Writing LARPs for Multiple Audiences, Quick Thoughts

I’ve already submitted the LARP I wrote about last week. Now I’m deep in finishing a second one in time for the deadline tomorrow.

While a more detailed report will have to wait, I can give you additional tidbits. And it just so happens that those tidbits play neatly into another topic: writing for multiple audiences.

The game I mentioned last week is about death and mourning, but I can’t be sure that every person who plays it will engage with it as such. Actually, I can be pretty certain that they won’t. Audiences aren’t monolithic, after all, and some of my players might not yet have experienced death as a personal thing. Even if they had, they might not recognize what I created as anything like their experience.

So I wrote a game that plays with all those themes I mentioned last week, and which has places for good fun outside of but adjacent to those themes—almost like two games running in parallel. My hope is that players who don’t feel the emotional resonance of connecting with and mourning the dead (or being mourned) will find reward in fighting and building relationships with the big scary monsters of the Land of Spirits.

In many ways, the game I wrote is reliant on the skills of my staff and players who start the game as monsters. They need to give the People, the folk traveling into the Land of Spirits, enough space to have their emotional scenes. But they also need to present a challenge to the players who are bored and spoiling for a fight. And I’ve made it clear that I want them to encourage the fighters to engage with them in status-and-respect interactions. The underlying idea is that the Player Characters aren’t the only ones who can be mourned; the mechanics I introduce around mourning and offering respect to the dead work for *everyone* in the game, including people who aren’t PCs. I want the monsters to reward the PCs who mourn them, even after fighting them, because I want the people who are distracted from dealing with mourning and connecting with the dead to be drawn back into the main themes of the game and be rewarded for interacting with them.

The warriors will mostly be self-selecting, so if there are people who want to fight they’ll have the chance. And if the PCs who fight monsters never mourn any of their foes, they’ll still have an opportunity for more fighting. Actually, the more they fight and don’t mourn, the more fighting they’ll get in the future. So while one group of players is connecting with and mourning the dead, getting their enjoyment from the more emotional content of the game, another group can have a totally different experience at the same time in the same place. I hope.

At present, my rules say that dead spirits who are bored can go to RE (our system’s personification of reincarnation). My plan is for bored spirits to come back as more monsters. I see an obvious failure mode here, if RE sends people who lack the requisite skills out as monsters. Game could rapidly devolve into butchery and loss if too-eager monsters murder all the PCs. But as long as RE knows the players well, I think we can avoid that.

With luck, maybe this will work!

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Death, Mourning, and a LARP

It feels funny to say this, but… death has been a big part of my life.

Not in any ground-shaking, crushing way, but as something slow and omnipresent and always visible. I suspect my mom’s work with the elderly and in hospice influenced that. I learned that people react oddly to their own incipient death, and that they have many ways of coping with the loss of those they love.

I lost several pets before any family I knew died. Those experiences weren’t at all the same, but in some way the one helped me with the other. Now, most of my grandparents’ generation is dead. I’ve lost friends younger than me, a cousin, others. I was so choked up with an unwillingness to process grief that I took years to say goodbye after my first grandpa died. Saying goodbye to my friends hasn’t really been easier, except insofar as I know that mourning them is a cycle I will revisit many times.

This is something that I’ve thought about more in the past few years. Coco really drove it home for me. I knew after watching that movie that I wanted to create something that would help others learn how they could mourn, learn how they could remember even as they let go.

I’ll tell you more about this when I’m not racing a deadline, but I’m working on a LARP that I think might do some of this. I want to give my players a chance to experience grieving for others, and being grieved for, in its entirety. I want that to be a healthy experience, one that allows for connection and catharsis. And I want my players to have fun. I hope it works.

More details soon.

Coco

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Feast your eyes.

I’m going to keep this incredibly short, and will avoid spoilers to the best of my ability.

I have now seen this movie twice. I will probably see it again while it is still in theaters. I cannot say well enough how much this movie has affected me. I have regularly teared up while simply thinking about it. After seeing it the second time, I now find it hard to hum the central song because I start to cry. It’s really exceptionally good.

Coco is set in Mexico and the Land of the Dead over the course of Día de los Muertos. It is about a young boy named Miguel, and his relationships with his family and with his dreams. It deals with family, memory, legacy, and death—and the joys and costs of following your dreams. It is also about controlling the lives of others.

I loved damn near every minute of it. And I spent roughly the last third of the movie crying, thinking I was done crying, and then crying some more. Also laughing.

The themes of death, remembrance, legacy, and memory all resonated strongly with me. This may be because most members of my family in my grandparents’ generation are dead, and I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking of and mourning them. It didn’t hurt that the rest of the movie all sat well too.

If you’re worried about representation and appropriation, I’d like to note that Latinx critics have been relentlessly positive (*SOME SPOILERS IN THAT LINK*) about the film, and that the vast majority of the cast is Latinx (along with significant members of the writing, directing, and design staff). Honestly, it looks like Pixar has succeeded fabulously with this one. I don’t think I can recommend watching it strongly enough.

I have difficulty fathoming why Disney chose to package this film with a 25 minute Frozen short immediately preceding it, which cannot help but suffer by comparison, but I assure you that the short is worth sitting through for the sake of seeing Coco.

Middle Grade Character Introductions

Part of my homework for this week was to write a “two page” character intro for an engaging Middle Grade character.  I dislike “pages” as a measure of length when I’m writing, since I don’t use Word and see no reason to change that, but that translates to roughly 500 words.  Of course, I wrote one and wasn’t satisfied, so now I have two that I’m not totally satisfied with.  I feel like they do a better job of introducing conflict and drama than they do of introducing a particular character, if only because I have little tolerance for writing an opening scene that doesn’t start something.

In any case, here’s two Middle Grade scenes presented back-to-back, with no real relation between the two.  Oh, yes, and one of them is actually about Jerome from my Elven Progenitors setting.  Enjoy!

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The Wizard’s Dilemma, by Diane Duane

JacketWelp, this one took me a long time to finish.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  Part of it was that I started the book while I had far too many things on my plate and thus got distracted.  But part of it was that at a certain point in The Wizard’s Dilemma, I felt like I could see where all of the pieces were, where they needed to go, and had a pretty good idea of how they were going to get there… and I really wanted them to just be there already, instead of making me wait.  I suspect that this is the price I pay for reading so much.  Or perhaps for being impatient.

It turns out that I was right about most of those various story beats, but seeing what Diane Duane did with them was far more satisfying than what I’d imagined.  I probably should have seen that coming, given that I’ve read the earlier books in the series and know how good Duane is at her work.  Once I finally got over my block and moved into the last parts of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.  And then, of course, the climax made me cry.  Whatever the real reasons for my reading delays, I feel quite certain in saying that this was an excellent book, one worth reading, worth recommending, and one that leaves me wanting to read the next one in the series.  Just like the previous books in the series.  I probably could have seen that coming too.

So, why the heck did this book make me cry?
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And Then You Die: A Good (Character) Death

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Bye bye Boromir.

I love Boromir.  I know I’m not the only one who does.  And however much I like Boromir when he’s alive, there’s something that’s almost even more (tragically) appealing about him dead.  This is less because I like his ruggedly handsome corpse, and more because of what Homer touched on thousands of years ago: in his death, because of how he died, Boromir becomes something more than he was in life.  Boromir had what we might call a good death.  Key to this, Boromir dies before he truly succumbs to the power of the Ring, and in his death he tries to make up for some of the mistakes that he has made previously.  His act of self-sacrifice protecting the Ring-bearer is a fairly hefty weight in his favor on the scales of Judgement, making up for some of his earlier errors.  Interestingly enough for such a perilous setting, he is also the only member of the Fellowship to die and stay dead.

It turns out that that single heroic death is pretty standard.  Most stories, like most role-playing games, don’t have lots of character death.  In reality, people engaging in the same activities that most adventurers and main characters pursue with wild abandon have a fairly high casualty rate.  People are killed while fighting, they’re permanently injured, they get sick… and in many cases, their deaths and debilities feel meaningless.  For every handful of people that die doing something we would idolize as heroic, far more are killed or injured in an almost banal fashion.  Would we feel the same way about Boromir’s death if he had, I don’t know, been killed without having a chance to fight back?  Stepped on a landmine?  Slipped in the shower and broken his neck?

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Choose Your Own Adventure!

Edit: Part 2a has been written, and can be found here.  Part 2b has been written as well, and can be found here.

I made this short choose-your-own-adventure story a while back, and only just realized that I could try to put it together in a functioning format on this site.  I haven’t managed to separate the sections as much as I’d like, so if you want the full experience try to avoid reading more than one segment at a time. The uppermost section is the one to keep your eyes on. Have fun!

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You come to your senses after a long night of studying in the library and find yourself standing on a narrow dirt path running through the woods. You don’t know how you got here, and it doesn’t look like any place that you’ve ever been before. After wandering along for a brief while, you hear hoofbeats behind you. Do you:

a) Hide behind a nearby tree. Paranoia is the best survival trait after all.

b) Stand on the side of the road. Horses move quickly and you don’t want to be in their way.

c) Look for the horsey! You’ve loved horses for as long as you can remember, and you haven’t gotten to see any recently.

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