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.

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