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Eric Johnson
In case there's anyone here who's interested but doesn't read me on Twitter/Facebook...

I have received two tickets to tonight's Maryland Men's Basketball game (7 PM at Comcast Center). I'll be using one ticket, but the other is up for grabs. I'll be driving from my apartment to Olney to pick up the tickets and then down to the game, leaving here around 5:30. Depending on timing/location I could try to do a carpool or could meet down there.

Either way let me know if you're interested.
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shibakiei and I will be seeing the midnight showing of The Dark Knight next Thursday night at the Uptown theater in DC. Any and all are welcome to join us -- tickets available at the theater page above.
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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

Wow — it’s been a dog’s age since I’ve posted anything here, but I figure sending a little note out before Origins would be good, so here I am.

I’ve been going to Origins and running LARPs for the better part of a decade at this point, though I had to give last year a miss due to an already overly busy and stressful summer LARP schedule. I’m happy to say that this year I’m back and running a couple of brand new things that I think are really exciting. Chronologically they are:

  • Friday 3-5 PM: A Serpent of Ash (Event #2412)
  • Saturday 2-4 PM: “There Are No Bad Players, Only Bad Games” (Event #9632)
  • Saturday 6 PM - Midnight: Threads of Damocles: Los Angeles (Event #2613)

A Serpent of Ash is a work by J. Tuomas Harviainen that I ran at Intercon H this winter after failing to run it at Intercon Mid-Atlantic last fall. Serpent is a discourse-oriented piece for 6-12 players that centers on the meeting of several former religious cult members some years after the cult fell apart due to the death of its leader. This is kind of a hard event to sell for Origins as it is not a genre piece and many people would equate “dicourse-oriented” with “slow,” but I can honestly say that if you’re at Origins and you’re interested in LARP outside of the standard genre fare then you owe it to yourself to play in this event.

“There Are No Bad Players, Only Bad Games” is not actually my event, but is actually a panel being run by “Uncle” Don Ross about “conflicting player/gamemaster expectations” that I was asked to participate in. I imagine anyone who reads this blog has an idea that this is an area which interests me greatly, so I imagine this should be a very intriguing dicussion. It’s worth noting that most panels I’ve sat on at Origins have been small enough that they’re really closer to being round tables discussions, so don’t give it a miss because you think it’ll just be two hours of blowhards like myself telling you how right they are about everything.  ;-)

Threads of Damocles: Los Angeles is a stand-alone event written by Gordon Olmstead-Dean, Colin Sandel, and myself and set in the Threads of Damocles universe. This is probably the biggest risk I’m taking at Origins; this is a relatively large event (Caps at 60, and runs best with at least 30) and isn’t tied to a recognized genre/system like World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu. That being said we’ve run the event once before with a relatively low number of players and I still think it went quite well.  This event is set at a rave that’s being run mostly as an excuse for the various disparate powers of a cyberpunk Los Angeles to be able to meet relatively informally. A large collection of characters from both the Corporate and Rave cultures are gathered together for the evening and could end up radically changing the future of Los Angeles. Threads is a lot closer to what is expected to run at Origins than Serpent is, though I still think it’s a bit deeper and more mature than a lot of the material that gets run there. At 6 hours, this is a bit longer than most of our events, but we want to give people time to dance, get into character and what not; this also means that we can take late comers pretty easily so come on out and play!

For reference the events are:

  • Friday 3-5 PM: A Serpent of Ash (Event #2412)
  • Saturday 2-4 PM: “There Are No Bad Players, Only Bad Games” (Event #9632)
  • Saturday 6 PM - Midnight: Threads of Damocles: Los Angeles (Event #2613)

Finally — I’m getting into Columbus on Thursday afternoon and will be there through Sunday. Besides the events I’m running I don’t have any concrete plans for the weekend. If you know of an event I should be checking out then let me know. Also I managed get a suite at the Hampton Inn this year, so I imagine I’ll be hosting some hanging out and light carousing most nights if you’re into that sort of thing.

Think that’s about it for now — though for good measure I’m listing the events one last time:

  • Friday 3-5 PM: A Serpent of Ash (Event #2412)
  • Saturday 2-4 PM: “There Are No Bad Players, Only Bad Games” (Event #9632)
  • Saturday 6 PM - Midnight: Threads of Damocles: Los Angeles (Event #2613)

See you at Origins!

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Looks like there will be trivia at Saphire at 7:30 followed by Ted Garber at Flanagan's Harp and Fiddle. All are welcomed and encouraged to attend.

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

There have been a couple of instances in recent memory where I’ve heard players talking about how much plot they have (or don’t have) in a LARP they’re participating in. This isn’t an uncommon complaint for a player to have, but my experience has been that it’s generally an inaccurate complaint that gets bandied about because the player is unable or unwilling to address the real problem. To be clear, I don’t think this is (generally) malicious, but it’s still a topic worth some discussion. And so, without further ado, “plot.”

To begin, it’s important to understand what plot is. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the plan or main story (as of a movie or literary work).” That’s a fairly serviceable definition, so long as you don’t fixate on the term “main” too much, as even a 22-minute sitcom generally has an “A” plot and a “B” plot. Additionally, plot is generally driven by conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self). So, in a campaign LARP it’s possible for there to be dozens of plots in play at any given time, each a a diferent point along its narrative arc. (I use “campaign LARP” here because of the idea of staggered plots, as most one-shot events have plots that are meant to last the whole event.) I don’t think any of this will be particularly new or surprising to anyone, I just want to make sure that everyone is on the same page before we continue.

Having done a bit of work to define plot, now a question arises, “How do you measure it?” Honestly, I don’t have an answer to this. The chief problem with attempting to measure plot is that so much of it is ephemeral — “suffers a crisis of faith” is a perfectly real plot, for example, but it’s primary form of interaction is within a player’s head. Even in more traditional plots it’s only practical, and often feasible, to track progress at a very high level (generally from interactions either with writers or that they are present for, or from following public discussions to gauge information flow). Additionally, “quantity of plot” is difficult to track for oneself as an individual — in my experience it’s almost impossible to do for anything you’re actively involved in; meaning that it’s easy to say “I (or he) was in those plots” and even “He is currently in these plots,” but much more difficult to say “I am currently in these plots.” What this all comes does to is that plot is, by itself, an awful metric.

If plot is a horrible metric, then what can be used in its place? I can think of two: boredom and frustration. Really, these come down to two related states of mind: “there’s nothing for me to do” and “there’s nothing I can do.” Trying to recast a plot problem into these terms is useful, it helps break the issue down into more concrete areas and also helps to suggest solutions. If boredom is the primary issue, then the question to ask (of yourself or of a writer) is “What else should I be doing?” If frustration is the primary issue, then ask “How should I proceed?” If the problem is a combination of the two, then it’s probably worth taking a bit of time to figure out how the elements are interacting with one another. It’s also possible to have these issues multiple times; Plot A & B can seem to be at dead-ends while Plot C seems unapproachable. Breaking things down to that level of granularity is going to be extremely helpful in resolving issues — the more you understand a problem the easier it is to fix.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a third factor that, while not really an independent axis like boredom and frustration, can be a very real catalyst: jealousy. It’s easy to look out at other people and imagine what a fantastic time they’re having, especially if you’re having a less than ideal time. The only thing I want to say on the topic is this: talk to them. They may actually be having an awesome time and unaware that you’re having an awful time, in which case they well be able to help you have a better time. Alternately, they may not be having a great time at all, and you’ll find out years later that you’ve isolated yourself by putting others up onto a pedestal that wasn’t there. (For what it’s worth I’ve personally been guilty of this.) To make a long story short, don’t fall into a jealousy trap, communicate.

Looking back over what I’ve written so far I’m realizing that a lot of this could be reduced to just an argument for personal responsibility, although I hope that’s just me selling myself short. Anyone who’s known me for a while knows I’m a big advocate of terminology (”diegetic” or “locus of control,” anyone?) , and I think another part of this can work just as a push-back to our love affair with the term “plot” (while hopefully bringing up some useful alternative terms / ideas).

But I digress — what does anyone else think about this? Are these sound ideas or am I full of it? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

Hopefully I’ll get to some more substantiative content in the near future, but I thought it worthwhile to point out that we’ve had a couple of updates on the LARPA site today.

  1. Mike Young’s blog has been added to Planet LARPA! I’d still love to get some more blogs participating in the project, so please don’t hesitate to to get in touch with me if you’re interested in having your blog syndicated as part of Planet LARPA.
  2. We’ve added two more excellent events to the LARPA Gamebank: J. Tuomas Harviainen’s A Serpent of Ash and Sage Shepperd, Joshua Sheena, Josh Rachlin, and Nat Budin’s The Free Animals’ Republic of MacDonald Presents the Trial of the Big Bad Wolf, to Be Immediately Followed By His Execution, in Honor of Our First Anniversary. Next week we should be adding Jim & Kelly MacDougal’s The Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste - Two.

Think that’s about it for now — hopefully I’ll get back to putting out some actual theory in the near future. LARP just happens to be competing with the ACC Tournament for my attention this weekend.

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

So, as I’ve hinted at in my last few posts, I’ve been doing a goodly amount of work on LARPA’s web properties since Intercon H. In the ideal world I would liked to have gotten this done before Intercon, but had to actually get my share of 10 Bad Modules in 100 Bad Minutes written. That being said, as of early this afternoon the last pieces have fallen into place and so, without further ado, I present “What’s New With LARPA!”

Planet LARPA

This is my new pet project which is being sponsored by LARPA. Planet LARPA is a LARP blog aggregator — the goal is to create a central source for accessing LARP theory blogs on the web. Right now it only aggregates two feeds, this blog’s and Gordon Olmstead-Dean’s. But we are currently accepting applications to be added to the feed. The only requirement is that your blog be primarily about LARP theory and/or production — the occasional diversion is fine, but it needs to be generally on topic. The litmus test is “would this interest someone who never met me but was interested in LARP theory?” I hate to be rough about this, but since the idea is that interested parties can subscribe just to Planet LARPA so that they can get updates from all of its member blogs I need to be a bit of a stickler about signal-to-noise ratio. If you’re interested in being listed leave a comment here with the address of your blog.

LARPA Gamebank

After a disgustingly long period of downtime, the LARPA Gamebank is live again! We have all of your old favorites, along with all of the entries from the 2006 and 2007 Small Game Writing Competitions. There are a lot of great events in there that I heartily suggest anyone interested in running LARP should check out. We’re always looking for new submissions as well, though they have to agree to being released under the Gamebank license.

New Forums

We’ve killed all of the spam that had infested the old forums (if you don’t know, don’t ask — I don’t like to talk about it) and upgraded to a new forum system that finally gives us all of the email (and RSS) notification goodness that we desired. It’s a great venue for any LARP conversations you may want to have, and is significantly easier to monitor now than it has been in years past.

LARPA-Gen is Dead

This is tied to the last announcement, but we’ve also finally pulled the plug on the LARPA-Gen email reflector. The group is still live, but has moved to announce-only and simply reflects messages posted to the general discussion forum of the forums. We waited a long time to get the forums to the point where we felt comfortable in retiring this venerable workhorse (and arguably LARPA’s greatest asset), but we’re confident that the current forum solution is a more than adequate replacement.

I think that’s about it for now– if you have any thoughts feel free to comment here (comments now working in IE6!) or on my repost of this information in the new forums. It’s looking like a bright new day to me!

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

I’m of mixed opinions about writing about The Wire on this blog, especially since since I’m in the process of promoting my LARP blog project (full details coming up in the next day or two, but check out http://blogs.larpaweb.net for a preview). One one hand, The Wire is clearly not a LARP, but on the other it’s one of the most significant sources of inspiration I have for my writing currently, so I suppose I’m going to go ahead and let this one through.

There’s been a decent amount said about this episode in the hours since it aired (I’m personally partial to the coverage at The House Next Door), so I’m not going to try and do even a remotely decent recap. Instead I’m going to focus on a couple of key ideas that I find inspirational as a writer.

Honestly, the most significant aspect of the episode for me was the emphasis late in the episode on the cyclical nature of things. A lot of stories like to end on some sort of “up” or “down” note; that The Wire avoided this was exciting to me. I think this is what disappoints me about a lot of LARP; there’s some assumption of that “good” will triumph, which seems a bit contrived to me. I recognize that that’s a more acceptable narrative structure to many players, but I can’t avoid thinking that it’s a bit of a cop out when it comes to narrative depth and complexity.

Notably, there were a number of scenes which specifically called out to the first episode of the series, which made me wonder why a campaign needs to end with a “big victory” for the players. I’ll acknowledge that that’s what most casual LARPers are interested in, and as such I’d likely never get away with this in a mainstream campaign, but if the journey really is more important than the destination than why can’t the destination be somewhat less than 100% fulfilling?

Moving back on topic, I’ll admit that some of the “cyclical” scenes seemed a bit overwrought — Michael and Dukie’s new lives being the most prevalent examples of this. I can’t really fault it; if nothing else it can be written of as fan-service (which, despite protestations to the contrary, I’m not above), though I think it’s worth making note of. I think it’s actually noteworthy that The Wire opted for a more easily digestible ending than The Sopranos; the ending of the latter might be the sort of thing I dream of writing, but the ending of The Wire is much more likely to be the sort of thing I could reasonably get away with (though in fairness the end of Six Feet Under seems even more likely, given the attention given to character-based fan-service in it’s finale). There’s a fine line between being a bit of an auteur and just being an asshole, and I think I’d prefer to stay on the side of the former.

The other concept that was addressed quite heavily in the finale was the idea of compromise. Throughout the episode characters were forced to choose between what was best for them, what was best for society, and what was actually acceptable to do. That’s actually an important theme of the season; to what extent is it acceptable to commit ills in the name of the greater good? That’s very much the sort of ideology that we’re trying to push in Threads: Los Angeles, so seeing similar representations in other media is always quite instructive. I’m generally against the idea of there being a “magic bullet” which can resolve problems, so seeing The Wire toe that same line is heartening. Any serialized fiction that refuses to give in to easy resolutions is an exceptional example for me as a writer.

At the same time, I’ll admit that the finale was a bit anti-climatic; realistically very little happened over the the 90 mintutes of the episode that couldn’t be considered to effectively be epilogue. Most significantly of these happenings was the resolution of the McNulty/Feamon Homeless Murderer plot line — which realistically found its dramatic peak last week when their plot was revealed, and as such this week was largely spent on dénouement. Dénouement is, of course, a relaive term, as this episode represneted almost 15% of the entire season, but I think the general feeling was there, even if there were mini-arcs which existed within the episode.

Anyways, long story short, I was quite pleased with the final of The Wire. I have to agree that the episode wasn’t a tightly scripted as last week’s episode, but I think it performed admirably given the weight of expectation that was placed upon it. It’s also a much less controversial ending than The Sopranos, which seemed fairly likely. The Sopranos had, by the end, largely turned into a character study, while The Wire continued to be as concerned about institutions as it was characters. In a LARP sense, The Sopranos ending would be a neat thing on a player level, but I doubt a GM of an event of any reasonable size could get away with it, which The Wire hits a much more realistic ending.

As a final note, I’m obviously not planning on spring any sort of “post-modern” ending on the players of Threads of Damocles, although I do think it’s very likely that this will be representative of the sort of writing and social contract that I’ll be using in my future projects.

I’ll miss you, The Wire. David Simon, Ed Burns, George Pelecanos, et. al., have done a fantastic job with the series, and I honestly think it’s one of the most significant pieces of modern literature that I’ve  experience. I’m extremely glad that I’ve had the opportunity to view it, and can only hope that it helps further my development as a writer.  And even though I live much closer to Baltimore than most viewers of the series I’ll admit to taking a lot of my knowledge of the city from the series (for better or worse).

Requiescat in pace, The Wire.

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

As I mentioned yesterday, I ran two events at Intercon H: J. Tuomas Harviainen’s A Serpent of Ash (discussed here), and 10 Bad Modules in 100 Bad Minutes, a campaign-oriented spin-off of Alleged Entertainment’s 10 Bad LARPs franchise that Gordon Olmstead-Dean and I wrote.

10 Bad Modules in 100 Bad Minutes (or 10BM, for short) is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very different beast than A Serpent of Ash. Where Serpent is a quiet, serious, and contemplative event, 10BM is cacophonous, absurd, and scatological. It’s also deviates a bit the standard 10 Bad paradigm: it’s still centered around (appoximately) 10 events that are either poorly conceived, in extraordinarily poor taste, or both, but we added some tenuous connecting material between scenes to give it more of a campaign feel. Additionally, players were given characters that they were playing for all 100 minutes of the event (it’s actually two characters — someone who’s playing in the campaign and his character), which had the effect of making the players as involved in the collapse of the campaign as the GMs (this contrasts with my impression of most 10 Bad events, which is that players are playing them in good faith, even if they are atrocious).

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Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

Intercon H was this past weekend, and I was crazy enough to run two events there. The first of these was J. Tuomas Harviainen’s A Serpent of Ash, which ran on Friday night. Astute readers will recall that this was the same event that I spectacularly failed to run at Intercon Mid-Atlantic this past November; this time there was fortunately no such issue.

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