Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur


So this past Friday was the run of Celebration: A Rite of Passage, the LARP that Mike McAfee (Christian to the SCAdians) and I have been working on for the past while. Here's some background for the players who are curious about where this game actually came from, and some analysis of how it went. This has various spoilers for the game. I have no idea whether we're going to ever rerun this one, but take that into account -- if you are concerned about being spoiled for the game, you may want to skip this posting.


Publically, this game was the High School Prom. Oddly, though, the original concept for the game had nothing to do with that. When ladysprite first asked us to write something for Arisia, we spent a month or so talking about it, and the idea that appealed to us was "the Midsummer Night's Dream Horde game". For those not familiar with the concept, a Horde game is one with a small number of full-time player characters who are dealing with a situation, and a very large number of "Horde" -- weird little NPCish characters -- being thrown at them at fairly high speed. Collision Imminent!, which was written by a bunch of us several years ago, is probably the best example of the form.

Anyway, the high concept was that the player characters would be mortals, and the Horde would be all kind of weird fairies wandering through. That worked pretty well as an idea, but it needed more depth. Who would be mortals be? I was reminded of a production of Midsummer's that I saw at Julliard many years ago, set at Athens High School; we agreed that the high school setting would be fun and weird. Why were the fairies all passing through? Mike began to think about a history of fairy, and the passing of that realm; by the time he was done, we had a notion of the fairy race in decline due to the Teign -- the tithe to Hell -- facing a doom that, while in the far future by human standards, was all too imminent by their own.

We sat down one long afternoon at Newton Public Library and began to throw out ideas. Mike had done a pile of research into fairy mythology, and we began writing down archetypes from that mythology. The very first two archetypes we came up with were the Seelie and Unseelie characters who were old rivals of some sort. We began playing with the idea of making them into teachers at the school. Once we'd designed the character we were referring to as [Seelie], we realized that he was essentially Giles, from Buffy. Things changed quickly from there. Once you start playing with Buffy concepts, you find that they are a very useful bunch of archetypes. So we kept going with that. In the end, around 2/3 of the characters in the game were inspired by specific Buffy characters, although most came out rather different from their original inspirations. (For example, Cassandra -- the resident Goth -- actually started out as the Harmony cognate.)

The final major change came as we began to get applications, and realized how few people were really interested in playing Horde characters here. No one specifically wanted it, and most were very reluctant. So we decided to de-emphasize the Horde, changing them over to simpler NPCs. Indeed, in the crush of getting the real characters written, we mostly ignored them entirely. (When we got to runtime, and found ourselves confronted with a substantial number of people looking to play NPCs, Mike came up with a bunch of them on the spur of the moment.)

For those who want to see the game in all its messy glory, it can mostly be found on my website. Note that this is a raw directory of the data files -- it's fairly disorganized, and in various formats. But if you want to see what was going on behind the scenes, that's where to look. Eventually, I might write an introductory page, giving a proper overview to the major plots and tying the files together.


Overall, I would say that this was fairly typical, as first runs of a game go. It was acceptably good: most of the plots played out reasonably well, and the players seemed to have fun. But it is still clearly quite messy, with lots of bugs.

In large part, this is my own fault. I violated my own first rule of game writing: I didn't practice good time management. I procrastinated terribly about writing the characters, in particular, and as usual I didn't really understand all the plots until I started writing the character sheets. I wound up writing all 25 characters -- around 60 pages of text -- in the last 10 days before the game ran. Indeed, most of that was done in two marathon sessions of 10 sheets each. I pride myself as being one of the fastest writers around, but that was a serious stretch even for me. (For various reasons, Mike and I agreed that I would write the character sheets and he would write pretty much everything else -- rules, special abilities, magic system and so on.)

This caused the game to suffer in a few ways. First, the plot depth was very uneven. While all characters were tied into at least two plots, several started out without being able to do anything active about their plots, so those players had a slow start. Second, there were some sloppy bugs -- inconsistencies and missing bits. Third, the sheets are mostly pretty workmanlike prose -- most of them are written in the generic third-party narrative voice. I find character sheets to be far more effective if they are written in the character's voice. (If you are looking at the website, see Ursula's sheet as a decent example of how I like sheets to read.)

Runtime was okay. There wasn't as much as dancing as I had hoped -- that's not surprising, given that people had plots to deal with, but was a little disappointing. (OTOH, the soundtrack that ladysprite and umbran put together turned out to save Arisia on Saturday night. But that's a separate posting.) Most plots advanced at a reasonable pace, but it turned out that I hadn't tied the good guys' solution to the Teign plot together tightly enough, so needed to do more direct GM intervention than I like in order to get the right information to the right people.

Probably the biggest surprise to me was how much fun it was having a seer in the game. asdr83's character had the ability to get visions from time to time -- she would ask a question, and get a vision relating to the answer. That was a really delightful exercise in off-the-cuff metaphor writing; I'll have to remember it. The most fun part to watch was the junior class putting on the production of the mechanicals' scene from Midsummer's, which was appropriately awful, and really quite hilarious.

The players were generally quite good -- most got into the spirit of their characters well, and focused on the roleplaying. In particular, I was glad that some of the trickier characters to play (especially Mohammed) were explored deeply and well.

In the end, the main plots worked out more or less as we'd planned. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Field Hockey team went into the final confrontation with the Giants without the GMs needing to prod them as we'd planned on doing -- the players picked up on the subtle clues, and did exactly the right thing, without prompting and without even realizing that we'd intentionally set up that particular confrontation. (The game ends with a high-stakes game of hurley between a collection of accidentally-revived Giants and Regan's field hockey team.)

Final evaluation: an imperfect but acceptable run, with the players doing a good job of ignoring the flaws in the writing. I'd say that the game is B- work at the moment. With a bit of polishing, it could probably be a B+ game. We'll see if we get around to polishing and boxing it...

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