Hourglass

The week after I played a student in New World Magischola, I traveled to Pennsburg, Pennsylvania to play in a one-shot boffer LARP that ran from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon put on by Source LARP Inc. It was called Sunadokei, which is Japanese for “hourglass”.

Bear in mind this LARP may run again (maybe in New England?) and this post contains spoilers!

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Heroes of Nihon

When the players signed up for the LARP, there were two options to pick from — Nihon, or feudal Japan, and modern Japan, so we knew off the bat there would be time travel shenanigans.

I picked feudal Japan as the more romantic option with more interesting costuming opportunities. I have a number of Japanese inspired costuming pieces from playing Fifth Gate, so I could have avoided having to do any sewing for this LARP, but that just isn’t my style, I guess. I asked to play a miko, a Shinto shrine maiden, and I knew I wanted to wear their traditional red and white accoutrements, which meant I had to sew my fourth pair of hakama pants, this time in red. It was a lot of work while prepping for New World Magischola, but at least I can say my skill in sewing hakama pants is improving. Then on top of that, I offered to sew tops for two other players. I ended up bringing my sewing machine, Mr. Sew-and-Sew, along with me on the trip and sewing in the hotel room between LARPs. But I finished it all in time for Sunadokei.

I was quite excited when I learned about the site we’d be on (despite knowing it lacked AC.) It was a boy scout camp that had several bunks designed to look a castle, a frontier town from the Old West, a fort, and a pirate ship. The PCs would be sleeping in the castle and using it as a base for the LARP. (The modern group started elsewhere, but joined us pretty quickly in the castle.) Between Sunadokei and New World Magischola, I’m getting spoiled on really cool LARP locations.

As we were getting ready on the feudal side, I was really impressed with the players’ costuming. I was relieved that the three pieces I had made all came out ok and fit. One was a tunic with a print of birds and waves, for a character who wielded air and water magic.

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Another was a tunic with subtle gray, brown, and navy stripes, for a peasant fisherman, seen below on the player on the right. On the left is me in my new red hakama pants (and matching red bow in my hair.)

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Photo by David Jacobitz.

But my favorite costumes on the feudal side were two sets of armor. One was a set of Japanese armor borrowed from a SCAdian, worn by a samurai. It looked excellent. The other was a homemade set of peasant armor made from bamboo, worn by the head of the peasant militia, which I think was my favorite costume of the weekend. You can see both below in a photo I really love, showing the samurai being helped into their armor, while the head of the militia adjusts his own and the master smith from the Kazan temple looks on.

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The same player who made and wore the peasant armor also brought a number of other props, including a calligraphy set, a tea set, and setting appropriate food, which I thought were really nice touches to help our immersion.

We played agents of the Shogun’s spymaster, refugees, and native Islanders, fleeing from the Yuan (Mongol) foe, who had summoned dark magics to banish most of the kami and conquer Nihon. We had gathered at the foot of Byobu-yama (Byobu Mountain) on Hirado Island to find the Oracle, and learn how to stop the Yuan invasion. It was a long hard slog up the mountain, fighting Yuan on the way up. We lost the Spymaster, who sacrificed himself to save the rest of us.

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I really love this photo by David Jacobitz.

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Surrounded by Yuan! Photo by David Jacobitz.

The weather, by the way, did not do us any favors in our fight against the Yuan, but we fought through it. Recently, I wrote a post describing the most brutally hot and humid LARP weekend I’d yet experienced at Fifth Gate: Silverfire, which was bad enough to cause players to take refuge in the walk-in fridge. I spoke too soon; it was in the 90s (30s in Celsius) at Fifth Gate, but the temperature climbed over 100 (37) during my weekend at New World Magischola. We weren’t boffer fighting in the sun, but the campus was huge, and simply walking between the buildings could be a surprisingly draining task. At Sunadokei, it wasn’t in the 100s, but the humidity was intense. We were sweating buckets, and even the rain wasn’t enough to cool us off. I have a great deal of admiration for the NPCs who worked so hard to entertain us despite the heat and humidity and lack of AC on the campsite.

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Almost ready to save Nihon.

We met the Oracle on the mountain, who brought us to Hirado Castle to perform a ritual to summon heroes from among our ancestors to joins us and help us fight the Yuan. They came to us through a massive rip in time that they had been performing scientific experiments on in the year 2023.  They helped us retrieve artifacts stolen by oni from the shrines in Hirado castle and re-consecrate the shrines. Over the course of the day, we also met the prince, who came from the front lines to hear about our progress, we stole artifact from the Yuan that enabled us to put up a protective ward at night, and crafted items out of gifts left to us by kami to thank us for the sacrifices we offered them. Late at night, I participated in a ritual with a spirit of Void who told us one of us would summon him in the future to this time. (I hope one of us remembered to perform the summoning ritual, or we may have created a paradox.)

I particularly liked the repeated encounters with the elemental oni — in the first fight, we lost but we learned about their strengths and weaknesses. Before we split up to face them again, we were able to make strategic decisions about who was best suited to face each one. This element of learning about the enemies’ unique nature and then being able to incorporate it into our decisions and strategies in a meaningful way is not as common as I’d like it to be in LARPing.

The next day, we moved the rip in time, defending it from attacks all along the way, out to a ship in the water (represented by the pirate ship pictured above, of course) in order to enable us to summon a kamikaze (divine wind) to drive the Yuan from Nihon once more, before we fought a final battle against the Yuan, their oni allies, and those they had managed to corrupt, including the spymaster who had sacrificed himself and the prince. (We were able to save the prince and the spymaster.) I learned from the Oracle which of the summoned heroes was my descendant, and bonded with him just before they returned to their own time. There were other plots involving clever things with time travel that I didn’t personally get very involved with, including a prophesized assistant for the Oracle, the fate of the two players who summoned the second kamikaze, and a romance that spanned the ages. And apparently, if an ancestor died, their descendant would be affected by the time travel paradox, which I thought was a neat twist.

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Getting the rip in time to the ship.

This was my first LARP with Source LARP, Inc., but I really hope it won’t be my last, especially if the idea about a musketeer themed LARP comes to fruition. (I would just love love love a musketeer themed LARP.) And if Sunadokei runs again, I’d love to NPC it.

New World Magischola

After College of Wizardry, a Harry Potter inspired LARP set in a magical college and run in a real castle, became such a hit in Europe, an American LARP based on College of Wizardry was developed on our side of the pond by Benjamin Morrow and Maury Brown. The idea for New World Magischola was such a hit, four weekends were filled for its first run. I played a student at the third weekend.

(When I saw the licenses on these two cars in the parking lot, I knew I was in the right place.)

I’d read a fair bit online about College of Wizardry, (it was all over the online LARP communities and mainstream news) so I was quite excited. But I also wondered if the American version of the experience would be lacking by comparison, as CoW ran ran in a authentic 13th century castle in Poland. I knew Magischola was running on the campus of the University of Richmond in Virginia, which looked pretty in the videos, but wasn’t an authentic 13th century castle.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worried. UR’s campus is extraordinarily beautiful, in all its architecture, landscaping, natural environment, and interior design. Its collegiate gothic style carries a lot of old world charm and has more than enough gravitas in its beauty to be the American tertiary education version of Hogwarts. Believe me when I say my photos don’t do it justice. (I was unsurprised to discover that The Princeton Review named UR the most beautiful campus in the US in 2000.)

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But beyond the beauty of the campus itself, the staff of Magischola clearly put in absurd amounts of work making the interior spaces beautiful and immersive. The coat of arms of the school and the individual houses appeared on large banners in the dining hall and outside the House common rooms (I was rather impressed by their designs), and the interior of every classrooms was full of magical odds and ends, books and bottles and quills, to make the school feel real. Again, I don’t feel my photos do it any justice.

There was also evidence of an adorable snipe infestation scattered all over campus.

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Snipes!

In the time leading up to my run of Magischola, I read a lot about the design process for the LARP and its inspirations. People talked a lot about it being Nordic style, and how it differed from “typical American LARPs.” Some of the key points:

  1. High budget/high production values. While I have attended other LARPs with beautiful set dressing/props/costuming, this was by far the most expensive LARP I’ve played and it showed. The black and yellow robes each student was given contributed immensely. Having a ubiquitous visual cue on all of the players really had an impact.
  2. Workshopping before and debriefing after. We spent Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning on this. I’ve done workshops and debriefs before, but they were longer for this LARP.
  3. Collaborative character creation between staff, the players, and character coaches. The staff sent us bare bones characters based on our pre-casting surveys, which we were encouraged to elaborate on, with guidance from character coaches.I’ve played in games where character creation was a collaborative process with the writers, but I think this is the first time I’ve been actively encouraged to add more information after being sent my character sheet.
  4. Player empowerment during the game. Players were given a lot of control over what happened to them, which manifested primarily in two ways.
    One, the magic system was subject-determined, meaning the subject of a spell or curse or potion got to decide how a spell affected them (which includes deciding the spell fails and nothing happened.) You can watch youtube videos, such as this one, explaining how the system worked.
    The spell casting system worked very well when used one-on-one where there was nothing at stake on the outcome. Practice duels in Combat class was a ton of fun. But it fell apart in groups or when there was something at stake on the outcome. For example, at the end of Combat class, the teacher declared a free-for-all exercise, with 20 House Points at stake. Students really wanted the House Points, so they were less inclined to lose, and having lots of people trying to get spells off as fast as possible , predictably, made it hard to understand.
    And two, players could request scenes from the staff, including the outcome if they chose. There was a form for submitting requests prior to the LARP, and players could also stop by the staff HQ to request scenes during the LARP. This often took the form of players requesting an NPC come visit them or an encounter with some kind of magical animal.
    Being able to create the experiences we wanted was empowering and I think really helped players feel like they got everything, plot and character-wise, they wanted out of their weekends. At the same time, I do think there was sometimes a subtle, unspoken vibe that content created and presented by staff was somehow a bit more “real” than content created by players. For example, I decided mid-way through the LARP that my character was a nagual, but because it was a little self-indulgent, it felt slightly hollow for me (and I think for one or two other players who heard about it), not unlike refusing to lose a duel if I wanted to win.
  5. A de-emphasis of overarching plots. I found it a bit odd to see this suggested as a way NWM differed from “typical American LARP”; many American LARPs I’ve played lack an overarching plot, and there was an in-game problem with ley-lines causing chaos on the school grounds (and affecting the school ghosts), which felt a lot like an overarching plot to me. But the ley-lines/ghost plot lead to one of the most emotional scenes in the LARP for me, as Maison Du Bois worked together to help our beloved House Ghost.

I played Mickey Duggan (aka “Smallfoot” — the term for a juvenile sasquatch), a first year on the Cryptozoologist path (of the Spirit Animal Friend type) from the Thunderbird province (Pacific Northwest) who was very concerned with the rights of magical creatures. As an animal lover in real life, Cryptozoology was a top choice for me in the pre-casting survey. (I created a petition to recognize the jackalopes as an endangered species to use as an icebreaker. I made myself a shirt to wear on Friday bearing my slogan,”Hope for the ‘Lope!”)

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“Hope for the ‘Lope!”

I also knew I really wanted the experience of being sorted into a House, so I definitely wanted to play a first year. I embraced the hipster culture of the Thunderbird region (and now I find I’m really into hipster fashion after researching it for my costuming. Not the first time a LARP character of mine’s fashion sense has influenced my own!) I also initially wanted to play a character who grew up steeped in the magical culture, the Magimundi, but when I was cast as mundane-born (muggle-born, in Harry Potter speak), I realized it meant I could dress in a more mundane way and not worry about making references to mundane cultural stuff without accidentally breaking character.

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Mickey Duggan, hipster wizard

I read most of the material about the setting when it first came out, but found I had forgotten chunks of the history by the time I actually played the LARP. I put off reading the cryptozoology book (a list of magical creatures of North America and their descriptions) until the long drive there. I remembered most of it during the LARP because it was fresh in my mind, but I wish I had also read it much earlier, so that I could have prepared more to incorporate it into my backstory and been able to play out scenes referencing the material.

The workshops on Thursday emphasized techniques for maintaining our personal comfort. We practiced techniques for stopping scenes, for indicating that we were ok with the current scene but didn’t want to it to ramp up in intensity, for asking one another if we were ok out-of-character and responding to such questions, and for exiting scenes in such a way that indicated we didn’t want anyone to question it.

We also went through a few exercises regarding our characters, which both helped us develop and think about our own characters and learn a little bit about other characters we might have known from primary school. One of the exercises involved dividing into groups of four and coming up with two positive relationships between our characters and other group members, and two negative relationships (which meant we had at least one relationship with another person that was both positive and negative.)

It was an interesting exercise, but it didn’t have any impact on my actual gameplay. I wish I’d been able to work out more relationships with other characters online in the weeks or months prior to the game, so that we could have more time to develop them or plan out scenes around them and make them impactful. In the week or so before the LARP, a number of other people posted online regarding creating character connections; I would have liked to have responded, but at that point I was too busy with other prep (costuming and packing and such) to take them up on it.

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Ready to start school!

On Thursday evening, we had dinner that began out of game and transitioned into game when the chancellor gave welcoming announcements. Then we went to House welcoming parties, where the first years had an opportunity to meet each of the Houses in their common rooms. (The common rooms were wonderfully decorated thematically according to the House colors and mascot.)

This was followed by the first club meetings. My character was written to join the Fellowship of the Hydra, a philanthropist group, but one of the topics she cared personally about was the recognition of chupacabra sapience, so I went to the Sapience Advocacy club. Fortunately, at some point, the Hydra club decided to merge their meeting with the Sapience Advocacy club, so I was able to attend both. But I also heard a rumor about a club called the Explorers of the Eternal, which provided a riddle for members to solve, and I love solving riddles, so I went to that club meeting. The solution provided the location of more riddles, which in turn gave the time, location, and password for a second meeting on Saturday night, and I spent the rest of the evening searching for them and solving them.

On Friday and Saturday, I attended classes. As a student on the cryptozoology path, I attended Cryptozoology, Herbology, Healing Tech and Traditions, Combat and Defense, and Magical Theory/Ethics. I also showed up for an Alchemy class just for fun. The teachers did an excellent job in creating a magical academic environment for the students. (As did many others, like the school ghosts and poltergeist and the NPCs who played various creatures.) In Cryptozoology, we met and learned about a chupacabra and a sasquatch. (I asked the latter to the dance; he politely declined.) In Herbology, we made sweet smelling satchels, in Healing, we discussed triage and practiced taking patient histories. In Combat, we practiced dueling with a focus on elemental spells and devised defenses against them, and in Magical theory, we interviewed the school ghosts and then a vampire.  In Alchemy, we brewed a love potion.

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Mickey’s school supplies

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Close-up of the turtle handle. A fellow player turned a wooden turtle pen into Mickey’s wand.

Attending classes was one of my major highlights of Magischola; it felt incredibly genuine and immersive, overall, very much like my experience as a new college student. I was meeting lots of new people, students and school staff, all at once, trying to navigate a new environment (and getting lost on campus), and attending classes, even taking notes and sometimes finding it difficult to stay awake (not out of boredom, just lack of sleep). Very authentic.

Another highlight was getting sorted on Friday afternoon. I’m very glad I chose to play a first year. We were given a survey before being sorted to indicate our preference for Houses, but all five Houses seemed cool to me in their own way, and I very much wanted the experience of discovering which House I belonged to, so I didn’t express any preference. Genuinely not being certain where I would end up made it very exciting, though out of character, I had a hunch I might wind up in Maison Du Bois because it was the smallest House and the least popular choice among first years (and also had been the least popular choice by players in their pre-casting surveys.) It’s likely I ended up there simply by default. In character, Mickey was something of a rule breaker and trouble maker, and so was surprised to be sorted into the House that produces the most marshalls. Nonetheless, I immediately felt pride in my House and affection and attachment to my fellow Du Boises upon hearing the school chancellor pronounce my sorting, both in- and out-of-character (aka “bleed out”.) I was the first first year to be sorted into Du Bois,and I was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm and warmth, along with a mini blue teddy bear and a grizzly-bear-paw-style fist bump.

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Mickey being sorted into Maison Du Bois.  Photo courtesy of NWM.

In my run of Magischola, Maison Du Bois struck me as sort of the adorably derpy underdog House. On top of being an unpopular choice on the pre-casting surveys, four members had dropped out of the LARP last minute, which is how Maison Du Bois ended up the smallest House. I’m pretty sure we were still the smallest House even after sorting, which put us at a significant disadvantage for the House Cup. Maison Du Bois was known for being just and loyal, which was sort of interpreted as a goody-goody reputation. (We even had the derpiest House motto, “Always Just” and an adorable cheer, “Paws up! RAWR!”) I think we thought of ourselves as Gryffindors, but were actually more Hufflepuff. (Hence my out-of-game nickname for Maison Du Bois: House Gryffinpuff. Also, House Teddy Bear.) Adorably, some people called us Dubis, (“DOO-bees”), and dubi happens to mean teddy bear in Hebrew. During our House initiation rituals, I was assigned an older student as a mentor, who called me “Tiny First Year Cub” and various variations thereof. I think it was in part because she forgot my character’s name, but I didn’t mind at all. I loved it. I loved my mentor. I loved Maison Du Bois.

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Proud Dubi! Paws Up!

In retrospect, though I’m selfishly really glad I didn’t pick a preferred House before being sorted, part of me wished I had expressed a desire to be in Maison Du Bois — I think it made the presidents of the various houses happy when they heard about first years who wanted to join them, and I think the Maison Du Bois presidents didn’t get to have that experience via the surveys.

And Maison Du Bois came in second place in the House Cup! Despite our low numbers, despite being the underdogs, despite coming in last place in previous two runs and trailing behind for much of the third run, we came in second place.  (We may have even averaged the highest in points per student.) We cheered pretty loudly when another House was announced as fifth place (which I feel bad about, we shouldn’t have done that, but everyone was clearly expecting us to be in last place)… I don’t know how meaningful the House Cup really was, with only two days worth of often arbitrarily distributed points… yet I felt extremely proud. Paws up! (Why the House Cup was being awarded on opening weekend was never addressed — people just kind of ignored the illogical aspect of it. I actually think it might have been better to announce the current standings at the end of the LARP rather than announce a winner and handing out a big trophy. But I guess it was more climactic with a trophy.)

Another highlight was the Explorers of the Eternal. The riddles proved fairly easy, though I struggled with a couple of them because I assumed they had to be harder than they actually were. But I still had a ton of fun putting my head together with other students, working them through, and searching through picturesque spots on the campus for the next clue.

This may sound a bit silly, but I really appreciated how hands-off it was from the perspective of the NPCs. I often encounter puzzles and codes to break in LARPing, but often it’s a single step, and there’s often an NPC to make sure you receive it and guide you through solving it if you struggle. Most modules are hooked by an NPC to let PCs know when something is available to interact with. In this case, the NPC simply handed us the first challenge and soon left. It was up to us to get through it and discover the time, place, and password on our own. No one came to tell us when the Explorer meeting was ready, it was simply out there for us to find at midnight. It felt much more real to me this way.

At the meeting, we met the current head of the Explorers, who proved to be the Chancellor of the school from the early 1800s. (This mysterious time travel conundrum was never explained.) There was a small buffet of food and drinks set out in dark, candlelit function hall. The Chancellor brought out a large wooden crate. Inside, packed with straw for safe keeping, we found a prop unicorn haunch that had been “tapped” — there was a tube sticking out so that we could drain out the “unicorn blood” into vials. The chancellor told us about the properties of unicorn blood. He offered us vials of poison that could kill in ten seconds, but we would just glimpse death if we drank unicorn blood in nine. Like me, my character was a vegetarian, so I hesitated, but also like me, my character was inclined to let curiosity get the better of her.

Each of the players who partook described what they had seen. One saw the angry faces of all those he had ever wronged waiting for him. Another saw nothing. A third said it seemed as though years had passed since he had drunk the poison, and he’d been living in a strange city in the desert. (A version of the Egyptian afterlife.) I decided Mickey, who had the goal of one day attending a Thunderbird in its death ritual, saw a Thunderbird waiting for her. But just as the Thunderbirds donated parts of themselves to the humans who attended them at the end, Mickey came to realize they expected something in return. I was proud of Mickey’s version of the near-death experience, how it tied in to her personal goals, to an element of the setting (particularly one related to Mickey’s home province) and also expanded on it.  And I really liked how the reward for the puzzle solving was not a mechanical benefit, but a cool experience and a little piece of knowledge that we as players were invited to inject into the LARP, while still maintaining an element of ambiguity. Were there multiple afterlives? Were they random or did they reflect some truth about each of us? Were we hallucinating? It helped a lot that the space chosen for the meeting was really nice and quite appropriate, atmosphere-wise, and the prop for the crate and the unicorn haunch were really nice. (The blood proved to be a sugary alcoholic beverage, which seemed just right to me. I appreciated the inclusion of alcohol in this LARP — it’s a rare thing in the LARPs I play.) I heard the other runs treated the whole thing very differently, and that it spawned RP outside of the meetings in various ways.

When the current Chancellor announced during meal-time school announcements that a previous Chancellor had, back in the 1800s, left 10 points to a future student, Mickey Duggan, for boldly trying out a strange experiment, it really put a smile on my face.

The last highlight of New World Magischola was the Welcome Ball, the dance that capped off our first week of college. We were all strongly encouraged to find dates to ensure that no one had to process in alone or sit out the first dance, a formal waltz. The school staff repeatedly told us it didn’t have to be a romantic thing — it could just be two colleagues who respected one another and enjoyed one another’s company. Lots of characters, school staff and our House presidents, made it a personal mission to be sure everyone had a date. Oddly, while this increased pressure on our characters to find a date, it made finding a date feel less socially fraught to me out of character, so I appreciated it a lot.

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Ready to dance!

Many of us had taken a dance lesson on the first day of classes, taught by the Chancellor, which was a ton of fun. (The song “Shut Up and Dance” will be forever linked with my wizarding school experience, as it played during the lesson.) I always enjoy an opportunity to dance.

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Mickey cutting a rug with Addison, her extremely well dressed date. Photo courtesy of NWM.

More photos of Addison and Mickey at the dance, courtesy of NWM.

New World Magischola was an extremely fun, immersive weekend, and an unforgettable experience. I had so much fun, I came back the next week (which involved more 4+ hour drives there and back) to NPC on Friday night and Saturday of the Week 4 run. The staff has already announced two yuletide weekends running in December in Ohio. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I sure would like to return to Magischola! If not, there’s a smaller one day event running in Massachusetts in December, which I’m very happy about. It’s clear from the activity on the Facebook groups since the end of the weekend that people found this to be a moving and bonding experience. Hopefully I’ll see lots of my classmates this December!

(More photos of all four runs can be found on the New World Magischola website here.)

 

Silverfire Challenges

At the end of last May, the spring event of Fifth Gate: Silverfire. Fifth Gate, for those who don’t know, is one of the local boffer campaigns that has two parts: Silverfire, a high fantasy world, and Wrathborn, a post-apocalyptic world. Each world has one event in the spring, one in the fall, and together, we have one large combined event in the winter where the denizens of both worlds come together.

This past event was Silverfire’s first since meeting the Survivors of the Wrathborn world at the first combined event. We also had a one day dinner event in January to mark the end of our time in the Crossroads between the worlds and say goodbye before returning to our own realms. I had considered switching over to the Wrathborn side for a year — that is, my character would have left the dinner with the Survivors and gone with them to their bleak world. But sadly, their spring event conflicted with my schedule, and missing one out of two events seemed like a shame. Oh, well, there’s always next year. One Survivor from the Wrathborn world did join us Champions for the year in the Silverfire world. It made for great roleplay opportunities as he learned about our world firsthand. He also proved amazingly useful in a battle on Sunday, when our enemies used magic to slow us all, but he was able to remove that curse from a number of us, enabling us to move quickly between the various points on the field we were trying to defend.

The weekend opened with all of us being lead into the dark to witness a vision of the Silverfire King (a one-time hero who turned on us; many Champions now call him the Silverfire Tyrant) trying to force his former allies to forswear their Orders and pledge allegiance to him. Through various rituals, we were able to save some of them. We spent much of the weekend working on weakening the king by taking down some of his allies, the Silversmith and his bodyguards. After the rescues, some of our allies came by with a giant map of the region and updated us on the political and social changes that had occurred in our absence while we were in the Crossroads between the worlds.

On Saturday, almost immediately after I woke up, we heard rumors of Silverfire knights roaming the woods and attempting to infuse our cabins and tents with Silver. We weren’t entirely sure what the consequences would be, but we knew it would give the King an advantage over us we couldn’t afford, so we ran off to defend our territory. The Eyrie had a dark, emotional moment when we were forced to slay an old member of our warband.

I think one of my favorite events of the weekend was when my Order, the Disciple of the Tempests, went into the mountains to face a foe called the Stormbreaker. On the same excursion, we had the chance to expand on our training by taking on the Aspects of different types of storms. One Disciple became a spirit of the Hurricane, another the spirit of a Typhoon. My character temporarily became a spirit of the Snowstorm. I particularly like such scenarios in Fifth Gate because they give players access to a new set of abilities and tactics to try out for a little while. (The lesson from this particular training session: archery in Fifth Gate is terrible against a shield wall, whatever gifts the Storm may give you.)

Sadly, I missed a few other encounters for the Disciples of the Tempest that sounded like a lot of fun. I’ve been hoping to spend more time with the Host of the Maelstrom, our counterparts in Stormcoast that party way harder than us Disciples. Hopefully, there will be more of them at the next event in the fall.

Late Saturday night, we got word that the forces of Ruin were attacking two Gates, and there were refugees attempting to flee to safety. We chose which Gate to defend  (knowing what would befall the other Gate) and fought one of the toughest battles I’ve ever been in in all my years of boffer LARPing. We had known we wouldn’t be victorious, but we wanted to enable all of the refugees to escape and weaken the enemy as much as possible.

The battle devolved into what is often affectionately referred as a “Hedgehog of Doom“. (I don’t know if this terminology is common outside of the local Accelerant community.) The term “clusterfuck” got thrown around a lot, too. Basically, the enemies were very strong, with a few invulnerable (or near enough to it) creatures among them, and they were re-spawning in all directions in the dark, which resulted in us getting wrapped and then completely surrounded. We got tangled up into a tighter and tighter ball in the middle of the field until we reached the point where we were literally tripping over one another and too tightly clustered to swing weapons properly. When we finally bid a hasty retreat from the field, we left a significant number of dead behind on the field.

Personally, I prefer my boffer LARPs to have the occasional brutal, desperate sort of fight. A high number of combat encounters often feel as though PCs are highly likely, if not guaranteed to win (though this varies from game to game, of course,) so having these kinds of fights in a nice change of pace that reinforces the darkness and seriousness of the setting and the situations the PCs find themselves in. But once we began literally stepping on one another, the fun became compromised. We knew before the battle began that this wouldn’t be a victory — we’d just be trying to enable the escape of as many refugees as possible and hopefully take down a lieutenant or two in the process before running from the field, but it went much worse than expected, both from an in- and out-of-game perspective. There’s been a lot of discussion about it that should probably form the basis of its own post.

The event came to a close on Sunday after I fought in one more battle, this one against the Blightbinders, where the Survivor’s ability to remove the Slow effect came in handy.

It’s worth noting the roughest aspect of this weekend was the weather. It was unseasonably warm for May, in the 90s (mid-30s to you Celsius adherents) and extremely humid, which makes it the hottest LARPing event I’d ever played through. Combined with the intense humidity, the heat was brutal. It was hard to sleep on Friday night.  Tellingly, players kept sneaking off to hang out in the walk-in fridge. (I was there a number of times myself.) I think the NPCs deserve massive kudos for being willing to fight in that weather. I don’t know if I would have been willing to do it, myself.

I had made a few new costuming pieces for my character to debut at the event, but it was so hot, I couldn’t stand to wear layers except late at night. I made a new tunic, a haori-like jacket out of what I personally consider to be the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever worked with — a textured blue koi fish print a friend shipped to me from Japan. I was so scared to cut it for fear of ruining it… and that fear proved founded when I finally got up the courage to sew with it. The jacket has some, let’s just say, construction issues. But it’s wearable.

I didn’t get any photos at the event, so I took some hasty selfies at home trying to show the layers of the outfit, which clearly did not come out well. I will try to get better photos soon.

It’s very disheartening but… it’s also incentive to keep improving my sewing skills, I guess. The staff of Fifth Gate has just announced that there will be a masquerade ball at the next capstone event, coming up in January, which I find to be incredibly exciting. I love a masquerade ball! It’s early, I know, but the announcement came early to afford us the opportunity to costume if we want to, and I really want to! I’ve already started up a pinterest board for inspiration, doodled up some design sketches, and went on a fabric scouting trip. I’ve also been poking around online to see what kind of fabrics I can order. Someone recently introduced me to SpoonFlower, and I’m somewhat addicted to it.

I can’t wait!

LARPing on American Dad!

Back in early May, American Dad! aired an episode featuring LARP, titled “The Nova-Centauris-burgh Board of Tourism Presents: American Dad“.

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The Princess of Nova-Centaurus-burgh

For context, American Dad! is one of Seth McFarland’s shows (along with the earliest and most famous one, Family Guy and its far less popular spin-off, The Cleveland Show.) The premise follows the pattern of McFarland’s other works — not unlike The Simpsons, they feature a comedic cartoon centering around the outlandish shenanigans of the Smith family, which consists of Stan, the ultra-right wing father, Francine, his occasionally down-to-earth, occasionally cloudcuckoolander wife, his liberal daughter Hailey, his nerdy son Steve, Roger, the outlandish alien who lives with them (and who, incidentally, loves to roleplay), and the goldfish, Claus (actually a German trapped in a goldfish body.)

“The Nova-Centauris-burgh Board of Tourism” features two main plotlines. One follows Stan, Hailey, Roger, and Claus attempting to create a knock-off SeaWorld in their own home and backyard. The other plotline follows Francine and Steve as he introduces her to LARPing.

The episode opens with Steve, the nerdy high schooler son, being picked on by a bully, who trips him and asks, “what’s the hurry, nerd?” Steve responds with an enthusiastic “this year’s moisture crop is in!” and dashes off. Right off the bat, we have a common trope in tons of fictional media featuring LARP — a LARPer responding to a non-LARPer’s questions about what’s going on with a description of something in-game, without context, much to the confusion of the non-LARPer.

This is the first of a slew of tropes and stereotypes of LARPing and LARPers, ones I’ve noticed from other instances of LARP in fictional media, from movies like Role Models to episodes of Supernatural and Good Luck, Charlie. (If you decide to watch the episode, why not make it a drinking game and take a shot for each trope and stereotype?)

As per a common theme in episodes of American Dad!, the other members of her family are taking advantage of Francine, overloading her with comically excessive chores from their shenanigans without expressing any appreciation for her. She’s introduced to Steve’s LARP when she goes to pick him up, where Steve is roleplaying as the mayor of a Mos Eisley-like colony, and Steve’s friends are playing the roles of a moisture farmer, a barman at a cantina, and the owner of a dry cleaner. Steve defines LARP for his mother:LARPing is live action role-playing. We create characters and then act out their actions in a fictional setting. In our case, we’re space colonists.”

When Snot, the barman, explains to Francine that she can act out her fantasies through LARP, she acts out her fantasies of power and being appreciated by taking on the role of a princess.

Francine’s new in-game authority goes to her head (a LARPer taking the game too far — take a shot!) by banishing Steve and expanding her kingdom into the field where junior varsity football players are practicing. They burn the set dressing of the LARP in retaliation, and the football coach deflates Francine by telling her that she’s “a sad housewife who spends her days playing dress up, bossing around a bunch of geeks.”

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The Jungles of Gymnasia, the prison planet

Defeated, Francine returns to her household chores, where Steve uses an impromptu LARP scene to cheer her up, giving her the confidence to reclaim the sci-fi LARP they lost. They return to the football field and make a deal with the JV team — the JV team will support the fiction of the LARP’s imaginary setting (through minor costuming and in-game language,) and the LARPers provide them with the audience they they’ve always wanted.

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An impromptu LARP scene.

With her newfound confidence from playing royalty in a LARP, Francine finds the courage to act as the queen of her own castle and demand her husband get rid of the shark in her kitchen.

I felt this episode contained a rather mixed message, both positive and negative —  when it came to LARP. At times the writers’ unfamiliarity with LARP showed clearly, as it often does when LARP makes a cameo in a tv show, but there were also moments where the writers showed surprising insight into LARP.

Steve is portrayed a comically extreme example of a nerd in every episode, so it didn’t surprise me to see stereotypes of LARPers as geeky, weird, pathetic, and awkward losers (and can make non-LARPers distinctly uncomfortable).  This episode pulls no punches in this regard; in the opening sequence, we see the props for the “dilithium crystals” are actually dog turds, despite the fact (as we learn towards the end of the episode) that there are tons of pine cones lying around.

This is layered on top of another common trope used in fictional media featuring LARPing: the juxtaposition of how the LARPers envision things in-game against how they actually appear out of game (as illustrated by the various coupled images included in this post.) In this case, it serves to highlight the awkwardness of the LARPers and their hobby when costuming, props, and set dressing are revealed to be poorly constructed out of cardboard and various household items and clothing.Steve’s character’s elaborate headdress, for example, is obviously made out of a laundry detergent box. (Which isn’t to say there’s anything inherently wrong with LARPing on a shoestring budget; one could have used this trope to highlight the power of the LARPers’ imagination and creativity, or, say, their dedication to making their LARP accessible to low income players.)

Another common negative idea of LARPing — LARPers aren’t just geeks, they’re the lowest in the geek hierarchy. Star Wars is a beloved franchise of all geeks, but these LARPers only like the least exciting parts, and particularly eschew the scenes with combat. Steve says, “Heh, battles? We don’t the stomach for the horrors of war. You see, we’re all fans of Star Wars, specifically the first act, where Luke was a space farmer.” Snot chimes in with, “the minute he left his homeworld to explore his destiny, I completely checked out. Um, hello? Know your audience, more farming please!”

This aversion to combat struck me as one of the weirder misunderstandings of LARP — while tons of LARPs do focus on intricacies of bureaucracy, or the daily life in strange settings, the most popular forms of LARPs focus, if not primarily, at least largely, on combat (some to the exclusion of all else), and I’ve yet to play in a Star Wars LARP that didn’t feature light sabers and blasters. Snot doubles down on the clueless LARPer stereotype, he doesn’t realize the LARPers are unusual for Star Wars fans. (Similarly, Steve expresses shock and disdain over his mother not knowing what LARP is when she first encounters it — more LARPers being clueless over the perspective of others.)

Related to this, we also run into the stereotype and misconception that geeks can’t be athletic. Steve is intimidated by the JV football players and can’t throw a football. I’ve commonly run into the notion that geek hobbies and athletics are mutually exclusive, but LARPing serves as an excellent example of why this isn’t true. (Best exercise I’ve had in weeks have been boffer combat practices.) And similarly, we briefly run into the notion that sexual experience and LARPing is mutually exclusive — Francine explains her lack of familiarity with LARP by referencing her sexual conquests in high school.

But for all of these negative stereotypes and misconceptions about LARPing, this episode has a few surprising insights, and some rather positive messages as well.

For one thing, even the LARP is very unusual in its loose structure (for example, there doesn’t seem to be any staff, nobody seems to be writing plot or portraying NPCs, and there are no indications of any mechanics tracking character skills or mediating conflicts) which one can probably chalk up to the writers’ lack of research rather than their desire to represent more obscure forms of LARP. Yet play seems to run incredibly smoothly, with all of the players improvising smoothly and rolling with whatever situation pops up.  (These players seem to have mastered the “yes and” technique.) This is an improvement over other instances I’ve found of LARP in fictional media, which like to portray awkward immersion breaking over rules arguments and confusion when players try to improvise.

This LARP only seems to have one rule. In response to Francine’s disbelief (“I just see a bunch of boxes in a dog park”), Steve says, “you’re breaking the number one rule of LARPingnever break the reality by questioning the LARP.” Pity this was presented as a universal constant of LARP and not simply a local rule. I guess Steve and his friends haven’t heard of meta-techniques.

Another surprisingly astute and positive message of this episode: a number of the characters start out laboring under the impression that play isn’t for adults (or young adults) a notion that is probably behind much of the disdain for LARPing. Francine seems initially put off by it, and after she embraces is, she has her encounter with the JV football coach who shames her for enjoying a game of make-believe. But this notion gets disproved through the course of the episode — not only does Francine come around to enjoying LARP, she makes peace with the coach by pointing out that many other, more socially acceptable hobbies of adults and young adults are actually forms of fantasy play that bear similarities to LARP. “Some kids dream they’re space colonists. And others, well, they dream about being on varsity football. We all want to be something we’re not. So a housewife gets to be a princess. And a JV coach gets to pretend anybody cares,” she says.

Even better, LARP proves therapeutic for Francine. In the beginning of the episode and multiple other instances prior to her epiphany, Francine passively accepts her family’s mistreatment. (Francine being taken for granted is a common theme for episodes of American Dad!.) “I never get to do anything I want around here,” Francine complains to an unsympathetic Roger. It’s realizing that she can act out her power fantasies and pretend have whatever she wants that convinces her into LARP. As Snot describes it to her, “that’s the beauty of LARPing… This is a place of dreams where no one tells you how to live your life but you.” Even though her power trip takes her too far, it doesn’t negate the benefits of LARPing.

The episode ends with Francine enjoying her newfound confidence, developed from playing royalty in a LARP, and finding the courage to act as the queen of her own castle and get rid of the shark in her kitchen. I’ve commonly heard such benefits of LARPing –developing confidence, addressing fears, exploring one’s emotions, etc. — lauded by LARPers. It’s much rarer in fiction that features LARPing when it’s written by non-LARPers, though some version of this commonly crops up in news pieces and documentaries about LARPs. Unfortunately, they tends to overemphasize or exclusively focus on the escapism aspect of LARP, which of course this episode touches on, too. Steve tells Francine during their impromptu scene that she has found “the true meaning of LARPing. Escaping from your life.” (Unfortunately, this positive message of LARP being a vehicle for empowerment is somewhat diluted by Steve’s comment on his own confidence boost, “it’s time for me to be a man, and reclaim my make believe village with the help of my mother!” which makes LARPing seem decidedly childish.)

One minor thing I noticed that made me smile — one of the LARPers appearing occasionally in the background is dressed in a costume distinctly reminiscent of Jayne from the sci-fi series Firefly, which amusingly taps into a pet peeve many LARPers have — players directly basing their characters on pre-existing famous characters in obvious ways.

The Nova-Centauris-burgh Board of Tourism Presents: American Dad” is an interesting episode whether you like analyzing how LARP is portrayed just get a kick out of seeing LARP in mainstream media (or both, like me). It has some positive messages to balance out the usual mockery, and it makes extensive use of common LARP in the media tropes while offering some surprising insights into LARP despite the writers’ apparent lack of familiarity with the subject.

If you’ve seen the episode yourself, or decide to watch it after reading this post, let me know what you thought of it!

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Cottington Woods, the fairy tale themed boffer campaign I’ve been playing for the past three and half years, has come to a close.

Cottington is the first boffer campaign I’ve played all the way through. I joined my first campaign, Lost Eidolons, a few events after it started, and missed a number of events throughout for reasons of scheduling conflicts. I realized from Lost Eidolons how much benefit there could be from joining a LARP on the ground floor and having (near) perfect attendance. I think the only Cottington event I missed was one summer one day, when it conflicted with NELCO. It’s been such a huge part of my life for so long, it’s so strange to think of it as over.

Originally, the campaign was supposed to end at the last fall event, but there was still so much story left to tell, and plots left to wrap up, that the staff extended it into the following spring. But then the new final event was canceled because the campsite wasn’t properly dewinterized (pipes freezing and such), so the final event was rescheduled for June, with an additional one-day to allow PCs and NPCs who couldn’t make the newest final event an opportunity for closure.

We ended the event in January on board the Jolly Roger, flying home from Neverland through the Fairy Mists and back to the Cottington Woods. But because time passes slower in Neverland, even though it felt like only days, months had passed in the Woods, and the war back home was catastrophic in our absence. (To be fair, things were often catastrophic when we were there, too.) For example, while in Neverland, we had visions of the capital city, Farraway, burning and falling.

At the one-day, the event began with the PCs waking up in a field after being washed overboard from the Jolly Roger. We fought our way through Red Caps to one of the few remaining safe havens left in the world — a mausoleum, and discovered we’d been in Neverland for years,  not months, and the war was largely lost. We heard about all of the lives of allies who had been lost… but something was very off, and before long, we realized we were trapped in a vision of a likely future. We re-woke in the field where we had fallen from the Jolly Roger, and set about trying to prevent the future we had seen. We saved Robin Hood from a fatal encounter with a fire elemental and defeated a necromancer in her lair.

The teaser for the final event described how those who had remained on the Jolly Roger (i.e. hadn’t attended the one-day event) used magic to bring us back on board, before a rough landing not far from the Cotting House. Over the weekend, we sealed away one of the lieutenants of the Evil Fairy Queen (the Big Bad of the campaign), freed the High Queen from a curse, exorcised a demon from the (in-game) husband of one of the PCs, and supported another PC in battle when he challenged the king of the Frostwroth for his crown.

One of the highlights of the final event, for me, was the last Wonderland module, in which we freed some of the PCs from the influence of the Black Court. The Red Queen presented us with games to play for her amusement while the battle went on, with the winners receiving boons that would help in the combat. I volunteered to serve as the White Bishop, which involved racing to unscramble a sentence faster than the Black Bishop. Sadly, it took me an embarrassingly long time to solve it. The Red Queen tried to offer helpful hints, but as I’ve never actually read Alice in Wonderland, the hints didn’t mean much to me. I won the challenge but later discovered, as I had strongly suspected, the Black Bishop (an NPC) had thrown the challenge to allow a PC to win.

Nonetheless, I always enjoy the Wonderland-related content in Cottington Woods, and this module was no exception. Appropriately, the battle involved a lot of confusion, as some PCs were forced to fight on the side of the Black Court, and some of us were granted the ability to temporarily bring the pawns of the Black Court to fight on our side. And the Wonderland characters, especially Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, kept us amused all along with their antics.

The other highlight of the event for me was finishing a plot that involved the Wizard of Lakapaparu (the ersatz Wizard of Oz) searching for the heart, bravery, and intelligence of his adopted daughter, Dorothy. The final piece, the heart, turned out to be in his old workshop, where a half-finished golem has been animated with it.

Of course, this story struck a chord with my character, another golem animated by a heart belonging to someone else. The copper golem (inspired by the character Tik-tok from the Oz books) was a simple thing who had never been outside of the workshop, yet did not want to give up his”sympathetic harmonizer” out of fear for ceasing to exist. Part of me wanted to defend him, but I didn’t want to deprive other PCs of their happy ending with Dorothy restored. But it was excellent fodder for internal roleplay either way. It was not just a highlight of the event for me, but a highlight of the entire campaign.

Sadly, I missed the Grand Finale Battle late on Saturday night, in which the PCs took on and defeated Baeldannen the evil Fairy Queen. I found out the next day that the staff had strung a string across the campsite, and the PCs had followed it one by one, facing a variety of mental and physical challenges along the way to the final battle. In true fairy tale villain style, Baeldannen transformed into a dragon. I saw pieces of the dragon the next day — an enormous horned purple head that could fit an NPC (maybe two?) inside to move it, giant boffer claws, and enormous wings suspended with a system of pulleys that allowed them to be unfurled dramatically. I’m sure it was glorious.

So Cottington Woods draws to a close. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I’ve grown immensely attached to my character, and through her, the other characters who lived in the Cottington Woods; it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of retiring Quill. I’m reading through materials for campaigns starting up in the near future (Shadowvale and Madrigal 3 in particular, with Vox Mundi later down the road) but I’m struggling to come up with any character concepts that appeal to me — I don’t think I’ll be able to create a character I’ll have as much fun portraying as I did my porcelain wind-up doll.

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Various versions of Quill’s key… I was never able to bring myself to throw them out, even as they got battered during events and needed to be replaced.

The LARP Archery Lawsuit

Last October, Global Archery, (their website appears to be currently down) a company that produces foam tipped arrows and run Archery Tag, an archery based sport, sued Jordan Gwyther, the owner of LARPing.org (through which he sells LARP-safe archery equipment). Very recently, the judge in Indiana overseeing the case threw it out for the court’s lack of of jurisdiction, which possibly means the end of this whole thing (unless Global Archery successfully appeals the decision or brings another lawsuit in a different jurisdiction, namely Washington State.)

The story has popped up all over various online LARP discussions, and while the responses were somewhat divided, it seems that most LARPers are solidly behind Gwyther and LARPing.org. (For example, here’s a video LARPForge put out on the subject.) It was also covered by mainstream news. For those who haven’t been following it, here is a summary, along with a bunch of links to reports covering the lawsuit and other relevant bits of media, which you can peruse below. (Most, unsurprisingly, cast Gwyther’s side in a favorable light.)

Here is the text of the lawsuit. There are two primary complaints — one, Global Archery claimed Gwyther violated a patent he owned on the design of the arrows, and two, that Gwyther used marketing strategies that Global Archery considers illegal, including violating his trademark, using false advertising comparing the two brands, and contacting his customers.

I emailed a lawyer about it (who requested that their name not be shared.) They opined that the patent was invalid (or at least couldn’t be as broad as Global Archery asserted) under 35 USC 102 (you cannot patent something that was described in a publicly available document a year before the effective filing date of the patent.) A simple search on youtube reveals a number of video tutorials on how to construct extremely similar arrows. They predicted (correctly) this part of the lawsuit would be thrown out early on.

Regarding the trademark aspect of the lawsuit, the lawyer described this as “vague” and that the only likely legitimate claim was that Gwyther used Global Archery’s name in a google adword buy. According to at least one article, Gwyther did say he didn’t realize Archery Tag was a trademarked term. Ignorance is not a valid defense; however, in the US, plaintiffs who bring lawsuits over other companies using their trademarks in marketing often lose their cases.

The false advertising claims seemed weak, as the phrase “better than” seems like “puffery“. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) expressly refuses to take enforcement actions in situations like this. Pizza Hutt brought a suit with a very similar complaint against Papa John’s a few years ago that was shut down.

When I asked why the lawsuit included the patent infringement claims if they were so obviously weak, the lawyer explained to me that patents are preemptively valid in court, the burden falls to the defense to prove invalidity. They guessed Global Archery might not have been able to prove invalidity. In his GoFundMe video, Gwyther says, “…[Global Archery] will have created a legal precedent to enforce his patent against other distributors and resellers of LARP and foam tipped arrows in America.” Meaning, according to Gwyther, the patent claims were likely a legal strategy — by winning a case against a small defendant who likely can’t afford a good legal defense, it might provide support for future lawsuits against larger archery equipment distributors. The lawyer’s opinion was that this was theoretically possible but unlikely, as it wouldn’t be a good strategy; the results of the hearing aren’t binding on other courts,  and one cannot reach this point and settle out of court, which makes the result exponentially more expensive. It might work if there are dozens of other potential infringers, but the market for LARP arrows likely isn’t large enough to make this as a strategy worthwhile.

I noticed while reading various online comments from the plaintiff and defendant and the numerous articles written about the case that, at least initially, the plaintiff seemed largely focused on the  false advertising and trademark infringement (the latter being the strongest of the complaints, according to the lawyer I consulted) while the defendant seemed primarily focused on the claim of patent infringement, which he claimed could spell the end of LARP archery in America, which Global Archery repeatedly denied. For example, in this statement, Global Archery says, “The patents-in-suit make up a very small amount of the issues that led up to Global filing the original lawsuit (only 2 of 9 counts).”

You can view Gwyther’s video on his GoFundMe page, used to help cover his legal fees.

Global Archery has made statements that can be found here and here.

Indiana Intellectual Property Law News covered the lawsuit back in October.

In February, Global Archery filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent Gwyther from speaking publicly about the lawsuit and “falsely imply this action was initiated to interfere with… live action roleplaying.”

Also in February, Epic Armory, another distributor of LARP gear, made a statement in support of Gwyther and LARPing.org on their Facebook page.

On February 19th, Ars Technica (an online publication devoted to technology catering to “alpha geeks,” technologists and IT professionals) wrote an article covering Global Archery’s motion for a gag order against Gwyther. It covered the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s decision to file an amicus brief (a statement offering information regarding a case from someone who is not involved in a lawsuit and has not been solicited by people involved in said lawsuit) supporting Gwyther.

Newsweek also covered the story back in February.

Ars Tecnica followed up on the story in March, describing a settlement offer Global Archery made to Gwyther. The settlement did not require Gwyther to pay them any damages, but would require him to cease various forms of marketing, including calling Global Archery’s customers and using Global Archery’s name in advertising, along with taking down the GoFundMe youtube video and ceasing public speech about the case. Gwyther rejected the offer.

Later in March, Ars Technica followed up again, this time talking about Newegg, an online retailer focusing on tech-enthusiast products, raising $10,000 by selling “patent troll” t-shirts to support Gwyther in his case. (They are still available for sale.) Techdirt also reported about Newegg’s assistance. And towards the end of March, Ars Technica reported that the complaints regarding their patent had been dropped. Newsweek also covered the patent complaints being dropped.

And now, Ars Technica is reporting that the lawsuit has been thrown out of court. I sent this link to another lawyer I know, who explained to me that the court has actually not said that the plaintiff is wrong on the merits of their case, nor that the court lacks jurisdiction based on lacking minimum contacts in Indiana, Rather “On May 13, 2016, ‘Plaintiff admitted the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant absent waiver: “If the Court concludes that the multitude of Mr. Gwyther’s actions did not waive Mr. Gwyther’s claims of lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, then this action should be dismissed.” (Pl.’s Reply Supp. Mot. Stay Disc., DE 48 at 4.)’ ” There’s nothing stopping the plaintiff from refiling the suit in Washington State (or possibly appealing based on ineffective counsel, but refiling in Washington is more likely.)

So while this might be the end of the case (here’s hoping), it may not be. Either way, it seems like a very good thing for Gwyther, LARPing.org, and their supporters.

Shadows of Amun Finale

A few weekends ago was the final event of Shadows of Amun, a time traveling LARP of horror and adventure that started in WWI era Egypt, moved to the era of the Crusades, then Cleopatra’s reign, before it returned to (post) WWI. The finale saw the defeat of the worst that Egypt’s pantheon has to offer, along with a Lovecraftian horror and a few villains that had begun as mortals and risen to epic levels. And the players got to shape the new world by determining which gods got to be the heads of the new pantheon and what roles they would play.

I’ve been NPCing this campaign on and off since the first event. More off than on, to be fair; I think I’ve been present for maybe four events total. Out of all of the boffer campaigns I’ve PCed or NPCed, it has the most unusual setting, by virtue of being set in a real world location, in real historical eras. The idea to have time travel as a major feature and surprise the players by changing up WWI for the Crusades was a huge risk; “bait and switches” are unpopular enough for LARPs only a few hours in length, and the staff lost a few players over it, but I think the risk paid off in a huge way. I often find myself wishing I had PCed this campaign and gotten to experience the shift in setting and time travel plotlines for myself.

The weekend began with the death of Ma’at,  the goddess of time and order, at the hands of one of the aforementioned villains — he found a way to steal her divinity to give himself god-like powers. Ma’at has been one of my absolute favorite NPC roles so far, so it was nice that the players opted to let Thoth, her consort, sacrifice himself to revive her, though I honestly wouldn’t have minded if they’d chosen to keep Thoth around. If Ma’at had remained dead, there would be no risk of me screwing up any roleplaying with players and ruining their final event.

I went out as Ma’at once more, in mourning for Thoth. Besides that, the only other speaking roles I had were the Owl of Athena, a spirit fluttering around the afterlife, whose purpose was to pose philosophical questions to PCs should they speak to it. (I also had a role as the child of a virgin birth… long story… that I accidentally slept through.) The rest of the time, I spent crunching. There were a number of townwide battles, all PCs and all NPCs on the field, which was exciting because for once, the NPCs actually outnumbered the PCs. The forces of Good prevailed in the end, but I like to think us monsters gave them hell along the way.

The final fight on Sunday was a fun one. Tindalos, a Lovecraftian entity, made his way into the world and was ready to wreak havoc with his mooks. As monks of Tindalos, we came out with big, creepy grins painted on our faces. To drive Tindalos back to… wherever it was, from whence he came (I think it was an Outside of Time and Space kind of deal), the PCs had to throw Orbs of Light down his maw some given number of times. The Tindalos monster costume was enormous, with a big hoop for a maw… so basically, the PCs were playing Battle Basketball.

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Orbs and parts of a defeated Tindalos

The monks were allowed to throw the Orbs back for massive damage when the PCs missed their throws, but when the balls rolled past me, I opted to let them go and see if a PC would leave the safety of their front line to chase it, then I tried to pin down individual PCs with ranged attacks and Root effects. I never quite caught any, but I gave a few of them a merry chase, shouting things like “I WILL CONSUME YOUR SOUL” as I ran. In the end, the heat and humidity did me in, and I had to call a gasping “Death to Self” to get a water break.

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Monk of Tindalos, with list of NPC merit badges

I think there’s a lot about this campaign that will serve as inspiration for future campaigns — the exploration of real history, the massive setting shifts, their system of creating modules based on player requests during events, to name a few. And Shadows really had a lot of great props–I’m sad to say I won’t be around for the post-campaign yard sale where all the props and costumes and weapons and set dressing will be available for cheap, but maybe I can get a sneak preview and pick up a few neat pieces before it does.

I’ll have to pick up more games to NPC to fill the void Shadows is leaving. I’m planning to NPC Threshold, but that’s not starting up for a bit. Fortunately, there are no shortages of LARPs to NPC for in New England.