Sunday, June 03, 2007

A little bit of Theater.

Last night, i was at my larp, There was a situation involving the ganking of the Prince. The sheriff had called all of the vampires in town at elysium together to let them know, But then he spent about a half hour investigating the crime scene. In addition, the vampires were not allowed to leave. Until he made his pronouncement.
Did i mention that the sheriff is mute?

This is unfortunate because it had the effect of trapping a whole bunch of players in one spot with nothing to do but wait. And there were a number of new players in the room who had no attachment to the plot or the old prince. I could feel them getting restless. But as it was created by the other players,and not the ST staff, there was little they could do.

The reason why i bring this up is because i feel that most gamers, myself included have famously short attention spans. Leave a player in the lurch too long, and eventually they'll think to themselves, "Ya know...I could be at home right now, downloading Doctor Who on Bit-torrent." And come next game session, that's just what they'll do.

So, i want to talk about the theater of larping for a bit.

You know me. I'm always trying to figure out ways to help get people in that crazy mindset of "Larp as Improv Art-form" because i find that when you do this, it helps you to find your way into your character in a way that game systems flatly don't do. But, like any improv person can tell you, when the pace begins to drag, it can mean death. The other end of this puzzle, is that you'll have players that want and need to be handed a bit of plot, but you'll also have players that want and need you to leave them the hell alone so they can get into trouble all alone. There are nights, when all you have to do is put a few players in the room together and simply let them talk. exchange philosophies and junk like that. There are some players that will dig on that.
But other players may need a little bit more.

Make it an event
The Camarilla has taught me a very valuable thing about Larping. Insofar as when you've got a great big chronicle that stretched across the depth and breadth of the globe, you ought to plan your game as if you'll have visitors every single night you play it. Visitors who aren't involved with your ongoing plots and who may need some sort of handle to grip onto in order to get involved. You want them too. You honestly want to find ways to help them into the ongoing things and maybe even help them develop plot of their own. If you do this, they may want to come back. And one of the principles of larping is "The More the Merrier."

With this in mind, No court of vampires should be a dull, dry, and un-dramatic affair. While some vampires should cultivate a bland attitude, others should come to court shaking with rage over some slight or other. There should be drama seething in each vampire court. I expect that the equivalent ought to take place in any other sort of game where supernatural creatures gather. They do tend to be excitable creatures don't they? As a GM, i think it would be wise to engineer some sort of low level conflict of some sort, A bit of sloppy feeding here, a bit of domain poaching there. If a PC prince asks the assembled kindred, "Does anyone have a grievance to bring before me?" The last thing he should hear is silence. At least 1 hunt test failure ought to create some problem that would turn up at court.

In fact, it is my opinion that supernatural creatures should only meet in a full one elysium when the political needs are pressing. Court is a regimented affair, and violence is strictly verboten. The problem with this is, That occasionally, vampires want to kill one another.
Also, you should make room for times when Vampire congregate that have nothing to do with Formal Court. Social events, Clan Meetings, Covenant Meetings, and things of that sort play a vital role in the theatrical life of a community of vampires.

In addition, Formal courts are held in Elysiums, unless of course, one means to dispense justice on the grounds. As a result they are a means for socially oriented kindred to meet and greet and get to know all of the kindred in the community. Also, it is a means for artistically inclined kindred to show off their skills and talents to the small select group who are liable to "Get it."
What this OUGHT to mean, is that players with those sorts of skills should figure out ways to turn a formal court into a kind of artistic salon for their OWN talents. I suspect that any larp with 30 people or more could likely field a 3-4 person band. In any given group of players there ought to be a few people with formal dramatic skills, improv, a singer, a juggler, a stand-up comedian, and things of that sort. The Keeper of Elysium is supposed to actually organize entertainments at any formal court, And yet i have yet to see a single larp where that was the actual case. Also, Carthians are keen on debates. Why can't there be the occasional debates at something like this? It seems like i only see these sorts of things at major conventions. This seems like a gyp to me.

Another thing that i think would be helpful: Whenever a person is appointed to an office in a vampire court. I think there should be a formal rite of investiture witnessed by the whole court. It's a little bit of the pomp and circumstance that one should expect from these proceedings, and in addition makes it far less likely that people don't know who's actually filling those offices.

Indeed, some of the best forms of theater and some of the best forms of religious rite, share much in common. They have a certain kind of rhythm. and a certain bit of showmanship is involved in their creation. Also: There is the tendency towards a heightened form of language, a poetry to ritualized proceedings. That sort of shit is kind of hard to fake and unless you have some experience in that kind of thing, you ought to memorize, or at least have some crib notes for it. Why not have a prop book with the proper texts. No problem with that sort of thing if you're reading off an Invictus oath, a Lancea Sanctum mass, or a Crone high ritual. Heck, if you're planning to swear a new Ordo Dracul to the Oath, You might even consider a phonetic translation of the proper oath in hungarian.
That, in my arrogant opinion, would be cool as hell.

The primary concern in these sorts of things is that you are trying to evoke a specific emotional responses from it's participants. Decide from the jump what that specific emotional response IS, and then build from there. The less diluted that emotional response is, the more likely it is that it will have the proper effect. And the more likely it is that the players and GM's will feel as if they've been part of something cool.

This of course, begs the question of players who for reasons dumb or smart, want to interrupt such things. Which may be the reason why some folks aren't keen to try it. I don't know how to tell you to fix this short of some mechanical fix or some out of character contract between the players. Of course, it ought to go without saying, that if you turn up at a Ordo Dracul knighting ceremony and start acting "Ig'nant" Then you ought to expect every Ordo Dracul there to jump up and stomp the unliving shit out of you.

And they'd be right to do so. Nobody likes to have their parade pissed on.


At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Everett said...

The part about being "Ig'nant" at an Ordo Dracul knighting ceremony reminds me of

About the newbies visiting the LARP, have you ever played the MMO World of Warcraft? The upshot is that there are a series of quests which each newbie to the game can easily do and which could logically be repeated by the next newbie. The quests are simple things like:

"Go to xxx location and look around and come back here and tell me what you saw." Typically, this involves visiting an especially hard-to-find or dangerous-to-enter location. In Vampire, someone may want to keep an eye on the local 'Call of Cthulhu' cultists, or they could be making sure that a promise to put fresh flowers on a particular grave is being kept.

"Collect xxx number of object yyy (10 flowers, 15 rats, etc) and bring them back to me." This normally involves going somewhere dangerous to get the objects, but in question, but can be very mundane. In Vampire, this could be a type of scavenger hunt where the newbie has to locate unusual and elusive objects, or they could simply be acting as a gopher getting mundane objects, like if an elder doesn't know/care how to use eBay.

"Take this package to NPC xxx and bring what he gives you back here." This may involve traveling through a dangerous area or just an introduction to someone important. In Vampire, the newbie could be a mule for any illegal *blank* or this could serve just to introduce the newbie to the city's major players ("Tell the people on this list that 'Iteration Beta' has been implemented"). Since the message doesn't really mean anything, you could let your main PC's know that if they hear this phrase it's just a newbie doing the starting quest and they should 'be nice.'

The key here is that if newbie1 checks on the cultists for the sheriff this session, next session newbie2 can check on them for the sheriff again. As an added bonus, the quests can be chained together for repeat customers.

Deputy: "Hello, *name*. My contact at the police station has promised to get a certain object and hold it for me. I need to find out if he has what I need, but all the phones there are tapped and I'm too busy to go myself. Just go down there and ask this Detective if he has the stuff I asked for." *gives newbie piece of paper.*

Detective: "I have most of what he asked for, but I'm still missing one piece from the occult shop on Main St; it was coming in UPS and the web site says they delivered it. If you ran down there for me and brought it back, I'd remember it if you needed police help later on."

Shop Owner: "Of course, it's right here..."

And so on.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

Upon further noodling (and eating lunch), especially concerning the differences between LARP and MMO, I have come to the following conclusions concerning the post I just made:

1) These newbie quests should be "fire and forget" for the Storytellers. The main implication of this conclusion is that the quest should involve no combat (as that takes a ST to referee), and that completing the quest chain will probably take all night (more if you want to lure them into coming back next session). After giving the hapless visitor their pre-gen c-sheet and the rules sheet, the ST will want to point them in the right general direction (possibly with an index card with the goals of the newbie quest clearly printed on it) give them a gentle push and stop worrying about entertaining them for the rest of the night. While a good ST will want to check on the visitors throughout the night, the whole point of these newbie quests is that they don't have to; (And honestly, will the ST really have the time?) but the visitor still has fun.

2) The newbie quests should require the visitor to interact with as many PCs as possible during the night, without interrupting any ongoing plot they have going on. This is somewhat related to Conclusion 1, in that the ST should be freed up from shepherding the visitor around, but is predicated on the idea that LARPing is a social activity. The whole point of the game is to talk to other people, and if the newbie quest involves sweeping up the parking lot solo, they aren't going to come back.

Theoretically, the ST will get together with his core players and work out some canned responses for each character to give the newbie, again, probably clearly marked on some index cards. If the newbie quest involves carrying packages around, the ST can create a stack of "brown paper packages, tied up with string" index cards for the player in question to carry around. That way, no matter what the player is doing when the newbie walks up and asks for the item on his list, the player can pull out his cheat sheet, spout off the canned response, hand off the item in question, and get back to what they were doing.

Ideally, the players should be encouraged to 'be nice' to the visitor (if that's in character for the quest, collecting money owed would lend itself to a different response), and also to 'role-play' with and involve the visitors in the game. If the player is looking for allies, maybe the player could butter up the newbie a bit for a future ally, introduce them around, and warn them about the player's enemies being treacherous jerks. To be fair, this is a best-case scenario, and if the player is busy, the option for a two-minute canned response should exist. If the thrill of performing for a visitor isn't enough to encourage them to agree to help out, offer them bonus experience points. Hopefully, after playing the canned replies through a few times the players will begin to ad-lib and customize their responses.

3) The Storyteller would probably want to set up some kind of repetitive back story to explain the newbie quests. For example, if player A is supplying player B with blood, there exists a reason for newbies to be continuously carrying packages from A to B and payment the other way. Repetitive interactions like this probably already exist between the players; it is just assumed that the transaction takes place off-stage. Each individual transaction isn't actually important, but by creating a canned quest around something it is assumed the players do anyway the LARP visitors can be involved in the game without messing with the basic plot; and without the ST having to hold their hand. And if two or three newbies all deliver blood on the same night, no harm done; if nothing is delivered that night, everyone just assumes it happened off-stage again.

4) Finally, the quest should in some way connect the newbie character to the larger plot running in the game. Perhaps during the visitor's second or third session they gets jumped during their now routine deliveries; maybe they screw up the quest and the quest-giver's angry recriminations and accusations pushes them into the enemy camp. As suspicious and manipulative as vampires are, the newbie shouldn't be able to talk to one character for more than five minutes without that character's enemies wondering what is going on.

Hopefully this helps clarify the ideas a bit.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger kinesys said...

Everrett you are a genius in all ways except linkage.
These ideas are great and i commend them to anyone .

But you realize my curiousity is like a mountain wildfire now. Just send me the videos title and i'll find it.

At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Everett said...

It's a skit from the Chris Rock Show called "How Not To Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police."

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Elmer said...

Me am likey this. I think I'm going to write a small plot for some of the less-connected players to actually 'get to know' people, as my ghouls send them on errands. :>


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