Intercon S: Part IV

It occurs to me I never quite finished my post-Intercon S reports.
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On Sunday at Intercon, I played in two LARPs.

The first was an Iron GM LARP. Iron GM is an annual LARP writing contest that Intercon runs, where teams of writers are given a group of ingredients (a genre, a theme, an element, plus a secret prop to incorporate) and a weekend to produce a two hour LARP for five to twelve players.

I try to play an Iron GM LARP most years for a few reasons. It’s a project I like to support, even if it’s just as a player in the Intercon runs, because it’s a great way to encourage new LARPs to be written. And there’s something fun and low pressure about having a LARP that is a surprise on your schedule — you never quite know what you’re going to get, for style, genre, setting, or character. It often means I’ll be stepping outside of my comfort zone, and there’s no prep to be done. You just show up at the door and see what happens.

This year, Iron GM needed a few more readers, so I volunteered. This means I read all of the written materials for a number of the Iron GM LARPs, and evaluated them based on a handful of criteria, such as presence and completion of required documents and how well incorporated the secret ingredients were.

I thought being a reader would preclude me from being a player, but then there was some concern over a character in one of the LARPs, and the Iron GM coordinators asked me if I would play that particular role. So I did end up playing an Iron GM LARP on Sunday morning, and, unlike a typical Iron GM LARP experience, I knew my character and a bit about the setting of the LARP going in.

I usually roll out of bed on Sunday morning at Intercon and head straight to Iron GM LARPs in my pajamas (can’t costume in advance, so might as well!), but this year, amusingly, I was the only one perfectly costumed. The LARP I played, The Call, was set at a boarding school, and opens with students responding to mysterious screaming in the middle of the night. The GMs described the costuming aesthetic for the LARP as something like, “3am Fire Alarm Chic”. (I love that descriptor and I’m stealing it.)

The Call is centered around the students, who are still coming to terms with their supernatural sides, unraveling the mystery of the screams and confronting the ancient mysteries of their campus. I don’t want to spoil it here, but I will say it has kind of an X-Men meets Lovecraft vibe. Also, I particularly liked their use of the prop ingredient (a mirror) and their evocative descriptions of the school and its campus in their setting document are really good. One would not think this LARP was written in a single rushed weekend.

My second LARP on Sunday at Intercon was Strangers. I’ve heard really good things about, so I was excited to get a chance to play at Intercon S. (Also, it ran from 2-6pm, and I’m also very happy to see Interconners take advantage of the fact that we have the function rooms until late on Sunday.  There’s no reason for the fun to stop Sunday morning.)

Strangers is a blackbox LARP by Nina Essendrop, the LARP writer behind White Death. (Which has now run a fair number of times in the local community.) Like White Death, strangers is an abstract sort of LARP, without any speaking. Both LARPs explore community as a theme; Strangers also explores culture clash between refugees and native populations.

The LARP opens by dividing the players into two populations, the greens and the blues. (Indicated with colored ribbons pinned to your shirt.) One population will end up fleeing one by one to the other. I should mention I have, since Intercon, played this LARP a second time, and so I have seen it both from the perspective of the native population and the refugee population.

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A room divided by furniture and tablecloths.

Through a series of workshops, the players establish a very limited vocabulary of gestures, and their culture’s daily routines — a series of abstract activities involving interactions with props and one another, cued by short runs of instrumental music, along with brief periods of sleep. After several runs through the daily routines, with each culture operating independently on their separate sides of the room, the GM begins moving members of the refugee population one at a time to the other side of the room during the sleep periods. This migration creates disturbances in both sides’ routines, and it’s up to the players how well (or how poorly) this integration works. Will the cultures blend? Will one get overtaken  by the other? Will they end up still largely separate, even while together in the same half of the room? Or some combination?

It was a really interesting experience both times. The workshops are a ton of fun. It’s playful and not too mentally or physically demanding. Also, this LARP does something most LARPs struggle with — it establishes the baseline of the setting, the routine, such that players have a clear idea of how the routine is getting interrupted. A common problem a lot of LARPs, of all different styles and genres, run into is failure to establish the norms. (For example, how many of us have played a LARP where players are told their characters are among the most powerful or unique in the world, but then run into endless NPCs who are of similar power and it muddies the understanding of the setting? Or characters are meant to think the setting is perfectly mundane, and players aren’t quite sure how readily they’re meant to accept claims of ghost sightings?) It would be interesting to extrapolate the workshops of this setting into other styles of LARP, perhaps less abstract ones.

Like White Death, this LARP’s structure lends itself to lots of poignant little moments that are very much open to individual, equally valid, interpretation (which may or may not be compared during post-game chatter). In particular, trying to understand the language (hand gestures) of the other culture leads to some very interesting moments of confusion, and lead to us all making a series of decisions — when we would we compromise with people from a different culture? When would we try to impose our own culture on them, or let them interrupt our routines, or adapt to include them, or try to stay as separate as possible? It was fun, but also very thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I recommend playing it twice and seeing it from the perspective of both populations.

And that concludes my Intercon S posts! It only took about seven months. Time to look over the LARPs already listed for Intercon T

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A Wicked Wind

Last summer, I played in a Pokémon LARP called Pocket Monsters: The Hunted. Tragically, it ran on the same weekend as another LARP, A Wicked WindA Wicked Wind was created by the staff behind Sunadokei, which I really enjoyed, and it’s billed as a pirates and musketeers LARP. Swashbuckling is my jam. I badly wished I could play both, but I had to choose one.
AWWheaderIn the end, I chose the one I thought less likely to run again, though I knew there was a chance neither would. I had an excellent time at Pocket Monsters, but I mourned my chance to play A Wicked Wind, especially when players came home with such positive reviews. I begged one of the GMs to consider running it again.

A few weeks ago, A Wicked Wind ran again! (I like to think my enthusiasm was a contributing factor.) And I’m so happy I got the chance to play this LARP; I had a really wonderful weekend. It features the crew and passengers of two boats, the pirate ship Ebony Rose and the naval ship Victory at Cala, on strange, island-hopping adventures together.

I’ll try not to include significant spoilers, though there will be some mild ones — who knows, maybe someday there will be a third run! (I certainly think there should be.)
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NELCO 2019 Part III

My third topic of NELCO 2019 was Improving Non-Live Combat Techniques.
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This is a topic that has been covered before at NELCO and Intercon, but I’m glad to see it cycle through again because out community goes through noticeable trends in non-live combat mechanics, and it’s useful to identify and examine them.

For this discussion, the moderator put up four poster-sized pieces of paper, labeled “Why God Why”, “Key Design Choices”, “Awesome”, and “Augh”. Under “Why God Why,” we listed reasons why a LARP designer might include a mechanic for combat in a non-live combat LARP. Under “Awesome,” we listed aspects of mechanics we like, and under “Augh” we listed aspects we did not like. Under “Key Design Choices,” we listed various facets of combat systems to take under consideration when designing them.
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NELCO 2019 Part II

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The second event I attended at NELCO 2019 was Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory, a short presentation about post-game conversation among players, followed by a group discussion. It covered common modes of post-game conversation that can be detrimental others’ LARP experiences (even retroactively) and ways to improve on the language we use in such situations.

You can read the slides here.

My key takeaways:

Players are often in a particularly vulnerable state immediately post-game, (especially if they had a mixed or negative experience) — which is also the time players are most likely to engage in emotional post-game chatter. This post-game chatter can itself be a negative experience, but it can also have a negative retroactive effect on players’ impressions of a LARP. It can be (and in my opinion, nearly always is) unintentional, through innocuous statements or even statements that seem positive on the surface.

There’s a variety of ways this can occur, and the presentation covered three common modes: players trying to assert their post-game headcanons (that is, their personal version of events) onto other players, offering interpretation/judgments of other characters, and comparing elements of a run of a LARP to previous runs. It’s usually problematic when the headcanons, judgments, and comparisons are negative (e.g. “your character is definitely going to get killed soon after the game ends”, “your character was a terrible person” or “your character didn’t accomplish nearly as much as they did in previous runs”) but, as mentioned, even neutral comments or comments intended as compliments can also be detrimental to the other player’s experience when that player doesn’t agree. (E.g. “you were so great at playing a villain!” when the player doesn’t consider their character villainous.)

Even when the chatter is overtly negative, I don’t believe people generally intend to have a detrimental effect on one another’s experience. So why do people do it? In the case of asserting headcanons, I think it’s usually born out of a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction. My clearest personal example is a LARP in which I played the heir to the throne. Post-game, a few players approached me and told me that I should abdicate and/or run off with another character, because they were definitely going to take the throne from me very soon after the LARP’s endpoint. (Even though the GMs had an explicit policy of “what happens post-game is up to each individual player.”)

Why did they feel the need to tell me this? My guess is that telling other players (and having them at least tacitly accept it) makes a headcanon feel more “official”. Without that sense of it being official, the achievement of their characters’ goal is open to interpretation (and denial), making it less satisfying. I don’t think they intended to retroactively damage my experience of the LARP, they just wanted to reassure themselves that they had been essentially successful in their goal.

In the case of asserting judgments and comparing runs, it’s usually just a matter of people finding the analysis interesting, and making (often subconscious) assumptions about what won’t be detrimental to another LARPer’s experience. (And in fairness, such assumptions are often correct; they’re just not always correct.)

So how can we improve our post-game chatter, and reduce the odds of damaging one another’s experiences?

By focusing on our in-game subjective experiences, we can avoid many of the issues surrounding observations about other characters. For example, “my character thought your character was so evil” doesn’t impose a judgement on another character, but rather reflects a truth that actually is up to the speaker. (That is, it’s not your place to assert a fact about another character, but it is your place to decide your own character’s thoughts and impressions.) Similarly, “my character is hoping to get elected soon” is better than “my character will win the next election.”

Other good suggestions from the slides: if possible, choose a setting/audience where the relevant players won’t be affected. (For example, if you want to talk about your characters’ plans to win an upcoming election, avoid discussing it with players playing the other candidates.) Or alternatively, wait to be asked before getting into it. Another good tip: focus on gratitude towards other players for ways they enhanced your LARP experience.

In the discussion following the slides, my question to the group was: we’ve talked about the types of post-game chatter to avoid, but when someone else engages you with one of them,  what is a good way to respond?

My response is typically to nod along quietly like I agree and exit the conversation (read: flee) as soon as I can. The presenter’s response was “I get loud.” I think the most reasonable response was a compromise offered by another person in the audience: to respond calmly, “I’m not comfortable with that.” This would be an improvement on my typical response, which usually does nothing to mitigate the negative effect on my experience, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough for an explicit refusal. I think the response I liked best was, “that’s an interesting headcanon,” which is neither an explicit refusal, nor a tacit acceptance.

Next up, a group discussion on Improving Non-Live Combat Techniques.

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NELCO 2019 Part I

NELCO, the New England LARP Conference, ran over the weekend of July 19-21 in Boxborough, MA, along with the second Little Boffer Con, two tracks of three short one-shot boffer LARPs.
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LARP Box — a LARP store in Massachusetts

On Sunday, I attended the soft opening of a brick and mortar LARP gear store in Grafton, Massachusetts. It’s exciting — I haven’t done a lot of research (nothing beyond a bit of googling) so I can’t make certain statements about it being the first such in the US? But it’s certainly the first in this region. I think the next nearest one is somewhere in Canada.

The owner is the guy behind LARP Box, the monthly subscription box for LARPers. Each month is a different theme based on genres and concepts popular in LARPs (e.g. “pirates”, or “stealth”.)

The store itself is small, but chock-full of all kinds of fun LARP gear, costuming and props and, of course, weapons. I showed up with a silly homemade press pass (“PRESS PASS scribbled on an index card, hung on a leftover lanyard from NELCO) and spent the afternoon ogling all of the pretty LARP items, dreaming about finding events to use them all in, and chatting with fellow LARPers who had come to check out the new store. I heard all about Bicolline (I’d love to attend Le Bal Pourpre event) and plans for a preview of the fantasy retro music festival LARP, Hazy Fields at the New England LARP Expo in February.

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I also tried on some masks. Do I make a decent goblin?

The store is attached to the B3 Imagination Studio workshop, and I got to take a quick sneak peak inside. It was so cool to see all the neat projects and tools in there. (You can see a corner of it in their videos on youtube.) Fun fact: the workshop used to be a bowling alley; you can see where the lanes were on the floor.

I wish my photos had come out better, but here you can see lots of the cool LARP gear for sale. Some of my favorite items included the safe-to-throw realistic skulls, and the biodegradable massive wet-wipes, designed as a shower on the go for outdoor and/or athletic gear. (The new “extra socks” of outdoor LARPing?)


I myself picked up a pretty new boffer sword, with a rapier-like design, for my princess musketeer role in A Wicked Wind, along with a sword frog. (How have I never owned a sword frog until now?) I also took home some small throwing daggers; they’re safe to actually throw, but I would hate to lose them. I mostly plan to use them as accessories. It’s fun to play characters who always have multiple little blades secreted about their person, and these are just the right size and shape for that.

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new throwing daggers

There were also fun goody bags full of samples to take home.
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The store opens in late August, and it’s located at 7 Depot St. in Grafton MA. You should check out the Grand Opening event August 23-24 if you can!

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Summer LARPin’ 2019

This past weekend, I went to WPI (Worcester Polytech) in Worcester, Ma for the third Summer LARPin’ event. Besides the fact that it adds another day of LARPing to a slower season, I love that it’s runs in a really nice space, yet is a free event. (Since it’s not during the school year, we’re able to get the large rooms of the Odeum.) Major credit goes to the staff of Summer LARPin’, who dealt with the school attempting a last minute cancellation, and then a lack of furniture in the rooms.

A number of attendees stayed at one of two nearby hotels, which enabled us to hang out in the bar in the evening before the event. We had a nice time discussing LARP events and getting a sneak preview of new costuming, including a custom set of long, flared sleeves. They were black with lacing over the upper arms, gold lining, appliques, and trim from the Yaya Han cosplay line (which I’ve long been dreaming about using in a project). I love that they can be easily worn with modern dresses to give them a historical/fantasy flair. Very inspiring.

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sleeve envy!

This year, I played in two LARPs at Summer LARPin’. This was my second time playing in Feast of the Minotaur, which previously at Intercon L. But I enjoyed it so much, and it had been 8ish years, (and I knew the GMs wouldn’t mind), that I decided to play it again. (Besides, I had played the other LARP running in the time slot, too.)

This LARP is set at a feast in the royal palace of Crete, where the guests include seven Athenians, the next morning’s sacrifices for the Minotaur’s labyrinth (which I think is a particularly excellent premise for a LARP.) Lots of other figures and events from Greek mythology are combined into the mix.

At the Intercon L run, I had a lot of fun as Princess Phaedra of Crete. This time, I was cast as Idylla, the ward of the famous craftsman and architect, Daedalus. In this run, my experience was much more about characterization than plot (though both Phaedra and Idylla spent a lot of time exploring relationships within their quirky families), and I loved it just as much, if not more. The second run ran a bit faster, and ended much more tragically for many of the characters. I once again appreciated the “hydration mechanic” — drinking water (which can represent water or wine in game) enables players to draw a slip of paper from an envelope, which can grant things like information or temporary abilities. There are in-game explanations for these effects, and it’s a nice out-of-game reminder to stay hydrated.

I reused almost entirely the same costume I originally made for Princess Phaedra, (and wore again as Aphrodite in Siege of Troy.) For Idylla, I included a custom necklace, and a green set of laurels, rather than gold.

I spent most of the dinner break between LARPs helping set up the elaborate set dressing for the third run of Dance of the Dragons. We found some potted trees around the Odeum and moved them into the godswood tent, which filled it out nicely. Sadly, the banner of Aegon II seems to have gone missing, but overall, I thought the space looked very good.


After set up, I quickly changed into my costume for Faustian Speed Dating.

At Dice Bubble 2017, I played in a LARP called Speed Dating for Heiresses, which is set in the late 19th or early 20th century, and features wealthy American heiresses (“dollar princesses”) meeting British aristocrats with low funds. Everyone present has their own quirks and flaws, and there’s a bit of a twist to the speed dating structure in the middle. This LARP inspired Faustian Speed Dating, which is a modern game featuring wizards who would like to find the right demon to make bargains with.  Both LARPs have the potential to end with proposals (of marriages in one case, Faustian bargains in the other.)

 

Unlike Speed Dating for Heiresses, Faustian Speed Dating has all gender neutral characters, some expected antagonism between potential pairs, and players are welcome to strike multiple bargains at the end (though that comes with higher risk for either sorcerer or demon.)

I played Jeremiad, the Demon of Mourners and History. My costuming was mostly pulled from my closet; I wore my black military jacket over a high collared, ruffly white shirt (a combo I often lean on for ambiguous period looks, which I thought suited Jeremiad’s history theme.) Over this, I wore a floor length black veil,  and I accessorized with heavy eyeliner, blue lipstick, red contacts, a clock hand necklace, and a silver pocket watch.


And I had a delightful time! Sometimes knowing I have to improvise, especially in the context of keeping up a long, one-on-one conversations, I get nervous thinking I won’t be able to come up with anything in the moment, but the premise of LARP and the character concepts kept the conversation flowing. In the end, I struck a bargain with a character whose self-doubt I thought might make him vulnerable to Jeremiad’s style of manipulation and torment (though the sorcerer of course had his own plan to avoid it.)

I think my only rough spot might have been the final scene; it’s meant to be a moment for demons and sorcerers to work out the terms of their bargain, but we got a little confused and ended up chatting out-of-character about how each of our characters was hoping to outsmart and trap the other. I think maybe a little more guidance on what kinds of terms a demon (or sorcerer) might include might have helped. But overall, I highly recommend Faustian Speed Dating.

In fact, I’m hoping to run it myself sometime in the future. I think the setting/concept has a lot of appeal (either to fans of historical LARPs or fantasy ones), and the structure is flexible in terms of casting (you can run with eight, losing any one of each category present — though an odd number of players requires a little creative adjustment — or NPCing — from the GM). And it’s seems pretty low in terms of time and effort to print, prep, and run. If you aren’t picky about costuming, both of these speed dating LARPs can be run on the fly — the rules are simple and the reading is pretty short (with players encouraged to fill in the gaps of their one-sheet character descriptions as they like.)

After Faustian Speed Dating, I went back to Dance of the Dragons, to help out the GMs as needed. I wound up mostly passing messages between GMs and players, and twice NPCed as a septa to conduct marriage ceremonies in the sept. (A unintentionally creepy septa, as I still had most of my demon costume on.)

Sadly, the Iron Throne did not survive this run.

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Surely a bad omen for the Seven Kingdoms.

With Summer LARPin’ behind me, it’s now time to focus on the next event, and NELCO (the LARP conference) is this weekend! I’ve got a little bit of prep left to do as Programming Coordinator. (Also Poster Maker and Discussion Runner.) I’m really looking forward to discussing all things related to creating, running, and playing LARP!

NELCO is open to all, and we have some social time on Friday (including a dinner at the hotel restaurant on Friday, and brunch on Sunday), so check it out!

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