KapCon 20: Scenario Design Contest

[10/2/13: I wrote these detailed after-action reports for KapCon 20 and put them behind a firewall because I thought they were too difficult for publication. After 2 years, I feel like they are now distant enough that they can be released into the wild.]

Perhaps for reference you should refer to my previous musings on this topic.

I have posted a lot in the lead-up to KapCon about the Scenario Design Contest. This has become a very important part of the convention for me over the past couple of years, moving from an attitude of “I might as well” for the extensively prepared Spirit of the Tentacle, to a genuine exercise of trying to fully prescribe a scenario for the competition when I wrote A World of Possibilities, although that game was born out of a failure to get something together for Fright Night.

I think that it is interesting that the top two scenarios were written for Fright Night. Fright Night is an environment that demands innovation and tight control at the same time. Games must run efficiently, and they must achieve their objective, which is clear but difficult.

I played in Sophie’s runner-up entry (1/50th worse than mine! 🙂 ). I posted about the game at the time and don’t have particularly much to add at this stage. I may have more to say once I read the entry, assuming she puts it online rather than publishes it somewhere.

I’m now asking myself why I didn’t think of it in contention for the prize, because I knew it was entered. I suppose that the physicality of the game obscured its construction from me? I’d also heard Luke say that there was one table top game and one LARP, and I hadn’t really thought of her game as a LARP, and backed myself to produce a better write-up of a game.

And I can’t help but feel that’s probably the case. Liam in a candid moment agreed that Sophie’s game was the better one that we played that night (we three were in two games together). My game was ran perfectly, but definitely in terms of recommending a gaming experience to someone, you’d offer Did you hear the one? before The Hand That Feeds.

My main negative comment about her game at the time was that the horror in the game was impersonal, but that’s fairly often the case and probably wouldn’t count against it really. I also wanted more space for player v. player interactions, but the game ran relatively short so there is definitely scope for having added that.

One of the things I’ve been pondering since being defeated by Steph’s But Nobody Loses An Eye is just what needs to be included and how, in writing a LARP and a Table Top game. One of my slightly tenuous conclusions is that in some ways actually compiling a LARP into an SDC entry is probably easier than turning a successful table top game into one.

A Table Top game can exist mostly in the mind of the GM. My official notes for running The Salt Bond were 5 A4 pages with about 3 or 4 lines each (one page per plot, because that’s tidy). Obviously a vast amount more resides in the grey matter. So when it comes to preparing the SDC entry, I need to painstakingly translate that into useful detail: explain the broad picture, highlight the details, show the plot mechanisms.

For A World of Possibilities that translated into something like 25 pages of scenes and scene mechanics, plus another dozen pages on world construction, for a total of around 40 pages of text. The character sheets took up 4 pages – one per character. It’s a hefty document, only a small fraction of which is actually “necessary” – I never referred to any notes in my two runs which were each nearly perfectly scored.

So if you’re writing a LARP, I mean physically writing it down, then you don’t need quite so much material. For Steph’s game, there’s only a small amount of GM material which seemed to consist in large part of the advice “sit in the corner and be amused”. The character sheets make up the bulk of the game – actual necessary material for the game happening.

The write-up aspect therefore seems like it may be easier for LARP entrants. However, it’s not a straightforward equation of LARP=Easy Entry, because in fact what it means is that for your LARP, you need to write down the plot in a way you don’t need to for a Table Top game, and that means it needs to be devised in advance. No winging it. No hoping it works out. No spitballing with some mates the night before sorting out a game, as I have done to my chagrin.

So which is easier? Well – I think that in overall terms, they must be fairly similar. Because of their far greater written component to start with, they necessarily create the skills to improve the writing up part of the game in a way that is distinctly not a part of table top gaming. They don’t require a component to express a lot of what needs to be written down for conveying a table top game. And so I think in nett terms, when it comes to a competition like the SDC, LARPs do have advantages over table top games.

However, I should point out, in the interests of clarity, that I don’t believe that argument particularly applies to Sophie’s game, because it has not one but two GM roles which need careful briefing to actively manage the game in a way Steph’s game doesn’t, and the small group does not create the paperwork and interlinking that a larger game does.

And obviously all of this comes with the huge caveats that I am not a frequent LARPer, nor have I ever attempted to write a LARP. I am very very tempted to try and write a theoretical LARP for next SDC, and Bryn volunteered to proof it for me, and his credentials are established. I think that would really be the only way I could get a real answer on this topic. 🙂

I feel good about winning. I worked very hard to get that scenario together, and it is infinitely more complex than my previous two entries while being as easy or easier to run as written. The field was large this year, and the top few entries were very close on scoring, which I think is a good sign. I won, but it seems like it really needn’t have been that way. I plan to win again next year, and I know that means raising the bar on my entries again and even more.

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