William Monkey larp

The first run of Wing And A Prayer was 21-23 September 2018. 30 WAAF characters ran a Sector Control room: handling incoming radar and observations, and ordering RAF squadrons out to intercept enemy raids. The job was theirs, the responsibility was theirs, the decisions were theirs. 15 RAF players represented the pilots of those squadrons, and roleplayed out the actions they were placed in by those decisions, our simulation software and a random element.

It was held at Stow Maries aerodrome. Historically, Stow Maries saw action in WW1, not WW2. Our alternate story saw it pressed into service as a temporary Sector Control and home for a rag-tag and bob-tail of aircraft escaped from a set of German raids which the real RAF of the time saw off and survived.

“William Monkey” was the name of the grid square which contained the station. The WAAF players who worked the Ops table won’t forget that name.

Image Tom Garnett and used with permission

A Nordic LARP

We aimed to make Wing And A Prayer an immersive experience. We weren’t entirely concerned with historical accuracy; our costume requirements put some players off, but I’m pretty confident chair-bound players would have got as much from the event as any other. However, the RAF Station we wanted was represented by a genuine aerodrome, the temporary Sector Control room was represented by temporary use of a period building. We did OK.

The writing process and playing style of Wing and a Prayer was collaborative. I’ll talk about how we did it in more detail later, but character creation was very much led by the players, whose choices defined the story elements we introduced. I’m not going to spoil in this post, but… Once player wished to “explore the careless attitude some men have to women”. We were lucky enough to be able to ask a friend with a four month old baby to represent the impact of such an attitude, and to call it out. It was quite a scene.

Wing And A Prayer was designed to make a statement. Not simply by its explicit focus on the experiences of women in wartime – but also by recognising during and after the game the human impact of the war on people of both sides.

Wing and a Prayer was – essentially – a Nordic larp.

The most emotionally involving game I have ever played.

Mathieu Hedley-Kaye, public with permission
Image Tom Garnett and used with permission: Some observations on the image here.

A UK lrp

That said – Wing and a Prayer was held together by a structure imposed on the characters. Players could and did leave to take a breath in an OOC space where we cared for them, and the pressure they were under, but this didn’t stop us from putting their characters under intense stress all day.

Wing And A Prayer was backed by a simulation. (Written by a nice man called Thorsten, as it happens.) An implacable foe, who could not be bargained with, or reasoned with, who simply responded coldly to player action in game. We only changed the plan we had coded before the day on only one occasion, when we realised we had the difficulty level inaccurately placed at one specific time to reflect our desire for the day to have dramatic ebbs and flows.

Wing and a Prayer was – essentially – a UK lrp.

Scary – because I’ve never played UK style before and there was so much to keep track of

Exhausting – because UK style keeps you on your toes. It is expected of you, that you actually work and try to be tactical 

Eva Helene Antonsen, public with permission
Image Tom Garnett and used with permission

An ambitious larp…

What Wing and a Prayer was, in actuality, was a hybrid of the two traditions. Most of the team had recently been to continental lrp events and conferences, essentially going through their pockets and nicking their meta-techniques.

Unquestionably, I experienced Wing And A Prayer on deeply emotional level. I specifically recall looking at the first outline characters we received, and thinking “These are wonderful women. They are intelligent, strong, and determined to do their bit. And we are going to do our level best to break them.”

It’s the first larp event which I can remember making me cry. On three occasions, one of which was before the actual event. (No, no details. No spoilers.)

I am immeasurably proud of it.

“Basically, we hooked a Nordic-style angst generator up to a UK-style simulation engine, and fired it up to see what’d happen. And what happened was – people cried.”

Nick Bradbeer, public with permission
Image Tom Garnett and used with permission

Like any larp, Wing And A Prayer was the sum of the efforts and creativity of all of its players, crew and organisers. Those organisers were Nick Bradbeer, Lauren Owen, Liss Macklin, Thorsten Schillo, Ian Thomas and myself. The original concept was Lauren’s. For Wing And A Prayer, we called ourselves Allied Games, and you can expect more from us to come.

How we did it.

We certainly felt Wing and a Prayer was an ambitious larp. There was a chunk of tech in play, and despite the testing and dummy runs we didn’t *know* it would work. It did.

A bit of writing process now. This was not as much “standing on the shoulders of giants” as explicitly using a development of the techniques Ian Thomas – now of Talespinners and Crooked House has been developing for years.

Character generation

Character generation started with a form players filled in. For exach of their characters, we wanted to know:

  • Name
  • Role on Base
  • Character Concept
  • What three words describe your character?
  • What is your character’s greatest regret?
  • What is your character’s greatest fear?
  • What is your character’s greatest ambition?

(NB: Improvements to remember:

“Role on Base” – use actual roles. We know them now.

“Character Concept” – give a word length, and some guidance as to what’s useful to us at this stage.

“What three words describe your character?” unsurprisingly got descriptions of the character; what we were aiming for was something like “How will your character become a cause of drama?” That’s not right, but it’s probably closer.)

Writing

Writing started with Moments and Tags.

The team watched a lot of films and TV shows, and read a lot of Wikipedia pages and came up with a list of moments we’d liked to have seen happen in the game. Our “plot document” was called “Moments” right the way through writing.

We distilled a list of Tags to describe plotlines from the “three words” we’d received, and the fears/regrets/ambitions players had had their characters confess to.

Then we started to write plotlines, using a structure “borrowed” from Tom Owen:

  • Name
  • Overview
  • Tags
  • Conflict
  • Stakes
  • Delivery mechanism – how does the plotline get to the players: letter, NPC appearance, etc.?
  • Schedule – how does delivery split down into elements we can schedule?
  • Props – do any props need making/scrounging and have they been recorded on the props list?

Then we recorded all these plotines as cards on a realtimeboard each linked to their plot documents, so we could visualise all our plots on story team calls. Every Monday from March to September, we had a weekly call to assess progress, and talk over difficult tasks. They all ended up tagged with the relevant moments and tags. That helped us to check nothing went unrepresented without good reason.

Then the scheduled beats of each plot was, well, plotted, on a plan of the day to represent what’d happen if nothing changed. Then we moved those beats around until it all sorta made sense. We had to respect our NPC availability – the same crew also played the voices from other stations, etc. We wanted the pacing of the event to have light and shade, and time for characters to contemplate what was happening. And we wanted to have lunch at lunchtime etc.

And then we called “Time in”….

And then, of course, we ripped up the plan, and not all the plotlines went out at all, and the ones that did, didn’t go unchanged…

But that’s why I love this medium.

Playing WAAP has however done wonders with said larp confidence. It was a fantastic game in so many ways

Fia Idegard, public with permission
Image Tom Garnett and used with permission

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