Friday, January 28, 2011

Al Shir-Ma

In 2010 co-wrote the Kapcon LARP, Al Shir-Ma with two remarkable, talented, writers. How can I summarise 8 months of hard work, thousands of e-mails, dozens of meetings, all leading up to a 3-hour game on one Saturday evening in January? I’m not sure there’s anything that I could say that would do the experience justice. So I’ll make some general remarks instead.

I was pretty nervous going into writing this LARP. I had only ever played one Kapcon LARP, Breakout Day, 10 years ago and wasn’t really a huge fan of live action games. However, with Sophie and Ellen on board I soon became increasingly confident that we could deliver something of quality for Kapcon.

I had started with a survey (no surprises there) to check the assumptions underpinning Kapcon’s LARP. People were pretty strong on factions and complex social plots, which was no surprise, but what was of interest was that just under half of respondents believed they had not had adequate participation in the major or important plot at past Kapcon’s. There was also some support for a strategic component to plot or scheme over.

I also talked to a few wise heads from the past, and picked their brains about what makes a good game, which included advice about the writing process, staging, and generally making things go smoothly.

We had our first LARP meeting on the 13th of March 2010, in a car-park, and that was when we decided that we wanted to have a whole faction of people ‘return’ to the game, a major plot which featured a dozen characters, and which would impact a majority of the other characters.

Over the months the game took shape. Ideas became factions, factions became index cards, and index cards became characters. I think our overriding aim was to create characters which would be interesting, fit within the context of the Arabian Nights, but defy stereotypes as much as possible. To that end, we didn’t write any ‘evil’ characters. We wrote plenty who were flawed, selfish and arrogant, but we didn’t want anything that was absolute; The Vizier was (contrary to genre) a good man trying to do what was best for the town, Sinbad was a blowhard whose death and salvation walked beside him, the Djinni were a people wronged - asked to save the people who had banished them.

Early on I had wanted the water crisis to form an element of a grand strategy (complete with maps and boards) but we eventually abandoned this idea in favour of a political conflict around water, and another around the succession. Given how busy people were with the return of the Djinni, and everything else they had going on, I think this was probably the right decision. We also wanted people to find their own solutions to the characters dilemmas. I didn’t want anyone to feel like they were being led to an answer – the accomplishment of goals had to be as player driven as possible, even when players had opposing goals.

I’d just like to briefly pay tribute to the other writers. Sophie had a strong vision for the Djinni from the beginning – they became her children, and I think she can feel proud of the richness of the game, the depth of character relationships, and much of the drama that made the game so good. Ellen was a writing machine, she hit the ground running, and brought the Court and the town to life, effortlessly spinning a web of romance, intrigue and conflict which was the backbone of much of the town. And some of our best work was all of us writing together – a team effort.

We also had enormous support to dress the set from talented, passionate LARP’ers. Thanks to these folks the town, fountain, court and caravan sarai grew from shadowy ideas an impressive, tangible reality. I really think it speaks highly of the Wellington gaming community that there are people who are both passionate and generous with their time and resources, willing to spend effort to help make a game great for everyone.

The leadup to the game, and the night itself were a blur for me. There were so many small things to do. So many ideas that we’d put aside as easy tasks to be completed later, which suddenly were needed yesterday. The setup was suddenly on us, then the ‘con itself. And yet I was confident that the game would be great, because I knew how solid a product we’d constructed. And I think it delivered, although I saw perhaps only a tenth of proceedings, as I checked people in, snapped pictures, answered questions and led people to the afterlife.

Not to leave you with the impression it was all a smooth ride. We didn’t always agree (although we always worked it through). Real life concerns were a factor for us all at one point or another – but that tends to happen when you spend a significant period of time on one project, and we copped some flak about some of our casting decisions.

But, all things considered, it was well worth it. For me, writing the LARP was chaotic, stressful, time consuming and utterly fantastic. I wish the Kapcon 21 team well.

Copies of Al Shir-Ma will be available next week.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kapcon 20 - Part 2

Because I have a bit to say about the LARP, I think I’ll leave that to the next post. So, continuing my Kapcon adventures on Sunday:

Round 4
I was running ‘The Thursday Crisis’ the fourth instalment of my ‘Council of Champions’ superhero games. This series is one of my all-time favourite things to run, and I knew that I had 3 strong players (Norm, Jenni and Nick) to reprise their respective roles from previous adventures, so I was confident that it would be a lot of fun. However, round 4 can be difficult. Many people are sleepy or tired from the LARP, and my third instalment of the series hadn’t been a smash-hit (I call it my ‘Batman and Robin’ installment) so there was a little anxiety. I also hadn’t had quite enough time to prep, so I had to swap out systems at the last minute and re-use old character sheets (as the LARP ate my last ream of paper). To cap matters off one player was sick, but I wasn’t told that until I went looking for them at the admin desk.

I needn’t have worried. I ‘borrowed’ Nasia from the desk to make up the numbers and got my players jumping around (literally) before hitting them with a Jerry Springer style talk show opening. It was great fun, and had me in fits of laughter as per usual, and was the highlight of the ’con for me (outside the LARP). All the players did a terrific job, and I really felt that the game brought it – for everyone. Oddly, when this series of games go well the players applaud at the end (it happened when I ran the first instalment in Canberra last year as well) so you know that people had a good time. Awesome fun

Round 5
Due to a scheduling error not only did I not get my first or second round choices, I wasn’t allocated to any game for round 5. It turned out I wasn’t the only one, and so I took the opportunity to jump into the game I would have signed up for in round 1 if I wasn’t otherwise busy, Purgatory 13 – Descent to Abraxus. I’ve co-Gm’ed with Zak before and I know how he rolls, so I was fairly sure it’d be a good time. I also managed to form a posse with some other good folks with mad skillz to come and join the fun; Sophie, Luke and Morgue.

Three words sum up this game: Old School Mayhem.

The GM’s challenged us at the beginning. They had killed 44 PC’s and were aiming to achieve 100 kills for the ‘con. Then they made me a team captain. Awesome. I picked an elite squad and we got down to business. It took a while for my first character to die, as I really played up her humility trait, but after that it was time to buckle up and enjoy the ride. There were so many insane, and memorable moments – The soccer hooligans, the cannibals, Danny my nailgun killer, having lots of characters get shot in the head by Sophie’s characters with the same gun. It was a great time and it really helped blow the cobwebs out.

I burnt through a lot of characters, trying to put a unique spin on each where possible (it wasn’t always possible) but still, the character sheets flowed. After we were done, and the dust had settled, we’d accounted for a total of 81 character deaths (Danny took out 10 all by himself until Zak dropped a lift on him) giving them a total of 125 character deaths for the ‘con. It was like a roller coaster ride, and if I’d had the energy, I’d have gone again!

Round 6
After that, I was pretty tapped for energy, but I managed to get down and help with the LARP pack-up. Once again, big thanks are due to the folks who helped out. That wiped me out and after a few last snatched conversations, I headed home, satisfied that Kapcon had delivered another great instalment.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kapcon 20 - Part 1

Kapcon began for me on Friday morning with the LARP setup. Sophie led the charge, arriving at 8:30am and worked like a machine all day to help get things set up which was pretty impressive all by itself. We were ably aided by several others, and the end result was far better than I had imagined possible. I hadn’t really helped out at a Kapcon setup before, and I think the effort helped me realise that there’s a fair amount of work to get through (even just setting up the ‘con, let alone the LARP) so I’ve resolved to do more to help next year if possible.

Then it was on to the drinks. I caught up with some folks, and then, after I’d had a few, Marcus cornered Mash and I with an audio recorder to talk about Fright Night. We were joined, at various intervals, by other gaming luminaries and other interested bystanders, so It’s quite likely a lot of what I said was complete twaddle, but I distantly recall some interesting conversation about the nature of horror gaming and its audience.

Then it was back home to do more prep for my round 1 game, which I felt woefully unready for, and the LARP, which I did not.

Round 1
For round 1 I was running ‘Calling the King’ the second part of the Curse of the Yellow Sign series by John Wick. I had offered it in February 2010 because Idiot had been talking enthusiastically about wanting to play it (he didn’t play) and I had specified to Kapcon that I needed a 50:50 gender split in players to run the game, which didn’t happen either. To be clear I have seen some great gender-bending character play, it was just that this scenario had a character driven, highly emotional setup, and I felt it was necessary to match the gender of players to characters to do the game justice.

So I had a choice of pulling the game, or trying to re-write it. I chose the later and tried to re-write the characters to fit a new story, but badly overestimated my available time. I used similar gimmicks to those suggested by the scenario, which involved handing a fair bit of control over to the players. Given my relative lack of prep I was hoping to compensate with a little atmosphere and description. My plans to darken the room were thwarted, however, by a glass wall and the rambunctious noise of the game next door somewhat overshadowed proceedings.

Nevertheless, I thought the game was reasonably solid, although not fantastic. It certainly did a fair job of capturing the feel of ‘House on Haunted Hill’ and the players were very good about taking ownership of their characters and some narrative duties both before and after death. I suspect Mash- who played Simon Carter may have expected more from the game (and not unreasonably so given the talk on this blog over the last 12 months) and I’ll await his conclusions with interest.

Round 2
I had signed up for Marcus’ using the Fear Itself system. I was cast as Adam the not-too-bright mechanic who was ‘horny’ most of the time. Liam, who was cast as his older woman love interest spent most of the game being pissed off at him, and Adam’s Joey-esque antics did not go down well with the rest of the PC campers either. Good times.

Danger in one setting was replaced with even more danger in another, although neither I nor Liam could justify ‘arming up’ to seek out the danger like the other PC’s, and so poor Adam met his end when he finally thought he’d gotten some quality time with his woman, but got the business end of a screwdriver instead. I liked the setup and way the characters were built, although I think I'd ultimately have liked more NPC interactions and normality before things got crazy. A solid game.

Round 3
I signed up to play Siege Mentality II with Idiot, because like Sophie, the idea of a game which could end anytime we left the room appealed from a pre-LARP point of view. It was actually a great time, despite the simplicity of the setup. I was playing Red, the nurse and Christian who valued all human life and was concerned for the welfare of his soul if he became a zombie. Red’s only trigger was an anger he felt toward those who he saw as parasites. He also had drawn the ‘true survivor’ ability which meant if he were forced out into the zombies he would actually survive and lead the others to think it was safe, but he did not know this ‘in character’.

Accordingly I decided that Red would view the room as a new Ark and he worked hard to calm tensions so everyone would make it through the storm. Sophie deserves a special mention for playing Bull the trucker with an explosive temper who was fairly terrifying. I suggested all manner of things from naps, to charades and even Christian roleplaying to pass the time. I identified the trouble-makers and tried to give them something to focus on to help diffuse tensions. We still lost people, but because Red was an expert marksman (also drawn at random), was the only one left with medical skills, and tried to be very friendly, he was not really targeted for eviction.

It wasn’t until we almost reached the two hour mark that Red’s temper was provoked, and his notion of the Ark shattered, by being man-handled, a suicide, and the attempted escape of the claustrophobic. Then he flipped out and tried to get rid of the ‘parasite’ (who was helpless and crying) only to be subdued and restrained until the end of the game. It was an interesting game, and a good amount of fun, although I wonder if the GM having more levers to amplify the tension, or even an NPC might not have tweaked things a little.

To be continued....

A Break in the Weather

There’s been a little bit of a gap in transmission here for several reasons:

1. Real world pressures getting more real.
2. The sudden death of my laptop its hard drive.
3. The holiday season
4. Kapcon prep

Needless to say, among the things I lost on my laptop was a post which talked more thoroughly about my gaming in 2010. Rather than try and recreate it, I’ll simply touch on the key conclusion. 2010 was a year where I met and gamed with lots of folks I had never met before, and I learned a lot, and found it a hugely rich and rewarding time. Not every game I played or ran fired perfectly, but overall there were a huge number of great games that I participated in during the year, and some new friendships made that serve to remind me of the great benefits of this hobby – bringing folks together for a creative enterprise.

Stay tuned for my Kapcon 20 report...