Monday, May 02, 2005

Weekend game action!

Big ups to the organising crew at The BIG Weekend games convention here in the lovely city of Brisbane. Well, O.K., maybe not so much for the organisation, especially as I was able to sneak in and fill out a roster spot for someone who couldn't make it along without causing so much as an upturned eyebrow. But then, that's the kind of people we are here in BrisVegas.

The deal was as such. Some buds of mine had organised a five man (sorry Helga) team to do the rounds, lovingly known as "Team Hypnofrog!" My buddy Brad made up team stickers and everything (one of the benefits of working for a print company. That and getting your basketball team paid for apparantly). A week out from the long weekend in question, one of the guys had to pull out due to unforseen work commitments, so I get the call.

I wound up doing two games;

A systemless scenario called "Omega Vector" by Dave Swanson, and "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - An Infinities Tale" by my bud Colin.

First up, Omaga Vector. The group was a government organisation, given the task of coordinating the response should a biological attack occur on Australian soil. Of course, that's exactly what happened and it was up to us to deal with it. Run in a condensed timeframe such that a day and a half's action took place in three hours, Dave seemed to be a pretty cluey guy who ran the game with a light touch, letting us really get into our characters. I'll be interested to see what he has in store for the future.

Second was Col's Star Wars game. A work emergency meant I had to slip back on the Sunday night to play, which meant I got stuck with four unknowns. All in all, considering the tone of the game, they turned out to be not too bad, albeit a little too keen to press on regardless. The basic premise was this. What would have happened if Mara Jade, from the extended Star Wars universe, had been on Jabba's Sail Barge at the moment when Luke started his attack to free him and his friends from the Sarlacc? Well, apparantly if you're me playing Luke Skywalker you botch a Force roll while attempting to jump onto the sail barge, slip and fall straight into the Pit of Carkoon. Oh well. At least Col had Lando Calrissian on standby for me to jump into.

In the end, without Luke there, Leia gets seriously injured on Endor, Vader gets killed by the Emperor in aggravation, and while Lando manages to destroy the Death Star, the Emperor escapes to continue his reign. Mara, without Luke to bring her back to the light side, winds up as the next Sith apprentice. But that was just our outcome. Every group that played had a different story.

Anyway, the practical upshot of all this is that I've been thinking more and more about the part Role Playing games play in user-based narrative. Take the Star Wars game as an example. There's no way anyone would plot the hero to trip and fall to his certain doom halfway through the dramatic battle. A good thing? A bad thing? Definitely a memorable thing.

I got into a discussion with Dave from Omega Vector, Helga and Steve where we touched on this sort of thing. Dave mentioned that he was wanting to organise a real time game for next year. That got me thinking about a site I'd discovered years before. I'd never been back, but the premise had always stayed with me.

Dogma 99 is a group of Live Action Role Play enthusiasts and artists that look at moving LARP in a new direction, similar to the more widely known film movement Dogme 95. The signatories follow what they call "the Manifesto" and aim to create and run at least one LARP event that follows the following rules.

1. It is forbidden to create action by writing it into the past history of a character or the event.
2. There shall be no "main plot". (The story of the event must be made for each players character, not the whole).
3. No character shall only be a supporting part.
4. All secrecy is forbidden. (Any participant who so desires shall in advance be shown all documents that pertain to the event).
5. After the event has begun, the playwrights are not allowed to influence it. (Any use of staging and ad hoc organiser roles is forbidden).
6. Superficial action is forbidden. (The playwrights may not in any way plan or encourage the use or threat of violence as part of the event)
7. LARPs inspired by table-top role-playing games are not accepted.
8. No object shall be used to represent another object. (all things shall be what they appear to be)
9. Game mechanics are forbidden. (rules to simulate for instance the use of violence or supernatural abilities are not permitted)
10. The playwrights shall be held accountable for the whole of their work.

Furthermore, I swear to regard myself as an artist, and any LARP I write as my "work". I stand open for criticism and wholesale slaughter of my works, and promise to apologise to my players for all that is imperfect in the LARPs I write. My highest goal is to develop the art and medium of live-action role-playing. This, I promise, will be done through all means available, and at the expense of good taste, all conventions and all popularity amongst the so-called LARPers.

For those of us brought up in the world of Tabletop games and the crapulescence that is "The Camarilla" these rules seem strange and even antithetical. However, it looks as if these guys were embracing the notion of user-generated narrative at a time when I honestly didn't believe a game could run without a half a dozen pre-arranged plot elements, characters with monstrous plot hooks to get them involved, constant supervision by the organiser (namely, me) and some form of game mechanics to cover combat situations.

Saturday night's discussion took me back there in search of a game I'd seen on the site. Called Europa, the game involves approximately 80 people playing the parts of refugees, prison guards and bureaucrats in an alternate reality where the Nordic countries are torn apart by war and ethnic tension. The characters play their parts in a facility created to represent a refugee complex and runs, non-stop, for five days. There's no need for rules, because the laws of reality hold sway. You eat when you eat, you sleep when (or if) you sleep, and you fight by raising your fists to another person. Again, it all sounds strange and perhaps a little dangerous, but in theory, and I guess inpractice, with the right people it works. This sort of massive event has me thinking and it's just possible that I've come up with an idea for a Project should I go on to do my Masters.

The only problem with Dogma 99 is that it seems as if the site hasn't been touched in years. I feel like I have to get in touch with someone there to find out what's been happening, even if it's to discover that they realised that the world just isn't quite ready yet for what they had to offer.

Game on. More to come.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you could fill in for me!


Troy said...

(...damn blogger making me anonymous!)

Leonard King said...

No problem. I enjoyed it. It's been a while since I did any serious gaming, and after last weekend I gues it's still some time since I've done any.

Hopefully that will change once Ellen and I are into the new house.

Nice to see you dropping by.

Colin Smith said...

I'm also glad you could fill in for him. :D