Thursday, April 20, 2017

Five or So Questions with Oscar Biffi on Crescendo Giocoso

My interview today is with Oscar Biffi on Crescendo Giocoso, which I mentioned on a recent Designer & Devourer podcast. Cresdendo Giocoso is currently on Kickstarter and is a 12 scenario larp collection. The development of the game is really interesting, so I hope you enjoy the interview!

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Tell me a little bit about Crescendo Giocoso. What excites you about it?

I like to think of Crescendo Giocoso as a my declaration of love to larp.

This live action role-playlist, as we like to call it, is not just a book which collect me and my favorite Italian authors scenarios, enhanced by Maria's stunning graphics. It's the sum of the experiences by a community of players, now gathered around the website Laiv.it. Each scenario has a very strong history, made by playtests and discussion. A lot of people and memories are involved in this project and we just want to engage as many others as possible. Because I think the main strength of games towards narrative, my other great passion, is the ability to establish a direct and close contact between all parties involved.

Over the years I had the pleasure of contribute to keep alive the interest for "chamber" larp in Italy and now, with the Italian Chamber Orchestra, I would like to put to good use this experience.
So I develop a common approach to design for all the scenarios in Crescendo Giocoso, specifically to motivate me and my friends to reconsider our games in a new light. In order to make them accessible to everyone, to larpers with different background as well as to people who never played before. Without our supervision and without game masters or facilitators.

The group of players can read the instructions together and then begin to play, right here right now.


You say you developed a common approach. How did you do this? What did you use to make things work consistently?

We called our space Laiv.it, /laɪv/ as we pronounce it, because me and the other founders have a very hands-on approach: we're most of all dedicated players and then authors. Once I decided to put the group of player at the heart of the project, I did my best to think from the standpoint of someone who tries to play a larp like ours for the first time.

First of all we have to choose one of the scenarios, so we need a technical data sheet (number of roles, time, replayability, leitmotiv), but also an effective preview. Since a scenario is a game about a story, it can benefit from something like a synopsis to charm readers and from a sneak peek to game mechanics, because they make the difference in the experience.

Once chosen the right scenario, we have to set it up and that's where another important point for Crescendo Giocoso comes in: adaptability. We want to offer to players the opportunity to improvise out of nowhere, but at the same time we don't want to discourage them to put a lot of efforts in costumes, props, soundtracks and so on. For this reason we wrote two possible staging for each scenario: Chamber staging, with only the bare essentials, and Symphony staging, with all the advices authors got from many runs.

Finally we come to actual instructions, specifically design bearing in mind the picture of a player reading them aloud to their peers. Without going even more into the details, I hope I made myself clear about my way of thinking, but on our Kickstarter page everyone can download and try a free scenario for 2 players, written by me and Alessandro Giovannucci and still in playtest: Letters not about love.

Luckily not everyone in the orchestra is such as pragmatic as me, so we can count on an interesting manifesto, written by Alessandro and his brother Andrea with the rest of their Chaos League collective. It's called "Southern Way - New Italian Larp" and I think it's fun they write this with their "blockbuster" games (with many players and which last days) in mind, but it perfectly fits the spirit in which we play, passionate and free.


Why did you make the games free of game masters and facilitators, and how does it benefit the players?

As an author of larp, I've never been really fond in performing NPC or in storytelling like a tabletop game master. I've always preferred to sit back and watch while the game itself lead the players to the epilogue. Just watching can be very useful for me, to improve and develop the scenario, but it would be very boring for anyone else.

I know our habit at the conventions has always been to explain the games ourselves to each group of players, but I thinks this is great if you've designed your scenario as a "travelling show", an experience through which you guide the players. Crescendo Giocoso instead is a (e)book and its authors are not included in the shipping.

It's more like a board game. Would you ever play a board game which say "Ok, set up everything for your friends, then step back, take a sit and just watch them?". I hope this design choice can help to spread larp to a larger audience and we've already got encouraging results, within acting class and educational events.

"We" taking the place of "you" in the instructions is also a way to make it clear that a larp, as we mean it, it's all about teamwork. No one can just wait for another player to save the day.

Years ago I helped with an anthology called "Dopocena da brivido" ("Thrilling after-dinner"), published by a mainstream Italian publisher. The idea behind this project was an host who offer an entertainment for their guests. Crescendo Giocoso is more like a jam session, where every piece must play its part.


What are some of the scenarios we encounter in Crescendo Giocoso?

Crescendo Giocoso can count on scenarios with different settings and mechanics, each one for a different number of players, from 2 to 30. So we have an historic game like "First they came", by Andrea & Alessandro Giovannucci, in which the players will be three opponents of the Third Reich and the high fantasy "The Age of Men", by Lorenzo Martinelli, that looks like it's stepped out of Dungeons & Dragons with an extra splash of drama. We have a scenario set in Florence, "Something abous us", by Barbara Fini & Rafu, which is all about an apartment block meeting (very typical in Italy) and then "Sturm und drang", by Andrea Rinaldi, which takes place in an American stop grocery, intended as a liminal space like the ones by Samuel Beckett. "The theatre of Major Arcana", by Yuka Sato & Valerio Amadei, plays with the ideas of acting class and workshops, while "The last sunset", by Francesco Rugerfred Sedda, is a pulp story which resembles visual novels with its multiple endings.

As for my scenarios, I love making literary references and mixing genres, so, for example, "Tell-tale hearts" is inspired from the title by Edgar Allan Poe and "Winds of change" tells a story not so far from the Balkan War with a fairytale atmosphere.

The leitmotifs of the anthology are wide variety of game mechanics and the special importance attached to the evocative power of writing. It applies to the many character sheets and handouts, but also to the instructions.

I've always admired texts where clarity and atmosphere go hand in hand, in order to bring out strong emotions. No wonder I'm a fan of "24 game poems" by Marc Majcher.


When playtesting and working across international borders, what do you think are the most important aspects of working with other designers, especially on a sizeable project and with live action games?

When I know, you'll know. In all seriousness, so far I've cooperated mainly with Italian authors and players: only if our Kickstarter Campaign will succeed and reach some stretch goals, we'll be able to work on Crescendo Giocoso - Volume II with our international guests, Mikolaj Wicher, Evan Torner, Luiz Prado, Ole Peder Giaever and Jason Morningstar, without forgetting Antonio Amato, another Italian game-designer from Sicily.

Over the years I've played a lot of international larp, but I'm not a traveller and a pioneer like Flavio Mortarino, our editorial consultant, or Lapo Luchini (who's going to design an Android App for Crescendo Giocoso, if we reach the stretch goal), or Francesco Rugerfred Sedda (game design student at the It University of Copenaghen) or the Giovannucci brothers (theorists and keynote speakers).

They all suggested me many interesting games, I read them all and tried to pick up the ones most compatible with my design concept. Scenarios compatibile, but at the same time very different from ours, because the Volume II won't be a more of the same at all.

Of course I've already speak with all these brilliant game designer and I've tried to communicate them a strong vision: we aren't going to cut & paste their scenarios in our layout, we'll work together for a "Crescendo giocoso edition" with all its peculiarities.

After all some of their games have always been and will continue to be available for free, just like all my scenarios are on Laiv.it (in Italian only). We don't want to offer to readers only Maria Guarneri's graphics, or Chiara Locatelli's translations, or the editing by Jason Morningstar and me, but a brand new look on larp design.

For this reason we need the support of smart authors from all over the world, but above all the enthusiasm of all dedicated larpers out there.


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Thank you to Oscar for allowing me to do this interview! Crescendo Giocoso sounds really fascinating, and I hope my readers will take a moment to check out the Kickstarter today!


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