Friday, 30 October 2015

It's Like Running a Shop

Like running a shop, easily the worst thing about running a LARP is the customers. Not the people attending, not the crew or other referees. The players.

I know, that sounds horrendously unfair doesn’t it?

It also happens to be true.

The reason is mostly obvious – crew, referees and other attendees (such as your on-site cameraman) can all be given directions, instructions, and generally told what to do or not do. They help make the game – and what’s more, want to help make the game – and that means they stay within the guidelines, recognise the boundaries and at least make an attempt, no matter how faux, to get along.

With players you don’t have any of those luxuries. They’re like the worst-behaved step-child: “you don’t control me!”

Well… no, I don’t. Nor do I want to. Doesn’t mean you get to go stomping all place, demanding shit you don’t have any right to access, snob your way through “I know better” and generally behave like a spoilt little brat.

There’s numerous lists and ‘guides’ written on the internet about how to deal with these kinds of bad players, but for some reason, in LARP it’s so much harder to do. Why? Because of the nature of the game, its players – but mostly, because of other, really poorly managed games that spoil it for the rest of us.

A few examples:

I once attended a Linear game of a local LARP called “Shadow Realms”, run by a portion of Seaxe and Sorcery. It’s a high-fantasy (read: on LSD) system, with high-hits, much flailing and generally ‘epic’ type Player Characters.

When the ref turned up he told us it was “something I’d just written on a napkin at the bar late last night”. Woo – way to plan in advance.

The “Linear” consisted of 4 Encounters (yes, you read that right, 4) for an 8-hour game that was essentially:
  • Scared villagers calling ‘singles’ that ran away from the players when they could
  • Tough villagers calling ‘doubles’ that attacked the players when they could
  • Scared barbarians calling ‘singles’ that ran away from the players when they could
  • Tough barbarians calling ‘doubles’ that attacked the players when they could

Bearing in mind that all the Player Characters except a low-ranking Baron (I think he was a Baron, some knight anyway) and a fae-like faerie had armour and dexterity to easily ignore a ‘double’ (I believe a couple t ‘triple’ calling crew were added later, but still). Even though damage is never really ignored (the bruising rule means you still suffer 1) when PC’s Health Pool is around 75, suffering 1 damage per hit is pretty pointless.

During the game the low-level Baron character was seriously wounded and the other characters didn’t have any healing abilities (including potions – seriously, WTF?) and so the Baron started dying and went past the Grace into death.

He stamped his feet and cried – yes, he really did stamp! He was really upset – which is understandable because we all get attached to our characters.

But the lead ref turned round and gave him a “full heal”. No reason, other than a whining player that was behaving like he was 6.

In a similar vein, I remember being at Alrune where a PC that had only been around for 2 games died within the first 30 minutes. She was a bit stupid, got overlooked by the healer, it happens. But no – the game controller looked down and said “oh well, I suppose we better do a resurrection ritual”. Why? Because he was upset at a Player Character death. Fair enough, some systems have resurrection and that's cool - but not for a character that's been played for 1 game and 30 minutes - not even long enough to get a new ability or Experience.

In the UK LARP group on Facebook I once lamented that in a particular fest-system it’s difficult to get shiny-shiny items because they were so easily handed to friends of referees and there was a cap cos the game team didn’t want to saturate the system with them.

I received at least 10 messages from people more-or-less saying “I totally agree here – I’ve seen it a lot/I’ve done it myself, I wish I could openly say it and not have the system crush me”.

This kind of bullshit needs to stop.

It gives players a false sense of superiority, flexibility and power. It inflates players and referees egos so much so that when they attend other games they think the game will accommodate them as well.

I had a player once attend my game and stamp their feet and scream right in my face because they wanted to be able to transform into a bear – there was no means for her to do it, but she was going to get it, dammit! In another game she attended, she suggested it and the games allowed her to sink creation points into a skill that didn’t exist until she came along.

The game had made an allowance for her – without her having to put any effort in or give anything up that she wouldn’t normally have to. The system broke for her.

So she expected me to do the same.

Smaller games, new games, more free-style games all suffer because of the way larger, more influential or developed games perpetuate the image that games are “player lead” or that players are in control.

In a blog written by a friend, Mr Hunter After-battenberg says about the backstabbing and bitching rot was pervading his favourite game of Labyrinth – a game famous for its use of the Chislehurst Caves in Kent.

I know the Hunter to be a rather jolly fellow – so to read this dour, depressing tale of keyboard bitching (isn’t it always nowadays!) made my heart really go out to him. The line he was told “oh that’s just how they are, they're always like it, nothing we can do” from the referee just goes to highlight that point – by the referees not taking action, they were encouraging bullying, intolerance, and players getting their own way. It’s bullshit.

I highlight this as a symptom of poor management in certain games.

Rude people exist everywhere. Bitches do too. A couple of my friends are being manipulated by someone and they’re finding it very difficult to understand that a person they trust and know so well could be two-faced and using them for their own ends. I guess I see it easier than them because I’ve been in their position and suffered for it due to a lack of action on my part.

But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? There’s the two-faced that don’t care that they’re putting a friend in the middle and trying to stretch them into odd shapes. There’s the bitch who ruins others fun by targeting others for some slight. There’s the one that twists words and cuts deals with the refs cos they’re mates and why shouldn’t they get anything? From the harasser that sends nasty messages online to the ‘offended’ type that can’t believe they can’t play or wear or do whatever the hell they like during Time In – even if it is at the expense of others.

And we don’t want to admit it. I didn’t. I lost my game because of it.

We don’t want to come to the conclusion that our friends are liars, cheats, or bastards. Perhaps it’s because we think it shows something about ourselves that we hang around and have a friendship with these people – in the same way I ban racists and homophobes from my friend list on Facebook.

Maybe these players are the domineering type, and we don’t stand up to them. Maybe they’re the manipulative type, and try to guilt-trip us into doing what they want. Maybe they’re the back-stabbing type, who will post multiple things about you in multiple forums or posts of Facebook or Twitter just to let everyone else know that they think you’re a dick.

And that’s also exactly the problem. By not saying “no” you’re actively being part of the problem, whether you like it or not.

One of my friends is in the unfortunate position of being friends with one such person described above. He wants to remain friends, and for this reason, doesn’t want to confront said miscreant.

But why should he? It’s nothing to do with him. He should be allowed to play the game, have fun, and have friends. That’s exactly his choice – I may have tried to warn him, but he chooses what he wishes to do.

BUT. If that person is a player at my game, I’d happily argue that it’s my moral imperative to ban them. Even if they are friends with me. I don’t think it’s’ a case of the game coming first, but simply that there’s more than my friends at my game. There are others to think about.

It’s a sad fact of being a referee – you’re friends with people during the bits in-between being a ref – but some really can’t see that there’s a line between being in ‘professional’ referee mode and being in ‘friend’ mode.

I once had to do exactly this with one of my players. I refused to discuss it, especially openly as I thought that the issue was with that player and that player alone. How wrong I was.

He posted it about on Facebook so everybody could see what a bad, bad person I am. I had several IMs asking me about it – which I didn’t do, because I thought that was part of being professional. At the same time, this guy told everyone I hadn’t given a reason – I had indeed given a reason, but perhaps I should have put it in writing or gained a signature to say he’d received it. I just didn’t because I didn’t want to involve anyone else – which he did. 

If you’re a ref in this situation I urge you to put all discipline in writing. If you’re in the wrong, you should be open to being challenged and the possibility of retracting your statement.

I received a PM on Facebook from another player telling me how “unprofessional” me and my team had been in dealing with player at fault. You mean as unprofessional as bitching on Facebook for everyone to see? You mean as unprofessional as sending me a PM to my private account, not the group account, game account or game email? You mean as unprofessional as clouding the facts and spreading it around so others think it’s ok to send me nasty emails? Yeah. Ok. I guess being professional does mean acting like a 6 year old then.

To be fair, you may not know you’re doing it. That’s why it’s a referee’s job point it out to you so it can be sorted in cleared up.

On the other side of the coin – you have a moral imperative to be a considerate player, just as much as it’s the referee’s moral imperative to discipline you for not being considerate.

Swings. Roundabouts. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

This Article Is Gluten Free!

So, I’ve just seen a friend complain about the treatment she’s recently had from a teacher. She’s been told by the teacher that ‘positive thinking’ will help clear up her IBS – that ADHD can be cleared up if she “just challenges herself”.

Whilst this is absolute bullshit, and obviously so, it’s become common thing now where people dismiss real problems because they perceive that they can’t be true.

I’ve had my mental illness dismissed as not real, or as a convenient excuse for when I’m angry, before – “oh, he’s not serious, this is just his paranoia, this is just his illness be angry”. Even when I’m calmly saying what my issues or concerns with someone is.

My boyfriend has done this to me – he didn’t know he was doing it until I pointed it out, whence he was suddenly very apologetic.

There’s two main sides to this, and they’re both as despicable as each other.

On one side, there’s people like this teacher – spreading misinformation about a real problem, making it sound like it’s easy enough to cure if you want to, whilst simultaneously making it sound attractive and convenient excuse enough to be able to pull it out of the deck whenever you’re asked to do or not do something.

I think it’s particularly bad when it comes from people in authority because other people begin to believe them – because these people are authority then they’re ‘supposed to know’.

But friends share it with each other, too. They convince each other of this kind of bullshit. My boss feel for it when he was asking a friend about losing weight and his friend said “oh, I went gluten free, cos it’s bad for you. I lost loads of weight cos of no gluten”

Um… No. You didn’t. And gluten isn’t bad for you. It’s bad for some people – though studies are showing it might not even be gluten allergy, all this might be an intolerance.

Further, you lost weight because you were watching your diet, not because of cutting out gluten. Gluten is in a lot of high-carb foods, so it’s no wonder you lost weight, short-term.

On the other hand are the people that complain about something they haven’t got. In one group I saw a woman complain about IBS – which, after reading her posts, she hadn’t got: none of her symptoms matched, she’d posted the same thing in four different groups, looking at her activity, and she clearly didn’t know what kinds of things to say when questioned by the other group users.

She’d posted there because she wanted the sympathy. She wanted, desperately, to be noticed and people to ‘like’ her, so she made up some bullshit story about some problem she has. Or found some bullshit ‘science’ website and thought ‘that sounds like me, it must be that’.

I’ve seen this time and again. People that can’t handle certain cutlery because it’s come into contact with certain foods and they have an ‘allergy’. People that get annoyed when you discuss certain subjects because they have ‘triggers’.

They don’t have any problems like this. They make people run and fetch for them, and this gives them a perceived amount of power, and they glory in it. But it’s downright disgusting. It’s abuse. It’s also very close to slavery.

I had an argument recently with someone who said their child has gluten allergy because she “felt so much better when she went gluten free, and stopped having stomach problems and toilet issues”. 

When I asked if their daughter had been tested for gluten allergy it was a case of “oh, not all forms of gluten intolerance show up in tests”.

Yes, yes they do. More than that, there is a form which isn’t easily picked up, but can be picked up by cutting out gluten and seeing if you feel better… by slowly reintroducing it into your diet.

See, she’d done the first bit… but not the second.

This woman assumed her daughter had a gluten intolerance cos she felt better for not eating it. Despite that this cuts out a lot of foods and the intolerance could be to do with one of those instead, or that she feels better cos now she’s on a better diet of high vegetables and fruit.

I know a few people that say they have depression… and don’t. They’re just upset because of something that happened. I’m not saying this to make it any less a problem, because it’s not. But it’s not true depression – so stop claiming it is! People see through your lies easier than you might think, they just go along with it because it’s easier to agree than argue.

As someone who worked at CAB I did have a number of people wanting tips on cheating the Employment Support Allowance because they didn’t want to work – no, seriously.

This leads people to doubt, mistrust and assume most people with real problems don’t really have them.

My friend has a little boy that’s allergic to milk, lactose, citrus, nuts, certain sugars, certain chocolate mixes – poor little dude can’t share sweets with mates, can’t join in Halloween trick-or-treat and sometimes misses out at home: when everyone else is having cake, he has to have an apple.

Her boy was given a lolly whilst at church recently. The person who’d given him the lolly hadn’t asked about his allergies, though they know he has them – but he “can’t have that many”. The poor boy was rushed to hospital and kept there for four hours – he nearly died.

We’re in a society where people who wants to stand out claim they have something, but don’t, simply to get attention.
People like the Tories don’t help – blaming benefits claimants with real problems on them “being lazy” instead of actually supporting, trying to understand or even engaging these people in discussion to see what can be done to help.

Is it really so hard to reach down and help someone up?

Thing is, it is. People don’t take others at face value – if you say you’ve got a problem it’s taken as “oh yeah?”

I don’t blame my friend’s teacher for being sceptical.

But that doesn’t absolve her of being dismissive. She has no idea what's going on, and so shouldn't be so high-and mighty and condescending. Worse, as a person in authority it shows others that it's ok to do the same.

I don’t blame the woman with her ‘gluten intolerant child’ trying to get closure on an explanation for problems her daughter is having.

Doesn’t mean claiming an illness there’s no proof of having is anything but wrong, however. She's lying, being manipulative, and convincing a child of something that isn't true in the slightest.

This really annoys me. There’s people out there with real issues, and trivialising them as a convenient excuse – either by dismissal or by false claim – does nothing but harm the treatment for those people that have the illness.

Believe me, if you had the illness, you wouldn’t want it.

Monday, 12 October 2015

How to Complain – A Guide for LARPers

Perhaps the worst thing about LARP is the bitching and back-biting. It’s not the ‘drama’ – the playground, school-kid ‘I’m not talking to her because of what they said about our Sharon’ – that’s just fall-out.

No, the worst thing is what causes it. The rumour-mongering, fear-spreading, lie-creating, poisoning that seems to be accepted as part of the community.

I can see somewhat why this exists – though I probably am going to have to refer to stereotyping and generalisation to do it. Why? Because some people really think that because they fit into box labelled ‘X’, therefore they should also conform to the perception of ‘X’.

LARP doesn't have a forensic system of analysis, nor structure for policing itself. Indeed, many LARPs don't have any any form of conflict resolution other than "someone's done bad, uh... ban them, uhuh-huh...."

Take this example from Profound Decisions (of all people...):
Yes, they will warn you, and can potentially ban you, based on hearsay. That's disgusting - it's downright abusive.

But when all you can rely on is word-of-mouth, it's not surprising. But it does mean it's open to abuse, and that's exactly what I've known to have happened before.

I happened to my old game, when I banned a person for 1 Event - well, I say 'ban', I mean 'gardening leave' - it was an issues of possible Conflict of Interest. Without going into detail, the guy bitched about it over Facebook - and had overy 50 comments, most along the lines of:

"I don't know what this is about, but yeah, fuck that system, they're cunts!"

Way to go judging something when you have no details whatsoever.

Dafuq? We wouldn’t give the time of day to these kinds of pathetic remarks at any other time. In our daily lives, someone bitches or moans, you carry on as usual. Why on earth do we give such weight to these drama queens?

To be fair, I think the bitchy types are a very, very small portion of the LARP community that unfortunately many people pay attention to. What isn’t justified, however, is exactly how much influence these people have.

For some reason, LARP as a community not only accepts these people, it actively embraces them.

We’ve been fooled into thinking that, because you’re always going to get bitches and bitching, therefore it’s ok. I was actually told by a few group members of a local LARP that, as a referee, you shouldn’t confront people that you know to be bitching, or independent people have told you are bitching, simply because “you’re always going to get them”.


That makes it ok then, yeah?

Of course not.

Bitching is a degrading process, like wind erosion or mould. It doesn’t change someone’s mind now… but it does eventually. It wears a persons’ perceptions thin, twists ‘truthiness’ to appear as the bitch wanted.

Talking with my mum about this recently, she told me that “people who believe the bitching about you, weren’t really friends to begin with”.

I don’t think that’s true. I think their opinion was changed over time by more than one individual – thereby, the ‘stories’ seem to corroborate, and therefore must be true. Past incidents get twisted to appear different in hindsight.

So, I’m asking for every LARP participant to do the following:
  •  When you hear someone complain about the game, game staff, or another player, tell them that you’re not interested, it’s nothing to do with you!
  • Stop asking for opinions on a game, game staff or another player – especially if you might not like the answer! The number of times someone’s got upset about an opinion…

 Oh my… the times someone’s reacted to something ‘offensive’!

I was once asked my opinion on a local LARP that the person asking me used to attend. I’d been to maybe 6 Day Events. My opinion of the game was rather dim – I hated the game, I hated the man that ran it, I hated the set-up, the design, the rules. To me, it was a shit game – it does nothing but upset its players, made them feel worthless and cheat everyone that it came into contact with.

The person asking was so offended! How dare I give such a bad opinion of ‘their’ game!? I surely must be such an arsehole to say such things! Um, no, love… you asked for my opinion. I gave it. If you didn’t want to accept what I had to say, you shouldn’t have asked. I was later told by my referee team that I shouldn’t be giving opinions on other LARPs as a LARP organiser myself – because then it was ‘bitching’. Huh? I was asked. I gave an answer – you know what the answer changes?


I wasn’t spreading lies or rumours; I wasn’t attacking the game or its creator. But I did give my reasons why the game was so poor, and that’s what these people didn’t want to hear – so clearly, I was being manipulative.

You have a problem with some aspect of the game? Do exactly the same as what’s acceptable in Real Life. Here’s what you should do: 
1.      Remember the difference between ‘feedback’ and ‘review’
·         Feedback is given directly to the Game Team. Not to anyone else. It should consist of:
·   What the game did well
·   What the game did poorly
·   What the game should improve on
·         Reviews are opinions in the public eye that share experiences. They should cover:
·   What you liked
·   What you didn’t – and why
·   An attempt to be non-biased despite coming from subjective experience
·   Your overall rating of the game
2.      Complain in person directly to a lead referee. They should take notes, and pass the complaint back to the Direction Team. Referees should be truly interested in your complaint, review, feedback and what you have to say – otherwise their game will not improve. Have a friend come with you, or do it for you if you would struggle with this confrontation

3.      If this doesn’t work, take it higher. Write a letter to the Direction Team, expressing your issues. The same applies here – you should expect a well-reasoned, informative response. Your issue should be taken on board as constructive feedback. Bear in mind that:
·         If you’re rude, coming from opinion only, or aggressive, prepare to be ignored entirely. No one should suffer abuse for your crusade
4.      If this still doesn’t work, write an open letter. Take it to Twitter and Facebook. Go public. You’ll get a response pretty quickly then! Bear in mind that:
·         This is poor way to do it when a simple, polite word would have solved it first. It’s also poor form in general – it should make you look bad too. But if you can show you’ve at least made a polite attempt first…
5.      If this doesn’t work, stop playing that game. The game clearly isn’t interested in you – so why should you support it with your time and money?

I must say, I’m really shocked – still! – that there isn’t a (possibly) anonymous Review site that give reviews of LARP games so we can see what the game is actually like, rather than hearing third-hand bitching.

There’s a better, healthier way to do it.

Let’s start remembering that, and reminding others.

You don’t like something in a game, don’t tell your friends. Don’t tell the newbies. Don’t go out of your to spew your hate over bystanders.
  • ‘feedback’ and ‘review’
  • Complain in person
  • Write a polite letter to the Direction Team
  • If this still doesn’t work, write an open letter
  • If this doesn’t work, stop playing that game


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Where LARP is Going Wrong 1: Blaming the Players

Sometimes I think to myself that I’ve got it wrong - that I’m worrying too much. But I’m beginning to realise I’m not. I’m seeing this kind of attitude more and more - I think it existed when I started LARPing 12 years ago, but I think I’m recognising it more and more. And, unfortunately, a lot of organisers do it - and even know they are.

When I recently released a half-made, poorly written guide for a LARP I was going to do, one of the “Referee Commandments” in it was “never blame the player”. It’s one of my biggest rules that I’m most passionate about. It’s decidedly important to the running, success and social balance of LARP in general.

I remember once in my old game system that I had to amend a rule. This was a low-hit, locational based game, but each player species was capped at how much extra hits they could have through the ‘Endurance’ (+1 to body hits) skill alone. Goblins and Elves were at the bottom of the rungs with 1 Endurance, Humans and Orcs at 2, then Ogres and Trolls at 3. Ogre also started with 2 hits per, not 1 like everyone else.

Another referee pointed out to me that that Trolls needed to move from a cap of 3 to the same as Humans at 2. Why? Well, Trolls had is easier with buying Resistance skills – making them more-or-less immune to poisons, diseases, mind control, magic and fear. Ogres had the same cap as them and… one extra hit. Trolls could buy skills that made them like magical warriors – ‘Digestion’ that made them a veritable alchemical factory, ‘Gnosis’ that allowed them to channel magic through the weapons they carried. Ogres got… well… not much else. Those only thing going for them was their high hits. Trolls needed to change.

I put a notice on the boards and changed the rule on the website. Within moments I had one of my Troll players call my mobile and shout at me down the phone for not consulting him first. At the next linear he kicked off, arguing the toss with me over the design of my game.

Not at any point did I condemn his reasons for being angry. Not at any point did I call him names (unlike he of me) assault his character or demeanour. Eventually, when we talked it through, it was because he thought the cap was absolute – I highlighted that it was only through skills. Rituals, arcane runes and whole bunch of other stuff will allow that cap to be broken – but he might need to work harder at it. He then admitted (in private, of course) that he’d approached the situation wrong and should have asked, instead of attacking straight away.

However, having the argument in front of the other players left a bad feeling all round and the referees felt harmed. As much as I attempted to deal with the situation by cutting the player off and saying “we’ll deal with it later” the player wanted to shout and be angry and continued to shout at me. Apparently, I was the one wrong in this because I “shouldn’t have engaged in the argument with him” – I was trying to explain the decision, not argue. I cannot control other people (people have told me this enough before). If he wanted to argue, that’s up to him, not me.

But, despite all this, I never once condemned him as having a problem. Turns out, it was a misunderstanding of the rule.

This is what I mean by not blaming the players. If I had blamed the player in the above, the situation might never have resolved itself.

That being said, the player’s behaviour was disgraceful – and I admit, I got angry too, which probably didn’t help his attitude. Mind you, after putting up with his shit without intervention from other refs or to help close the situation down, I think it’s understandable I got snippy.

The difference, as a comedian once said, is the difference between acting like a cock and being a dick. You can act like a cock, and still be a reasonable person. However you are a dick.

My player was acting like a cock because he thought that stomping his feet would get him somewhere. But I wasn’t going to condemn him as a dick.

Which, unfortunately, the other referees, did.

“He’s just a cunt

“He’s just being a fucking child
“He’s not showing us respect, so why should we deal with him?

The player hardly got anything at all the next event because each referee astutely avoided him.

When he attempted with a friend to craft some silver blades, the crafting time given was way too long – and the silver application was temporary because they hadn’t researched into correctly moulding silver.

Now, the player had got the rule wrong, again. Magical materials such as silver can’t be used straight away – and I was shocked that he thought that he could just get silver and do whatever he wanted with it.

But… running through the rules with him so he’s not disappointed doesn’t require much effort, and should have been done to highlight the facts to him. Running through advanced rules should take place every time they’re used, just to make sure the player is aware – and it also takes the burden of responsibility for player’s actions from you to the player.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find out till the end of the event – where he’d already decided I’d set the game against him.

An event later, the player was refused a Ritual due to the refs “not having enough time” and also much of his magic was greatly reduced in effect for no specific or given reasons. It was no wonder the player felt left out – and an argument ensued between myself and my refs, my so-called ‘support’.

So, let’s TL;DR. What does it mean when you blame your players? It means you unconsciously put them into a category (whatever you want to call it: “whinger”, “bitch” etc.) whereby from then on you don’t have to deal with them.

It means the player gets treated disproportionately unfairly – simply ignoring them doesn’t mean they’ll go away. It does mean they’ll get very upset – in my experience, players treated this way will behave like kids, and will act out against you because they feel they’re being ignored – and the only way to be recognised is to misbehave, because they’re certainly not getting anywhere any other way.

Doing it once means you do it more often. Let’s face it – it’s easier to label and blame rather than handle a toxic situation. It’s easier to call someone something demeaning and then write them off than approach them as see how you get along – such as calling a gay person a ‘fag’ or blacks as ‘niggers’. Just because it’s a different kind of discrimination – and nowhere near as horrific as others – doesn’t make it any less discriminatory.

And lastly, it means dismissing the player’s concerns, feelings and your part in them. You’ve absolved yourself, without actually taking a look at yourself, the game rules or whatever, and considering you might actually be at fault.

Don’t blame the players. It’s not nice.