Thursday, August 30, 2012

Staying in Mundania

by Zoe

I was chatting with a friend last night; we were talking LARP, as we tend to do. The friend, who has various experience staffing and playing, mentioned the role of "mundane plot" in LARP-- especially fantasy LARPs or high-magic environments. The friend said that he preferred mundane plot over continually epic, high-fantasy encounters. After some thinking, while I like my epic plot plenty, I came to agree with aspects of this argument. So, I have some questions, and some brief answers of my own. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What is "mundane plot"?
For me, mundane plot is the stuff that makes a world real, but doesn't have universe-dismantling consequences. It's the conversations with farmers, technicians, refugees, villagers, and minor politicians. The modules that allow you to engage with the daily grind of the gameworld's population. The minor moral decisions that don't impact the larger flow of the game, but engage players in a lasting way.

I'll give an example of mundane plot that was engaging for me. In MM, a group of NPCs and staff member lead a weekend plotline that involved a debacle between a fae lord and a village; the bone of contention was a river that the fae lord wanted rerouted. The rerouting would, of course, significantly hamper the villagers; however, the players owed the fae lord a favor. Beyond basic combat modules, the plot involved several round table meetings between the players and related NPCs (including the mayor of the village, villagers, and representatives of the fae contingent). Players, as a group, had to devise ways to appease both parties-- some players, myself included, were, without question, in support of the fae; some were, without question, in support of the villagers; everybody wanted to have their interests represented in the conversation. The plot was, mostly, back and forth discussion about drilling wells, rerouting rivers, and repercussions for the surrounding communities; innovative modules to dig the well and reroute the river followed. Writing it out, it, admittedly, sounds a little boring. However, it wasn't-- it was fantastic. The level of normalcy involved drew us in-- we, epic characters of legend, needed to figure out how to provide irrigation to a random village's crops. If we had decided to ignore the plight of the villagers, in favor of pleasing the fae lord, nothing dire would have happened-- but the goodly players among us would have felt uncomfortable. It was a story arc that, through its normalcy, involved us, as characters, on a variety of levels. Simple as it was, it was a very engaging, well thought-out plot.

How does mundane plot add to a campaign?

As in the example presented above, mundane plot can make players feel involved in the world around them without involving higher-order fantasy. It can be a good way to involve character well-versed in the universe, but also to pull in newer players who may not understand the grand overarching schemes. Moreover, when epic characters and plotlines are constantly used, they have a tendency to get old and, worst case scenario, cheesy. Throwing in a goodly dose of "mundania" can help that.

When does it detract from a campaign?

Mundane plot, when done poorly, can feel like filler. Poorly done mundane plot feels like modules for bored players, or for players who don't have any connection to a larger plot. Obviously, this is problematic, and needs to be avoided. Careful writing and, perhaps even more importantly, really good NPCs, can help people avoid this. In order for mundane plot to work, the actors involved need to be skillful, knowledgeable, and interesting (easier said than done)-- that way, minor issues feel like major issues, which is the trick to making mundane plot work.

So... how do you use mundane plot in your LARPs? Do you enjoy it? Avoid it? What are some successes and failures you've had?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cottington Woods Rule Book

Decisions! Decisions! The Cottington Woods preliminary rulebook has been released! What are you thinking of playing? Do you have ideas for costumes and props? If you're attending the playtest (I sadly cannot), please be sure to include some thoughts!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comfort Levels

Hello everyone,
Thanks for being patient with me. Here in the archipelago, I've been hiking until I can't really stand anymore, which leave me with very little brain for LARP. However, in my lonely mountain retreat, I was mulling over something that has come up a couple times for me in conversation, writing, and playing... comfort zones.

(Please excuse the awkward English-- I haven't been using it at length or in any sort of formal context.)

Firstly, what is a comfort zone (and I'm sorry for the lack of a better term)? Within LARP, I'm operatively defining it as an individual player's tolerance and willingness to participate in any number of IG/OoG scenarios. For instance, PC Jenny Jones may have a comfort zone that allows her to enjoy emotional conversations with fellow PCs, political intrigue, and one-on-one combat. However, PC Jenny Jones may have a comfort zone that does not include any sort of PvP nor romantic relationships with other players (PCs or otherwise). Moreover, devoutly religious OoG, Jenny Jones may feel intensely uncomfortable if required to engage in IG religion. Superficially, this situation is easy enough-- don't send Jenny Jones any potential suitors, and make sure she gets in on any juicy usurpation plot (but avoid church stuff, or forewarn her). Seemingly, Jenny should have a fun and comfortable game.

However, when Jenny is one of 60+ players, all of whom have individual comfort zones, this can get complicated. How can the player base, including staff and non-staff, successfully navigate and address the comfort zones of every single player? Admittedly, this is a difficult question into which a lot of thought has been poured-- pregame surveys, post-event letters, and experiential learning have all contributed to helping us learn how to deal with the comfort zones of our fellow players. After all, LARP is, if nothing else, a fundamentally prosocial experience. So, some questions on comfort zones...answer any, all, or none.

What is your comfort zone? How do you make sure it is respected? Have you ever run into problems with your comfort zone/tolerance levels on an OoG level? How did you deal with the incident?

How do you mitigate your OoG comfort zone with the expectations of the IG world?

As a staff member or NPC, how do you deal with varying PC comfort levels in a game?

Are there ground rules for player interaction that facilitate an environment of mutual respect?

Are there ever times when pushing a player out of their comfort zone is ok-- even desirable? Why or why not?