Drawing Challenge, 2019

Continuing from where I left off in the previous post… As mentioned, I also did the Inktober challenge of 2019, again with my personal spin on it, connecting all drawings back to a LARP I’ve participated in or cosplay I’ve done. (Many of which overlap — a number of my cosplays started as castings in LARPs.) And part way through, I expanded this to include one tabletop character.

As mentioned in the previous post, I gave myself a full year to complete all 31 drawings instead of the standard one month… and ended up rushing to finish through the second half of September 2020. This defeated the purpose of the extra time, and it meant I was too burned out on daily drawings to begin a new month long challenge on October 1st. But I felt like my drawing was beginning to improve by the end of Inktober 2019, and I only just started filling a lovely brand new sketch book. So I hope once I’ve caught up on blogging and some other LARP-related projects, I’ll find another drawing challenge to dive into. I hear of one that is OC (Original Character)-centric…

Below the cut, another 31 LARP or cosplay related sketches (and one tabletop character), with 31 bits of commentary on each.

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Drawing Challenge, 2018

As some reading this may already know, I love to draw! But I fell out of the habit of regularly drawing for a long while. Then about two years ago, I noticed a number of my friends were sharing daily drawings for something called “Inktober”. It’s an annual month-long art challenge that runs every October, with 31 one-word prompts to inspire 31 ink drawings.

I found the idea rather appealing — it’s arbitrary, yet the combination of prompts and sharing the art online felt like the right form of motivation for me, so I joined in.

I decided to put my own twist on it and relate all of the one-word prompts back to LARPs and cosplays I’ve done over the years. I thought this would make it more inspiring to me personally, easier to narrow down ideas for very weird or vague prompts, and more likely to be of interest to the people who usually follow me online.

This all turned out to be true, but at the same time, sometimes it was hard to connect some of the weirder prompts to LARPs or cosplays. I found myself getting stuck for ideas occasionally, and then falling behind while trying to figure out just the subject for each prompt. I could start doing them out of order, but that seemed likely to derail my momentum.

At some point, I decided I had to significantly lower my standards for the strength of the connection between prompt and LARP or cosplay. I also realized, given the wide variety of Pokémon out there, I could probably connect any prompt to Pikachu (who is both a cosplay of mine and a one-time LARP character), so long as I included a second Pokémon. This thought was a sort of reassuring mental safety net, though I only ever used it once.

The first year I did Inktober (2018), I found I didn’t like rushing through multiple drawings to catch up, but there were also days I just didn’t have the time or inspiration to draw. And it really ate into hobby time I needed for costuming and other LARP related stuff. So I gave myself permission to finish after October ended. I wound up drawing the 31st picture in July.

With the memory of how 2018 went, I began Inktober 2019 by telling myself I had one full year to complete it… and wound up rushing to finish during the second half of September 2020. In fact, I think I finished the last drawing on September 30th, just a few hours before midnight.

This meant that I was a little burnt out on daily drawings when Inktober 2020 began, and I had been neglecting my other hobbies, blogging in particular. That, and discovering there was some sort of old controversy around Inktober that was resurfacing, means I haven’t started any new drawing challenge, Inktober or otherwise, this year. I think I still plan to, because I feel like my drawing skills were actually started to improve again, but I’m not currently in a rush to figure it out. (At least, not until after I catch up on my annual blog post goal.)

All of my Inktober sketches went up on instagram. Some fellow artists encouraged me to collect them all into one or two blog posts and share them with a bit of commentary for context and critique on each, much like I did for my Quarantine Costuming Challenges.

So below the cut, you will find 31 little drawings related to past LARPs and cosplays, and 31 little comments.

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Answering the Call

I’ve sort of made it a mission of mine to explore social-distancing friendly formats of LARP (and LARP adjacent activities.) Obviously, this involves a lot of LARPing over video chat, but it also includes letter LARPing and LARPing via text chat. I also had the privilege of playtesting some of Mirror World Creations’ various offerings, which include a few phone LARPs and an online magic class.

Mirror World Creations offers three phone LARPs via their website, The Girl on the Phone, Fragile Recall, and The Other Side of the Line. I also playtested a fourth LARP, Gremlins!, which isn’t on offer… yet. And I signed up for Basic Principles of Magick.

The Girl on the Phone

This scenario involves the player being contacted by a kidnapped tourist who needs help escaping and finding safety. And it’s up to the player to figure out just how to help them, using their wits and access to the internet.

This was the most tense of the phone LARPs. I really liked how it opened with texting — receiving the first few baffling texts proved to be pretty intense, and it genuinely got my pulse rate up. I had to think as fast ads I could and google solutions as we went along. I imagine every player has their own approach, and I was very impressed with how the actress rolled with my directions even though there’s no way she could have prepared for every eventuality in advance. There was even a bit of emotional roleplay when she was finally on her way to safety and we had a moment to reflect. I also thought the actress was quite good at offering subtle hints when I was stumped for ideas on what to do next.

Fragile Recall

Fragile Recall begins with a medium calling you, then connecting you with one of your past lives. (The introduction with the medium was very cute.) This one is a bit hard to describe without spoiling, because I feel that not knowing who you will be connected with or what to expect was an important part of my experience. And if I have it correct, there are two different options for whom your past life could be.

There was no goal to drive towards, just a very personal conversation between two people from very different eras in history. The circumstances of the past life I spoke to were rather tragic, so I found myself trying to be sensitive but also reassuring. What should I tell someone about how the world has changed in the past century or so? What would I want to know about their shoes? (Which, in a sense I had been, given the premise of the scenario.) How has society evolved, what technological advances are most interesting and uplifting to share? The past life was a real historical person, so I skimmed their wikipedia page while we chatted, and dove into online biographies after we hung up.

The Other Side of the Line

This experience was very much what it says on the tin: you have a long chat with an actress playing a typical anti-vaxxer. There’s a little bit of a framing device where a pro-vaccine friend asks you to chat with their relative, and then asks you how it went.

I tried my best to be sympathetic and look at things from the character’s point of view, and use her own arguments to see the flip side of things, and drew on my own life experiences to make my points. After the conversation ended, I chatted a bit with the actress, who said she wouldn’t have been surprised if I had yelled at her over the phone. I suppose some people might find this scenario an opportunity for catharsis, if they’re frustrated with anti-vaxxers they know personally in real life (I don’t). Others might see this more as a training exercise, to figure out the best way to put together a coherent counter-argument to the kinds of things many anti-vaxxers say.

Gremlins!

Gremlins! is the shortest of the scenarios, where a gremlin calls you up and teaches you a magic trick so that you can take on the witch holding it captive and free it in exchange for wishes. It was a very cute card trick, and there’s a cute little twist at the end.

Basic Principles of Magick

I signed up for this hour long online class and though participants can simply attend as themselves, decided to break out my character (and costuming) from New World Magischola. The class turned out to be a linguistics based approach to spellcasting, which I would have known if I’d remembered to read the short textbook that was sent out in advance. This was definitely my favorite of Mirror World Creations’ offerings, but then, I’m pretty biased in favor of fantasy and linguistics. (Linguistics was one of my majors in college.) The eccentric professor and his poor put-upon grad student were adorably acted, and practicing spells was a lot of fun, as was puzzling out how to craft the verbal components of spells and decode and counteract spells cast by the professor. The spells were cleverly chosen to be things easily represented over video chat. I would definitely sign up for a sequel to this one.

You can check out all of these on the Mirror World Creations website. (It also has Debrief, which is a very cool two player LARP. I played the medium in a run a few months ago.)

That all said, I do want to address a question that comes up a lot as we explore new LARP formats — are these, in fact, LARPs? I feel very strongly that an experience taking place over a phone call (or over a video chat) does NOT preclude it from being a LARP. If you the player are doing the things your character is doing (whether it’s hitting someone with a sword or answering a phone call), then it an be a LARP.

Technically, since I was simply answering the phone as myself, and not as some character who is Not Me, I would say I played the three phone calls as ARGs (alternate reality games) rather than LARPs. If I had chosen to create a character and respond as them, they would have been LARPs. Since I chose to attend the Basic Principles of Magick as Mickey the hipster magizoology student from the Pacific Northwest, and not as me, I have that experience listed on my grand list of LARPs I’ve played.

I think the important way to look at it is this: lots of us are currently missing the forms of LARPs we used to have before social distancing and quarantines. And if what we truly miss is the in-person interaction, phone and video chat LARPs might not scratch that itch. But if at least part of what you miss is a bit of roleplay and taking a break from mundane reality to experience something a strange, or weird, or extraordinary, then these other forms of LARP have a lot to offer.

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Quarantine Costuming Challenge, Part II

Picking up where I left off in the previous post… Below the cut are some more Quarantine Costuming Challenges I completed between July and October.

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Quarantine Costuming Challenge, Part I

Back in late March, when everything was closed and everyone felt trapped at home… and LARPers all over were realizing with a sinking feeling that lots of events were being cancelled, and it was going to be a long while before many of us would have our usual excuses to work on or wear costuming… I found a Facebook group called “Quarantine Costuming Challenge.”

The description read, “…We’ve decided to make a group for posting costuming pictures for larps-that-don’t-exist or larps-that-would-exist-if-we-weren’t-in-a-pandemic!

Every week, we can come up with a new costuming challenge.

The idea is that you post pictures of costumes you create without having to leave the house!”

Needless to say, I loved this idea and dove right in.

Participation has been petering out over the last couple of months, so sometime in September, the group mod announced that Halloween seemed like an auspicious time to bring the project to a close. But the group would remain open in case participants would like to revisit old prompts they missed or share new costuming projects as they liked.

There were 32 prompts in all, and I believe I hit 27 of them. (In fact, in the later months, there were a few weeks where I was the only one doing it.) It made for a really fun motivation to get photos of some old costumes that should have already been photographed, practice makeup and hair styling, and just indulge in my love of costuming despite the lack of “high frockage” LARPs (as the Brits would say).

For some prompts, I recreated pre-existing LARP and/or cosplay costumes wholesale. For others, I enjoyed the creative challenge of seeing what I could piece together out of my pre-existing costuming wardrobe, embellished with my still rather underdeveloped makeup and hair styling skills. At times, I was sorely tempted to buy or make new pieces for some challenges, but I usually resisted that urge, even when the results were less satisfying. I felt the spirit of the challenge mattered, not just because it challenged my creativity, but also because it encouraged minimal social contact. The point, to me, was to see how far I could go while still being as safe as possible during the pandemic (and without spending money.) And I appreciated that many of the themes were designed such that even participants without an extensive costuming closet could still come up with a concept from mundane clothes.

I thought I’d pull the best photos from each and share them in a couple of blog posts. Below the cut, there will be lots of photos of costumes, along with brief notes on each.

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Pay to Advance LARPs

It seems some LARPers out there are pretty down on the idea of LARPs in which one can spend money to improve their capability in combat, usually through access to additional in-game skills (though it can also work through other means, such as granting characters powerful in-game items.)

It doesn’t surprise me when I hear someone who dislikes the idea full-stop hasn’t actually participated in a LARP that uses it, or else has only experienced one form of it. My local live-combat community commonly makes use of exchanging donations for CP, and while it does have some pitfalls (which we occasionally fall into,) I think it is overall a useful net-positive, and worth discussing.

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GM-Less Arbitration

A topic that has recently been on my mind: ways to guide players through GM-less arbitration of mechanics.

The sort of LARP I had in mind while musing over this topic is the lit-form theater LARP with a decent amount of PvP content and mechanics structured to arbitrate actions taken by one character against another, or one character against the environment, but I think this topic still has a lot of relevance to other forms of LARP.

Many of these LARPs include some kind of text within the rules documents instructing players to get a GM if there’s ever a question about mechanics; others instruct players to get a GM by default, regardless of whether or not there is any question about the mechanics. In some cases, this might be because there is some element of the mechanics opaque to the players. For example, some LARPs use a combat mechanic where characters are assigned combat skill rankings, but aren’t privy to how they stack up against one another, and GMs secretly compare rankings when combat breaks out. But even when all of the relevant information is available to players, some LARPs still choose to require a GM be present, especially if the mechanics are complicated and benefit from someone neutral who is focused on keeping track of stats such as hit points, or damage.

I think this sort of thing is slowly falling out of favor in the local theater LARP communities. We seem to be trending towards minimizing GM presence in LARPs and simplifying mechanics such that players can handle them quickly by themselves. (I have no data to back up these claims, just my personal impressions.) But so long as we still have outcome-determination mechanics and PvP/PvE content in LARPs, and mechanics require arbitration, how do we do that while minimizing the presence of GMs?

Here are some methods/guidelines for GM-less arbitration in LARP I’ve run across in the past:

1. Randomized Outcome. Find a way to randomize the outcome (eg flip a coin, roll a die, use an app that randomly selects an option, write the options on pieces of paper and select one without looking.)

Pros: For situations with a limited number of discrete outcomes, it’s neutral and fair, and assuming you have a convenient tool on hand, it can be very quick, as it doesn’t require time spent out-of-character figuring things out.

Cons: this only works for situations with limited number of discrete outcomes, and players can easily find themselves in a situation where there are no tools readily available to randomize an outcome.

2. Best judgement. Players are instructed to use their best judgement and guess what the outcome is most likely meant to be based on their understandings of the mechanics.

Pros: players are inclined to do this anyway — it’s many players’ first instinct in any case. For the players inclined to think to themselves,, “I think I know what the outcome is meant to be, but I’m not 100% sure, so I will double check with the GMs,” this reassures them that they aren’t required to consult a GM. It doesn’t require an outside party or tools, and while a player might choose to deliberate for awhile, it can be as fast and smooth as a simple internal decision that doesn’t require breaking character.

Cons: it doesn’t help in situations where players feel they can’t guess what is intended by the mechanics, or situations where multiple players are involved and disagree on what the outcome should be. This is a fine place to start when it comes to creating guidelines for GM-less arbitration, but there are plenty of situations where it’s just not going to be sufficient.

3. Neutral Third Parties. Find a neutral player (or players), explain the situation, let them decide.

Pros: Theoretically ensures fairness with human thought behind it (rather than randomness). It’s also potentially a nice option for involving a player who seems to have nothing to do during a LARP, possibly enabling, through steering, for them to become involved in-character as well.

Cons: It requires not only the player or players involved in the mechanic dropping character, but also involves bringing another player (or players) out of character with them. It’s possible for no neutral parties to exist if all characters are on one side of a plot or the other. And it’s not necessarily safe to assume neutrality in a game where much of the information is hidden. For examples, an apparent neutral third party might secretly be a villain attempting to mastermind his downfall. Said villain now must either reveal that they aren’t neutral, or face the challenge of giving a fair judgement despite being secretly invested in the outcome.

4. Negotiation. Assuming the decision involves more than one player, the relevant players simply have to come to an agreement on what they’d like the outcome to be.

Pros: It can be a less contentious, more cooperative form of LARPing, where players feel they have some collaborative agency over the story.

Cons: It drops players out of character, and out-of-character negotiation can be pretty awkward and/or fraught. Players might simply be unwilling to concede a zero-sum situation, or feel pressured into accepting an outcome when they’d rather have a neutral GM abitrate. This system tends to favor players who are pushier, and disfavor players who are shy about advocating for themselves. There’s also the possibility that players simply won’t be able to come to an agreement if they’re both invested in mutually exclusive outcomes.

4. Narrative Focus. Pick the outcome you think would make the best story for the LARP.

Pros: Like “use your best judgement,” this is often a seamless approach, especially if only one player is involved. Might require some brief out-of-character discussion if multiple players are involved. Works best if the players are not in an antagonistic situation. Can also be beneficial to the narrative flow of the LARP overall.

Cons: Like best judgement and negotiation, it’s much less likely to be useful in situations involving multiple characters in antagonistic relationships/situations. Players also may simply lack the information to know what outcome is best for the narrative of a LARP.

5. Player Enjoyment Focus. Pick the outcome that would lead to your best enjoyment for the LARP. This is quite similar to Narrative Focus, but in this case, players are encouraged to focus on themselves as individuals, and not the LARP as a whole.

Pros: Much like Narrative Focus, with the added benefit of not risking players feeling pressure to be responsible for the LARP as whole. Players probably also have a better sense of what would make a LARP scenario enjoyable for them, rather than what would be best for the LARP overall.

Cons: Also like Narrative Focus, but with even greater emphasis on the individual, so even less likely to be useful in an antagonistic situation.

6. Err on the Side of Avoiding Metagaming. If you’re ever not sure, just pick the outcome that would be less beneficial for your character.

Pros: Other options assume a level of trust in players not to cheat. And by and large, in LARP, I think this is a reasonable assumption. In all my years of LARPing, I’ve always been under the impression conscious, intentional cheating is pretty rare, though some players may subconsciously convince themselves to interpret ambiguity in rules in their own favor. This version steers players away from that.

Cons: Again, this version doesn’t work for multiple players aiming for mutually exclusive outcomes. Many players may simply not like this version, and may consciously or subconsciously try to steer away from situations where it would be applied.

Notably, these guidelines aren’t mutually exclusive. One could create a set of rules that enables players to consider multiple options, perhaps with a hierarchy built in. For examples, “if you are unsure about the outcome of this mechanic, you are welcome to guess based on your best judgement. If you feel you can’t guess, you may get another player to arbitrate, or, if one is not available, flip a coin.”

If you’ve run across any other guidelines for GM-less arbitration, feel free to let me know in the comments. Did you like them? In what ways did the work well, and in what ways can they fall short?



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Threshold Space

Upon request, I’m going to talk a little bit more about modules in Threshold, the cyberpunk boffer campaign that concluded this past January, and its unusual use of space as a boffer LARP running in a hotel.

First of all, the space. (Interconners would recognize the venue — it was Intercon’s hotel from 2000 to 2015.) Threshold rented two large function spaces on the ground floor, and multiple suites on the upper floors. The smaller of the two function spaces was used as a staging area by staff, a room where set dressing, props, NPC costuming, and documentation for content waited. (Boffer communities often call this “Monster Camp”, some theater LARP communities might call this “GM Space”.)

The bigger function space was a large ballroom with two air walls that divided the space into three rooms. The air walls were closed most of the way. The open gaps in the air walls were filled with two giant pieces of set dressing/props, the Threshold Gates. In-game, the Gates enabled members of the Threshold Project (the PCs) to teleport anywhere on earth (and later, beyond earth…)

Gate A

The middle room created by the air walls was used as Threshold’s Forward Operating Base, or FOB — the space where Threshold personnel spent time between missions. The FOB was partitioned into various sections by means of a pop up tent, and tables stacked on top of one another. We could operate the Gates from inside the FOB, consult our schedule of missions, fill out corporate paperwork, meet with visitors, help ourselves to performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals, and jack into the Overlay (the internet/VR world). And when we died, we could interact with the automated Resleeving Station (Threshold‘s Resurrection mechanic).

We entered the rooms to either side of the FOB through the Gates. Throughout the day, staff would set up and strike the set dressing for various modules in those two rooms. Outside the doors to the hallway, staff had tables set up where NPCs could put props and weapons. Inside the doors, staff would block off small sections by stacking tables on top of one another and draping them with tablecloths. This was usually where NPCs could “respawn” during combat, and a place to keep props for individual modules as needed, set up lightning and sound systems out of view, etc.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that the hotel staff either never noticed us stacking tables on top of one another in the various function rooms, or else noticed and voiced no objections.

All modules that featured combat happened in those rooms on either said of the FOB, along with the non-combat mods for larger numbers of players. Those spaces were fairly large and could be emptied of furniture or anything breakable. The suites that Threshold rented upstairs hosted modules without combat. One suite was always reserved for the cantina. During the evening break, dinner was served there, and at other times, there were always snacks and drinks to be had.

Somewhere tucked away in a corner of each of the other suites, there was a storage bin full of stuff for setting different scenes in the hotel rooms, such as colored lights and speakers. During suite modules, we did things like hold meetings, solve puzzles, undergo evaluations, and investigate staged murder scenes. Sometimes staff used weird sound tracks and lighting to transform these spaces into something more surreal, such a shared psychic plane for the mentalists, or a shared network for AIs in sleep mode.

So what kind of modules did we play in these spaces?

There were plenty of what one might consider a more “standard” modules (standard for an Accelerant campaign, anyway) — combat missions that ran in the rooms on either side of the FOB might be things like “someone has stolen a bunch of weapon prototypes. Retrieve the prototypes while fending off attacks from the terrorists, maybe rescue some hostages while you’re there.” (Or “terrorists have taken over the space elevator. Take it back while “The Girl From Ipanema” plays on loop in the background.) But there were also plenty of really unusual, often rather “out there” modules as well.

The Threshold writing staff was very clever in the creation of their setting. The baked in several concepts that functioned as excellent in-game excuses for lots of variety in player activities. I think Threshold had the most variety in terms of types of activities of any boffer LARP I’ve yet PCed or NPCed.

One example of a baked in concept was the aforementioned Overlay — in Virtual Reality, anything was possible. Sometimes we got to play Dragon Stabbers, an online fantasy video game in virtual reality. Sometimes we went on missions to rescue people who got trapped in online VR games that glitched or got hacked, and we found ourselves playing a live version of the board game RoboRally. Other times VR simulations went wrong and trapped people. One of the most memorable mods was an educational sim that trapped a teacher inside, and we had to fight off dinosaurs and planets spouting Fun Facts while solving puzzles with early education science themes.

Another setting concept example — the Threshold Project was incredibly expensive to run (operating the Gate cost millions of dollars,) so we relied on mega-corporations to sponsor us. One of the megacorps was a media company, and as members of the Threshold Project, our characters were minor (and a few major) celebrities, so they often insisted we perform publicity stunts. At the bidding of our corporate sponsors, we were special guests on an dance reality show, did taste testing on new beverages and recorded our reactions (“So refreshing!”), participated in runway shows, attended (and contributed art to) art exhibits, and staged scenes for the pilot of a documentary tv show about our members. This stuff was weird and wacky and tons of fun. As minor celebrities, we also got to attend a convention dedicated to us, meet our fans (cosplaying as us!), received fan art of our characters, and read erotic fanfiction written about us.

Corporate culture was another gateway to activities I’d never done in boffer LARP. Filling out employee evaluations can actually be a lot of fun, who knew? We underwent psych evaluations on our first day, and the A.I. underwent quality assessment other times; we performed weird tasks, played memory games, and solved logic puzzles. One time we engaged in corporate espionage in the form of presenting an impromptu powerpoint presentation with stolen slides.

I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the electronic games. Hacking was represented by mini-games played on smart phones. Staff printed out QR codes represented nodes where hackers could gain access to a system. Scanning the QR codes initiated one of a few mini games, and printed instructions at the node told players what to do in the event of a success or failure. Computer games also featured in other ways — for example, we played Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes to represent bomb defusing missions.

Threshold was by turns dark, weird, surreal, droll. I really hope it inspires lots of LARP creators in our community.

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Beyond the Threshold

Back in January, I played in the final event of a cyberpunk campaign boffer LARP called Threshold. An introductory event (dubbed “Mission Day 0”) ran at the end of 2016, and it began in earnest in early 2017. It ran four events per year for three years, and when it came to its dramatic conclusion early this year, it was of my last major LARP events before the pandemic brought in-person LARPing to a screeching halt.

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I know I’ve mentioned much of this in previous blog posts about Threshold, but for my last blog post about this campaign, I wanted to sum up the various elements made this LARP special, and talk about the cool way the staff ended the finale.

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Three More Online LARPs

Just a quick post on my lastest adventures in online LARP — thoughts on the Summer LARPin’ event, a Eurovision inspired LARP run out of the UK, and two runs of a speed dating style LARP for mortals and fae.

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