A LARP Filled November

Just wanted to share a quick update on the various LARP projects and events I have going on now, while various longer blog posts are being finished.

This past weekend, I was NPCing for Madrigal 3. (And a couple weeks prior to that, I reprised my old Cottington Woods character, Quill, at one of the Tales from the Cotting House weekends.)

Madrigal was a ton of fun — it’s one of the LARPs where I know I can reliably get a wide variety of roles, including recurring face roles, one-off face roles, and lieutenants, (along side so much crunching, I came home from the weekend very tired and sore, but in a good way.) To clarify, “face roles” describes a role where the emphasis is on roleplaying and talking to the PCs, rather than fighting them. “Lieutenants” describes combat roles where there are lots of small minions on the field (aka “crunchies”), but there’s also a small number (maybe between one and five, depending on the size of the battle) combatants who are more powerful/dangerous, sometimes because they outrank the crunchies in some way.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a lieutenant role before, in part because they often go to the more talented boffer fighters, especially ones who can handle getting mobbed by PCs better. I find it very difficult to remember my abilities and keep track of what effects the PCs are landing on me when three or more of them are attacking at once, and as relevant as these skills are for crunchies, they’re that much more so for lieutenants. But I gave it a go as a vampire among cultists at Madrigal 3, and I think I surprised myself by doing better than I expected. It’s actually a really nice feeling. I feel as though, going forward, I could try this again and increase the variety of roles I play when NPCing.

One of the one-off face roles was a lot of fun — an evil wizard on trial, who tried to spring a trap as their sentence was announced. I had a lot of fun snarling at the PCs and refusing to express remorse, and then taking up the role of the boss in a small combat. In a recurring role, I attended their masquerade ball, where, in between political and personal conversations, I tried to make a point of asking PCs to dance with me. I’ve attended a few boffer campaign balls, and often wished the staff would send out NPCs to ensure the PCs who want to dance had the opportunity. (I feel it’s a little easier to ask people to dance as a NPC — it feels as though there’s more “alibi” in a brief role handed to you by staff in that role than in a campaign character you write for yourself.)

Besides Madrigal, I have a Threshold event coming up. (I was torn between the next Threshold event and attending the first After Dark weekend event, but the Threshold one just worked out far better with other travel plans for a number of reasons. That weekend also happens to be SLAW, which has some amazing games this year, and a really cool sci-fi LARP set on a real ship that I would have loved to NPC… maybe next year!) I do have some costuming upgrade projects for Threshold, but I think they’re going to have to sit on the back-burner for now.

And then right after that… I’m finally fulfilling one of the biggest items on my LARP Bucket List… I’ll be LARPing in another country at England’s LARP convention, Consequences! I’m signed up for six games, and I’m beyond excited.

Technically, I could pull all of the costuming I need for Consequences out of my closet, but there happened to be a sewing pattern sale at Jo-ann Fabrics this week, so of course I now have a few sewing projects in progress. (And a crafting project — I’m going to re-attempt dragon horns for a fantasy LARP.)

The week after that is the final Fifth Gate event, where the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn will come together for the last time… but only one of our worlds can be saved. I have enough costuming for my archer character, Cricket, but Jo-ann Fabrics released some new Asian-inspired cotton prints earlier this year and they were so beautiful, I couldn’t resist. (It doesn’t help that my character is a bit of a diva.) So I’ve started working on a new pair of blue ombre hakama pants, and if I have time, Cricket will have a new top as well.

There’s a 50% chance Cricket’s entire world will fall to Ruin, but she’ll be well dressed for its End, I suppose.

I’ve also currently in the midst of meetings for the Living Games Conference, Game Wrap (we finally have a release date for Volume II), a little bit of Izgon: Ascendency (though I won’t be actually playing, as it’s running over the Fifth Gate weekend,) and Intercon R sign-ups! We’ve just had round two of sign-ups, so the community is abuzz with conversations with who is signing up for what. Sadly, I seem to be having poor luck this year (I’m wait-listed for two LARPs, in part because of the accidental early sign-ups just before round one…) but I’m at the top of the wait-lists, so fingers crossed!

Posted in boffer, conventions, costuming, Intercon, LARP, theater | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

We Have Ways of Making You Talk

This topic recently came up in a thread on Facebook, (and I’m decently certain I’m the one who prompted it), so I thought I’d expound on my thoughts here in a blog post, which is better designed for long thoughts than Facebook comments.

There’s a mechanic that comes up fairly frequently in Accelerant boffer campaign LARPs that basically boils down to “Make a speech about Topic X for Y Minutes, then call “By My Voice Effect Z by Trait W [to V].” (An example might be, “By My Voice, Heal 1 by Inspiration to Townsfolk”.)

This is an oversimplification, as there are a bunch of variants on it (including, often, “perform in some way for X minutes” — most commonly, the performance takes the form of a song,) but let’s start here.

To clarify for those unfamiliar with Accelerant, this basically means giving the speech creates some sort of effect on everyone who hears it. The Trait describes the flavor of how the effect is occurring (e.g. “By Inspiration” indicates the listeners are inspired by what they hear, “By Faith” or “By Blessing” might indicate a holy person is channeling the power of their faith or the divine power of a deity, etc.). Adding “to V” at the end can narrow down the receivers of the effect to some subset of people who can hear it (generally, if it’s a positive effect, it can get narrowed down to the Good Guys/PCs present, if negative, it can be narrowed own to only the bad guys/monsters present.)

I can’t really state with authority what purpose for such a mechanic writers have in mind when they write it into their LARP scenarios, but I can surmise based on some discussions I’ve had, and describe the positive effects I’ve seen them create.

It can create an alibi for certain types of roleplay. This is especially true of public, dramatic forms of roleplay. Players may want to try creating a William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling moment, or Aragon at the Black Gate moment, but need the excuse or encouragement to do it, because they’re otherwise too shy, or worry about other players thinking they’re being pretentious or trying to hog the spotlight. It also may simply not occur to players who would enjoy it if it did. If it produces a positive mechanical effect, so much the better, because it can feel reassuring that other players are that much more likely to take notice and appreciate it.

Related, these mechanics often create some sort of visible, tangible effect on a battle. It might be Healing some hit points, or Granting some amount of Protection, or temporarily preventing the bad guys from attacking (the Agony effect). These effects can enable players to make a sudden push, or noticeably switch from being defensive to going on the offense, or in the case of characters unconscious on the ground, may allow them to literally get back up and get back to fighting. Seeing and feeling this sudden shift in the battle (often accompanied by a rousing cheer) can actually give the distinct impression that the speech really did inspire the PCs, which can, in my experience, actually make a speech retroactively seem like it was that much more effective in improving morale.

It often encourages introspection and internal roleplay, and the externalization thereof. Since the mechanic often requests players discuss their greatest source of hope, or faith, or inspiration, or what they appreciate most about their community, this may be what actually prompts players to ask these questions about their own characters and thus determine (or discover) the answers. By verbalizing it (instead of, say, meditating on it, which has its own potential benefits and drawbacks) players can learn about the inner workings of one another’s characters they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to discover, possibly realizing similarities, or differences, or just newfound appreciation for one another.

Similarly, you can use this to evoke conversations that players would like to have, but have a hard time coming up with an in-game excuse to open. If the component of a ritual is “share a secret” or “tell someone about something you haven’t forgiven them for” it can be a great excuse to have more fodder for dynamic conversations.

It can provide a means for players to develop some elements of the world with their own input. A particular example comes to mind — in Lost Eidolons, two characters who were members of the church had the ability to give a short sermon once per event, and anyone who listened could receive a blessing. This sort of thing can encourage players to think about their religion, maybe even make up factoids about it to include in their sermons, and explore ways faith might affect characters in the setting. Their sermons might change over time, and reflect ways the church is developing in reaction to in-world events. I can easily imagine other versions —  say a political character was given opportunity to make political speeches. The staff could decide this has an effect on how the local government is perceived by the masses.

It offers an alternative action as a way to affect a battle. Not everyone who plays live combat LARPs actually wants to engage in actual combat, even if they still want to be present and relevant for the battles. Common alternatives including healers pantomiming performing First Aid to produce healing effects, or magic casters providing magical buffs to their allies. This sort of mechanic provides players with yet another avenue for having a positive benefit on a battle.

It encourages/enables players to provide entertainment for one another. As mentioned above, one common variant of this mechanic is to instruct players to perform in some way (such as singing, playing instruments, dancing, or telling stories). Even giving lectures or sermons can be entertaining for fellow players.

It can be a means of spreading information. Getting players to spread information among themselves can one of the challenges of writing and staffing a campaign. Sometimes players just don’t feel the motivation to do it, sometimes some players are actively hording information for themselves, often to the detriment of the game. Spreading information can be an incidental benefit of this mechanic, but some LARPs use it for this purpose explicitly, by including abilities such as “spend X minutes teaching players about some topic (sometimes specified, other times not) then call ‘By My Voice, Grant 1 Protection by Education’.” This can provide incentive where players otherwise don’t feel it, or counteract the benefits that drive some players to hoard information. (And some lectures can be on real world topics and actually allow LARP to be a vehicle for real education.)

But of course, this kind of mechanic also poses as series of potential drawbacks.

It can be really hard to ad-lib. Some LARPers just always find it difficult, some find it difficult depending on their mood or how much they’ve slept, sometimes people just happen to hit a mental roadblock. Some people just hate public speaking, and the instructions are necessarily for speech in front of a group, or can’t be done while avoiding any audience entirely. Moreover, the Accelerant system tends to use one minute and five minutes as common units of time, and even those who are happy to do a bit of ad-libbing can find five minutes, or even one minute, too long for them.

Sometimes the prompts just don’t suit a particular character (or group of characters). A common prompt I’ve seen for priests is “talk about what gives you faith for one minute” but I’ve also known priest characters whose concept involved specifically lacking faith. Another prompt might be to eulogize an NPC, but the person receiving the prompt doesn’t actually know or care about the deceased. (In theory, a well thought out prompt wouldn’t make these kinds of false assumptions, or the mechanic going unused wouldn’t cause other major problems, but these kinds of things still do happen.) It can make a player either feel like they’ve failed (in or out of character) or it can put them on the spot to lie, or do something against their character’s nature, which can be very damaging to immersion.

It can get extremely repetitive. This is probably one of my biggest issues, personally. It’s not uncommon for prompts to get reused, and or for the instructions to direct a group of players to go around in a circle, taking turns ad-libbing about the same prompt. Even a single person can easily end up repeating thsemselves, and when you have multiple people (especially when the required time period is longer) repetition is pretty much guaranteed. And that repetition can reduce the speeches’ impact. One can imagine if several of William Wallace’s generals gave very similar speeches multiple times throughout the Battle of Stirling, it wouldn’t be able to rally the Scots every time.

It can make it difficult to hear other calls. Accelerant has a call system, one needs to be able to hear and be heard in order to use much of the system. These speech mechanics can make it difficult for their duration to effectively use and respond to other calls. (Not to mention preventing players from hearing non-mechanical speech or sound effects.)

This is particularly true when there is motivation for the speech to be as loud as possible, because the benefit it provides is effectively extended to everyone who can hear it.

It can trap an audience. While it’s always true that someone giving a speech or performance can pressure people into serving as an audience, out of politeness, even when it’s not given mechanical weight in a LARP, there can be an added layer of pressure when it’s part of a mechanic. For example, say players are expecting, based on previous fights against a particular group of challenging enemies, that an upcoming fight could easily swing towards defeat. The healing or other bonuses granted by pre-battle speeches or performances may be necessary to avoid a guaranteed defeat (and on some meta-level, players likely understand that the stats of the monsters are balanced against the assumption that the PCs will be assisted by the protective effects of the speech or performances.)

In that case, the choice might be between serving as an audience when players prefer not to, or increasing the risk of defeat (and diminishing their own personal ability to contribute in combat). In some cases, the characters might literally be trapped somewhere, waiting for a door to be unlocked, or a module or combat might get delayed despite impatient players (and NPCs who are bored and cold waiting for them). Opting out of serving as an audience (while remaining in-character) can become extremely difficult.

For individual cases, I don’t consider this problematic; I don’t think players are necessarily entitled to speech/performance free zones at any given moment or in any given location (well, with the exception of their cabin/tents during sleeping hours in LARPs that promise to enable a full night’s sleep). But if the ability to opt out of serving as an audience is significantly diminished often enough, it becomes a notable drawback to this sort of mechanic.

So how can we maximize the benefits these speech mechanics provide while minimizing the drawbacks? One of the key things that improves the experience for me is flexibility, with regards to multiple elements of these mechanics. Who is required to speak, when they need to speak, how long the speech has to last, the topic it’s on, the ways in which the player can express themselves, how often it needs to be repeated, and who is required to listen.

(It’s important to note that this flexibility should be on both an in-game and out-of-game level. Lots of LARPs have out-of-game rules that enable players to simply drop out of a scene, but players often feel pressure not to use them, which reduces their value. It would be preferable to also offer players a mean to stay in-character.)

Flexibility on who is required to speak. When these mechanics are opt-in skills, players can choose for their character builds, and the natural result is that the players who most want to use them can and do. But when the mechanics pop up in a module, players who would prefer to avoid them can get pressured into being the speaker.

It’s not uncommon, for example, to come across a tag instructing players something like, “someone with the Wizard trait must speak for 1 minute about what magic means to them in order to call “Imbue by Magic” to unlock the seal on this door.” If there only happens to be one or two wizards on the module, the odds are much higher that the person who ends up doing it would prefer not to.

There are a number of ways to increase the flexibility of who has to do it. One can allow multiple categories of people to perform the speech, or alternatively, one can expand the category with a caveat, such as “if there are no wizards present (or none who feel comfortable doing this) another character who feels magic has touched their lives can take their place”. (This maintains the likelihood that a wizard will still get to do if they want to, if your intention is to ensure there is some focus on wizard characters.) One can also enable multiple people to divide the length of time between them, for example, by allowing six wizards to each give a ten second statement, if they choose.

There a number of common situations where it might be difficult to increase the flexibility on when the speech needs to be performed. For example, if the intention is to include the speech as part of a ritual to close a portal, and monsters will continue to attack until it’s done, the timing of the speech is pretty much “as soon as physically possible.” But there are situations where it is possible to increase the flexibility on the timing. For example, the mechanics for granting a boon often instruct the players to immediately grant the boon after the speech or performance, but if they were permitted to delay granting the boon for, say, twenty minutes, it would introduce some flexibility on when the speech can be given. I’ve also seen instructions to perform a ritual at the tavern at a certain time (say, noon, or sunset) but if one broadens the interval of time during which it can be done, the players can more easily find a time where they aren’t either entrapping an audience or making people move.

I find flexibility on how long the speech must last to be one of the most important ways to be flexible. Since Accelerant often uses one or five minutes as common time units, these are frequently chosen as minimum durations for the speech, but even one minute can be a really long time to ad-lib. The required duration generally has two possible categories of purpose. The first is to give it weight, both internally to the player (encouraging them to put a decent amount of thought and effort into it at minimum) and externally, so that it doesn’t seem like the speaker is being dismissive, or that the speech can be blown through. The second purpose is as a balancing factor, or means of controlling the difficulty of the task (time is often a resource in Accelerant LARPs.) The latter is usually relevant when completing the speech is meant to be a challenge while other things distracting and/or dangerous interruptions (usually combat) go on. (It can also amount to other restrictions, such as preventing people from doing it while actively on the front line or contributing to combat in other ways, if the speech can’t be used concurrently with other skills.)

I think in the cases where only the first purpose, to make sure the speech as a minimum of presence, it’s a particularly good idea to be flexible on the timing. So long as PCs are not abusing the flexibility and giving the mechanic only the most cursory of attempts, it’s more important to maximize the effectiveness and drama of the rhetoric. Forcing someone to speak for exactly one or five minutes often drives player to ramble on pass a good ending point if they don’t manage to fill the given time duration, and cut themselves off before reaching a good conclusion if they happen to go on too long.

But even when the time requirement is meant to be a balancing factor, I think it’s still important to be a little flexible on it, for the sake of enabling more natural speech (instead of forced extension to fill the time, or cutting it off short for pragmatic reasons.) If the balance/level of challenge is very important (for example, the idea is to force players to figure out the best possible timing between attacks), and NPC or the text with instructions can allow players to fill up some of the time with other actions, such as meditation, singing, chanting, etc.

Making the subject of the speech flexible can be difficult — if prompts are very specific, players may not have an answer to them, if they’re very vague, they may not spark inspiration. I think the key here might be to offer a broad topic (as many of these mechanics already do) but if possible, also offer some specific, optional prompts in case a player needs it.

One of my go-to solutions when I don’t have any ideas for ad-libbing a speech is to sing instead (“this song represents hope to me”), and I choose songs in a foreign language, so if the subject of the lyrics isn’t exactly right, I’m not dragging down anyone else’s immersion. (It’s not a great solution for everyone; I use it sparingly, and try to only do it when there’s a fair amount of ambient noise, because I’m tone deaf.) I think generally most LARP staffs are flexible enough to go along with this kind of on-the-fly adjustment to the instructions, but it can’t hurt to make it explicitly allowed. (I.e. including, “alternatively, singing for X minutes, or simply meditating for X minutes is also permitted” in the instructions.)

Flexibility on how often the speech needs to be repeated isn’t often applicable — many of these mechanics are intended for a single use (or it comes from a skill that players can self-regulate the use of). I do think, in general, keeping caps on how often these mechanics can be used is a good idea to cut down on repetition, as are out of game suggestions like, “when everyone who wants a turn has had one, you may consider the ritual complete”.

Flexibility on who is required to listen is generally already well built into these mechanics — many don’t even specify any audience at all, or specify something like “any one person”. But if you do want finding the audience to be part of the experience, making the requirements narrow may end up pressuring the few people who qualify into a situation they prefer to avoid. (Also, this can be a good way to spread information from one group of PCs to another, so a flexible but meaningful audience requirement might be “at least one person from outside your family/team/class/nationality.”)

There’s another helpful tactic: providing information in advance. There is something to be said for speech and performance that gets produced spontaneously, but one of the best ways to prevent creative blocks, reduce nervousness, and other difficulties with ad-libbing is to inform players ahead of time, giving them a chance to mull over what they might say, flesh out their speeches, consult other people for ideas, practice delivering it, or even write something down to help them when the time comes.

We often get instructions for the rituals we perform just as a module begins, with no downtime between the instructions and the performance, but there are many cases where an NPC should logically be able to speak to the PCs in advance (“pre-hooking”) and offer some specifics on what players can expect.

I’m not suggesting that all of these adjustments be explicitly added to all uses of these kinds of mechanics. After all, many people LARP to challenge themselves, and this is just one of the many ways we can introduce an unusual challenge to players. I’m simply suggesting that these tools be considered available should LARP staffs decide they want to try adjust the players’ experiences of using these mechanics.

Posted in boffer, LARP, mechanics | 2 Comments

Time Bubble 2018

I recently attended Time Bubble, the fall weekend of LARPs at RPI in Troy, NY. I played in three LARPs and attended a panel.

My first LARP was Amalgamation. To be honest, the blurb for the LARP on the website was a little vague, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I signed up. (As there was little to no prep involved — no character sheets to read in advance or costuming to create, just some rule documents to read shortly before the LARP itself, I still wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it.) It seemed like an unique, experimental, abstract sort of LARP, which was intriguing, but it also had a linguistics theme, which definitely spoke to me.

In Amalgamation, the players play divine beings existing in a void after the destruction of the previous world, embarking on the creation of a new one. Play begins without access to any language, only gestures and expressions. (With gestures being limited only to ones where the meaning was inherent to the gesture and not based on arbitrary associations created by culture; in other words, indexical and iconic gestures, such as flapping your arms to indicate wings or pointing to indicate a particular person, are allowed, but emblematic ones like, like giving the middle finger, are not.

I spent much of this time trying (and largely failing) to identify the others present based on my limited knowledge. I found it very difficult to avoid common gestures that are deeply ingrained. (I caught myself nodding and shaking my head a lot, then briefly dropping character to try to retract it… I recommend if you play this LARP and find yourself accidentally breaking the rules of communication in the first part, try to just ignore it and move on, instead of highlighting it by compulsively dropping character to try and take it back, like I did… which was also a hard habit to break.)

We were excited to receive our first set of words, though communication proved barely any easier. Our speech was pretty bizarre. I don’t want to say too much about the LARP at this point, because while I realize this game probably wasn’t designed to be highly concerned over spoilers, part of what I really enjoyed about the experience was having to think on the fly, and use my creativity to figure out what I wanted to accomplish and how to do it with my limited options, and I wouldn’t want to accidentally influence future players in any particular directions.

I will say that my favorite moment of the LARP came when one of the divine beings suddenly climbed up onto a table and proclaimed themselves superior and demanded deference and worship with proto-sentences.

The final exercise of the LARP was my other major highlight — it was a creative linguistic puzzle which I both really enjoyed struggling with, attempting to bargain with and assist other players, and also hearing what each player produced. Our new world will be a complex one.

I particularly liked how this LARP played with the question of language and thought, and language and culture, addressing which produces which and how they influence one another. Will characters adjust their philosophies (and thus, their core identities) according to the language available to them? Or would they twist the meaning of the language they had (as best they could) to suit their outlooks and desires for the new world? This LARP sort of takes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to a cosmic extreme.

After the game, there was some discussion of LARPs that either run without spoken language, or with very limited spoken language, and the idea of running an event with a solid track of such LARPs. (White Death, Sign, and BABUL come to mind.)

I recommend Amalgamation to LARPers who like weird, experimental structures and/or playing with linguistics through roleplay.

In the afternoon, I attended a panel titled “Tips for First Time LARP Writers”, which included a nice powerpoint presentation and went over the basics. The tip highlighted as most important was to find whatever element of the LARP, no matter how big or small, that excites the writer (or writing team) most, and use it as a focus for inspiration and motivation to see the creation process through to the end. (I’ve run into a number of requests online for resources for first time writers… would love to see this powerpoint expanded on and made available online. Maybe a reprise at an event where it can be recorded and uploaded…?)

My second LARP of Time Bubble was A Hero Killing Calamity, which revolved around the meeting of an organization of villains who were forced into a treaty when they lost a war to the forces of Good, but now find themselves handling the slaughter of a troop of heroes. The villains must discover who committed the violation of the treaty and decide how they will address the issue and demands from the forces of good. And, of course, how they will go about their usual evil business with both the forces of good and their fellow villains, currently concerned about treaty violations, around.

I played one of the villains suspected of slaughtering the troop of heroes. My character was the second-in-command to a troop of mercenaries, and we did our best both to free my character from suspicion, and to take advantage of the situation and try to arrange some lucrative contracts.

It was cool seeing a LARP with all villainous characters play out. I think it’s a popular concept, though one that writers/GMs are often wary of, as a cast of all villains can preempt any cooperation between the players, but the conceit of the LARP worked out well. I thought the characters were all very colorful, playing with popular villain tropes.

My costuming hint for this LARP suggested military themes with a prominently featured crow emblem (our mercenary band was called the Company of the Crow), so I pulled out my black military jacket, and put together simple gray sashes out of ribbon and iron-on patches for myself and the commander. I also added a sash in fiery colors as a nod to my character’s pyromancy.

My last LARP of the weekend was Revolving Door Afterlife Lobby, a LARP that plays with a trope that is very common in comics. A bunch of superheroes and supervillains find themselves in the lobby of the afterlife, with their fates in the hands of three deities, who might choose to send them back (in one form or another), welcome them into their realms, or possibly elevate them to divine status. I played Hathor and Sekhmet, Egyptian goddesses of love and war respectively, and I could flip back and forth between them at will. I was surprised more characters didn’t appeal to Hathor for help, but most of them appealed to Sekhmet, offering to bring glorious battle to evildoers if I would return them to life.

Revolving Door is a fairly simple game, mostly about roleplaying as the colorful characters and mulling over the various decisions before us. I think the structure and mechanics have legs — I could easily imagine a larger cast of divine beings and superheroes, and each run involving some subset of those depending on the players desires for casting.

Coincidentally (and, to me, rather amusingly) the three divine beings, Dionysus, Hathor/Sekhmet, and the Grim Reaper, were played respectively by the LARPers who played Zeus, Aphrodite, and Hades in Siege of Troy.

For costuming, I grabbed the red piece of fabric I used for The Oncoming Storm (literally a large rectangle with a hole for my head), belted it with a gold piece of trim and a gold sash, and threw on my Egyptian beaded collar and some makeup. (I wish I could have had time to create an elaborate horn and disc headdress.)

While I was in Troy, I also got a chance to try out Enigmatic Escape’s Escape Room, “The Secret of the Study” which was a ton of fun and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area.

Amalgamation, by the way, will be running at Intercon R, so attendees will have a chance to play it there. (And the first round of Intercon sign-ups begins November 2, at 7pm EST.)

Posted in conventions, LARP, theater | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Council of Oramvand

Despite my best intentions, I’ve been neglecting this blog again. I got caught up on my post NELCO posts, because I really wanted to cover the various panels and discussions I attended in depth and in order, and then I got hung up on the first post (about our discussion running games for newbie players)… And never managed to finish it. (I especially want to talk about the Hour of Controversy before that fades too much from memory.)

This is a pattern with me, I know — I didn’t manage to report on past NELCOs and PreCons for the same reasons, though I have a slew of half-finished blog posts on them in my archive, too.  I fear if I don’t prioritize them above other posts, they’ll never get done, which is a shame because I think NELCO and PreCon are very important and deserve coverage, but the alternative seems to be a month or more without any posts, and that’s not really better.

In case anyone is wondering, we did get some of the NELCO events recorded on video this year. I’m sure they will eventually go up.

In the meantime, in order to get myself back into the swing of writing blog posts, I want to talk about a LARP I recently played over Skype called The Council of Oramvand.

The Council of Oramvand is an hour and a half long theater LARP for four players. It is very much a classic high fantasy and diplomacy LARP; it features the representatives of four magical races (elves, centaurs, dragons, and merfolk) meeting to set the course for the future of their world after emerging victorious from a ruinous war.


Varasidates, Speaker for the Dragons

The Council of Oramvand is a Paracelsus Games LARP, and much like many of their LARPs, it features a well developed and detailed setting, and extremely difficult moral and political decisions to make, with no right answers. The characters also have projects on their agendas — both major undertakings of interest to their entire race as well as smaller, more personal projects, which may earn the disapproval of the other characters and their people. Much of the conversation focuses on which projects should take precedence when allocating limited resources.

Thanks to the complex moral and political dilemmas, along with the detailed history, serious conversation flowed for the full hour and half of game-play. In fact, I think the length of the LARP is fairly adjustable — players are likely to regulate themselves according to how much time is available. (Our run ran a bit overtime, and I think we easily could have talked for an additional hour.)

I think the structure of The Council of Oramvand makes it a particularly useful LARP — there’s high demand in the local community (and, I’m sure, other communities) for small, easy-to-run theater LARPs that require a minimum of space and prepwrork. I wouldn’t classify it as a pick-up game, as there is a ton of reading for players prior to the game, but it still works well for bringing in newbies who are wary of high commitments for their first LARP experience, especially if they’re familiar with tabletop and enjoy classic fantasy.) The flexibility on space in particular makes it great for LARP conventions. Intercon, for example, could use more LARPs that can run in private hotel rooms. And some hotels (and other locations, like WPI’s student center, where Summer LARPin’ ran) offer conference rooms with tables that occupy most of the space, but not many LARPs can run in such a space. (And for added flexibility, the characters are all gender neutral.)

The fact that it can run so easily over video chat is also a really cool feature. Maybe an international run could be arranged?

I do want to mention the costuming from my run somewhere in this post. All of the players did some basic costuming from the chest up for the cameras. I liked the merfolk diplomat’s last minute improvisation — he took his shirt off and draped a towel with an aquatic print around himself like a tunic.

As the representative of the dragons, I decided to attempt horns and scales. The horns were a bit of a disaster. I looked up some polymer clay tutorials online to try and learn some techniques (try looking up polymer skinner blends and canes, it’ll blow your mind what people can do with the stuff,) but I only ended up with a very subtle marble blend (the easiest technique). I also failed at properly shaping the base of the horns, so one wobbled terribly against my head. I threw them out after the LARP. One of these days, I’ll try again.


Failed dragon horns

The scales did not come out perfectly either, but I think they were more successful than the horns. I think most LARPers have heard of the fishnets technique; we all should try it at least once. It involves stretching fishnets over your face and dabbing makeup on over it, so that when you remove the fishnets, a scale-like pattern remains. (Here is a video of some makeup artists using it to create mermaid looks.) I tried dabbing the makeup on with my fingertip, which I think was a mistake. The surface of my fingertip is too small, so it’s easy to apply unevenly, and it can shift the netting slightly as you poke, which smudges the scaling.

But most of the scaling came out visible, which was nice. Most of the artists in tutorial videos on youtube use really big makeup brushes (or makeup sponges) with broad, flat surfaces, which is what I’ll try next time I use the fishnets technique. I hope I get cast as another character with scales soon!

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Summer LARPin’

Had me a blast at WPI a little over a week ago for Summer LARPin’, a day of theater LARPs. I played in two LARPs, then aGMed a third. The event staff, which was mostly a single person with some help from a few other individuals, did a great job putting together an event from scratch and spending a ton of time, money, and effort making it run, providing food and drinks, and setting up and cleaning up.

My first LARP was Wrestlemania! a LARP I first saw on the schedule for Intercon and thought it sounded adorably funny, but it ran against another game I was planning to play. I was glad to see it on the Summer LARPin’ schedule. (How can you resist a game with a character named Napoleon Bone-depart?)

To say Wrestlemania! is an affectionate parody of pro wrestling isn’t quite right, as a lot of the goofier stuff in this LARP is actually straight out of pro wrestling… so in some ways, it’s a parody, but in other ways, it actually reflects some of the characters and story lines you’ll come across in the real thing.

I was cast as Axel Thunder, the golden boy, the poster child, a Face character (read: someone the crowd is expected to cheer for.) Axel is inspired by John Cena and Hulk Hogan, so I watched some videos on youtube to prepare for the LARP. (Fair warning, some of the content of those videos is comically sexist.) Players are encouraged to pick signature moves, catch phrases, and themes songs to play when entering the ring; I ran with the thunder theme and picked AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” for my theme song and The Perfect Storm for the name of my signature move. (I forgot my character already had one, the “Thunder Strike”.) I used a few different catchphrases, all varieties on things like “a storm is coming!” or “are you ready for the Thunder!!”

For my costume, I bought a bright red tank top and red bandanna (an homage to Hulk Hogan’s iconic accessory). I tried to find some classic American symbol or a thunderbolt to iron onto the front, but couldn’t find one I liked, so I went with a rhinestone cupcake applique, and planned to tell everyone that my momma made it for me, and Axel Thunder loves his momma. (Sadly, no one brought it up.)



The game was just as energetic and over-the-top as the blurb promised. There are some shady management deals going on, and even some supernatural shenanigans, but Axel Thunder spent most of his time in the ring. (The mechanic for resolving wrestling matches is Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, which is now among my favorite LARP combat mechanics.) We were also encouraged to act out the results, though I think a number of the players weren’t expecting that kind of physicality. I tried it out a few times (my favorite was a double clothesline during a round with two sets of partners), but it probably would have been easier with a little more negotiation in advance and some kind of surface other than a tiled floor.

I think Axel came in second place in the end. We couldn’t get the sound system to work, sadly, so we didn’t hear any of our theme songs as we entered the ring, but we definitely kept the Hype going.

My second LARP of the day was All Stories Are True, a LARP set in the world of the “Kingkiller Chronicle” books, about students and staff at the university of magic. I have to confess, I have read the first two books of the series (and one short story) and… I’m not really a fan. But I am a fan of the writers of the LARP, which is why I wanted to sign up for All Stories.

I played one of the students, and I had four main plots/goals — figure out how to pay my tuition, get a professor to sponsor me for advanced studies, figure out the medical mystery of a strange affliction going around, and puzzle out my rather complicated love life, which involved a betrothal to a childhood friend and crushes on the wrong people.

I think I utterly failed to make any progress on the mysterious affliction plot, though I did manage to make progress in figuring out my romantic issues. I also succeeded in getting sponsored by the professor of medicine (I think, in part, thanks to some anatomy facts I offered during one of the students’ lectures.) Covering the cost of tuition was a much more time consuming, complicated process, but my friends among my fellow students and I all paid tuition, room and board by the end (…we cheated at gambling.) Much to my surprise, I also won the storytelling contest that concluded the LARP (I read a funny poem about a pig I found on the internet) though I personally feel the other two storytellers did a much better job, with an original romantic tragedy tale featuring Naming magic, and a tale about the moon that reflected the canonical cosmology of the setting.

There were some deep magic plots going on in this LARP as well, though my character never really got any insight into them. I won’t spoil what I learned about them here, but I will say they involved my favorite concept from the book, a really unusual form of malevolence, and some popular fan theories about the books. I had a good time playing, though I do think the die-hard fans of The Kingkiller Chronicle series had an even better time.

My last LARP of the day was Kingsword, for which I was an assistant GM. I use the term rather loosely, as I did very little prep work (none of the casting or stuffing) and had little to do during the LARP itself. I did help a bit with set-up (put up some of the tents) and a lot with clean-up, if that counts. You can read more about it from the run I played at Festival of the LARPs.

I think the Summer LARPin’ run of Kingsword went pretty well overall. Gawain was crowned High King of Britain, which I think has been the case for all three runs so far, but the various marriages pacts have worked out differently every time, which I think says something great about the openness of the writing in that regard.

I really liked the space we had for Summer LARPin’ — we basically had our own wing of the student center at WPI, in rooms called the “odeums”. I like Salisbury a lot, which is where SLAW has been running, though I wouldn’t complain if we got the odeums again in the future. The rooms were large and designed for events (rather than classes and lectures) and there was a nice space outside of them for snacks and lounging. There was also a conference room mostly occupied by a table and comfortable looking chairs, which I think is just asking for one of those around-a-table diplomacy style LARPs.

Speaking of SLAW, the date has been announced for this year — it will be a one day event (instead of a weekend, as it has been in the past) and it’s running November 18th, from 10am to midnight. Sadly, this is running against both Threshold and After Dark, two local boffer campaigns that I’m involved with, but I hope everyone attending SLAW has fun and will let me know all about how their games go.

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New World Magischola 7

I recently returned to New World Magischola, an institution for higher education in the magical arts in North America, for the beginning of a new semester.

New World Magischola is similar to College of Wizardry, a Harry Potter-inspired LARP that runs in a real castle in Poland. This event was NMW 7, First Semester; I have previously played NWM 3, First Semester and NWM: Yuletide Escapade, Week 1 (2016.)


Ready to learn some magic!

You can read my previous post about playing NWM3 here, where I talk about what makes this LARP series unusual for my experiences in LARP, some of which changed a bit for me from week 3 to week 7. Some of the atypical elements included:

  • high budget, high production values — lots of quality set dressing and props, some costuming provided to players (robes and school ties)
  • extensive workshopping before and after the LARP
  • player input into pre-written characters — some players play their characters as written, others changed a little, some changed them a lot
  • consent based magic mechanics — when players cast spells on one another, the recipient decides the outcome, which can be as the caster intended, no effect (the spell fizzles), or the magic goes wrong and something else occurs
  • encouragement to momentarily drop out-of-character, both through mechanics and culture, mostly for players to check in on one another and to negotiate roleplay
  • player requested content — players can request scenes (including outcomes, if they like) which the staff will support with NPCs

Since M Duggan (my character for NWM7 and Yule) was already cast for this event, I was given a new character. I actually went through a number of possibilities (I feel a bit bad for the poor staff member handling casting) because I had a few preferences:

  • Non-first year. I really loved being sorted in NWM7 (it was a major highlight of the weekend for me) but this time, I really wanted to try the experience of starting and staying with a single house.
  • Non-Cryptozoologist. I had loved playing a cryptozoologist (being an animal and nature lover in real life), but I was hoping to try classes in new subjects.
  • Same year and house as a friend, to allow for more roleplaying time together. (While I have enormous sentimental attachment to Maison Du Bois and would very happily play it again, I was also curious about the other houses.)
  • Originating from Thunderbird (the Pacific Northwest), which fit the most with the hipster costuming I had developed for previous events, and was the most likely to have wizards who mess with mundane technology (I wanted to take photos.)
  • Pureblood descent. It seems like there are more family politics to explore for pureblood students than for mixed blood or mundane born.
  • A member of the Explorers of the Eternal. Explorers of the Eternal was another highlight of NWM3 for me.

The character I ended up with, A. Young, is a pureblood third year cursebreaker in Maison Du Bois, from the Thunderbird region, with family history relating to Virginia Isle. My character as written wanted to avoid dealing with her family, which I changed because it seemed like a shame to have a character who wanted to reduce opportunities for roleplay with other PCs.

I also decided that I was still interested in developing the character I’d already been working on, so I interpreted my new character as an alternate universe/alternate timeline version of my previous one. I named her Mickey again, and kept some of the details I’d developed in the past, such as details about her wand, interest in Thunderbirds, and her nagual ability to turn into a rabbit, then added a few more details (like a semester abroad in Australia, based on my own experiences) just for fun and flavor.



My experience in NWM7 was broadly different from NWM3. This was primarily, I think, because I started with a house, instead of getting sorted into one halfway through.  In NWM3, I spent much of the first half of the event, including opening workshops and meals, with one group of players (the first years), then the second half with another group (my housemates in Maison Du Bois.)

While being sorted was an amazing experience and given the chance to go back, I wouldn’t do NW3 differently, I do think it presented a challenge in terms of connecting with fellow players. Getting to spend a lot of time, from the opening workshops to the closing workshops and throughout the game between, with my fellow Du Bois meant it was much easier to learn names and get to know them in and out of character. I also really enjoyed welcoming the new bear cubs as they got sorted (we chanted, “you have wandered!” “Now you are home!” and gave them bags of gummy bears) and, under the guidance of our house presidents, setting up the Du Bois common room and planning and executing the initiation ritual. I think as a house, Maison Du Bois really bonded. (We won the House Cup, by the way!)

As it was in my previous two events, I think the best element of the LARP for me was just the immersive, realistic environment. NWM7 really did feel like returning to college. The setting feels full and complete, with extensive information on the history and culture of the school and the Magimundi (the mage’s world), the set dressing is extensive, and the robes and school ties give weight to the visual aspect of the experience (though many students often decide to forgo their robes due to the heat and humidity.) I particularly liked the set dressing in the various common rooms; the house presidents went above and beyond to reflect their house colors, mascots, and mottos with fun decor.

My favorite thing to do at Magischola is attend classes, take notes, and even do homework. I really enjoyed participating in class activities. In Magical Wellness, we did meditative breathing exercises, manipulated a fire elemental, and used our personal auras to create defensive spells. In Artificiery, we made amulets out of stones in the first class, and in the second, I watched a student make a magical prosthetic arm for another student (out of real chicken bones!) In our first Healing class, we discussed the procedure for healing in the field, and identified and discussed bi-runes. In the second class, deliberately drank (non-lethal) poisons, discussed ethical questions while they kicked in, then practiced identifying the poisons and creating antidotes, which was a ton of fun. In Ethics and Theory, we practiced illegal curses on one another (compulsion and pain spells) and discussed the topic of how non-humans are treated in the Magimundi society with a guest vampire and dark fae.

My other class was Curse Breaking and Runic Magic. Along with Healing, it was one of the more structured courses with a lot of pre-prepared lecture materials, which I really enjoyed. We learned about the different classifications of curses (hexes, jinxes, scourges, and blights), and how to identify, analyze, and neutralize them. We also learned about the different forms of runes (pictograms, ideograms, logograms, morphograms, and phonograms.) In our second class, we analyzed runes and tried to draw conclusions about the artist who drew them.

This class particularly appealed to me not just because of its more structured style, but because I felt like I was really learning something — the classification of curses seemed very plausible, and we actually were learning real information about graphemics, which dovetailed with my passion for linguistics. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a small moment during the runes analysis, when I received double points for my answer. It might sound like such a silly and small thing, but having my character do well at a topic dear to my heart really made me smile.

For clubs, I got involved with the Crossed Wands, which involves competitive spell dueling. We practiced outside, throwing spells at one another and trying out balancing exercises. At one point, a real owl perched in a nearby tree to watch us. We mused over the possibility that it was a spy from our rival school, Imperial, trying to gain an edge for an upcoming match. The owls’ presence really added a magical spark to the evening. (Other wildlife also lent their flair to the weekend; a deer wandered by during one encounter with fae in the woods, a number of turtles were spotted swimming in the lake, and butterflies were fluttering all over campus.)

A few of us tried to get photos of our feathery audience; believe me when I say they don’t quite capture its majesty, size, or proximity to the duels.

We staged two duels with students from Imperial (played wonderfully by NPCs), losing the first one in order to set up a comeback match during the school dance that closed out the event. I thought the comeback match went pretty well — students could keep dancing in the main room if they felt like it, or wander out to watch from the balconies overlooking the match.


Mickey with Marlon, her stylish date to the dance (and captain of the Crossed Wands club!) Photo courtesy of New World Magischola, by Strike and Hide

The one downside to Crossed Wands was that the first match made me a few minutes late for the Explorers of the Eternal meeting. It was fun working on the puzzle that revealed the time and location, though I think it came out a bit too late for some students to finish in time. When I got to the room, the meeting was in progress, and they wouldn’t allow latecomers (though the meeting at NWM3 did.)

For NWM7, I decided to engage in the pranking culture that thrives at the school. (For example, students love to submit silly messages for announcements, which our wonderful chancellor is obliged to read aloud.) Over the week or so leading up to the event, I bought 10 yards of muslin, cut into five pieces of two yards each, and two packs of fabric markers. I drew up mock versions of each of the house banners, with the mascots replaced with cartoon characters. (I think they were all recognizable, except possibly Wally Gator, an old Hanna-Barbera character, not terribly well known.)

Late on Thursday night, when most people had gone to bed, I and a fellow Du Bois went sneaking from common room to common room, hanging the mock banners over the real banners, along with a little note saying the banners had been hexed to be unmovable.

Over Friday and Saturday, I kept an ear out for buzz about the banners. There were some amusingly indignant announcements from students accusing Maison Du Bois (as the only house with an unpranked banner), though all but two Du Bois were in the dark and denied involvement. I found overhearing snippets of conversations from people debating about who might have done it rather gratifying. I hear there was a meeting of the house presidents, where it was decided that Maison Du Bois students would make the rounds and help break the hexes keeping the mock banners stuck in place. (Lakay Leveau declined to have theirs removed, because they liked theirs so much.) I think the other houses moved theirs to let the original banners show, but kept the mock ones on display elsewhere in their common rooms.


After the LARP, I admitted to being the culprit, and got a lot of compliments, which was really nice. People thought the prank was very cute. I was really happy that it gave people something to talk about and roleplay over. The students of Maison Du Bois decided they wanted one, too, so on Saturday night I brought the last piece of muslin and the markers down to our common room and we drew up a banner featuring a Care Bear. Yogi Bear (“smarter than the average bear!”) and Winnie the Pooh (“oh bother!”) were close seconds for choices.

NWM7 was a magical weekend. Maison Du Bois has been doing a remarkable job of keeping and touch, which I think reflects how well we really bonded as a house. The next Yule events are sold out, but I’m hoping to see them (and lots of my other fellow players) at future events!



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Lessons From Cry Havoc

As I mentioned in a recent post, at Festival of the LARPs 2017, I ran a boffer game designed to introduce newbies to the Accelerant system. I was inspired by a LARP I played twice at SLAW called The Trouble With Turnips, which is designed introduce newbies to the Realms boffer system. (Please excuse the repetition if you have read the related posts recently.)

The structure of The Trouble With Turnips is pretty simple, and probably familiar to anyone who has played through any classic tabletop RPG dungeon crawls. The PCs play a group of adventurers who were summoned to deal with the evil Turnipmancer, who has been ransacking farms and creating monsters that have been ravaging the country side. The adventurers enter the Turnipmancer’s lair, bypass a series of traps, fight a series of monsters (all with root vegetable themes), and solve a series of puzzles in order to earn the keys to unlock a chest containing the weapon that can defeat the Turnipmancer once and for all. (There is also a friendly NPC who gets turned into a turnip-head monster and requires rescuing.)

There was a lot I loved about this structure as an introductory boffer LARP. The familiarity and simplicity of the structure of the story — Bad Guy’s lair is full of traps and puzzles and monsters, good guys need to find and unlock the MacGuffin to defeat him — made it easy for me to focus on learning and practicing the rules of combat. The comical nature of the scenario, the frequent puns, and the over-the-top cacklingly evil portrayal of the Turnipmancer all made me feel a lot less self-conscious about being a total newbie and making a lot of mistakes while I was learning. The traps and puzzles all allow for endless attempts, NPC monsters are low-powered, and the NPC healer aiding the PCs has endless healing, making PC death and failure to defeat the Turnipmancer highly unlikely, highly unlikely (if not impossible). All of this also keeps the event low-pressure and enables the players to focus on the activity they like best, whether it’s combat or puzzle solving. Even players who lack any natural athletic abilities or might struggle with riddles can feel like they’re contributing.

The game also seemed relatively easy to set-up and run; a bunch of the props are actual root vegetables (which I hear traditionally make it into a stew after a run.) Other props are simple things like cardboard puzzles and plastic spoons. I think the low production values actually really suit the comedy of the game and the low-pressure atmosphere, and make the game feel very welcoming and accessible to players who want to try out Realms LARPing without having to create a lot of costuming and/or boffer gear, or worry about whether their “newbie-ness” might drag down the game.  (Another way Turnips is very welcoming to newbies: the GMs bring buckets of generic fantasy costuming to loan out to players along with boffer weapons.)

The only thing I sort of disliked about Trouble With Turnips was that the players aren’t given pre-written characters. (Nor is there any workshop for players to create them.) The players all play more or less identical generic adventurers. Players are welcome to come up with a name (or whatever other elements of a character) if they like, but this is all done at the door, in a rush with no guidance, and it doesn’t have the ability to affect game play in any official way.

Also, the newbies are all given bare bones skill sets (simply the ability to wield a single weapon). A few regular Realms players came in with other abilities, other weapons and shields, and the only healer was an NPC. This all has huge advantages — it’s that much easier to run on the staff and it’s a flexible structure which means that last minute player additions or drops are no problem, but I personally would have liked to try it with a character background and personality to inspire roleplay, and skill sets that allow the players to try out more of the mechanics besides melee combat in its simplest form.

For Cry Havoc, I took the basic premise, then tweaked it a bit, to suit the different time and space available (at SLAW, Turnips had a whole evening in multiple rooms, whereas at Festival, Cry Havoc had one giant room for less time) to provide a bit more roleplay fodder in the form of pre-written character sheets, and to allow the players to play a bit more with the options the Accelerant system provides.

The basic premise of my scenario was as follows: Santa Claus has turned evil and is taking over the other holidays. The PCs are a collection of mascots from other holidays (I let the players choose what mascots they wanted to play, either ones from popular culture, ones they made up, or ones I made up for them) who have traveled to Santa’s lair to uncover his weakness, defeat his three lieutenants (other holiday mascots) and their minions, then summon and defeat Santa once and for all.

The lieutenants have a predesignated order in which they arrive through the Seasons Portal (Easter for Spring, then Independence Day for Summer, then Halloween for fall), but  if the PCs can collect enough tokens, they can alter the order in which the lieutenants arrive. (Various aspects of the fight are easier if they’re rearranged to summer, fall, then spring.) Tokens can be earned by taking them off fallen foes or solving the various puzzles (which included lock-picking) scattered around the room. The Easter Bunny, also an additional plot and challenge: they’ve become a lich and the players must find their Easter eggs and collect them into an Easter basket to purify them.

And as mentioned in a previous post, I do think the players had fun, which is of course the most important thing, but the run was pretty chaotic, so it’s difficult to assess how much of the mechanics of the scenario (things like how to operate the Seasons Portal and how to safely move Easter eggs) and the actual Accelerant rules, were actually successfully conveyed to the players, and how much of the non-combat stuff successfully entertained the players.

Before I delve into the specifics of the improvements I’d like to try, I do think I should mention the  various aspects of Cry Havoc that were successful and make me want to run it again in the future.

I think the theme and visuals worked out very well. I chose holidays both because it seemed lighthearted and because I knew it would be easy to find, produce, and borrow props and set dressing that suited the theme. (Dollar stores also often have holiday themed stuff.) Christmas gift bags, for example, made nice containers for puzzles and loot. NPCs could easily dress up like a hoard of Christmas elves with mundane red and green items. (I think I actually overdid it with the set dressing; even though, miraculously, thanks to the amazing NPCs, we did get it all set up and taken down in a rather timely manner, I would probably cut way back in the future. And sadly, I did not get any photos.) The familiarity of the theme also meant there was a minimum of writing and reading needed to convey the setting; everyone already knows who Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are.

I also think the PCs also felt able to costume easily with this theme. Because they were essentially able to pick their characters and the character concepts were heavily open to interpretation, PCs who wanted to create extensive costuming (or wear costuming they already owned) could. (One player created a really adorable Halloween spider costume), but those who just wanted to pull something from their closet were also able to. (The NPCs did the same — a few owned some fun patriotic stuff, which is why there were a lot of bad guys to fight from Independence Day.)

It also wasn’t too hard to tweak puzzles and riddles and some of the loot to suit the theme. For example, one puzzle involved drawing lines correctly between circles on a page (Bridges puzzles) which easily became drawing tinsel between Christmas ornaments. The moving-turnips-on-spoons challenge became moving Easter eggs on spoons with a purchase from the Dollar Store.

I also think assigning characters to the players, rather than letting them all show up as random adventurers, worked out. The characters were pretty simple, a few had some RP ties to connect them, and there was redundancy in most of the holidays and themes, so the game was able to handle last minute drops. I think it’s also helped contribute to the excitement.

I think a lot of the puzzles and physical challenges were ones I’d like to reuse — I think many of the puzzles weren’t attempted, and a number that were attempted never got solved, but I think that was mostly because of the chaos and combat going on simultaneously… But if I ran the LARP again, I’d probably still use things like Bridges, Loops, Shikaku, and Dominosa. (This website allows you to easily pick the size and difficulty of the puzzles.) I also tailor made two logic puzzles; one involved figuring out which unlabeled bottle contained which potion, and the other, which order to put different colored candles in a menorah. (Solving it unlocked a special ability, “Eight Damage by Dedication”.)  Even though the latter went unsolved (and was accidentally printed with the solution,) I would love to use them again.

I think there were two major factors that contributed to the problematic chaos of the run. The first was that the Groundhog’s Shadow, the friendly, helpful NPC designed to explain mechanics like the Seasons Portal and be available to answer questions, clarify things, and offer hints and tips as needed, was meant to be summoned as soon as the PCs entered the room. But there were so many distracting things to interact with right away, only one player ended up trying to summon the Shadow, and it took them a fair amount of time while working alone. There was clearly a lot of confusion about how various things worked (particularly the Easter eggs), and it took much longer for the helpful NPC to be summoned, so there wasn’t an easy, in-game fix readily available to address the confusion. I won’t go too far into details about how I tried to prevent this before the LARP and the various kludged efforts I made after the LARP began, but I will say that if there is a next time, the NPC will be present before the PCs walk into the room.

The other issue is that everything interactive was always in one room at the same time: the combat, the puzzles that require concentration and/or pencils and paper to solve, the movable terrain, the Easter egg balancing challenge. In Turnips, the balancing challenge was a room by itself with nothing else in it, and most of the puzzles were in a single area with combat only happening around the outskirts, at the entrances and in the hallways.

When LARPs have only a single room to use, one can divide it into smaller spaces (if there are enough space dividers, furniture, and/or large set pieces) though this typically feels less “official” and may result in a lot more flow back and forth between the spaces than one might have with permanent walls. (It’s also hard to create doors that actually block movement.) A common method of “dividing” up a single space is to run an “elevator module” — basically, a vestibule or area just outside of the door in the hallway, or a temporary space created by room dividers, is set aside for the players to be in between scenes. It often represents a vehicle that is on the move, or, as the name implies, elevator taking the PCs from floor to floor. While the PCs are in this space, the NPCs move around set dressing, furniture, and props to represent new rooms. This method is pretty popular in the one-shot boffer LARPs run at Intercon. (Stop That Moon, Rabbit Run, and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, to name a few, used this method.)

The upside of this method is that one can use the entire room multiple times over to effectively have as many rooms as a LARP might require. The downside is that it can be pretty time and labor intensive, as it requires staff to quickly re-set the stage over and over while players wait in a small area. To deal with the enforced downtime, I’ve seen some LARPs include interactive elements to the “elevator” — videos to watch, puzzles to solve, fodder for inter-PC roleplay. (And water and even snacks while PCs catch their breath.) Elevator mods also only allow a single room to be available at a time and generally strongly support a very linear LARP, which can be both an advantage or a drawback, depending on the desired design of a LARP.

I decided not to use the elevator mod format because the room was very large to begin with, so it didn’t seem necessary to functionally expand the space, and we were rather tight on time, so I didn’t want to have to budget a bunch of downtime for re-staging the set. I also figured the players were mostly new and might not know what elements of the LARP they might find most enjoyable, and I didn’t want to risk there being long scenes where the focus was on a single element that some players might not find interesting.

In retrospect, I think this was a mistake and ensuring players always had access to a variety of elements so that they could always focus on whatever interested them most was not really worth the confusion and chaos. I think players felt like they couldn’t quite focus on the Easter eggs balancing or the puzzles with combat always happening all around. (Veteran players might have put puzzle solvers into a defensible position and put the melee fighters, especially shields, between people focusing on puzzles and the monsters, but that’s an instinct that takes a bit of time to develop.)

There were some other minor fail points that caused issues — some of the puzzles didn’t get their instructions printed (printer failure during prep), and some of the locks (even though they were the kind that is the easiest to pick and were tested before the LARP) simply wouldn’t open. But a more notable issue was that I never heard the players make a single call, either for attack or defense, during the LARP, which made me think the LARP didn’t really properly introduce the style to newbies.

If I were to run this LARP again, here are some of the changes and improvements I’d like to make:

One, depending on the time and space available, I’ll either divide up the room into distinct spaces and only allow the players access to one at at time. Or, alternatively, if there’s tons of time, I’ll run it as an elevator mod.

Two, as mentioned, the PCs will start out with the helpful NPC. (I would probably reuse the concept of the Groundhog’s Shadow — since shadows can change size and shape, and the mask was a solid blank black hood, any NPC who was available at any given moment could play the part.) But PCs will either begin game with the shadow, or will summon the shadow (without having to take time to solve anything) before encountering any other part of the LARP.


Gonna be six more weeks of winter…

Three, begin printing much earlier, so that if there is printer failure, another one can be found before the LARP. (This is a pretty plan for running any LARP event.)

Four, simplify the mechanics available to the PCs, and have smaller, one on one fights (and demonstrations of other mechanics), at the beginning of the LARP so they can ease into it and try things out before larger group combat begins. It probably couldn’t hurt to have an even longer tutorial before the LARP begins, as well.

Five, telegraph more to the NPCs in advance. I didn’t want to overwhelm the NPCs with tons of information before the LARP, especially since they were all experienced players and I wanted them to feel empowered to adjust things like their stats and how often they respawned on the fly, according to how busy/pressed the players were at any given moment. But I think when things like the Easter egg mechanic got confused, this might have been too hard to adjust for on the fly without fuller understanding of the mechanic in advance.

I do think that a formula for creating and running a basic, dungeon-crawl style game can be extracted from what I learned by playing Trouble With Turnips and running Cry Havoc. I occasionally see people posting in online LARP forums, saying there are no boffer LARPs in their area but they’d like to run something for their friends, how can they do it? And I think this formula might be one valid answer to that. That is likely going to be its own post in the near future.

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