Friday, May 22, 2015

Reasons why chauvinistic fantasy worlds *can* suck for female players

Now this is an area of some contention.  Some people love highly realistic medieval worlds - with or without realistically treated magic.  Now I'm not talking about those kinds of contexts.  In a world where my character can be slain by gangrene caused by untreated wounds and STDs are rife, I'm going to be way more chilled about dealing with chauvinistic settings. 

Though, of course, the GM would have to be comfortable with playing said chauvinistic settings realistically and not with the ham-fisted style of a 1950s "Girls can't be tough" and "Stay in the kitchen, girl" that seems to be more the product of a backlash against changing expectations and a need to reinforce gender norms.  In most societies where certain gender norms are just expected, people just do what they do and say what they say.  They don't need to say "You're a girl so we're not listening to you", they just don't listen.

But that aside....

The reasons why I'm not a fan of the average chauvinistic fantasy world is for a couple reasons.  These include:
  1. The male protagonists get it easy.  Unless they're playing homosexuals or disdained racial minorities, I'll have to struggle to do what my co-players get for free just because I chose to align my PC's gender to my own.
  2. Realism is normally judiciously applied to only certain scenarios.  We don't need to worry about STDs or gangrene, but we do need to worry about men looking down to us.
  3. What may look like empowerment by letting us undermine and exceed chauvinistic expectations can actually be humiliating.  It reminds us how easy it is for men to look down on us and how if we were not in a post-industrial society, the very men at this table would feel the same way about us.
  4. It also suggests that silencing women's voices (as sexist characters shouldn't be willing to listen to a woman's advice) and ignoring of individual women's strengths (when sexist commoners laugh at their years of training even though any trained fighter is bound to trounce them) is natural to the human species.  After all, this isn't a true medieval world.  Social structures would change to reflect that.
  5. Sometimes it's not even realistic.  Sorcery and alchemy on the scale often found in most fantasy worlds should have as much of a social impact as technology.  If my willpower can beat your sword arm, than why would society assume you could overwhelm me?  Also a world with alchemy and relics could conceivably have a herbal form of birth control and family planning is a real door opener for women in a society. 
  6. If there is no form of birth control, why aren't male character's alignments changed from Good to Neutral if they have sex with random women as they are conceivably damning dozens of women and babies to an unsupported and shameful existence for a quick roll in the hay?  At the very least, it shouldn't be Lawful.
  7. It removes female role models as the average GM naturally (due to media influences) includes more male characters anyway and when you add to that chauvinistic biases, you're going to have an almost all-male cast.  This is an isolating experience for many women which sends an unintended message that these sorts of adventures "aren't for them" and that they are somehow strange or different for wanting to be a part of them.
  8. It can also give chauvinistic players and GMs the chance to express their negative beliefs toward the very women at the table.
  9. Even if the players and GMs don't hold those beliefs, it can still leave the female player feeling targeted because she's having to hear these comments occurring around her a lot.
  10. Real world chauvinism is insidious.  Smacking down a single commoner for giving you lip would normally lead to retaliation for violating social norms.  If the social norm sides against the commoner, they shouldn't have given lip in the first place.  Just look at Brienne from Game of Thrones.  Random commoners don't mention what she should or shouldn't be doing because the class differences are way more important than gender norms and they have no right to counter her desires.
Now this isn't to say that it can't be done, can't be done well, and that some female players don't actually prefer these kinds of medieval worlds and struggles.  There's bound to be a contrary list out there where a particular female player outlines all the reasons why it's awesome to do.  I'm not denying that those reasons *also* exist only that this list can shed light for those GMs who struggle to retain female players or whose female players request an absence of sexism in their game.

My gender has a long history of being told we're not good enough to be involved in any historic event -- whether political, scientific, religious or military focused.  Those historic events that do revolve around classically female domains have either silence women or been ignored.  Having to grapple with those very expectations in a fantasy world can be really hard as it means we can't even imagine a world where we matter despite our genitalia.

And that *can* really suck.

Naturally, your female players' mileage may vary but it is important to consider.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Highs and Lows of Being Prince

While many LARPs have a titular leader, my only experience has been with Vampire: the Requiem LARPs so I can only really speak for that format.  Naturally very Player versus Player oriented varieties of that game will be a little different.  Mine involves a fair bit of Player versus Environment in a relatively open sandbox world.

Now prince is known to be a high stress position, especially in Australia where firm hierarchies with strong dictatorial leadership strategies are very frowned upon.  We like to call our bosses by their first name and feel consulted on just about every pertinent decision that affects our job.  We feel that the extra time taken to do so is well worth the feet-on-the-ground perspective that can be tapped by such consultations.

While the primogen council fulfils some of that function, since Australians are also unused to bringing their problems to delegates and instead attempt to either directly contact the official or solve it themselves when the official is within sight, things can get a bit problematic as in a 15 - 30 player LARP there are no physical barriers preventing them from reaching the prince directly other than protocol. 

It's not too difficult to remember to use the appropriate procedures for speaking with the prince, and Australians generally love falling back on "policy said so" as a sword and shield for when we have to put our foot down, but these elements run counter to our egalitarian expectations and so load the subject of prince with greater tension in Australia then perhaps elsewhere.

As an example, I have had a couple LARP groups of 20 players where we maybe got two to three players who actually wanted to play the prince.  Some groups will have had different experiences, naturally, but it has been mine that most players will avoid trying to topple the prince simply because it means they would need to step into the position.  Naturally the ratio would be higher in PvP LARPs as they attract more politically minded players but even there I've found the preferred positions are things like Seneschal where you can blame the leader while potentially still controlling the city yourself.

So other than some cultural baggage that surrounds the issue of prince, there are the real actual play issues.  Some of the tricks and troubles that need to be considered include:
  • Accessibility.  Can you, as a player, be reached between games?  Do you attend enough games?  If not, other players must choose between freezing their own roleplay and aspirations until they can next reach you OR proceeding until apprehended and ignoring the position of prince.
  • Bottlenecks.  This is why the aforementioned Accessibility situation matters but even when you are present and contactable, you may be busy huddled away in the corner with a few key characters while everyone else sits on their thumbs unable to move forward until they can tap you on the shoulder.  This can breed frustration and boredom in the main room.
  • Delegation.  This is a key management skill and not one that everyone has in spades.  If you're unavailable, is there someone else who can confidently act in your stead?  Have you briefed them enough that they can predict your own choices and decisions with some accuracy?  Are those with delegated authority likely to be locked in a back room with you and therefore defeating the purpose of the delegation?
  • Consequences.  Your role necessarily balances the need for drama, conflict, consequences and opportunity for other players to actually be able to do things.  Have you left enough wiggle room for players to have fun without necessarily going against your authority?  And what do the consequences mean both in and out of game?  While character death or enslavement is the clearest example of this issue, killing off key NPCs and destroying or taking away favourite assets also count as that shuts down whole arenas of gameplay for other players.
  • Opportunity.  Your actions and directions to the court will naturally sculpt the sort of gameplay opportunities that are available to the other players, to a sizable extent.  If every non-vampire supernatural that attends the court is slain or blood bound, they'll stop coming.  If murdering humans leads to death or torpor, than villainous characters are quickly outed and removed.  If neonates are forbidden from interacting with other supernaturals or if all dangerous areas are forbidden without a court-mandated assault by a specialised team, then gameplay is restricted in downtimes, RtRs and in session to one particular mode - unless your point, of course, is to have your orders disregarded but that's not a style of play that suits every player of a prince.  Of course, as with Consequences, treading too lightly in this area kind of negates the point of having a prince, though.
So what do you do if you're playing a prince?

Firstly, be mindful that you have a position that has the potential for the greatest control over the game as a whole and that's one of the main sources of suspicion and contention.  In a PvP LARP, this won't be such a concern because many of the other PCs are, at least in theory, out for your throne and so the consequences are just more plot and the opportunities you restrict are minor inconveniences.  Being the biggest bastard around allows you to be both protagonist and antagonist and give everyone oodles of joy.

In a primarily PvE LARP, you can literally sculpt the gameplay itself to suit your whims and your characters' wishes with any real platform of support and so, just as with a Game Master, it's important to build trust and to consider the ramifications of your characters' actions as a player for the other players if you don't want an insurrection on your hands and aren't eager to gamble your character's unlife in an antagonist role.

It's a hard position to be in when you're hoping / expecting to maintain a praxis for a long period of time in a PvE LARP.  A hard position, indeed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Range of Neat Links from Tumbler

Five Ways To Move Like A Soldier
A wide range of tips and tricks for moving like a soldier.  I especially like this line " Treat your physrep like a weapon and other people will start to do the same."

Cooking in a Field

Very useful if you go on those big weekend (or even overnight) LARPs and you don't want to pack an Esky.  A good point on going vegetarian so that you don't give people food poisoning.  There's a number of ways to make fake meat these days.

How to Be IC Insulting not OC Insulting

This has some pretty good gender-neutral insults you can use against other characters but what I particularly like are the advice on how to approach someone when their choice of words has upset you as a person. 

HANDY TIP: Generally female players will react badly to words said in anger that include c##t, bitch or anything pointing out unattractive facial features or body weight (even if you, as a person, actually like those features).  Men may be the same.  Also when dealing with Australians, know that our friendly insults are often relationship-specific, i.e. we prove that we're easygoing friends by insulting each other and letting the other get away with it.  Therefore a stranger may not get the same cheery reaction when they try those same insults.  When in doubt, ask.

This one is a particular LARP's comments to their own players on using homophobic and sexist language and basically using lazy IC trash talk as an excuse to cover mean and hurtful comments that affect people's real lives and reminds them that in many spheres of life ... they are not wanted.

How to Act like Medieval Nobility

Some pretty cool guidelines here and certainly some I'd never have thought of doing.

Portraying Mental Illness in LARP

I'm conflicted about this myself, especially in terms of NPCs.  I understand that people generally reach for stereotypes and that's just compounding the problem that the media already provides and generally most forms of mental illness are played for laughs.  World of Darkness used the term "derangements" as a punishment for behaving immoral while Call of Cthulhu has some truly random options of "insanity" that spontaneously occur when someone sees the wrong thing. 

On the other hand, if you don't include them in the games you're basically negating an entire sub-set of people.  A kind of "neurotypical-washing" of the environment, particularly if NPCs as well don't have such mental illnesses.  Personally I think it can be done but more because it's a natural expression of a character ... and therefore it doesn't need to be a diagnosable label.  It's far easier to play "an anxious postman" and get it right than a "postman with an anxiety disorder" as the former seems to permit greater range than the latter which would send most players / GMs straight to the DSM to do research and is likely to lead to a stilted stereotype.  Just a thought.

Playing a Second-in-Command

I'll bet a lot of PC military leaders will enjoy passing this link around to their immediate subordinates as should the player incorporate this advice the leader will have a much easier time.  The bit of advice on "imperiously ordering them to fetch you a coffee the second you’re off the field and OC may help" you stop instinctively relying on them for orders is a good idea.  Especially if you've been there 2iC the entire weekend.

Playing a Butler or Servant

It's this kind of thing that would make for a great group ghoul game if I had enough players to do a downstairs ghoul / upstairs vampire thing.  So much good advice here.  Especially with the whole creating a class divide and showing two different sides of yourself in the two different arenas.

How To Fill Slack Time

A fantastic article for all LARP players and really REALLY important!  It's a rare LARP that will have you going non-stop all the time and making your own fun by finding plot can be difficult or even mean and isolating for uninvolved players.  So it's a really good idea to have something that your PC can do when they don't have anything else to do.

Ten Shortcuts to Being a Good Officer and Ten Shortcuts to Being a Bad Officer

Always a useful one to know if you're going to be in charge of a team of people as, let's face it, most of us are not in management positions and those who are generally aren't in dangerous outdoors managerial positions.  I especially like how in the latter article the writer goes into detail that taking some of those traits doesn't make you a terrible officer as most people would have a couple of those traits and still be pretty good.

Small Squad Leadership

The leadership theory here is also valuable to GMs trying to make for a better OC LARP environment.  Giving folks the chance to feel like they have achieved something both IC (character actions) and OC (volunteer / craft efforts) are fantastic ways of building a positive sense of community.

Five Tips for a Medic

It's a good way to add extra realism and fun factor into the game!  Much better than just ringing it in with a simple count off.

Guard Duty

Basically how to take an otherwise boring role and make it far more interesting for the players than just leaving one guy at the door for a day.  Some really good points within.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dark Before Dawn Season 1, Episode 1: "Prelude In Darkness"

Okay, wow, I just located the following in my Draft Posts.  While I have a more succinct summary in my Dark Before Dawn blog, this one here is here and large and you might be curious about the extended version, so I'm uploading it anyway.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2015

LARPs and Last Minute Changes

My Dark Before Dawn campaign LARP has a total membership of 15 with an average of 13 players per session.  We have a special plot involving certain relic stones that can be expended to unlock a door into a demi-plane OR provide five exceptional successes in anything that isn't PvP-based OR to abjure an area of incorporeal beings that's roughly the size of a city mall.  One of the players popped one such stone.

A couple months ago, one of the players decided his character would soon pop a stone.

I arranged for four players and five cast members to assist with the session.  In the end, I increased the Cast to six and a few days before Play Day one of the puzzles meant the Good+ Ending could only be netted if there were five players so I allowed the initiating player to pick an extra person.

The main premise?  There are six Riders on the Last Express and those who spend a stone may take one Rider home with them who can later be used to resurrect a recently dead mortal (no more than three days dead).  Only five Riders may be selected by the initiating stone user.  The sixth Rider may only be selected if all other Riders are released.  So as you can see, we needed five players.

Then on the game day, two of my cast were sick.  No problem.  One of the benefits of keeping your GM spot clear of NPCs is that you can always pick up the slack where it happens so I took on one of the roles.  When I went to draft an extra cast member, I realised that there were only three possible members of the game who weren't involved in this Special Scene at all.  So I allowed seven players and nabbed one of the previously excess three members to join the Cast.

This was helped a fair deal by having this Special Train LARP (7PM to 11PM) occur after the regular main day session (1PM to 5PM).  It was a long day so I made sure the Cast for the Train LARP went off to dinner with the rest of the players while I stayed back to readjust the venue from "Boozecan Pub" to "Train".  It involved masking tape rooms and shifted furniture, but looked pretty good in the end.

The cast returned half an hour before the players and we managed to kick it off at 7:10PM which was pretty epic all round.  The Train Players had to take a walk around the block as we weren't quite ready when they first arrived, but they were pretty happy about it.

Oh, I also managed to scoff down my burger so I'd made sure I ate.

Long story short, when you have a group of 15 players, sometimes it works all the better to find ways to include everyone rather than sending 1 - 2 people off home alone.  It certainly worked out for the best this time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

LARP Session Write Ups

For those who are interested in how to run an Adventure Style / Elysium Style hybrid, I thought I'd type up the various scenes and sessions to give people an idea of how I do it as well as to ensure that players can also have a running record of their experiences.  Naturally certain secrets won't be posted as my players can read them.  So far I have posted up the first three sessions and I'll likely have the next two up within the week.  Here's the link for Session #1.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LARP Advice: Quality NPCs A Bad Thing?

Think of your favourite television show.  Think about the character you adore as you watch them swanning around the television screen.  They entertain you thoroughly.  You can empathise with them and regardless of whether you like them, you like watching them so much they're a major draw for the show.  Now imagine there's fifteen other people who're also watching the same television show and, for varying reasons, any one of them can push a button and your favourite character dies right in front of you or is stolen away to another television show.

You, as the GM, are the director of this channel that is full of characters starring in other television shows and spin-off programs (as, let's face it, each player is the protagonist of their own story).  You use a handful of your best NPCs that have clear resonance with the players and you notice that the players are experiencing genuine feelings surrounding that character - joy, fear of loss, irritation, entertainment, sadness.  If you're lucky, you figure this out early on when folks rave about how much they love them.  If you're unlucky, you kill them off without knowing of their adoration and the players are gutted and frustrated at their inability to save what you thought was either a one-note character or a character that they didn't like.

HANDY HINT: Players can become attached to characters that their own characters don't like.

Imagine if Lister (from Red Dwarf) was shot in the third season by some first time character who felt insulted and considered themselves (rightfully) the protagonist of the show.  Imagine if Dean Winchester (from Supernatural) had almost decided to accept you as an awesome hunter but was convinced otherwise by some other character's mind magic.  Imagine if Daryl (The Walking Dead) ended up a zombie because of a random bite because there'd been too many complaints that he was *too awesome* by other PCs.  Imagine if Ellie (from the Last of Us) became the blood bound servant of a supernatural monster when you just wanted to keep her alive.

Sure, that might be awesome (especially for players seeking catharsis).

It could also well and truly suck.  It could even ruin the story for you.

 How often have people been turned off entire television series because of the events that affect a single character?  How often have people cried over dead characters?  Or raged at the ones who brutalised their favourites?

This tension, this conflict, makes for great plot but the emotional forces that drive them can cause emotional pain to those attached to them that makes it difficult to decide what to do with them.

NOTE: Beloved NPC means "Beloved to the Players AS Players."  This article isn't about the GM's feelings.

Check out the possible issues that can come up when a GM finds themselves with a Beloved NPC on their hands.
  • Beloved NPC suffers from a critical success on a gunshot wound.  Let them die or fudge the dice?
  • Beloved NPC has suffered enough and as a three-dimensional character (part of why they're loved), they should react poorly to an event or even reject the PC.  How realistically can you play the character before it becomes unfun?  If you fudge the NPC's motivations too often, will you damage what the player got out of them in the first place?
  • Beloved NPC enjoys a long behind-the-scenes relationship arc with one PC only to encounter another PC and due to plot or personal reasons causes a fracas large enough that the two PCs are put at loggerheads. 
  • The player with the attachment has some significant personal issues in the background but this is a LARP and their Beloved NPC is in contested territory.  Should the GM encourage everyone to let the NPC go for now until they're on steadier ground or come to a compromise?  Should it just be played out?
  • Beloved NPC is adored by some but other players see them as a needless spotlight hog and no amount of moving them away from the spotlight helps because their devotees keep dragging them back into the light.
  • Beloved NPC is an antagonist to the group and while half the players enjoy the slow and deliberate aspects of the take down, the others just want the NPC to die already.  Giving in to one will leave the other half feeling frustrated and irritable.  NOTE: Always survey the players before assuming that this is the case as there's a chance that everyone would like the plot to end soon.
  • Beloved NPC should logically be written out of the game - gone on holiday, returned to the kids, etc. - but the players keep trying to pull them back.  There's not much time to involve them in the situation.
  • Beloved NPC could be involved in a very logical and sensible action that seems the logical conclusion for their character arc - but it'd be messy and involve their death.  Go through with the action for a memorable conclusion or err on the side of caution and avoid the plot?
  • Beloved NPC has become so beloved that the player grows frustrated or despondent when anything bad happens to said NPC.  If the NPC isn't involved in any form of conflict, however, there's no reason for them to be on-screen except for rare Rest and Recreation scenes.
  • Beloved NPC is shared by two, or more, players who each have their own ideas for where that NPC should go and what experiences should be drawn from them.
What do you think?  Ever landed in this situation?  Naturally the examples above have no right or wrong answer (all depends on the variables), but do any variables and options immediately step out at you that might not be considered by all GMs?  Is it sometimes better to keep the NPCs that little bit less interesting so that players don't attach too strongly to them?  *Is* there a way to reduce attachment to an NPC, or prevent it from happening, without damaging the integrity of the game?  Should we even want to?