My current machine: a bit of a paean.

Hi, I’m Harry and it’s been six months since I last helped make stories.

Stories about victory
Stories about defeat
Stories about loss
Stories about journeys
Even a few stories with an Epic Win at the end. Or in the middle. Or, on at least one occasion, at the beginning.

600 or so of them, in fact.

These stories emerge from a game I helped design and run.

Odyssey is a LARP game. A live-action roleplaying game. (It’s on the Geek hierarchy. Which is here.)

It’s lets pretend.
It’s dressing up.
It’s ludicrous.

But mostly, Odyssey is a story-making machine. (IMHO. Other opinions are available.)

Partly sandbox… (There’s a structure to Odyssey events. Of bands of warriors fighting in an Arena for control of the lands of the middle sea. Of the relationships of priests with their gods. Or of natural philosophers and their manipulation of the world and its people. And the adventures of heroes on quests. And they form stories.)

Partly sparked by us… (There’s germs of narrative our story team put in… The plots of gods, and philosophy, and exploration the way the world works. And they make stories)
But mainly there’s characters. (Interactions of differently motivated characters – some designed into the world by players, some placed there by us. And they make stories.)

It’s kinda gamey. (No, not gamified)
There’s mechanics…
If you want to hit someone with a sword, you hit them. With the sword.
After they’ve been hit a few times, they’re fallen.
There are reserved words which indicate a magic power is being used to cause an effect like PARALYSIS.
There’s a few more rules and referees which oversee them…
So it’s kindy gamey.

And it’s kinda-epic
It’s set in a mostly-fictional world.
It’s got a background rooted in myth.
A mythic setting inspired by the Classical world.
Carthaginians. Egyptians. Greeks. Persians. Romans.
Gods. Demi-gods. Heroes.
Familiar. (Clash of the Titans, 300, Gladiator, Troy, Cleopatra, Scorpion King *ahem*)

What does this get us?

Play… (Yes, there’s structure but mainly it’s a sandbox.)
Visceral involvement… (You feel it. Your senses are fooled. You’re just a bag of chemicals after all…)
Huge bandwidth… (You can see, feel and hear the gameworld. And if necessary taste and smell it. Insert the story of a slug…)
Convincing human interaction… (We can do rich character interaction, because we’ve got Real Humans… OK, they vary in quality, but even the worst of them are pretty good compared to  a branching dialogue tree…)
Failure… (If you can treat this imposter just the same…)
Mostly-non-linear… (We rake the sand, we setup what will happen if nothing else does – but there’s hundreds of independently motivated characters here. Lord only knows what will go on…)

But really? It’s a way of making stories.

And there’s 600-odd stories because every character has its story from a weekend’s play.

Take a look at my Flickr favourites from the event. Look at those faces. There’s Epic Wins, there’s failures, there’s calculation, there’s emotion, love, loss, diplomacy. Story. And that’s a very biased selection: it doesn’t take into account much that was happening away from the arena. (And if you’re in there, and you don’t want to be: let me know, and I’ll remove you.)

A longer story… (At the first Odyssey game, Greece fought Persia. Once, twice, three, four times, in alliance with Rome or alone, as small warbands of Greek heroes… Persia won them all… In the fourth fight, the son of the Bull of Thrace died. All Greece mourned. And his Father vowed they would not lose again. They gathered allies, from all the Greekes. And won. Once, twice, three times, four times. That’s a mini-epic, right there.)

This is only one LARP. There’s dozens in the UK, in all eras and genres, and many share only the most basic elements of this one. But I think they all share this one thing: they’re story-making machines.


(ETA: You can find more about Odyssey here…)

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