Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NERE 2014: Suspending the Veil

In my last part, I spoke on the convention as a whole. There were several things though that struck me in it's play.

Friday morning was Changeling the Lost, changeling is a game of sanity and traversing the inbetween places in the world. Changelings deal mainly with the Hedge, the wild space between the mortal realm and Arcadia, abode of the alien and cruel Gentry. Before the game, Changelings from around the region were called to Ward 16, a Hollow (Changeling stronghold connecting the Hedge and the Mortal Realm) that housed Changelings driven to insanity after taking on Something from the Underworld (later revealed to be The Pomegranate Tree that grew from the seeds Persephone didn't eat, and that subsequently began the Seasons). Jin and his companions visited the Ward, only to discover that amongst the mad were friends of theirs from New York, bordering on the feral and clinging to their Clarity by a thread.

Normally, when walking to a scene, the Storyteller tells us what is going on and we imagine it and run with it. If you've ever seen or performed a show in a black box theater, it runs on that principle. It's not physically there, you just tell yourself it is, suspend the veil of disbelief.

But walking into the game space at NERE, you didn't need that much to suspend.

The game was designed and developed by Matthew Dobson. Dobby designed the convention space with camo-vines, lights, chains, and sticks to make the cages and cells. The Cells were filled with NPCs, including one in a cell litered with scribbled notes written and ripped out, another cell filled with a mortal that was from New York, and another with a friend of Jin's, a skeleton looking changeling who was sharping her fingers into shivs, and took a swipe at Jin's throat in an attempt to kill him. Chains of Cold Iron, the bane of the True Fae, littered the walls and doors. Several of the Characters coming in to witness this horror carried with them intricately detailed scribblings from the same mad man in the paper covered cell.

Acting with terror, horror and the belief that there were mad men about was not that hard to do. You could see it around you, it informed your understanding of the world instead of having to imagine it fully. You don't need to narrate doing something, you just do it.

Case in point, the players characters were tasked with hunting down two escapees. One of the PCs, a comrade of Jin's, grabbed some of the chains that were lining the walls and handed him a set. It would have taken time to desscribe taking it down from the wall and handing it to someone else, here we just did it. It changed the way we carried ourselves knowing we were carrying chains and bringing Changelings, who were by default the escapees of the Fae, back into captivity.

Through Dooby's work with the props and the sets, there was stuff to react to, to work with, to feel. He damn near did everything but add scent to the situation. It was amazing, and one of the things that stuck out to me.

I've written before about designing props for larps as a means of storytelling. It's a commitment. You put so much detail into it and work so long, you just hope that the players are willing to mirror that commitment and run with what you've got.

Similarly, for Accord's Saturday and Sunday Night game. Accord is about War against the World of Darkness and all those touched by the Supernatural within it against a being breaching it's dimensions. It's different in that where other games may certainly employ stories of war, Accord's entire backdrop is focused on the fact that each person is a member of this war effort, with most major events taking place during Operations in the war.

NERE held Operation: Old Peculiar, where members of several Cells joined together to stop the contamination of The Truth (the name of the Eldritch Abomination) in the NorthEast's water supply. Long story short (which I will elongate in Part 3) we were playing our game in a base camp, complete with tents, depots and a full blown command center. Plants and Netting served as a stand in for trees and plant life. The med bay had two stretchers for people to lie down in and Gauss bandages. The depot had boxes stamped "OPERATION: OLD PECULIAR" On them and the tech bay had computers (and a very ornate chess set). The command center had a white board and maps of the area the game was set in to.

This set up made it very real to a lot of us, especially in terms of combat and command. In most black box games, you really just find a central location and attempt to maintain some sanity. You look more for the people rather than the place  In this setting, if you needed something, you go to where you need to go. It caused more order, more realism. It also supplied a backdrop for a lot of wonderful set pieces. The commanders scanning the map and adding tallies to the board of completed mission objectives. It reminded me of boffer larps, like I was actually in the setting and could interact with the environment. The fact that one of the players present was the game runner for Dystopia Rising Massachusetts probably helped (it was her tent that served the command center).

It added to the level of drama, leading up to very dramatic scenes. My character, Rhys, and a Changeling have been dancing around a relationship. At points during the game, Rhys would run off and go to their station in the tech bay to check in with them. It's implied strenuously that both of them slept in the tech bay. My friends have a tradition while playing in Accord that their PCs sleep underneath the table in the command center. After a year of playing and almost a dozen operations between them, this was the first time they were ever actually able to do that live. Finally, when one of our PCs died, they were somberly brought to the med bay where their body (the player played dead for a long while) laid while people broke down in tears around them.

Immersion is one of those things that I've said is often sacrificed in most theater larps. It's usually due to one major thing: funds and control of the space. But when it works, I think it has a lot to offer in terms of allowing for emotions to come out. Walking into Changeling and Accord reminded me of how I'd love larping to be at a regular level.

Much respect to Matt Dobson for his design for Changeling, and Tyler Brown for his design for Accord. Because of you two, I can honestly say that I had one of the best larping experiences of my life.

Next up, the Cinematic Experience at NERE, and a damn good long look at Bleed