D8 – Fascinating Paradox

D8 – Fascinating Paradox

When I heard some first mentions about the idea behind D8, I felt it’s going to be a really interesting thing. Knowing them personally, I occasionally drifted in each conversation towards this larp, to learn more. A design document for this larp got to me in a phase of small fixes and editing. It evoked a lot of questions and doubts, but mainly – it fascinated me.

Let’s be honest here, we like what we know. It’s not in a human nature to experiment. We dealt here with a typical experiment on a large scale: a formula that hasn’t been tested before, huge expectations from players and responsibility on their side, a huge logistic machinery on site, and a specific setting. So many things to go wrong! Still, it was clear to me that these guys know what they were pursuing. Moreover, it was hard to say that they don’t have a vision, they knew how to sell themselves, and what came up next – they knew how to bring their idea to life. These three things (vision, selling point, action) are sadly not that obvious and common in Polish larp community.

I was bought by the game’s structure – it resembled TV series, being divided by episodes and scenes. A vision of a pilot episode and 8 following episodes with precisely designed scenes was very appealing. I always loved that we can watch TV series characters in many situations and moments of their lives. Some of them are iconic, being the same throughout the whole series, some of them change drastically. Each character has better or worse moments. There’s a space for showing them in non-obvious roles and contexts. It’s hard to achieve that in movies as there’s simply not enough time – the plot has to run straight to a narrative climax and resolution. Each TV series episode has its own climax point, sometimes it ends with a cliffhanger. Still, all episodes are bound with a narrative arch that all characters follow in the whole series.

Here’s a cherry at the top – in D8 the creators leave the role of a director to players. They get the option to choose their own arch by being allowed to choose each scene. They don’t need to follow a script, they don’t need to ask anyone if this is a scene where they should be, or even tell anyone that they go to a particular scene. We did a simple math a day after the game – D8 can be played in hundreds of thousands of ways! It puts enormous trust into players’ choices, but it’s not burdening them with all the work to come up with their characters’ stories, because there’s an arch called a director’s cut – it’s a predefined set of scenes that is suggested to particular characters. You can follow it, but you don’t have to. You don’t even have to look at it. Players have their own choices to make but they are not left to just roam around, not being sure what to do. The director’s cut option shows precisely that creators care about each character that enters their world.

The whole thing was so fascinating that I got over the fact that it was a serious post-apocalyptic game (that I don’t really like) and eventually turned out to be a catalyst for a game about people and relations. I even got over a necessity of creating your own character and relations through Facebook groups. I can’t lose the feeling that it’s a bit lazy of creators to have done it. I like to play characters that are pre-written, put into the core of the world and plot. My doubts were gone after the first stage of creation, because Mikołaj and Jakub prepared the whole system of creating a character, they supervise, but not interfere too extensively. The system they used allows you to put as much effort as you want and can. If you give a lot – you’ll be rewarded. In many moments you can come across your ideas throughout the game. If you don’t have the time or ideas, you get a strategically placed cog in a working mechanism.

The whole process, in its establishment, reminded me of the old Grimuar style, only without tons of text. It was so intuitive, that it seemed my character was created not by me, but by all other players characters and relations – it fit like the last piece of puzzle. It didn’t take much time or skill, I struggled the most, as usual, with deciding about the name of my hero. I exchanged some e-mails, used some stock photos, made some fake Facebook posts (which was the most fun, I guess), collected my YouTube playlist and Pinterest board, added some posts in other groups, and joined some Messenger conversations. The biggest obstacle was buying a coffee in Starbucks with a proper name on it (in the end I had to do it myself), to make some hipster photos. A few weeks before the game I knew my character thoroughly, his outlook, his way of thinking, speaking, even some bad jokes he used to say. I knew why he is at the beginning of the game and what he was doing there.

I spend a lot of time for visuals. Usually, I tend to rent some costumes from a theater and get a haircut, but this time I decided to do my best. D8 let me go with the flow even more than “New Age: From Louisiana With Love/New Age: Yesterday Never Dies” (a dieselpunk larp where I played an interpretation of Gatsby) where all characters can change even a few times per hour. In D8 we look at characters in different moments of their lives, sometimes with a few years chasm in between. A character has the time for evolution or revolution, if the player decides. It turned out that my character went through a revolution that I wasn’t prepared for (even if I decided to cut my hair during the game), but fortunately I managed to collect a cool outfit for a renegade.

Why wasn’t I prepared? Well, after how I was guided in a preplay, after some of the moments really surprised me (positively), I put my trust in the organizers and decided to go with the director’s cut for my character. It surprised me but only because the episodes proposed to me were really close to what I had been planning to pick. What happened at the scenes? This is totally different. A living world throttled by different events, groups’ motivations, and each character’s will makes that one scene, one fact, or one sentence can lead you to a very different corner of this larp. Nobody in 2022 knows what will happen in 2030, right? It was the biggest paradox of this game – the more I directed, the more it surprised me.

One more thing was something unexpected for me. All the things that could’ve gone wrong, actually went quite smoothly and well – at least from my perspective. I’ve been to chamber larps that had hours of delay! Here – in 2 days they ran about 40 chambers, between 3 and 6 simultaneously! Each of them started on time, except for those that didn’t have an audience – then it was just omitted. D8 crew, people that volunteered to run, be NPC, and organize each scene, were like Swiss clock makers. The creators looked like they were on vacations, sometimes chit-chatting with players about the weather.

Of course, if the players had time.

In the breaks between scenes they had to learn if it was true that something happened in a particular scene, check the scene summary, ask where other players were going next (to go with them or to avoid the scene), catch up with some plots, do the black-box or gather their faction, change clothes, make the jacket look older, shave head after the plague, eat dinner, drink beer, take some nap. So many options, so little time. Players made the world actually live. Wired in during the pre-play, they accelerated with each episode, becoming more and more curious and bold with their directing decisions. It ended with the 9th special episode – one of the groups asked for it the second day and it happened right after the epilogue.

I was wondering what could’ve gone differently. Would it be possible to get similar, intense, butt-clenching, smart story with a very poignant finale? For a moment, I wanted to play the same character during the second run and choose a completely different path of episodes. But for me, D8 – like the best HBO productions – ended up with a cliffhanger and I strongly hope that second season will come soon. Beside the character I played, I had yet another idea to bring to life into the apocalypse in the Ruined States of America, AD 2018.

Can’t wait for these alarm signals.

This text was translated by Grzegorz Wozniczko and was originally published here:

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Culture expert and communication specialist based in Poland. Larp player, designer, promoter, critic and judge of larp contests. Co-founder of LubLarp project, organiser of Kola Larp Conference, editor of several Kola companion books. Author of prize-winning System and Nightclub.
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