Monday 1 January 2018


Calls of ‘movement’ echo down the corridor and students start filing into class. I try to see if I can understand where each student is today. Lack of sleep, poorly treated mental health problems and general turbulence mean attitudes change day to day, minute to minute sometimes. And over time you get a sense of what lies beneath that - appeals and medical appointments that never seem to come, transfers nearer family that are promised, postponed and then taken away entirely. You hear about tragedy after tragedy and fight not to become immune to them. Women come in with bags under their eyes and tell you that they haven’t slept in days, that the person in the cell next to them plays music all night.

The challenge of writing Inside, a larp about women’s education in prison, is the challenge of telling a story that I stumbled into and which is only partially mine. I wrote Inside in response to what I heard and experienced. The character creation process is player led, both because of the delicate topics involved and because all the options which allow players to build a character, a life, are unexaggerated.

Whatever your view of prison, it is probably unlike what you expect. It certainly wasn’t like I’d imagined. What became obvious, again and again was how little power the women had over their own lives. They could earn privileges which would grant them the option to wear their own clothes and have TVs in their rooms. They were allowed to work (and get paid something around 30p an hour). They could go to classes, and classes like the GCSE English equivalent that I taught is mandatory for anyone who hadn’t completed it. (In some cases this was people who grew up in non-English speaking countries, in some cases it was women who had fallen through the gaps in the system, and in some cases it was women who clearly had achieved far beyond this level but hadn’t been able to get their certificates transferred, leading to very mixed classes). But every moment of their lives was controlled. Underlying it all the claustrophobia must have been unbearable, but for many women the outside wasn’t much better. A lot of the women had faced or were facing abuse and neglect and were coming from situations which had left them powerless and afraid.

Inside isn’t a fun larp. It isn’t shouting, it isn’t drama and it isn’t escape. It’s one day in a hundred days of a group of people who have ended up in a situation that they need to get through.

Inside will premiere at The Smoke 2018: London’s International Larp Festival. After that it will be available on a pay what you want basis on Drivethrurpg. Any money received will be donated to Clean Break .  

Thursday 26 October 2017

Larping in London

The Larp scene in London is growing, and although it isn't as large as the scene in some other countries there are lots of events that run on a regular basis. Navigating the scene can be confusing as there are some unique terms which aren't used, or are used differently in other countries.

There tend to be 3 distinct types of larping that I've encountered in London, but there seems to be more and more of a cross-over between them, to the point where I think these may operate as a slider rather than as distinct categories.

Nordic, and Nordic influenced larp: These games tend to have a goal of immersion and work collaboratively. Play to lose and play to flow (reacting to what’s happening as your character would, whether this is going to lead to an overall positive or negative outcome).

UK Freeform: Rules and system light games which are often (although not always) goal oriented. Playing to lose used less here, but there is low transparency which means there is often a goal of obtaining information or keeping secrets, which the player needs to figure out how best to achieve.

Fest larp: An area I’m less knowledgeable about, this type of larp tends to involve on going campaigns, are more rules and system heavy and feature combat. Empire larp is a popular form of this in the UK.

I’m really excited about the current larp scene in London.

I’m a co-organiser of the Immersivists club  and we tend to run short larps on a weekly (or so) basis. The next two are Sarcophagus by Kaia Aardal, Jone Aareskjold and Martin Nielsen and then Bring Your Own Bottle by Nastassia Sinitsyna, Yauheniya Siadova and Alisa Matavilava. We’ve recently run Old and Wise by Jantine van den Bosch and We Almost Were Heroes by Jasmin Räbsamen.

There is also the Game Kitchen which is a group which facilitates the collaborative design of Nordic-style larp and facilitates discussions around this topic. There are monthly meet-ups and in addition to group design sessions and play-testing, we have also had sessions discussing topics like use of lighting, use of drawing and steering vs immersion. I designed my first game in this group, and some great games have come from it.

Incarnation games run a UK Freeform game on approximately a monthly basis. They normally fill up quickly and cast players in advance.

London Larp Studio is a new group for designers to discuss challenges and support each other in their work.

There is London Larp Frothmeet where players talk about games, normally Fest Larp games, from my understanding.

Finally, although this isn’t a larp group per se, London Indie RPG meet up group often run games which have a emphasis on narrative and story telling.

I will write soon about weekend larps and festivals that have run or are going to run which welcome international players and sources of information that will help players find them. I would welcome comments on larp groups in the UK outside London, Fest larp and anything that I haven’t covered here.   

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Currently writing...

I’ve been looking back at my old posts here, and the excitement and awe I felt at discovering roleplaying and larp for the first time. It’s interesting to notice that the questions I had then are still the questions I have today - ‘What are there practical applications of larp?’ and ‘How can we allow people to feel and act as safely as possible while playing?’ Although I think that my understanding of the topics has increased since then, that has opened more possibilities and nuances that I’m looking forward to exploring.

It's hard to feel bad about a less than perfect playtest when everything is beautiful. 

Today I’m writing about two short larps which I playtested recently, one which I wrote, and one which I co-wrote . Mo Holkar writes about them on his blog here:

Inside is a game I wrote and playtested based on my experience of working in the education department of a women’s prison. This is an environment that can be sensationalised and I wanted to depict a more accurate reality. The character creation process of this game takes almost as long as the game itself which actually felt like a worthwhile trade off to have fully fleshed out characters and a game which makes a point about anxiety and boredom while keeping players immersed. I got some great feedback which suggested that I had achieved the effect I wanted (“I was miserable, but in an immersive way”!) I also got some suggestions on possible improvements. At the time having a teacher in a player role felt interesting because I thought they could play out their own feelings regarding the situation of teaching people who resented being there, but also who could benefit from it. In practice though, I think it proved too frustrating. The game wasn’t long enough to provide the internal conflict I was hoping for, so it just became an exercise in frustration for the player. In future I will structure it slightly differently and make that a GM role, giving more possibility to steer play and drop the idea of the teacher as their own character.
Another idea suggested was to get players to create a reason why their character was in the class and how much control they have over whether they joined it. I think this will work really well in the future and am looking forward to running it soon.

I co- wrote First Blast of the Trumpet with Patrik Balint. I think it began as a conversation after a we’d had a few drinks and picked up pace as we came up with ideas for NPCs and situations that don’t actually appear in the game at any point. The idea was to have a modern day feminist group carry out an action which would have significant effects on the course that their country was taking, but would be morally distasteful. We split the game into two parts, the first part being flashbacks to a time that character had suffered under the patriarchy, and the second part playing out what happened after the group had been given their mission. We had mechanics to replay and increase the intensity of the flashbacks if the characters started having doubts about the mission. The idea was to invoke real life anger by playing relevant music, and using articles about violence and discrimination against women in the present day.

Unfortunately it didn’t work, I think mainly because of the scope of the mission and lack of workshopping of the group. We wanted the group to generally have positive relationships and to induce strong feelings about the importance of the mission which meant that there was little source of conflict for the characters. The scope of the mission was also too large for the players to feel a personal connection to it, so I hope that for our next run we will be able to scale it down, give a more personal feel to it and allow players to build positive and negative relationships. I’m still very excited about it, and think it has a lot of potential.

Friday 2 June 2017

La Sirena Varada - A Larp about Community and Madness

CN: Mental health, death of a child

La Sirena Varada (The Stranded Mermaid) is a contemporary larp about the dwellers of a community built outside of conventional society, people who eschew common sense for the pursue of fantasy and dreams… and their descent into madness.

The Republic of the Free, near Granada in Spain, is constantly in sunshine during the day and overlooked at night by thousands of stars. People gather for meals, never eating alone. The food is delicious and the wine and beer are plentiful. You can spend your days sitting by the pool, singing along to music played by talented musicians and watch people dance, the brightness of their clothes and the rhythm of their movements almost hypnotic. You can write, sitting among friends, or alone among incredible beauty. Your strangeness and eccentricities aren't just accepted but celebrated. You can feel at one with the people around you.

The cave where Gea and other members of the community lived.

But better than that you can believe. You can live in a world where if anything bad happens you are simply gathering the power to fight it. And world where nothing and no one ever leaves you. 

I admit that I was originally a little apprehensive about this larp. My friend pitched it to me as an incredible, almost life changing experience, but I was unsure what to expect. The Mediterranean larping style was new to me and my character, Gea, seemed like she would be challenging to play. She was a mother who had lost her child, but couldn't let go and I was worried about how to portray her.

I needn't have worried. I was able to understand and immerse in my character within the first few hours of play. You are given an outline of your character when you're cast which in my case included the traumas she had suffered, the terrible things she had done and the delusions that she embraced to deal with it. Maybe it was my decision to write a backstory for her and the fact I was always aware that she had been someone else, however much she tried to forget it, which led to the conclusion of my game. 

As a player I felt so safe during the larp. It didn't feel like there was any pressure to step over boundaries I had set (at least in my own experience of play) and in scenes of confrontation (and my character was very confrontational) I felt that the other players were aware of the out of character dynamics of the scene and acted accordingly. This trust of my fellow players let me play some challenging scenes and be vulnerable in a way I've never managed during a multi-day international larp before. 

Mo Holkar talks here about last year's run and the techniques used so I won't repeat them, except to say that I had very powerful experiences in both the shadow caves and the Waters Divine and I felt they were very effective techniques. 

Prior to the game there was some pre-play, forming impressions and relationships. I feel like a lot of things that we agreed out of character would have probably occurred in character anyway. One of the things it did give me with some characters was a sense of which buttons to push to annoy, upset or make them happy, so I could approach them already knowing their views. In that sense it was useful, but not necessary. 

As much as I would love to recount what happened scene for scene I have already bored many people with it! But this was a beautiful larp, with a community of damaged people who seemed to be pushing each other deeper and deeper into their delusions and away from the real world.

My game ended with Gea and another character, Comrade, declaring their real names and running from the community, away from the light and towards the darkness of the surrounding land. Gea (Melinda now) was blinded by tears, running because she was scared of being followed, running because if she stopped she might turn back. I wonder what happened to them and how they fared, faced with reality. 

Saturday 25 June 2016

Exile: A Larp about depression, loneliness and connection

'A', sits in a dark room in a surreal plane of darkness. They share the last remaining food with a cat they befriended, who can talk, but no longer purrs, a shadow - an attached being who is part of A, yet independent and an embodiment of loneliness that can appear in any form.

The game is not about hopelessness, although despair seems to haunt the scenes. The play takes place entirely in the surreal plane, although stories from A's everyday life narrated by each character separate the scenes, and these take place in normal, everyday reality, one which A apparently no longer exists in.

As a prelude to the first act A spoke about her perfect sister who disappeared and had never been spoken of again. A could have tried to find out what happened to her but didn't. Why? Were they already detaching from everyday reality and becoming part of the dark world? A doesn't remember why they let it go so easily but is content to let it drift again. 
"It was a lifetime ago".

A, it became clear, was bitter and cynical. Whatever had gone before they were now trapped in a world of symbolic and literal darkness. A world reminiscent of depression where nothing mattered and everything was an effort. During the first scene, in a room lit by a dimly glowing lamp they speak with the shadow, the cat and the embodiment of loneliness. 

The shadow is almost childlike, wanting A to explore the world, to find light so that she could be seen. 
"Shadows can't be seen in darkness," she says
"And it's a shame because I'm beautiful, more beautiful than you... oh but it's not your fault, all shadows are more beautiful than their people."

The cat stopped the game slipping into outright misery. Desperately needing people and desperately hiding that need provided some light hearted moments, but moments that fit the tone of the game. The cat was the one driving the mission to find the last can of tuna, making it easier for A to leave the apartment than to argue.

Loneliness was an interesting character. I have no doubt that in some runs of the game loneliness is played as bitter and cynical, as flat as the way I played A. But here loneliness took an almost zen approach to their surroundings, encouraging A to keep waiting. That things were fine just as they were. That soon they would be over. Peaceful.

After the first scene, another story. And really the stories that the players told provided a lot of the insight and inner play that went into A's character. In the second one the player of the cat narrated a period of A's life where they had always gone to the shop with their parents and sister to buy sweets every Saturday, but gradually the sister stopped going, and then the parents stopped asking A if they wanted to go and finally A was watching from the window as the rest of the family came and left the house. 

Then, in the dark world, the trip to the supermarket to get the last can of tuna from the cat. Loneliness convincing the party to hide from possible movement in the distance. The shadow dancing under a street lamp feeling free until A pulled her away. A segue into another story, told by the shadow in character. A had just broken up with Matt and was crying. They had moved into a new flat and the shadow wanted to paint the walls bright colours and make everything look beautiful, and they could have done that, built a real life but A couldn't stop crying and she was 'so selfish'. And the shadow tried to tell them this but they couldn't hear. Which lead to A's only emotional outburst of the game as she and the shadow were huddled on the floor shouting at each other 
"You made me hope. You always made me hope. That's why I'm here."
They returned to the apartment. 

Back at the apartment, again dimly lit, the mood was solemn. There was one last can of tuna but when it was gone there was nothing. Only the cat ate. After playing out some discussions about what had happened, the world and A's past A said they were growing tired of it here. The shadow protested that there was some light, that they were needed to help feed the cat, that it was selfish to let go, because wherever A went the shadow had to follow.

Loneliness told a story, in character, of A's childhood. 
"You went to the fair with your sister and you won a balloon. Do you remember it? It was beautiful, you had never seen anything like it. But your sister, your younger sister who you loved wanted the balloon. And do you remember what you did."
A, voice wavering, eyes shut "I...I let go"
A sigh

A turns to her shadow. 
"We could let go. We can fall asleep"
"We might wake up"  The shadow replies.

They join hands.

The way I interpreted this game was an exploration of depression rather than loneliness. A depressed state would be hard to portray purely in a larp but the landscape was designed to be one which took the energy from A. Even the shadow, the most energetic and enthusiastic of characters could only find joy in the vague shimmer of light from the street lamp.

It is possible the 3 other characters were all parts of A trapped in the dark plane with them. It's possible the (unscripted) ending allowed A to come back to the real world. 

Some states, depression, loneliness. anxiety and lack of connection can be better explored through surreality and I think Exile does this well. However, for me the most intense and immersive moments came from the other character's stories about A's life, about what could've happened to bring them to this place. About whether there was a way back.

Exile can be found here.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Love in the Age of Debasement

Love in the age of debasement is a game about dysfunctional couples (at various levels of dysfunction). It’s quite an intense game obsentially about making the decision about whether to break up or stay together, but also about talking around a topic, and exploring power dynamics in a relationship.

Each couples had various issues, and we were playing next to a workaholic (who thought his partner was using him for money) and a party girl type (who wanted her partner to lighten up.) Their main conflict was whether they could continue as a couple given their different lifestyles, which was pre-generated information. You did have some options to create the background for the characters and in doing so you could create the stakes. Had they been together for 6 months? 18? Did they have shared friends? What were their hobbies and interests?

I played Hanna who was in a couple with Einar, her abusive boyfriend. This role came quite close to home in personal history, which is something that I wanted to explore. I felt that maybe there was something in the character I wanted to understand, to remember.  It felt safe. I was playing with a very good friend who had made it clear that he was looking out for me, one of the people I would really trust with this.

I found some of the mechanics of the game a bit difficult, but I wonder how much of that was in terms of our couple, who had a rather black and white dynamic. Although there was nuances - mainly put there by the wonderful person I was playing with, it was never going to be a situation with a potentially happy ending where the couple walked off into the sunset, all problems behind them.

The rules were that we could only address the issues in the relationship directly when our songs played (and after our last song when we had to decide whether to stay together or not). The two songs we chose were Tainted Love and Enjoy the Silence.

To start with this went quite well with Einar beginning apologetic and talking about plans for the future with Hanna. We did indirectly allude to the abuse, and I also established Hanna had been manipulated to the point where she believed that if she wasn’t the abuser herself then she was certainly partly responsible for it.

The issue of only being able to have the conversation about the partner’s central issue during the songs made things difficult and after the first song we let it slide a bit. I wonder if it was difficult for the other couples who had less black and white issues in their dynamic. We got in a bit of a circle and ended up playing out a process which would probably take a much longer time to play out in real life. Einar wanted Hanna to give up her job and Hanna wanted to keep her job, see her sister and visit her old friends from university. We played these conflicts out over again in a variety of ways.

Einar trying to force Hanna to call work and tell them she wasn’t coming in any more.
Einar taking her phone, deleting her work contacts and going through it. “Who’s James?”
Subtle threats, less subtle threats, shouting.
Hanna being sent to the bathroom after she started crying “tidy yourself up and stop making a scene.”
Hanna, with her best fake smile assuring Rita from the other couple that everything was fine.
Einar banging on the bathroom door “Hurry up”
“You just keep going on. We would be perfect if you didn’t keep going on all the time”
“Look at me. Now smile. Now kiss me. That’s better. We’re fine. Everything’s fine”
Hanna desperately apologising, not knowing what was wrong with her that she couldn’t keep the man she loved happy.
Talk of a child. Hanna realising this is something she wanted desperately.
Hanna saying “No, we shouldn’t have a child.”
Hanna suggesting she see a doctor or a therapist to find out why she acted so unpleasantly all the time.
Hanna daring Einar to hit her, telling him no-one was watching, wanting desperately to believe he could control his temper, that a child would be safe.
Einar telling her that she hadn’t heard the last of it. Storming out punching a wall on the way.
Einar and Hanna desperately clutching hands as the last song played, talking of going home, of decorating the house, of whether the baby would be a boy or a girl.

I think we got immersed to the point where we didn’t explore everything. We established that Hanna had been mainly isolated from her family and old friends, but not what Einar’s family were like. Traditional? Abusive? We didn’t really examine his reaction at all. The concept of the baby didn’t come up until near the end of the game, although it actually fuelled quite a large part of my internal play once the idea was there.

And why did Hanna stay? I wonder how many people have played the character before me, who have played a triumphant Hanna having a moment of realisation that she had to get out. How many others played a Hanna who was rescued (in the debrief the couple at the table next to us revealed that they had slipped out to phone the police who had been unhelpful.) And maybe less often, how many times did Einar’s player promise to change and mean it (at least for the moment.) But we didn’t play like that. Hanna was afraid, and she had been manipulated into believing she was complicit in the abuse. She had been worn down until she was dependent and had been isolated from her friends and family, from anyone who suggested that maybe Einar wasn’t good for her. And they were all reasons. But there was another one, one which isn’t often talked about in this narrative and that is the pure intensity of a relationship where you’re the centre of someone’s world. When you’re on a pedestal, adored, when you’re terrified to slip. Maybe that’s another reason.

I fell easily into Hanna’s mentality, but despite my experiences of abuse and despite Hanna’s fear of and for herself I never once as a player felt frightened or unsafe. I wonder how it would have felt to play against someone I didn’t trust so much and I’m not sure if I would have been able to do it.

It does raise an interesting question about playing games inclusively (and I do genuinely feel that we should be welcoming to people who are new to the hobby or the group) and playing characters who are more of a stretch for you in a small group of people you know and trust.

I suppose these options aren’t really mutually exclusive. I’ve been part of campaigns where the players have been selected as a continuation of previous campaigns and also larps and RPGs with lots of new players. I enjoy Nordic larping, and that can be intense. I remember how nervous I was the first time I played. So I think running games for newcomers should always be an option but so should playing games that stretch you in ways you only want to risk around people you know. Games where you can explore and understand things about yourself.

Saturday 30 January 2016

Diversity, Discussion and Dice

I'm still on the high that I felt when this day was over. The organisation and running of this event was only possible because of the help and support of my wonderful friends and fellow roleplayers. I was surprised at the interest in the diversity day when it was first suggest as a concept. I had several people say to me that an attempt to address several issues in one day was really welcome as a lot of cons have an hour long slot for diversity in gaming as a catch all. Thankfully we had some fantastic entertaining speakers and participants who contributed thoughtfully and brought a lot to the discussion.

We had 6 talks throughout the day in two rooms:

Dealing with triggers while gaming which I ran as a workshop on the meaning of triggering different safety techniques which were currently used and how they could be improved. There was a nice turnout and enough people to split the group into 4 so that we could examine techniques in more depth. (There was a singing class taking place in the background so sometimes I'd make a point and hear some inspiring music well up behind me - I would recommend that to all nervous public speakers!)

At the same time in the other room Graham Walmsley ran a talk and discussion on Other histories: Positve perspectives on Queerness and Women

In the second slot Joanna Piancastelli ran a talk on how to play characters which are different from yourself both sensitively and well.

Anita Murray ran a talk called Playing with Sex, looking at the positive aspects of sex in role playing. There was also a very interesting facilitated discussion that arose from this which covered bleed, consent and whether roleplayed sex could be romantic.

In the final slot Helen Gould ran a talk and discussion called Leaving the West which was about looking at different ways to set roleplaying games and play characters outside a Western setting with a particular focus on Africa.

Karolina Soltys ran a talk on sensitive and realistic portrayal of mental health issues in roleplaying which then became an interesting discussion on bleed and whether games could be designed which portrayed mental health in an accurate way.

After that we had a gaming session with Stiainín Jackson running her game Court Whispers, Karolina running a hack of the game A family affair involving one of the characters having mental health issues and Richard Williams running B x B by Jake Richmond and Heather Aplington.

Some of the transcripts of the talks and a write up of the triggers workshop can be found here:

It was a good day. There was a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to learn from each other. I hope that this can eventually be an annual thing and that next year we'll be back bigger and better!

Sunday 3 January 2016

Best gaming moments of 2015, in no particular order

  1. Starting to Larp. My first event was Muster and Hush and the first larp of the day in particular, ‘Before and after silence’, a Black Box Nordic larp, was something I found revolutionary in the way it enabled me to express emotions, despite taking place in complete silence.
  2. Playing campaigns - I played a Monsterhearts tabletop campaign and am playing in an ongoing larp called The Wave. I don’t get much chance to play campaigns and in both cases it was a chance to get really into the character's back story (and in the case of the Wave, in character e-mails). I really enjoy one shots but I love the depth that campaigns allow.
  3. GMing. One game this year and it’s a one player, one GM scenario which I’m looking for new players for. But it’s a start. Watch out world!
  4. Not strictly gaming, but getting to know some wonderful people. Sitting (or standing, or walking) around pretending to be someone else is a great introduction for the socially anxious. And then from there it’s much easier to have conversations.
  5. Seeing the amazing things my friends have achieved this year; creating games, being published, running exciting, nuanced games. It’s been really fantastic.
  6. Writing my first larp and running it, once as a pre playtest, once as a playtest and once because people requested me too. I’m very proud of it and excited. I’ll have to write another one soon!

And in 2016….

  1. My game, Peace will hopefully be published in an anthology later in the year
  2. Diversity, Discussions and Dice, an event about social issues in the gaming community will take place on 24th January
  3. I will be playing Montsegur 1244 in January after a wait of only a year and a half!
  4. I might be working on another project involving a larp warm up game. More to come on that later.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

If there were a middle ground between things and the soul: White Death - a blackbox larp

Spoilers for White Death - if you are planning to play the game at any point then you shouldn't read this.

There is a fascination with life and death and what lies in between. A fascination with the difference between victory or defeat, between defiance and giving in. White Death, a black box larp written by Nina Runa Essendrop and Simon Steen Hansen, and hosted by James Harper explores these themes in an abstract, dreamlike way.

The concept of the game is loosely about a group of human settlers who are attempting to build a mountain community. Their human existence is difficult and desperate. This was represented by the fact that no verbal (or nonverbal signed) communication was allowed, by movement restrictions (mine was to walk like a marionette with strings on my legs, arms and wrists. We were also assigned arbitrary likes and dislikes (mine being ‘I envy people with a different hair colour than mine).We were also assigned allies and enemies and quickly made additional ones when the game started. The ‘human’ side of the larp took place in the light, the lit upside of a black room.

We had the ‘resources’ of balloons, which represented ideas, dessicated coconut which represented survival and white paper which represented faith. They appeared in a spotlight in the dark side of the room and we had to cross over to get them.

An interesting thing I have noted is often in non verbal larps items quickly become a method of communicating, either a currency (an exchange of one for another), a way of forming an alliance (giving something of yours away), or a status symbol (taking as much from other people as you can.) If you get immersed in the game these actions can become really meaningful. When someone replaced something that had been taken from me with something of their own it felt like a really intimate moment.

Non verbal larps are strange. Unlike the verbal freeform larps I’ve played there is no clearly defined character beyond a few descriptors. In the silence everything becomes more immediate and you become part yourself, part someone else. Perhaps the person you would've been, perhaps the person you wished you had the strength to be. I don’t think that’s quite right either though. My character was protective of the other settlers, trying to stop fights and comfort people who hurt. But she was also scared of the unknown.

During the second half of the game a human stepped out into the darkness and transformed into a white one, a being full of joy, a being which could be an angel, a spirit, simply snow or maybe a bit of all three. After that there were four snowstorms which were the only times the white ones become visible. During that time they could stand at the edge where the light and darkness connected and reach out for humans to join them. And my character (me?) was trying to hold people back, trying to bribe, or scare or physically prevent them from going somewhere where she only knew that they would not return from. This started as instinct although we knew, although we had been prepped in advance to know the people who were going were ‘going somewhere better’. Perhaps there was something within me that was repelled at the thought, that the symbolic crossing over and becoming angels was death. And perhaps this is where the defiance came in for me, that I didn't want people to go willingly for something uncertain. Or perhaps it was something in the character I created, who was trying to make peace and keep the community together. Whatever the reason, despite my best efforts everyone managed to cross apart from 4 of us by the time that the last storm arrived. Two of the people had definitely held out due to their own choices but one was, due to imposed limitations, was physically stuck to another and so may not have had much choice in the matter!

In the final storm we all had to cross. I was the last to go, this time trying to ensure the others crossed safely (and completely forgetting the physical limitations that I had in the process.) Then when I turned to cross there were a wave of hands reaching out for me which actually made me feel a bit emotional and accepted.

And on the other side there were bubbles and everyone was dancing. You were supposed to be the carefree element of light and air and I did feel lighter, like it was easier to drop my inhibitions and just move with pure joy. On this side there wasn't even a pretence at playing a character but you weren’t playing yourself either. You were playing a being who was somehow both greater and lesser than you had been.

It was a thought provoking larp with surprisingly emotional moments. It also played very interestingly with the nature of who we were and who we were playing. There was knowledge that our characters didn't have although Jamie, the organiser made a point of saying that it was fine to let go of the scenario and play however you preferred. I suspect there was a spectrum of attitudes there and I fell somewhere in the middle. I suspect some people tried to make sense of their restrictions and preference and created a fully rounded human character from it. I expect some people just played as themselves or did whatever seemed interesting in the moment. And I suspect some people, like me were caught between playing someone else and being themselves. And maybe understanding and reflecting on your actions as yourself is what enables you to explore the themes of the game and their meaning to you freely.

Monday 21 December 2015

Tips for new GMs - of which I am one

It feels like a massive leap to be sitting (metaphorically or literally) on the other side of the table. Not only do you have to come up with a scenario and make it entertaining but you have to deal with the fact that your players are going to do the exact opposite to what you want and expect them to do and then frantically scramble round for a way to get the adventure back on course without railroading your players (virtually impossible).

An initial tip would be to start with something like Monsterhearts. You will need to introduce elements and ensure everyone feels confident enough to participate but if you are running a one shot you can basically give your players free reign.

The wonderful +Tom Pleasant  taught me about the concept of the 5 room dungeon which is a great way to create a short scenario. The idea is you have a beginning point and an end point that you are working towards (although if your players do something amazing that would make a fantastic end point that’s fine too.) The dungeon doesn’t have to be a literal dungeon. To take a typical fantasy setting a 5 room dungeon might look like this.

Except, spot the problem?  To achieve the ending you have to ensure that the characters take the right steps in the right order and that’s not likely. The only way you could run this scenario would be to guide them from event to event and not let them do anything else.

So a better way to write the scenario would be:

Now we have several different paths to several different endings and potentially a more interesting game that gives the characters options. You will still need to be prepared for players to deviate from the paths you have chosen but it will be likely you have covered most eventualities. The important part is to ensure the events that need to occur, occur. In this example you could probably start the story from the characters witnessing the dragon act, possibly replacing 1 with 2a if you wanted to start in medias res.

The scenario I was writing was one player, one GM which I think is a good way to start if you’re feeling nervous, especially if your player is someone who will give you feedback on what worked and what didn’t work afterwards. Also playing the same scenario with different people is a great way of exploring where players are likely to want to go. Another suggestion of Tom’s was to look at things you’ve recently watched or read, take a scene from them that stood out and then incorporate them, maybe with slight changes, into the game. I was writing a Cthulhu Dark scenario and my inspirations were:

A scene from a recent Dr Who.
A scene from Jessica Jones
A concept from a recent LARP I played.
A scene from Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Once I had mashed them together and altered them to fit the game I don’t think any of them were recognisable. The game took about an hour and a half (including character creation which I want to experiment with and swapping in and out of coffee shops because they kept closing.) I’m not sure if it’ll get longer or shorter as I get more competent. Probably less waffly and with less of an info dump at the start. Once I’ve found a few more playtesters and run the game a few more times I will write about my experience with it and the dynamics of running the scenario with different characters. When you have one PC who they are and how they interact with the scenario matters a lot.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Mental health (not gaming related)

This post is not about gaming. I'm going to be talking about mental health issues. This may not interest you. That's fine. There will be more gaming posts coming soon.

I’m having a low patch at the moment. I know this will pass but my depression and anxiety are both overtaking me and I just want to hide under the duvet. What this means - well your experience may vary - but some of the fun thoughts I am having include:

  • I’m useless.
  • No one wants me around, they just put up with me out of pity.
  • I’m weak.
  • I’m going to feel this way forever.
  • If I leave the house I’ll have a panic attack and everyone will see and judge me.
  • I will have a panic attack in front of my friends and they will see me and judge me.
  • Trauma related reactions which barely make sense to me and won't make sense to anyone else.

Here’s the thing about depression and anxiety. They lie. You have probably heard the analogy about having a broken bone. People say mental health difficulties should be treated like that, in the same way as a broken bone. You go to the doctor, you get the treatment you need. It’s true. But a broken bone doesn't lie to you. A broken bone hurts because it’s broken. It doesn't get inside your head and tell you that you’re not worth it.

By the way, you are worth it.

Depression lies. Anxiety lies.

And you are not alone. You realise that more and more as you talk to people. I’ve often heard the statistic quoted that 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life. I think it could be more than that.

The things that you’re telling yourself - they’re not true.

Depression lies. Anxiety lies.

I am writing this because one of the issues mental health problems cause are secrecy and isolation. If this applies to you, or has applied to you in the past, look after yourself. And hang on. One more day might make all the difference. It's lying to you. You aren't alone.