How the Game was Created
I made some notes and took some pictures as I facilitated the Build Your Own Game (BYOG) process. That's what follows here. These are my thoughts and impressions.
Day 1 — Friday Night (August 19, 2016)
There are several new people at the LARP Writing 101 Seminar, with several very good questions that stimulate discussion long after the slides and the talk are done. Given that it appears that it's just going to be four of us who have worked together before, I postpone the brainstorming session until the morning. That also gives me the opportunity to join the New World Magischola Meetup for a while.
Day 2 — Saturday Morning (August 20, 2016)
Due to some family issues, Gaylord isn't able to make the trip up to join us in person, so we try an experiment. Cameron Betts brings one of his HDTV monitors from his house, and I plug my laptop into its HDMI input, using it as a second screen. I have my good web conference microphone, speaker, and webcam, so I can broadcast what we're doing. Gaylord has his camera on his end, so we can make the connection.
Theresa, Gaylord and I do some quick brainstorming, and I scribble a proposed game structure idea on the whiteboard. Because we've worked together in the past, and because we all seem to share a common idea for what we want to write, we settle on a concept and work to flesh it out in more detail. Before you know it, there are Post-Its on the wall, so it must be work in progress towards a LARP.
I can take close-up pictures of the Post-Its on the wall and the whiteboard. I email those images to Gaylord, so he can see exactly what we see. I also mail them to Tim, who will be here later in the day.
Day 2 — Saturday, 6 PM
Progress continues on Adrift on the Starry Sky — the LARP has a name! You can tell that there's progress by the increased number and colors of Post-Its on the wall! Tim has joined us here in the madness!
As we work, we realize that the game will work better with two additional characters, taking us from five players to seven.
We have characters to write. They are going to play in several set scenes, so our writing is broken into several well-defined chunks that should each be less than a page. There's a lot to write, but it should be doable.
Everyone takes their preferred chunk, and a note goes up on the whiteboard. Tim takes the task of setting the scenes. Theresa, Gaylord, and I start writing the background for specific characters in the prologue and first scene. When one of us finishes a chunk, we choose the next chunk, marking the whiteboard appropriately. In this way, we crank through the writing.
Of course, as we do so, we refer to the existing scenes and character materials. This can result in a discussion and some changes to the material already written. It's an iterative process, and we refine some sections along the way. We try to get it as right as possible up front, but we also know that we're all going to look through it again, albeit with very tired eyes.
Day 3 — Sunday, 4ish AM (August 21, 2016)
As we work through the writing process for each of the scenes in the game, we learn more about the scenes that have to follow. There are things we can do when we write those later bits that we've been foreshadowing. There are some ways we can tie things together thematically. The Post-Its help us to organize those thoughts. They also serve as a handy reminder for the inevitable "What were we thinking an hour ago?" sleep-deprived questions.
Day 3 — Sunday, 4:45 AM
Still at it, at 4:45 AM. We're know how to get to the end of Adrift on the Starry Sky, although we've been debating one of the interesting bits near the end of the game for a while now. There's a LARP here, sort of. I think we'll make it before noon. (We'd better.)
Day 3 — Sunday, 7:15 AM
We think everything is written. Now comes the review. Everybody looks at all that's been written, for sanity, for consistency, and for those goofy sentence structures that creep in at 3 AM.
It's been a long night, and Tim is flagging a little bit. That's OK, as we're in the final stretch, and it looks like we're going to make it.
Day 3 — Sunday, 9:30 AM
All four of us have read every word of the game in review, making a final editing pass. Gaylord and Theresa went first, while Tim and I lagged a bit behind. This also gave Gaylord and Theresa time to catch a two hour nap. I went off to get paper, and now Tim and I are printing and collating the LARP. There are seven character sheets, one bluesheet, no item cards, no special abilities, and no props. Now all we need are seven play testers to show up at noon to play the first run of Adrift on the Starry Sky!
Day 3 — Sunday, 11:00 AM
Adrift on the Starry Sky has name badges, is stuffed, packed and ready to run, with an hour to spare! I even have time to get all of the LARP writing materials out into the car, take a shower, repack, check out, and be there in time to set the room up to run the game. Total elapsed time from start to finish — one LARP, seven players, just over 24 hours, by four people.
Day 3 — Sunday, 1:30 PM
Several people we thought were going to stay for the playtest have left NELCO and the hotel. There is some rousting to get a seventh player, but we have the space until 4. We find a willing seventh and start the LARP. There's almost nothing to brief.
The creative process in writing a LARP can be a lot of fun, as this was for me. However, the real joy comes when you run the LARP, watching other players breathe life into the words you put on the page. At NELCO, we're fortunate that it attracts some stellar players, who will make any game superb. Our amazing players took Adrift on the Starry Sky and ran with it. The drama was intense, the results extraordinary and truly gratifying. Sure, the pictures look like a lot of people standing around, but that's because I was listening too intently, forgetting my camera, once things got rolling.
Cameron Betts took a picture of all of us, except for him, after the LARP. Thanks to all of our players: Cameron Betts, Tara Halwes, Stephen Kohler, Adina Schreiber, Stephen Tihor, Rob Wensley, and Joseph Wiegartner. They were a blast to watch, took the characters to interesting places, and had a lot of great feedback about the game. It's really helpful to have experienced players and writers take the first crack at a new work.
My goal, as BYOG facilitator, is to produce something that will last roughly two hours, for some fixed number of players from 5 to 12ish, that we can rerun at Intercon and elsewhere. Additionally, it's to produce something all of us want to create, with significant and important ideas and contributions from all. If we can experiment with LARP, in some way, that's even better. I will happily stay up all night, without sleep, to shepherd the project; sleep can come after the run.
Our seven players ran with this material for nearly four hours, with great joy. They asked a lot of good GM questions beforehand, and during, and gave good feedback afterwards, which I noted down in detailed scribbles in the GM notebook for the LARP.
I have a bunch of additional notes scribbled this morning, after about 11 hours of sleep, and I'm sure the rest of the writing team has more. It's always a pleasure to write with Gaylord Tang, Theresa Sullivan, and Tim Lasko, and clearly we did good. This is a really easy LARP to prep and run — and it will run again.