The UK’s national chamber larp convention took place at the end of November as usual – this was the 8th edition. 150 people, 28 different larps, over three days.
The standard slot is four hours, and the games ranged from 4 to 32 players – a mix of the traditional UK-style, some American, Nordic and other European imports, and some novel designs in that interesting area between larp, freeform and storygame.
I’m not going to try and review the con as a whole, because I only experienced a small part of the many streams (and also I play a small part in the organizing, so it wouldn’t be very objective). Plenty of other people have written about it, anyway. This is just a summary of what I got up to.
An American freeform written by Shoshana Kessock, about being conscripted to serve in the US Army. Nicely structured and built-up, with players creating their characters quite lightly and building up detail during play. We had an interesting group dynamic, pretty much agreeing reasonably and fatalistically on which of us most deserved to go free, without any real grandstanding or people getting moved to extremes of emotion. I wondered if the players being British and Belgian, but the characters American, introduced a bit of a distancing element.
Service was also interesting in placing much greater demands on the GM than anything I’ve played recently. Not just as explainer and facilitator, but also playing an NPC whose speech and manner are vitally important in setting the tone and mood for the players to frame their understanding of the nature of the military world into which their characters are thrust. Our GM Chris did a great job: but I would be wary of taking it on, myself.
Oh dear! We seem to have run out of time…
From the Norwegian Larps from the Factory book, Cat Tobin and I ran this. The players create their characters – members of a time-travel society – in the weeks before the game, and they have minor secrets from each other, as well as the GMs crafting individual secrets for them and the game itself having major secret plot. So it’s highly non-transparent compared with most of the Nordic games that have been translated into English.
It’s always a bit weird running a game that was written by other people – I don’t do it very often. I’m always thinking about how I might have designed it differently. In the case of Oh dear!, the script as published requires prospective GMs to take quite a bit on trust – elements that the designers assure you will work, but you don’t know for sure until you see it happen. They’re absolutely right, in that it did all work fine, and the players seemed to enjoy it: but it all felt to me a bit like riding someone else’s horse in the showjumping round. Not quite the comfortable control that one has of one’s own material.
Queen of Denial
A UK freeform set at the court of Queen Cleopatra, which Nickey Barnard and I wrote for the con. A blast from the past for me, as I’ve designed loads of this sort of game before but not for a few years now. And not previously with Nickey, who is a wonderfully creative and inventive writer as well as a tough and rigorous thinker and a delight to work with. Loads of plots and secrets, props, magic effects, farcical confusion of similar-looking items, missing infants, convoluted scheming, and all those other fun things.
We were pretty pleased with how it came out, and again the players seemed to enjoy it – the feedback suggested a few tweaks to details if we run it again. Not sure if we will – it’d need finding another big bunch of players, as the density of secrets make this sort of game unsuitable for replay. And I’m always more interested in writing new stuff than rerunning old stuff. But we’ll see!
Class of ’83
This was a fill-in game which Cat volunteered to run when it became apparent there were more players needing games for the Saturday afternoon slot than there were games to give them. It’s a ten-year-old horror larp written by Nick Huggins, which was kind of showing its age a little… so Cat ended up rewriting it pretty much completely, with very little time to do so.
This was a bit too exciting for my personal taste – we were still designing how to end the game when it was already halfway through – but as always Cat did a fantastic job of creating great characters and giving them interesting things for the players to build on and work together. I’m glad I was able to help, but it kind of reinforced my caution about running other people’s games.
A Family Affair
Not one of the scheduled Consequences events, this is actually a tabletop RPG which I managed to squeeze into on the Sunday afternoon. Written by Ashley Griffiths (and not yet published, although you can download the current version here), it’s for four players and uses a very strict and limiting story structure. There are exactly nine scenes and an epilogue, which characters are in which scene is defined, topics that they must cover and must not cover are defined, there’s no system just narrative… it’s fully transparent and highly emotionally intense. I enjoyed it hugely, and found it was very much the case that the tightness of the form helped generate real player creativity within the bounds permitted.
I’m really interested in this area of storygaming – just enough rules to constrain and shape the narrative, no unnecessary fuzz around the edges. What we came up with (thanks to the other players being brilliant at characterization, performance and story sense) felt very much like a four-handed improvised play, except much better structured than that would have been.
(What about None but the Brave?)
I’ll do a separate post for that, it’s too much to bung in here.