Patrons of the Underground,

There are a few questions the Board of Directors hears often, and after seeing this asked today on a patron’s Facebook, I’d like to try to answer one of them today:

How do I get my character involved in Larger Than Local play?

To answer this, we first need to agree that there are, loosely, two types of LTL play.

The first type of LTL play simply involves characters outside of your game knowing who you are, or it means having the actions your character takes or opinions your character makes have an affect on characters outside of your local game. This is a sort of notoriety and reputation thing, and is not always simple to foster.

Success at playing this kind of LTL game is generally self-made organically by the player and the momentum of the game. Achieving an influential position such as Harpy, Prince or Sept Leader; posting regularly in clan, sect, tribal or other national Facebook groups; playing at convention, regional and national event games; and pursuing high-visibility plots or opportunities are some of the things players can do.

The second type of LTL play involves being part of Larger Than Local plot that the Underground Theater Content Team is running, including holding an LTL position such as Archon.

Periodically, the OST or the Vice President posts to the Storyteller groups asking STs if there are any characters they believe would fit open LTL positions or would be good to involve in or help spread LTL plots. Very rarely do any storytellers respond to these requests. Tell your local storytellers you want to be more involved!

Success at playing this kind of LTL game can also involve a little Out of Character work by you, the player.  Send an email to the OST of your appropriate genre/venue and ask if there is anything your character might become involved with. Tell the OST a small bit about your character and remember to tell them which game your character is based in. You can do this to pursue a rumor the OST may have posted in a Facebook IC group, you can do this to put your character into consideration for LTL positions, or you can even do this just to ask if there is a plot going on you could somehow get roped into.

The OSTs’ job is to help you become more involved and be part of LTL plot, and they will, but they can’t involve you if they have no idea who you are or that you want to be involved!

The first step to being involved in LTL in any way is nearly always, “be visible in and out of character.”

Finally, let’s address some barriers for becoming involved in LTL:

  • I’m a Storyteller: Storytellers and administrators are never chosen by the Content Team to hold Larger Than Local positions. This is to help maintain fairness and avoid instances in which conflicts of interest can occur.
  • I’m a brand new character: A brand new character has no reputation and no visibility. One way to help overcome this is to email the OST. Just because you are a brand new character does not mean the vampire or werewolf you are playing didn’t exist in the past or have their own reputation. Another way to overcome this is using the Character Ties Facebook groups to network connections between your new character and established ones, and being active on IC Facebook groups also helps.
  • I’m a brand new player: This is a legitimate concern. The OST is unlikely to hand a regional leadership position to a person that no one knows – you may decide you don’t like the game and quit in two months, you may not have the knowledge necessary about Vampire or Werewolf to manage the position within genre expectations, or maybe you might be insane 🙂 . Begin with following the advice from above in “I’m a brand new character.” Additionally, participate in conversations on the OOC groups so that others can get to know you. Traveling to nearby games and attending event games can also help (if you are able).
  • I can’t travel: This is only a partial barrier. Certainly, if you hold an LTL position, your character will benefit from the ability to be at non-local games, especially National Event games, but not all positions require physical travel, and becoming involved in national plot might not require travel at all if your local storyteller staff is willing to help. Talk to your OST and there may be something appropriate for you.
  • I’m a poo-fart: The simple truth is that, for the game to be fun for everyone, the Content Team is pretty unlikely going to give an LTL position to a character that is played by a player who is just a jerk OOC. If you have a bad reputation as a player who treats others poorly, who cheats, who is difficult for other players to get along with – you probably won’t be chosen to become King of the Garou Nation. Content looks for players who are active, friendly, kind and who try to involve others (regardless of if their character is nice or evil). If that’s not the kind of player you are, begin working toward changing how you approach game and those who play around you.

Hopefully, this helps some of you out when considering Larger Than Local opportunities!

For those of you interested, here are the emails for the OSTs:

Werewolf OST

Camarilla/Anarch/IA OST

Sabbat OST

Best of luck to all of you, and I hope your game keeps getting better and better. Remember, the only way to win is to have fun!

~Ryan Faricelli
Director of Communications

[Being a better player and building better characters are themes from my book on better storytelling, better playing and better culture, On A Roll: Level Up Your RPG.]

Storytelling is an act of passion and dedication, and often it can feel unrewarding and unappreciated. It’s also a huge amount of work, and that can quickly, easily and unexpectedly result in burn out.

Being burned out means you have hit a wall – an extended period in which you are exhausted and stressed about game in an all-encompassing way that affects the quality of your storytelling and game management. But what can we do to help storytellers avoid burning out?

The first step is for storytellers to recognize the signs that might indicate they are burning out. If we don’t know we’re suffering from burn out, we can’t combat it. Some signs of burning out include:

  • Exhaustion: You notice that during and after game, you are completely zapped and wore out (in the negative ways).
  • Frustration and Cynicism: You begin to get pessimistic about game, the topic of LARP just makes you want to sigh and “ugh,” and you feel like it doesn’t matter how well of a job you do.
  • Lack of Motivation: You’d rather be doing other things instead of having ST meetings, working on downtimes or being at game.
  • Less Smarterer: You have trouble concentrating, you can’t remember details and you have trouble paying attention during game.
  • Increased Conflict: You’re butting heads with other gamers more often because you’re experiencing a lack of patience.
  • Preoccupation About Game: You’re just always thinking about game, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You can’t have a conversation with your gaming friends about things other than game.
  • Physical Issues: You have heartburn, headaches, weight gain or other bodily issues that are common results of stress.

Obviously, a burned out storyteller doesn’t run their best game.

If you look like this guy, you're probably burned out.

If you look like this guy, you’re probably burned out.

The first line of prevention to keep a storyteller from burning out actually belongs to the players of the game. Recognize your storyteller’s hard work, and tell them you appreciate them. When you ask for things, be kind and understanding – especially if they have to tell you “no.” If you disagree with something they do, express it in a positive way that is non-combative – don’t get angry and call them names. When you have complaints, find a way to bring them to your storytellers that shows they are opportunities for improvement and not just the rants of a b*tchy player.

Don’t monopolize your storyteller’s time with complaints at the restaurant after game – let them come down from the event on a positive note and hang out with everyone as friends before you raise your concerns with them. And finally, reward them for their efforts through little things like having all the players in the game sign a birthday card for them or collect a dollar from every player to buy them something small and fun for Christmas. The greatest service a player can do to keep their storytellers from burning out is to make sure the storytellers are always aware that the game appreciates everything that they do.

As a storyteller, there are also things you can do to help keep yourself from burning out. The first, and probably most important, is to regularly Check Your Investment™.

Real life is always more important than a game. Characters are not people – players are. People matter more than characters. Respect, kindness and friendships should always guide your gaming. Remember that, too – it’s just a game. If you’re taking it so seriously, if you’re so obsessed, if you’re so involved and absorbed, if you’re so victimized by a game that you aren’t having fun any more, or you aren’t allowing those around you to have fun any more, then you need to step away. The only winners of role-playing games are the people who are having fun.

About every other month, I spend some quiet time and I reflect on the games I’m playing in, the games I’m storytelling in and the organizations and positions that I am in and hold. I consider the joy and happiness those things bring me. I consider the pain and stress they bring me. I ask, “Is it fun?” I weigh all of these things and if I ever find the bad to outnumber the good, I seriously consider what I need to change.

I want to stress that checking your investment doesn’t necessarily mean quitting a game (though, it may). Sometimes, it just means making an adjustment. It might mean finding another gaming group. Sometimes it may mean you personally reassess how important LARP is to you. Sometimes it may mean story-tell less. Usually, it just means you have to adjust your perspective, change how you think about things or make alterations to how much importance you apply to different aspects of gaming.

When you check your investment and decide you need to make an adjustment because you are becoming burned out from storytelling, there are often some easy first steps you can take:

  • Play: Find another game you can just simply play in. It could be a troupe game, a non-World of Darkness game or even a really good tabletop game. Just experience game NOT as the person running it.
  • Choose Your Battles: Some things that we freak out about just aren’t worth freaking out over. Take stock of the things that upset you and evaluate if it’s something that really matters all that much. If it does, take a moment to breathe before you deal with it.
  • Unplug: Game runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week in this era of social media and internet technologies. Set aside one day a week (or more if you need) to not participate or monitor game-related connectivity.
  • Find the Joy in Friendships: Hang out with your players in places other than game and make LARP a topic that is not allowed to be discussed. Moreover, hang out with your other storytellers outside of your game and outside of your storyteller meetings. Make an effort to enjoy the people you are doing game with in venues outside of game.
  • Do Something Else: Find another hobby that you can invest some time in to help take your mind off of game – especially something that is low-stress and non-combative.
  • Chill: Relax. Sleep. Enjoy some quiet time. Make time for yourself.
  • Delegate: Recognize that one of the strongest abilities of a great leader is the art of delegating. You are not the only storyteller on your staff (if you ARE the only storyteller on your staff, then change that). Let others do their share of the workload, and encourage them to do the parts that they are best at.
  • Organize: Take a few days to organize the administrative aspects of your game. Purchase a game storage box or tub that can travel to your game site and back to store your item cards, notebooks, character sheets, folders, downtimes, histories and other storyteller paperwork and tools in. Develop a filing system and file things where they go. If your work space is a mess, so too, will be your mind space when working.
  • Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask others for help. This might mean asking for another person to join your storytelling staff. It may mean appointing a Narrator or two. Sometimes it means asking your other storytellers to do more work. Most importantly, it may mean simply asking your players to go “easy” on you at the next game in the form of a soft RP night to help you get caught up and reset your health.

Whatever you choose to do to help you fight burnout, the most important thing of all is to keep your investment in check and remember that this game is never as important as the people who participate in it. We all need to be having fun, and it takes all of us doing our part to make sure everyone can do that!

~Ryan Faricelli
Director of Communications

[Checking your investment is a major theme from my book on better storytelling, better playing and better culture, On A Roll: Level Up Your RPG.]

Good morning Patrons of the Underground,

As Grand Masquerade approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the last time it was held in New Orleans. It was September of 2011, I was a storyteller for a game in The Garou Nation organization as well as on their board, and after the long drive from Chattanooga to the French Quarter, things went terribly wrong.

I had spent nearly the entire time in New Orleans in the hospital emergency room and in the hotel room terribly ill. Following the event, I spent several weeks home from work recovering. It was a horrible time, and in the end I was diagnosed with panic disorder and my doctors said that I had no choice but to cut everything stressful from my life.

The obvious decision to be made was that I needed to step down from my positions in the national organization. While I knew stepping away was what was best for me, I didn’t want my game to leave the organization because it had benefits for my players and their characters. To my surprise, when learning of my situation, the players in my game actually initiated a vote and voted unanimously that they wanted our game to leave the organization and just be a single independent game.

Amazingly, they wanted me to do what was best for my health. They didn’t care how it affected the game because they new, ultimately, it was just a game.

My storytelling staff had truly developed a gaming community, and this community cared about my health and me. I was incredibly blessed to have helped to create a gaming community of friends who cared more about me as a person than as a storyteller.

In April of that same year, the neighborhood that I lived in was struck by an F4 tornado. From my front and back porches, I looked at empty spaces where houses once stood. I won’t get into too many details here, but I do not exaggerate when I say that we lived in the center of a Federal disaster area.

Personally, my family was very lucky. Our roof was destroyed, the cars were damaged, a lot of exterior elements of my home were wrecked – but for the most part, my house made it through okay.

Wreckage from all of the destruction filled our yard, and there were four or five giant trees in our yard that were now toppled onto the driveway, the street and the grass. Though my house survived, there was going to be weeks of cleanup, both at my house and in our surrounding neighborhoods. We would be without electricity for almost two full weeks.

Something else happened, though. The president of the national org our game was in learned that a local charity was raising money for tornado relief through the sale of advertising logo space on T-shirts, and then selling the T-shirts. The money raised was going directly to people in my community who were in desperate need.

224631_1828556405755_456199_nThey raised over $100 and purchased a space on the T-shirt to put that LARP organization’s logo on the shirt and said that they hoped it would help my community rebuild.

The players in our game were valued as people and the organization wanted to help us as people in need.

In the days that followed, as my neighborhood cleaned up, my yard was filled with many of my best friends helping. But the players in my game were there, too.

The tornadoes happened on Thursday, and I remember Saturday morning being in my yard gathering pieces of roofing and lumber that had been part of some of the destroyed houses around us, and noticing that every person in my yard was a player in my game. They had given up their weekend to help my wife and I try to find our house.

We were so lucky to have a group of gamers who were willing to do hard manual labor on their weekend to help during a crisis. Our gaming community had come together to look out for us in our real life circumstances.

A few years ago, two different members of Underground Theater in different parts of the country committed suicide. Both suicides were unrelated to game, but our organization was still impacted by the loss. We have hundreds of players, but two different games had been hit by the loss of a friend.

UT held a fundraiser and raised several hundred dollars in honor of those two gamers and donated the money to a national suicide prevention organization in their names.

A player in Underground Theater went missing for a week last year. The information was shared by our members across our org and then they shared it to other orgs, reaching over 5,000 people.

There are players in my game who see other players unable to pay their $5 and just reach into their wallet and cover the fee for them without a second thought. There are people in my local game without cars, and they always have rides from other players to get groceries. There are people in my game dealing with difficult real-life issues and they always have shoulders to cry on, sometimes even right before or after game. There are people in my game who struggle with chronic illness and no one even bats an eye to step out of character to care for them or make sure they are okay when things get rough.

We aren’t LARPers. We’re friends.

My game is a place where I hang out with my friends. It’s even the place I met my wife.

That’s what LARP is to me.

What is it to you?

~Ryan Faricelli
Director of Communications

[Portions of this article are reprinted from my book, On A Roll: Level Up Your RPG.]

One of the great things about building a community of gamers like we have done with Underground Theater is that we become friends in real life. Outside of game, we connect with one another over email, telephone and, perhaps most often, social media – Facebook in particular. It’s wonderful for friendships to foster outside of the game, and there’s no doubt that it’s a thing we all should be striving to do.

As we grow more friendly and closer as a group, however, we also grow more comfortable and let down some of our social graces. It’s something that every one of us struggles with, but we can all work together to make this a friendlier place.

Putting a Smiley at the End Doesn’t Make You NOT a Jerk

It’s important to remember that even though we are friends, we are also usually communicating through text, which doesn’t convey tone. Many comments that people could make in person with a smile and good nature come across unfriendly or antagonistic when simply read as text on a computer screen. We need to remember when we write messages to do our best to word them in ways that are clear and friendly. In addition, when we read messages, it always helps to read them erring on the side of assuming the person who wrote it meant it in a kind way.

Be Respectful

We need to also remember that the leadership in Underground Theater are an important part of our community, and that they are doing a very difficult job. They are volunteers, but they are charged with making decisions that are best for the overall organization, and not for any one individual player, storyteller or troupe. This means that sometimes there may be a decision that you disagree with, or that may seem bad for your individual troupe but is good for the overall health of the organization.

The Board does want to know your thoughts, and they take them very seriously. But, when you send them private messages, emails or post about it on Facebook, remember that they do read what you wrote, even if you don’t know it. If you call them horrible names or say they are “stupid,” it truly hurts their feelings (and makes them less inclined to hear your argument). The leadership of Underground Theater is made of people who care, and we should always work to treat them with respect and friendliness, even when airing disagreement.

It’s Not James Davey’s Fault

On that same note, remember that the Board of Directors all have individual roles to play in the leadership of Underground Theater, and they each must represent UT in their respective venues. When you dislike a Board decision, never assume that the board member who announced it is personally responsible for it. That’s rarely the case. The board makes decisions as a group, nearly always by vote. I know personally, I have acted as Communications Director and announced, explained and defended policies and rules that I disagreed with and voted against. My role, however, is to represent the Board and UT when we communicate. The same is true of the President, the Vice President, the Ombudsman and all of the other Board of Director members. Don’t shoot the messenger! We are all just doing the work we volunteered for as best we can.

Think Faster Than You Type

Finally, if something has you riled or upset, stop typing. I’m terrible at this. It’s so easy to fire back responses to things you’re passionate about because… well… you’re passionate about it.

When a post leaves you excited, angry, happy or mad and you need to respond to it, take a moment and think about your response. If you need to type your initial response to get it out of your system, do so – but don’t send it. Wait an hour or two. Game doesn’t move at the speed of light, so you don’t need to either. This time is healthy for you because it will allow you to compose or recompose your thoughts in a better way, with more respect and friendliness than your initial blurted response might. It also gives others a chance to be a part of the conversation before you shut it down or you shove it forward.

Think about what kind of communicator you want to be and how it will affect you and the gaming community we are building. If you wouldn’t say it in person to that person’s face, maybe you shouldn’t be typing it, either.

~Ryan Faricelli
Director of Communications

Storytelling is hard.

The purpose of this series is to both communicate my personal storytelling style and refine it. I want to explore, with you how I want to do things and why I should be doing them. I hope that you can find something in them that helps you too. I know that talking to, and roleplaying with, others over the years has helped to improve my storytelling and roleplaying. These will be written from the perspective of a World of Darkness LARPer, but many of these ideas should apply to other tabletop and LARP games.

I want to talk about the difficulty in storytelling to the back and the front of the room. In theater, it is important that the play read not just to the close seats, but to all the way in the back row. The actors must not only be able to be heard, but must emote in a way that everyone can understand. There are many ways theater accomplishes this – everything from the shape of the stage to the costumes and props are meant to tell the story to everyone. We have to do the same things when running game. We have to reach the back of the room.

For me, I divide players into four different categories based on how those players find their fun in the game. These aren’t meant to be groundbreaking or all-inclusive, but I find them convenient. Many players fall into more than one and will change over time.

Internally Driven

These players self-generate personal plots through history and roleplay. They tend to enter play with a goal that they wish to accomplish. That goal can drive inter-character conflict, like the quest to be Prince of a city, or it could be driven by NPC interaction, like the drive to gain Pillar Status for their clan. These players enjoy working toward the goals they have set and like to feel as if they could accomplish them.

As their ST, seek to support their personal stories by integrating it into the plot of the game as much as you can. Let them climb their mountains, but do not give them easy success. If they succeed, it should be in spite of the trials and difficulties. Ensure that success and setback comes in turn. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment that is worthy of recognition. Give them both hope and the potential of failure.

Externally Driven

These players follow and drive along the storyteller-generated plot. They will create their characters with this in mind and will frequently seek to be very good in one or two areas of the game. Some of them will be focused on combat or investigation, but they could just as easily be experts in lore or influence. Players that are driven by plot like to complete missions and solve mysteries in game.

Support these players with interesting and engaging plot. It does not need to be complex to intrigue them, but it does need solid themes and a story that fits within the genre of the game that is being run. Give them opportunities to use their skills to move plot along, but write plot that is not simple to bulldoze through. A solid foundation will allow you to improvise along with player action and ideas.

Experience Driven

These players are seeking to have a “Moment.” They want to experience real emotions and drama. Their characters will have great histories and cool costumes and use those to pursue scenes where these moments can happen. Experience driven players prefer to stay in character and encourage others to do so as well. They are at game for the roleplay itself.

Storytellers can support them by involving them in divisive and difficult situations. Even if, and sometimes especially if, they have great setbacks and failures, these players embrace the roller coaster of feeling. Allow them to play out these situations, but do not allow it to go so far as to detract from the rest of the players. When you are planning games, look for opportunities to include moral and ethical choices. This not only gives them a place to roleplay, but also creates depth for everyone.

Undriven

These players frequently struggling with either the rules, setting, or roleplay in general. They enjoy being involved and spending time with their friends. Sometimes, they are just uninterested in the game, but want to hang out with everyone. Everyone falls into this category at times. There are nights when you are too tired or burnt out to really engage plot. It is not always a bad thing. Taking a step back and allowing everyone else to shine can be refreshing for yourself and healthy for the game.

Engaging Undriven characters can be difficult, but the first step is education. When a player looks excluded, pay attention to them. If it is because they do not understand what is going on or how the rules work, then either you, or a designated helper, can sit down with them and teach them the basics. Knowing the setting and rules will get them to the point where they know how they can interact, however, learning to effectively roleplay helps even more. I like to attach them to a divisive character or NPC in game. It gives them a goal and something to do. By throwing them in the deep end, they get to become immediately involved. If they still seek to stay on the periphery, give them space. Some players are satisfied with just being at game.

 

Storytellers can address all of these player types by running an inclusive game. Inclusive games are founded with the idea that every player deserves a moment to shine and to have a chance to be part of the story. When writing plots, the staff should create situations that have a theme and purpose that fits within the genre of their game and engages characters driven by different motivations. These plots should require a variety of skills to complete or to understand them, and they should encourage players to recruit outside of their cliques for help.

Players are more important than game, characters are more important than plot. Drive everything around creating an experience for your players. This does not mean that you hold back from negative consequences or death, just that you ensure they are meaningful. “Meaning” is the greatest thing you can give to a player’s actions. If you give their failure or death a cool story, they will remember it forever.

Also, do not be afraid of a little boredom or breathing space. This gives players time to relax and characters time to reflect and plot their next move.

Player action and character agency is difficult to deal with at times, but your plot is not as important as player fun. If the plot is not working or if the players have a better plan, let it go. Allow the fun solution to work if it makes sense and fits into the game you are playing. Be willing to script or storyboard scenes that have gotten bogged down or are uninteresting. If a mass combat has reached the point where it is just a series of challenges and it is not accomplishing your goal, then script the rest of it. Players will accept consequences for victory, if they feel that is fits with what is happening.

Ultimately, the way to reach every player in your game is to be interested in them. Give everyone, individually, a moment in the spotlight. Take the time to get to know them and to learn why they come to game. Watch yourself when you are writing stories and running NPCs so that you do not get too caught up playing to the front – those players deserve attention, they drive your plots and are usually the social leadership of your game. However, do not forget the back. Those players are at game to enjoy themselves too. Be interested in the characters in your game and seek to integrate everyone into the larger story.

~Jason Hughes
Cam/Anarch/IA Organizational Storyteller