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.