Monday, December 23, 2013

Once Upon A Text Prop

by Zoe

Hello everyone! Due to a double load of teaching and classes, plus a full larp schedule, I have been sadly bereft of freetime. As I happily move into my winter break, however, I find myself once more with time for larp blogging. As I was prepping for a larp this morning, a questions came to mind...

Anyone who knows me, as a staffer or players, knows that I love text props. Too much. My strength, in larps, tends to rest in writing, and text props are one of my preferred modes of communication. I enjoy them because they allow me to express things, about a character, in a way that can't happen face-to-face; they also allow me to preemptively "characterize" NPCs before they hit game. Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I love text props. For instance, take the following examples as reasons why I love textprops:

Communicating the Surreal
In larp, it can be hard to communicate the surreal: while costuming and acting, as well as set-dressing and narrative, can go a long way, larps don't have the expressive freedom of text. In my opinion, text props allow for staffers to communicate dreamy, unreal landscapes to their PCs in a way that conditions the PCs towards understanding a specific plotline as surreal. One of my favorite examples of this was Albert's work in Endgame: he and I worked on a range of textprops connected to the mourner plotline. They created the expectation of a very alien landscape-- when players were finally introduced to the characters and settings from this landscape, they already had the expectation of the surreal.

Yes, really. This NPC is mean.
I don't have a hard time producing bitchy NPCs... at all, really. However, when I have them deliver letters to PCs, prior to their onstage entrance, that writhe with acidity, frigidity, and/or flat-out nastiness, it sets a good precedent for when I roll in, and meet them face-to-face: when I've already insulted their morale foundations and/or competence, I find PCs more than willing to enter into thorny relationships.

Unwritten/Unspoken Tensions
As both an NPC and a PC, I play a lot of introverted, frustrated characters. (This should be telling.) One of my favorite interactions in larp is the tension of "things left unsaid": that moment when you both know what you want to say, but, due to character reasons, refuse to say it. Letters, especially, allow me to further those moments. In general, I think there's a human expectation that letters are more revealing than spoken word-- I enjoy the art of making my textual communication with other players equally, if not more, frustratingly vague, but simultaneously painfully honest. I appreciate the knowledge that, post a text-prop from me, other players have more questions than answers-- to me, that's the real strength of a well-used text prop.

Hey, PC. I love you.
One of the biggest problems of larp is the issue of "so many things to do, so little time." Especially as a staffer, I often find myself out as a role that can only interact with individual PCs for so long. Text props-- letters, diaries etc.-- allow me to give PCs a little bit more interaction with an NPC. While this doesn't replace face-to-face, IG time, it provides PCs with some personal attention, and often allows them to use letters/journals to engage other PCs in their plot (in a material way).

Soo... with my unabashed love for text props revealed, I have a question...

What is your favorite text prop (or text props, should you be so lucky) that you have received? Why was it your favorite, and what sort of interactions/player developments did it encourage? Grazi!


  1. I think I might be a bit odd as a PC because I send way more text props to plot than I receive due to my 'Send Dreams' and 'Courier' skills in Madrigal.

    My favorite Madrigal text props tend to be mage related - they're as much magical cooking instructions as anything else, and leads to fun ritual antics. But for actual text, my favorite Madrigal text props have been for political plot, because they set the stage for our scheming during our family election and usurper removal plot lines.

    For Mirror Mirror, my favorite text prop came from a dead PC. It reached my character there in a way that nothing else is likely to, and was more powerful emotionally than the informational or instructional props I'm used to seeing from Plot.

  2. My fondness for text props lies in that they are one of the few ways in these games that we are able to give or receive something physical, tactile and persistent. For purely practical reasons there is limit to the amount of physical things that the staff can provide the players to gain during their adventures and keep. We can’t delve into dungeons and go home with bags stuffed with swords and artifacts and magical wands as an example. We do so many grand and exciting things and go to fantastical places in the course of or LARPs but we almost always come back empty handed.
    Text props are one of the few ways that games can conveniently create items that they can give to PC’s to keep. They also serve to make plot and story a whole lot more real and shareable both to the people who were there and to the people who were not. A story is a whole lot more present for me between events when I have a stack of letters and codes and maps to go over. And it is a whole lot more exciting for me to learn about a story from someone else when they can show me physical items they have gathered over the course of following it themselves.

  3. 7V had a lot of great text props. 7V was really the game of infinite text props. So there are many to choose from. But my favorite was a lengthy series of plots run by Serin, which is kind of a long story and involved me and Pete steaming open a pile of mail, and melting off (and reattaching!) sealing wax using items we had in our cabins/on our person at the time of the encounter (no warning so no time to prep), a library card signed by Doal, and the single coolest scene I have probably ever had in a larp ever, and which illustrates the importance of briefing your NPCs on the details.

    I can't do this justice in writing in a short space, but ask me about it in person sometime!

  4. Hey Zoe? Ask me about the "Pete Explains It All" module sometime. It has to do with the fact that Pete puts together very extensive text props which invariably do not then get read by the PCs, and Pete's severe frustration about this phenomenon.

    I personally do not at all enjoy making text props for PCs (mostly because I lack pretty much any free time), but I do very much enjoy sending scathing email-letters to a certain newsletter-writing-PC. I agree with you that text can be a wonderful format to communicate "yes, this NPC is really mean".

  5. The most affecting was a 7V text prop. Bashir had a Touched friend who had sent him a letter asking him to come and help her. Halfway through, there was a subtle shift in it. She had Fallen (i.e. became a Sithlord) while writing the letter.

    However, Bashir was so frazzled/in denial that he didn't pick up on it until he got to her Soul Murder Cabin. Cue a downward spiral of a character arc of him Falling that led to a lot of deeply emotional character interactions with PCs and NPCs alike. Reading that letter afterward was made of Soul Crushing.

    The funniest are the Aralis text props, which uniformly are made of Trolling. Caulder had sent a letter to a Teacher of Life, who had his 11 year old student write a letter back to him.

  6. The Book of Enedies started in Madrigal 1 as a little diary sized book, with some passages in it about the history of Enedies.

    In Madrigal 2, it grew into a full sized tome, with handles to make it easy to carry, about a hundred (mostly blank) pages, and 5-10 pounds in weight. There are several pictures, most of them full page size. Over time, the book filled in more of the pages (text was pasted onto the blank pages) revealing the Enemy of the East and Crown of Tides. This was years before a single monster arrived on the field.

    For a while, we got in the habit of flipping through the pages at the start of an event, looking for anything new, and refreshing our memories of the lore, in case an Inkpen plot gave us a pop quiz.

  7. I loooove text props so much. So helpful when you're a newbie because you can review them and re-review them ad infinitum after an encounter, unlike an in-person info dump where things might be said that go over your head and you don't get the time to ask about it.

    One of my favorites (because it'd fill your comments to mention all of them) was the Annals of the 11th Legion. Another team had all these scrolls they were working to unlock related to a particular story. I got brought into the plot during the final encounter, so I had like NO context for what I was witnessing. Afterwards the team was able to hand me the scrolls and I poured over them to get caught up on what all the hub bub was. But better than that, since it still had all the effect notes and requirements to unlock written all over it, in addition to the cool lore pieces inside, it gave me this really cool look at what that team had gone through to reach this point that I wasn't even aware of. Like "wow, they had to XYZ to get this scroll, amazing!"

  8. I have nothing productive to add to this conversation, except to say I absolutely adored the Mourner text props.
    TJ was a very text-prop heavy character to begin with, but something about the imagery really clicked with him. I carried around all the Mourner pieces always in game. Thank you for something so vivid and intriguing to grab onto

    1. Alex Pogue happened to create one of my favorite text props, and a campaign highlight for me in 7V. It was a journal recollecting the hardship, suffering and demise of a resistance group that included my PC's true love and wife. It was filled with bloodstains and written memorials. It was so well crafted for this small corner of the game, clearly made with care. It doubled the impact and extent of that story. I felt a little ridiculous all wrapped up alone role-playing with a prop and nothing else, but it was so moving and emotional and defining.