Throne Room



Bar and Wench





Jan 18th 1997: I am sitting in a rowdy gathering of the volunteers (the proper pronunciation of the word volunteers is looıne-tiks) who are organizing Intercon 13. Without realizing it my hand is waving madly when Jeff Diewald asks if someone would like to take care of organizing the Con Suite. I regard my hand with shock, but before I can snatch it out of the air, Jeff has courteously thanked me and the topic has moved on. I give my hand a stern talking to...it makes a rude gesture.

March 2nd 1997: The volunteers meet again. I explain that my plan for staffing the Con Suite, means creating a themed room, a tavern if you will, where people can go to be relaxed, eat some great food and do a little free form roleplaying. Since the people who would be staffing it all come from the live roleplaying system where I cut my teeth, The Realms, I figured that we could do a little cross pollination, introduce the ILF to The Realms and introduce The Realms to the ILF. As I am explaining a little about my group to the volunteers, Charles Sumner leans across to me and asks politely, "Is The Realms basically a generic live fantasy roleplaying game?" I am so startled by the question, because personally I would never consider my game to be generic, that I just answer yes. It has only recently occurred to me that The Realms might be of interest to the ILF because we are really not a generic fantasy roleplaying system. (Sorry Charles! You asked... it became the focus of the article....you know how it goes.) Unlike any other fantasy game out there, and in fact unlike any game that I know of, The Realms is a community based live roleplaying system.

In a lot of ways we are like a standard fantasy roleplaying system. We use boff style weapons to resolve combat, we have a magic system, our costuming preference is medieval or renaissance, and the social structure is feudal, with Princes, Dukes, Lords and a Queen. However, there are little things that differentiate us from the competition; for example, we are not a point based combat system. Fighters do not have levels like they do in D & D and NERO, because we have a location based combat system. The fighter is only as good as they actually are with a boff weapon. Because this is the case, local Realms groups often meet once or twice a week to practice their fighting skills, and the events tend to be fighting intensive, and not just recognize boffs as a means of resolving conflicts, but as a talent in and of itself. Also, our rule books tend to be on the light side. Our system is set up such that someone who is playing a fighter needs to know the bare minimum about the magic system, leaving the intimate details of spell casting to the healers and the mages. Finally, there are no character sheets in our game. You are who you say you are until someone proves otherwise. That means that you donıt have to make your character concept fit any pre-ordained class, you can call yourself a half woman half tiger if you want, you can claim to be a fairy or a drow. All of that has been done, and there is room for more. How we differ from the competition is both our strength and our weakness, and can only be explained by taking a quick look at our history.

The Realms was founded by Glenn and Shannon Slate, brothers with an extremely understanding set of parents in Warren Mass. Glenn was co-founder of a system called Lost Chest Enterprises that debuted in 1986 and quickly subsided. By 1988, Glennıs younger brother Shannon, decided that he could do it better; he kept the basic fighting rules, adding in some modifications for safety and expanded the magic system. He published the rules, picked up most of Glenıs original game and the first event premiered that summer. Shannon ran the show. He was the highest noble in the land, founding a knightly order dedicated to the preservation of his game. He was one of the best fighters, inspiring legions of people to try their hand at boff style fighting, turning a game mechanic into a sport, and the sport almost into art. He published a newsletter called the View from Valehaven to keep the players in touch with each other, and to announce upcoming games, writing most of the articles himself and absorbing most of the cost. He gave permission for other people to run games within the same universe using his rules, always overseeing the operation in his persona of Prince Robert the II of Valehaven. He was an extremely charismatic leader, but more importantly he was a clever and wily GM, who went to great lengths and expense to immerse his players in the moment. He believed that if he could make his players feel, even for just a split second, that they were their characters and the world that he had constructed around them was real, then Potempkin-like, he had succeeded as a storyteller. Shannon once told me that the Realms was never a game, it was life, and that dangerous mix of reality and suspension of disbelief was always the mood that he strove to for in his events.

By 1990 the fairy tale was over. Shannon had been trying to run a game with upwards of 300 players for 2 and 1/2 years, and he was burnt out. Rather than try to get people to help him throw the games with him and delegate responsibility, he announced that he was leaving the game and abruptly killed off his character. He made no provisions for the game to continue under a new GM, and no indication that the break was temporary. The players were in a state of shock, both in and out of character. The 300 people that he had been throwing his events for had grown into a tight knit community, and I think the thought of loosing our connection with each other and ending the wonderful story that was unfolding inside the game was too much.

At the suggestion of a friend I arranged and facilitated a Realms players meeting at Mount Holyoke College where we discussed what to do. The 120 or so people who attended came to the conclusion that there was not one person who could take over and run the game the way Shannon had. It was not that we were not as talented as he was, but owing to a back injury that paid him workmanıs compensation but did not require him to be at work, he had more free time than anyone else we knew. Also, a new person running the whole game would change the tone of it, and by appointing someone else to be in charge we opened ourselves up to a repeat of Shannonıs abandonment. Instead, we came to the consensus that anybody who wanted to could throw an event in the universe of the Realms. Anybody could be an eventholder, even if that person had never attended an event. We would take the existing rules and form a council of interested people who would meet once a year to make any necessary rule changes and publish those rules on an annual basis. A new person was appointed to take over the publication of the newsletter, and the game went on.

Perhaps that does not sound so amazing, but think about it. There is not a cohesive plot line that runs throughout our universe. There is no single person in charge of the gameıs continued operation. There is no one who makes executive decisions. There is no-one in charge and we like it that way. We feel that anyone can have a good, viable idea for a plot line and character development, and that given the right support structure can tell a good story though live gaming. We are open to the possibilities that there can be multiple story tellers moving characters around and making them jump through hoops at the same time. It is true that we have given up a couple of things that are standard features that can be found at more generic live fantasy roleplaying games, like a certain degree of consistent game play, and a universe whose natural laws are set in stone. At the same time we have gained many types of story telling possibilities, a system that allows someone to be both a GM and a player; a true consensual reality where facets of the world that are intriguing or well thought out continue, but failed ideas or awkward game mechanics are discarded or altered almost immediately; a continuously evolving game at the players discretion.

Currently the Realms is still being run by a version of the council that I helped set up. It is now made up of event-holders rather than people who are just interested. We meet once a year at the beginning of the event season to hash out problems we have run into over the last year and changes in the fighting, safety or magic rules. The event-holders are not paid for their time. We hardly ever make a serious profit at one of our events. Few of us run more than two events a year, but the event-holders meeting usually has 30 qualified people show up to it. It is never the same 30 people. We do have an official book that we publish the rules in, called the "Omnibus to the Realms", but it is up to the individual event-holder to determine whether or not they will allow a rule to be in effect at their game. Some rules vary widely from region to region. In my characterıs lands, Chimeron, if a troll throws a boulder and it hits you anywhere, even if it just grazes you, you are dead and your armor and weapons are crushed; but in Darkvale, under a different GM, that same boulder might kill you, but not destroy your armor. Because event-holders are responsible for supplying their own insurance and their own event sites, and are ultimately liable as an individual (and not as part of an official organization) , they can choose to modify whatever rules they wish to suit their own needs. There are also few qualifications to be an eventholder; you must throw an event using the Omnibus rules and publishing any rule changes you might have in advance, your event must have at least 30 people in attendance, players must have the option to play their usual characters, and you must notify the community that your event will be happening within 30 days of its date either by notifying the "View From Valehaven" or by separate flyer or e-mail to at least 50% of the current event-holders.

My roommate, Ryan Smart, shakes his head on a daily basis when I talk about how we reach decisions, how the universe changes from event to event, how magic items work at one event, but then have a different effect at the next. He keeps asking me how I can stand it, (and I think it is driving him nuts that I find nothing unusual with it), but I think that people who are used to theater style, or GM controlled live roleplaying could learn a lot from a community based system like ours. For example, from the Intercons that I have been to, I have seen that the GM gets very wrapped up in trying to control the flow and direction of the game and making it come to a point with specific closure. In the Realms that is just not possible. I have to plan my events knowing that any outcome might happen depending on what the players and the other event-holders attending my event decide to do. The players might have a triumphant victory, or every last character might be dead at the end of the day because Steve Johnson the event-holder came to me and asked if one his monsters could show up a "do a little plot thing for my event". I could have decided that the big award ceremony happens at 6 p.m. followed by the feast, but be sitting waiting for the players to get back to the tavern because some other event-holderıs plot-line has run right through the center of my tourney field, leading the fighters on a merry chase. I may have planned a way for the characters to get out of the dungeon, but because Chris the event-holder granted the ability to "smash rocks" to a player at a previous event, the players decide to punch a hole out of the dungeon and saunter back to camp leaving my NPCs waiting for action. Sure, I could tell them that it just does not work, or "that didnıt really happen" but I should also reward players for handling a situation creatively, and back up my fellow event-holder so he backs me up at a later date. I think that GMs from theater style games could learn a lot about creative GM-ing from participating in the Realms. Our GMs have to abandon the concept that they are in control of what the world is like and be flexible about changes in mid game. They have to realize that anything is possible in our game and to reward clever thinking in player and GM alike. They need to be extremely sensitive to shifts in the action of the game and most importantly realize that they are not the final say in the plot line, and that they are not really in control. A frightening thought for all the non Realms GMs I know.

The "View From Valehaven" is currently** being successfully published by Amy and Steve Johnson, who can be reached at Valehaven@aol.com, should anyone be interested in more information. They also have a web page (doesn't everybody now?) http://users.aol.com/valehaven/index.html. Or you could show up to Intercon 13, and saunter into the Bar and Wench, sit down and ask Lady Cassia for a drink, and chat with Sir Shane whoıs on guard duty. He can point out Queen Meg the Fighting Barmaid to you, if you ask real nice, and he'll tell you the story of how he saved her from a fate worse than death at the hands of the dogs of warŠ at her own event.

Katherine Journeay
Knight of the Realms

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**[Editor's note: This information was current in 1997. Circa 2005, the View is published by Douglas Fisher who can be reached at metron2001@gmail.com and the Realms webpage can be found at http://www.realmsnet.net ]