Thursday, December 20, 2012

Face Casting

Recently we at ZPG games decided to do some experimenting to be able to make some prosthetics for use in game. To get things right we needed to have a face casting to work with, and it just so happened that veteran prop maker Wendy Snyder was available to show us how it is done. Little did he know it, but our very own Chris Glover inadvertently volunteered to be the subject for this project. We hope that with these instructions in hand others can do casting for their own LARP games. Re- member to consider safety when doing anything like this. Happy Christmas and we hope this serves you LARPers well.

  • Alginate 
  • Hydrocal or other plaster 
  • Gauze or cheesecloth 
  • Vaseline 
  • Paper towels 
  • Straws
  • Mixing bowl 
  • Spatula or other stirrer 
  • Tarp

Prepping the Subject:

Begin by getting the subject ready. Rub Vaseline on any open hair. If you miss this either the subject’s hair will get pulled or the alginate cast that they sat for so long for will get torn and become useless, or both. Lay out a tarp over the area that you will be working on. For this demo we used a Massage Therapist’s table as it was comfortable and a good height to work with, although a reclining chair or even the floor would work as well. Make sure the subject can be comfortable and still for 30-45 minutes. Seal off the areas that are not to be cast. In this case that is the hair, the neck, and especially the ears. If casting ears be sure to add in something like cotton to keep alginate from entering the ear canal and solidifying there. Once ready, insert 2 sections of straw to the nose for the subject to be able to breathe. During the process keep contact with the subject to make sure everything is OK. For our demo yes/no questions and thumbs up/down worked well.

Adding the first layer:

The first layer is a substance called Alginate. Alginate becomes a soft gel like layer and is good at picking up the small details for the cast. When mixing up the Alginate keep a few things in mind:
  • Make sure the subject is ready as you only have about 8 minutes from the time you start mixing until it is set.
  • Start with the amount of water needed and add powder to it until you have a pudding like mixture.
  • Stir slowly in a figure 8 direction to get it mixed but keep clear of as many air bub- bles as possible.

When you mix up the Alginate follow the direc- tion on the type you end up getting. Different manufacturers will have slightly different mixing amounts but all of them will be Alginate and Wa- ter. Once it is mixed gently pour over the subject keeping clear of the straws. Be sure to pour as smooth as possible to keep air bubbles out and once poured slightly wiggle the stirrer on the al- ginate to agitate any remaining bubbles out. Let it sit until cured. Adding a layer of gauze will help the alginate to stay together while the next layer is added.

Adding the next layer:

The second layer is a plaster like substance called Hydrocal. It will provide a nice solid back- ing to the soft alginate and allow the last part of the process-making the positive of the cast. Like the Alginate when mixing add powder to water and mix slowly to avoid air bubbles. Also when pouring, go slow. It is possible to do this part in a couple of layers if needed. Remember though, this will warm up as part of the drying process and if it is on too thick your subject can get quite hot. Once it is cooled off and solid gently re- move the whole thing from the subject.

Creating the positive:
While the Alginate has captured the detail, it will not last long. Once the negative is set mix up some more Hydrocal, a little on the thin side, and pour into the Alginate to get into the detail. Then mix up some slightly thicker Hydrocal and pour it in to fill the whole space and let it set. Us- ing this layered process will help keep the detail of the face. Also, when pouring the Hydrocal go slow and try to keep pouring in the same spot to minimize the air bubbles that can become trapped and show on the final piece. While it is setting it will get hot. Let it sit unmoving until the fresh poured in Hydrocal becomes cool to the touch. At that point it can be pulled out of the negative mold and the casting is complete. Now clay can be used to mold on the face and create prosthetics that will fit the subject exactly.

Once you have a face cast, many masks and latex prosthetics can then be created.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cedar Park Fablefest

This year we decided to give a local festival a try and booked table space at Cedar Park's Fable Fest. It was just past Halloween so there'd be lots of costumes, it was really close to our local game location, and entry was super cheap. What was there to lose?
Let me say I don't want to be negative about this little event. It was a local craft fair, just what the organizers wanted it to be, but not what I imagined in my head. There was little in the way of a "fable" theme, and attendance was mostly crafty moms and little children. We learned that Cedar Park has a fair like this every month and the theme is different each month. Seemed like just an afterthought to me. They did have the SCA out in a corner showing their stuff. The local girls drill team did a zombie thriller dance that was amusing. A few adults were in costume, but just stood out as weird around all the mundanity. However we did get some attention from other vendors because we weren't one of the same twenty dealers that are there every month. 

That being said, I think we could really make a big impression on this little show next year if we made more effort. Everything I said going into this show was dead on. We have a whole year to build new props and costumes for the game and other shows anyway. If we had some reserved space for allowing kids to fight outside of the public walkway, and more costumed players to promote, and maybe a better plan we could have a great showing and the show would really enjoy our participation. I hope we are able to do this again next year bigger and better. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Geekfest 2012 follow up

Last weekend we ventured up to Killeen, Texas, for the third annual GeekFest. Geekfest is a small regional convention hosted by Central Texas College in their Mayborn Planetarium. They have had great attendance each year in part because you can enter for free! There is a fee for additional events at the con, but this is a great marketing tactic that has paid off. Also Geekfest is probably the strangest convention I've been to with varied demonstrations from the school's competitive robot builders and a geeky cake decorating contest shuffled in with the cosplay competition, video and tabletop gaming rooms, and karaoke in the main hall.

We've been there every year, the first as patrons, and then last year as vendors. This year we have an increasingly interested player base at home, and will have more experience in running a con game. We have more props too. I think we should do it as a continuing learning experience, and who knows? This might be the year we get the locals to pay attention. 

By locals we're referring, at least in part, to the other boffer larp group that dominates the small town of Killeen. They play a game similar to Amtgard that is very focused on fighting without the level of roleplay we've been shooting for.   Their leadership has a low opinion of our game, or at least seems to to me, but some of his players showed some interest in what we offered. Our demo's were scheduled right after them in the same room. Everyone tried to be professional, but sparring out in the courtyard lead to my players taking regular shots to the head and overpowered hits from one of their players. I heard tell he was new.

Our own RP demo didn't go well either. The players we had were either very introverted, or quickly bored, and tended to wander off rather than attempt to engage with each other. I know larping outside of hitting with sticks can be scary. We just need to find a better way to create interest on a low prop and manpower budget. We could do something larger if we had a room to ourselves for hours of set up and take down, but that isn't what we got. I think next year we'll need to establish a better arrangement.

Still, we had a great time in the dealer's room, chatted up a lot of people, and enjoyed the enthusiasm of this convention. We're definitely coming back next year with something new to present.

My Town - Geekfest 2012 from Ten17media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Keeping the sanctity of non-combat areas

Another learning the hard way story. It already occurs to me a lot of these posts will probably start this way and I'm going to run out of creative ways of saying the same thing. Now at least you've been warned. What's more these posts may be on the dull side, since unless you were there for the sudden breakdown in game play, who cares, right? So these are mostly for myself so I can recount them later and add them to a future game expansion so people who don't read this will think I'm a genius.
Hey! I can dream!

So here's the deal. As I've mentioned before my background is in Amtgard and later derivitives. In those games there is a designated non-combat zone where people can feel safe to hang out without being whacked with a stick. When we wrote Mystic Crossroads we recognized this as important to allow people who weren't keen on boffer fighting a place to play a role in the game. Unlike those previous games, we allow characters to freely roam in and out of this non-com area, which we call "Town". Town has become a very important space in our games and a lot of character interaction happens there. More than I think we expected when we started. It has also become a safe base to run and hide in when threats outside become too much to handle. Those are all good things... sorta.

The problem is this safe base mentality. Remember playing tag as a kid, and someone was on base so they couldn't be tagged? They'd lean off base, or step just far enough off that they could run back as soon as the It person ran for them? This became the game here too, and was just a fun as you remember. It slowed down game play, it didn't make any sense in game, and was frustrating as hell! When it came down to an altercation between players where one was trying to physically drag another out of town so he could be slain properly, well, that's when you know things are broke.

After game I talked to one of my players, Matt Web, and he had some bright ideas.
Matt W- "One thing I was thinking of... if you want to keep the sanctity of town, it might be useful to make it not so easy to just stride over back to safety. Like, I don't know, calling out 'fair escape' and having to count to 5 first before you are 'safe'. That's just a nascent idea, but it makes it far less easy to just run away. Or rather, you'd actually have to run, not stride casually over and stand right beside the safety zone. Like, you can't step into town for five seconds if you got someone right in your face. Or rather, you can't go back into town at all if someone is there with a sword to stop you. Hell, just declaring a center point outside of town as 'the gate.' And you have to touch that tree or pole for five seconds, and then you can go safely into town. That would more easily separate out the space. Yeah, that's what it represents, the town gate. That way you don't have to put your back up against the wall or anything, and can still maneuver, and if people are still trying to interdict against you, you can't just run off.”

And there it was right in front of my face like I should have thought of it long before needing to playtest. Of course town needs a gate. Therefore, before entering, one must stop at a certain two posts at the gazebo we call town. There they must repeat “Entering town!” ten times loud enough to be heard. Then they may pass between the two posts of the “gate” and enter. If someone within the town wants to block their way they have that much time to engage them either from within or without. The very next game I presented the new rule and everyone seemed happy, or relieved, to hear it.

I think we still have other problems with how town works, so I'm sure I'll be posting again, but this felt like a little piece of brilliance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mystic Crossroads featured on FanService

Recently I had a chance to talk about LARP on a local cable show, FanService, hosted by the Diabolical League of Awesome. While I fully expected the most Diabolical, as it turns out their lair is a pretty neat studio. I am sure that many of their most devious plans were merely tucked away so that I could not catch glimpse of them, but all in all it was a pretty cool group of folks. Gavin, the Diabolical leader of the show was excited to talk about LARP, and as it turns out one of his co-schemers was one I had done some sparring with in the past. 

I arrived early not knowing just what to expect, and Gavin was quite friendly. (I’m sure he also did not quite know what to expect) We were both gamers of sorts and overall the show went well. We got to discuss some upcoming games and films and then moved on to LARP. I brought along some different props and we discussed some of the aspects of LARP one does not get to see and experience when watching things like Role Models. After some discussion we got down to business with some light combat, which is always interesting in a confined space, and even got one of Gavin’s minions to try it out. 

Fun was had, nothing expensive was broken, and folks know a bit more about LARP than they did before. I was invited back (to become part of some diabolical experiment I’m sure) and I think ZPG Games may return to perhaps interest more gaming folks to try out LARP, or at least show the league what they are missing. I’m not sure they were really Diabolical, but they definitely were awesome and I am very glad we got to cross paths.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Engaging Your Noobs

I love noobs. I know I'm not supposed to call people "noob" anymore. I'm working on it. But today I'm giving myself a pass. Noobs are awesome! Noobs are the lifeblood of any larp game or chapter. Players get older and move on for any number of reasons. If a group isn't actively bringing in new players that group will not last. What's more, everything about the game is new and exciting to them. They're not afraid to try something crazy and new like making their own equipment and weapons, or throw themselves up against powerful odds. They're just full of that energy I remember having so so long ago, and I start getting excited for them all over again. Its infectious! Noobs are really the best reason I have to still be playing.
Ok. That's it. No more dropping the N word.

None the less, some players will undermine and run new players off. New players don't have their kit together. Their costume is probably minimal if any, and may well not fit the game world. Players who go on about "decorum" or "emersion" will scoff at these poor folks because they don't meet his or her level of quality. Don't believe me? Watch "The Larp Girl" vid. I just don't have words.
New players are not good fighters. Some players are bullies and see them as their personal beat down targets. Depending on the severity this could be real abuse. I know new unskilled players are going to loose a lot in combat, but if their spirit is broken the whole group looses. Let them pick their targets. Don't backstab them. At least they feel like they got to play and engage with a number of players. They're learning. Tell that to your stick jock. Don't teach them his bad manners.

But enough about what NOT to do. The real problem I've been experiencing is what TO do. I chat them up and try to encourage them to talk to the other players, ask questions, put themselves out there, but some have stayed standoffish. I think my players are generally welcoming and will approach someone new easily in character, but sometimes it has just freaked them out.
I asked folks about this in the Austin Larp Meetup group and got some really good feedback from James, someone who'd tried our game out. 
James told me he had a hard time knowing where his character fit into the world and social order in the game. He really didn't know anything about the world or history, or the groups of allies and opponents set in the game. I felt like we worked a lot in the book to establish these dynamics, but most players haven't really read them. He said he needed more direction as a new player stepping into the role. I had honestly hoped that guildmasters would be there to fill in the gaps for their members like he described, but that hasn't happened either, both because we're a small group, and the guildmaster roles haven't really been taken authoritatively. I'm not trying to sound like I'm putting blame on someone else. This was just my expectation, clearly wrong, and now I can look at how to do better. 

James' best suggestion was that we have a short to the point introduction tailored to the race and guild of a character coming into the game for the first time. The introduction shouldn't be half a page or less for each race and guild, and give a solid overview of how a character should feel about his group and others. I really thought this was pretty brilliant stuff, but I'd never thought about it until I'd talked to the group. Now I have my hands full writing up these new pamphlets. Hopefully I'll have them ready for next month's game. We'll see if they are a help.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chimeracon follow up

Chimeracon has been the biggest event for us this year. We were offered our own full room for four straight hours and we made the very most of it. We planned and prepared, sewed and built props for two months in prep for this show. It was a huge undertaking for a whole lot of us all working together. Long ago I stopped expecting others to jump into a major project I was in because I've been so often disappointed, but everybody pulled through and made this happen. It was awesome!
Our plan was to have a full dungeon crawl through rooms of monsters and traps, magic and treasure for adventuring parties of five or six players. We separated our room into two sides with art displays covered in tarp. My sister's boyfriend painted each tarp to look like stonework to tremendous affect. I was so impressed I'd like to photograph the process and put it in a future book. We would lead the adventurers from one room to the other through "doors", openings between art displays, and rearrange rooms while the players weren't in them. Effectively we had two sets of actors playing roles, and changing scenes back to back. I was afraid it wouldn't work, but it worked out amazingly well. Robed wizards were accosted by heros at every turn, players were captured and rescued, monsters were made dead, and a huge demon at the end scared the gorgonzola out of everyone!
And that was just the first act!

The second act happened out in the convention, with players trying to collect parts to create a weapon to defeat the demon.

Lastly we used the whole room for the demon's last stand. He, and all the actors crossed swords with all the players who had gone through the game all day. It was really supposed to be easy, but the players were just so timid against such a horde that they huddled in a corner. Finally a player got the magic item and I thought he was going to take the demon down, but no. He gave the item to the demon as it demanded, and all ended as a loss. I was completely baffled at the end.

We learned a lot of things at this event, and had an astounding time. My people were begging to do it again as soon as possible. Let me list what I think we learned.
Paying an admission fee for each of our 10+ actors so we can provide content for someone else's con is bullshit. Chimeracon discounted us a lot, but in the future that is a deal breaker.
Time for set up and take down are crucial. The larp scheduled before us didn't show so that made things better, and the larp after us was pretty cool about us going slightly over, but I know that was not good form.
We are not here to babysit your kids. We had at least one group of young children that just ran around like Romper Room. I think their parents just dumped them so they could go game. We need to have an age limit for players.
We need to charge a fee to play. I don't really want to, but I personally spent hundreds of dollars for fabric for the props for this show. The con charged us to get in. I don't expect to make it back but we need to establish some value for what we're doing. I think this will clear out the little kids too.

This was just a great time, and really showed us what we can accomplish as a group. We need to figure out how to do this again, work out some other plots, and get into practice with this. It was so amazing to be part of. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all the crafters and players who came out and made this work. It could not happen without you!

Our photos from Chimeracon

Friday, January 13, 2012

Relax, man! You're working too hard!

It's been fascinating learning how my ideas of “larp” have been established from years of playing a boffer fighting game, and not an RPG. Ideas about death, as I wrote about in my last post, but also so many other things that I just took for granted until venturing into the greater world of live roleplaying.
In my years of play, games happened every weekend for an afternoon. Fighting would happen as continuously as we had energy for, and then the group would go to the local fast food place, or go home for a well earned shower. We wrote our game thinking such a schedule was normal and expected because it was for us. What a hard lesson we have learned over a year! When we had to write story driven games and imaginative ways of motivating players and characters to do things it became a real draining task week after week, game after game.  It came down to we just didn't have the energy to make exceptional games every week, settling for “good enough” and then, at least for me, feeling panicked every Sunday like I was going to class without studying for the big test. The hardest part was learning that players just didn't want it. It's a big time commitment to come to game weekend after weekend, loosing what amounts to half your weekend for a game that the game designers have put in less than 100% to make an engaging adventure or string of situations for characters. And since we were running every week players felt like if they missed a week or two it was no big deal because we'd be out there again next weekend. Our player base dwindled making it that much harder to run any sort of reasonable game and often there were so few we just sat around talking about the game instead of playing it. We were really in a bad place.
I realized in my desperation that we were missing the obvious rule of supply and demand. We were supplying far too much for the demands of our players. Our quality suffered, and players were bored. We were killing our own game. It seems counter intuitive what we needed to do, for our own mental health and to bring back player interest, but in hind sight it should have been obvious. Stop running so many games. Create a scarcity so players feel like they're missing out if they don't make it to games. Use the time to make better props, develop better stories, and stop freaking out. We cut the game back to once a month and saw what happened. Not only did more players come out, but on other weekends some went to other people's games and see what other offerings were out there. Honestly some found games they liked better and didn't come back, but others kept coming, and told their friends in other games what they liked about ours. Ultimately I think we're getting players that are a better fit for what we are offering.
The other advantage has been character experience changes. Before we offered one XP point per week attendance. I didn't want to create more complex rules that could be applied with favoritism, and I still worry about that. But that meant that players weren't rewarded for going any further than showing up. I hoped the experience of play would be the reward, but some people aren't motivated that way. Now we have tiers of XP; One point for attending, another for coming in costume, a third point for providing service at the game such as running an NPC, and last for supplying physical support such as providing drinks or snacks or bringing pavilions signs or banners that improve the appearance of the game. Players can still earn up to four XP a month so characters can advance just as before, but players are recognized for going further to take ownership of the game.
Only after making these changes and looking at other games myself did I see that larps that are story driven generally only have one game a month, or one larger event per quarter! We had been spinning our wheels trying to fulfill an expectation that we assumed, but no one else really does! This reinventing the wheel thing can really kick you in the pants, you know?