We use rules when we can’t trust players to represent a topic inside the game in a safe, coherent way that doesn’t spoil the game. Using diegetic rules is a way of moving these topics back inside the game world rather than excluding them or representing them with rules that are clearly off-game in the player’s head. In Totem there were diegetic rules for handling intimacy and conflict.
Violence and agression is a part of human life that is usually represented through rules in live action role-playing games. A question when you want to bring these elements back inside the game is how you can make it costly to lose a fight without making the price real, physical hurt for the losing player. This was solved in Totem by a method for status fights dubbed Ars Ordo.
The method has several stages – the first is eye contact. If you lock eyes with someone, the one with lower status will look down. This small type of status fight will happen all the time, and is a part of everyday life – confirming the status positions in the tribe. It passes in seconds, and no-one else usually notices. Until there is someone who won’t look down, and thus chooses to pick a fight. If none of the contestans will look down, they enter a second phase where they move towards each other.
By this time there is an audience, other tribe members notice that something is going on. At this stage, looking down costs more than it did when no one was looking. If the conflict is still not solved, sound and more movement is added to the struggle. Roaring, snarling and trying to make yourself bigger, you try to make your opponent look down and back off. By now it is a matter for the whole tribe. Everyone is looking, and the one who eventually backs down by looking down can rightfully be forced to the ground, crawling to show submission. If it seems the conflict cannot be solved by the two people involved, the other tribe members decide it for them by standing behind and supporting the one they think should come out on top.
This method created lots of opportunities for high resolution play, both for the two players involved in a fight and for the rest of the tribe. There was a clear outlet for agression with very obvious consequenses for the loser, and since the shift in status positions would also affect the other members of the tribe almost everyone got some form of interaction from every single status fight and from the constant shorter instances of eye contact that never escalated into one.
I looked at Tyr and he looked back. At first I looked away, but looked angry so I looked at him again. We gained eye contact and stared at each other for a long, long time, and I think people noticed. Then he stood up, and I jumped down from the tree I was sitting in and stood before him. We stood there for a long time. Then he raised his arms and I followed…then I started to snarl and he shouted, we growled and snarled for a long time, while we held each others heads…but I was the first Nappa, I was Ulvs first mate. So I had to win.
We shouted and walked around each other, while holding on to the other, while we shouted and pushed each other. It went on for a long time. Then the Ka started to stand up…fist Ild placed herself behind Tyr and I got angry and shouted even louder. Then Må placed herself behind me, then Lo and then Eg. Then he started to give up. First he stopped shouting, then he collapsed and suddenly he was sitting on the ground howling and hitting the ground.
I turned around while the Ka sat down. I looked down at him and I growled at him. I stood above him. Then I snorted and snarled while I walked around him. He still howled submissively. I took a hold of him to get him up. To get him to stop. He was still second Nappa, but he did not want to. I wheezed at him “stop behaving like a non”. I picked him up, took hold of his arm, nodded at him and let go. Then I climbed the tree and stood up, snorted and then sat again.
(Male player, post larp evaluation)
A central aspect of Ars Ordo is in that one party invariably yields, and the losing side of the contest feels the loss very personally: After all, this kind of status contest is always also a nondiegetic contest between players.
Instructions for rehearsing ars ordo can be found in the workshop handbook.
The Ars Amandi method developed by Emma Wieslander for Mellan himmel och hav was used to handle intimacy. This meant that in the world of Totem, love and affection was shown by the touching of arms.
The method works very well because it gives the players a high resolution possibility to show affection and act out sexual relationships without (at least formally) threatening those parts of the player’s off-game life. This means, that in situations where you in off-game life perhaps would have the impulse to be physically close, you can transform that impulse into a believable action inside the game (touching someone’s arms) instead of pushing the tought out of your head or engaging in an act of simulation much further from the activity you had an impulse to engage in.
The mechanic allows players to touch permitted zones with permitted bodyparts. The permitted zone is the arms, up to the shoulders, across the sternum and upper back, and the neck, keeping it below the ears. The permitted bodyparts are hands, forearm, and neck.Touch can be light or firm, but most players say that the true magic happens in the eyes, between players. Breathing in a more sexual way can also dial the tension up.
Ars amandi has several advantages – one is that it doesn’t pre-script the active or passive role that one might play during sex. It’s gender neutral. It preserves and individual’s sense of space by restricting the zone of touch, and it’s a remarkably flexible technique that is capable of representing tender new love and hate sex with equal aplomb. (Lizziestark.com)
Another central element of tribal life was the ritual painting of the arms and face of every tribe member. The face and arms were first covered in mud that dried to a gray-white mask, upon which the sign for your totem animal and other decorations were painted. Painting everyone was a tribal matter, but you were generally painted by a mate or would-be mate.
The dominant gender would paint their own totem sign on their mates, and get it painted back by the submissive partner as a sign of acceptance of the relationship. Since you could not paint yourself, the beauty and attention paid to your arms and face became a sign of status as well.
An effect of making love using the Ars Amandi method was that your arm painting was thoroughly messed up and had to be lovingly or not so lovingly repainted again when the love making was over. Painting your sign on someone when taking them as a mate was also a strong signal of ownership, and the male carrying the sign of the alpha female in the matriarchy would get a lot of his status from this (and vice versa).
Who painted who, with how much detail and care, and what totem signs that were painted on you all signalled your relationships and status very clearly to other players, and also left visual marks of your interaction that could be seen by players who were not there to see the interaction at the time it happened. The act of painting each other was also very intimate, if somewhat cold when new layers of mud were added.
When Må took her first mate, she knew one of the other women wanted the same man. Må didn’t care much since she percieved herself as above her in status, but took the opportunity to paint her totem sign on the male and thus seal the marriage when the other woman was not present. When she came back to the fireplace later, no interaction was going on between Må and her mate, but the sign of the seagull, Må’s totem, was cleary painted on his arms marking what had happened.
The other woman was outraged, and later tried to erase Må’s totem signs from his arms by painting them over with fresh clay, a provocation that escalated into a full blown status fight over the male. (Andie Nordgren 2008)
These stories are only fragments of the interaction in Totem, but visualizing the relationships by the ritualistic painting gave a multitude of opportunities for very subtle communication.