Court Vizier. While the Sage might not necessarily be sitting in the big chair politically, He certainly has the ear of the fellow who does. This can lead to being a sort of Eminence Grise and a Sage with that sort of pull can dictate the policies of the political group in charge by dint of quiet advice and the occasional lie. All you have to do is look at the way Henry Kissinger used to advise Richard Nixon. Invariably he would present courses of action to Nixon from least desirable to most desirable and those policies he deemed best, he would sell best and last. Nixon almost always chose to do what Kissinger wanted him to do.

Sono Finito (for now)


At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....One mantra I always follow when joining new games is that my new character must be able to contribute *SOMETHING* to the existing dynamic. If the group's having legal troubles, a character with a law background is good. Are their cars always breaking down? A mechanic might be the ticket! Of course, lots of groups are just looking for fresh speedbumps to manipulate into the way of enemies...

.....The bottom line is: Standing around and looking cool provides maybe 5 minutes of entertainment. What are you going to do after that to give the other players a reason to interact with you?


At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

In fantasy, players must fall into one of the MMO archtypes (tank, healer, nuker); in WoD physical, social or mental. Add in character backgrounds and you have a coterie.

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

Rev K has another blog out there:

Not much use to those uninterested in acting (like me), but some of the characterization stuff rings true, and I like reading him anyway (*cleans off nose*).

Pete- Anonymous posting is disabled on that blog, and there are no links here or on the TI blog to that site (I found it through your profile). You have your reasons, yes?

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Clayton Oliver said...

"Short of cheating, you should always look for ways to protect yourself from the inevitable shit-storm to come. I've seen at least a couple of situations where a group of people went hunting a particular antagonist and attempted to whack him only to find themselves whacked instead. (In at least a couple of these situations, there was a lot of whining and crying that the target didn't lay down and die. Which is immature horse shit as far as I am concerned.)"

Why, Reverend, whomever do you mean?

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Diane said...

Awesome advice. Having played a couple of those in similar fashion, I can whole heartedly agree with you. Playing the dead man that way on my part helped me kill off two of Sheiks characters, something everyone ultimately was happy about, except him of course. Excellent post!


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