LARPers of Color -Tevin Williams

 

Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with us.

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

 

Well I had always been interested LARPing since I found out it was a thing. I just couldn’t find anyone who was interested in it. That all changed when I got to college and found out there were people who larped. So I walked up to Racheal Cofeild and Frank Ortiz and asked them to take me with them to go LARPing. Right now I’m only really involved in After the End and a werewolf game run by the Underground Theatre. I have been LARPing for five years.

  

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

Well not currently on March 4th it will be my first time running a LARP as I start running Garden of Destinies.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

It’s been an overall good experience with the main problem being that while people are pleasant to me directly. It’s when I have to express outside of game that things in the black community are bad or that I go protest regularly. That just makes everything rough in general as I have to explain the real black condition. It’s always like pulling teeth.

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

It would be to be more understanding of different peoples backgrounds. Like I understand that most people I meet in the community didn’t grow up in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood and just don’t have the frame of reference to understand it. That the bad streets and dealing with that lifestyle was a real thing that I had to deal with and it isn’t as easy as just not getting involved. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get out of there most people just aren’t so blessed.

 

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Pandering to black people by having an African culture that is dominant. I’m a black american not an African american. I know the words get mixed,but I have to associate myself more with being an american than being from Africa since it’s a continent of many cultures. I’m not getting my culture back because of slavery and that’s just how it is. So waving around African culture in my face would be like walking up to an Asian person and just waving a katana in their face and expecting them to like it.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?


Honestly experimenting with black culture. Like you can have a character who is a jazz singer and be white as long as you don’t rip our culture away from our race. It takes a bit more work but in the end the finished product could be way more interesting because it was done.

X-Card and Fade to Black Mechanics

*Trigger Warning: violence, and clowns

Crack… slurp… slarhp… shoooweekk

As I creeped down the hall, I couldn’t close my ears. The sounds surrounded me, like a bag thrown over my head. I had to step around the corner, I had to face this thing. Yet, the longer I waited the longer I felt like I had a chance to escape the horror I knew would be on the other side. I knew what I was stalking, I knew what my chances would be that those sounds were just… chicken bones.

As a player, I reached out and tapped the X card. I knew what the description was going to be, we were hunting down a killer clown and the description of the sounds were bad enough. I couldn’t handle a deep description that I knew the Storyteller was about to provide. The ST saw me, nodded her head and shifted the narrative. The clown ran out from his hiding place, and we fought. When the fight ended, she gave an overview of what we found and excluded the gorier details based on the discussion we had about descriptive preference before we started playing.

X–Card

X-Card

What is the X card? The X Card was created by John Stavropoulos. It’s a mechanic that allows players to opt-out of something in a scene that is uncomfortable. Even the Game Master/Storyteller can perform this edit if a player is adding description that they would prefer not to engage with. This is a great mechanic for convention games, and that is where it sees the most use. In a public game its less likely that you’ve had significant conversations about needs, wants, and gaming interests, so the X card helps to control the game content in an easy to understand way. Now, some folks worry about this mechanic being misused by players hoping to avoid in-character consequences for their actions.

From my experience with similar mechanics, I usually ask a few follow-up questions if I think someone is trying to take advantage of ANY situation or mechanic in an unhealthy way. I don’t ask these questions in an interrogative way, just in a clarifying way. “I’m happy to edit the scene, which elements would you like me to remove or cut out? Is this a player comfort concern or a character comfort problem? How would you run this in a way that you would be comfortable? I think we can work together to make the scene work for everyone.”

Fade To Black

This is one version of what I consider, Fade to Black mechanics. These are mechanics that support player enjoyment and safety. Fade to Black is a movie trope that cuts away from horrific elements. These elements are known, there are enough hints that explain what is happening, but they are never stated explicitly, to ensure that viewers do not have to see something particularly heinous. In some ways, there is more positive emotional impact from keeping certain elements off-screen, and this is true in games as much as movies and TV.

Fade-to-Black

A great article was released today that talks about using consent strategies in LARP, and I think these are wonderful and can also be used in table-top environments. In the end, we want our players to keep player, right? Working with things like the X card will help us to build our community which means more gaming!

What Fade to Black mechanics have you used?

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

The Curse in MES Werewolf: The Apocalypse

werewolf-banner

Buy The Book Here!

My Boss is Great, Scary, but Great

I love my boss, but he scares the crap out of me at the same time. Our meetings are usually only 10-15 minutes. We’ll be sitting around the table, running through power points, and he’ll drop in. “Mark, you’ve got 2 minutes today, 1 up, 1 down, 1 action,” is a common opening for him. We’ve trained for this, over and over again, generating quick highlights outside of our regular reports. He reads everything, it seems like, and there is no point in covering the minutiae. In fact, if you try, he’ll often scoff and glare. For some reason… his expression is enough to stop any of us mid-sentence.

I make it sound like he’s mean, or an asshole, but none of this is true. He listens with the time he has, he takes action, and he does everything he can to take care of those who work for him. He sent one person’s wife overseas for experimental surgery when she got cancer. She’s fine now. This is the type of man that will literally drop everything to help, but he’s never around physically for long. He’s got too much going on.

What would it take for me to leave this job? I’m not sure I would, even for triple my salary and 20 weeks of vacation. It’s weird working for someone like our boss, but he’s loyal to us, and I feel like he’s the best type of alpha leadership everyone asks for. That makes a lot of the odd behavior worth it.

Buy the Book

From W20

What is The Curse?

In Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Curse is a reaction that humanity as to the innate Rage which the Garou emit. Humanity is always uneasy around the Garou, instinctively cowering in fear or trying to leave their presence as soon as possible. The curse has less impact if a Garou had not gained Rage in the last 24 hours.

There are 5 stages to this version of The Curse. Introduction, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. Introduction raises the anxiety of all normal humans in the room. 5 minutes leads to stuttering and stress behaviors, like avoiding eye contact or hair pulling. 30 minutes leads to early panic attack behavior. In 60 minutes, humans and wolves become hostile to the Garou, and 90 minutes causes full Delirium. Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers double the time before they cause these effects in humans, and the same for Red Talons with wolves.

What does this mean, mechanically and story-wise for Werewolf LARP using these rules? It is hard, almost impossible to be a Garou and interact successfully with human society. This is part of the reason Garou retreat into their Septs and focus so much on their own communities. The easiest way for a Garou to effect the normal world is to use Kinfolk intermediaries. That will require a lot of trust, and trust issues run deep in people with a lot of pent up anger (from personal experience). When crafting a backstory, it is possible for a character to have spent time in either human or wolf society, but they would have to have a lot of control over their Rage. That’s not easy, but it can happen. Garou can be great leaders. Rage and anger can be fantastic motivating forces from a leader in a team. Garou have to be careful how much they interact with people, but they can still be leaders to humans if they do so in a backroom leadership sort of way.

How do you build The Curse into your games?

 

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

LARPers of Color – Michael Underwood

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

amtgard

 

I started LARPing with Amtgard, and have always been a bit more partial to boffer games than parlor ones. About ten years ago I lived near a park where I saw people practicing one Sunday. I wasn’t very good at the game, and the park only had about 10 regulars, so I got discouraged by the skill gap.

I am really fond of games that include real world skill and rules augment interactions, like when you can declare a skill usage in a tabletop RPG.nwm-logo

The game I was most recently involved with was New World Magischola. It was the biggest parlor style LARP I have ever been involved with. I had to save up to attend and am not sure when I will be able to afford to go back. I was a bit surprised by how much I liked the experience and would love to attend more games.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

I have never been on staff or helped behind the scenes for a game. It kinda seems like you have to know the right people to get into a position like that.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

For a long time in my life  I managed to not really notice being treated differently. Maybe it has to do with most of my family being White, which in turn meant that most of the other families I knew and therefore friends I had growing up were White too. I was the only Black person in my family, and I think that meant I was sheltered from a lot of things. As I have gotten older I tend to notice more when I am the only Black person in a room, when tropes or cliches about race are slipped into a game, or when stories use fantasy races as a stand in for real world ones to tell stories or create conflict.

That last one probably bothers me the most, because it turns something that still happens today into  “fun.” I always get a bit unsettled when a player slips and starts smiling in the middle of what should be a tense or scary scene where they are playing up their characters hate or anger at a fantasy race. I have seen that kind of face on people in real life on people who are aggressing on me who know I can’t do anything about it. It ALWAYS breaks immersion for me, it always takes me out of the game head-space. I wish it didn’t come up as much as it does, but there is always that one person who likes to play the simple and lazy “bad guy” who “hates all” members of any specific fantasy race.

From LARPing.com

From LARPing.com

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

I am not sure there is an easy answer about how to be more inclusive. There are a lot of little things that can add up. Always being open to criticism is one. Far too often I see discussions about problematic parts of a game turn into witch hunts. Speaking up is often treated as an attack on the people who play or the game runners. Th backlash makes even starting the conversations hard.

Not using non-humans as an example of how diverse a game is would be another. If you have to point to the people with pointy ears, the ones with fur, or the ones with green skin to show diversity? Something is off.

Finally, less fixation on “realism” for games that aren’t historical reenactments. The moment that we start playing games, we start using mechanics an rules to shortcut reality. We rarely eat unless it is a long game, we treat bathroom spaces as out of bounds, we use numbers and flags to represent health… The idea that races and by extension race-based conflict and violence are needed for “realism” is a common idea, and one that leads to a lot of shortcuts with writing or thinking about how a game’s reality would be shaped.  If we could start imaging worlds where races exist, but maybe racism didn’t or no longer does? Maybe that idea wouldn’t seem so far fetched in the one anymore.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Yes. I have been lucky enough to not have seen much personally. The worst was when my race and feelings about a subject out-of-game were used to make a joke in-game that was way bigger and more complicated than it should have been.  I am not sure what was in the head of the person who start the gag, but in the end multiple staff and players were roped into the joke. The worst part was that I didn’t “get it.” My wife got unsettled by what she thought was someone being malicious and poking at us. She start crying, I sat her down away from game and told her she was probably jumping at shadows.

I told her that and then dragged her back into the game. She was still bothered and we ended up leaving the game about an hour later. We only found out about the joke after game was over. Someone reached out to ask about why we had left, and they asked about a part of the joke I had missed. I had been handed an in-game item, and read what it did while missing the name. As upset as the whole thing made my wife, the way that the people involved closed ranks about it afterward was worse. Staff shut us out of the discussion, I don’t think I had ever felt like so much of an outsider among people I thought were friends before.

castle_keep_1

Don’t drive people out

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?

More talk out-of-game about the serious topics people play with in-game. I think LARP has the great potential to teach us of let us explore things that would be a lot harder to talk about in our everyday lives. It doesn’t just happen on its own though, we need to actually work to let it do that. If we treat LARP as only a game, instead of the art or medium that it really is? Then that is all it will ever be. I would love to be able to talk about some of the things I struggle with in real life, and be able to use game as a shared experience that helps others relate.

Is She Hot? The Question Female Gamers Dread

As a female bodied gamer, character creation can be difficult sometimes. No, I’m not talking about the sexist view that women are bad at math, or that complex rules are too hard. I am talking about the answer to the question that I feel most female gamers or female presenting gamers dread. This loaded six word question that means something different when it is asked of a female presenting gamer.

 

Question: What Does Your Character Look Like?

Yes, when a male presenting gamer is asked this question it means exactly what it means, no hidden subtext. Does Valeros have brown hair or black hair? What armor is Harsk wearing? What instrument is Lem carrying today? All of these are perfectly normal questions with normal answers. However when this question is asked of female presenting gamers, it usually does not just mean ‘What does your character look like’ but another question instead.

 

Real Question: Is She Hot/Attractive?

How much skin is Seoni showing? What size are Feiya’s breasts? Is Alahazra’s Charisma high? These are a few of the many subtext questions asked of female presenting gamers. Everyone at the table wants to know if our characters are sexually attractive, and if their characters can get with ours. A fantasy takes over in their minds where they feel if they can befriend our character and get with them, that they can get with us in real life. I know many relationships have come about from first starting an in game friendship (including my own!) but that relies on attraction between the parties being mutual, instead of one sided.

 

Perils of Attractive Characters:

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

Take for example my character Kita. Kita was a Sorcerer in the Pathfinder rules set, so it was beneficial for Charisma to be my highest stat. My first PFS module was The Overflow Archives and I was excited to play in a game at my local gaming shop. In the module there was a section with some fey characters that you could either talk to or fight, and I chose to talk. It was then the party at the table realized my character had high Charisma, and even though they were annoyed I chose to talk instead of fight I was suddenly much more popular. One of the orcs gave me a ride on his shoulders in a flooded part of the dungeon. I got healed almost instantly when I was hurt by the party Cleric.

After the game was over, the Orc player asked me to coffee. I told him I don’t drink coffee so I’d have to decline. Then it was lunch at a restaurant I luckily did not like, so I said no again. Then he asked where I’d like to eat and I walked away, and have not returned to that gaming group. At no point did I learn anything beyond this player’s name, and they knew nothing of me other than my name and that I played a cute female character. They didn’t even ask if I was in a relationship or anything else before making it clear they were looking for a date.

 

Freedom of Unattractive Characters

darkestdungeon.com

Ragin Jane Scarlett, the Woman With No Neck

Conversely to the above, I once played a pirate in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path named Ragin’ Jane Scarlett. She was a Barbarian and guard of her male friend and partner in crime Thomas Stringer. It was often said of Jane that she had no neck, just muscle. She was gruff and unattractive, and had no romantic interest or motherly feelings, and was nothing but platonic towards her adventuring partner. They formed a strong pirate crew and made terror on the high seas for those unfortunate enough to cross them.

No one at this group asked me to coffee, no one flirted with me in character as a veil for out of character. The only ones who made passes at me were a couple NPCs that I scared into submission. It was freeing and refreshing. I’ve played several more unattractive or not specifically attractive tabletop characters, including just playing men instead.  I find that most GMs and players leave alone male characters when it comes to their looks and don’t bring it up as often if at all.

 

Attractive/Unattractive Characters and LARP

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

At one point in my LARP career, I played an attractive Brujah named Gianna (not pictured) who was a prostitute in her mortal life, inspired by Ros on the Game of Thrones show. Gigi, as her coterie and bloodline called her, wore short shorts that I shyly wore to game with tights under. I posted a selfie in the shorts after game, proud of wearing them. Almost instantly there were comments from the other players about the naughty thoughts they had and what they wanted to do with me. I did not ask for a review of how I looked or how nice the shorts and tights made my butt look. I deleted the picture because of how uncomfortable the comments made me, but I and many female presenting gamers deal with these comments constantly. Some can’t even post pictures of new Pokemon slippers without commenters asking for nude pictures.

I currently play Rook (pictured above), a Nosferatu that I have written about before. Once when visiting a game, I showed up already in costume. No one flirted with me in character because they found me or my character attractive. I looked unattractive with a gaunt face and giant cloak. I enjoyed an evening being able to be unharassed. Once the game was over, I stood up straight and revealed that my body is in fact female. I had several people whom I did not talk to all game tell me that the RP with me was good. They were all male presenting with surprised looks on their faces that I was female bodied. Up to that moment they disregarded me because they couldn’t see my female body, and I loved it.

 

The Answer: It Doesn’t Matter!

When I’m asked what my character looks like, I sigh.  I am always ready for them to follow up with “Is She Hot?” when I fail (on purpose usually) to mention their attractiveness. I tend to ask them why it matters and most of the time I find that it doesn’t actually matter. These are my experiences, and yours may be different. I feel that if you ask your female presenting friends you’ll find similar patterns of behavior towards their characters. When they play ugly or unattractive characters they will be treated normally. Female characters that are attractive are targeted by others who want to push their fantasies on the character. Perhaps keep this and the follow up article in mind next time you want to ask “Is She Hot?”


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer.. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community. She’s a console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

LARPers of Color Interview 1: Morgan Nuncio

This is a series of interviews we’ve done with LARPers of Color to understand the experiences, challenges, and successes people of color have within the LARP community. 


Keep: Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with me. I’ve been a big LARP geek since I was in High School, and I’m always excited to get feedback from others in the hobby.
Keep:-Can you tell us how you got into the hobby?:

Morgan: Soooooo, I was a junior in high school, and my best friend was a senior. She was dating an older guy for a couples by now, and he seemed really cool. One day she was like, “Hey, my boyfriend wants me to go with him to his friend’s house for this Vampire thing.  I don’t want to go alone. Will you come with me?” I said I would, and that Friday night we went with her boyfriend to this guy’s apartment, where her and I played “Ghouls” for this game called “Vampire: The Masquerade”. I really enjoyed the make-believe aspect because I used to do roleplaying for years online through AOL chatrooms and forums. This made it feel so much more real and something I can easily grasp. After that night  I was hooked!

by-night-studios-logo

For the New Vampire LARP rules

 

Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.):

After playing various types of games from parlor larps like Vampire: The Masquerade, to weekend long games like Dystopia Rising to even the U.S. blockbuster larp New World Magischola, I really enjoy the one-shot freeform games. Freeform games involve very little barrier-to-entry, meaning that costuming and cost of the game itself is very low or nonexistent, and the game last either 2-4 hours for that night, and that’s it. I don’t get trapped in the mindset of one particular character and I can much more throw myself into drama and chaos because I don’t have an emotional connection to the character like I would with my campaign characters.

dystopia-logo

What LARPs are you currently involved with?:

The only campaign larp I am involved with currently is Planetfall, which is a weekend-long scifi larp just outside of Austin, TX. And I try to participate in New World Magischola as much as I can, but it isn’t your traditional “campaign” game. Other than that, I am apart of a freeform group that gets together about once a month to play a variety of games, and even sometimes do larp jam sessions that we get together and write games and then playtest them.

How long have you been LARPing?:

I’ve been larping for about 11 years now.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?:

When I was with Dystopia Rising, I was a Marshal for a few months, meaning that I was someone players could come to talk about rules, and when I was running NPC shifts, I would either hold the fort down at the desk or take NPCs out for various mods.

planetfall-logo

For Planetfall, I’m a Referee, which is pretty much like a Marshal for DR. However, we don’t really have NPC shifts for this game, people just volunteer to go away for a bit to be an NPC creature, since the playstyle of the game is very player vs survival/ environment, and focuses on roleplaying. Also, I’m the lead of the Social Team, meaning that a few days after games we try to get people together for “Pizza and Planetfall” for people just to hang out, and on the months between games we try to host another social event because we want to make it about the community aspect. I am also apart of the Inclusion Advisors, which means that myself and the other Advisors come together and discuss issues with the game itself, if there are any, when it comes to anything possibly appropriative or problematic, regarding people of color’s cultures and identities,  misogyny, or those within the LGBTQIA spectrum.

When it comes to freeform games, I slowly have begun to facilitate games. My first games I facilitated were apart of the #Feminism (an anthology full of nano-games regarding various aspects of the issues women face), and The Great After Party (a fun larp that lasts 3-4s that is a larp about the afterparty of a larp, full of your various larp tropes) by Erlend Eidsem Hansen and Frida Sofie Jansen at Living Games Conference back in May 2016 here in Austin, TX. I then ran Slayer Cake back in the beginning of October, which is written by Kat Jones and Evan Torner.  I am also slowly beginning to write my own larps as well in the past year, with my first game (with the help of Sarah Lynne Bowman) called ColorMatch[.]Com, which tackles the ideas of awkward first dates, finding what you are attracted to, and how to deal with fetishes. It’s a fun and short game that lasts only about an hour (if that). I am also working on various other larp projects, that I hope to debut sometime in 2017!

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?:

Mostly good, with some bad memories sprinkled through it. I’ve gotten into my fair share of heated discussions about issues in the larp community because the majority of the larp population is cisgendered, white men, who don’t understand the amount of privilege they hold, or care to acknowledge it. There was one fantasy larp down here in Texas that before the game was even open before their first game, I tried to voice my concerns to the game owner about the races he made, and the basis they come from. But what I said fell on deaf ears and a “well, maybe this game isn’t for you”.

 I have left games I have played in for years because of slowly being aware of the problematic issues that are within the world design, despite having tons of friends who run and play in the game.

But for the most part, especially those within the freeform community, have been a lot more aware and accepting, and a lot of them have the same concerns and thoughts. If they put something controversial in their games, it is there for a reason. It is for the reason for players to become aware, gain empathy of the situation, and learn what to do with things like it. That’s why I am SO THANKFUL for the #Feminism anthology, because there are tough and difficult ideas that we tackle in the nano-games, but they help so much more with awareness and understanding those mindsets. The one that really sticks out to me is a game called the “Grey Zone” by Siri Sandquist, where the players embody the emotions of a woman who is stuck in the grey zone between rape and consensual sex in a relationship.

feminism

 

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?:  

Listen and understand those who are marginalized and the issues they are seeing and facing. Ask how they, as game designer or other players, can help to make those who are marginalized more included. Active listening and engaging in a conversation, then acting upon that by changing the game, truly helps, because it makes you seem like you truly do care that people who are different than you enjoy the same nerdy hobby you do. A lot of the time when these issues are brought up, they are torn down by people not listening, disregarding the issues as “a cry for attention”, and being complete asshats.

Also, if there is opportunity for people of color (or anyone who is marginalized), to rise within the game staff, I want to tell who larpers of color to do it! I want to tell the women to do it! I want to tell the LGBTQIA folks to do it! Be the change we want to see in our world! Hell, I would love to see larpers of colors writing their own games, be it through normal North American style boffer campaign games, to blockbuster events, to freeform games! Representation matters, especially in a hobby that is so visual like larping is.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?:

Yes, and it was within my first few years of larping too. I was playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and my character was raped by a Baali (a type of demon-worshipping vampires), to be impregnated with a demon baby she couldn’t get rid of. And the out of character I was given after the horrific and detailed event happened? “Sorry Morgan, you were the only female at game. It had to be you.” Like, seriously?! Just because I am a woman, I had to be the one targeted for rape, and not have the topic brought up to me beforehand. This memory has been something that has stewed in me for years, and I have written about it finally on my Facebook within the past year now that I am much more comfortable talking about these issues within larps. I really regret being apart of it, however I am also happy that it has happened because I can talk from experience and I have learned from the experience, and advocate against these things ever happening again, to anyone. I am all for scene negotiations, so that everyone consents to the outcome and what is involved.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?:

To Vampire: The Masquerade, I hope that it does start adding in the ideas of scene negotiation,  and how for people to opt out of the scene. I know various types of V:TM games, like End of the Line and Convention of Thorns, really focus on the ideas of consent based play which I positively adore. I hope the run-of-the-mill World of Darkness games do follow the same light.

convention-of-thorns

For the larp I left, it is getting better with using safety mechanics and check- ins, however the world design is still heavily flawed. It has appropriated so much from other cultures, and the interpretation that player take on the game design is quite disheartening as well. It’s an inclusive community, meaning that it includes pretty much everyone, even those who are toxic or a missing/broken staircase.

For Planetfall, I wish we had more people of color playing. We have a good handful, but I wish there was a way for us to reach out to more people of color to play. I hope that in time we can get more people to join and help us diverse the game more, because I want the game world to really reflect 200 years into the future, where the world itself is one big, beautiful mixing pot.

One thing I would like to add to New World Magischola is games by me, instead of across the country! One can hope, right? Lol

And to the freeform community, I would love to see more larpers of colors become game designers and write games in this field. I am hoping that with freeform growing, that it attracts more game designers to it. The one thing  I would change is the availability of the games, because it seems like a lot of larpers do not know about the freeform larp community.

Know When To Say When – Is It Burnout or Bleed?

 

The misery of a year that is 2016 is drawing to a close, and as we all search the horizons of infinity for a glimmer of hope that 2017 will not takes its cues from its predecessor, it is a good time to take stock of our individual states of mind regarding our shared hobby.

2016-into-2017

 

This is an exercise in self-assessment and metacognition, a study in ourselves and our reactions. I recommend undertaking this effort in a comfortable and sober state of mind, possibly discussing it with your closest gaming associates or the people who can offer you an outside perspective.

For the purposes of this article, we will be using bleed in the pejorative sense; that is, the state of getting too wrapped up in/involved with in-character (IC) issues or problems, to the point where it is negatively affecting out-of-character (OOC) quality of life. Nordic-style or play-to-bleed is another cooking vessel of aquatic life forms entirely.

bleed

It’s a Thursday night. Your local once a month LARP is Saturday. What are you feeling?

A) Woohoo, game this weekend! I’m SO ready!
B) Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.
C)Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?
D) Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go.
E)Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

prisma-grigori

I’m ready!

If you answered A, please pass GO and collect your $200….unless you are ready to maliciously wreck the game for someone else. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you answered B, you’re in the same boat as 90% of all the LARPers I have ever met. 5% of the remainder are super-organized and the other 5% will be panicking as they are 30 minutes late leaving for the game site.

If you answered C, you might be getting a little worn down. This might be because life is kicking your ass (and we all feel like we are wearing that Kick Me sign from time to time) or it might be because it is time to do a little self-diagnostic on your enjoyment/investment in the game.

If you answered D, you are definitely getting a little singed around the edges. Is something lacking in the game, the setting, the environment, or your gaming group, or are you/your character just in a neutral phase?

If you answered E, you may actually be burnt out or experiencing an undue amount of bleed.

A – Game is this weekend, yay!

Are you happy to be going, to be portraying your character and spending time doing something you love? If so, fantastic.

Are you happy to be going because you know you are going to be ruining someone else’s plots/plans…and you’re looking forward to enjoying their suffering?

The second answer is not categorically a negative one, believe it or not, as long as it is your character who is going to be enjoying wrecking another character. Part of the inclusivity of the hobby is being able to differentiate between player and character – but you knew that already, or you wouldn’t be here.

This is where you check your investment – does your entire life revolve around the game? Are you okay with that state of affairs if that is the case? Do you need to take a step back and reassess your investment and involvement? Are you living for the game, or is it a fun activity you enjoy with great enthusiasm? Have fun, but keep things in perspective.

B – Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.

jp

I’m ready!

As I said earlier, this is the area where 90% of the gamers of my acquaintance fall. The spectrum is basically spread out between “oh gods where is my everything” and “everything is here, in its proper place, repaired/polished/updated, and I’ve communicated with my DM/ST in triplicate.” If you are one of the people towards the neater/more organized end of the spectrum, please write a blog post and share your witchcraft with the rest of us.

You’re looking forward to the game, but you are keeping your other priorities in mind and in balance. This is a good place to be. Do you want to be more involved with the game? Do you see an opportunity for improvement, and want to help? This might be the time to reach out to your ST or DM and ask if they need any help, or let them know you are willing to volunteer.

C – Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?

This is the beginning of the singed edge. You may be going through a phase where life is interfering with your ability to game as much as you would like – and it happens to all of us. Maybe your work or class schedule changed, maybe you got involved in a new hobby that requires more time, or family/friends issues demanded priority over your gaming hobby. All of these are perfectly normal, perfectly respectable reasons to have slightly detached from the game, and a healthy, supportive gaming crew will work with you to make sure you can come back when circumstances change.

On the other hand, you might be in a low phase with your gaming experience, such as recovering from a loss of a character, or the completion of a huge storyline. This is either a recovery phase or a spot to take stock of your away-from-game commitments and responsibilities, to see if you need to reprioritize your involvement.

Have you reached a point where you are obsessing or brooding over your character’s frustrations and taking them on as your own? This is a potentially toxic level of bleed, but it can be handled if you recognize it early enough to take a step back and reevaluate your level of involvement with the character. It’s way, way too easy to fall into the trap of 24/7 role-play, especially in these days when it’s more work to get truly away from instant communication than most folks realize – and no one wants to snub their friends because they need a break from being in character all the time. Some people end up blurring the lines between player and character, and that can be incredibly awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and frankly psychologically damaging – the bad kind of bleed.

Alternatively, this may be the spot you are in if you are in the process of returning to an ongoing game or campaign after taking a break, voluntary or otherwise. If that is the case, I recommend speaking to your DM or ST one-on-one and getting a general feel for the game state, to see how you can best reintegrate with the group. You can also look at this spot as a chance to debut a new character and start fresh.

D – Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go play.

work

I lied, I’m not ready.

If this is your feeling one random Thursday, you might just be having a bad week/month and don’t have the social energy to get into character and deal with plots and connivery and such. That’s cool – as a truly devoted introvert, I feel you. Stay home, cuddle your pets/sweetheart/favorite fuzzy blanket, watch TV or murder pixels or read a book. Do whatever makes you feel better.

If this happens two months in a row, it’s time to reassess your involvement in the game. Have you been doing too much role-playing? Especially in an Org game, or any other avenue that can lead to 24/7 play, it can begin to feel like an endless pressure to be in character all the time, and that’s exceptionally draining. Have you had an in-character crisis that has ended badly and you need to take some time to deal with the emotional fallout? That’s okay too. Are you frustrated because your character can’t seem to accomplish anything and you are beginning to feel like you are just going through the motions? This is a time for a calm and rational discussion with your DM or ST, which brings me to my next point.

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but hear me out – this can also be a sign that you are not a good fit for the game. There are times where personalities just do not mesh, or personal issues (and we’ve all got them, anyone who says otherwise is lying) prevent us from fully joining in with the game or group of people. Maybe, especially in a horror setting like Vampire or anything Lovecraftian, there are events in your own life that make the setting uncomfortable for you, despite your ardent desire to play. Maybe you are part of a group where the expectation of involvement/commitment/investment is WAY higher than you can afford, financially or temporally or emotionally.

social-contract

Make Friends, not Vassals

If you have made friends in your gaming hobby (and I sincerely hope you have!) see about hanging out with them away from a gaming setting, to just BS and be friends without character sheets or dice involved. Grab a beer or a coffee or see a movie or try a new restaurant. Be friends, not only friends-who-game-together. Maybe they have some insights that can rekindle your enjoyment in the game. Maybe you’ll discover that they also have a passion for watercolor paintings of bonsai or collecting esoteric cheeses – whatever your non-gaming passions are.

E – Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

You’re as burned as Anakin Skywalker after the duel on Mustafar.

This is where communication – and for the sake of clarity, I am going to reiterate that all of this is meant to be taken and performed out of character – is truly crucial. If literally everyone in your game is having a fantastic time, constantly and consistently, and you always feel like your own experience is lacking, TALK TO YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS AND YOUR DM/ST. Ask them, away from game and in a neutral setting, if there is something that needs to change about your playstyle, or if there is a fundamental misunderstanding about a key part of the game that you have missed, or if you joined the game with X expectations and are seeing Y results.

Part of being a responsible, emotionally mature, and informed player is realizing that sometimes the problems are not external, but internal. Sometimes, players just do not fit, and it’s unfair to the rest of the group to consistently be asking them to bend to your will and preferences. Want to do a fade-to-black (FTB) when a scene is getting too intense? I am 100% right there with you and will speak up for you if I see you getting uncomfortable. Invoke FTB every single time heightened emotions get involved? I will be less sympathetic.

What it comes down to is this – if you have left multiple game sessions with headaches and grumbles, truly having not enjoyed yourself, and you have reached out to try to make things better and not seen any improvement, maybe you need to reconsider if you are a good fit for the game. It is a sign of maturity and good self-awareness to realize when, despite best intentions, something is just not going to work. Like the old commercial said, “Know When To Say When.”

I will leave you all with this final thought –

We’re all part of this hobby, one giant dysfunctional family, and there’s always going to be situations that make us uncomfortable, people we don’t like, and constraints that we have to work around – be they psychological, financial, temporal, or otherwise – but we’re all here to play a game, and those challenges can actually strengthen us as people.

The biggest difference between our giant dysfunctional family and the other type is that you can always choose to walk away from this family if you realize it’s no longer the right one for you. We will miss you, but there’s always a seat at the table if you decide to come back.

2016 has been a bitch of a year. Let’s make 2017 our bitch.

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite Princess,

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

May the Force be with you!

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

GUEST REVIEW MET WEREWOLF 2016


So a quick history: White Wolf published a LARP (Live Action Role Play) variant of their Old World of Darkness (oWoD) series in the early and mid-90s dubbed Mind’s Eye Theater (MET). By Night Studios (BNS) recently acquired the right to make new LARP materials from oWoD and have set out to create newly revamped systems that are based today  incorporate more recent societal themes. This is a review  of their newest book in this reimagining, Werewolf:The Apocalypse.

                                                                   The Story

werewolf-cover

All Images Used are the Property of By Night Studios, White Wolf, and their Respective Owners, they are used here under fair use, any concerns please alert us ASAP

In the original setting, the world ended around 2000. To allow for the game to be more modern, BNS had to work from the point where the world would have ended, forward, and continue to build the world. This was a monumental job that could have fallen flat if they had gone in the wrong direction. Instead, they hit it out of the ballpark.

The story moving in to the current era is plausible, interesting, and makes for a large amount of story hooks for any storyteller. The feeling of something akin to an Apocalypse happening was preserved. At the same time, the authors moved both the game and the setting forward. I feel the most impressive thing they did was characterizing the cyber generation, especially in a game historically defined by hatred of technology (and sometimes progress). The inclusion of two political factions (The Concordat of Stars and the Sanctum of Gaia) working both together and against one another while fighting the same war also adds a new angle that storytellers can use if heavy meta-politics are their players’ jam.

Most importantly to me, some of the tribes have moved forward to become fully fleshed out, living groups of people. Black Furies accept all women and cubs of both genders born to the tribe, the Wendigo aren’t solely just angry native people, and in general, the setting incorporates globalization of our culture in a very appropriate and respectful way. I’m not saying that if you hadn’t dug deeper in to those tribes I mentioned before you wouldn’t have found life and spark, but this is an area where I feel the previous LARP books did a disservice. I feel like BNS went above and beyond to truly give new players a glance in to a living, breathing cultural organization of people, especially ones with more sensitive themes.

Mechanics

If you are familiar with rock-paper-scissors, you can play this game. Mechanically not much is changed from BNS’s MET: Vampire: the Masquerade (VtM). You have test pools determined by your sheet, you throw rock-paper-scissors, you compare your results and then things happen. Some elements are new, but if you are familiar with the other book, this book is an almost seamless transition. It’s also obvious that this is BNS’s second book, because concerns with MET: VtM have either been corrected or elaborated upon (backgrounds, etc.).

The only mechanic that is truly new, and I feel makes the game stand out from its companion, is the Quest System. Players develop a Quest, work together to determine requirements, and then, regardless of success or failure, collectively create a shared narrative. This emphasizes player cooperation and agency, while reducing storyteller stress. It’s a great example of a system promoting positive play and I am very impressed with it. I have heard a lot of Vampire storytellers that want to incorporate it in to their game and I look forward to that.

Relevance to New and Old Playersrokea

I would like to preface this section with the fact that BNS talked with the community at large about what they liked and disliked about Werewolf, and it’s pretty obvious that they took those suggestions to heart in their development of the new book. They made a lot of changes to make the game more palatable, easier to run, and easier to play.

My old group of players has an adage. “Forget what you knew before, read through the book and that’s what you have.” There is a lot of difference between the original Werewolf and this one. But these changes aren’t bad, especially considering the backstory of the book. If you like Werewolf, you’ll definitely find the old Werewolf you love deep inside the heart of this book, as well as a whole new world to explore

For newer players, this book is a great introduction to the genre. With the inclusion of definite mechanics and story hooks that allow for inexperienced players to play as Kinfolk (the human relatives of werewolves), and Cubs (newly changed werewolves), and also to become actively involved in the story, even as low powered creatures (I’m looking at you Den Mother), even the greenest oWoD player can truly become involved and captured by the system and story. Don’t try and read the whole thing in one sitting though.

Storytellers are given a lot of information and a lot of meat to sink their fangs in to. The Umbra section alone could be an entire 5 year chronicles. This makes the book great for someone trying to run a game, especially if paired with its sister book, Vampire the Masquerade. There are 750+ pages of pure information to sink your teeth into and you have all the time in the world to get to know it.

Art:

This needed its own section. The art is amazing, representative, evocative, and while the style may be slightly strange at first, it meshes well. There are depictions of strength and serenity in both genders. It’s some great stuff.

skin-dancerBut… it’s not perfect.

My major gripe is that there are firmly more depictions of men than women (by a factor of maybe ¼ from a quick count through the book) and there are a few ‘sexy poses’ that women are in that you don’t see the men paralleling (I’m looking at you page 735). There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but similar poses could have been employed in some of the male images. Also the bewildered and bored look that the two women in the Pentex scene respectively have (page 610) hurt my soul a little bit compared to the businesslike and serious look the men have.

These seem like petty gripes, but I hold BNS to high standards in regards to being open and accommodating to the community, and art is one of the major ways that the gaming community has majorly failed to do this in the past.

Overall, the art is stunning, and despite these issues the full color renderings of them make me want an art book with more.

Portability:

So there is one Were-Elephant in the room I’d like to address. The original LARP books were small and portable. This book is not. While the 750+ pages are absolutely glorious and give you all the information you could ever need, it’s also a monster of a book. There are ways around this (printing and creating subsection binders, e-readers, etc.), but those are hoops that the consumer has to jump through themselves. Also, the size does seem to mess with certain e-readers and PDF readers, so a B&W option of the pdf at some point in the future would be appreciated.mourning

Final Verdict

This is an amazing book. It’s a great re-imagining of Werewolf that addresses and deals with a large amount of the issues that the community was vocal about. It’s obvious that the two years of work that both BNS and the community put in to it have paid off and I feel like this is definitely going to revitalize a once dying subset of the LARP community. They have taken a part of oWoD that I loved but was always hesitant to suggest due to problematic issues in the original source material and morphed it in to something I would suggest to most, if not all, of my LARPing friends to try out at least once.

 

 

Will Martin has been LARPing since college and has found no reason to stop yet and is quite fond of being able to watch the age where the art of gaming has become more self-aware and critical of itself. This is accented by his job working in Public Health with a focus on underprivileged communities. Currently he is the head Storyteller for a yet to be named Werewolf LARP out of Washington DC, run through Underground Theater.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

THIS ONE IS ROOK: HOW GAMING HELPS ME EXPRESS MY IDENTITY

 

The Neonates and Ancilla of Atlanta sat around sharing their life stories. Florence, the young Harpy turned to the Elder Nosferatu in the room.

 

“What about you?” Florence asked the Elder who was roosting in a chair across from the conversation.

 

“This one is Rook.” Said the Nosferatu. An awkward silence followed where Florence expected more, and Rook said nothing else. The conversation resumed between the others shortly after, leaving Rook to observe.

In the above scenario within By Night Studio’s Vampire: the Masquerade, I play Rook. Rook is a genderless Nosferatu Elder, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding characters I have ever played. Almost everything about Rook is alien to my personal life, with one key exception.

 

While writing this article on my laptop I have my phone and my tablet next to me and I have music playing from my gaming console on my TV; to say I am connected to my technology is an understatement. I am only 26 years old, though my birthday is this month, so I’m basically 27. As a feminist, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of identity.. I am also genderfluid.

 

Rook, on the other hand, has a flaw called Archaic. If a character has this flaw, any technology less than 100 years old is foreign to them, and they cannot use it. Rook is over a thousand years old, so I am challenged to think far beyond my own scope in terms of taking actions and reactions. Rook very firmly has distaste for young vampires, with the stereotypical negative attitude that is associated with older people’s attitude toward teenagers. Rook is also genderless, as when Nosferatu are turned into vampires they are disfigured, and Rook’s disfigurement made determining Rook’s physical sex impossible, so Rook’s gender slowly left them.

 

Compared to the other character I play in the Underground Theater organization, Rook is completely different than I am. The other character I play, Jacquelyn, is much more an extension of myself. Dressing as Rook takes just as much time as Jacquelyn, despite the simple costume, partly due to all the face makeup that I put on to provide a ‘corpse-like’ appearance. I like to jokingly refer to myself as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars when I’m putting the makeup on, due to the similar appearance.

 

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

 

Rook’s costuming is very simple, as you can see. I only wear a large black cloak to gatherings, and carry only one accessory: a red rosary. If I have to describe them in their Obfuscated Mask it is always something very simple and timeless, and still an androgynous/agendered appearance, and the rosary is still present. I also pose myself in certain ways to play down my feminine bodied curves. My bust line is large and binding would be a bit unsafe for me, so I have to use other methods to pull off a genderless appearance. I’ll push my shoulders forward, hunch, and keep my arms out in front of me to keep the cloak from hanging off of my bust line, giving me no clearly gendered appearance one way or the other. Catching myself in the mirror and not seeing the curvy lines of my own body or my normal skin tone really helps me to stay in character as Rook.

 

There are small parts of Rook that are extensions of myself. Rook is a bit protective of their family and those they consider family, and I am as well. I have stuck up for friends against all sorts of people who would bully them for various aspects. I will very typically make myself the voice who isn’t afraid to speak up. I will call people on negative behaviors, bad attitudes, creepy behavior, and the like because much of the time those disparaged people don’t feel they can speak up. I take this attitude into Rook by having them stick to their guns when it comes to the people they would defend, even to the detriment of their reputations. In VtM, having a Catiff offspring is seen as a failing of your character, and mine embraces (pardon the pun) the fact with pride. Rook has an openly acknowledged Catiff grandchilde and doesn’t really care how other people feel about it.

 

My favorite vampire meme

My favorite vampire meme

 

As I mentioned above, Rook is genderless. This is slightly different than being genderfluid, but this article isn’t about the differences between the two. The short version is that genderless is no gender at all, while genderfluid moves between various genders. Having Rook express a gender identity close to my own internal one in such an external method is super empowering for me. My body makes it difficult to express anything through presentation other than female, so having a chance to embody a non-female character is awesome.

 

A lot of people do misgender Rook as a female, due to my own body and their knowledge that I present as female, but I usually just handle it in character with in character language. I’m still waiting on the day when someone decides they have to hit on me in-character as Rook. I have an image saved on my phone for this exact purpose, because my character will have no qualms about flashing the whole gathering in character and pausing game a moment to show them all exactly what is going on underneath the robe.

 

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

 

I have had antagonistic characters purposefully misgender Rook, and I have had supportive characters ask Rook if they would prefer the ‘zir’ set of pronouns. Being able to have these experiences in a safe environment was very helpful for me should I have these experiences out on the real world, because I already know what my reaction would be. I haven’t had anyone be purposefully mean to me out of character about being genderfluid; due to my use of female pronouns with a female body most people likely don’t even realize I am genderfluid. I live in the South, so being super ‘out’ about being Genderfluid is pretty hard due to a lot of misplaced hatred.

 

I first started to experiment with my own gender through gaming. I played a lot of tabletop before I started LARPing. When I got to the Deadlands: Weird West setting at first, I played a saloon girl who ran away with a cowboy, a pretty typical role for a female character in a Western. After that character was finished, I moved on and started playing male characters in the setting, because of how things were for women in that time period. I found playing the male characters more freeing, more in tune with how I would want to be able to live in that time period. At first my male characters were caricatures of other characters from fiction. I played a Huckster based off of Gambit/every smooth talking gambler ever, and I played a doctor based off of House.

 

After time whenever I wanted to play a male character in other settings they quit being as two dimensional and started being fleshed out. To be fair almost all of my characters got more well rounded as I grew up and matured, but I quit looking at the male characters as something wholly different than my own psyche, just different permutations and variations on personality traits I as a person had. Having the safe space of gaming to experiment with these thoughts is an amazing tool.

 

For me gaming is as much a tool as anything else. To me, entertainment is what happens when you watch something you’re not participating in. I am entertained when I watch a video online, but with gaming I am enriched. I regularly describe the best gaming sessions as ones where I felt awful. I discovered another character’s wife changed to a wall, having her venom enhanced blood siphoned from her. I willingly went along with an antagonist to be tied up and flayed alive. Those two events were polarizing, and the best game sessions I had as that character. Were they ‘fun’ in the traditional sense? No, but they were so engaging and enriching that I will never forget them.

 

 

With Pride week in Chattanooga just having finished up, October being LGBTQ* History Month, and National Coming Out Day coming up in a week on the 11th, this time of year often makes me think of how far we’ve come as far as LGBTQ* issues and gaming. Most games wouldn’t let someone portray an LGBTQ* concept in an offensive way, or let players harm or make uncomfortable others due to their LGBTQ* status. If I wanted to I could make a male character in any of the games that I play in regularly and it would be received well and everyone would try their best to use character-appropriate pronouns and language. If I wanted my local gamers to use different pronouns with me I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being received well. I know not every gamer has that comfort and I know it can be hard to find in some places, but the fact that this is more and more the norm than the exception gives me hope for the future.

 

Every time I miss a game (and Amber’s amazing zucchini)  I am sad I will not be able to express myself in an accepting environment, and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Even putting on the costume and makeup to take pictures for this article was enjoyable, despite the face scrubbing I have to endure afterwards and the warmth of wearing the robe during the day. Playing Rook has given me the freedom to experiment with my own gender expression, and that has been amazingly refreshing.

Anna is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats, and another that’s kind of mean but loves her anyway (probably). She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

IS THIS REAL LIFE? NO, IT’S JUST FANTASY – CHECK YOUR CRUSADES AT THE DOOR

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands. In the future, this note will append all articles. 

 

Many of us, I dare say even most of us, indulge in role-playing games as a cheap and effective form of escapism. Whether it is crowding around a dilapidated table with far too much caffeine and crunchy goodness, or getting dressed to the nines on a Saturday night to go hang out at a planetarium or a VFW hall, we make the conscious choice to go be someone else for a few hours out of our busy lives.

 

So, you’ve decided to go be someone else. Groovy. You have your character sheet, your costume, and your desire to go wreak havoc. Did you remember to NOT pack your pet social agenda?

 

Every character should have something they believe in, something they are willing to fight for or about. It makes them more real and believable, more a person and less a collection of dots on a page. True Neutral characters (using the Gygaxian alignment system) are really hard to play and even harder to identify with. The key is choosing the right motivating force to maximize enjoyment for the player group, not just to get your own personal rocks off.

motivation

What is your motivation?

Around a gaming table or at a LARP venue is not the place for your day-to-day crusades.

No matter what your personal vendetta-against-the-world is, it doesn’t need to impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment of the game unless it is in character and contributes something to the shared story as a whole.character-sheet

A character that is nothing more than dots on a sheet with an axe to grind and an agenda to forward is not fun to play with. Beliefs, crusades, convictions, or interests squished together with XP dots should not, and more to the point, do not, a character make. That’s a basis of a character that is waiting to be fleshed out.

Immersion is also known as “suspension of disbelief” and is crucial to the role-playing experience. Intentionally interjecting out of character concerns into a scene or genre where they are not applicable is a very good way to break that suspension, and this is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in these contentious and socially-charged modern nights.

 

Let me explain that a little bit. If I am sitting down and playing a half-elf rogue with chaotic evil alignment, in a high fantasy setting, that half-elf rogue is not going to give a flying goblin’s damn about third-wave feminism.

 

A three-thousand year old vampire is going to be either incredibly confused by, amused by, or completely blasé towards the entire concept of gender fluidity. (Especially if they know any Tzimisce.) Worthy of consideration is the fact that various cultures and societies have wildly varying definitions of gender and societal norms than the Western/Western European cultures that many RPGs are based upon, particularly if you are looking backwards in history and taking a static view from the time of the vampire’s creation.

 

annie_kenney_and_christabel_pankhurst

Allow me to present a positive example of bringing a modern crusade into game in an appropriate and entertaining fashion.

There is a young lady in Underground Theater who played a relatively young vampire (under 100 years old, I believe) whose character, in life, was a passionate suffragette and enthusiastic patriot. It was entirely in character for her to bring up feminist perspective and interpretations of events. That was an AMAZING character who spawned a TON of interesting IC interactions, because seeing her talk about women’s rights to a two-thousand-year-old Roman Centurion was really something else. She also enthusiastically called out the Elders who advocated for monarchy over democracy. It was fantastic!

 

I have also seen an entire game grind to a halt because of what I have termed the “weather report” phenomenon.  Presented for your edification:

 

Character A: Hey, B, have you seen the weather for tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

 

Character B: Well, as a *insert adjective indicating some aspect of identity* person, I think it’s going to rain.

 

Now, unless that adjective indicating some aspect of their identity is something that is actually germane to the conversation, i.e., a meteorologist or a druid, that adds nothing to the conversation and just slaps the other participant in the face.

 

Scene: Three Werewolves outside of a pack meeting, casually discussing plans for taking down a Black Spiral Dancer hive.

black-furies

Character A: Hey, B, what do you think the weather is going to do tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

Character B: Well, as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I think it is going to rain. We should be ready to get muddy.

Character C: He just asked you for the weather report, dude.

Character B: And as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I gave him the weather report.

 

Players A and C walk away from Player B, who congratulates themselves on raising consciousness or some such thing, completely ignorant of the fact that they may have alienated Players A and C by waving that banner constantly. End Scene.

 

This is a slightly altered version of a real conversation that I have seen happen more than once.

 

A key point to consider: You can alienate characters all day, every day. The key thing will be to not alienate players, since players are the lifeblood of a game. This may be a good time to step aside, out of character, and do a temperature check to make sure that context isn’t becoming blurred. A quick aside, less than thirty seconds, can smooth a lot of ruffled feathers.

 

As shown in the first example, there are ways to wave your banners effectively and without breaking immersion – you just have to build your character’s backstory in such a way that that particular issue becomes prevalent without beating people over the head with it. It requires a lot of thought and consideration, which should deepen the player’s insight into their character and make them even more believable and real.

 

The second example is almost belligerent in its emphasis on the snowflake aspect, which does tend to be alienating if that is the only aspect of the character that really comes into play. No one is going to remember that Black Fury as the one who took down a BSD on their own; the player has forced that one aspect of their character to be the primary one.

 

As a whole, I have never met a more inclusive, welcoming group  of people than the LARPing community – hell, increasing inclusivity is the entire purpose of this blog – but every single one of us is a human with a stressful life, political and sociopolitical opinions, differing experiences, differing preferences, and our own demons in the dark places of our minds. Our games are our escapes from the pressures of the modern world, not an additional platform for our personal agendas.

 

I despise using the term “safe space”, because I don’t like what it has been corrupted into, but the role-playing world should be a relatively safe space for BOTH ends of the spectrum. If you are a plain vanilla person, go to church every Sunday, drink cheap mass-produced beer and think that Disturbed is Satanic metal because of their album covers, you go right ahead and do and think those things. If you are an alphabet-identifying peacock of a screaming nihilist Norwegian death-metal fan who only drinks the blood of unborn ponies during your Zarathustrian rituals, that’s your gig.

 

(INB4 angry emails/comments: obviously these examples are two wildly different ends of a spectrum that doesn’t encompass every single person. It’s called hyperbole. Carry on.)

 

The vanilla person doesn’t need to have to constantly hear about how delicious the pony blood is, and the peacock doesn’t need to hear about how to make America great again. The likelihood of changing anyone’s opinion, in ANY context, not only gaming, is incredibly diminished when one’s main tactic is a full frontal assault.

 

cell-phoneNow, if a young Gangrel is trying to convince a very old Ventrue that cellphones really aren’t tiny magic boxes that show pictures and have people’s voices coming out of them, that’s fantastic (and an interesting commentary on the Luddite-ism of the generational gap). If a male Toreador is regaling the Court with stories of how he was really Louis XVI’s secret lover, and all the effort and rigamarole they had to go through just to get five minutes alone together without being under suspicion, that’s even better (and can draw attention to the fact that gay famous people did, in fact, exist in history and had to take great pains to hide their sexuality, so the modern reality of open acceptance is really awesome).

 

If you are playing a character who is from a culture that is markedly different from mainstream modern nights, do a little research (or a lot of research) into that culture so you can deepen their character and your presentation of them and their culture. This will likely involve finding out some rather nasty things by modern standards, like objectification of women, slave trading, oppressive social structures, and the like. Don’t flinch from this, but use it to inform your characters. Did they enthusiastically participate in these societal norms, or did they overtly or covertly resist them? Especially in horror-based genres, like Vampire or Werewolf, it is not rational or believable to have all the characters be white hats/good guys. Sometimes, you have to accept that you were likely a bastard/bitch who profited from or enjoyed the subjugation of others. This is a mature and healthy understanding of the difference between our actual selves and our characters.

 

“But I really want to raise awareness of X issue! It is a Thing! It is what I believe!”

 

That’s fantastic. Game is not the place for it. Don’t inflict that on the other characters, especially if it is not relevant to the genre or storyline. If you want to convince people to look at an issue differently, talk to them as player-to-player, ideally in a relaxed social setting. Don’t force a character to be a mouthpiece for your pet project.

 

Make friends with the other players (scary prospect, I know, but you’ll be okay, I promise) and spread your message that way. I guarantee you’ll get better results.

 

In closing, make an effort to truly differentiate yourself as a player from yourself as a character, remember Wheaton’s Law, and learn to check your banners at the door – but it’s perfectly fine to pick up a few more. 

 

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.