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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 12:00:32 AM



Title: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 12:00:32 AM
I've been slowly building up my methodology for staging LARP events, and I feel that it could benefit from some critical analysis and any general thoughts others had.

This is all about the staging, and the effects of staging; while I haven't seen a LARP thread on the Forge before, I saw no reason there shouldn't be one.  I'd like your thoughts on this.

So.  Right now I stage my Live-Action game in truly minimalist style.

When I run a LARP, I bring candles in holders, draping sheets, about three props, and character sheets. That's it.

I wear black. My players come in costume or in black - one rule of the game is that straight black clothes are to be read as "a generic outfit" and given no attention.

The game-space is blacked out. Lights - house lights or candles, as required, are used to light up specific areas, with just enough overflow to walk from one lit area to another. The lit areas, however, tend to be brightly lit. These are the "stages" - the locations being used.

Furnishings within the "stage" areas is kept fairly minimal, and is often covered with a white sheet if it's not perfectly appropriate - this being the scenery equivalent of the black outfit. Each "stage" is described in terms of placement and the like within the game world before play begins.

After a game, maybe two, the players begin to grasp the little mental acrobatic trick required, their focus resolves, and they can suspend disbelief far more easily than they could back when I was using the often-lambasted styrofoam junk - and that, to me, is a major objective.

So, critical thinkers, any suggestions, thoughts, or criticisms?


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 12:49:34 AM
Beg pardon - I just realized I missed a word.  I've seen LARP-related stuff here.  But nothing dealing directly with the actual *staging* of events.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Andrew Morris on August 24, 2005, 07:39:57 AM
Levi, I'm not sure what you are asking. Let me see if understand. Are you putting forward the idea that costumes and stage elements should either be fully done (i.e. they look exactly like what they represent in the shared imagined space) or, failing that, they should be symbolic "cues" for the players to fill in the appropriate image?

Also, could you be more specific as to what sort of discussion you are looking for? A general discussion usually goes off track quickly. Is there something in particular you are looking for?


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: komradebob on August 24, 2005, 07:49:34 AM
Do you find that having everyone dress in a sort of standardized black outfit causes/encourages people to "act" more, since they can't rely as easily on props? Also, does having everyone come in the same game uniform have any sort of levelling effect on the group as a whole? What I mean is, does it avoid an issue I've seen in MET Larps that I tried where some of the folks dressed up and really pulled out the stakes ( heh-heh), and everybody else showed up in their normal street drag, causing some very unpleasant group dynamics.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 08:10:59 AM
Andrew;
In the specific style that I'm using, anything clearly visible in the gamespace should, yes, be either 'blank' - a clear symbolic cue - or 'finished' - represented by something of enough accuracy for the item to act as a tag for immersion all on it's own.  I've been finding, more and more as time goes on, that poorly-represented items can easily confuse the process for some, but 'blank' items, once they're standarised in a form others can identify and mentally 'edit' immediately, don't.

As to what it is that I want from this discussion - well, I've been developing this style of staging over the course of the last year and half (there's nothing 'new' involved in it, but most of it comes from well outside of normal LARP practice).   When I ask players of mine for their opinions, their main response was "It's just how your games *is*, you know, and we like that.".   So, mainly, any kind of input - questioning the methods, mentioning other similar theatrical practices, anything that might help me think about this or look at it in a way that would help me find new ways of progressing, would be appreciated.  And, to be sure, I wouldn't mind putting the ideas out there where others can play with them, too.

Komradebob;
Well, players are certainly given the option of wearing as much costume as they want.  However, by putting down the "rule of black", we do seem to have achieved some degree of leveling.  I haven't seen a single sneer at those coming in basic black since I structured the game this way.  And, yes, I remember seeing the kind of unpleasant dynamic you mean.  What we've instead achieved is a basic level which gets a nod, and then gets ignored by those deeply into "dressing the part", followed by significant praise to those who've costumed just a little (black clothes and a 'costume' vest and hat, for example).  The whole tone of players on this topic has changed from a mixed approach to one of pure positive reinforcement.  Also, I find that it makes it *much* less intimidating for new players.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Matt Machell on August 24, 2005, 08:36:05 AM
Where are you hosting the LARP in question? By which I mean, what kind of location? I can see your style of prep working nicely for a "bare canvas" kind of venue, but less so for anything more involved. With a lot of the MindsEye-style LARPs we used to do something similar, black material masks OOC oddments and does create ignorable backdrop that can be "edited" out so that suspension of disbelief is easier. Rubber sword LARPs do somethign similar with "wear black trousers" since people just blank them and focus on the costume you're wearing above.

What might be a nice experiment is to have every player in black, tie each character to a prop (hat or similar), and allow players to arbitarily switch between them at the end of a scene. (this kinda ties into something I've been pondering called "Behind the Scenes", a more narativist LARP with aggressive scene-framing mechanics.)

-Matt


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 08:51:48 AM
Matt;
Right now, the main space I use is the local Legion hall; the actual space itself is the kind of area where wedding receptions and the like are held, and has - a massive bonus to me - fully controllable "dial" lighting that's segmented over the whole area.  The space is large enough that lighting controls allow me to edit out inappropriate sections of architecture.

And I've seen MET games use cloth draping to mask a great many things - I believe that's where I got that idea from.  The "black trousers" trick in games is newer to me; I'd never actually noted anyone else using it before, but I've seen it in theatre a number of times.

True "blank uniform" is something I've actually considered a few times, and the experiment you propose certainly sounds interesting.

I'm curious, also, as to how you'd go about 'aggressively framing' scenes in a narrative sense inside of a LARP environment.  Certainly, if would be "stage"-related, I'd love to have you add it here.  If it would be more of a new thread, I'd be glad to join you in it.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Albert of Feh on August 24, 2005, 08:56:23 AM
I've done something similar to you with costumes, except instead of using black as 'blank slate', I used black as a sign to say 'ignore this', sort of like for a theatre's tech crew. I told each player to come dressed entirely in black, and gave each a mask to represent their character. I explicitly told people to focus on the mask as the symbolic representation of each character, and ignore as much else about them as possible.

I had some fun mechanics based off this: A character could become 'invisible' by removing his mask temporarily; the players were instructed beforehand that a person without a mask did not exist in game. Parent characters could send their children on 'time-out' by confiscating their mask and sending the child away for a short while.

One character did not have a mask. He was a ghost, and could not normally be seen or interacted with (though he could whisper in your ear!). He could 'possess' characters by taking the player's mask, putting it on, and sending the player away for five minutes. In one instance, he not only took another player's mask, he started imitating the player's IC voice (a sort of cackling goblin), and the whole mask conceit worked so well that some of the players he interacted with didn't even realize that there was a different person behind the character mask!

My next larp will probably do something similar. Some characters will start the game dead, as ghosts, and some will start the game alive, and maybe die. I will ask everyone to come dressed entirely in black, except for one or two brightly-colored, easily removable overgarments (jackets, hats, etc.). The dead will only wear black, and are not normally visible to the living, who will be wearing bright clothes.

(oh, and ditto on being interested in larp scene-framing issues)


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 09:23:09 AM
Albert;
That's very cool indeed, and I suspect will give me a few new ideas in such terms.  I suspect that in practice, there's no real distinction between our use of black outfits.  All I've done along those lines is add, for player benefit, a specific excuse for ignoring the outfit (by pretending it's generically appropriate).  The actual end effects of adding this little tagline are small, but so is the effort.

And the mechanics you're using there for masks are quite interesting to me.  I might have thought it somewhat more intuitive if removing your mask and placing it on a table or chair meant your character's body was present, while they were 'projected' in ghostly form, but that may just be me instantly jumping to thinking of ways this method could be used to create a fairly haunting game about ghosts, projection, and the like.

Do you do anything specific with the actual playing space that hasn't been mentioned already?


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Andrew Morris on August 24, 2005, 09:37:03 AM
Well, Levi, I don't have much to say other than that your technique seems to be very interesting. I'd like to try it some time, but the LARPers in my area would probably never go for it. How do you regulate costuming in your games? If a player shows up in street clothes, and says, "this is exactly what my character is wearing," what do you do?


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 09:45:57 AM
Andrew;
Not everyone in LARP has done any real experimentation with this kind of stuff.  Actually, I'd say that the numbers are comparatively small - so I'm entirely familiar with folks who would never try such stuff out.

As to street clothes...    Well, my current game is set in Germany in 1837.  So I'd tell them why their outfit didn't work.  And then I'd ask for a black coat or cloak from the players, and ask them to wear it for the game.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Albert of Feh on August 24, 2005, 09:54:07 AM
Quote
Do you do anything specific with the actual playing space that hasn't been mentioned already?

Thus far, nothing quite as abstract as what you're talking about. That said, the creation of a space for the game separated from the real world is a very important element of my games.  I make a concerted effort to find real-world spaces that correspond well with the space I want for the game. I am based around the campus of Stanford University, which provides a wealth of set-piece opportunities.

For my first Halloween larp (the one with the masks), I set it around the edge of the empty lake-bed. The lit area on one part of the path was the town, while another area, dark and overhung by trees, was the forest, with the lake-bed itself just as neutral space. Even better, that night was a full-moon, and low fog settled in the lake, providing ethereal views of vague figures running through the mist.

Another game was set on an ancient colony starship. We (the GMs) roamed campus looking for the most evocative locations to hold triggers for in-game events.

For my Kabuki larp, I had a place in mind right from the start, and created a whole IC regional geography from the area. In between two buildings on campus is a small grove of bamboo. The bamboo grove became the forest road up from the lowlands with a village at its end. Balconies on the two buildings became mountain roads. There was even a sacred volcano in the distance (the campus power generator down the street, which emits a steady cloud of steam).

Quote
I might have thought it somewhat more intuitive if removing your mask and placing it on a table or chair meant your character's body was present, while they were 'projected' in ghostly form, but that may just be me instantly jumping to thinking of ways this method could be used to create a fairly haunting game about ghosts, projection, and the like
Well, when characters became invisible, they hid their masks, instead of just laying them down on the table. That's a good idea, though, and one I might have to use for my next halloween game.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 10:52:56 AM
Albert;
So, in general, you spend time acquiring and adapting spaces, rather than creating an abstracted playing-space.  I've done a fair bit of this as well in the past, and likely will do so again in the future.  It can be rewarding, but I'd be completely frazzled if I tried to do that for my monthly game.

Your site choices do sound quite lovely, though.


Title: Re: Physical Game Staging - Black Box LARP
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 24, 2005, 12:43:35 PM
Okay, now - just realized the obvious question to be asking, here.

In the opinions of GNS-model folks, would the methods of staging of a LARP game cause that game to move more or less towards different points on that model?   If you believe that such movement is possible, how would you suspect that it could be done?  Can the creative agenda of a LARP use staging as a tool, and if so, what methods of staging would people here suspect would be most useful and relevant to each type of agenda?