Friday, July 29, 2005

Systrarna Cederschiöld

Introductory notes about men and their scenes

Only a few months ago Jonas K. over at Jonas dagar turned down invitations both to lajv-(larp) and friform games just by saying he didn't like that type of play, admitting membership in the sprawling indie scene. Discussions continued after that in the same manner as in the last couple of years. Maybe the pace was a bit faster now, discussions took place at our and others blogs instead of at parties and in private forums. The audience (mostly silent and maybe imagined) makes you erase some of the really crappy things you want to write in the heat of discussion. The simple insights that bridged the gap was the following two things:
  1. Clarity. Nothing is more important than clarity of appropriate style of play in a certain game. Otherwise you put both friendship and fun at great risk.
  2. What kind of rewards you can expect to get from a game is very strongly dependent on the style of play. Players has to be aware of this and follow this.
I guess something like this has been invading Jonas head. Because a while ago he GM:ed a typical Swedish friform game (I have sadly not finished my text about it. Before I do that you have to do with his own.) and now he and Helena Ferry wrote a lajv. Seven characters, the writers included, played this little family tragedy last Wednesday in Jonas' and Helenas' apartment.

The game

Once there were four sisters Cederschiöld. But during twelve years there have been only three. The parents forbade anyone to mention the fourth in their presence. She should be forgotten. At 28 years of age Marianne feels it to be time to reconnect with her sisters and she invites them all to her apartment in a not too flashy neighbourhood outside of Göteborg.

The lajv began with a huge clash when the three sisters descended from high society to the world of Marianne and Roger (played by Helena Ferry and Jonas Karlsson, respectively). The steepest fall was the one experienced by the oldest sister Wictoria (played by Ingela Vretblad) and her husband Ernst Hjelmsäther (played by me). Wictoria hade married Ernst mainly to get a name higher up in the noble hierarchy.

Alice (played by Julia Klingvall) was the only sister with a traditional career, working as an achitect. Her husband Konrad (played by Jonas Liljenfeldt) leads a computer company, but seems to have different views on life than his wife.

Charlotta (played by Elisabeth Öberg) had made a somewhat unusual choice in life by living as a not very well paid artist. Neither Alice nor Wictoria are comfortably with this or that she seem to be satisfied with being single.

The above is a scetch of the starting point for the game. Everyone played just beautifully and each of the seven characters had an interesting part in the play. Jonas and Helena had on beforehand been very clear on what style of play they wanted. Accept other players ideas, don't block, be creative. In contrary to the common idea of creating a story line they had actively tried to rid their texts from story arc; wanting this to be created by the players during play.

I really enjoyed it, but had of course a few comments. Two things are of interest for in the context of this text.
  1. I think it would have been good with one or two common memories for the sisters. This isn't necessary, since the whole style of play was inviting to determing such things during play. But the sisters had very little discussion about their common past and I think it would be good to put some stress on that part.
  2. The game became somewhat static. Quite soon we found a role for each character and kept it there for the remainder of the game. I think very small measures could be used to create somewhat more drama. During almost all of the game we sat around the table. I think more things would have happened if just hosts had asked us to move to the sofa or move around freely with coffee. I personally was definitely lacking possibilities of talking to other characters alone.
It was great fun. I know that Jonas plan to put the whole game somewhere close to his blog, probably after a tiny bit of rewriting. Read it. Play it.

A coincidence in addition

Playing my characters wife was Ingela Vretblad. As it turns out she also visited Mellanrummet (see earlier post) and even played one of the four satanists. It was indeed very interesting to compare out different experiences and different takes on playing satanists in night clothes.

Edit

Now read more sides of the story. Choose if you want to hear the gospel according to Jonas or Helena (Helenas text is in Swedish).

16 Comments:

Anonymous Helena Ferry said...

I enjoyed reading your post and I just wrote one too (in Swedish though). Thanks for coming all the way from Linköping to play, Ernst made a wonderful contribution to the scenario. Such a bad guy. :)

1:15 am  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

On your introductory notes I can just nod and agree. The first point is so obvious nowadays that I can't really see how people can not do that. But it still happens all the time! Not in out table-top games as much, but I still think some of the members of the old gang think that less open discussion and more mind-reading is a good thing. And it's actually just that thing that keeps me from playing a Swedish lajv like Mellanrummet; they don't tell you anything. That was the whole point of Mellanrummet! They even said on the homepage before the game that the players should be prepared to play anything from alien abductions to entering hell, and didn't give any more information. If I pay 350 Swedish crowns I want to know if I'm going to be abducted or not, just to know if it sounds like something I want to spend money on. I'm not good at that whole trust thing when it comes to other people arranging stuff.

The second point is closely tied to the first one. If the group is not open and clear, there's no way to adjust your expectations of the game. I have to give Mellanrummet credit for this of course, since part of the point was not knowing what to expect. But I think it's this way of thinking that has made me enjoy friform and lajv, at least as long as I'm the one organizing it. The trust issue again.

On the game I also agree on all points. When it comes to the numbered points at the bottom I think number 1 is a very good idea. Not only would it provide ammunition for discussion during the game, but it would also say something to the player about the character. If you write about the same memory from different points of view, you can really show how the character thinks. I'll try to use this if I write characters that know each other in a future game.

You talked about number 2 before the game and we all agreed that it would be nice if we could break up in smaller groups. That's why we said that the whole apartment was available for play, and that we would try to introduce breaks in the dinner for people to move around. We had breaks, but people spent them around the table either talking or being awkwardly silent. I think we would have a different, more dynamic and probably more eventful game if we had positioned ourselves in smaller groups, but I'm not sure it would have been better. Right now the static feeling made the dinner feel more trapped and uncomfortable, which I see as a good thing.

I have written my comments here.

2:56 am  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

"they don't tell you anything."

On the other hand Mellanrummet was from the start very clear on the style of play. And in my book, thats more important than knowing the drama. You knew who to prepare your character.

"That's why we said that the whole apartment was available for play, and that we would try to introduce breaks in the dinner for people to move around."

I think everyone expects the hosts to clearly state that you can move around while waiting. Of course, as you told me after the game, the guest here could very well have chosen not to respect the hosts at all and just behaving as they wanted.

"Right now the static feeling made the dinner feel more trapped and uncomfortable, which I see as a good thing."

You are right. But maybe you could have gotten a bit of both by som mingle late in the party?

10:43 am  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I also have to object some thought on Mellanrummet:

You certainly knew what to expect. At least the game was very much like I expected it to be from the description. The only thing I did not know about was the plot. In this case it was a central technique of the game. By not knowing you have to construct your character as a complete person.

In contrast, a game that did not do the advertised thing, but still managed to be good, was In i Evigheten. It seemed like a classic murder story but played like dogma horror.

3:16 am  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

Perhaps I was a bit unclear, since you're both objecting to what I'm saying when we seem to agree. And perhaps I should talk about Mellanrummet in its own thread, but I'm only using it as a convenient example here.

As I said, the point of Mellanrummet seemed to be that the characters should be unsuspecting that something would happen, and that this should be kept secret from the players as a way of giving people a chance to immerse. If you create a complete character, it becomes a lot more interesting when all the things you took for granted is swept away because you're dead. If you create a character that you know will die, perhaps you'll focus on things only relevant to that situation (having a grandmother you never talked to or a recent fight with your girlfriend) and miss out on the completeness. Mellanrummet wanted complete characters, so of course they go for option one.

I'm not saying that every player should know the plot, not at all. I'm only saying that you have to give people a chance to decide if they want to get involve and pay money or not. I bet you knew some of the organizers, and that of course makes it easier to trust that they'll give you a good scenario. Mellanrummet had very good information on what type of game they wanted and how you should prepare your role, and they should get credit for it.

I think the problem is that you can't know before playing if it will be fun or not. There's no way of telling, since so much depends on the people you play with. Perhaps you found some comfort in the fact that even if the scenario would suck, you four could always make a game of your own? Even if you four had spent the whole scenario outside a door waiting for a meeting between the important characters in the scenario to finish, you could have played amongst yourselves and it would've been worth it. But when I hear Sven talk about the submarine LARP where some people spent the whole time peeling potatoes, I get cautious again and want to know how the scenario will be before I join.

I don't really see what you're objecting to. Should I clarify what I'm saying more in some way? I like discussing this, since it's something I'm thinking about for the moment.

1:12 pm  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

And before you go into attack-mode, I really haven't thought about the clear distintion between type of play and content of play before. The first one is very important to inform people of, the second one not so important, depending on the scenario. Still, the content can make the scenario good or bad.

1:50 pm  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

" I bet you knew some of the organizers"

Yes. For me the reason that I was 'GO!' already from start was that Erik was the main organizer.

I think w have gotten eachothers point. You are right, of course. I know that the lack of content knowledge was a bit problematic for a few players. But, really, if you read the homepage carefully you could most of what would happen to you anyway.

3:05 pm  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I get your point (I got it the first time) but I only agree in part.

The problem here is that knowing the plot or "content" of a game has very little impact on choosing the right larp. Yes, you may prefer a certain backdrop for the game but there are so many other things that are more important for determining if a lajv is good or not.

"I think the problem is that you can't know before playing if it will be fun or not. There's no way of telling, since so much depends on the people you play with."

You couldn't have known that even if they would have told you "The game is about being stuck between lives during a breakdown of the cosmic machinery".

"But when I hear Sven talk about the submarine LARP where some people spent the whole time peeling potatoes, I get cautious again and want to know how the scenario will be before I join."

But this game told you everything about the plot. It seemed great but turned out to be a dissapointment, as the style didn't suit us. In contrast Mellanrummet told you about the style. Isn't that more important?

I agree in fully that it is difficult to know in advance if you are going to enjoy a lajv. I do not agree that knowing the plot is especially important for making an educated guess. I do belive knowing the style is very important.

Isn't the problem that you lack the experience to understand their descriptions of the style on the homepage? In the same way I feel wary about fantasy larps because I do not know what to compare their descriptions with. It all takes some knowledge about the specific larp sub-scene. Or do you really need to know the plot.

(This is not attack mode, btw. You haven't even seen attack mode :))

7:24 pm  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I want to clarify that you are not alone in stongly considering the plot when chosing larps. I do this myself. But I'm pretty sure most unhappy larpers come frome getting a game with the wrong style and not from getting the wrong plot. I think those who reacted at the hidden plot of Mellanrummet did it mostly out of habit, and not by considering what they really need to know about a larp.

And as Sven said, knowing the people behind the game is probably the best way to choose. There is no good way for a new larper to know if they will get the game the expect.

Maybe I have to write an article about this....

8:29 pm  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

Barkå, you say "I get your point (I got it the first time) but I only agree in part", but when I read your two latest post I don't see anything that opposes what I've been saying. I'm going to do a comparison between our statements, with clarifying square brackets where needed.

I said: "The first one [style] is very important to inform people of, the second one [content] not so important, depending on the scenario."

You say: "The problem here is that knowing the plot or "content" of a game has very little impact on choosing the right larp."

And you say: "But this game told you everything about the plot. ... In contrast Mellanrummet told you about the style. Isn't that more important?"

And: "I agree in fully that it is difficult to know in advance if you are going to enjoy a lajv. I do not agree that knowing the plot is especially important for making an educated guess. I do belive knowing the style is very important."

We agree! Read my first quote again and tell me how your last one can make sense. I have never said that knowing the plot is especially important, but consistently that style is.

I said: "I think the problem is that you can't know before playing if it will be fun or not. There's no way of telling [even if you know both the style and the content], since so much depends on the people you play with."

You say: "You couldn't have known that even if they would have told you "The game is about being stuck between lives during a breakdown of the cosmic machinery"."

We agree. I agree with both whole posts except the first line where you say you only agree in part.

One interesting thing you say is that the problem is that I lack experience in translating the text on the homepage with how it will turn out in play. If that's the case I fully blame the organizers. If they want to attract people who haven't played before they should write the text in a way that doesn't require previous experience. It's a catch 22 of course. I need experience to go to LARPs and the only way to get it is by going.

In conclusion you say "Maybe I have to write an article about this....". I agree. I don't want to steal time from your description of LARPs, but a discussion on either the style/content distinction (can you really separate them, can you have content without style and vice versa? I'm not so sure.) or the problem of prior experience when going to your first LARP. Of course you can't *guarantee* that people will have a good time, but how do make it highly probable?

11:45 pm  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

But still, Jonas K. you started to talk about Mellanrummet, saying: " And it's actually just that thing that keeps me from playing a Swedish lajv like Mellanrummet; they don't tell you anything."

This was the paragraph that started that part of the debate. I answered that they actually wre pretty clear on the style of play and how to work with your character; and that I believed this to be the stuff they needed to brief us about.

I think that after your last post you have to clearify your point regarding that (not necessarily what you meant then, but what you think now).

1:33 am  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

I'll try to clarify. From the homepage of Mellanrummet:

Genre: Extra-dimensional present-day tragedy
Theme: Guilt

And then they start their description in the introduction with "The only thing you participants will bring when going into play is your characters. You won't know what the production is about, where it takes place or even what place we have arranged." They go on to talk about how you're supposed to create a complete character from the description you get from them, and so on, but you know that already.

My reading lajv-texts in-experienced eye has a very hard time figuring out what to expect. I don't really know how it works in practice, but I suppose you pay them 350 crowns and then get your character. I also suppose that you have to hope that the people arranging the lajv is open to radical alterations of your role if you don't happen to like it. If they give me a child-molester or wife-beater and I'm very uncomfortable with that, there has to be a way to either change the role drastically or give me my money back, since I couldn't anticipate that the lajv would be about child-molesting or wife-beating before I joined.

You see my problem? Yes, I agree that they were pretty clear on the style of play. The theme would focus on the life issues of the characters, but you had no way of knowing what those issues would be. They were very unclear on the content of play. They said that all I would get is my character, but I had no way of knowing what that character would be like until I had joined the lajv. Basically what I would know is "in this lajv you play... a character. That's all you need to know" which, for a cheap coward like me, makes me feel un-informed. If you guys, on the other hand, feel that you knew exactly what to expect then that's great. Perhaps the information was directed to more experienced LARPers and not new-comers?

As I said, I didn't differentiate between style and content in my first post because I hadn't thought about the difference that clearly before. I then agreed that informing on the style is a lot more important than informing on the content. But I'm still not sure it's easy to give people enough information without addressing both of them, since I'm not sure that you can separate them. Content is the concrete product born in play from style, while style is the ideal that you aim for. Saying that you'll play a realistic present-day character is indeed information on the style, but you could still play a million different LARPs based on that style and not all of them have to be what the player expects.

9:48 am  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

"They were very unclear on the content of play"

Yeah, this was the point as we have said before. As I also have said before I didnät think it was too important. But still, this way of treating things might have stopped me froom going, had I not known of the organizers.

" I don't really know how it works in practice, but I suppose you pay them 350 crowns and then get your character."

I guess they don't write on the homepage how it worked. But this is how it worked: You made contact adn eventually got a character. You could choose to take it or ask for a new one. I changed from the first I got, since we wanted a group instead. When you had been given a character you liked, *then* you paid. I think this is a quite common practice.

10:11 am  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

Sven, I have some questions relating only to Mellanrummet, on payment and choice of character. I'll continue asking them there.

10:36 am  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Sven sums it up pretty good. The only thing mellanrummet did not tell was the plot, and that was part of the style.

"But I'm still not sure it's easy to give people enough information without addressing both of them, since I'm not sure that you can separate them."

If they had told you they would have ruined the premise of the game. I guess you using Mellanrummet as an example was bad, as it is the only game I have ever seen that have a totally secret plot. All other games would have told you "if I'm going to be abducted or not, just to know if it sounds like something I want to spend money on." In this case it was impossible.

I think this discussion would be more productive if we talked about another game and how it presents itself to the prospective participants. Mellanrummet is an extreme case, and not aimed at beginners at all. Take a look at "In i evigheten" instead as it is both aimed at beginners and had many of the problems you describe:
http://www.fabel.nu/evigheten/templatelajv.php

11:16 am  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

We can have that discussion in the post about In i evigheten:
http://polyfem.blogspot.com/2005/04/in-i-evigheten.html

11:21 am  

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