Some autobiographical musings on Strange LRP – guest post by Jamie Hall, 5/5

Event 3 built on previous Strange LRP events, and on everything else that I have played, crewed, or run. I’m pleased with what we’ve achieved – crew and players together – and I am indebted to everyone for giving their time, money and/or patience, over the last three years. A chance to write for a larp like this is rare, and I treasure it. 

This year has been tough. Terry and Abigail had a baby, and I had a dark winter. Creative fatigue had set in, or writers block, or something like that. I’m a very creative person. Lazy, and disorganised, yes, but my mind is always bubbling over with ideas. I felt very empty, for months, and when I was finally able to write, it was like swimming through treacle. 

The drawing room at Treowen, the site for the larp.

Perhaps we should not have run an event in 2019, but we did, and I am glad of it, because it was good. I’m also glad to be taking a break. No firm decisions have been made, and I can only speak for myself at this point, but I am very keen to run again in 2021, and I would love to see a player event before that (I could try that ‘roleplaying’ thing that everyone talks about). 

I hope to spend the next year or so working at a slow but steady pace. Preparing to continue the campaign, but also looking at areas for improvement in the organisation of the larp. To that end, the following is a snapshot of where I think we are. 

Strange LRP has approximately 50 participants, half players and half crew, who occupy a house for the weekend. The foundation for everything else is immersion – the site must be immersive, and costume standards (somewhat self-imposed by the players) are very high. An immersive environment is essential, because it makes roleplaying natural – you respond to what is there, in front of you, and are not constantly reminded that you are a modern human, playing a character. 

It is not so immersive that you can entirely forget, and nor should it be. The campaign deals with dark themes, and all manner of emotional traumas, but it is meant to be fun. The fantasy elements of the setting allow us to play with deception, betrayal, and personal tragedy, and encourage the participants to do something about it. 

The site we use, Treowen, includes a house and garden, and some fields, but most of the action takes place inside, where the participants are contained within a handful of rooms. There are issues with the ‘downstairs’ room (the scullery), but elsewhere, the density of players creates the necessary ‘chain reactions’ to get the game going. The rooms are different sizes, and have different feels, and the connecting spaces are well-used. It’s always tempting to wish that a larp site was larger, but Treowen was about right for the number of participants. The potential to cross paths with other characters is essential; the challenge of avoiding them is the other side of the coin. 

A group shot of player characters: someone appears to be ill.

In that environment, the characters arrive. They are issued with an event brief, which is meant to give them information (often unique), and suggested objectives. These briefs do not always work – it is hard to write for all styles of play, and the players, though few in number, have diverse ideas about what larp is. Most of the time, hopefully, the briefs give enough to start some conversations. Then, if the system is working as intended, those interactions will contribute to the ‘critical mass’. 

After the event, players submit a downtime return, and in return they receive a brief describing their character’s year. This gives returning players a bit of an advantage, as they effectively have two briefs before the event. The intention is that downtime tells a big enough story that new characters will be drawn into it. Characters can gain additional Qualities (skills), but it is a rare thing, and new characters tend to be every bit as powerful as an established character. That said, it is a campaign, and established characters tend to have a social advantage. 

It’s hard to avoid that advantage. Perhaps it is self-inflicted, because the great strength of game is that the players tell stories more complex than anything I could imagine. Each player might make a series of totally rational decisions, but mixed with everyone else’s rational decisions, the results are unpredictable, and often chaotic. Which is good. The level of personal investment in the characters continues to amaze me, and no effort on my part can compare to the sense of depth that it creates. 

It would be false humility if I said that I have no influence on what happens at the events, but I attempt to have as little as possible. The idea of a ‘black box’ is important to me – I see the inputs and outputs, but not what is inside. The participants are given things to take into the box, and I don’t see them again until they come out. 

This lack of control means that the players must find, or create, their own narratives. I believe that given agency, every player is able (perhaps uniquely qualified) to create their own narrative. No-one is provided with a narrative, and no thought is given to possible outcomes. Instead, they get the blocks to build their own narratives. A decision that cannot be avoided. A secret about someone’s family history. A relic that is desired by several people. None of these intentionally link together, and none of them have particular outcomes. 

The ‘Vital Innoculant’ at Event 3 was a great example – a purported medicine, sent by post, and looking a lot like dried blood. Combined with the accompanying documents, it offered a possible solution to a disease, but also invited opinions and speculation, whether medical, magical, political, or cosmological. As organisers, we were agnostic about the outcome – if it had been lost in the garden, and never seen again, the game would have continued without anyone noticing. It happened that the players did use it, en masse, which provided a backdrop for other interaction, which was then influenced by it. 

A ghostly figure

Behind the scenes, the event wasn’t panic-free, but we’re certainly getting closer to the pace that I want, which is more relaxed, and thoughtful. As much as my ideas have evolved since Carum Live Roleplay, I long to get back to the vibe of running the events, which was fairly laid back (at least, once we’d done all the prep). The discipline of running ‘off grid’ was a good one, and while that isn’t the direction Strange LRP will go in, it was great when we had the time to respond to the participants at Event 3. Not ‘react’, and not to have assumptions, but to respond, usually sympathetically, to what is going on. 

I was happiest when we let the game flow, and used coincidence to create links, instead of pre- planning them. A shortage of crew meant that some things, like the refugee camp and the encounter tent, didn’t work as well as intended, but we made good use of the crew we had (ideally, more crew, but with more time to rest and relax). 

The stumbling block was Friday night. I didn’t have enough NPC briefs prepared, and it was a cause of anxiety for the crew, and me, that it took a few hours to get everyone out. On some level, I wasn’t too worried about it. The most important thing was that the players timed-in as scheduled – literally nothing else mattered to me, until that happened. By the end of Friday evening, all the available crew had a role, and everyone calmed down. A slow process, but I prefer accuracy over speed. 

Looking to the future, I hope that the campaign continues, in one form or another, because there is rather a lot of it. There’s a part of me, of course, that longs for pastures new, and further evolution of my design principles, but for now, Strange LRP feels like it has plenty of room for development. There is still a lot more to be learned from running it, and I look forward to collaborating with you all again. Thankyou. 

A triptych of characters of various statuses looking marvellous. The circumstances of their conversation is unguessable.

(I got all the way through this, and forgot to explain why numbers are evil. You’ll just have to trust me: They are!). 

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