War Stories: Symptoms of Sickness

The killbox was NEVER exciting. You know it, everyone else at the table knows it, but that doesn’t stop the neckbeard who wins on ties from treating those 4 terrible hours as if they were directed by Quentin Tarantino. A movie scripted just for him (or her), clueless to the absolute subjectivity of their experience, convinced that everyone ought to know exactly what went down in excruciating detail. Meanwhile, you and everyone you know is just:

harry-potter-and-the-curse-of-the-neckbeard
Kill me.

So is this person just socially inept? Or does your LARP inevitably create war stories, if not encourage them by design? Are you forever condemned to this audio purgatory?

Good evening.

 

Relevance is what separates a good story from a war story: one man’s Epic of Gilgamesh is another’s lease agreement, all fine print that no one wants to read. This is fundamental, and everyone understands it. Yet the speaker is compelled to prattle on, and we’re compelled to listen, and the war story itself is but a symptom of greater structural problems, related to scarcity of shared experiences.

Killbox: War Story by Scarcity

The killbox example is notorious because it’s an outright monopolization of storyteller time by a handful of mechanically cheesed superswine. In the zero-sum world of vampire storytelling, the killbox is automatically endowed with outsized importance because it creates scarcity for everyone else. Whether it’s PVE and a monopolization of plot, or PVP and a derailing of plot in favor of vendettas, most assuredly half-OOC vendettas, the killbox is the Alpha and Omega of war stories, because its baldly not about you, but you must listen anyway because it is is the only relevant portion of game due to limited time.

ubisoft
Ubisoft can only get away with games this bland because they crowd out the release schedule of any other meaningful content that ISN’T Call of Duty.

Exclusive Plot: War Story by Secrecy

Whether or not a small cabal of players ought to be able to chase hand-crafted, Illuminati-grade plot is a nastier argument for another day, but in many LARPs, especially bigger boffer campaign games, there are hidden, long-term hooks for those capable of pursuing them. Exclusivity is built in through skill-checks, plot gatekeeping, literally being the GM’s roommate, or luck and timing. The whole ordeal is the concoction of Game Masters who want a bit of tabletop in their LARP, or worse, want to find Sherlocks for their Moriarty complex.

The result is a gaggle of cool kids waiting in the dark for a specific NPC to appear, or scouring a building for a sticky note with the necessary, crudely scrawled code in marker, and no one else knows what the fuck they’re on about. The magnitude of the plot, the written quality of the discovery, or the intensity of the RP between the participants is a secret to all but a small circle.

The war stories, however, are a universally experienced plague, as these secret super-troupes will never. stop. advertising. their. super. cool. exclusive. experiences. Worse, oftentimes the rewards from such long term chases and time investments are game-altering, and if nothing else the listener will want to know more because they too want access to the grail of snowflakes. NERO’s prestige/roleplay classes, or Dystopia Rising’s advanced professions all, by design, require a level of exclusivity and commitment from storytellers that makes them prime generators of war stories. But this isn’t enjoyment – this is intelligence gathering, and that’s a job you’re not getting paid to do.

neo.jpg
There can only be one Neo, because additional superpowered Mary Sues would render the game unplayably stupid. Not that it stops games from having them.

Solo Experiences: War Stories by Isolation

Sometimes LARPs, in their infinite wisdom, fill their presumably social game with solo mechanics that are mind-bogglingly out of place. Whether it is a grinding skill that accommodates the socially awkward player, or a necessary bit of shadiness that must take place in the hinterlands, games are replete with solo-time. Events that happen while alone, consequently, lack outward relevance to most people, and so too do cool experiences that happen while alone.

The PVP experience, the investigatory experience, the lonesome economic experience, all produce the saddest, or least relatable tales of heroism, cunning and deeds which no one gives a fuck aboutInto the Wild was a bestseller because of its gruesome circumstances, not because of the posthumous ramblings of its protagonist. No one wants to read the dead guy’s journal about potato seeds, hunting muskrats, and that time he found a bus.

into the wild.jpg
The dead are lucky their biographers skip to the exciting bits. Like this cool bus!

Cool Tales: Relevance by Social Caste

Then there’re the stories no one would give a fuck about if someone really powerful, cool or good-looking didn’t tell them. This is the stone I beat for water and blood, so no one should be surprised or need great detail here. When you think yourself very interesting, you consider the things you do very interesting, and do not consider whether or not others feel the same.

This type of war story can be a product of all of the above. Maybe you’re cool because of the grail of snowflakes. Maybe you’re cool because of a prestige class, access to Storyteller plot, participation in PVP. Regardless, you’ve got a license to brag or rant, and by status alone your story is not relevant to those beneath you.


 

The solution to war stories, and many other LARP ills, is a focus on shared, accessible experiences. Maybe it’s because our hobby is tied so closely to tabletop, where we and our Storytellers expect a level of exclusivity born of five trogs and a bowl of Cheetos in a basement. But LARP isn’t tabletop. It’s an inherently group activity with a place, sometimes imagined, sometimes real or created for the week or weekend, and for the purposes of a LARP, that space is public, and should not be private.

Broadly, life is a war story. We are all the protagonists in a tale which universally lacks relevance to anyone but those closest to us. The urge to be relevant bleeds over into our fictional life. It’s understandable, but sad. Knowing this, games should take care to make sure experiences, actions and legacies are broadly approachable, meaningful and shared.

Knowing a player’s need for spotlight, which every other player also shares, staff have the unenviable task of illuminating everyone. The stories they craft, the scenarios they develop, must be created with the express purpose of being accessible in some fashion to all players, and must contain a broadly understood meaning which can be discussed by all parties. This, above all else, is the purpose of LARPing, and so sacred is this task that we must adapt, change and grow. We cannot merely find new and uninspired ways of hanging up the old, tired stage lights that even now grow dim.

For more war stories written by a blogger with an axe to grind, share this post on social media, and follow me on Twitter at:

 

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War Stories: Symptoms of Sickness

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