NELCO 2019 Part III

My third topic of NELCO 2019 was Improving Non-Live Combat Techniques.
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This is a topic that has been covered before at NELCO and Intercon, but I’m glad to see it cycle through again because out community goes through noticeable trends in non-live combat mechanics, and it’s useful to identify and examine them.

For this discussion, the moderator put up four poster-sized pieces of paper, labeled “Why God Why”, “Key Design Choices”, “Awesome”, and “Augh”. Under “Why God Why,” we listed reasons why a LARP designer might include a mechanic for combat in a non-live combat LARP. Under “Awesome,” we listed aspects of mechanics we like, and under “Augh” we listed aspects we did not like. Under “Key Design Choices,” we listed various facets of combat systems to take under consideration when designing them.
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NELCO 2019 Part II

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The second event I attended at NELCO 2019 was Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory, a short presentation about post-game conversation among players, followed by a group discussion. It covered common modes of post-game conversation that can be detrimental others’ LARP experiences (even retroactively) and ways to improve on the language we use in such situations.

You can read the slides here.

My key takeaways:

Players are often in a particularly vulnerable state immediately post-game, (especially if they had a mixed or negative experience) — which is also the time players are most likely to engage in emotional post-game chatter. This post-game chatter can itself be a negative experience, but it can also have a negative retroactive effect on players’ impressions of a LARP. It can be (and in my opinion, nearly always is) unintentional, through innocuous statements or even statements that seem positive on the surface.

There’s a variety of ways this can occur, and the presentation covered three common modes by which this occurs: trying to assert their post-game headcanons (that is, their personal version of events) onto other players, offering interpretation/judgments of other characters, and comparing elements of a run of a LARP to previous runs. It’s usually problematic when the headcanons, judgments, and comparisons are negative (e.g. “your character is definitely going to get killed soon after the game ends”, “your character was a terrible person” or “your character didn’t accomplish nearly as much as they did in previous runs”) but, as mentioned, even neutral comments or comments intended as compliments can also be detrimental to the other player’s experience when that player doesn’t agree. (E.g. “you were so great at playing a villain!” when the player doesn’t consider their character villainous.)

Even when the chatter is overtly negative, I don’t believe people generally intend to have a detrimental effect on one another’s experience. So why do people do it? In the case of asserting headcanons, I think it’s usually born out of a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction. My clearest personal exampleis a LARP in which I played the heir to the throne. Post-game, a few players approached me and told me that I should abdicate and/or run off with another character, because they were definitely going to take the throne from me very soon after the LARP’s endpoint. (Even though the GMs had an explicit policy of “what happens post-game is up to each individual player.”)

Why did they feel the need to tell me this? My guess is that telling other players (and having them at least tacitly accept it) makes a headcanon feel more “official”. Without that sense of it being official, the achievement of their characters’ goal is open to interpretation (and denial), making it less satisfying. I don’t think they intended to retroactively damage my experience of the LARP, they just wanted to reassure themselves that they had been essentially successful in their goal.

In the case of asserting judgments and comparing runs, it’s usually just a matter of people finding the analysis interesting, and making (often subconscious) assumptions about what won’t be detrimental to another LARPer’s experience. (And in fairness, such assumptions are often correct; they’re just not always correct.)

So how can we improve our post-game chatter, and reduce the odds of damaging one another’s experiences?

By focusing on our in-game subjective experiences, we can avoid many of the issues surrounding observations about other characters. For example, “my character thought your character was so evil” doesn’t impose a judgement on another character, but rather reflects a truth that actually is up to the speaker. (That is, it’s not your place to assert a fact about another character, but it is your place to decide your own character’s thoughts and impressions.) Similarly, “my character is hoping to get elected soon” is better than “my character will win the next election.”

Other good suggestions from the slides: if possible, choose a setting/audience where the relevant players won’t be affected. (For example, if you want to talk about your characters’ plans to win an upcoming election, avoid discussing it with players playing the other candidates.) Or alternatively, wait to be asked before getting into it. Another good tip: focus on gratitude towards other players for ways they enhanced your LARP experience.

In the discussion following the slides, my question to the group was: we’ve talked about the types of post-game chatter to avoid, but when someone else engages you with one of them,  what is a good way to respond?

My response is typically to nod along quietly like I agree and exit the conversation (read: flee) as soon as I can. The presenter’s response was “I get loud.” I think the most reasonable response was a compromise offered by another person in the audience: to respond calmly, “I’m not comfortable with that.” This would be an improvement on my typical response, which usually does nothing to mitigate the negative effect on my experience, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough for an explicit refusal. I think the response I liked best was, “that’s an interesting headcanon,” which is neither an explicit refusal, nor a tacit acceptance.

Next up, a group discussion on Improving Non-Live Combat Techniques.

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NELCO 2019 Part I

NELCO, the New England LARP Conference, ran over the weekend of July 19-21 in Boxborough, MA, along with the second Little Boffer Con, two tracks of three short one-shot boffer LARPs.
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LARP Box — a LARP store in Massachusetts

On Sunday, I attended the soft opening of a brick and mortar LARP gear store in Grafton, Massachusetts. It’s exciting — I haven’t done a lot of research (nothing beyond a bit of googling) so I can’t make certain statements about it being the first such in the US? But it’s certainly the first in this region. I think the next nearest one is somewhere in Canada.

The owner is the guy behind LARP Box, the monthly subscription box for LARPers. Each month is a different theme based on genres and concepts popular in LARPs (e.g. “pirates”, or “stealth”.)

The store itself is small, but chock-full of all kinds of fun LARP gear, costuming and props and, of course, weapons. I showed up with a silly homemade press pass (“PRESS PASS scribbled on an index card, hung on a leftover lanyard from NELCO) and spent the afternoon ogling all of the pretty LARP items, dreaming about finding events to use them all in, and chatting with fellow LARPers who had come to check out the new store. I heard all about Bicolline (I’d love to attend Le Bal Pourpre event) and plans for a preview of the fantasy retro music festival LARP, Hazy Fields at the New England LARP Expo in February.

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I also tried on some masks. Do I make a decent goblin?

The store is attached to the B3 Imagination Studio workshop, and I got to take a quick sneak peak inside. It was so cool to see all the neat projects and tools in there. (You can see a corner of it in their videos on youtube.) Fun fact: the workshop used to be a bowling alley; you can see where the lanes were on the floor.

I wish my photos had come out better, but here you can see lots of the cool LARP gear for sale. Some of my favorite items included the safe-to-throw realistic skulls, and the biodegradable massive wet-wipes, designed as a shower on the go for outdoor and/or athletic gear. (The new “extra socks” of outdoor LARPing?)


I myself picked up a pretty new boffer sword, with a rapier-like design, for my princess musketeer role in A Wicked Wind, along with a sword frog. (How have I never owned a sword frog until now?) I also took home some small throwing daggers; they’re safe to actually throw, but I would hate to lose them. I mostly plan to use them as accessories. It’s fun to play characters who always have multiple little blades secreted about their person, and these are just the right size and shape for that.

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new throwing daggers

There were also fun goody bags full of samples to take home.
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The store opens in late August, and it’s located at 7 Depot St. in Grafton MA. You should check out the Grand Opening event August 23-24 if you can!

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Summer LARPin’ 2019

This past weekend, I went to WPI (Worcester Polytech) in Worcester, Ma for the third Summer LARPin’ event. Besides the fact that it adds another day of LARPing to a slower season, I love that it’s runs in a really nice space, yet is a free event. (Since it’s not during the school year, we’re able to get the large rooms of the Odeum.) Major credit goes to the staff of Summer LARPin’, who dealt with the school attempting a last minute cancellation, and then a lack of furniture in the rooms.

A number of attendees stayed at one of two nearby hotels, which enabled us to hang out in the bar in the evening before the event. We had a nice time discussing LARP events and getting a sneak preview of new costuming, including a custom set of long, flared sleeves. They were black with lacing over the upper arms, gold lining, appliques, and trim from the Yaya Han cosplay line (which I’ve long been dreaming about using in a project). I love that they can be easily worn with modern dresses to give them a historical/fantasy flair. Very inspiring.

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sleeve envy!

This year, I played in two LARPs at Summer LARPin’. This was my second time playing in Feast of the Minotaur, which previously at Intercon L. But I enjoyed it so much, and it had been 8ish years, (and I knew the GMs wouldn’t mind), that I decided to play it again. (Besides, I had played the other LARP running in the time slot, too.)

This LARP is set at a feast in the royal palace of Crete, where the guests include seven Athenians, the next morning’s sacrifices for the Minotaur’s labyrinth (which I think is a particularly excellent premise for a LARP.) Lots of other figures and events from Greek mythology are combined into the mix.

At the Intercon L run, I had a lot of fun as Princess Phaedra of Crete. This time, I was cast as Idylla, the ward of the famous craftsman and architect, Daedalus. In this run, my experience was much more about characterization than plot (though both Phaedra and Idylla spent a lot of time exploring relationships within their quirky families), and I loved it just as much, if not more. The second run ran a bit faster, and ended much more tragically for many of the characters. I once again appreciated the “hydration mechanic” — drinking water (which can represent water or wine in game) enables players to draw a slip of paper from an envelope, which can grant things like information or temporary abilities. There are in-game explanations for these effects, and it’s a nice out-of-game reminder to stay hydrated.

I reused almost entirely the same costume I originally made for Princess Phaedra, (and wore again as Aphrodite in Siege of Troy.) For Idylla, I included a custom necklace, and a green set of laurels, rather than gold.

I spent most of the dinner break between LARPs helping set up the elaborate set dressing for the third run of Dance of the Dragons. We found some potted trees around the Odeum and moved them into the godswood tent, which filled it out nicely. Sadly, the banner of Aegon II seems to have gone missing, but overall, I thought the space looked very good.


After set up, I quickly changed into my costume for Faustian Speed Dating.

At Dice Bubble 2017, I played in a LARP called Speed Dating for Heiresses, which is set in the late 19th or early 20th century, and features wealthy American heiresses (“dollar princesses”) meeting British aristocrats with low funds. Everyone present has their own quirks and flaws, and there’s a bit of a twist to the speed dating structure in the middle. This LARP inspired Faustian Speed Dating, which is a modern game featuring wizards who would like to find the right demon to make bargains with.  Both LARPs have the potential to end with proposals (of marriages in one case, Faustian bargains in the other.)

 

Unlike Speed Dating for Heiresses, Faustian Speed Dating has all gender neutral characters, some expected antagonism between potential pairs, and players are welcome to strike multiple bargains at the end (though that comes with higher risk for either sorcerer or demon.)

I played Jeremiad, the Demon of Mourners and History. My costuming was mostly pulled from my closet; I wore my black military jacket over a high collared, ruffly white shirt (a combo I often lean on for ambiguous period looks, which I thought suited Jeremiad’s history theme.) Over this, I wore a floor length black veil,  and I accessorized with heavy eyeliner, blue lipstick, red contacts, a clock hand necklace, and a silver pocket watch.


And I had a delightful time! Sometimes knowing I have to improvise, especially in the context of keeping up a long, one-on-one conversations, I get nervous thinking I won’t be able to come up with anything in the moment, but the premise of LARP and the character concepts kept the conversation flowing. In the end, I struck a bargain with a character whose self-doubt I thought might make him vulnerable to Jeremiad’s style of manipulation and torment (though the sorcerer of course had his own plan to avoid it.)

I think my only rough spot might have been the final scene; it’s meant to be a moment for demons and sorcerers to work out the terms of their bargain, but we got a little confused and ended up chatting out-of-character about how each of our characters was hoping to outsmart and trap the other. I think maybe a little more guidance on what kinds of terms a demon (or sorcerer) might include might have helped. But overall, I highly recommend Faustian Speed Dating.

In fact, I’m hoping to run it myself sometime in the future. I think the setting/concept has a lot of appeal (either to fans of historical LARPs or fantasy ones), and the structure is flexible in terms of casting (you can run with eight, losing any one of each category present — though an odd number of players requires a little creative adjustment — or NPCing — from the GM). And it’s seems pretty low in terms of time and effort to print, prep, and run. If you aren’t picky about costuming, both of these speed dating LARPs can be run on the fly — the rules are simple and the reading is pretty short (with players encouraged to fill in the gaps of their one-sheet character descriptions as they like.)

After Faustian Speed Dating, I went back to Dance of the Dragons, to help out the GMs as needed. I wound up mostly passing messages between GMs and players, and twice NPCed as a septa to conduct marriage ceremonies in the sept. (A unintentionally creepy septa, as I still had most of my demon costume on.)

Sadly, the Iron Throne did not survive this run.

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Surely a bad omen for the Seven Kingdoms.

With Summer LARPin’ behind me, it’s now time to focus on the next event, and NELCO (the LARP conference) is this weekend! I’ve got a little bit of prep left to do as Programming Coordinator. (Also Poster Maker and Discussion Runner.) I’m really looking forward to discussing all things related to creating, running, and playing LARP!

NELCO is open to all, and we have some social time on Friday (including a dinner at the hotel restaurant on Friday, and brunch on Sunday), so check it out!

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Mid-Year Check-in

At the beginning of this month, I got a little alert on my phone. It was a reminder I set for myself just after completing my annual New Year’s retrospective post, to evaluate how my LARP resolutions are going half way through the year. I thought this would be an improvement on my usual approach, which involves realizing sometime around mid-November that the year is coming to an end, and trying to figure out which resolutions, if any, I can rush through and claim are technically complete before December 31st.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the list of LARP Resolutions I wrote for myself a little over six months ago…
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Infinite Magic Ringers

The LARP I played over Memorial Day weekend was an experiment in three parts.
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First, expanded hours. Infinite Magic Glories was originally written to run for eight-ish hours. This run of IMG began on Friday around 6:00pm, and ended on Sunday around 6:00pm.

Second, a full cast of “ringers”/complete transparency. The term “ringers” is used in some of the local communities to describe someone who has already played in a previous run,  usually stepping in to fill a slot that couldn’t be otherwise filled, perhaps because not enough new players have signed up, or because of last minute drops. And like most litform LARPs, IMG is designed with low transparency, primarily for players who haven’t played before (and the default experience is that people will play once.) Much of the play involves discovering new information, revealing secrets, and surprise twists, with some amount of PvP plot that having OOC information can directly affect.

In this run, the entire cast (and staff) had all played (or staffed) in previous runs. (This run even included two of the writers as players.) Additionally, everyone had access to all of the game documents well in advance.

Third, the intention was for players to be in character 24/7 (or, I suppose, 24/2). That is, from the start of the game through to the ending 48 hours later, without breaking character around bedtime or otherwise. To this end, the staff rented a house in the Catskills where we could all eat, sleep, hang out, and do whatever it is Shining Princesses and Magical Knights (and a couple of additional magical odd balls) do together, in-character. Even bedroom assignments were made according to how the characters would likely arrange them.

(Additionally, there was arguably a fourth experimental element: through emails and a dedicated discord channel, online communications about in-game events leading up to Memorial Day weekend were played out in real time. For example, in the backstory of the LARP, a battle takes place in Boston a few months before Memorial Day weekend. On the corresponding weekend, emails and chatter about the battle appeared online.
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