Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Innkeeper, or 'how to love the plot bus'

Larpforge put out a video recently discussing the role of the Inn Keeper in Larps. Inn Keepers, as well as Inns, have been popular since the concept of the medieval role playing game. So much so that the phrase: you all meet at an Inn is a running joke in RPGs and LARPs. The players meet at, gain their main plot from, or adjourn to the local Inn once their quest is completed. The other is You all meet in Prison, but that's for a different subject entirely.

There's truth in television on this. Inns, Taverns, Cafes, Bars, Pubs and all manner of facilities where food and drink can be gained for cheap and accessible to the general population are storehouses of gaining information, contacts, and generally to rest without having to immediately worry about where the next fight will be.

This trope plays out everywhere in fantasy. Gandalf and Thorin meet at an Inn, setting in motion the events of the Hobbit, which in turns sets in motion the entirety of the Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Co. meet Aragorn at an Inn, changing the tone of the books from more than just a journey and into a fight for Middle Earth. Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han and Chewie at Chalmun's Cantina, where you are introduced to at least two dozen alien species and the notion that Luke is a bit out of his field. Harry Dresden often meets his contacts or to negotiate with normally opposing parties at Mac's, a tavern accorded neutral status....he also does some of his planning at Burger King or IHOP when needed. The main framing story of The Kingskiller Chronicle takes place in the Main Character's tavern, and all of the information we receive from the outside world, culture and stories comes from the outside of it. When the plot happens, the villagers come to the tavern to talk about it...and some of the plot sometimes comes in with it.

And at the Center of all of these is an Inn Keeper. For Lord of the Rings you had Barliman Butterbur, who has a tendency to forget a lot, but does know a Ranger when he sees one, and then helps the Hobbits in escaping Nazgul incursion. Chalmun's Barkeeper doesn't do much, but he does point out several things that tell us about the local culture: 1) Droids aren't served there and 2) No Blasters are to be used there. Mac provides a safe haven for all the supernatural creatures, and while he's been spotted in nearly every book, he has only spoken a handful of lines in all of them, becoming a plot point himself.

Inns and Inn Keepers are the traditional way of handing out plot to players. The modern term in gaming is "The Plot Bus". You wait for the Bus to show up, and you get on or you don't. Because of the ubiquitous nature of Inns, and the amount of people coming in and trading stories, rumors and making deals leads to a very easy means of distributing plot. The Inn Keepers become adminstrators of that function, the ones who hold it together and either embody those tropes of providing safe haven, information, and culture. They are an indispensable tool for the GMs/Storytellers.

Traditionally, Innkeepers are NPCs, created and played by the Game Staff to interact with the players. This makes a bit of sense as you want to make sure your plot is put forward as best as possible. But there are some instances where players serve that role. In the World of Darkness games we play in Mind's Eye Society, these characters don't normally exist as actual Innkeepers, but either through their talent or trade are able to receive information and have the ability to disperse it to the other players.

In Vampire: The Requiem my character, Owen, built the Hotel Monolith: a fictional monstrosity of a building meant to house and disperse plot as needed. I had made it as a means of facilitating meetings, outright referring to it as a plot bus-stop. It's worked, though with the elevated body count, Owen has had to restrict access to the Hotel for gatherings or else risk the Masquerade being breached and Vampires being exposed to the public.

However, Owen was recently made Seneschal of New York. His job is to be a go between between the Prince of New York and the rest of the population. During the last game, his first night on the job and since the Prince's Player was absent he in fact held Praxis, he coordinated all of the plot points happening that night, sending those that were equipped to deal with it to deal with it and making sure the general gathering was still having a good night. As someone who generally plays Investigators and Explorers

In Changeling, my character Jin works in one of the Goblin Markets, spaces where anything and everything is for sale. This gives him access to information coming in and out of the Hedge, sometimes before the other players do as Goblins are native inhabitants of the Hedge. It also grants him the opportunity to find rare items that could be important to plot.

Finally, and favorite, in Accord I have my Mage, Rhys. Rhys can speak to Cities, he can view their past and feel the energy from them. With a bit more of skill (and about 100 more xp) he'll be able to get premonitions while walking through the streets. His magic is tied directly into locating, discovering, and examining items in the environment. Since however he's not someone who fights, his job is to get back to the others and give them the information.

These are examples of Theater Larp games, but in Boffer Larps you have actual places that can be Inns and you have people to actually play Inn Keepers. In Dystopia Rising's New Jersey game, The Double Tap is a major hub of gathering, where the rules of the town are displayed, where jobs are posted, where new people can sleep, and generally where drinks are gotten. It's rare to go a night at the Double Tap when a group of survivors aren't sitting out on the porch, smoking hookah and drinking hooch (ie; not real booze, it's a dry game). They're there, almost waiting for the Zombies to show up, and while that's going on, all of the wacky characters inside the bar have time to play. I saw one character, whose sanity and status as a Priest is in equal questionable material, very subtly marry a couple in the middle of a deluded tirade. The room went from flippancy, to confusion, to bachelor/ette party fairly quickly and in equal measure.

What is interesting is that the Inn Keepers of the Double Tap (I'm pretty sure anyway) were PCs. There is an actual profession that PCs can take that is straight up "You run this place" called Publicans. You're dealing with the plot just as much as the other characters, but you are the front man to a central place. In the few times I went to their game (note: it's been nearly a year since my last game), these have been players who have brought their own material and have been doing this, from what I can tell (Anyone from DR can correct me) for years.

This tracks, as the people who are playing Inn Keepers, or really any kind of people who handle the Plot Bus regularly are people the STs can trust. They have a vested interest in the venue and take their time out to show responsibility to the game and to the players around them. Playing a character whose function it is to bring others around you requires a level of trust on all sides. It can't be about your PC, or even you. You're effectively telling the STs you're willing to make your story the games story to a degree. That's a heavy responsibility.

But essentially, what the inn represents in Larp is it's sense of community. People will meet and gather and share their stories, and create their own. An Inn houses this concept perfectly and neatly. A cadre of adventurers telling their stories, their very presence building the pressure in the air like static, making even the smallest spark able to light up the area.

Actually, that gives me an idea

Later.