I recently played four LARPs at Dice Bubble 2021 — A Peace Summit on Cybertron, Pulse of the Empire, The Borden Legacy, and Venezia.
The safety rules included a requirement to wear masks at all times in con space. I understand the mask rule was somewhat controversial, and resulted in some people declining to attend, but I tried to view it as a costuming opportunity — a way to display some element of your character right on your face! I sewed myself four new masks, (three of which were double sided) to cover the three characters I was cast as, and also cover three broad categories of characters I might sub in as (in case of last minute drops from the Sunday LARP I was aGMing.)
In practice, I found the masks didn’t interfere with my roleplay. I know some people find them uncomfortable or that they make communication a little more difficult, and I sympathize. They didn’t bother me, though, and I support any LARP event that wants to make them required.
I also made a Pikachu/Ninja Turtles mask to wear outside of LARPs, because… why not. LARP cons are a time to let your geek flag fly!
My Saturday morning LARP was A Peace Summit on Cyberton. It’s a diplomatic LARP set in the world of the Transformers franchise. I’m actually not that familiar with the source material — I’ve seen the first Michael Bay movie, but haven’t seen any of the cartoons or read any of the comics. But I heard good things about the LARP, and I have a soft spot for 80s action cartoons. So I signed up, then watched the first episode of the original cartoon online to get the general feel of it.
I’d never heard of the character I was cast as — Drift. But I found his backstory pretty interesting and appealing as a LARP character — he was once a Decepticon (read: bad guy) who defected and joined the Autobots (read: good guys.)
The LARP is just as it is described on the tin — nine Autobots and Decepticons, along with one neutral bot, sit around a table and squabble over the terms of a peace treaty, try to come up with the basic structure of a new government, and decide what to do with various powerful artifacts. There’s a depth and breadth to the setting lore in this LARP that surprised me, and lots of difficult questions to chew over, both practical and philosophical, and the cast of characters is very colorful. It made for a really fun LARP.
In our run, we argued animatedly in circles for the first hour or so before we realized just much time we were wasting and how little time was left to get through a lot of important decisions. We ended up with a tripartite government, with an elected official, the Prime (as designated by the Matrix of Leadership artifact), and the strongest warrior, as the three heads.
A major factor in our ability to get anything substantial accomplished was the rule that whatever we decided, Grimlock had to understand. Grimlock is primitive sort of Dinobot* (“Me Grimlock! Grimlock king!”) who prefers things uncomplicated and direct. This encouraged us to to keep our proposals short and sweet, and not try to bog them down with lots of provisions and exceptions. And in our run, Grimlock ended up recognized as Prime. I think that will probably be for the best.
We got our casting with less than a week before the game, but I was determined to do some kind of costuming. I would have liked to have based a look on a design from the original cartoon, but near as I can tell, Drift was not a character yet. It seems various iterations of Drift have had very different designs (the Michael Bay version is based on Samurai armor and has a lot of visual appeal) but I really wanted the closest thing to the classic 80s design style. I went with a version of Drift that has a black and white body, with red details, and tried to translate his basic silhouette into a sort of Disneybounding version with athletic gear. With six Autobot logo stickers, blue mirrored sunglasses, and a light gray mask for my face, I think the end result was really not bad, considering how little time I had.
The stickers that survived being stuck and unstuck from fabric with some stickiness intact have since been added to the windows of my car. (Which is what they were actually designed for.)
But the best costume of our run definitely goes to Starscream, who, despite the very short time between casting and game, showed up with a set of jet-wing armor crafted out of cardboard. He had some trouble going through narrow doorways, but looked great.
My second LARP was Pulse of the Empire, originally written for MOLW (a LARP writing initiative that resembles Iron GM in some ways.) The required themes were Cycles of History, Heists, and Visions/Hallucinations. The required prop was a metronome. I would have assumed all of the LARPs with this set of themes would have characters trying to plan or execute a heist, but in this LARP, the characters are the guards (and one observing bureaucrat) guarding the object of a heist. I thought that was a particularly clever and intriguing twist.
The artifact in question is a magical harp with the power to sustain dynasties and empower new ones, and the characters all have very complicated feelings about the dynasty they currently serve. Meanwhile, new information occasionally reaches the guards via visions from the Harp (and other sources), and the tempo of the metronome gives the players creates an atmosphere of tension while indicating how close the heist is to reaching its final goal.
I really enjoyed this LARP! I thought the characters began play with complex considerations to chew over and discuss while making life or death or honor decisions, and got plenty of new ones along the way to keep the roleplay going. Playing in a space that precluded easily having private conversations enhanced the game, in my opinion. The conclusion of the LARP felt very much like a tense climax. I would love to run this LARP at an event like Consequences, with the authors’ permission… someday when such a thing is possible again.
For costuming as Iron Leopard, the commander of the unit of guards, I went with my go-to basic knightly look — my red and white tabard over simple blacks and tall suede boots. (And lightning bolt earrings, a tiny nod to the Lightning Dynasty my character served.) I really wished I’d had time to sew matching tabards for all of the guards, assuming my fellow players were on board with the idea. Maybe I’ll make it an option for the players of my hypothetical some day run.
My third LARP was The Borden Legacy, which was originally written by British LARPers to run in the actual Borden House, where the infamous Borden murders took place. In this setting, the elder gods of the Lovecraftian mythos have arrived some 300 years before. The characters are gathered for a memorial service and a will reading following the gruesome demise of Andrew and Abby Borden.
I played Pastor Constance Seaborne, a traveling preacher of the esoteric Order of Dagon. I had some interesting mechanics that I kinda botched — I misunderstood how they functioned and basically used them much too early in the game, but I suppose it could have been worse. I also have some regrets about not including two other characters into my shenanigans… but overall, Borden Legacy was a very cute, classic-feeling secrets-and-powers LARP, and despite some early misgivings, I ended up really liking my character.
For Sunday morning, I had submitted a presentation and workshop about the Accelerant rules (a system created for boffer LARPs) — specifically, how the non-melee components could be inspiration for theater mechanics that integrate with roleplaying scenes much more smoothly than our usual index card systems do.
It didn’t run. Only a single person ever signed up or showed up — the only other attendee at Time Bubble who already plays Accelerant LARPs. He brought some boffer swords with him, so we sparred for a bit and chatted about the various local boffer campaigns that are running or starting up soon.
I’m not sure if the time slot had some influence on the lack of attendance — people often like to sleep in Sunday mornings if they don’t have a LARP — but I think it was something more than that. Maybe right now people are yearning for actual in-person LARPs and social time, and have less interest in LARP theory discussions. I was somewhat disheartened to hear one or two attendees refer to this as “your boffer thing,” when it was explicitly about the non-boffer elements. Maybe this community just sees the word “boffer” and gets turned off. I’m not sure.
My last LARP was Venezia. Officially, I was an assistant GM, and I spent two days of the week leading up to the event helping stuff this behemoth of a LARP. (I used this an as opportunity to have some fun with acrylic stamps and my rudimentary calligraphy skills, acquired over the periods of strictest quarantine. The character packets got a bit fancied up as a result.)
But LARPs this large have decent odds of last minute drops, so I packed three extra costumes just in case — a Renaissance gown (in fact, the dress I wore when I played Lucrezia Borgia back during Venezia‘s first run in 2012), a Renaissance outfit for men (including the doublet worn by one of the LARP’s writers during that same first run) and a black robe and red sash in case I needed to play one of the cardinals.
Well, there was indeed a late drop, and I did end up stepping into the role of the French general, so I wore the men’s black and silver Renaissance outfit. I don’t know if I did the role the full justice it deserved — the French general is one of the major players in the war game, and I had not familiarized myself with the mechanics prior to the start of the LARP. I think the general was meant to considerably more self-interested than I played him, but I was erring on the side of being too cooperative rather than uncooperative, for fear I’d end up blocking people’s plots and goals with my rushed attempt to absorb the long character sheet and war game rules.
It felt like a frenetic run to me — Venezia is a very mechanics heavy LARP, with multiple complex interacting systems — besides the war game, there is also a competition for the most influential city, a papal election, a system for commissioning of great works of art and publishing literature, spying, etc. Much of this game is about resource management — political, economic, and religious influence are the three major forms of currency. And besides all of this, Venezia has a three act structure, with every character facing a choice at the end of the first and second act, and receiving a new addition to their character sheet depending on their choices. It was a lot for a single GM to manage (when this LARP would probably be easier to run with at least three GMs), and the run time was shortened to four hours, when it normally runs in five. Despite all of this, the LARP seemed to me to be very well received, and it has since been bid to run at Intercon.
The set dressing of Venezia was worth a mention — the event space was filled with pillars and vases filled with artificial flowers, and there were glittery Venetian masks all over the room.
With Time Bubble 2021 now complete, it’s time to start looking towards the next events on the horizons, including a few private runs of theater LARPs, Winter Boffer Con in December… and the Intercon U schedule should be up on the website in the near future…
*As primitive as a robot that can transform from humanoid to dinosaur shape can be, I suppose.