I ran my first larp today! It was Emily Care Boss’s Under My Skin, a game about love, relationships and betrayal. A theme that’s close to my heart and subject matter I feel comfortable with. That seemed like a safe start. The run went well!

What happened?

  • Middle manager Derek (issue: rage) met his scholar wife Ling (issue: control) in China, and they moved back to Europe together. She couldn’t find a job because her degrees weren’t recognized and she was forced to be a housewife. The question of kids put another big strain on the relationship. Ling made science videos for youtuber Mal (issue: honesty) who tried to get her to move out of her dependence on Derek and start her own life, preferably with him. This instigation made Ling be more forceful about her wants and go back to western university to re-earn her degrees there. Eventually the kids became a reality!
  • Nurse Marianne (issue: abandonment) and online poker player John (issue: apathy) had a horrible relationship of convenience. He was an apathic boyfriend and she had abandonment issues. They were stuck, so stuck! Change arrived in the appealing form of Hanna (issue: paranoia), Marianna’s model friend. Hanna struck a chord with John and instigated a relationship in a very devious way. John confessed the affair to Marianne and she left him. It didn’t look like Hanna and John would make a long lasting couple, but Mal intervened quite heavily and gave John the kick up the ass he needed to not fuck up this second relationship as well.
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Derek and Ling, Mal, Marianne and John, and Hanna

Some of my favorite scenes:

  • John had two mirror scenes. One where Marianne came home to him playing poker and being a total dick, one (at the end of the game) where Hanna came home to him playing poker and he was a great boyfriend. The contrast between the two scenes was amazing and really showed his character development (and had Marianne’s player flipping him off from the sidelines repeatedly).
  • Even though the game is about romantic relationships, the Best Friend relationship with Mal really made John’s character. An apathetic character and an honest character is a great combination.
  • Marianne and John had the perfect dysfunctional relationship. She was so hungry for affection that his merest hint or anything that could be construed as a compliment made her really happy. It was both cute and terribly sad! The biggest applause was when she finally left him.
  • Derek and Ling had a highly functioning dysfunctional relationship filled with subtleties. It was frustrating to watch: they were both so invested in keeping up the facade that it was hard for them to even admit there was something to fix, even though they were swimming in undiscussed problems. Painful!
  • Hanna found a way to click with the completely apathic John that was believable and real. It worked very well.

Here’s some thoughts!

(Mainly for myself and thus a bit cryptic and unstructured)

  • Facilitating a player driven freeform is very easy, not harder than setting up a game of Fiasco. It’s far less draining than the improv games I’m used to GM’ing. You guide people through the scenes and add a little input. The players do all of the heavy lifting. I invited experienced players, so that made my job even easier. This is quite easy to do.
  • I like the theatre style larp where a few people play a scene and the rest watch it play out. It keeps everyone involved and builds a common story. Quite a lot of scenes ended in spontaneous applause.
  • I find it hard to stick to the strict procedural of these types of freeforms. They usually have a very long build up. That usually means that the GM is forcing people to go through talks and warm ups while it’s clear that everyone is itching to start play. I skipped quite a few warm up exercises and debriefs, and don’t really regret that. I might see more use for that in a less intimate group where not a lot of people know each other.
  • The setup for Under My Skin focuses a lot on what is wrong with the characters, their core issue. I feared that would stigmatize the characters and make them into caricatures, but that didn’t really happen in play. People became very human, and often ended up not being dicks (with the exception of John – he was a dick!). The issues also do really help create characters.
  • People fall into different rolls in the game. It seems the singles often end up being big instigators – either through offering temptation of a voice of reason. Sparks don’t always fly, or they fly in wrong directions. But those are just the currents of the game and you can work with them fairly easily.
  • It was very hard to come up with good lines in the game, and the lines we had set up didn’t really work. Which meant that, for the temptation scenes we came up with our own stakes for the scenes. “Will your character finally admit to herself that their happy relationship is a facade?” “Will your character confront their partner about their infidelity even if it means losing them?”. That stake setting worked out well.
  • I was afraid people would burn through their stories too quickly, but the pacing seemed about right. We played the entire thing in under six hours. I may have left the group scenes (the first one in particular) run a bit longer. It’s is the only chance for people to get acquainted with everyone else, really.