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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: jburneko on February 23, 2010, 03:27:38 PM

Title: Sex & Sorcery and Houses of the Blooded LARP
Post by: jburneko on February 23, 2010, 03:27:38 PM
Okay, so this is my attempt to collect my thoughts on the material in Sex & Sorcery, and Houses of the Blooded LARP.  Let me start off by explaining the core rule of the LARP.  Each player has a set of Style Points.  If you want something to happen you spend a Style point.  That extends to both out of character decisions such as giving a Style point to another player to say that his character and your character are siblings as well as in character decisions such as a spending a Style point to have your character convince another player's character that his wife is cheating on him.  Now keep in mind that the LARP attendance is in the 15 to 30 people range.

What quickly becomes obvious is that if you want your character to do anything of interest that the game requires working the room like a real party.  I've compared it to trying to pick up women in a bar or landing a job at a mixer.  The game is one large competition for attention among the real-world players.  Spending Style is some what of a farce since that only buys you the "right" to declare things as true which will matter little if you don't also have the social credit for people to actually honor and act on those true things in a meaningful manner.

By itself, perhaps this is not such a bad thing.  But from what I've observed it seems like a hot bed of really damaging and unhealthy real world agendas being masked as so called "in character" behavior.  If I spend a Style to say you're my brother and you, personally, don't like me very much you might as well take my Style and then ignore me.  When I bring up that you're my brother just say that you've decided your character doesn't like and ignores his brother.  It's just "in character" after all.

Lines and Veils are almost impossible to determine.   In that environment a well-meaning but unwanted transgression is going to cost you a lot of social credit.  Something that you do all the time with your regular group that squicks out even ONE player is likely to cause real-world social backlash that will be covered by, "I'm just having my character respond."

Protagonism is something you have to earn.  I pointed out to someone that if I want to be Hamlet then I'm put into a position of having to bully someone else into being my Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  It was pointed out to me in return that not everyone shows up to play Hamlet and might be happy to play Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.  Which to me only means the environment is kind of an odd mix of Alpha and Beta players where the Alpha's first have to identify and recognize each other (likely by butting heads) and then compete over the limited attention time of the Beta players.

Consider for example that John brings with him a cadre of players whom he not only carries significant creative social status with but who also all play persistent characters.  He and his friends come with both a social advantage as well as a fictional one.  They then deal out random characters to any new players and put in NO effort into integrate them into the developing fiction.  New players are FORCED to not only spin their fictional ties from whole cloth but to also compete for social credit among players who already have a great deal.

The result is that it's almost impossible to really play the game the first time.  Almost everyone who has played the game for the first time has had the same reaction.  They describe the experience as "okay but not great."  They express interest in playing again now that they "see what they have to do."  And almost all of them opt to petition John & Co. to bring a persistent character of their own.  It's almost like taking out a loan on the social currency John and Co. come to the game with.

When I listen to how people talk about the game it is laced with so much real-world social jockeying that I barely have any clue what actually happened in the game.  One person lamented how they felt two players were grandstanding all night long.  Another complained that they were sad that a certain person of local prestige ignored them all night.  A third talked about how one particular player REALLY should have died in the duel that night and sort of rolled their eyes at the idea that there are supposedly no "favored characters."

And all of that is before I come to any of the gender stuff.  John often jokes that the number one reason you should play Houses of the Blooded is that you get to role-play with hot women in sexy dresses.  In fact, he once said this to a couple of guys who then explained that that wasn't really their style.  To which John retorted, "then come for the hot guys in sexy coats."  Both guys did, in fact, show up.

I remember a point in which I was becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to engage anything meaningfully and I noticed a woman who had been relatively quite all evening.  So I went over to her and struck up an "in character" conversation.  We seemed to get along well enough and threw some character banter back and forth.  But I eventually had to disengage because the dialogue turned a little flirtatious and reached a point where socially I could no longer figure out where I was standing.  This was "in character" dialogue, we the real people seemed to be getting on rather well, but we knew nothing about who we really were or what real world agendas we held.  I didn't like it.  It was extremely uncomfortable.

At another point in the evening I remember coming across a fellow who had woman on each arm.  I remember thinking that conceivably that should say something about the nature of his character (a lecher perhaps?) but that in actually it was broadcasting something about his real world social standing with at least one sub-set of the people in attendance.

And so I look on in horror at this train-wreck of non-communication, social power gaming and unspoken real-world agendas and can't figure out why it's so popular.  Maybe I'm off base or missing something.

Title: Re: Sex & Sorcery and Houses of the Blooded LARP
Post by: greyorm on February 23, 2010, 04:53:39 PM
This sounds like every Vampire/WOD LARP I've ever seen or heard of, Jesse. (And is one of the reasons I generally dislike LARPing.)
Title: Re: Sex & Sorcery and Houses of the Blooded LARP
Post by: jburneko on February 23, 2010, 05:07:02 PM
Quote from: greyorm on February 23, 2010, 04:53:39 PM
This sounds like every Vampire/WOD LARP I've ever seen or heard of, Jesse. (And is one of the reasons I generally dislike LARPing.)

Which another point of my confusion.  John speaks so disparagingly of Vampire LARPs and believes that Houses of the Blooded is a fix.   But what exactly does John think he's fixing?

That's why I think Sex & Sorcery is so ridiculously relevant.  Houses removes certain tools that a lot of Vampire LARPers resort to but doesn't actually address the real social causes of the problems.  It's like he treated the symptoms and not the disease.

Title: Re: Sex & Sorcery and Houses of the Blooded LARP
Post by: Roger on February 23, 2010, 06:49:53 PM
I think the thing to keep in mind about the discussion of functional and dysfunctional groups on pages 10-11 is that it's a group analysis -- it's looking at the system as a whole.

The experience for individuals within that group can vary, though.  A dysfunctional group is probably functioning for at least one person in it, if the group dynamic persists for any length of time.

Slavery is a dysfunctional economic system, right?  But if you're a slave owner, it's functioning pretty well for you.  Same sort of deal with Scientology and lots of other things.  They're rackets, but if you can get inside the racket, there's a good chance you can get what you need out of it.

I don't mean to be quite so hard on the benefactors of such systems.  I think they run the gamut from evil mastermind to quasi-altruistic dictator to naive schmuck.

And I don't mean to be quite so soft on the proletariat, either.  Some people buy into pyramid schemes in full awareness of what they're getting into, for their own reasons.  Other people experience something like a learned helplessness, or they're just clueless.

And I've probably implied that it's easy to distinguish between the two when in many cases it's not.  Sometimes figuring out who the victim is takes a long time.  Don't leap to any conclusions, I guess is what I'm saying. 

Or I could be completely misjudging the situation.  If it sounds like I'm talking out of my ear, I probably am.

Title: Re: Sex & Sorcery and Houses of the Blooded LARP
Post by: The Dragon Master on March 09, 2010, 08:06:32 PM
I haven't had a chance to read Sex & Sorcery yet, so I can't really comment on the possible connections, but I did want to comment on the "favored characters" bit. I've heard that from a number of people who've been to the game, both those who only were at one session and those who have been going from the very first playtest. I've found a list of about 5 players at the LARP who tend to get lumped into that category, 4 of whom are actually members of Johns gaming group, and game with him between 2 and 4 times per week in addition to their interactions on the forums, by email, and in general social gatherings. The fifth? He's dating one of the other four.

My theory as to why this is happening is that while most people at the LARP probably only think about it the day of, these 5 people talk about it (costumes, true things, "what my character did", "what character I'm playing next time", etc.) several times throughout the week. The lack of communication between players at the LARP isn't an issue for them because they've done all their communicating in the month between LARPs.

I was there during the playtesting of this LARP, I've heard John go at length about why he designed it. He wanted (so he has said) to create a LARP that isn't subject to the social issues that come up in a Vampire LARP. What he's ended up with, in my opinion, is a game that avoids those issues based in rules, while not addressing the base social issues that cause them in the first place.

I'm waiting to make a final judgement till I get to try a session or three of it that neither John, nor any of the favored five are participants in before writing the system off entirely, but the tightknit structure that encompasses all of the "staff" and several of the players there definitely isn't something I'm interested in being part of. It almost feels as though they are there to play their game, and all the other attendees are simply there to act as background for the story of their characters. For now I'm assuming this is merely my own misinterpretation of things though.