Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Bad German Accents (long)

So this weekend was spent in a BYOG -- a Build Your Own Game. This is a writing workshop/practice that the LARP community does once in a while, to teach how it's done and limber up the writing muscles. In this particular case, it was specifically outreach for Intercon (coming up in March), aimed at giving some of the younger members of the LARP community a chance to try their hand at GM'ing in a controlled environment.

We got together on Saturday morning. The group included myself, tpau (who had talked me into this in the first place), laurion (who was ringleading this exercise), vortexofchaos (who has done a few of these), learnedax, dkapell and a bunch of somewhat less-experienced LARPers. We started off with a bit of roundtable discussion of how to write LARP -- this went on a smidgeon too long (putting me and vortexofchaos into a lecture situation is dangerous), but I don't think we totally bored everyone to tears.

Then came the brainstorming. Everyone threw out game ideas as quickly as possible. We came up with an insane number of concepts (something like 50, I'd guess) very quickly, most of them terrible, then winnowed them down to the ones we might want to write. I was pleased that the concept I've been pondering for a year or so now, Night of the Citron, was very popular in the first round. (World War II Indiana Jones style game, with Nazis trying to capture the High Fruitcake of Britain. No, really. "The High Fruitcake of Britain" became the official joke for the remainder of the weekend.)

We came down to three ideas that we thought had potential: "Superhero/Superburger", "First Day on the Job in Hell" (which had just edged out "Muppets vs. Hitler") and "The Odessa Conspiracy". The latter was tpau's idea, and while a number of us had been lukewarm about it originally, we talked the concept through and decided that it could be a lot of fun, especially since folks wanted something a shade more serious. So we kicked out vortexofchaos (who would be playing the game), and got to work.

The writing went surprisingly well, given the relatively inexperienced team. We had decided on a concept at around 3pm; by 11pm we had written most of the game. Granted, this was made much easier by the fact that we had 11 GM/writers for a 9-player game. (Those being the numbers who had signed up for each side of the fence.) So most of the GMs wound up choosing a single character to write. (I wrote two, since I write pretty fast.) Still, I was expecting real communication problems with so many cooks, and they largely didn't arise -- aside from relatively minor editing, most of the character sheets were pretty decent to begin with. I was very impressed, given that they were mostly being written by novice authors. I split around midnight, since things seemed to be going well enough to actually get some sleep. (Not always the case with a BYOG.)

We reconvened on Sunday morning, and dealt with details like props -- mostly raided from my dresser and attic -- and printout. Just for giggles, we decided by consensus to put together a sheet of Utterly Meaningless Statistics for each character, and pasted it in several conspicuous locations around the room. The game was entirely mechanics-free, with all questions decided by pure GM fiat, but we chose to let the players believe that it was a bit more orderly than that. In the event, essentially no mechanics were called for: there was almost no combat, and the players quite correctly roleplayed what little there was.

The title of the game had wound up as "The Rising Flames". The setting was April 11th, 1945, in Berlin. The characters were all members of an occult cabal called The Order of Sacred Mysteries (not my suggestion, I swear), dedicated to performing magical rites to improve the Reich's chances. At this point, though, Berlin is surrounded by the Allies, and the Order is slowly splintering, with desperate hopes for a final strike mixed in with plans for escape. It was rather interesting to see what we wound up with: a story set in Nazi Germany having nothing to do with the Holocaust, precious little to do with Hitler, no real good guys but at the same time few outright villains. It's a very dark story, of people whose triumphs are now turning to ash.

We made reasonably good use of the room, as the castle where the Order was meeting. We had the main sitting room (in front of a gigantic fireplace), an altar, and a ritual area where tpau had made a pentacle on the floor in masking tape and silver paint. I've seen better sets, but I would say it was actually better than average.

Anyway, the players arrived around 3pm, and received their packets. Things started rather inefficiently, with folks drifting in for a while and needing to come up to speed. The game got going at around 3:30.

The casting seems to have been about right. We had intentionally cast vortexofchaos as the monomaniacal leader of the Order, knowing that he would be able to move things along when needed, and improvise as necessary (his accent was appropriately thick and painful); mr_teem was cast as the other senior member of the Order. I confess, we didn't give them an easy task -- they were essentially told that they had to lead a dark ritual at midnight (5pm), but didn't give them much guidance on the form of that ritual. In the end, they came up with a couple of rituals that were appropriately over-the-top.

The game isn't perfect in its current state. In particular, we made a key error in the information economy, putting a few too many secrets in the hands of novice players who didn't know how to leverage them properly. In retrospect, we should have had more backup plans for how to get information out. The plot web was a tad thin, especially for those novices, so I spent much of the game nudging GMs to go whisper suggestions in the ears of players who looked like they were casting about for what to do next. Normally I wouldn't be so pro-active about it, but with half the game made up of relatively new players, it seemed a good idea to help them out. It also gave the other GMs some experience in how to steer the game at runtime.

Having more GMs than players made for a rather odd experience all around -- I had to occasionally poke at the GMs to stand a little further back from the players, so as not to overwhelm them. (There's nothing quite like trying to have a private conversation while you have four GMs listening over your shoulders.) But the players did a good job of generally ignoring us, and mostly seemed to have a good time. In the end, the ritual was performed, and the game ended in a darkly ambiguous way, which seems to have been fitting, if perhaps a little less dramatically satisfying than I might have wished. Total game time came in at around 1.5 hours or so.

Overall assessment: not bad. I've been involved in better BYOGs, but I've been involved in far worse. For a relatively novice crew it was surprisingly good -- a bit under-plotted, but generally clean and consistent, and decently interesting. It's probably worth polishing and boxing up, if someone is inspired to do so...

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