Last Thursday I had the pleasure of swinging by Intercon L‘s pre-con, 24 hours of panels on topics of interest to larpers and larp desigers that precedes this story-game convention. Sadly, I had to jet before the real convention began, but here’s a fast blow-by-blow of what I witnessed:
- I gave a fast talk and held a fast demo of the Ars Amandi mechanic for intimacy. My crowd of eight was a bit nervous to try the technique, so unlike other workshops I’ve run, we limited ourselves to just the hands. And wow! I was impressed with how even that limited zone of touch affected folks. It generated a lively discussion afterwards, with most of the participants talking about how emotional the mechanic made them feel — in some cases bringing up feelings that had been buried for years (in a good way).
- My wonderful crowd let me know that they’re a bit unusual among US larpers, because romance is something written into game plots at Intercon with some frequency. I heard about a few home-grown methods for roleplaying intimacy. One involved linking pinkies as symbolic of sex. Another involved coding participants badges from A to D, with A meaning something like “do not touch me” and D meaning something like “I am willing for other players to kiss me,” and other gradations in between.
- I didn’t play in any larps, since unfortunately, I had to head home before the real fun started, but I heard a bit about how they’re structured. Intercon larps seem to be short, plotted, one-shot scenarios. Players answer a casting questionnaire in advance of the games, then GMs assign roles and send out extensive character sheets beforehand. GMs and players also use something called “bluesheets,” which contain common knowledge about the game world. So everyone who knows magic in a game might get a sheet explaining how it works, for example, or everyone in game might get a sheet explaining the current political situation. (Interconners, feel free to chime in in the comments — I’m extrapolating here from conversations I had, rather then from direct knowledge).
- I went to a well-attended panel on race in larp, a topic I wrote a bit on in Leaving Mundania, and a great discussion for a larp community to have, in my opinion. It was also nice to see an all-lady panel, and to see some larpers of color on a panel!
- The panel talked a bit about how to use pre-game questionnaires to manage player expectations around race and playing racism. There was also some discussion of how to render reality-based race (as opposed to elves and dwarves) in games, because racial masquerade is — to say the least — very problematic, especially in American culture. One game had used a system of colored buttons to represent character race, which was salient to the main plot.
- The race panel also talked about the complications around cross-racial casting. If I, a white person, play a character of another race, how can I try to be true to the character without making my portrayal racist? This is a thornier question, and the conclusion the panel came to is that it’s impossible to put on someone else’s racial identity because the construction of race in America is tremendously complex and thorny. The consensus for designers and players seems to be: do your research — really try to get beyond the stereotype and look at the historical experience of the characters you’re writing/playing. This doesn’t actually immunize you from creating a racist character — racism and privilege often function in subtle, non-obvious ways — but in general, if you’ve made an honest effort to get beyond stereotypes, folks will give you the benefit of the doubt. And of course, slip-ups might generate useful discussion.
- I missed a bunch of fascinating-looking panels, from a cathartic screed titled Players are SCUM to a talk on larp and linguistics, to a panel on cross-casting (casting across gender).
- A crowd of friendly Brits was in attendance. The overseas presence surprised me.
- Overall, the con had a visible gender queer presence, more so than other gaming scenes I’ve encountered.
- I met some wonderful folks that I Internet-know from various mailing lists and articles. Fun times.
- Lively discussions all around about larp, where it is and where it’s going.
Thanks for having me, Intercon!
I call the version of LARPs that dominate the Intercon scene “eclectic theater style.” They tend to be one-shots with simulated combat and emphasis on characterization and plot. They are cousins to the Mind’s Eye Theater LARPs.
It was great finally meeting you. I hope to see you at Intercon Mid-Atlantic.
Cool. I’ve heard some call them “parlor larps” too but then there was some debate about that term at the con! So nice to meet you too!
Sorry I missed you. I got in just in time for the main con.
I hope next year you can come, stay and play.
I remember, from a few years ago, a game where intimacy was playing a card game where each person had their own (fixed) hands of cards to play, and men and women had different goal conditions. If your hand and someone else’s hand worked well for hitting both goals, you had good chemistry.
I thought the two goal thing was an interesting way of making it have uncertain outcomes to affect later roleplay, and make it more then wandering off into soft-focus.
Now that you mention it, I remember hearing someone from Intercon talking about a game where each character had a set of victory conditions for their heart — some lists long, for hearts not easily given, and some lists short, for hearts easily won. If Bill’s character completed enough items on Susie’s character’s list, they’d fall in love, for example.
I thought that was also an interesting tactic.
Thanks for the wrap up! Maybe we can both go to IMA in October (http://www.ima2012.com/)
I found that there are some Intercon larp trends that I didn’t quite enjoy, such as calling “game on” after a debriefing and leaving the players to find out who was whom by looking at badges instead of having players introduce their characters. These are minor quibbles, but there are a few.
However, Intercon also (I think) innovated two great larp styles:
the “horde” style larp, where a small group of players (4-6) encounter a large number of rotating NPCs cast by an equal or even larger number of people. Examples include “BurgerMeister” or “Time Travel Review Board”
the “scene” larp (it might have another name) – a larp that’s a collection of thematically related short scenes instead of one continuous narrative, often where everyone plays different characters in each scene. Examples include “10 Bad Larps” and “The Road Not Taken”
There will be a number of larps like this in June at TriWyrd (http://wyrdcon.com/). I especially recommend everything being run by J Li, lead designer of Shifting Forest (no content up yet, but: http://www.shiftingforest.com/) and of course a plug for the Live Game Labs (http://www.livegamelabs.com/) stuff. Our experiment this year is “Game of Sunken Places” by Kirsten Hageleit. Based on the YA dark fantasy book of the same name by M.T. Anderson, it’s a larp about making a larp for players. LGL also has “Death in Valhalla” and two runs of the popular “Starship Valkyrie”.
Uhm…please excuse my marketing. Wyrd Con is sorta like “Intercon-West”, even being officially that last year.
It was great meeting you and participating in your workshop! Thanks for coming to Intercon, and I hope to see you again soon.
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Thanks for sharing Ars Amandi with us. Sadly I had to leave halfway through because I was on a panel in the other room, but I am glad to hear it went well. It is certainly a system I would consider using for the right game.