Just a Little Lovin – Theme music for a character

Another thing I have done in my work with Bruce, my character for Just a Little Lovin, is to make a short playlist for him, and even found “his number.” This again I did with my friend, but have worked on it since, (but I still can’t recommend enough to work on your character with a friend, it has really been helpful, especially if you’re a bit nervous about it.)

So the songs are both songs I know but also songs from the time and inspired by the playlists they have made for the game, (I’m listening to that right now). Not all of the songs are made before the game is set, but most is, and the most important one is, and one is definitely not from the eighties, but it has it’s point. So lets go through them.

Queen: Don’t stop me now
As soon as I remembered this song I thought: “This is perfect!” And the more I listen to the lyrics it just screams Bruce. But also the tempo, the partyness of it, the beet, it just fits! And luckily it’s made late in the seventies, so it could easily be the song he listens to, as he gets ready for another mad night out.
Just see these lyrics that I have picked out from around the song:
“I’m floating around in ecstasy”
“I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies”
“Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity”
“There’s no stopping me”
“I’m burning through the sky yeah!”
“Two hundred degrees”
“I’m trav’ling at the speed of light”
“I wanna make a supersonic man out of you”
“I am a satellite I’m out of control”
“I am a sex machine ready to reload”
“Like an atom bomb about to Oh oh oh oh oh explode”

Queen: Another one bites the dust
The one thing that got this one the list is the beat, its hard and sweaty. This songs plays in his head when he’s putting on his suit that fits just so. Or the one he hears after a good day at the stock exchange, where he has just gotten another client from the nose of a competitor. It’s a powerful song, and he likes it. (Queen fits in general, the lead singer also lived a double life, and lived life too hard. But I don’t think we yet knew he was gay by 1982?) Where the lyrics in “Don’t stop me now” fits perfectly for Bruce they don’t so much for this one, this is more the beat and the repeated phrase: “Another bites the dust.” Taking down another one, be it a good sale or another young lover, both is a success to be celebrated long into the night.

Michael Jackson: Billie Jean
Again this is only because of the beat. He likes to move to it, both on his way to the office and in bed. But also the strength and agility Jackson radiates in this song, is something Bruce likes. By coincidence I ended up with six songs, so you can in a way also see them as songs for each act. So the previous two are the ones from act one, it fits that act, is all about love, parties and enjoying life. Now this is the first song of act two, (which is a bit darker, and about partying, because there might be no tomorrow, ignoring the fear and partying for one more night.) So “Billie Jean” fits as the story in the song, is a bit more dark, but Bruce ignores that and keeps the party going.

Queen: Headlong
This one is kind of says the same thing as “Don’t stop me now” but with two differents: the singer says: you instead of me and it still someone moving too fast, but now out of control and heading for a crash. “And there’s nothing you can do about it…” If Bruce reacts to the pressure in act two with even more partying, this song fits very well, it can easily go very wrong and what he has been suppressing will hit him hard. The question is: will he realize the course he’s on and will and can he change it? I don’t know, but I hope I get to find out. (Bruce might die before this point, but I sure don’t hope so, I really want to explore this character, especially in act two, I can survive him dying (haha pun) in act three, but would still regret it.)

Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
This song is from before I started dividing them into acts, so it’s both a symbol of him chasing those pleasures (sweet dreams) (and again it’s also the beat I like), but it can also be the confusion act two and three might be putting on Bruce. What is his dreams and what is it everyone else around him wants? The sound if the song is also slightly mystisk and confusing, this is the conflict in Bruce. “Everybody’s looking for something, what are you looking for Bruce?”

Marilyn Manson – Sweet Dreams
But that’s just the same song! And it’s definitely not from the eighties, I hear you shout. Yes, I know, but I just like it so much, so it went on there. But the more I listen to it and especially in connection with the Eurythmics version, they start complimenting each other. This is much more dark and destructive, this is the sound of loss and collapse. I imagine, that if this was a film and that if Bruce did die, this song would be playing as he scared and (maybe) alone died. You never came around, you wasted your life, the devil mocks him as he gasps for the last time. This is in short the worst end that Bruce can face. Will it come to that? I don’t know, I have no idea how the two last acts will be, I and don’t want to. It’s impossible to plan anyway, as he and other players will also have a great influence on what happens.

Just a Little Lovin – Talking about the character

I completly forgot about this series I was doing a life sometimes eh? Oh well were are the rest at the same time, Then you can read that while I’m at JaLL (it start tomorrow)

There was one post I didn’t get around to write about costume and how to use that as a proces for your character. But I’ll get back to that 🙂

In my last post, it was all about the unstructured thinking that I’ve done about my character for Just a Little Lovin, Bruce. And how I’ve used that to deal with some of the doubts I had with it. This time, it’s how I’ve used talking to other people, as a tool to get a better grip on Bruce.

So one of the issues, I didn’t have a great handle on, is how to flirt and seduce. See that also plays a role in the game and with Bruce. He likes young men and he’s definitely the one that does the seducing. So how on earth do I (shy, and in a relationship for the last 10 years and with a history of bad oh so bad flirting before that) handle that?

Well this is where talking about the character with my friend, Anine, became very helpful. And we figured out a few things. First of all my take on dominance and manipulation works well here, (see my last post). Short recap: I mustn’t hold back myself and my ideas and compulsions out of fear for what others think, because Bruce will just do it, if it will help him get, what he wants. And Bruce will be nice and will talk others up, to get them to like him.

Or rather: when you first read Bruce, he’s easy to see as a selfish asshole, who like to be front and center. But you don’t get to the position he’s in by being a selfish asshole or you won’t at least if you show it too much. No I think Bruce is great to be around, he’s fun, charming and talks you up. But he has his own motives by doing that. So just by talking about my worry about flirting, I came to see, how my take on dominance and manipulation could be used here.

But what if it doesn’t work and someone rejects his advances? Well my friend had an answer for that, and it’s found in Bruce’s other trait: hedonistic. He likes pleasure he abhors boredom. If someone don’t want to play along he would just leave and find a party somewhere else.

I have also spend some time talking to people who have more experience in this kind of larp than me. Especially Oliver, who has been my constant consultant. Recently he visited me and we talk about many things, among which me participating in JaLL.

One thing he suggested was finding some small repeatable scenes or actions to do if one has a low moment or just needs a break. That is something I want to work with.

All in all I have talked to many people about this, more than is necessary but I find it interesting and as this is my first big larp it’s hard not to. I have talked to people who have played the game, people who I’m going to play close to in this run and so on. Each time I have left the conversation feeling more ready and less nervus.

Questions about the character
This was another thing we did a lot, when I talked with Anine about Bruce. She asked me questions about Bruce, like the one I mentioned in one of the first posts: “what will he do if someone’s dies?” And the answer to that was he or me doesn’t know. But she asked other things, that really helped me with the character.

It’s like the workshop technique called the hot chair, where you ask a player questions and he answers them truthfully about his character. Just coming up with the answers helps you build a better image of a character. But this worked even better, because her questions often came out of the blue while we were doing other things. I think she is fascinated by the game and would have signed up, if she had the time. She also a psychologist and finds asking questions rather natural.

I can’t remember many specific questions or answers, they short of flow together now. Many of the insights with the traits comes from these questions and answers, but now it’s all sort of part of my image of the character.

So this is definitely an advice, but it might be hard to follow. You need to find a friend who is fascinated by the game, by role play, and by your character, and who isn’t afraid of asking a lot of questions. Have that friend over, cook some good food together, and let the friend ask questions during it. That way your answers become more spontaneous and less forced.

If you invite me over for good food I’ll gladly pay by asking questions about someone you are about to play. I’m sure many feel the same.

Just a Little Lovin – Thinking about the character

Until now my work with my character for Just a Little Lovin, the hedonistic Bruce, I described in my last post, have been very unstructured, a lot thinking in short. We got our spot for the game and character, just as I had gone to bed one evening and that set of a whole thought stream, so I didn’t sleep until 3. that night.

And since then I have let my thoughts dwell on the character once in a while, much like I work with my ideas I now realize. Let it be there in the background and only touch lightly on it once in a while, as I with do other things and if something new appears work and with that a bit until it is thought through.

In the beginning it was mainly worries, what if this, what if that?

See one of the things that troubled me with Bruce is his traits:

These are the traits of a strong and outgoing man. And I’m more to holding back. As I talked about in my post about playing “New Voices in Art”, I’m very self conscious about what others think about me. Therefore I created a character that wasn’t. And to some extent Bruce is like that. But the big difference is that he does care, or rather it’s important that he seems strong, where as in the artist character it didn’t matter, if he was seen as a fool, he just didn’t care. Neither does Bruce, he just never ends up seeming like fool. But I do. Or at least i’m afraid I do.

But this is role play, you might say at this point, can’t you just pretend? Well yes, but from experience I also know that I need to find some connecting points within myself to the character. Especially for the bits that’s very different from me. Because these parts are so alien to me, I need to find out, how I will express them, if I don’t, well then I know that I’ll either freeze up, (thinking too much about am I doing this wrong or right) or I’ll do it very cliche or superficially.

I need to convince myself, that I can play this alien character, so that I during play can relax and focus on the experience rather than on what to do now and is this good enough? And I do that by looking at how I will express the different and difficult parts of the character. And that is the process I will go through now:

Competitive: I’m not competitive, I just really don’t care who’s best. Luckily this part of Bruce would mostly come out during his working hours and they are not part of the play. But if they do, I think I’ll try and turn my own attitude to competition upside down: I don’t care because I know I can’t be the best. Bruce doesn’t care because he knows, he is the best.

Hedonistic: This is the one I know straight from the start I could do. I love pleasure and good things. Even to excess. It’s a part of me I’m a bit worried about sometimes, all I need to do is shut that worry down and just let myself go (and crank it up to 11). Bruce wants pleasure, and as much of it as possible. One of the things I talked about with Anine, (mentioned in my last post) is that Bruce is quantity over quality, more, more, more! I can do that. If something is boring move on from it look for the next pleasure. And that also solves another worry. Which we will come back to.

Dominant: This one I struggled with a lot, until I realized one thing I often do with strangers: I hold back, a lot, especially if we are talking in english. I speak english as well as danish (because I’m half english). I also try in workshops and group work to hold back, because I often have a lot of ideas and other things, I just want to throw out there. I’m very responsive, If someone says something that often gives me a new idea, and I’m worried that I take the spotlight too much, and often hold back. I want others to have a good time as well, you know give others room. Well Bruce doesn’t have that worry, so I just need to shut down that consideration. If I want to speak, if I want to grab center stage, I just do it. I know it’s not a traditional form of dominance, but it will be how I’ll try and handle it.

Manipulative: Again I thought this is something I’m not, but then I saw another thing: I’m a nice guy and I like to be nice to others. Bruce is the same, but he has other motives. He’s nice and I think complementing, but he does it, because it helps him get what he wants (calling back the the whole hedonistic thing). So he will be fun and nice to be around, a good party friend, but he has a reason for his behavior. It kind of fits, because he is living a double life: in the day he’s around straight traditional men and the stock exchange, but at night he parties at gay bars with young impressionable men. Also the personal issue with suppressing all other parts of life requires a strong mask. So it’s not that I need to change my way of being much but my interior motivation has to change.

I spend a lot of time on praise others and I want people around me to feel appreciated. I do this, because I like to please and I want to be friends with everyone and also I want others to feel good about themselves. Struggling with low confidence, I know what that kind of words means to me, so I want to share the love, (you bloody hippie). And that can be twisted to be seen as manipulation, (or rather it kind of is already). But again I need to switch the motivation. See nice guy Simon does it, because he wants others to feel good about themselves. But Bruce does it because he knows that it will get him what he wants.

Flashy: This is kind of the visual combination of the above four. He is a success and must show it in clothes and actions. I hope that comes with the other things.

Just a Little Lovin – Bruce

So as mentioned in my last post I’m playing Bruce, let me just give you the lowdown on him from the character description: (It’s a completely transparent game, we even get all the other character descriptions, so we know what to play on.)

5 defining characteristics:

  • Competitive
  • Hedonistic
  • Dominant
  • Manipulative
  • Flashy

Also the character description starts like this: “Yuppie, this is your age. Rags to riches story. High on testosterone, money and the high life of the city.”

When I first got the part I thought “wow he’s everything I’m not,” and even for a few seconds considered turning it down, (that would have meant forgoing my spot and only getting a spot if someone else backed out, and then maybe even getting a less fitting character).

But the more I read and reread the character and thought about it and talked to others about it, the more I could see that my first reaction is both true but also not so.

At some points he’s like me, at some points he’s what I pretend to be in the right circumstances, at some points he’s what I should be (by now), and at a few points he’s the opposite from me, which is also something that’s fun to explore (such as my experience with New Voices in art, Read about that here.)

But the main reason I want to play Bruce is his personal issue, the internal conflict that will drive this character, especially as we move into act two and three and his current superficial lifestyle comes under pressure and is seen in the harsh light that AIDS epidemic will set it in. For that same reason I have decided to not think about this character beyond the first act. I don’t want to know how he will react until it happens.

So in my work with this character I will only look at him as he is right now even though this is a clearly unstable condition that can’t last. And it is:

He lives to hard! Spends his working hours at Wall Street, high on the adrenalin rush of the stock market, he throws himself at this full hearted. And throws himself just as powerful at the city’s party life after work is done. This is the city that never sleeps and I don’t think that Bruce sleeps much either. He works too hard, he parties too hard, and as a result:

“You have been forced to shut down so many other parts of your life and personality: Friendship, Family, Insecurity, Guilt, the need to relax and the need to simply pause and think.”


“You can sometimes feel these shut­ down parts of yourself hammering on the iron doors you have locked them behind.”

And that of course leads to the question:

“Will they (the locked away parts) manage to escape, or will you succeed in keeping them subdued?”

And that question will be central in act two and three, that is why I want to play Bruce, and that is why I don’t want to think about it before hand.

I was visited by my friend Anine recently and we ended up talking a lot about the game and my character and that actually become an important part of my work with Bruce. (See the thing is the character description is actually rather short and you are meant to interpret on it yourself, (atleast thats how I understand it). You can’t play your character wrong, because you will be playing your interpretation of it.)

And at one point she asked me: “what happens if a close friends die” and after a short pause I said “I don’t know and Bruce definitely doesn’t”, at this point he never even thinks of death as a possibility, which is why I dont want to either.

In the next posts I will write about what I have done so far, in my work with finding my version of Bruce.

Just a Little Lovin – Intro

So I wrote these posts shortly after Fastaval, and have been going back and forth on whether or not I should post them, as they are rather personal. But now with a week and a day to go before the larp, I’ve decided to run them one a day as warm up for the larp.

So this summer I’m going to play my first real big larp lasting more than a day. And I’m starting out in the deep end with the, in some circles legendary “Just a Little Lovin.” It has been called the best larp in the world, and that is of course impossible to say as larps are so different, it would be the same as try and find the best movie or piece of art in the world. But enough to say that it’s seen as one of the best out there. And it’s another rarity: it’s one of few big larps that has been rerun many times, this is the fourth run.

That actually had me hesitate to sign up. Because having heard so much about the huge experience, that people had with it, you can’t help think: “Can it live up to that?” And when you hear who have played it you think: “well all the good ones have played it, won’t this run just be whatever is left?” (including me). But Oliver was on my case me until I gave in and signed up.

Seeing the player list has shown me, how wrong I was on that last point. The people going are amazing, and when I hear about the people that didn’t get in, I’m even more amazed, there might even be people for a fifth run. Apparently we have many more talented roleplayers than I had ever thought.

So any way what is “Just a little lovin”? (or JaLL) It’s a larp about love, sex, friendship and the fear of death. It takes place in the early eighties, when the AIDS epidemic hit USA. Most of the characters are from the gay and lesbian scene, that was sadly hit particularly hard. The other half of the characters is from other alternative sub groups, that was prevalent in the eighties. So it’ aslo a look into alternative USA in the eighties with spiritualism and alternative lifestyles.

The setting for the larp is three 4. of july parties, that each is one act of the game, so a year passes between each act. The game also runs for three evenings and in the morning we workshop and plan what has happened in the year between the parties.

The three years are: 82, 83 and 84. Each year has a theme. The first year is all about the party life. Times are great and it’s all about living to the fullest. The second year AIDS has started to spread and there’s a beginning panic, some become infected and a few die (yes you can die in the year that passes between each party, if that happens you get a new character, but still it’s a brave move, but I have been told that it works.)

So 83 is all about the fear for death and partying like there’s no tomorrow, because there might not be. 84 is about sticking together and friendship in the face of the tragedy. Many have now become infected and every one has lost friends and loved ones. Death is completely random, done via a lottery which is properly the most terrifying part, and rather real, that is how it must have felt.

So it’s in one way a very dark and sad game, but also a game full of love. As we have explored many times: when faced with loss we pull together and the emotions becomes stronger. But it’s also a game about the styles, looks and music of the eighties, especially the New York alternative and hedonistic party scene, (think Studio 54). And yes it’s in parts also about homosexsuality, but not in a front and center kind of way, and if you don’t want to play gay you don’t have to.

The game runs from sunday evening until friday afternoon. I’m don’t know much about the program after that, but assume that we will workshop a lot (I hope) and then for three evenings is the game itself with a ending party on friday (a real one mind you).

So having explained the larp a bit, I will in the next few posts muse a bit on my character and also on how I have worked with it so far. But just to answer the unspoken question: yes I’m going to be playing a gay character. It’s Bruce, a rich and confident stockbroker who parties all night. He’s differently out of my comfort zone, but the more I think about it, I think it’s just the right character for me. And everybody keeps saying that as well.

The Longest Stay – A larp about political prisoners


Detail of the prison building

So these days I’m always looking for someone who will do one of those big larps at The Prison Museum: Horsens Statsfængsel (now famous from Black Box Horsens.)

I myself have never designed a big larp and I also know I’m bad at getting ideas this way, (starting from the need of a larp and not from ideas slowly crystallising into something finished.)

So it took some time before I realised, that the newest idea I’ve been chewing on fit perfectly at Horsens Statsfængsel (Horsens State Prison).


The locals call it the Castle, (with good reason)

It started with the thought about the intensity there must be in connection with a system change were political prisoners are suddenly set free and now have to decide how to deal with the ones that locked them up. But I also quickly realised that it must also be strange to be that guard, to be told that the ones you have been keeping locked up indefinitely suddenly has to be set free and will soon be the ones in power. If you know your history you know that i’m especially thinking about apartheid and Nelson Mandela.

As far as I remember he was rather graceful about it, but it might not have been so. And that is what I want to explore. So this is the concept:

The larp is set in a prison in an alternative world where what played out in South Africa has played out in Denmark. Much like they did in Finland for the larp Halat hisar, (where the situation in Palestine now played out in Finland)

This prison is where political prisoners are held. And they are to be held there indefinitely. There will be different kinds, leaders, activists, rebels, and different opinions among the imprisoned.

There will also be the guards and the rest of the prison staff. The point is that in preparation for the larp the two groups will design the two cultures that live in that country, the natives and to colonisers (So they are completely fictional, so no one will be offended). So it’s a fictional world but being a clear and open parallel to the development in South Africa.

The larp will take place over a couple of acts, three or four with five to ten years between each. In between the acts it will be workshopped (and maybe black boxed) what happens in those years. I’m also thinking that the characters will have makeup added as the years progress, to show that passed of time.

It will also be a larp where it’s possible to play all of it or some of it, both as guard and prisoner because you might just be imprisoned or hired later. Some change in staff will also make sense, as they move on with their lives, (unlike the prisoners).

Each act will have some kind of focus. It must be a time when tensions in the country comes to a peak, so there’s something to play on. But what exactly that will be requires more study of South African history. But the last act will of course be the system change.

It will be a story about many things: prison life, the feel of the world moving on without you, the meaning of freedom, the effect of apartheid on both cultures, revenge or forgiveness, duty or conscience and so on.

So that’s the idea as far as I’ve gotten so far. Will it be made? I don’t know. If I go forward with it, I would hope to ally myself with some of the designers of some of the bigger larps from recent years, as they have experience doing stuff like this.

It will be an expensive larp as the prison is not cheep. But there’s also a lot of opportunity for funding or even cooperation with the prison, (I’m considering make parts of the game in crowd during the opening hours of the prison.) Theres also the possibility that human rights organisations might want to support it, and I definitely want to write the game in such a way, so it’s open for non larpers who are just interested in the subject. They could be activists from NGOs, students in as different fields as psychology and history, teachers, politicians, researchers and so on.

But what do you think?

Writing and reading letters in roleplay

Another overlooked tool, that I would like to see more of, is writing and reading letters during roleplay. But done in a certain way. By chance I played two games at Fastaval where writing letters played a role.

In Distance the game ends with one player reading out the letter, that was left from one of the husbands stationed in Afghanistan to his wife back in Denmark.

The player have to improvise what is in the letter. In the game it’s written that: if that soldier survives it can be him reading out while he was writing it, if he died it could be the wife reading it out when she opened it.

IMG_1948In Deranged two of the scenes were letter writing scenes, where first one character would write a letter and then the receiver would write a reply.

In both examples it’s important to stress, that they are not reading out a prewritten letter, but improvising and narrating the letter as their character write or read them.

But I don’t think that neither are going the full way.

It was at the theatre I saw how it should be done.

A few years ago me and Jeanette saw “Pride and Prejudice” at an open air stage in London. It was a beautiful play, and in the book letters play a big role, so of course it was also part of the play.

But letter reading was done like this:

The character writing the letter would narrate it out loud, often action on the content, especially with her voice, (sad voice if the content was sad, happy if it was good, and so on).

But (and this is the brilliant part), the one reading the letter would be standing in another part of the stage acting as if she was reading the letter, (while the other was reading it out loud) and reacting to the content.

And that is the way to do it. When I GM’ed Distance, that’s the way I did it. In our run the soldier that had written the letter was also the one who died. So I let him narrate the content and I had the player of the wife sit and “read” the letter as he “read it out.”

It was such a powerful experience, and both did it very well. This kind of connects to my post about being silent. By having one player read out and another reacting, that gives the reacting player time to really focus on her reaction, because she is not distracted by trying to figure out what to say next. It becomes like an inner monologue that another player can react to.

So the lesson is: letters in role play can be a powerful tool, if you do it like this.

Be quiet and play

09-DSC_0086 - 2015-02-14 at 19-08-52Ok. So I’ve said this before, but silence in role play is really an overlooked tool. I think there’s kind of a dogme about it (at least in the Fastaval and chamberlarp scene I’m part of). We think that to role play is to talk. Or that if it’s quiet during play, we’re doing it wrong. If we can’t think of anything to say, then we are failing the role play.

And it’s understandable, roleplay is a verbal medium, especially in the tabletop and champerlarp tradition, where there’s no costumes or scenography to show that we are in a special situation. In those cases, we only have our words to show, that we are in fact role playing, and not just randomly standing around in a room. (Side note, is that why nonverbal is so popular in black box games?).

But some of the strongest scenes I’ve experienced have been in complete silence. And I have had strong scenes ruined, because people felt like they had to talk, and that ruined the moment. I think there’s a few reasons for this:

No script
In a movie they can always find the right emotional thing to say in a very strong scene. But role play has no script, (that’s why we love it). But it also means that we often have to rely on what ever comes to mind, and that is often the cliches. And that is okay in most play, but if someone blurts out some overused cliche in a very emotionally strong scene, because they feel like they had to say something, that can really kill the moment. I have tried to have scenes, where most was quiet, but one person just couldn’t shut up, and I in my mind was just going “shut up, shut up, focus on the moment” (but of course you can’t say that ingame).

Beyond words
That is a cliche in itself, but in this case it’s true. It’s kinda linked to the above. In the very strong scenes we are beyond words, so it becomes very hard to think up anything relevant to say. Just like it is in real life. And it turns out, that the scene is just more powerful if everyone shuts up, and focuses on the mood and says nothing, you will be surprised at what that can do.

So why is silence so strong? I see a few reasons:

It reinforces strong scenes
Just think of the first ten minutes of the Pixar movie Up, so few words spoken, especially towards the end of that bit. Would it have been better with words? I don’t think so.

It focuses attention
When you are accepting the silence and not trying to come up with something to say, you become much more focused on those around you, yourself, your body and your emotions.

It encourages other forms of communication
You will be surprised at what you can communicate with, when you no longer have words. There’s body language, eye contact (or lack of), touch and so on. You don’t know what you can do with that until you try.

It’s intense
We very rarely experience silence. The absence of words is powerful. I can’t explain why, but as I said some of my best moments in roleplay have been beyond words.

But how do we do it? Well here’s a few tips:

Make it permissible
Players need permission to do it. As I said before, we think, that we are doing it wrong, if no one is saying anything during roleplay. So if a game or scene can benefit from it, encourage players to speak less or be quite. As a GM that is a permission you can give.

Make it a rule
Try to challenge your players. The instruction: in this scene you can not talk, is scary, but always yields strong results.

It’s not miming
This is an important instruction to give. You should NOT start miming, just because a scenes is without words. We are not playing someone who is mute, we are playing a scene, where the characters choose not to speak for different reasons. Often because they can’t find the words. It a small distinction, but important.

Here’s a few examples, of how I have used silence in games:

Things that happen to other people
When I played “Things that happen to other people” (read my posts about it here: part one and part two), at one point my character had killed an old man, and I (and my character) was beyond words. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and we had to do an inner monologue. I could have said all the cliches: “why did I do that?” “what’s wrong with me?” “I hate myself!” and so on, but they all sounded so hollow to me. So in the end I decided that the stronger thing to do, was to say nothing, to underline the stunned shock my character was in. And it worked beautifully. It showed that the character was in shock, his mind was literally blank.

The Courage of Teddies
This is a game I designed, and in the last scene, a family have to say goodbye to their young son, who is dying, (#nordiclarpforlife). When I wrote that scene, I saw a great potential for cliches and poorly worded lines, so the GM is asked to give the instruction: “No words during this scene.” They have to say goodbye, but without words, (in the second edition it was soften to as few words as possible.) And I still belive it became a much stronger scene for that reason.

Waiting for flight GO901
Another one of my games, a tragedy about people waiting in the airport for people aboard a plane that crashes, (#nordiclarp4ever). Because you are among strangers and waiting a lot of the time, in real life it would be quite most if the time, so when running that game, I always give the instruction: “silence is good, silence is not awkward. The silence might be hard for your character, but for you it’s a strength.” Several players have praised that instruction. It gave them the permission, I talked about, to be quiet and not be ashamed that they were not contributing to the conversation.

Before and after silence
Not my game, but a game played completely in silence, and a very strong game. I can only encourage you to read it and play it. It shows how much you can do without words. And how other people’s silence is something you can gain play from.

So GM: give your players permission or instruction to be silent when it fits, and see what it does. Players: dare to be quiet and let your body, eyes and wordlessness do the work, you will be surprised at the effect.

And to all of you: Shut up and play!

Fastaval 2015 – Rest of Saturday and Sunday

After “Things that happen to other people” I had to run to the author and judge sparring session. A new thing we tried this year where the writers of the scenario competition, (where people are challenged to write a scenario during Fastaval) could meet with us judges and get some feedback and advice from us. Very interesting, very cool.

After that I had a brief pause with Jeanette, before I had a Black Box Horsens meet up with some of the organizers, that I want to be part of our Black Box Horsens team. A very cool and potential talk. Black Box Horsens can become something really interesting and ambitious.

IMG_1976We agreed to meet again in May and make some tough choices and then went to see a very funny burlesk show. After that more talking, more listening, among many things a long talk with Lizzy about the game she was doing for the competition before I threw her out of the bar with orders to bloody finish that game (it’s a great game and I think it was important for her to finish it during Fastaval.)

Up after getting 3,5 hours sleep, meeting with the other judges, reading the games, laughing, arguing. Then talking with the authors about the games, then talking some more, then finding a winner, then to the otto party.

IMG_1979The party was great, I ended up at the international table and later had a long talk with Kat Jones, she invited me to the US and I invited her to run a game at the prison for the next Black Box Horsens. (I just can’t remember which game it was)

More talking, so much talking, laughing, listening, smiling. Uh and also a bit of dancing. and then home at 9 in the morning.

And that was this years Fastaval, I didn’t have much to say about the otto party, it was great, I had fun, it was, as everything else, over too soon.

This was a great and very inspiring year, it was cool to be at Fastaval just as a participant. As long as I have Black Box Horsens and other projects, it will properly stay that way.

The great thing this year is, I won’t have to wait long before the next big thing, with Just a Little Loving, the summer school and other things coming up soon.

Thank you all for reading along.
And thank you all for an epic Fastaval 2015.

Fastaval 2015 – “Things that happen…” – part two: war stories and steering

I’ve said before, that I try not to tell war story in these posts, but I’ll break that rule now, because my story have some interesting elements with connection to character shifts and steering. But to do that, I need to tell the story we experienced, so here goes:

I’m going to reveal things about the game in this post, that you really want to have as a surprise, if you want to play it.

To keep this short, I’m assuming you’ve read the first post about “Things that happen to other people” if not you can read it here.

1-IMG_1970There was four characters, each character had a focus or a goal with the stories they told or the bits they added to other’s stories. For my character, Henrik, it was ambivalence. He’s a man without a foothold, not being able to keep his focus on the same thing for long, growing tired with one thing and then moving on to the next, never able to make a final permanent decision, but fully aware that he should. He’s also ambivalent about their situation, on one hand he knows that it’s dangerous, but on the other:
it’s something new, its an adventure.

At one point the characters come across a house, they assume that it is abandoned, but it turns out an old man “lives” in there. He’s an old soldier, evident by the rifle we found. He’s clearly been left alone for days, stuck in bed, delirious and impossible to get in contact with. He rambles and talk to people not in the room and ignores the players. They can’t even feed him.

Henrik, kind of seeing himself as a hero, wanted to help the man, (me the player knowing that was impossible). Henrik tried suggesting staying here taking care of the old man, but that was not safe, the others would only stay for one night, but that would not help him. Henrik then tried suggesting bringing the old man with us, but no that would slow us down, even Henrik could see that.

He started stacking some food next to the old man’s bed, but no, what when that ran out? This would only prolong his suffering. Desperate and in tears Henrik asks the others: should we maybe end his suffering? The others horrified said: no! and no more talk of that. In the end we all went to bed, and the GM asks: so what do you do about the man? And everyone looked at me.

The way Henrik is written, I don’t think he could have killed the man, but I also knew, that if Henrik did something so violent, that it would change him forever. So remembering the talk about steering from Knudepunkt this year, (steering: the act of you as a player making choices about what your character does, to get a stronger or different experience. There’s one or two articles about it in the KP book.) I decided ok, lets go for broke, and see where that gets us.

So I slowly narrated how Henrik couldn’t sleep, in his mind going through all the options again. Tried to feed the old man, tried to talk to him. And then just ended my narration with the words: “the other three are suddenly woken by the sound of a rifle shot.” The look of horror on their faces was almost intoxicating. I did say, I went for broke. Everyone had expected Henrik to use a pillow, but no, the whole point was to end his suffering as quickly as possible.

After that shock the GM had us all do an inner monolog, about how the characters reacted to that. And it was just: everyone hates Henrik! (Well except Andre who was “secretly” in love with Henrik, he was in shock, how could Henrik do that? What is happening to him?) I had no words by that point, what does Henrik think now? Nothing, so thats what I did. (You know I love silent role play, so now I have done a wordless monologue!) (achievement unlocked.)

The reason I tell this long winded story, that no one will read, is this: it completely changed the character, but the change still had roots in the dilemma of the character. He went from someone who thinks too much and never makes a choice, to someone with a blank mind and who now finds action all to easy, (evident later where he rather cold hearted knocked a man down and robbed him.)

So I thought thats it, game over for Henrik, no coming back from that. But I was wrong, the second to last scene took place on a ferry, taking the characters out of the country. A journalist, played the the GM, Kat Jones, asked to interview the players. It was a powerful scene, because we all reacted to her questions in such different ways, one by shooting questions back at her: “how do you think it would be like to lose everything?” One shut up like an oyster, and one while crying tried to give her an impression of the war, (it might help, if other people learn of our suffering.)

I being cold and dead inside just went for the unrelenting cold truth. But when I told her about the old man, she asked: “Oh so you murdered and robbed him?” That came out of the blue and struck me (and Henrik) very hard, this was the opposite of steering, I had not seen this coming, but went with the flow, and let Henrik finally break down and cry.

Ok I thought, right so this time, this is the end for Henrik right? Not a cold dead inside shell, but a broken traumatised weeping man. But no I was wrong, (again). The last scene was open to us, a song played, and when that ended, the game was over, but we could do whatever we wanted during that time. Henrik curled up in the lap of his sister who caringly caressed him, I tensed up my whole body and just let it shake once in awhile.

In the mean time I could hear Andre confessing his love to Henrik to his mother, and his mother encouraged him to go to Henrik and tell him, “he needs you.” I thought great, when Andre does that, I’ll say nothing but turn away! Yes so cruel (God Nordic larp right?) But Andre surprised me just as much as the journalist, by going up to me and softly asking: “can I lie here with you?” What could I say? I let him, and together we curled up. Slowly I let the tension ease from my body and just like that it ended on a happy note. It was so beautiful and so unexpected.

And that is why I told this long story. It was unexpected! I could never had foreseen this outcome. It was those so fundamental shifts, they really surprised me. Especially the last two. That so much can change from so little. But only if you let it. I could at each point have chosen to stay with the direction the character was going in. The way Henrik is written, he could never have killed the man, but by steering, and accepting this change, I got a much more powerful experience. In the other two changes it was much more going with how my body reacted. My mind had chosen a path, but I listen to the way I emotionally reacted to those two small events and said yes to that input.

So the lesson is: don’t stick to the word of your character, but use it as a starting point, and let the character evolve, using the words as guides. And allow yourself to be surprised and say yes to outside inputs, even though you had decided otherwise. If we do not open ourselves to those things, we will not take full advantage of the unpredictability of the role play medium.

The game (and this post) ran long and the after talk even longer, so in the end we only stopped talking when the next group of players arrived, a bit embarrassing (sorry Tim.)

Tomorrow the last post, with the rest of saturday and sunday. Don’t worry it’s short.