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The Wizard's Desk

The Wizard's desk is a blog space where our staff and creative leads offer their insight and experience on engaging with DrachenFest US! We're excited to share what we can, so pull up a seat!

Becoming a "Play Community"

Let’s daydream about what our DrachenFest community can be…

By default, many larps are a “game community” - a group of people who play a game together. In a game community, we play hard! We need rules and referees to keep things fair and consistent. Everyone competes against each other in a dance of winners and losers. It’s fun to have contests and tournaments and battles when people’s hearts are in it, right? So we want to win and we don’t want to lose.

After you’ve done that dance a few times, you may discover that its best incarnation isn’t mopping the floor with a weak opponent. It’s more exciting and memorable when there’s an interplay, a give-and-take, and an eagerness to share fun. Willingness to give up your moment of glory makes a better shared experience. Graceful loss builds trust. When we can sense each other having fun, and we know we can trust each other, we can play at a higher level, taking bigger risks and doing cooler stuff. And it feels great. This is playing well.

Equipped with the thrilling sensation of playing well together, we have the potential to transcend the game community and become a “play community”. If a game community values playing a game well, a play community  focuses on playing well with each other.

When people value each other over the game itself, then they’ll be able to bend the rules in ways that aren’t unfair or frustrating. (ie ways that aren’t about making a better experience for yourself.) When we talk about the rules “not being important”, it must be understood in this context.

And it’s fun if we pretend we really want victory. Our characters should care! But secretly, we know it’ll be just as fun to watch our friends win. So we play for the scene, instead of the outcome. Play with the goals of building trust, and playing well together.

I want to give us an aspirational goal: to become a play community. How? First, we have to meet people where they are. Mastering “Play to Lift” is a journey, and we’re all at different spots in that path. But we can help each other “level up” at the game. Let’s talk about some ways we can work together manifest the DrachenFest Play Community:

  • Everybody is a Heel: In DrachenFest, cosmic forces compete for their turn to rule. This is not a story about metaphysical “good” and “evil”. Every aspect of the cosmos has positive and negative qualities. In this world, everybody is somebody else’s “bad guy” (or “heel”). Lean into this! When you play up your camp’s “dark” aspects, you become a villain to others, which makes for exciting stories and roleplay conflict.

  • Validate each other’s Roleplay: This is an important one. When you react to something in the game space, you make it more “real”. Anything! A reaction is a kind of reward. Giving big reactions to each other is a healthy, generous larp habit. When we go beyond reaction, and make each other people’s roleplay an important part of our gameplay, we’ve validated it. We build shared story by playing off each other. Good “Sandbox play” is largely about making each other’s roleplay real and important

  • Take your hits, but also your “heals”. You’re staggering away from a battlefield with injuries and broken armor. Now it’s time to relax in camp. Why bother spending your time tracking down healers and crafters, maybe even paying them your precious coin? You could just spend some time “cooling down” and then get back into the action. Nobody would know! Well, the healers and crafters want to play too, and fixing you up is their “battlefield”. The healing & repair timers create the space for a shared scene. If you no-sell your recovery, it's another version of no-selling a mage’s Fear spell. And when we buy-in to these mechanics, it lifts those characters and makes their contribution into a key piece of your group’s success.

  • Make Enterprises Valuable - related to the last two points, the game is full of groups with a specific job. Let’s roleplay that those jobs are really important! If there are messengers, hire them to send messages. If there are spies, hire them to spy–and base your plans on their info. If there are fortune tellers, seek out their advice and disregard it at your own peril. Some enterprises spend all week waiting for someone to engage them. When nobody does, they wonder if they did something wrong? But potential employers (that could be anyone!) need to lean into their role as well, and, through validation and explicit invitation, make space for enterprises. 

  • Between-Group Plot: Groups (such as enterprises, guilds, named teams in camps, etc) can make plot with each other. When groups within a camp form relationships with groups in other camps, it creates a powerful network which can be tapped in creative ways. Here are some starter ideas to build plot between groups:

    • Sending invitations, challenges, dares, threats, gifts, hosting each other as guests of honor, naming each other as hated rivals, trading components, cooking together, collaborating on a ritual… basically, coming up with excuses to have some interesting experiences together. If you pursue rivalry, make sure you give space for them to opt in or recalibrate. Refs can help!

  • The Bazaar, as a unit, is neutral–but individual groups within it don’t need to be! Camps and Bazaar enterprises can develop roleplay relationships, even loyalties and patronages. As an enterprise, let your allegiance be earned in-play. Maybe set up a contest or quest related to your group theme / internal plot, so that whichever camp engages it will earn your swords in the final battle. Letting your loyalty be determined by roleplay makes better stories (and friendships) than auctioning yourselves to the highest bidder. 

  • Internal Group Plot: Being a member of a great group feels like its own game. Groups can have internal play based on things like ranks and promotion protocols, traditions, RP tensions & dynamics, narrative goals, shared risks, group possessions, and lore creation. Your group can pick a story target and then work together to get there. Here’s some potential “starter plot” for a group: 

    • Build up to a dramatic group decision about the team’s identity, future, purpose, or relationships. 

    • Explore one of your camp’s “dragon aspects”–seek out experiences which demonstrate that aspect, then discuss them within your group. Did anything interesting happen? Did you gain a greater understanding of your dragon's path? What milestone would represent that you mastered this aspect? What milestone would signify you are ready to train others in its nuances?

    • Focus on a problem your group is trying to solve together. This could be a practical problem (like taking responsibility for some camp need), or roleplay based (about a mundane or fantastic challenge your group faces together).

    • Create an item with a role-play meaning/purpose linked to your group.

  • Defeat as an RP Hook - DrachenFest has its ups and downs. After defeat, it's natural to go back to your camp and partake in a ceremonial airing of grievances. But this could also be the moment in every movie when the chips are down and the heroes look to each other for support and inspiration, learning from their mistakes, and beginning preparations for the next challenge. Dark moments can be when the camp does its healthiest roleplay and its group story comes into focus.

This is a huge topic and there’s plenty more we could say, but we don’t want the message to get lost in a sea of examples and clarifications. 

We hope you're looking forward to playing with each other. This buffet isn't just about filling your belly, it's about tasting and appreciating what your friends brought to the table. And just like any great meal, DrachenFest tastes best when shared. See you there!

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