Design

Design document

Here’s the current draft of our PDF design and organization document, which includes everything that you’ll need to know about the larp without having to trawl through this website. But we’re also putting everything up here, for ease of browsing.

The background

The characters in On Location are actors and film crew, assembled to shoot what will surely be a technical and artistic masterpiece as well as a commercial triumph: Stolen Moments. It will be the acme of British film output, at a time when Europe has not yet ceded cinematic primacy to Hollywood.

In 1932, the world is firmly grasped in the teeth of the Great Depression: but as the silver screen makes a temporary escape for so many, the industry’s glamour and extravagance has increased rather than lessened. How long this decadent, exotic bubble can last – and what horrors the coming years may hold in store – no-one yet knows.

About Stolen Moments

Stolen Moments is a lavish ensemble piece, a thriller/caper/melodrama in the modern style, being made by leading studio Richmond Films. A stellar array of talent from all over Europe has been assembled, and all that is required to turn it into glittering reality is the presence of renowned director Gottfried Himmelhaus. As famous for his outrageous temper as for his artistic temperament, the German genius will surely create a picture for the ages. When he arrives…

The details of Stolen Moments are not designed. Players can invent them as required, when they wish to discuss or rehearse lines and scenes together, to plan shots, to arrange scenery and props, and so on. The important thing is that, until Gottfried Himmelhaus arrives, no actual productive activity on the film can take place.

Act structure

On Location takes place in two Acts.

Act One is set when the characters have been together for a week, getting to know one another, and looking forward to starting to work together as soon as the director arrives. Most will be keen, wanting to make a good (or at least a strong) impression, wanting to pick up old relationships and start new ones.

Act Two is set an unspecified, but long, time after – at least several weeks. The characters are still waiting, but perhaps, for some of them, hope and belief have faded. All that is known is that Gottfried Himmelhaus is still expected to arrive. Time now has little meaning – each day is very similar to the last, and reality seems to have narrowed itself down to this one small group of buildings. Some will go through the motions of work, some will have openly given up and lapsed into self-indulgence. They are still being fed, and paid…

At the end of Act Two, each character will be offered a choice: to remain in the comfortable bubble of Tarrington Manor, waiting in the eternal present, either accepting their state or maybe still hoping for their director’s arrival: or to emerge into the unknowable future. This will conclude the larp.

Authenticity and historicity (not)

On Location is not designed to strive for authenticity or for historical accuracy. The larp is not going to feature the minutiae of 1930s movie-making, nor will it pay detailed attention to the history of the period. The intention is to achieve a loose, glamorized, and dramaticized version of the period and of the industry – larger than life, and less fiddly.

Prejudice

The 1930s was a time of overt prejudice: women, homosexual people, members of ethnic minorities, and other groups were often openly discriminated against and persecuted. We are going to be very careful about reproducing this in play – we don’t want players to have to experience prejudice, or to have to express it, unless they actively wish to do so. Some characters are designed as more conservative and/or less tolerant than others – but even so, the player will decide where their personal lines of prejudice will be drawn.

If you would like your character to have the experience of suffering prejudice, that’s absolutely fine: other players will need to actively choose to express prejudice against them, it won’t happen by default. You can ask for this in advance of the larp during preplay, or during the workshops, or during an offgame moment in play itself.

This is not because we want to whitewash or fluffify the period – it’s because, for purposes of playability, we are conceiving of the ‘showbiz bubble’ as being a somewhat safer space for difference than is the outside world. The in-game explanation is that the studio depends upon its workers being able to cooperate together, despite that they are in many cases quite unusual: so in general the workplace is expected to operate without prejudices being expressed. We want players to be able to concentrate on what they’re trying to explore with their characters within the larp that we have designed, without having the particular considerations of prejudice also weighing on them unless they wish that to be so.

(You should also look at the notes about gender and sexuality on the Characters page of this website.)

Playing to lift

On Location is not intended for you to play to win, or play to lose. ‘Winning’ and ‘losing’ are not really possible, in any meaningful sense. Instead, you’re encouraged to play to lift – to life up the other characters’ play, so that the responsibility for your drama and your character also rests on all your co-players. Let your character follow their own path, without too much steering and without too many expectations of what should be happening to them. Take action as it occurs to you, and react to other characters’ actions as you become aware of them – letting it flow naturally, building rather than blocking.

“Why is this so effective? Well, it is much easier for a particular individual to lose than to win. And it is much easier for me to give you a win (I happen to spill my secret in the middle of our heated argument) than for you to carve out a win (You must out-of-game-cleverly manipulate me into spilling my secret). The drama that we both want rests on the secret coming out, however – and the easiest way for us to ensure that to happen, is for me to lift you. So trust that the other players will lift you to wins, and you can focus on losing.

“Note that the win we are talking about is a win for the player, not for the character. It may very well be that I recognize that you clearly want your tragic character to fail horribly at the public speech she is giving. Well, then the way I would Play to Lift you is to throw a (verbal) rotten tomato at you and boo your character off the stage.

“Do not people sometimes read each other wrong, when it comes to what they want? Certainly. Just as in a dance, you can sometimes step on your partner’s toe or twirl him when he was really expecting something else. Just as in a dance, you get better at it with practice.”

(The concept of ‘play to lift’, and the quoted passage above, comes from this article by Susanne Vejdemo in the 2018 Knutepunkt book, which discusses it in more depth.)

Opt-in transparency

The design of On Location is opt-in transparent. There are no secrets being kept from players – everything that’s in the larp, you will be able to see in advance. However, if you’d like to keep some surprises in store for yourself, that’s absolutely fine, of course. You can choose only to read the stuff that you have to, and ignore the rest for now; and that’ll then give you a different kind of game.

Either way, you’re encouraged to talk with other players before and during the larp, so as to steer your play experience in the directions that you’re interested in. You will be put in touch with the players of characters interlinked with yours, in advance of the larp, to allow you to plan together if you wish. Then during play, you can use the ‘Take a walk’ metatechnique (see below) to touch in and plan offgame with another player; and between the two Acts, there’ll be time to recalibrate relationships and make further plans.

Activities

The characters are professionals, here with a job to do: they are not being paid to just lounge around and drink cocktails. At least, that’s the studio’s way of thinking! While waiting for their director to arrive, the crew will be exercising their skills, preparing the sets and the actors for shooting; and the cast will be rehearsing and training.

Each character has tasks assigned to them, to add some structure to their day. it is anticipated that during the course of the larp, discipline may break down, and some may not be as dutiful as others: but to start with at least, having some pieces of preplanned activity as part of the day will help players settle in.

You needn’t worry about not having the skills that are associated with your character – of course, we aren’t expecting that. You don’t have to be a makeup expert to play THE MAKEUP ARTIST, for example. But you will be expected to spend some time ‘larping’ makeup – applying (empty) brushes to an actor’s face, and so on. Similarly for each of the other characters.

So what is play actually going to be like?

Quite sandboxy really. Your characters are there together, in the setting: play is going to mostly revolve around them exploring their internal feelings and their interactions with each other, in a naturalistic way. There is a certain amount of structure to the day, so you needn’t worry about having nothing to do: but none of it will be forced on you. The various metatechniques are available to help you develop ideas and to steer your game. But we aren’t imposing a direction of play on you – you’ll discover for yourself where you want to take the character.

Techniques and metatechniques

Metatechniques are ways of communicating offgame information in a non-disruptive way. In On Location there are a few different useful ones that we’ll be using – mostly, fairly standard for this type of larp.

All of these will be demonstrated and practised before the start of the larp.

Safeword

If you need to stop play right away, for any reason, say “Safeword!” as loudly and firmly as you are able. Everyone should immediately stop what they’re doing – passing it on to anyone who didn’t hear. The organizers will come to you and address your need as well as they can. You don’t have to explain why you made the call. You can decide yourself whether you wish to rejoin play or not. It will always be possible for anyone to leave the larp – either leaving the venue altogether, or just stepping out of character – whenever they feel they need to, for whatever reason. Your comfort and safety is absolutely our primary concern. (This metatechnique is well known, using the word “Cut” – but for (hopefully) obvious reasons, in On Location we use “Safeword” instead.)

Lookdown

If you wish to leave a particular scene or interaction because you’re not comfortable with it, you should put a hand angled over your eyes so as to symbolize looking down, and back away from the other people involved. Importantly, the other characters must not comment upon, or otherwise react to, your leaving – as they might, if you had just walked away from the scene in-character. (This metatechnique was devised by Trine Lise Lindahl and documented by Johanna Koljonen.)

Take a walk

If, during play, you want to have an offgame conversation with another player, invite them to “take a walk” with you. Go together to an offgame area – or out of sight and earshot of the other players – and step out of character together. Once you’ve had the conversation, you can return to play either together or separately, as you prefer. Other characters should not comment on your having gone off together. (This metatechnique is borrowed from the larp  Just a Little Lovin’, by Tor Kjetil Edland and Hanne Grasmo.)

Representing sex and intimacy

On Location is a larp where characters may well experience romantic passion – although if you prefer not to, we will cast you away from such roles. In keeping with the 1930s setting, though, anything more intimate than a kiss is kept off-camera – you can discuss and agree with another player what sexual activity you both wish to have happened between your characters, but you won’t play it out.

As for kissing and other types of intimate touch, you must make sure in advance that the other player is happy to be touched, hugged, kissed, etc. If they are not, then mime the encounter instead.

Representing violence

In-game violence is enacted using stage-fighting techniques – stage slaps, punches, kicks, etc. Do not make any actual contact with the other player. We will practise these techniques in advance, for those who aren’t familiar with them. The recipient decides for themselves how much hurt or injury they want their character to take from the blow.

The script of Stolen Moments

Stolen Moments, the film on which the characters are working, is a kind of meta device in itself. There is no designed script for it, and no characters – instead, these will be evolved by you as players during play, in response to your characters’ needs. The mechanism for doing this is by creating rehearsal scenes, and first we’ll cover how that should work during Act 1.

How scenes work

Any actor character can come up with an idea for a scene that will be in the film (or, rather, will be in the shooting script – it was commonplace to shoot scenes which ended up getting cut in the editing process, but that’s not relevant to us now). The scene idea needs to fit into the broad picture that the film is based on the life of a recent-history/contemporary woman. Nothing gonzo (aliens, Cthulhu, etc) or completely surreal, as Stolen Moments is a mainstream product; but it is intended to be artistic, so expressionist touches are fine.

That player decides who their character is playing in the scene, and recruits other actors to fill the other parts. They ‘rehearse’ (ie. improvise) the scene together, and when they’re happy with it, they make notes about the scene to capture its important details, and pass it to THE SCRIPTWRITER.

So for example a scene might be: the heroine (played by THE DIVA) has a blazing row with her (third) husband (THE JOURNEYING HERO) in the casino of Monte Carlo, gets drunk, and leaves with a cad (THE CAD). Or, the heroine as a young girl (THE INGENUE) arrives in the city and makes friends with the cheery waitress (THE BEST FRIEND) who lives across the landing. Each scene should last no more than a few minutes in ‘finished’ form, although your characters can spend as long as they like rehearsing and improving them, and giving each other performance notes.

THE SCRIPTWRITER will also come up with scene ideas himself, and he then writes them down and gets THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR to find appropriate actors to rehearse them. But the main part of his job is assembling scenes into some semblance of a coherent storyline, based on or at least inspired by his discussions with THE SUBJECT. (The actors should also seek inspiration from THE SUBJECT, of course. But our expectation is that they will mostly be trying to create scenes that will make them look good on the screen.)

The overall story that is thus being assembled doesn’t have to make narrative sense – it can have massive coincidences and non-sequiturs – but it should aim to have some sort of narrative thread going through. (THE SCRIPTWRITER may end up designing linking scenes so as to try and knit the actor-generated scenes together into some sort of sense.)

THE INVESTOR can also request scenes via THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, in a similar way. It’s her money, after all.

THE METHOD ACTING INSTRUCTOR and THE PSYCHOTHERAPIST may also have potential creative input into the script, indirectly — because they will be working on the actors, getting them to express their internal issues via acting (and vice versa). Ideally each actor’s scenes should, taken together, reflect the Role that Gottfried has asked of them; and should help them address their existential Dilemma.

Actors may also wish to consult with THE ART DIRECTOR and THE PROPMASTER, and other technical crew members, about the likely requirements of scenography, props, costume, etc for their scene.

Rehearsal can take place anywhere there’s enough space and a reasonable lack of distraction. (You are all professionals and are used to rehearsing while other people are wandering about, so there’s no need for absolute privacy.) Also, there are three sets that will be built within the location, that can be used as rehearsal spaces for any scenes that are appropriate to them.

Any actor (or even THE STAND-IN) can be roped in to play extra and minor roles in scenes for rehearsal purposes – on the understanding that of course they won’t be lowering themselves to do that for the actual filming.

So our intention is that as a result of this process, each actor will be essentially deciding for themselves, based on Gottfried’s vague Role guidelines and their own preferences, what sort of character they are going to be playing in the film. And, by the end of Act 1, some sort of storyline – not necessarily complete, but generally coherent – will have emerged.

During Act 2

In theory, during Act 2, this rehearsal process should be continuing as normal. However, it will be affected by the general breakdown in discipline that has been caused by Gottfried’s continued absence, and will become increasingly self-serving and focused on the characters’ own needs. Characters will still create and rehearse scenes, but they no longer have to make sense, or fit into the existing story. There is no longer any real expectation that these scenes will be shot – instead, rehearsal of them becomes an important emotional and psychological process in its own right. THE SCRIPTWRITER may start to impose his own vision on the script. Basically, the form of the process will be the same, but its content and purpose will have degenerated and will be up for grabs.

Making the news

Tarrington Manor is not cut off from the outside world, however much it might feel so. News of external events can get in, via radio and newspapers. And to create that news, we have another metatechnique. This one is (in Act 1) in the domain of the Crew characters (which for this discussion includes guests like THE RIVAL and THE INVESTOR. Basically anyone who’s not an actor.)

If you have an idea for a news story that you’d like to introduce into the location, you need to first find another Crew member to help you. Take them for a walk (the metatechnique for going briefly offgame) and pitch your idea to them; talk it through, as they may have improvements to suggest. If they like it, then you need to go together to the meta room. There, play out (improvise) a brief scene, happening in the outside world, that reflects the news story. Then write down the details of the story on one of the News forms that you will find in that room. Then bring the story downstairs and place it on one of the three dining-tables – these are the fora for display of outside news. You’re welcome to draw people’s attention to it, or just leave it there for people to find – as you prefer.

If you’d like to involve more than one other person in the scene and in thinking about the news story, that’s fine – whoever wants to be involved, can. (Although if you take too many, you’ll have trouble fitting in the meta room.)

What is the purpose of creating news stories? The idea of them is to allow you to affect the dynamic between characters, and/or to put pressure on characters. They are a way of adjusting the context in which this group of characters are currently existing.

So, for example: suppose that your character is friends with THE DIVA, and you know that there is currently a rivalry between her and THE FEMME FATALE over who is more admired by the public. You might create a news story like ‘Asymmetrical haircuts in the style of THE DIVA have become hugely fashionable in Paris salons’. And you might play out a scene in which a fashionable lady asks for such a haircut, initially puzzling but eventually entrancing her hairdresser. The existence of this story will then give your character’s friend some ammunition in her struggle. And of course if your own character happens to be THE HAIRDRESSER for example, then you could talk about the story in-character while tending people’s hair.

Another example: suppose that your own character is German and of Jewish origin. You might create a news story like ‘Extreme right-wing party comes to power in Germany’, to make your character worried about their family. This might later be followed by another story like ‘New German government announces crackdown on Jewish-owned businesses’, and so on.

It’s important to stress that news stories must be realistic (so no ‘King of Denmark revealed to secretly be a woman’ or whatever) and, if they concern historical events, they should be vaguely in keeping with the general trend of the actual history – although they don’t need to stick to it in detail. You can always come to us first and check if your idea is OK. Also, there may be a natural tendency to try to make them amusing or silly… please try and clamp down on this, it will detract from the atmosphere within the larp. We will ruthlessly censor any news stories that we don’t feel are appropriate.

In Act 2, things change slightly. Now anyone (so Cast members as well) can create news stories. And they can cover a longer passage of time – although Act 1 is played out in real time of one day = one day, Act 2 is a bit more vague, as the day being played represents a large number of actual days spent at the Manor. So a news story early in Act 2 could be followed by another later in the Act which is clearly happening some time later.

Meta spaces

There are also two spaces which have a dedicated ‘meta’ function. You don’t have to use them, but they’re there if you’d like to. We’ll talk more about how you might use them, during the pre-larp workshop.

The meta room

One of the rooms in the house is outside the game reality. It can be used by players when they want to play out a scene with their character, with one or more other players and/or with an organizer’s help, that isn’t in the timeline of the larp itself. So perhaps a flashback scene to the character’s childhood, or to the start of a romance – or a parallel reality where their career has evolved differently – or a flashforward into the future. Anything that you think might be interesting to explore, and that might shed a useful light on your characters’ motivations or on some aspect of their story.

Gottfried’s suitcase

Among the items in the house is a suitcase that has been sent ahead by Gottfried Himmelhaus, to await his arrival. It contains an assortment of objects. You can, at any time during either Act, go to the suitcase and take out one of the items that’s in it; putting some item of your character’s own into the suitcase as a replacement. This will have the effect of forcing a change in your character’s personality, motivation, decision-making, etc, that doesn’t have to be otherwise explained: it is an entirely mysterious effect of the suitcase, not to be spoken about by the characters.

Mixing desk

Here’s a mixing-desk graphic to represent On Location’s design style. (If you aren’t familiar with this useful design tool and descriptor, you can read about it here.)

mixing_desk_of_larp
Mixing desk graphic for On Location
Click for bigger version

(photo: Oliver Facey)

Advertisements