Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview with a Changeling LARP Storyteller: Andrew Watson

This time I'm going to interview a long term LARP player in the Camarilla who was once upon a time a Camarilla Changeling LARP Storyteller and who is now a Camarilla LARP Domain Storyteller (he manages the local game storytellers). He's pictured to the left in a character he played at a Noctis game. I've playing in a few games he's run and I've always enjoyed his fresh and insightful style. Since he's an old hat, I've focused my questions on LARP in general with a few questions directly about his Changeling experience.

Shannon: "So, what on Earth convinced you to run a LARP?"

Andrew: "Well, I spent all this time playing LARPs and watching LARPs and talking about them so I figured it couldn't be all that difficult. I was kinda wrong. But basically the opportunity came up. Nobody else was going to do it. So I thought I'd give it a shot. Also, I just like telling stories."

Shannon: "So what's the difference between running a LARP and a Tabletop? I mean, you've done both, but how do you do a LARP well?"

Andrew: "Well, the differences are scale and chronology, I reckon. So you've got a generally much larger group of players and the game's a whole lot less linear so to a larger extent what you have to do is create the playing field and then watch as the players do horrible things to it. So part of doing it well is actually accepting that but I think that applies to storytelling and running games in general."

Shannon: "Changeling must make that all the harder, too. Trying to double guess where changelings are going is ... well, an exercise in futility."

Andrew: "Yeah, when I was running changeling I probably never got the double guessing down pat and so I made things a lot more open-ended than I otherwise would have done. So sometimes people would approach a problem and say "I do X" which is completely outside what I would've considered. When that happens, you've sort of got to have some openings in the plot for that sort of thing to happen. Since Changeling is a pretty crazy game and characters tend to be pretty eccentric that can certainly become interesting.

I guess one of the important things is to have them bounce things off each other rather than just the world around them because that's one of the main aspects of the game is the personal, almost introspective, self-psychoanalysis. Because, you know, it's Changeling it's all about loss and how you deal with it and how you cope when you can't necessarily get back the things that are gone. And honestly players are better at helping each other figure that out than NPCs."

Shannon: "What's one thing you would different?"

Andrew: "Something I could've done better was being much more willing to say no you can't play that character concept. Every game has kooky character concepts but in Changeling that can get extreme. And so if someone actually creates a character about being kooky than that can get pretty extreme."

Shannon: "What's your favourite parts of a LARP?"

Andrew: "Character development, probably. And the really intense emotional scenes that you just don't get to the same extent in tabletop, at least not very often. I've played LARP games where there's 3 - 4 characters shouting at each other, someone's breaking down crying, and it's just really rewarding and it's cathartic as well. LARP actually encourages people a lot more to think about their character as a person because it has much more of a focus on socialising and the social aspect. Even just little quirks of personality or mannerisms are much more important because they have to be displayed rather than you mention it now and again."

Shannon: "Anything else?"

Andrew: "I love the politics. I know it's not everyone's thing but the alliances and the back stabbing and the scheming.... Two of the ideal situations for a LARP is when you have a group of up to 4 players doing a really intensely personal scene or when you have 100 players who all have their own individual goals and schemes. It's just being able to go between those two extremes just allows for a huge amount of diversity that tabletop just doesn't have access to."

Shannon: "What's the three tricks you'd wish every player remembered when playing in a political LARP?"

Andrew: "Do what you're meaning to do. Don't come up with a plan or intend to do something and then don't actually follow through on it because if everyone does that it's just really boring because it's easy to go 'I'll go do this and this and this' and then not do anything.

Don't be afraid to be nasty to characters but never be nasty to players. I mean, it's politics, people do terrible things to each other but everyone's there to have fun. There's no reason why you can't create an awesome story together rather than against each other.

And be a gracious loser. It's probably the most important one. Like be prepared to lose, to fail, and rather than be bitter about it when it does happen actually figure out ways to make it a better and more enjoyable story. Say your character has been foiled in his plans to take over the city well, maybe, he's had enough and he's going to completely change his tactic and try to support the city. And in losing, you can compromise with the other players. Maybe if you're going to lose out on something maybe there's some story element where you can realise some part of your character's personal story. Say they're betrayed by an ally, maybe it actually gives them the opportunity to re-connect with an old friend whom they've become alienated from. Basically, it all comes down to work with people, not against people, but work against their characters."

"It's not actually about winning or losing so it doesn't actually matter if you lose. And if you're not having fun, take the time to step back, take a break, and calm down, perhaps for a couple months if that's what you need."

Shannon: "What's the worst thing a LARP ST can do?"

Andrew: "The thing that's specific to LARP that I'd probably say is: Don't let the characters and the players do whatever the want. There has to be some guidance. Otherwise it does just get silly. Especially when you have 20 people in the room you need to exert some control. If there's a big combat happening you need to make sure people are not chatting, that they're paying attention, and that extends to disallowing problematic character concepts as well.

And stay organised. Don't let the paperwork and the people calling to talk about their characters get on top of you. Have assistants if you need them. It's a big undertaking. And more generally, for storytellers, don't just shoot down players whenever they try something even if it's something that's outside the character's experience. It's just really frustrating if players are failing at everything they try. There does need to be a ray of light, there needs to be some hope, and not just everything going bad constantly, otherwise people don't have fun, and that makes them put less into the game."

Shannon: "All right. That should be a wrap. Thanks!"

Well, there you have it. Some advice on LARP games from an old pro. Hope you enjoyed it!

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