Intercon S Projects

I’m currently neck deep in Intercon S prep, but I feel I shouldn’t allow that to cause me to neglect this blog again, so here’s a summary of my various projects.

1. Dance of the Dragons costuming

This is probably my biggest, most difficult project. I was cast a Targaryen, and this LARP is the excuse I’ve been waiting for to go all out on A Song of Ice and Fire costuming. I picked up a sewing pattern clearly inspired by Cersei Lannister’s costuming (even though it’s a bit above my skill level to reliably follow) and red and black fabric.

The dress is about half done. I’m proud of myself for having started this early enough that I won’t be scrambling to finish last moment. It’s slow going, as I’ve made some pretty significant errors in the cutting process (getting more of the fabric I chose has been its own saga, as I’ve bought the end of bolts three times.) But it actually does look really… dragon-y. The main fabric is a faux-leather with a hexagonal pattern that does strongly resemble scales, which I picked because a lot of Danaerys Targaryen’s costuming in the TV show has subtle scale-like texture.

The accent fabric is a bold red and black jacquard, which has a nice, dense body to it… I’m almost wondering if it’s possible for a Targaryen costume to be too dragonish. Part of me is wondering if I should have gone for a plain black fabric and just added some of the scaly fabric to the shoulders or something.

I also have two red embroidered dragons to put on the sleeves. (My main inspiration is Cersei’s pink dress, as it most closely resembles the sewing pattern.)

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Black scales, red jacquard, and embroidered dragons

2. They-Ro Bear Arms

I’m also playing a one-shot boffer LARP based on He-Man: Prince of Power and She-Ra: Princess of Power. (This franchise as a LARP setting really tickles me. I was cast as Bear-at-Arms, (a play on Man-at-Arms.) I bought some stretchy brown fuzzy fabric to sew into two long tubes for my arms.

3. One Flew Over the Cloud Cuckou’s Nest costuming

I’ve been cast as the Sky in a LARP inspired by the storyline in Sandman where Dream has to decide who receives the keys to hell. (Earth and I will be deciding who gets the realm of Nebicuculia.)

On the one hand, this is one of the best costuming prompts I’ve ever received. I can go as literal or abstract as I want. On the other hand, I received my costuming hint a little on the late side, and the half finished Targaryen costume needs to take precedence. I went back and forth on this, dreaming up designs then telling myself sternly to reign it in. I think I settled on a compromise that is extremely literal — a blue cloud print and a rainbow sash. It might be super tacky looking. We’ll see.

4. Dance of the Dragons banners

I’m making 13 banners for set dressing for this LARP, much like the ones I made for Kingsword. They’re simple in structure, but kinda time consuming to produce, but I’ve got about half finished so far, and the rest are about half done.

 
5. Editing Dance of the Dragons character sheets

To help the GMs/writers save time on producing this new LARP, I volunteered to do some editing. I mostly edited stuff that was public knowledge. I did end up getting some minor spoilers, but sheets went out today, so I’m glad I was able to help.

6. Reading and scoring Iron-GM LARPs

Another last minute volunteering thing — Iron GM needed a few more readers. I’ve read and scored three of the submissions so far.

7. A Forum@Intercon Presentation

I’m putting together a powerpoint to present on Thursday evening. It has about 30 slides so far. (Forum@Intercon is the new name of the panels, discussions, and presentations formally known as The Thursday Thing and PreCon.)

8. Stuffing Three LARPs

Sometime early next week, I’ll be assisting in the stuffing of Kingsword, Dance of the Dragons, and Thicker Than Water.

9. Posters

Haven’t started these, but there’s only a few to do this year.

I can’t believe how soon Intercon is! I gotta get back to work.

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MOLW 2018

This past weekend, I was back in New Jersey for more short theater LARPs. This time, I was acting as a judge for the Marathon of LARP Writing — or MOLW (mɔːl’-wʌ) — contest, so I played another series of five short theater LARPs, which were written back in November. That’s ten LARPs for 2019 for me so far… at this rate, I’ll be on track to break my old record for number of LARPs in a year (47).

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Juniper, the unofficial mascot of the MOLW players

MOLW has some similarities to the Iron GM contest that runs at Intercon. In both Iron GM and MOLW, that teams of writers are given “ingredients” (three concepts/themes and a physical prop) to include in a two hour LARP written in a short amount of time (and presented in a such a way that another team of GMs could run it), then teams of players play the LARPs and judge them on various criteria. (Coincidentally, the Iron GM contest for Intercon S writing happened on the same weekend we played the MOLW LARPs. The Iron GMLARPs are scheduled to be run on Sunday morning of Intercon, and yours truly is signed up to play one.)

 

 

However, Iron GM and MOLW have a few key differences. Iron GM gives its contestants 24 hours to write in, MOLW gives the writers 48. Iron GM LARPs are run for the players by the writers themselves, with casting at the door. The coordinator of MOLW runs all of the LARPs (possibly with an assistant) so that they can be judged anonymously, and if casting questionnaires and instructions are provided, the LARPs can be cast in advance. Iron GM has different sets of players for each LARP; MOLW uses the same set of players to judge all of the contests. Iron GM also requires all LARPs to be playable with as few as 5 players and as many as 12; MOLW writers create LARPs for 8 players. (There are some other minor differences as well, such as the prizes and the limits on printing.)

Our schedule worked out to be two LARPs on Friday evening, then three on Saturday. The four ingredients were Rediscovery, Duality or Dichotomy, and Metropolis, along with a set of Bristle Blocks as the physical prop.

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Bristle Blocks

Our first LARP was Gift of the Titans, in which we played mythological creatures building a city for our mortal worshipers. I think this was one of the two LARPs that incorporated the blocks best;  we used them to construct a model city, with mechanics for building our very selves into the tallest towers. I played a protective Titan who wanted to help the mortals. I particularly liked our specialized combat abilities, which provided a poignant emotional moment for me as I tried and failed to save as many worshipers as possible. The mechanics of Gift of the Titans were the most complex of the five entries in MOLW 2018, and I admit I had trouble understanding them at first, but I liked how combat affected city construction and vice versa. I’m afraid the metropolis we constructed in this run was a bit of a tangled nightmare for the poor mortals.

The second LARP of the weekend was Where the Heart Is, which turned out to be the winner of the contest. It is about denizens of a collapsing metropolis who find themselves trapped underground with strange, unfamiliar technology. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it was an emotional experience. This was the other LARP that I felt made really good use of the bristle blocks, though in this case we were slowly taking apart a construction, (rather than building one up, as in Gift of the Titans.)

Early Saturday afternoon, we played the third LARP, City of Mirrors, which proved to be an interesting exploration of Marxist themes. In City of Mirrors, our characters were primarily archetypes representing different classes within a city at war, (but also could be seen as individuals in various ways.) I played The Artist, passionate yet embittered over a (perceived) lack of appreciation. I think I played my cards a bit too close to my chest for our particular run; when emotions ran high towards the end of the LARP, I realized I might have made more progress if I had been more vocal and honest all along.

The fourth LARP was One for All?, which was both my personal favorite overall, and had my favorite character to play. One for All? is a sci-fi LARP, featuring a crew of unusual aliens exploring an unmanned ship that appears to have just flown unharmed though a star. I remember while filling out the casting questionnaire that all of the races sounded appealing to play — it has giant moths with heightened senses, sentient fire, parasitic fungi that puppet host bodies, friendly aliens with terrifying visages, and a sentient planet.

I wrote that I would happily play any of these races on my questionnaire, but I really lucked out by getting cast as the sentient planet (who is remote piloting a robot body in order to serve as the ensign of the crew. Oh, how I wish I could have costumed for this role. (Some of the other players did a really good job with impromptu costuming — sunglasses for the light-sensitive moths facepaint for the fungus, and a jacket and face mask to represent the containment suit for the living fire.)

I had a lot of fun portraying the planet’s alien mindset, with an entirely different set of priorities than most creatures, a very flat affect, and poor understanding of emotions, and a tendency to take everything much literally. I think the mechanics of this LARP could use a little tweaking, but I enjoyed discovering the secrets of the ship and debating the implications of our discoveries.

The last LARP of the weekend was Powers of the Lost City, the only LARP for which we did not fill out a casting questionnaire. This was easily the most humorous of the LARPs, and also probably the most classic “secrets and powers”. We played a collection of quirky people descending into the ocean to explore the ruins of lost Atlantis. (Amusingly, my fellow players felt compelled to ask if I was wearing my Wookie onesie in character.) I liked my character’s concept and had some fun abilities, though I came nowhere near my character’s goal. But I did pretty well at answering some riddles, which were very cute.

I enjoyed the experience of judging MOLW overall; playing the LARPs was a lot of fun. But I think some of the most valuable aspects of it for me — besides connecting with the community/communities that participated in it — were the conversations, both during the weekend and after, about topics such as what motivates us to create LARPs, what structures we have to support new LARP writers, and what makes a good LARP.

I’m hoping some of these LARPs will appear on the schedule for Dice Bubble, the all LARP convention in Troy, NY, which is happening March 16-17, and will be running in a hotel! Dice Bubble and Time Bubble have thus far been running in university classrooms, so this is an exciting new change that I hope goes well.

The website does not have info on it just yet, but it will very soon, so keep an eye on https://dicebubble2019.concentral.net/ !

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Not So Tiny LARPCon

Back in November, I was contacted about a run of Trial of Lancelot, a relatively new Arthurian theater LARP. Once plans for a run firmed up, and I realized I’d be in NJ for the whole weekend anyway, there were proposals for another LARP, followed by a few more proposals for LARPs I’d been hoping for a chance to play.

I ended up with a schedule of five LARPs — not quite as full as a typical LARP convention weekend for me, as three of the LARPs were 90 minutes or under; still, a solid weekend of LARPing, hanging out with LARPers, and some extra time in the morning to sleep in a bit. (There were also a couple of LARPs that ran that I did not play.) I certainly packed just as much costuming as I do for a typical weekend LARP con.

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Juniper: The Unofficial Mascot of the Weekend?

The first two LARPs of my weekend were Orc and Pie LARPs. Back in 2001, the shortest, yet technically complete, tabletop RPG adventure was created, featuring an orc with a pie in 10×10 ft room. This spawned a number of variants, parodies of the writing styles of tabletop RPG writers. This meme in turn inspired some of the LARP writers in the NY/NJ community to write their own short scenarios featuring orcs with pies, parodying their own LARP writing styles.

Aorch and Pi is a beautifully written 90 minute LARP of political negotiation set in a fantasy world, and it didn’t read to me like a parody. In fact, I wouldn’t have realized it was an Orc and Pie LARP if the divine artifact and magical resource we all coveted wasn’t called the Picene Disk (aka the “Pi”), and the PC who begins the LARP in possession of it wasn’t an adherent of the Aorchish faith (aka an “Aorch”).

I played the head of the New Aorchish church, looking to improve the lives of the peasants. I debated and negotiated with the Aorch, the head of the Academy of Sorcery, and the monarch, over what to do with immense magical potential of the Picene Disk, which of our various political projects to pursue, and how to handle our relationship with our aggressive neighbor to the south. My church ended up with the Picene Disk, which was nice, but to be fair, I did think I had one of the easier positions to argue. In geeky, liberal communities, the social justice angle of this character and the advancement of technology represented by the sorcery academic are the two positions most likely to be viewed favorably. I suspect the Aorch has the most difficult role to play.

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the Patriarch of the New Aorchish Faith

For costuming, I wore an off-white colored poncho in a loose weave fabric, over a red kaftan-like thing, and I thought the effect was actually decently clerical. The red had a bit of sparkle, but the poncho’s material is prone to fraying, and the edges looked rough. I thought it nicely reflected my character’s humble beginnings and dedication to remaining an advocate for the lowest class.

The second Orc and Pie LARP was called Scions of Sorrow, and this one is rather more blatantly a parody. It involves the three children of Sorrow facing a test to determine who should be heir, at the expense of a rather nonplussed orc, who just wants to enjoy his pie. We indulged in our most melodramatic acting and ad-libbing and made the orc very uncomfortable; it was all very silly.

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“I demand you fight me for the pie!”

On Saturday, we played in Route 108: A Dream of Glam and Cities, a LARP about “the meaning of artistic movements, the stories we tell about ourselves, and mid twentieth century America”. Last year, I played in a LARP titled Dreamlands, which is about fantasy worlds inhabited by dreamers. Each world has two Auspices that reflect its nature. (For example, my character was from a fairytale world, with the Auspices of Snow and Starlight. Another world is a pirate adventure world with the Auspices of Brine and Gold.) I rather like the concept of the setting; it has a lot of potential for future LARPs in a variety of styles and tones. It didn’t surprise me that Dreamlands inspired another LARP, Dreamlands: Heart and Shadow was written with new worlds and new Auspices.

Not exactly a sequel, but set in the Dreamlands setting, Route 108 is a LARP about four rock stars and four personifications of cities facing the end of their Dreamland, and figuring out what comes next. Playing a rockstar in a LARP is always appealing (Slayer Cake is a total blast), and I find the idea of playing the personification of a city to be terribly intriguing — for a while, I was toying with the idea of creating a character based on the personification of Boston for a boffer campaign.

The four cities in Route 108 are imaginary, but based on real world locations: Sireva is inspired by New York, Losmilenos by Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Redwater by New Orleans, and Cascadia by Seattle/Portland/the Pacific Northwest.

I think if I had been cast as a city, I would have most enjoyed costuming as Redwater (I have only fond memories of beautiful New Orleans)… And I spent a bit of time dreaming up an interpretation of Sireva that would have involved a Pizza Rat costume and use of a loud car horn sound effect. (It’s probably for the best I was not cast in this role; I would likely have offended the New Yorkers.)

Instead, I was cast as one of the rock stars, which was also a lot of fun to costume. I wore a jacket with a bejeweled collar, a rhinestone skull t-shirt, bright red leggings, and tall black leather boots with lethal spike heels. I was incredibly impressed with the other costuming in this LARP — Cascadia’s combination of hipster skirt with a techie t-shirt, Redwater’s Old World charm with a layer of Mardis Gras excess on top, Nureva’s professional cosmopolitan attire, and Losmilenos’ slick suit and trilby.

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Nuriella, the vocalist and guitarist

Route 108‘s plots and mechanics take inspiration from Toil and Trouble (a LARP I really like, and ran at Consequences) and Trial of Lancelot (the LARP I would be playing the next day.) I like how this community takes particular effective ideas and finds new ways to explore, combine, and expand on them. I rather wish I had spent more time preparing my speech about the meaning of art, as I got nervous and ended up just sort of stuttering through it. I also got pretty nervous for my monolog describing my performance, meant to represent a story of Cascadia. However, two of the other players wrote actual short pieces of music for Redwater and Losmilenos (in a rather small amount of time) and gave really impressive performances, which was incredibly cool.

I was also particularly impressed with Losmilenos’ roleplaying as a slick city that emphasizes taking big risks, lures people in with the promise of big rewards, can wheel and deal with the best of them, and just might chew you up and spit you out. My character most valued Style as an artistic virtue, so Losmilenos was my choice for the city to essentially become the new member of our band in whatever future we might end up in.

On Saturday evening, I played in Ars Longa, a one hour, two person LARP about two old classmates deciding which of them should confront an evil, powerful sorcerer — their ex-teacher and mentor. In some LARPing communities, the notion a LARP that is, in its entirety, a two person, hour long conversation might be met with some skepticism, but I think it’s a successful formula (and it’s no surprise that there have been a number of other such LARPs written by members of this community that I’m hoping to play.)

My costume was a variation on the Route 108 outfit. I swapped out the rhinestone t-shirt for a ruffly white top, and red leggings for black ones. I think the result had a distinct equestrian vibe.

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The One Who Left, and the One Who Stayed

The character sheets of Ars Longa are long and detailed and clearly indicate the writer’s extensive experience in academia, with all the pride and frustrations that come with it. The characters are well fleshed out, with well developed relationships with both the evil ex-mentor and one another, and there is plenty of fodder to keep the conversation flowing for the hour. In the end of my run, my character was the one to confront the dread sorcerer, but I felt as though we could have easily gone the other way. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other one hour, two person conversation LARPs.

Ars Longa, by the way, is now available online on the Paracelsus website.

The final LARP of my weekend was the one that got the whole “Not-So-Mini Con” rolling — The Trial of Lancelot. It features King Arthur and eight of his knights (including the defendant himself) gathering around the Round Table to discuss potential verdicts and sentences, in the context of the ongoing decline of Camelot. While I do love LARPs produced by this community, and Arthurian LARPs in general, what initially drove me to want to drive 4+ hours each way to play was this phrase from its blurb: “[i]t is about the struggle for honor and virtue, the meaning of masculinity, and the great difficulty of being dedicated to a grand ideal.” (You can read the full blurb here.) This is the first LARP I’ve personally come across that is explicitly billed as an exploration of the meaning of masculinity, and that intrigued me.

I was cast as Sir Bedivere, whose name, to be honest, I did not recognize (though I’m not entirely well versed in Arthuriana.) In Trial of Lancelot, he is Arthur’s marshal, one of the oldest knights, and notably one of the more mature, level headed among those at the Table. I wore my red and white knightly tabard for costuming (a piece originally made for Quill, hence the giant ragged hole in the back, ripped to make room for her wind-up key.) Bedivere is also described as having a prosthetic silver hand, and I’m still kicking myself for having forgotten the glove I wear for my Winter Soldier cosplay at home. (In some Arthurian tales, Bedivere is known as the handsomest man in Christendom; this description wasn’t in any of the game’s written materials, but I can head-cannon that, right?)

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The “handsomest man in Christendom”

Like many other LARPs coming out of this community, the LARP has a structured schedule, with three evening phases (free roleplay time) and three daytime phases, during which the knights gather at the Round Table and each has a chance to make a brief speech. As part of the speech, each character (with the exception of Lancelot) can tell a short tale, which takes the form of two or three of the players acting out a short scene which represents a decision regarding which of the four primary virtues of Camelot (Duty, Faith, Brotherhood, or Love) to uphold.

All of the tales are pre-written, with the exception of Sir Bedivere’s. As Bedivere, I was welcome to make up my own tale, and support whichever of the four virtues I chose. In the weeks leading up to the LARP, I went combing through online collections of Arthurian tales, trying to find one to modify into a story a decision of virtue, but came up blank. Then I remembered reading in an online blog that “a heart at war with itself” was one of George R. R. Martin’s favorite themes to explore, and on Saturday night, inspiration hit. Borrowing from the stories of A Song of Ice and Fire, I wrote up a quick tale about Sir Bedivere deciding whether or not to knight someone who seemed unworthy of knighthood to save a life. Instead of choosing between two virtues (like the other tales), I tried to reflect all four.

I’m actually somewhat proud of the little tale I came up with — I think it has a lot of room for interpretation, as it seemed there was a lot of debate to be had over which of the virtues Sir Bedivere had upheld. And afterwards, a number of the players came up to me to ask what happened next. (I hadn’t made that up so I just responded, “I don’t recall” — I do wish I had come up with a fuller ending in advance.)

I found the concluding moments of Trial of Lancelot to be particularly emotional, and I came away from the LARP thinking about running it at Consequences. I hope it will be available for others to run in the future.

Following the last LARP, I went off into the basement to attend the NEIL meeting over video chat, where we elected the next president of NEIL, a con chair for Intercon T, and a chair for NELCO. There’s a good chance I’ll be back in NJ in two weeks to judge a small LARP writing contest, but in the meantime, I’m looking through lists of T words to try and come up with a suggestion for the Intercon T theme. So far, Time Travel seems pretty popular. I rather like Time and Tide, or Trapdoor, or Teatime.

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For Auld LARP Syne 2018

My annual retrospective on my life in LARP.
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A look back on 2018…

LARP Count This year, I’ve PCed, NPCed, GMed, or aGMed 46 LARPs (which is one shy of the personal record I set last year at 47.) My first LARP event of the year was Time Bubble. I played a weekend long theater LARP in the UK towards the beginning of the year, then returned towards the end of the year for Consequences. I took a road trip to New Jersey for two LARPs, flew to Chicago for a new convention, played another weekend long in New York, played a LARP over video chat, and PCed and NPCed in two one-shot live combat weekend LARPs.

Events The LARP conventions I attended this year included Dice Bubble, Intercon, Festival of the LARPs, Summer LARPin’, Little Boffer Con, Be-Con, Time Bubble, and Consequences. (That’s four different states, two different countries!) But even cooler, I attended four different conferences dedicated to discussing creating, running, and playing LARPs — the Living Games Conference, NELCO, TheoryCon, and the PreCon programming at Intercon. (If I tallied up the numbers, I suspect I’d find that I broke a personal record on number of talks, panels, presentations, and workshops attended in one year.)

Campaigns This was the second year of Threshold, the cyberpunk LARP in which I play a chipper Artificial Intelligence. I also attended my first event of After Dark, though sadly, that was my only event of After Dark so far, so I can’t really say I’ve been PCing that LARP. (Sadly, I didn’t manage to NPC any campaign events this year, though I did NPC a few one-shots.)

Contributions In 2018, I continued to serve on the NEIL board, and I served on both Proposal Com for Intercon S, and on Bid Com for Lucky Consequences (the boards that review proposals/bids for LARPs at the conventions). I’ve also been an editor for Game Wrap (NEIL’s publication on the art and craft of LARP.) I chaired NELCO 2018 and helped bring about the first Little Boffer Con (though I made some mistakes for NELCO, so I consider it less of a contribution that it sounds like.) I did some Housing Coordination for the Living Games Conference, and did a little volunteering during the Week in Boston events. I also ran a few of the discussions at PreCon and NELCO.

It’s funny, I consider GMing to be one of the biggest ways people can contribute to LARPing communities, and yet I realize in previous years, I haven’t mentioned GMing here, possibly because I associate GMing with writing, and I do essentially no writing. So I’m going to mention it here — I aGMed two LARPs at Intercon, ran Drink Me at Living Games (and some of the players had never LARPed before!), and then aGMed and GMed two LARPs at Consequences. (In all honesty, though it sounds cheesy, GMing at Consequences and hearing how much the players enjoyed the experience and feeling like I contributed to their weekends was probably my highlight of Consequences.)

Travel/Other Communities As mentioned above, I made it back to the UK for LARPing — twice! — and, I like to think, strengthened my connections with that community. I also met some LARPers from the Midwest at Be-Con.

At some point this year, I had a revelation: I realized that I felt very much like part of a bridge between various LARPing communities — between the boffer and theater communities, between the New York  and Massachusetts communities, between the US and the UK communities, between the New World Magischola and Intercon communities (and possibly the Be-Epic community?)… but not actually a member of any of them. There was something slightly melancholy about this realization… but I’m also very proud of being a bridge. And that’s something I want to focus on — helping different LARPing communities connect, if I can. (Someone once phrased this as being conduit, or a catalyst for LARP styles and communities blending… I like those terms, too.)

Blogging Well, I entirely failed at my resolution to beat my number of posts from last year (29). My number of posts continues to decline from my first year of really blogging (2012, when I wrote 107 blog posts… I’m not even sure how I managed that)… but I did hit the readjusted version of this goal… 24 posts, or an average of two per month.

On the plus side, this means actually achieving my resolution of reversing the decline in posts per year got a little easier for 2019! But more importantly, my number of visitors per post and views per post is still rising, which is nice. I think this blog continues to be an important part of being that bridge/conduit/catalyst I talked about, and I suspect it played a role in me being asked to join Consequences’ Bid Com, and possibly other some other opportunities that popped up… so I’m still proud of this blog and inspired to keep going.

My LARP-centric twitter account passed 500 followers this year, which I guess is kinda cool? And my Instagram account… continues to exist. I tried the drawing challenge Inktober this year, and focused on a LARP and cosplay theme… which was an interesting experience I will probably post about when I actually finish it. Looking over the sources of my hits, though, makes me think I should be making better use of twitter, and Instagram… and Reddit. I really hate engaging in self-promotion, but if I consider this blog a part of acting as a bridge between communities, and if I mean it when I say being a bridge is important and meaningful to me… then maybe I should follow through.

Costuming and Other LARP-related Art Projects I’ve been lax recently about sewing, but the first half of my year was pretty busy with sewing and other creative projects. I tried new patterns, used unfamiliar fabrics, and tried some new tutorials. There were several pieces for a friend’s Shogun costuming, a skirt for Slayer Cake, a new dress for Dreamlands, a scuba knit hoodie for Rabbit Run, a beholder hood for Dungeon Owners Association, and a bunch of Pokémon costuming for Pocket Monsters, not to mention a couple of large geeky tote bags as prizes for the Bubbles’ raffle and the Consequences charity raffle.

 


Of these, I’d say I’m most proud of the beholder hood and the Sandshrew costume — both took a lot of time and effort and involved getting creative with unfamiliar materials, and the end results made me feel proud.

 

And while the sewing for Slayer Cake was a just a simple circle skirt, and I did no crafting at all for my 1920s look for Thicker Than Water, those were two of the costumes I really enjoyed wearing the most. Thicker Than Water was the first time I ever got my hair and makeup done professionally for a LARP, which was an item on my LARP bucket list.

 


2017 Resolutions As mentioned, I missed my blog post goal (…I notice there’s a distinct pattern of me saying that in my retrospective posts) and I failed to put a lot of my experiences from PreCon/NELCO/Living Games conversations into my blog. (I think I did slightly better on that than last year, though.) I pushed off my resolution to move all of my old photos off of Photobucket when they allowed third party hosting again… but I should get back on that, because who knows if that’ll change again. I also failed at getting back into boffer practice, and I know I missed a few PELs for Threshold. I think I thanked most of my GMs after LARPs, but there is a chance I missed one or two.

But! I did keep up dance practice, I did try new patterns and worked on my sewing and other costuming skills, I did jump on opportunities to connect with different LARP communities, and I did contribute to the various conferences. (I even helped a random new LARPer who found me over the internet join a LARP community during his post-high school year abroad.)

…And a look forward into 2019.

My 2019 already has a bunch of LARPs scheduled, including trip to NY/NJ for a weekend of small one-shot theater LARPs in January. I’ve got a full schedule for Intercon, which includes a presentation for Forum@Intercon, aGMing one or two LARPs, and a bunch of games I’m really excited to play. I’ve got costuming in the works for myself and another LARPer for Intercon, plus some set dressing projects. I’ve signed up to play A Wicked Wind, a one-shot weekend boffer LARP about pirates and musketeers on the high seas. It’s running this summer, and I’m particularly excited about it, as I missed the first run in order to play Pocket Monsters, and I had thought there was a real chance it wouldn’t run again. (And I just love swashbuckling LARPs!)

This will be the concluding year of Threshold, which promises to be rather dramatic. Not sure yet what campaigns might replace it for me. Maybe I’ll manage to get After Dark back into my schedule, maybe I’ll give Thaumatrope a try. I’m hoping to do some NPCing, some combination of Invictus 2, Madrigal 3, Shadowvale, Crossover, Hellcat Jive, Cottington Woods… maybe one of the Be Epic LARPs? We’re so spoiled for choices in New England.

I’ve still got some lingering post-con blues from Consequences… here’s hoping I’ll be back in 2019.

As for Resolutions… I read over my resolutions from all my past New Year’s posts, and I think I need to approach them a bit differently this year. Rather than just listing a bunch of stuff I’d like to do, regardless of whether I’m certainly going to, or almost certainly not… I’ll try focusing on things that I’m actually more likely to do if they are mentally framed as resolutions. This means tweaking the ones I check off every year to be a bit more difficult, and tweaking the ones I don’t to be a bit easier.

I’m renewing my resolutions to thank GMs post-LARPs. (Framing this as a resolution pushed me to email some Consequences GMs even after a bit of time had passed.) I’m also resolving to get my PELs done, even if they’re short and rushed. I’m expanding this to include “respond to all requests for feedback from writers.”

I’m renewing my resolution to keep working on my costuming and sewing skills — but in particular, to try to improve my hair and makeup skills. Even if this means just attempting a few tutorials on YouTube.

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And maybe picking up a crown like this one I borrowed for a photo at Dreamlands.

For blogging, I’m resolving to at least match the number of posts I wrote this year, and to at least write a short summary post of any conferences I attend (even if I don’t go into detail about all of the topics.) Forum@Intercon, NELCO, TheoryCon (this is the year off for Living Games)… they’re important and deserve to have some form of record of their occurrence.

I’m also resolving to plug my blog… a minimum of three times, even if it’s just in tweets.

And lastly, I’m going to finish my article on registration systems for LARP events, which is almost certainly too late for Game Wrap Volume 3, but not too early for Game Wrap Volume 4.

If anyone has any LARP related resolutions of their own, or just exciting LARP plans for 2019, feel free to share in the comments!
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Here’s to all the LARP in 2018, and all the LARP yet to come in the new year!

May your spell packets fly true; may your enemies’ packets feed birds. May your bubbles of combat last no longer than bubbles of soap. May your contingency envelopes surprise you, may your costuming last until the final Game Off call. And may your characters go through the resurrection mechanic a full half hour before the lead GM knows they’re dead.

Cheers!

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Three Wishes for 2019

I have missed my goal of a higher number of posts in 2018 than I wrote in 2017.
So I have adjusted my goal to that of an average of at least two per month. And in the interest of hitting this new goal, here is a short post on a topic suggested to me by a fellow LARPer:

Three Wishes for LARP Experiences for 2019

This isn’t…. three LARPs/LARP events that exist I’d like to attend. (I pretty much want to attend nearly every LARP out there, anyway…) Just experiences off the top of my head I’d like to see written/inserted into LARPs that are accessible to me in 2019. In no particular order…

1. Interactions with live animals

I know of some examples that have already happened. There’s a western LARP in the Czech Republic that had real horses. I know of a small theater LARP that ran locally with a real rabbit (a kindergarten class’s pet), and there was a dog running around at the event of Beyond the Wall that I played. (The dog was very cute, and really added to the immersion — it was very logical for our outpost to have one.)

I have seen online discussion on this topic, in which people state “animals in LARPs cannot and should not be done”. This is a little odd to me, as I saw this sort of statement pop up a few times in a thread where people were offering examples of it actually having been done. I think people sometimes walk into such conversations with a live combat-centric LARP point of view (and maybe aren’t reading the entire thread before responding). But I have seen it done and heard of it done, and I’d like to experience it for myself.

(Think about it — animals are always perfectly in-character.)

2. LARPing in water.

I know this kind of thing also happens — there are short theater LARPs written to run in pools (and now at least one that runs in a hot tub). I have had at least one encounter with mermaids in a pool. (Didn’t get to swim with them, but it was still pretty cool.) But I have played a great many live combat campaign events at campsites that have lakes, and never gone near the docks to go swimming, or boating, or have encounters with water dwelling NPCs. (Or played a water-dwelling NPC for PCs to encounter in an actual body of water.) There’s something about the somewhat unexpected nature that appeals to me, beyond “here’s a LARP in a swimming pool” (though that sounds good, too.)

There are multiple excellent reasons for this, involving what campsites will permit/the terms under which LARPs rent the sites, safety reasons, logistical reasons, etc. But even if this is a logistical impossibility for the local LARPs that are most accessible to me, I can still dream. (And hopefully catch a run of Prawn at some point.)

3. Modern spy, cloak and dagger stuff in public spaces.

Every time I see this kind of thing on tv or in movies, I want to try it in a LARP. Dead drops of packages, meeting strangers and having back to back conversations with them on public park benches while pretending to read the newspaper, passing verbal codes, all that stuff.

I recognize that there’s a lot that is logistically extremely difficult about the kind of LARPs that run through public spaces, especially with potentially suspicious behavior, (an actual dead drop of an unaccompanied package is for sure a bad idea), but who knows. …And ideally, it would conclude with a black tie party. With martinis. Shaken, not stirred.

If anyone has any wish lists of their own for 2019, please do feel welcome to share in the comments!

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NELCO 2018: Workshops and Foreplay

Back at NELCO 2018, I attended a workshop about workshops. On the schedule, it was titled “Workshops and Foreplay“, though unofficially, I have been referring to it as the “Workshop Workshop.”

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Workshops aren’t as popular in the local theater community as they are in some other communities. This workshop was about addressing the question of what is the definition of a workshop, what are our preconceived notions of them, and what purposes can they serve. Plus a little bit of tongue-in-cheek re-branding. (Hence the “Foreplay” part — maybe they would be more popular locally if we emphasized that they can be fun in and of themselves, rather than work we have to do in order to access fun?) The methods we used to address these topics were borrowed from actual LARP workshops, and part of the process was also discussing why we used the techniques we did. It was all very meta.

Here is the blurb for the topic:

In the last few years, I have played in more and more LARPs that integrate a workshop as a central design feature. Maybe you have questions about what that means. Maybe it just doesn’t sound appealing — the word “work” is right there in the name, after all! Maybe it’s time to rebrand workshops as something more fun, perhaps indicating that it is part of the play that comes at the fore of a LARP…?

Let’s talk about what workshops are, how they are being used, and why you might (or might not) want to have a little foreplay for your next LARP. We can engage in some LARP foreplay and collaborate on some new ways to structure them so that they’re effective and fun.

The order of activities was somewhat unexpected but chosen deliberately to get participants’ thought process going, rather than letting people passively absorb ideas from the facilitator . I’m not sure I remember the exact order of all of the parts, but we started with getting a sense of the population present (“who here has played a LARP with a workshop? Run one? Written one?” etc.) then, rather than moving straight into attempting to define workshops, we went through checklists of assumptions about them (e.g. “I will need to be creative during a workshop” or “this LARP will not have secrets”).

We then ran an exercise where the facilitator read off some statements about workshops, and we lined ourselves up across the room depending on how strongly we agreed or disagreed with the statements. Another exercise included dividing into small groups, and on the count of three, pointing at whomever we thought best fit various statements, such as “most likely to produce the next workshop LARP.” We worked on individual attempts at writing out definitions of a workshop, read one another’s, and considered whether or not to revise our own. We brainstormed lists of topics workshops cover, methods of covering them, and strengths and weaknesses of using workshops.

One of the interesting ideas that was addressed during the Workshop Workshop was the notion that we draw a distinction between rules briefings (and other common pre-event activities, such as introductions and explanations of pre-game logistics) and workshops, but one could easily define and understand all of these things as sub-types of workshops.

The dictionary defines a workshop as “a seminar, discussion group, or the like, that emphasizes exchange of ideas and the demonstration and application of techniques, skills, etc.”

To apply this a more specifically relevant form of the word, my definition of a LARP workshop is a directed, interactive activity that occurs before a LARP (or before at least part of a LARP) for the purpose of facilitating the LARP.

To clarify, directed implies staff is somehow involved, or at least initiates it. So players who initiate contact with one another and work out some stuff between their character, whether it’s a little pre-game roleplay or just chatting about physical boundaries, are not technically engaging in a workshop.

By before the LARP (or before some part of it) I mean a workshop is outside of the typical flow of a LARP. It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely out-of-character (for example a workshop might include doing some improv and creating three short memories for each character) but this would be distinct from a flashback mechanic that runs during the LARP itself.

Every LARP workshop that I’ve attended thus far has taken place before the entire in-game experience of a LARP, but I can easily imagine calling some activities workshops if the LARP is put on pause in the middle to engage in the activities designed to facilitate some element of the LARP that occurs in the later part. (Especially if we’re talking about a campaign LARP, where the LARP gets put on hold for some block of time, usually months, by design, but I can also see a mid-LARP activity in a one-shot being labeled a workshop.)

This does exclude post-LARP stuff (e.g. game wraps, de-rolling and de-briefing exercises, post-game dinners and war stories, etc.), even though they can resemble workshops. I’ve never heard an activity run after a LARP fully concludes be referred to as a workshop; probably because they aren’t facilitating any part of the in-game experience itself, though they are sometimes designed with facilitating some element of the post-LARP experience. (For example, lots of de-briefing exercises are designed to help decrease and/or manage post-LARP bleed.)

One could make the argument that knowing the post-LARP activity is coming up might facilitate some aspects of the LARP experience itself. For example, knowing that I’ll have a post-LARP de-briefing might facilitate a more intensely angry fight scene with another player, because I’m assured we’ll have a chance to talk about it post-game. This feels like enough of a stretch to me that I still wouldn’t press the label of workshops on post-game activities, but I wouldn’t necessarily argue with someone who felt otherwise.)

By interactive, I mean the players must be engaged in the activity on some level beyond passively receiving information from the staff. On this, the Workshop Workshop facilitator and I disagreed — he didn’t think workshops had to be interactive. By his definition, a LARP staffer standing in front of a crowd and reading over the rules could technically be a workshop. By my definition, this wouldn’t be a workshop… until some members of the audience are invited to get up and try out/demonstrate the techniques. (…Maybe. I suppose we might be getting into grayer areas where we start asking questions like, can something be a workshop for some players but not others, and what percentage of the players have to be interacting, rather than passively absorbing, to cross the line from briefing into workshop?)

We also disagreed about one other part of the definition — the facilitator felt it had to be in person to be a workshop, though I can imagine a workshop taking place online prior to a LARP.

I expect there is a lot of disagreement over the exact boundaries of the definition of a workshop; by the definition I’ve written above, handing out name-tags and having players write their character names on them would count as a workshop, though I think most people wouldn’t instinctively categorize that as a workshop.

While I try to look at this sort of thing with a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, approach (that is I try to work out definitions that reflect popular usage, rather than trying to determine what I think should be the definition), in this case, I don’t think my definition is very useful in one of the more personally relevant contexts for this term: blurbs for LARPs running at Intercon, and similar conventions with overlapping population (such as Consequences, Be-Con, the Bubbles, Festival, etc.), where there are more specific connotations involved. (These connotations likely stem from a tradition of using different labels — such as rules briefing, or tutorial — for common pre-game activities that might be labeled as workshops if they came up in other communities.) The strongest association LARPers at Intercon and similar events have with the term “workshop” is probably generative workshops, where players create or expand on their characters (and possibly other elements of the LARP, such as setting information.)

These common interpretations and assumptions are why I think this Workshop Workshop was a great addition to the NELCO schedule — to start the ideas of what else workshopping can mean percolating in the community, (and also why I often recommend that LARPs that include mention of a workshop in the blurb follow up with a line or two talking about what the purpose of the workshop is, and/or what sort of structure it will have.)

Through the workshop, we came up with a list of strengths/advantages and weaknesses/disadvantages of workshops.

Strengths/Advantages include:

  • Reducing prep time for players and GMs. When content is created through workshops, this can reduce the writing load for staff, and result in less required reading for players. Also, when rules are reviewed and practiced through workshops, players may not have to learn rules in advance, or at least spend less time committing them to memory and/or ensuring they understand them.
  • Extensive workshopping in a design can be friendlier to players who walk in at the door, rather than having LARPs primarily accessible to players who sign up well in advance.
  • Reducing awkwardness/easing players into a LARP. It can be difficult to get into the swing of things with LARPs that start abruptly, especially for newbies. Opening with simple, straightforward ice breakers and improv exercises, or heavily directed scenes, can help players get over feelings of awkwardness or self-consciousness.
  • Reduce confusion around rules that players have only heard described but haven’t practiced, decreasing the need for out-of-game rule clarifications.
  • Create muscle memory for in-game actions (e.g. combat)
  • Gives structure and support for pre-negotiations
  • Individualized customization.  Often increases the likelihood players get to play characters and scenarios they like best, and can increases player sense of ownership and buy-in of experience

Disadvantages/Weaknesses include:

  • Encroaching on play time. If workshops aren’t fun, it can feel like they’re taking away from the enjoyable experience of actually getting to play a LARP. (And even if they are fun, they are often perceived as less fun than in-game experiences.) This is particularly true when the structure of events creates hard limits on LARP time. For example, LARP cons like Intercon strongly encourage running LARPs in four hour time blocks, which often creates something like three and half hours or less of actual LARPing. Dedicating a large chunk of this time to out-of-game activities can make players feel like they’d rather choose another LARP that maximizes in-game play time.
  • Struggles with creative blocks. Workshops dedicated to generating content for LARP (creating or developing characters, setting, or other elements of a LARP) can be very difficult to do on command, and players may feel like they aren’t able to create something they would enjoy playing in the context of a workshop. I know I’ve been in a number of workshops where I was stuck for ideas, and felt like I enjoyed the LARP less than I would have if the writers had just handed me the content in advance.
  • Decentralized control over content. Generative workshops can sometimes produce content that isn’t well suited for the content and structure of the rest of the LARP (or content other players brought in through the workshops.)
  • Reduced buy-in. Though giving players control over content through generative workshops can increase buy-in, lack of content in advance (such as knowing what character you will be playing) can reduce excitement and the amount of effort players put into a LARP in advance. Some players may not bother putting in effort to learn rules and mechanics if they assume it will be fully covered through workshops in advance.
  • A sense of infantalization. This is something I’ve personally struggled with — some workshops, particularly those designed to teach and reinforce very simple mechanics, or emphasize safety, can sometimes feel overbearing or “nannying” to some players.

Some of the issues common to generative workshops can be mitigated through heavier guidance from the designers. For example, simply asking players to come up with a character might result in characters not well suited to the LARP, or very simplistic character. Giving players a basic character to start with, and walking players through specific questions with lists of options to choose from may avoid these issues.

A form of workshop that I haven’t personally seen much of, but I would very much like to see more LARPs use are those that help teach and familiarize players with the customs and etiquette of an unusual setting. I’ve attended a fair number of LARPs with a historical or pseudo-historical fantastical setting, where royalty is not actually treated any differently from anyone else, or Victorian LARPs where strangers of different genders or classes are expected to seek introductions before conversing… but don’t. Sometimes it’s an issue of people not wanting to bother with the inconvenience of slowing things down to tell with etiquette and other unusual social norms, especially in a busy LARP where the world may be at stake, but often it’s simply an issue of not being familiar and comfortable with it. I’d like to see workshops on things like proper forms of address, table manners, proper ways to request a dance (and workshops on teaching historical forms of dance as well!) I think it would be especially worthwhile for longer LARPs, as a way to enhance the sort of immersion that draws people to non-contemporary settings.

I hope the Workshop Workshop will run again at other events, like Forum@Intercon — it’s a fun, interactive way to introduce workshops to LARPers unfamiliar with them, and get everyone to think more about ways to take advantage of their strengths and ways to address their weaknesses.

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Threshold Mission Day 8

Two weekends ago, I tossed all of the costuming I hadn’t yet unpacked from Consequences out of my suitcase, and replaced it with all of the costuming and props I use for Threshold, the cyberpunk boffer LARP, for the closing event of the second year.

This is the LARP in which I play DEXEMBER, or DEX, a extremely chipper AI whose primary purpose is to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement to everyone, particularly psychically powered Mentalists. She’s the kind of AI who chirps reminders at other Threshold personnel to “do their best” and hands out stickers after missions.

I like to play around with this character’s silly, non-human nature. A few sessions back, I brought in a mayonnaise jar, and snacked on spoonfuls of its content throughout the event. When people asked, Sunday told them he had put DEX on a “mayonnaise cleanse” which was supposed to “make your skin glow”. The jar was actually full of vanilla pudding, but it had the desired effect, a lot of people grossed out or amused or some combination of both. (A “mayonnaise cleanse” card appeared in the homemade Threshold version of Cards Against Humanity, which staff and players like to play at the post-event suite parties; I was very proud.)

For this event, I tried another iteration of this prank; I washed out an empty bottle of dishwasher fluid and re-filled it with blue gatorade, and took sips throughout the day. When people asked what it was for, I pointed at the label and said, “it prevents build up and removes spots.”

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DEX’s beverage and warp device

I do worry that this character can get a little annoying — she pretty much only has the one mood, regardless of how terrible things get, say, when missions go horribly wrong, or when people express hatred of AIs. So I’m quite happy with how her personal storyline is developing; her body (“social chassis”) occasionally ends up remotely piloted by a technopath named June. June is also optimistic and encouraging, but her mannerisms are largely toned down.

Also, one of my favorite relationship tropes to roleplay in a LARP is one of a pair of a bodyguard and a ward, a protect-r and protectee. In Threshold, I feel like this relationship of mutual protection has developed between two characters, both of whom are played by me. You might not think this sort of relationship would be satisfying when it’s almost entirely internal roleplay, and the two characters cannot co-exist, but apparently, that isn’t the case.

In addition to occasionally taking breaks from playing DEX to play June, one of the other players has the ability where he can enable AIs to temporarily shed their own abilities and personality, and use a copy of his. (He has a “Cure Death” ability that is particularly useful to copy.) This character, Sunday*, is an ex-telenovela star and a self-assured diva, with a reputation for flirty eye contact, and that was a lot of fun to mimic. A few players came to speak to me post-game, and told me they felt like they were able to tell from observing my body language for just a moment which personality I was portraying (DEX, June, or Sunday), which was really nice to hear. I’m really enjoying the personality swapping roleplay.

This may sound rather weird, but one of the highlights of my weekend was filling out employee evaluation forms. We each had three forms to get filled out, one self-evaluation, one for any member of Command to fill out, and one for a peer to fill out.  I filled out a few evaluations for others as DEX, then took on the Sunday template, and filled out a few more, trying to write them using Sunday’s voice. The eval forms provide a lot of potential for funny roleplay between PCs.

We also had another fashion show, much like the one last year. I missed the planning emails that went out, but the NPCs rolled with it when I requested to join last minute, which I really appreciate. This year’s show was a bit more chaotic than I remember the last one being, with multiple assassination attempts and an eco-terrorist attack.

I don’t mean to imply Threshold is all comedy — I think the staff has achieved that rare balance of comedy, tragedy, and darkness that is hard to strike in LARP, where the light elements serve as contrast to highlight the dark. Now that we’re headed into the final year, I can see how plot threads from over the past two years are coming together in complicated ways, and I’m really impressed with the storytelling going on.

In this event, the connections between the AI War in Berlin and various catastrophes that have struck, along with others still threatening to strike, came to the forefront, and retroactively, I saw the threads and connections stretching back to my first event, particularly through modules that were designed to be geared towards AI. And it all came to a head in the final two events of the day.

First, TARA, the agency responsible for creating and regulating AI, informed us that they were under attack. As our Cubes — the devices that contain our programming — were stored at the TARA facility, we had to assist, retrieve our Cubes, and move them to a new, secure location. This may have huge ramifications in the upcoming events for the AIs pursuing freedom from the Asimovian restrictions created and enforced by TARA.

Second, we received a message from ATLAS, the AI at the center of the war in Berlin, who informed us that we were past the point where humanity could be saved from the various looming catastrophes, and now it was just a matter of how many humans, if any, we could save.

I wish I could do the scene justice by describing it through text. The NPCs put all of the PCs under the paralyze effect, then took down the air-walls separating us from the next room over. It was an amazingly effective way to feel like the “fourth wall” was being removed, that reality was melting away to make space for a message being introduced directly into our minds. The next room was filled with glowing lights, trippy music, and surreal videos, reinforcing the “this is all in your Mind’s Eye” concept of the scene. Thanks to its one-day only, all indoor structure, Threshold has a really high NPC:PC ratio, and they made good use of it here. Each PC was taken into the next room by an NPC who was somehow meaningful and connected to their character, to relay ATLAS’ message in a way that would be most likely to be accepted. I heard the message from the fan who had exchanged letters and then cosplayed as DEXEMBER at a convention that ran at the previous event.

The whole thing was deeply weird and personal.

So humanity is doomed. We have some hard decisions in the next few events. And even in the face of the apocalypse, I feel like DEX isn’t distraught. She just wants to know, did humanity try its best? Things don’t always work out, but it’s ok, so long as everyone tried their best. (Besides, depending on the nature of the disaster that dooms humanity, the AI might come out of it just fine.)

*Technically, he sold his name and personality and is now… Mr. Zazou? Or The Artist Formally Known as Sunday?

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