Tuesday, 25 November 2014


For Alone 2 we built an alien queen. The event ran in February. We spent about 5 months building her, and working out the frame she was based on took weeks. We also spent several hundred pounds on materials. She was amazingly effective for that event. She was totally worth the investment. She was used at Alone 3 and Alone 4, but is not mostly static. We could make her walk again, but I suspect we'd rather put the work into something new.

We usually start with an idea, some things we want to see, and then move onto a 6 word story. You can create a 6 word story for most events. They're just a way of getting it clear what everyone involved in writing thinks is important. It probably doesn't matter if you're working from different viewpoints, as long as you know you are. We use Google Docs for most things. We take a colour each and have a single plot document that we all add to. Separately we'll start working out what we have to spend, and how we plan to spend it. We'll look at 3-4 different ticket prices and often a couple of sets of player to crew ratios to work out what we need to run the event, and where we can afford to compromise. 

Baby ducks

We have previously run events that have gone over budget by several thousand pounds. We can't afford to do that now, so we need to have a realistic idea on costs and have managed to come in on budget on a couple of occasions. This does mean that we need every player to pay before the event. We normally can't accept cash on the gate because we've spent the money by then. It also means that for our events we don't offer refunds.

We've got a quite varied audience. We charge a lot (£150 a weekend for Alone) but we feel we charge about the right amount. We're aware some people can't afford to pay that for tickets. That's okay. They don't have to. 

We typically work with a spreadsheet ( version of the Dark Hearts one) Huge amounts of useful information goes into this. It gives us a central place to look at budgets, prop lists, player lists, crew lists, dietary information etc. We'll also have a plot document. I also want to share an Alone 4 summary document. It bears little resemblence to the event we ran. Plot documents never do. I can't show you Dark Hearts as that is ongoing. We have piles of other documents that detail each character, or each scene and what we need to set it. Once we've written everything we show the plot doc to Humpo who declares it 'rubbish' and rewrites it as something that will work. 

It's a short post today, but those two documents add a fair amount of extra reading. We need to know what we're willing to spend, and it's hard to break even whilst still pulling off the best event we can achieve. We're often hit by last minute costs that are hard to account for (fuel for the generator at Drakelow was a lot more than we anticipated).

Saturday, 22 November 2014


We trust our players. We trust them not to take the piss, not to be dicks. We trust them not to book when they're not going to enjoy our game. We trust them not to make the game miserable for other players, and to help build and support the game environment. 

We also trust them to break the rules. To do what's best for the game even if it's not what we've said they should do. 

Any rule should be there to make the game better. To enable players to do something they could not otherwise do. Doing away with rules about death and dying doesn't stop death happening. If it did I would expect Alone games to have had a lot more survivors even if they were still stuck on alien strewn moons. Instead it makes death occur as and when the players decide. 

LRP is odd in that it's often without long term injury (ic). It takes a certain type of person to pretend to have a debilitating injury and enjoy it. It's unfair to hoist that on someone who isn't willing. If you give people the chance to be miserable they often will. Different groups of players enjoy role playing the effects of injury for different amounts of time. With ours, they've signed up for an action game, so I suspect they're not that likely to expect us to subject them to spending 40-50 minutes injured. 

Two metal herons outside a building

We've used games to represent the medic skill. Computer games where doctors had to balance how much of various drugs they were giving a patient in order to keep them alive. It was possible for the patient to die, but the patient had by this point decided they were seriously wounded, and it did lead to nice levels of panic. 

Trust is good. Systems that allow players to decide what's happening encourage mature roleplaying and makes it more about the game and less about 'winning'. LRP is collaborative. We're all working together to create a game. When you pay us for a ticket you're not paying for entry into a competition, you're paying for your share of the costs of running that game. It's the same as paying for your round at the pub. 

Winning is about the stories. My winning is hearing people tell other people about games I've been involved in. I love knowing that things that I've made happen, plot that I've written or discussions about rules that I've had have given people stories that they're telling to their friends years after they happened, or even that people are passing on as something they've heard about. We aim to do things that are considered beyond normal. LRP is good, but it can be better. I love the traditional games, but I want to run something different. I want to see if we can improve things.

I need to convince Matt P to let me rig his new site with gimbals. So I'm going to finish this here. I've got events for the next three weekends (Gunfest, Red Letter day and the lions banquet) and then I'll be working on Jurassic LRP over Christmas, so get building your dinosaurs. I expect you all to be there.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Augmented Reality

I quite like games that extend beyond the period that people are together, but I appreciate that that is a lot of effort for the people organising the game. 

We don't run those games. The games we run are nicely contained, with minimum preamble and nothing after because usually everyone is dead. I like the idea that the games start with a bang and usually that bang is the point where people find out what's happening (at least for the first part of the game). We'll give them enough information to write a character, and find some stats, and that's pretty much it until they turn up. 

Footprints in the sand

It takes an immense amount of work to do anything personalised before an event. It will take longer than you think. if you only spend 10 minutes a player and have 20 players then you're already looking at over three hours, and you've just about read their backgrounds. You've not included them in anything you're writing. You've not looked at ways to link them together with other players. That's all extra. We normally run with 40-60 players (for Alone). 

I've been thinking about augmented reality today. My day job involves training people to use software, and I'm fairly certain we can improve take up and accessibility using technology. We can use the same technology to blur the lines between LRP and events, and the real world. Games like Ingress are a form of LRP. You're pretending to be in a situation and playing with that to achieve targets. For some events these same technologies can be used to get information to players, either before the event, or during time in.

With Alone we wanted to be able to give the players a way that they could see the Aliens approaching them on a scanner. This is probably something we could do now. We'd need to build units into the costumes that the players could detect using smart phones or computers. If you're running a modern day event that requires players to travel to sites to gather information you can share that information with devices such as Gimbals.

LRP has fuzzy boundaries. A lot of the definition is based on experience. I would really love to see a sci-fi fest event. Now Matt has announced his permanent site we can begin looking into running one again. If he does run one then we'll need to investigate how these technologies can be used to improve our games in order that we can make sure we've got the best chance of making things work. 

It feels like there's a huge amount we now can do. We're still trying to make it actually happen.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Typically with LRP you’re putting your players into a situation they have to react to. Whether they’re playing good, bad or (most often) some kind of grey, there will be a circumstance (or circumstances) that they will want to change as part of the game. Ideally you'll have players with different ideas as to what should be done. Some of them may be of the opinion that they should be stopping other players changing things. There will be conflict. 

In Empire they have to fight off a threat to the Empire. They’re defending the lands they see as theirs. That’s the main threat. There’s also the internal politics. People compete for control of the political situation. The compete to make decisions go their way. There are other threads, but each is a situation that requires players to influence it in order to achieve their goals.

In modern LRP there are fewer true monsters. We are starting to include the idea of causes and effects. We can see what created a behavior or a problem. Sometimes you want something to just be bad. Other times there's a little more flexibility there. You want your players to doubt themselves. We often play with emotions. Using small delicate people as something evil tends to play with peoples expectations. Making someone who is generally pretty together appear vulnerable also makes people have to think about what they’re doing.

A lot of good plots ask players to balance several sensitive areas. By giving them several conflicting wants and needs, and not enough resources to make everyone happy you make them make choices. These are typically good choices because your players aren't trying to guess what the ref wants. They're trying to work out what they're willing to sacrifice, or what they live without. Whether they'd rather steal something in order to get what they need or if they're happier leaving the poor children hungry. Which of these is less of a moral compromise. Obviously this doesn't work if they're playing shades of grey characters, but with a mixed party it can lead to interesting turning a blind eye situations.

It’s a general rule that players will talk to the things you want them to hit and hit the things you expect them to talk to, and that this will happen whether or not you take this rule into consideration. It’s also true that the thing you absolutely do not want is your players going to interact with something and pausing to think “did they mean me to hit this or talk to it?” and you will get that. What you really are aiming for is players that will react naturally to whatever situation is thrown at them, and just as in real life that can be a wee bit surprising. 

Bunny looking evil

Any creature the players encounter should make sense. Even if the players never find out why there should be a reason for every alien to be where it is, for each villager to be where it is, and if it is something the players can talk to the person playing it should know what that  reason  is if it makes sense that they would do so. 

My favourite games are balances. With Alone games we typically built in an escape route for about 6-8 players. Most players were going to die. There was no way out. Alone was set up to finish with a victorious death. This got very interesting in the tunnels. To keep the atmosphere we'd said they couldn't have clocks and hand crank torches only. It kept low light and meant they didn't know what the time was. One group concluded they were getting close to midnight on saturday night and that they would have to complete their objectives. They had a beautiful suicide scene. It was glorious. Unfortunately it was only about 4pm. They seemed happy with it. They knew they were very unlikely to survive and did something epic. They also felt they'd had their game.  (I only know this one from other people telling me, so accuracy is down to my notoriously dodgy memory). 

With the Alone games we didn't give everyone enough stuff to complete the survival objective. The joy was in the game, and everyone surviving wasn't  ever that high on our list of important things. It was about putting them in an environment and letting them interact. We had a few ways they could get the things they needed and a whole lot of choices about who to trust, who to shoot and who to secretly plant alien embryos in in order that you can sneak them back to your parent corp and sell them for money. It didn't matter what they spoke to and what they shot (although shooting the AI and talking to the alien was a fast route to a confusing death).  

The world you are creating needs to have some form of back story, and to hang together. It gives everyone the common threads to explain why the Montagues hate the Capulets, and helps players to see the effect their having on the world. After all, they're the god damn heroes, whether or not they all end up dead.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Fest events are the hub of LRP. Not everyone goes to them, but they help to provide links between large numbers of LRPers from different systems and to help information flow around the community.

With so many people with so many different opinions and interests communication is vital. We have several large systems in this country (Summer Fest, CP, LT, Empire, The Vale…) and each has a core of its own players who may not play anything else, or may play games only attended by other members of that system.

Ruined cottages on a hillside overlooking the sea, but you can't see the sea. It is there, but not in the photo.
Ruined Cottages on Lundy

There are a huge number of games in this country that I barely hear about. I used to play Skullduggery when I lived in Kent. I spoke to Dan Lagrue last night, and the games changed utterly since i was last there. So much they’re playing a different game. I hear and see images from a whole range of games that are right on the edge of the circle I interact with. They’re often things I’m not especially interested in and I mostly ignore them. Every now and then something catches my eye and if I'm free and it's within budget and other people are interested we try it. I suspect it’s similar for most LRPers.

Do we end up with a lot of similar mush? I don’t think so in the whole. We may stop one or two people from proceeding with plans, but we seem to be getting a wider and wider variety of games at the moment. I was reading about LRP in Croatia (http://www.crolarper.com) and they seem to be splitting in a similar way. LRP is evolving fast. Technology supports a much wider range of things. The LRP and AR boundaries are blurring. We have more money, a more developed idea of what's possible and more expertise that we seemed to have ten years ago when I started (I certainly have all of those things, but I've gone from being a student with limited LRP experience to this).

Whilst a lot of games emulate games that have gone before, the majority of people running games want to do better. They have ways to improve and they want to try it for themselves. Cross communication can constrict creativity (“We tried that and it didn’t work”) but with the right people running games it isn’t a major issue.A lot of people will hear that it’s been tried, consider why it didn’t work and build on that. ZapFest for us was something completely new. We had no idea if it would work. Jurassis LRP is the same. Eye LARP are running a Nutcracker inspired game (https://www.facebook.com/events/333838756796280/), which is a deviation from the normal well defined genres. We've got many more games with cinematic and trust based rules systems (again, my experience).

There is a game I wish I'd played. I often visit Lundy, an island 13 miles off Devon. There was a game that ran there that has reached almost mythical levels of awesome in my mind. I can't imagine how they pulled it off. It apparently even had underwater monsters pulling people off boats. I am aware that nothing I have run has reached that level, and that I don't know how to take what I am running to that level, but it is there as a target. One day I will be able to say that I ran something that good.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


 As anyone who's been around me in the last 12 months probably knows. Our next game is going to be dinosaurs. It's not the only thing we're talking about.

Mandala have been really good at Sci Fi. We're currently being really good at qwirky one offs. We don't run games that require downtimes. We don't run games that have recurring characters unless you're Jon Bliss. When I asked him if he would play his character again he told me what he wanted to have done since the last event. I had to explain that he was still in the same place in stasis and was not aware of anything since the last event. If anything he seemed more keen. 

We're still discussing what next. Slender is giving us ideas, but running something so close to what we play may not be the best immediate plan. There will be another Sci Fi game eventually. We need to get the software written before we write the game, and we'd quite like a really stunning site, but that requires a bit of looking. 

Stairs in an industrial building.

We've got one game that we've been holding onto for several years. It's a prison game. We've not yet found a prison. We've even bought and made props for it. We're holding out for somewhere perfect, so if you have a site that would make a nice sci fi prison let us know. I'd also like to run a paranoia game (who doesn't) which probably wants a similar site. 

We've talked about running something larger - a monster hunter fest game. I have some idea of the amount of work that would go into that and am absolutely certain that none of us have the time to make that happen at any point soon. 

We have also discussed shorter more intense horror games. They'd run at about 12 hours and I suspect we'd try and run twice over a weekend with lower player numbers. 

I would like to build a cube and run games for two people. Lock them in as a remote listening station for a post apocalyptic game. Make it a space station for a sci fi, or use it for a horror game. If we had a small room with a toilet that we could isolate from the workshop but that was close enough that we could use it we'd probably try that. I'm not sure how it would work, and it would take a lot of repeats for it to pay for itself, but it's something a bit different that might prove interesting to write for. 

I'd also like distributed LRP. We convince people up and down the country to convert a room to a cold war listening station. They'd need a computer and an internet connection. Then they role play according to the radio messages etc that they get. I'm not entirely sure when this stops being LRP.

I'm going to leave you with a link Paul Wilder shared with us, that I think is worth passing on. 
 Claus Raasted telling German LRPers how to get him to their games.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Strange Encounters

We write visually. We’re normally looking to produce key visual moments that the plot runs through. When we’re writing plot we will be talking about the moment the players first see the alien queen, or a player having to reach into the chest of a corpse, remove the heart, and destroy it, and we will work to make it happen. These moments are way markers. They may vanish from the final draft of the plot, but they help shape and direct what’s going to happen over the course of a weekend. Most of our events have major plot contained within a weekend.

A lot of our events are stand alone. When we’re writing for larger systems the plot will flow over a longer time period and if the players don’t reach the set scene then we’re not going to force it.With the alien queen moment we wanted her to be seen by some players and then vanish. We had tried to keep her secret and she was a lot bigger than players had any right to expect. We wanted her to become mythical, to be something that people saw and other people doubted, before the whole group could encounter her. As a result, we pictured that moment as having 5-12 players seeing her and running. With the heart scene it was going to be very intense for a small group of players, but as you added more it would work less well, so we restricted it to 5 players.

 I don’t believe that key scenes need to be seen by everyone. Each scene will have a number of people it works for, and to increase this is to dilute the effect. If you have more people than can immediately react to what is going on then there will be people stood around. With LRP often this is the point where you take the excitement and involvement that they have built up and let it drain away. It will result in a degree of disempowerment. The look of an awesome set will only occupy them for so long and then it will stop being game building. 

Hearing about something awesome happening does make people feel they’ve missed out. I heard about a lot I wasn’t involved in at Slender, and as I missed most of the key moments it changed the pace of the event for me. However, I was always somewhere else doing something else. I have some awesome visual images of the events that were described, and I was never left bored, but watching with 40 other people. Hearing about things going on that you don’t see does help build up a game world a bit. 

For each encounter I’m running I know how I want it to look. I know how many people will probably be present. I know which of those people are directly involved and hence get the full force and while are bystanders, and I hope to have an idea how long people will be bystanders for. We put a lot of effort into ensuring that if an encounter will only suit 5-6 people then only 5-6 people at a time get to experience it. We do expect players to share a bit, and we will have other things happening to occupy the rest of the players. We may not let players know limits before. This can lead to disappointment.

 Bystanders aren’t bad. There’s a moment of panic when you realise that you’re stood watching something really dodgy going on and no one’s doing anything. The more bystanders you have the less likely they are to react to what you’re doing. This is one reason why when we write a plot that involves people stopping the evil guys doing the clearly bad ritual so often no one does. Conversely, There are people who prefer doing to watching. LRP has a lot of them. They won’t appreciate being asked to watch something happen for long periods of time. Whichever situation you plan for you’ll get the other. 

Disappointment can be a game killer. However, the aim is to have enough going on at a game that each player gets to do things that other people don’t, and whilst someone might miss out on one thing, they should hopefully get to see other things. We do run some encounters more than once. Three lots of 5 people talking with the hag in the woods is better than 15 people talking to the hag in the woods. They’ll have different conversations and probably play into PVP stuff that needs encouraging. Plus it’s scarier being in the woods with 5 than with 15. You sneak rather than stomp and you don’t rely on numbers to save you. There’s a much higher chance that you’re the slowest runner.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Writing for the real world

Good sites are hard to find. Finding interesting and innovative sites that are set up be used requires hours of work. My own personal limits include no site that doesn’t have water and I’m not hiring toilets. I suspect I would break the second one for the right location.

I’m lucky to be with Mandala, we have facilities for catering for large numbers of people and a generator as well as tents. We’re set up to be able to run in reasonably basic locations. We also have people stupid enough to try it.

Running modern day events either involves looking at the standard hostels, campsites and hotels or finding a building that’s abandoned/between uses, but that hasn’t degraded to the point of being unsafe/not having water and toilets. That’s actually a fairly small window. I’ve done bat surveys in buildings that have been empty for only 2-3 years and they’re already falling apart in ways that would make them unsuitable for living in or around, which we need for our events.

Events don’t have to be based on one location. As long as you have enough transport for the number of players that need to move between sites you’re okay. We’ve never tried this. The games we’ve run haven’t suited it due to genre (there’s been talk of locking people into the back of a van dressed as a shuttle, but we’ve not done it). However, games I’ve played have. We were all taken off to a tea room from SlenderLRP to talk to the staff and find out more history of the location we were in.

I really enjoy LRP being merged with the real world. Modern day LRP gives you an entirely functional economy (although you’re a little limited in the range to which you can phys rep a rich character, for example), it has the largest number of NPCs you’ll ever have. Players have a huge world to explore (as long as you can safely lose them).

That last one is a point. If players have the entire world to explore you need to work out why they would stay in the places you want them to stay in, or whether it matters if they do. For example, you’ve put them in a building filled with ghosts and murder. Why do they not just leave? You can lock the building down, or you can accept that they will need to play characters that will choose to stay. You’ll need to ensure they find reasons not to run. Most players will work with this.

Visits add realism. Giving people targeted locations that they can go and explore adds to the depth of a game, and makes things feel much more real. Also car journeys are pretty good for interplayer communication and giving people a chance to catch up on what’s going on. Plus I have been to the Northwest three times now and not made it to a beach. I want to LRP on a beach (You heard me!).
Sunset over marshes

Using multiple sites also allows you to look at the those sites you couldn’t use (because they’re museums during the day, utter ruins with no toilets, don’t have anywhere for people to sleep etc) and find ways to build them into your game. You can take a group around a stately home looking for information - it’s an increase in the ticket cost, but it adds value, and gives your crew a chance to rebuild the main location.

If you’re running a real world game, then your major advantage is the real world. It’d be a waste not to use it, and any character you’re playing would have to get by in the real world in order to manage normal life.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Blending with reality

Modern Day LRP - set in the real world in the current universe.

This falls into two categories. You might playing with normal characters. They start as pretty standard people and get slowly more and more changed by their experiences. Alternatively you’re playing edge cases who are already pretty strange and expecting things to be weird - for example vampire games seem to work in this area.

For me, with a modern day game, dealing with real people is an important part of the setting. It’s something I would have to do if it was real, and it’s something I have to do in a realistic game.

So you’re at a game, you go out to a pub for lunch, and you’re still ic. This is sometimes how these things work. I’m completely fine with this. Other people aren’t. I’m putting this down to a couple of things:

  • My normal life is pretty strange. I spend a lot of time sat in pubs writing games or building creatures. The conversations I have when pretending to be someone else are often far more normal than my standard pub conversation.
  • I don’t really care what people think, as long as I don’t get shot because of it. None of those people know me. Most of them have barely registered I’m there and very few are actually listening to me. If they are and I’m discussing demons - that’s not actually illegal. I very rarely play characters that would plot murder in the pub when I might be overheard, so it’s not a problem for me.

At SlenderLRP I found myself stood in one of the offices in the building with the normal resident watching us in fascination whilst arguing about various game aspects. He didn’t mind. Most people don’t, and we gave him a chance to kick us out very early on. (He seemed very keen for us to be there).

SlenderLRP players

Writing this blog has brought my worlds together. I know people from work and family members read it, and I suspect for a lot of them it’s entirely outside the realms of their experience. It’s not going to make a lot of sense to someone who doesn’t know the LRP world. It’s apparently not making a huge amount of sense to people who are on the periphery.
Yet people are choosing to read it. People have mentioned it to me at the office and at home. I’m never entirely sure how to respond to that. Do I tell people more? Do I offer to take them to an event? (I don’t actually do this anymore. I don’t play enough in enough systems to make this something I want to do. I’d think about it for Slender, but you’d have to ask.) Do I show them photos or tell them stuff about it? I honestly don’t believe I can give a good idea of what LRP is about without taking someone to a game.

When talking to people about LRP - especially none LRPers - I tend to default to the assumption that LRP is fantasy. This annoys me when other people do it, and it annoys me when I do it as well. Scifi is hard to do well (visually), but actually, so is fantasy. Modern day is the easiest of the lot. The public image of LRP is almost entirely fantasy. The Sci fi is probably too close to airsoft and gets bundled in with that, and I’m not sure how much good modern stuff there is. Does it happen in America or Germany? Whilst the Nordic stuff is often modern day, it’s not a game in the sense of what i mean by a LRP game.

Modern day always feels like it should be a far more accessible and interesting game to people than fantasy is. It feels like an interesting route into the LRP world. It’s a chance to play with things that are much closer to life as it is typically experienced than your fantasy game is. The Old Courts Theatre and Events are running a zombie experience. Mike said that none LRPers will pay £70 for one evening because they don’t know about LRP. They aren’t aware they could pay a similar amount for a whole weekend. There are a range of Zombie attractions around the country and people love them. Airsoft is similar but with more guns. People are already paying a lot of money for a few hours of LRP without knowing that the modern LRP world is out there. Yet we tend to talk about fantasy and vampire first, and only add Sci Fi and modern day stuff later.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Scared of the Dark

I am scared of most things (The dark, people, small spaces, long drops, large black cats, spiders, zombie spiders, people etc) I’ve mentioned this before. It really helps with buy in. I am honestly scared of whatever situation I am in most of the time at events (if I’m meant to be scared). Alternatively, I can imagine being scared of it, and use empathy to act appropriately and feel scared.

When we write we expect a degree of this from the players. If you’re playing a game and a situation calls for you to think a certain way you’ll get a lot more out of the scene if you can bring yourself to feel the required emotion. It also helps to improve the game for others, and a lot of LRP is a collaborative effort. We’re telling a story together, and although you may be fighting for a more prominent part in the story you are all trying to tell that story. 

I suspect this is one reason why Zapfest ended up being so much about the acting game. We had created a game for special snowflakes - for people who want to the be the centre of attention, and it really worked. However, this meant the on stage stories were competing and it was the offstage story that was most important.

Trying to catch out the big bad by asking a question it is less likely to know ruins the effect for it and the people around you (sorry Matt, well played). Turning on the lights as you’re all creeping through a dungeon and jumping at shadows is likely to ruin the moment. Packing for a horror event requires thought as to how to be scared. Whilst all LRP is comedy, it’s also deeply serious at moments, and needs planning and preparation to make it work.

A few basic things you can do with horror:
  • Make torches rubbish. We normally run games with a 2 AA batteries or handheld only rule. We play games with uv torches and red gel over them to make them less effective, and then we find reasons to do that. I often use a lantern that illuminates me and the steps beneath me, and only gives me hints that there’s something out there.
  • Split up. It’s really hard to be scared when there’re fifty of you. Visit the big bad alone, let other people visit the big bad alone. Work together to find reasons that things can get to you.
  • Don’t hole up somewhere warm with proper light and easily sealed doors. If you OOC know they can’t get to you you’re forcing them to break the moment to move the monsters through a barrier or leave you be. Neither of these carry on the fear. There’s always a reason the safe option isn’t the best option, and whilst it might require doing something stupid you decide on your characters reasoning. No matter how much you talk about it in the third person your character is based on you and hence you can find a way to make them do the thing that gets you the game.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are, if you care. I can quite happily terrify myself in the woods for a couple of hours by letting my imagination run away with the noise created by a mouse running past. However, if no one knows where you’ve gone then they can’t send anything to get you and more importantly eventually they get worried you might have fallen down a well.
  • Take a radio. If the game allows carry a radio. That way when you fall down a well and get eaten by a terror mouse you can radio your fear back to base and they can share it while the people running the game wet themselves with laughter until they realise they’ve not sent any monsters out and whatever’s eating you is actually real.

Admittedly I play horror games, and I don’t go to be kept in my comfort zone. I stuck to that for the first 18 years of my life and things improved immeasurably as soon as I started taking risks and making things happen.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Slender - Nov 2014

Most of my writing so far tonight has been utterly uninspiring. I've filed it away to revisit later (I have a long document of titles and text that I haven't used yet) and instead I'm going to talk about what's on my mind. 

Tomorrow night I am going to SlenderLrp. We're going to the old courts in Wigan and staying in a city centre building for the weekend. It's a huge building, having previously been a mix of council offices, and magistrates court, and it has a lot of period features and odd corners and is inhabited by some of the stranger residents of the North West. I haven't looked forward to an event this much for a long time. 

Al in a Fantoms on Film t-shirt

I have a character I really like, a history and a need to know more, to follow threads and to understand what's going on. It's perfect. 

I am aware that too much anticipation can ruin an event. The last slender event was very very good, but in my mind it's been amplified by my enjoyment of it. I am holding it on a pedestal and it is unfair to expect this event to live up to that memory. As much as anything, even if it is a spectacular event it will only be as good as the last one. So, I am tempering my enthusiasm and looking forward to an adequate event. That way it stands a good chance of being better than I am expecting. 
'not yours' scrawled on the floor in chalk

It's a nice system. The characters are normal people so the themes can fit nicely into normal everyday life with almost no thought. The drive up will be in character, the site is in the middle of a town and all of those people will be our npcs. We've got the technology we're used to and the world that we are saving really exists. The boundaries are there. They had problems at the last one when they planted a sound system ic, and all the players worked around it. We assumed it was an ooc thing to create the effects. There will be places we can't go and rooms we can't see, and we'll have to be a little bit careful about summoning fake police to a real workplace. However, that's not a massive compromise to make for such an immersive environment. 

I love that we're running a fake paranormal investigation in a building that is used by real paranormal investigators. I also love that we'll see far more than they do. 

I'm going to leave it here tonight. I'm not up to anything especially insightful, so you'll have to bear with me until next week when I'll go back to thinking about writing things instead of playing.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is UK LRP

Since I started this I’ve had an awful lot of people tell me I should cover the LRP/Larp debate, usually while giggling suspiciously. I stand firmly on one side of the debate. That’s mostly because it’s funny, and also because Vampire added the ‘A’, and Vampire isn’t what I think of as LRP.

There are a range of different things that count as LRPing to various different people. I know that my definition now would not match my definition 5 years ago, and if I can’t agree with myself then I shouldn’t expect other people to either.

Geese. greylags and canadas.

In the UK we have a wide range of different systems claiming to be LRP - and they probably are. We have systems with about 10 and others with several thousand people. We cover genres from modern day, lovecraft, 1950s, 1930s, dark ages, fantasy, sci fi, post apocalyptic, and a range of others. We have systems that have no rules, and others that have rule books the size of a dictionary. We have systems where anything is a weapon (apparently they’ve been known to use benches), events with nerf guns, with foam swords, and others where there’s no combat. There’s star gate, star wars, serenity and next year we’re even running Jurassic LRP. This is amazing, because if you want to play it it probably exists.

I know very little about LRP in other countries. I haven’t played them, and whilst I haven’t played most games in the UK either, a lot of my friends have. I hear a lot about what they like and don’t like. I see photos, and whilst photos aren’t the best way of judging a game they do give you some idea, at least of what players and organisers consider important. I also know very little about UK LRP. We were talking about the LRP awards the other night. It was mentioned that it’s not representative of UK LRP. Of course it’s not. It was started as something fun. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. The counter argument was that people outside of LRP don’t know that. That if they take the results seriously and think they they’re representative then then won’t know about the broad range of events that are out there.
I still don’t know about the broad range of events that are out there.

There isn’t one group of LRPers in the UK. Even at the fest level it’s broken down into CP players, Empire plays, LT players, Vale players, F&Hers, and all those circles overlap. When we started playing Slender I didn’t know the people running it. They run games in a style we love, and like the same sort of things as us, but despite both groups having been involved in running LRP in the UK for over a decade we didn’t know each other because we weren’t in the same circles. A huge number of games are never really advertised and remain something for a select group of people. New people joining the hobby will never get an accurate picture of what’s going on in the UK. Does it matter that they will see something listed as the ‘Best UK LRP’ try it, and not really get an idea of what’s really out there?

UK LRP is very undefined and that’s one of its best features. You can decide what’s important to you and you’re not constrained by a very set idea of how LRP should be (individual players may have more set ideas, but people as a whole are very accepting). We can try things and people will go along with it. We aren’t necessarily trying to change the world, or our view point. We’re mostly having fun - even if by fun we mean being scared witless in the dark for 30 hours straight.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Is it real?

I try to play some events. I believe that playing events helps improve the quality of the events I run. It gives me insight into how some things play through and what players are really thinking. I managed to go three years without playing anything. Previous to that I mostly played fantasy fest games. Then I moved to running sci fi. I honestly believe that isn't a sci fi game out there that's an improvement on Alone. Feel free to make suggestions if you think you have something.

I play fantasy fest LRP again. I returned to CP and it has, for me, become a really lovely system. It suits the players it has, and has a really good atmosphere. I also tried modern horror games. I love these as well. They feel to me like they have much more in common with the games we're running, although they're still different genres and we tend to close in and control the players environment much more.

White goat

Games make more sense if they’re set into a coherent universe. Each of the Alone games was tied together by being part of a coherent back story. We knew what was happening and why, and we knew about it in the sense of the greater story. There was a survivor of the first game (technically there were two) and we knew for each of the following games where he was in relation to the players. Each game built on the last. I don’t think most of the players knew. It wouldn’t have mattered if they did. It affected how we wrote, not how they played.

Similarly, a player needs a background - this can be really simple or really complicated. I often build them up ic, they don’t exist until they need to. However, no one needs to know that background. It is for the player to inform their choices and put themselves into the world.

Characters should feel real. They need to add to the world in the same way as the npcs, and the settings and the stories do. They should feel like they have a place and are tied to it.
When we write a character creation process we will often put in a detail that we want to know. It’s very easy to play a caricature. To take one element of a character and amplify it beyond what is logical. This doesn’t make for a natural feeling character and I tend to find it jarring.

The decisions we make help to determine how much we enjoy the game we’re playing. For example, if we don’t find reasons for our characters to go out and do things it can be quite easy to just sit around and hope that stuff happens and then get bored. We decide whether our character will go to an event or not, and how they’ll feel about certain situations. I’ve never played a character that’s interested in rituals because I find them dull. This doesn’t have to involve making unnatural decisions.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

You Monsters!

Most events involve crew of some sort. They play the parts the players don't cover. They're often npcs and sometimes also monsters. In our games we tend to have a mix of both. The majority of crew are distinctly humanoid and this does limit the variety of roles that they can play. They can't fly, they haven't got 8 functional limbs and they're typically between 4 and 7ft tall.What's even worse than this, frankly inexcusable, is that most of them can't walk on stilts.

However, if they were a varied bunch who could play an assortment of inhuman beings and possessed the skills to make our special effects unnecessary that would also be a pain. We'd have to know exactly who was crewing an event before making costume for it, and buying morph suits to suit a range of limb quantities is bound to push the price up.
A pen drawing of dots, lines and some form of control panel. Annotated.

Because of what we do in the workshop, and that we like to think we run cinematic events, we tend to try and provide high quality monsters and something that goes a bit further than at your average event. It's one of the reasons we run so much in the dark (another being that a lot of our costumes get incredibly warm if warn in the sun for too long). For Alone we had the aliens. Wookie made about 7 for the first event, and they were on paper suits. Over time we moved them onto black morph suits, built more and made other changes. We ended up with about 12 suits, and each one used £90 of materials. I spent weeks gluing the things together before Alone 2. Given the resources we have we were still right at our limit to produce these things, and yet what really made them was the crew. 

We specifically wanted tall crew with a chest size larger than their waist size. This last point was important. The costumes looked wrong on people with a belly. When someone puts on an alien costume they typically look like a man in an alien costume. As such they're about as scary as a man in an alien costume, that is, for most LRPers they're just not scary at all. 

With the original alien costumes they took very tall actors and made them taller. The actor looked out through the neck, the shoulders were built up and the heads were several feet long. They wouldn't work for what we were asking our crew to do. Those of you that aliened for us over the years will know that you had very small spaces to see through, and effectively had to breath through a straw. Thank you for your awesome work.

So we asked our crew to act differently. Simply changing their stance made them look utterly different. This went through several iterations. We needed interactions that produced fear in the players, and a lot of the time having just a few aliens around and them staying in the tree line, being half seen was good. We typically wanted to build the aliens from a distance, and have them as a suggestion initially and then have more impact later. We wanted the players to feel surrounded especially when they had holed up and were refusing to come out of the buildings. 

That actually caused some of our more difficult situations. The players had gone to ground and wouldn't come out. We dropped off the pressure to try and get them exploring (this was a mistake I think. We got both negative and positive feedback for it) When we couldn't bring them out and had pulled out the entire crew for hours we sent the crew into the building. Which meant a full scale assault and blowing a few doors away. We should have found other ways to split the players up. We shouldn't have let them all go to ground together. We gave them an option that meant they were shut up in a small space and wouldn't leave it, so they took it.

Building non humanoid monsters is possible. Lizzie - our alien queen - was a puppet that was mounted on a back pack. She was a bit too heavy for a single puppeteer to use (especially given that Mandala staff all have back problems) and became a static installation. We now have better ideas on how to build this sort of thing. Those of you that were at Empire may have seen the war rhino, which was the work of Bill Thomas. It took several people to carry, but bought a new dimension to the battlefield and required a totally different set of techniques to deal with it. 
Alien queen threatening blood soaked man on the floor.

For monsters that are large, especially if they're being used to fight in, they tend to bring their own issues. They typically need ref supervision. The person wearing the costume often can't see or move properly and hence needs someone to monitor them, make sure they're coping, tell them when they've been hit, and in the case of the war rhino ensure they don't trample dying heroes. Building costumes that can stand up to a fight and be LRP safe is a different design challenge than building costumes that the players only have to talk to. 

Large, inhuman monsters can add a nice dimension to an event. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we use them. Typically we use them in the dark, we limit the time the players can see the monsters clearly, we make sure the crew are briefed with the atmosphere we want to create, and we only use them for the appropriate number of players. Things have more atmosphere if you're alone.