Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Weekend 2011 Part 2: Tenneman's Will

After Houses of the Blooded, I decided that I needed to understand LARPs better.  My offer to join the Eindhoven LARP as a moderator (an assistant to the GMs) was met with silence, so I, with reluctance, signed up for the Spring Weekend LARP, hoping against hope that I wouldn't find it terribly boring as I inevitably seemed to find LARPs.

Before I talk about the LARP, I think I'm going to discuss the technical aspects of LARP design.  I'm allowed to comment, of course, because I have at least one successful LARP under my belt ^_^  The LARP wasn't released until two days before the weekend which was very short notice indeed.  Pim came to me and discussed the LARP design and said that he had wished he had started with it much sooner.  I replied "That's why I started in August," which is true.  You could certainly see the problems that their late start caused.  For example, I received the character of Jopie, the youngest son of the late Gerrit Tenneman, a philosopher and an idealist.  I had two children, about whom my sheet had very little and no comment about their mother, and I had some connection with Domingo (played by Marco) but there's literally nothing there, just a blank space.  To learn about other characters, I had to talk to others (or, more specifically, they had to talk to me.  Sabrina pounced me basically the day we received our characters, calling me "Jopie" and "Papa" and peppering me with in-character questions.  Without realizing it, she did a lot to get me into character, to look at myself and see how I would interact with others.  I think I really needed that).  At the last minute, though, the final piece I really needed to make the character click came in the form of Alida: Raymond walked up to me and said that she was playing the mother of my children, and that she had left me when the children were 2 because of my lack of ambition and money, and that she'd written me a letter to say that she was coming to the reading of the will.

You'd think with these obvious holes, the LARP would have serious problems, and I'm not saying it didn't... but I am saying I had the most fun I've ever had playing in a LARP.  I chose to play Jopie as an idealist, someone who was essentially useless because he pursued what amounted to a Liberal Arts degree and secretly expected the world to conform to his unrealistic ideals, but the world wasn't a place where someone earned lots of money or saved the world by sitting in coffee shops talking about feelings or the human condition, but by god, I was going to try!  This contrasted with my sister and her husband, ruthless pragmatists who valued accomplishment over empty sentiment (something I, out of character, had a hard time arguing against, and I had to dig deep into feel-good TV cliches to combat).  My goal was to keep the house and get enough money to pay off my debts and put my kids through school, as well as ensure that the cook and the butler got to stay on.  Meanwhile, the woman who had broken my heart was awfully friendly with my brother and kept approaching my children.  I pounced Karin (Alida), told her that she'd given up the right to be "their mother" when she left them, demanded to know where she had been, etc, and generally being a jerk while trying to hide my character's real feelings.  She managed to persuade me to let her meet her children while not telling them who she was.  We pretended she was only interested in them because of her real estate business, in what I felt was an emotionally charged and understated scene.

As the LARP progressed, Raymond and Pim read different parts of the will, which required different tasks from the players.  The most interesting part for me came when we had to divide 20% of the company between the three family members and Christina, the 22 year-old widow of our father (his trophy wife, played by Desiree), and decide who would keep the house.  Around then, Domingo told me of his dream to play football (soccer) pro and his father's disapproval (Jan, played by Arjen, the eldest son of Gerrit and my brother).  I talked Jan into connecting again with his son, telling him what he told me, which was that he didn't disapprove of Domingo's desire to play soccer but that he felt Domingo should put his heart and soul into it.  When they connected, it also meant that Jan and I connected too, so he was all too willing to go in with me on the house, to keep the butler and cook on.  At the same time, Loese (played by Jasmine, her first LARP) revealed to us that she'd been having an affair, cheating on her husband.  Pouncing on the first moment of vulnerability and emotion expressed by my "haughty" and "excessively practical" sister, I pushed her to divorce her husband and love-bombed her with all the moral support she needed, and so reconnected wit hher.  We'd left out Christine, who wanted a single percent of the company, but she and I had been talking (She loved the house as much as I did, especially the piano room), and I felt 1% just wasn't enough, so I talked both of my siblings into giving up 1% each, to get her up to 3% (and in the final negotiation, it became 8% for Loese, and 4% for each of Jan, Christine and myself).

Around then, I decided that it was hypocritical to tell Loese to chase her passion and love while I was yelling at the love of my life, pretending I didn't care because I didn't want to get hurt.  And so I swooped down on Karin and told her I had been a fool, confessed my feelings for her, and used the same idealism to break down her guard, to rebuild the family that had fallen apart.

I didn't learn until after I had done this that Christine had fallen in love with my character, and had been in love with him for quite some time.  When Loese learned I was getting back together with the mother of my children, she objected ("She's been away for 14 years!  She broke your heart! Why are you just telling us about this now!  Christine loves you!")  but she wanted me to be happy, so supported me if I went this route. Christine and I had a deliciously awkward scene as I implied to her that I knew she cared, but that I was going to get together with the mother of my children and "as my step mother and family" I hoped she approved.  I also told Jan, who also had feelings for her, that he should tell her how he felt, because this would be his last chance.  He proposed to her.  She said she had to think about it.  I decided to propose to her (Over the objections of Lysanne (Sabrina) who, when she was introduced to Karin for real, was skeptical and felt I should take this slow)

At the next reading, I was told I would earn a million dollars if I got engaged, which really harshed my mellow, since I totally intended to propose anyway, and so I fell to my knees before Karin while Christine stalked out, unable to watch.  Karin said yes, and later, Desiree managed to actually squeeze out tears as she (Christine) told me that she had loved me for a long time and I could only awkwardly tell her that she was always welcome in the house ("Oh yeah," she later said "To watch how happy you are with another woman.  Fun fun!")  Christine ended the LARP with her eventual suicide, unable to bear her lonely future.

I'm only touching on some of the things that went on, because I was a busy bee, and you can see how involved I was in the game.  At no moment was I bored or unable to find anything to do.  Instead, I was constantly engaged, constantly surprised, constantly involved, constantly in character, and utterly wrapped up in the story.  When I say "That's the most fun I've ever had playing in a LARP," I'm not being polite, I mean it.  I think this LARP has shown me that I can, in fact, be a LARPer.

But the LARP was far from flawless.  In addition to the problems mentioned above, some other problems became obvious as I talked to other people.  There was another part of the LARP, the business side, which never seemed to interact with the family side.  It was like there were two LARPS going on at the same time.  While games should have many stories, I think those stories should interact, and I felt these two stories did so to a too limited degree.  Moreover, while I was constantly busy, other people weren't.  For example, Erik was the cook, and his only goal, his only story element, was to stay on at the house... which I arranged for him.  He literally had to do nothing for the entire LARP.  I saw him and a several other people just swinging on the swings or lazing in the grass, bored and with nothing to do.  There were many peripheral characters who had no reason to be there, nothing to do, beyond a single element in the will.  Finally, the coolest things that happened to me in the LARP had little to do with what Pim and Raymond had written.  In fact, the players basically subverted the entire thing.  Alida was supposed to play her character as a  gold-digger, but couldn't bear it with my puppy-eyes looking down at her.  Jasmine was supposed to be the evil sister, but was instead fascinated by Erik's suggestion of her having an affair (he intended it as blackmail, but instead it turned into a reason for her to connect with my character and to chase her long stagnant romantic feelings while divorcing her husband), and Desiree had no story, apparently, beyond "You're lonely and bored," and so falling in love with my character was entirely her idea.  Now, LARPs are supposed to be chaotic and unpredictable, but this basically means the story I was playing was only loosely inspired by what Raymond and Pim were writing.  I was really playing with Erik and Desiree and Alida's story.  As a result, this was the happiest, fluffiest LARP ever, where everyone got what they wanted... except for Christine, which means Desiree got what she wanted (Tragedy!  I told her later "Revenge!  You killed my character last night, and I killed yours today")

So what's my final verdict on the LARP?  The game was technically sloppy, and the fun I had was more the result of the other players than the GMs, who didn't prepare nearly as much as they really should have.  But, ultimately, only a single measure of a game's success exists: Did you have fun?  Yes, I had fun.  Lots and lots of fun.  So, it's a success (at least for me).  Preparation isn't about turning a game from a failure to a success, it's about improving the chances that it'll be a success.  Ultimately, the writer of a LARP has little control of whether that LARP works, as it's always in the hands of the player.  When I wrote HotB, I gave my players as much to work with as I could, so nobody lacked inspiration.  Here, Raymond and Pim gave us very little to work with, but very talented people turned it into quite a LARP.

I think they knew where they went wrong.  Pim says if he'd ever do this again, he'd put much more work, more time, into it, but I think ultimately, their LARP was successful for the same reason my LARP was successful.  We both grasped the ultimate truth of a LARP: LARPs are all about the players.  You can give them lots of ideas, or a few ideas and lots of room to maneuver in, but you have to let them play, rather than try to control them.  Both LARPs wrote up plenty of material and created goals, and then stepped back and let them do what they pleased. As a result, the LARP worked... mostly.

Personally, I loved it.  I think next time, they should put more work into peripheral characters, suggest more options to characters in general, and think through the consequences of the goals they offer to players (too often, they amounted to "If you do X, you win!" with little potential fallout.  Getting the house was too easy for my character, and there was no consequence to that action.  Contrast this with my romance, where choosing one character killed the other.  Ouch!  More of the latter, less of the former), but I think they absolutely had their heart in the right place, and they showed that a very simple LARP can still be a lot of fun.  They received well-deserved praise at the end, and I salute them.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...