So, just over a week ago, my sister and I ran a fairy tale larp that was trying to mess around with the form. And our players. But in a good way!
I had two main things driving the design. One of them was a reaction to the intense emotionally charged psychodrama games that often get called Nordic larp. There are a lot of really powerful techniques being used, but a lot of the time they seem to revolve around making people feel miserable - I wanted to see if I could engineer a situation that would have the opposite effect. The other one was a video game called The Path. This came out a few years ago, and it just really stuck with me. The basic scenario is that you're a version of Red Riding Hood walking through the woods to your grandmother's house, and the gameplay is that you choose to walk, or stop for a little and encounter some object that's sitting in the woods, or if you're feeling lost and lonely you can wait for a guide character to come and give you a hug and take you back to the path. Or you can encounter the Wolf, which is devastating, and the only way to find out what will happen is go through with the encounter. And eventually you end up at your grandmother's house and there's some stuff that happens that depends on what you did in the woods. It's atmospheric as hell, and totally awesome. So I ended up with a game where the premise was that a group of lost 'children' (some of the characters were adolescents or adults) had each, once upon a time, fled from their own personal Wolf and become lost in the woods. Their goal, which they weren't explicitly told, was to find some sort of resolution with their wolf.
Game Design Stuff
First off, I'm going to thank my co-writer Catherine a huge amount - the original idea was from me, but if she hadn't been letting me bounce ideas off her, and helping me work out the mechanics - and writing some key characters that got me through writer's block, the game just wouldn't have happened. Plus, she really came through with the creepy doll. ;-)
For a lot of things in the game, there was often more than one reason why it was like that. The first one was the movement rules - the lost children had to keep moving, had to stay in the company of someone with a black headband (actually the GMs, the backstage helper 'wood sprites' and the wolves), and there was an OOC call "push-me-pull-you" to trigger them moving if they'd stopped. Partly this was to stop the game clogging up, which is something I've seen in other forest games - there's a huge play area, but 'something interesting' is happening at a particular site, so everybody stops and clusters around it, and ignores all the other interesting things going on. Another one, was that it was a way to make people tired. I wanted them to feel physically challenged but not in real danger, so that when they got to stop walking, that was a relief, and hopefully that would affect their emotional state. And the third reason - the be with someone with a headband rule - was to control the game and make sure that we could keep the lost children circulating around the different wolves, and so that no one was stuck by themselves for too long.
The area of the game was a set of interlinked tracks at a scout camp that I knew pretty well from previous larp events. We had a small fenced off area in the middle of the forest with benches and a single entrance (the scout camp's chapel) that we used as a base camp during the game, the mid game break area, and the final destination for the end game. There were also some buildings close to the game area with toilets and hot water facilities - we advised the players that while IC they were stuck with the group, OOC they could take a break at any time and wait at the chapel to catch up with the rest of the players. I don't think anyone used this, but it was important to me, because I figured that anything that we could do to increase people's physical feeling of real life safety would help them relax and enjoy the game content. We also scheduled a ten minute break for everyone about an hour into the game. This was originally for strictly practical reasons - to get some water and hot drinks, and food, into people in what could have been any kind of weather (Auckland in spring can be really hot and sunny, or cold and miserable, and no way to know in advance), but as we were working through the game design, it made sense to turn this into the emotional turning point of the game.
We cast people by questionnaire - a lot of this was the standard stuff, like do you have any health problems, do you want to be a lost child or a wolf, is there anyone you do or don't want to be paired with. We also got people to fill in tag clouds, a grid of key words related to fairy tales which we asked people to decorate with word art, colours, bold, stuff like that to give me an idea of what they were interested in. We also put in a brief description of the Lines and Veils rule and asked people what squicked them out so we could cast them away from any problems.
We used the technique which I've seen in some other games of giving people the skeleton of the character, and then asking them a series of leading questions about themselves. Partly this was to help them buy into the characters, but we also staged this so that the lost children answered their questions first, then gave that information to the wolves so that they had a lot of information about their paired lost child, along with the lost child's tag cloud. We also set up an IC roleplaying forum a couple of weeks before the game with the intent of having each pair roleplay out their first encounter in which the child ran away from the wolf, so that we could set up some shared experiences pregame, and hopefully jump start the warm up period that I've often seen in larps where it takes a bit of time for people to feel comfortable with each other.
On the day things - the very first part of the briefing was that everyone had to shake hands and introduce themselves to everyone else, regardless of whether they'd met before or not. I nicked this idea off someone on Story Games (can't remember who, sorry) and it's awesome. It's a straight out jump start to get people from silently staring at you to giggling and slightly embarrassed in a "we're all in this together" way. I've also read a couple of articles out on the interwebs on the role that touch has on bonding - you get a small spike of a hormone called oxytocin, which is related to feelings of well being and attachment. Apart from this, we defined the touching rules as people's faces, arms and hands only, to keep things in a relatively neutral frame. The fighting rules were none - you weren't allowed to fight at all. You could talk it out or run away. This idea was robbed from a video game I can't remember the name of, where they'd found that if they gave players the ability to fight the monsters, people would try to do that even if it was difficult and a doomed effort, then complain that the fighting mechanics were clunky; whereas actually the game designers wanted to emulate the narrative of a horror movie where it's mostly about fear and hiding and survival. So they removed the ability and found they got better emotional responses.
We turned the mid game tea party into a 'tilt' event - we asked the wolves at this point to offer some food or drink to their lost child, and to change the tone of their roleplaying, from scary and messing with them as they'd been at the beginning, to more vulnerable. (I think the line my partner quoted from me on Twitter was: "Try to manipulate her into realising that you have no power over her." So, um, yeah. Like that.) After the tea party, we also encouraged them to split up the group more - reminding people that they could go off with any wolf or wood sprite, if they wanted. We also asked the wolves to try to push the storyline to a resolution - perhaps the lost child overcame their fear of the wolf and was willing to walk alone with them, or could finally stand up to them, or had found a way to let them go. Once they'd reached a point where the wolf felt the story was resolved, they were asked to bring their lost child back to the base camp chapel, where everyone who was there had been asked to give them a big cheer (because everyone, at least once in their life, should get a cheer. It's a rule.) The final debrief was the reverse of the opening, asking people to split up into pairs, shake hands, and tell each other something they liked about each other.
Right, I'm totally planning on writing up an Actual Play account, but it's late and I'm tired, so it'll be in a day or two. But I have pictures for you...