The World of Darkness is Not a Safe Space: Dark and Difficult Subject Matter in Lost Chronicles

First of all, my thanks go out to Andrew, for his guest post on this blog, introducing the topic at hand. I would also like to thank the players and storytellers of Lost Chronicles for sharing their thoughts and opinions.

This past week revealed outrage at White Wolf Publishing, which has made no secret of their hope that players will use their settings and themes to work through and better understand many of the problems facing the real world and the non-supernatural people in it, for asking that organizations not censor broad swaths of content.

The World of Darkness is our dark mirror. It is not the setting for playing out superhero fantasies or saving princesses. In it, we explore our darker sides while learning more of our humanity, which we cannot do unless we can confront the horrors of which humanity is capable. To deny the ability to discuss a topic is to ignore and deny the existence and occurrence of that topic. We are an organization with a mature audience and and a founding goal of delving into not only the darker corners of the supernatural part of the genre, but also the human side.

Beneath every supernatural character is or was a human (or human concept in the occasional exception), tied to an exaggerated struggle mirroring social, moral, and psychological challenges in the real world. It is that, more than anything else, which gives the stories and experiences depth and appeal. We can shift our perspectives to that of our characters and experience scenarios both familiar and alien, we can examine the motivations of ourselves and others in a setting with few “good guys”. When handled with respect, this can provide a perfect stage for conversations on difficult topics and provide insight and empathy toward those with different lives and backgrounds. Have you seen “The Wire?” How would it feel to step into McNulty’s shoes? How about Stringer Bell’s?

We do, however, need to make sure we handle difficult or adult topics with care and respect, for the sake of our players and the stories we build. Some of this is covered in our Codes of Ethics. The rest requires constant consideration of the audience, which is not always easy to anticipate or monitor, understanding of the topics, and respect for the subject matter and players involved. Avoid resorting to cheap horror movie thrills and baseless shock value. If a story element of this sort is not of direct value to the narrative or setting, reassess its actual value and how the event will be taken.

Players also need to feel comfortable and confident out-of-character in their ability to express when a scene is beginning to go too far and remove themselves from it. Some chapters elect player representatives to help handle problems after the fact, and there are systems I have been looking to adapt from Nordic-style LARPs to ease communication and prevent problems within the scene with maximum fairness and minimum disruption. This will be a future post, as we explore and test options.

-Rachel R.
Executive Administrator

On Difficult Subjects in LC

I was asked by one of the Exec Team to draft a post regarding the subject of managing difficult subjects in the Lost Chronicles (LC) Live Action Roleplay (LARP) setting and to provide general guidelines of what can be done to ensure an engaging and thoughtful experience to all involved while still being mindful of our responsibilities as Storytellers (ST) and Players.  This is by no means the final word.  Nor should this have been the first word on the subject.  Hopefully, this is a continuation of a discussion we have all been having and will continue to have long after reading this.  While we may all gain different things from the LARP experience, I hope we can all agree that everyone benefits from a game experience that is more knowledgeable and mindful of ST and Player needs.

 

So what is a “difficult subject”?  I’m sure we all have a few in mind when term is used.  Racism, murder, sexual assault are just a few of the subjects that might give a staff or player pause in how best to deal with them.  Of course while we might have a list of our own, the player or ST standing next to us at a game or on the other end of the keyboard is unlikely to have the same exact list.  We won’t always know what subjects are going to be trying or taxing on our fellow STs and players.  It is important that we keep in mind that what we may consider passé or mundane is not always so to the other person.  It is not the job of any one ST or player to anticipate everything that will trigger such a challenge.  However, by approaching the stories we tell and the other human beings around us with respect and careful consideration we can work to mitigate out-of-character unpleasantness.

Respect is the keyword.  Respect for the staff.  Respect for the player.  Respect for the subject matter.  For people, respect often comes from listening, truly listening, to the other person.  We are not always going to agree with the other person, but it is important that we come to understand the problem or difficultly as best we can.  There will of course be the temptation to dismiss concerns, especially those we don’t understand the basis of.  Do bear in mind that until the root of a conflict is found, there is unlikely to be an equitable solution for all parties.  There will not always be an equitable in-character (IC) solution to such dilemmas (horror setting and all that), but ultimately we should hope to achieve at least a real-life understanding between all parties.

For subject matter, respect takes on different forms and can be as equally difficult for STs and players to manage.  If you plan on presenting some of the subjects mentioned above or others that you expect may produce similar reactions, then the responsibility falls to you to do research on the subject.  No one is expected to be an expert on the patterns or mannerisms of serial killers, but if that is a character you are planning on portraying it would serve you and the game well to have read few chapters of a book or watched a documentary on the subject.  To not do so risks turning a serious plot point that should be scary or unsettling, into a farce.  Additionally, during our research we may find that our preconceived notions about a subject are not representative of reality.  While our setting is supernatural, it does not excuse failure to properly represent subject matter that is very real.

 

The LC setting itself is very important in its relationship to difficult subjects.  It is important that we recognize that, at its core, LC is networked LARP that emphasizes a horror setting.  In particular this horror is personal horror.  Such a genre is one that is uniquely suited to the exploration of difficult subjects.  Players are often faced with the knowledge that their characters are in some way (or in many ways) evil.  For players used to more heroic or high adventure settings, this fact can be, by itself, very unsettling.

Players often have a sense of ownership of their characters.  Sometimes this comes from the knowledge that much of the character is based on themselves as a person.  Sometimes it is because they have taken pains to draft detailed backstories and research.  Other times, the character has simply been around for such a period of time that they think of it as a fleshed out individual.  However, a horror setting is about disempowerment.  Facing terrible obstacles and situations that extend beyond the ken of individuals to deal with them is to be expected.  Such is not often an easy thing to confront as a player or ST.  We often want to feel in control with our characters.  Strong enough to manage the horrible things around them.  Such is not always the case in a horror setting.  Players and STs understanding this reality of the setting goes a long way to having a good set of expectations for their experience.

 

Finally, on the note of ‘expectations’, we must also recognize that we must come to expect such a situation to come up.  That there will be a time that some player interaction or story element is going to make a player or even an ST uncomfortable.  Being uncomfortable as a character is perfectly understandable.  But ultimately if the people that make up our game don’t feel there are mechanisms in place so that they can cope on an out-of-character level when stressful situations come up, then we risk having a dwindling base.  In the past this has taken the form of Player Reps to act as intermediaries when problems arise.  But this doesn’t necessarily help in the very short term where a player might feel overwhelmed.

Each game is going to be different in terms of whatever particular mechanisms (if any) they adopt to help players deal with stressful situations.  But the conversation of what form any such mechanisms takes is a conversation worth having.  In general, it should be something that doesn’t remove a character from any consequences they would face, is publicly known, easily understood and comes without stigma to any player who needs to use it.

 

I hope this is helpful as a jumping off point for future conversations into what is a complex and nuanced subject.

Thank you,

Andrew T. – player in Winchester, SiV

Onyx Path and Meta-plot

While assembling Lost Chronicles, we had a number of discussions about what we should be doing, as an organization, and how to build a better setting for our shared hobby. I think that one of the most important things was the idea of meta-plot and how we should address it. There were three options that we particularly focused on; no meta-plot, Lost Chronicles created meta-plot, or use of an external meta-plot / meta-story.

The idea of launching Lost Chronicles without pre-established meta-plot was unpopular for a number of reasons, and the discussion surrounding this brought forward a number of considerations. The first was continuity; as people filtered in or out of Lost Chronicles, the world would change. Without an established base, the direction of story could be easily swayed by a single person, or lost with changes in staff; using the Onyx Path material provides a guideline for how things were and how things should be in the future. The second was the integration of new chapters; having an external baseline offers games the potential to independently align to Lost Chronicles with less effort than many of us had observed or experienced in previous situations. Without a baseline, adjusting to a network can be very difficult. The final element was administration; if each game and Coordinator were to put forward the meta-story for Lost Chronicles, everything would need to be meticulously recorded to avoid plot holes and massive inconsistency, which is extremely difficult to maintain over time. These counter arguments were sufficient to advance the acceptance of external meta-story for Lost Chronicles.

The decision to maintain White Wolf’s Classic World of Darkness and OWbN history was made early, and the selection of an external source for new and developing meta-plot was relatively simple: By Night Studios or Onyx Path. To select By Night Studios would have required us to radically change or dispose of much of what we wanted to keep, so it was a non-starter. Onyx Path was the logical decision, and in the year since we made that decision, it has continued to be a solid choice. Their material is a clear extension of the pre-Time of Judgment Classic World of Darkness story line which was the genesis of OWbN, and, in turn, our starting point. With the ongoing success of their KickStarters, Onyx Path continues to pick up the writers which made the World of Darkness so appealing in the first place, and the story they are putting forward is well aligned with the flavor that Lost Chronicles has embraced.

Though I still expect that we will move in our own direction in time, I hope that it will be an interesting experience for everybody involved and do believe that this was the right direction for us to go. I hope that time will prove me right.

Jason Robinson
Executive Administrator, Lost Chronicles

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The “By Night Studios” Decision

One of the later decision points in the creation of Lost Chronicles was if we should use the Mind’s Eye Theater: Vampire the Masquerade (BNS) rules or continue with White Wolf’s Mind Eye Theater: Laws of the Night (MET). With little debate we settled for the MET rules for a number of reasons; familiarity, conversion, and continuity. The primary reason given for switching to the BNS rules was that it is new and gaining in popularity. The final decision was to use MET for Lost Chronicles from the beginning and going forward.

We have been using the Laws of the Night: Revised rules as written for almost 15 years, we know it is not perfect, but we also know and understand its failings. This gives us an understanding of what works and what doesn’t work, it also provides a point of reference for the stories that we have been telling and plan to tell going forward. The rules shouldn’t really affect the story, but they do, less so in political drama or intrigue, but when the characters are fighting the foe, the rules structure what they can and cannot do. This has resulted in our world be different than a world using the Table Top rules and will be different from games using the BNS rules. The significant changes in the BNS rules would make some of our legacy stories not make sense within the rules. Knowing the physics of the world that we are presenting was the primary reason that we decided to preserve the MET system in Lost Chronicles.

A decision which was made before the BNS vs. MET decision was to follow the Onyx Path material, which also weighed heavily upon this decision. One of the skills that our community has developed is the ability to translate Table Top mechanics into MET mechanics. Due to some of the fundamental differences between the BNS rules and the MET system, the process over conversion is not as clean. The other component in this is the weighting system in BNS which is tied to their meta-plot which we elected not to use. Until there is a base mechanic that better integrated with the Table Top mechanics while being light enough to use in a LARP environment, MET is the better choice for the direction we have chosen.

The major counter point in the discussion in favor of BNS was that it was a new offering. Being a new offering meant that if could be more attractive to new players and people from outside of the hobby. The counter argument to this was that the BNS books were only available through the same distribution as the existing MET book, of which the base books were less expensive than the BNS books. I think that the argument for BNS would have been significantly stronger if the books were being published through conventional means providing access to a broader and newer audience than is available through print on demand.

Our decision to not embrace the BNS rules is not condemnation of the rules, nor is our continuation of the MET rules a praise for them; we choose our rules based on what would be best for Lost Chronicles. If in the future there is yet another set of LARP rules, we will evaluate them and based on many of the same criteria, the community will have a choice in how we move forward.

Jason Robinson
Executive Administrator, Lost Chronicles

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Genesis of Lost Chronicles

In the early days of 2011, a number of people I associated with in One World by Night noticed that things were going wrong. These people were discussing leaving OWbN and do something different. I thought things could be fixed and started a working group to address some of the issues we identified.

The one item that the group clearly agreed upon was a lack of a unified direction in OWbN which resulted in 100 people pushing in different directions, with those hundred voices changing on a regular basis, injected more chaos into the situation. This was best reflected in the idea that the OWbN Council only had a limited memory which resulted in the same topics being discussed in different ways with different outcomes each time.

To address this issue the group built a document that is similar to the Lost Chronicles Charter, which became the OWbN Charter. There was a strong sentiment at the time that there were too many rules in OWbN and a popular voice ensured that this new Charter would not be binding. Although it was approved, it had no teeth and the aimlessness continued.

There were some major shifts in OWbN at the start of 2014, but as with many radical changes, change brought hope, the potential was unrealized, and turned to despair. Many of the same people that were part of the first group asked if it was time, and I agreed and we started Lost Chronicles.

We have defined our direction with the Lost Chronicles Charter and we have established our expectations for all participants with the Code of Ethics. I am once again hopeful that we will have a fun place to play and for our game to interact. Ultimately we will get out of Lost Chronicles what we put into it; therefore, I encourage each of you to put forward the best that you can, and please be considerate of everybody else that calls Lost Chronicles theirs as well.

Jason Robinson
Executive Administrator, Lost Chronicles

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