NELCO 2016 Part III

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My third panel of the day on Saturday at NELCO was “Beyond the Con: Booking LARPs Outside of Conventions“, a panel about finding and reserving locations for running theater LARPs. Conventions like Intercon, and the smaller university cons like Time and Dice Bubble, Festival, and SLAW, provide a great service for GMs by booking space for LARPs — you can be a prolific GM in the local community without ever having to deal with this aspect of running LARPs, but not every GM can or wants to run their events at conventions.

University function space has the major advantage of being free, and it’s usually a simple matter of going through a student club to request space, and there no contracts to negotiate. The major downsides, beside the typically limited type of space (usually classrooms), one often has to deal with non-LARPers wandering through (I’ve run into a fair number of prospective students and their parents on tour during theater LARPing) and whatever regulations the university has.

One of the panelists was on the hotel search committee with me for both Intercon and NELCO, and we learned quite a bit through the process. The model by which the hotel primarily makes its money is actually a pretty significant factor in whether or not it’s likely to offer an affordable contract for a LARP. We came across hotels whose primary business was renting out as many room nights as possible, and the function spaces were there to boost room night sales, hotels whose primary business was renting out function spaces for events, and renting out rooms was secondary, and hotels whose primary business was its catering. The hotel’s primary business will affect what kind of contract they offer, though most hotels would prefer to sell you all three — room nights, function spaces, and food. If your LARP is centered around a meal, that last kind might be a good bet. If you expect most or all of your attendees to stay overnight at the hotel, you’ll want to find a hotel that really wants to book room nights and will offer discounts on function space for every room night sold. If you expect few to none of your players to stay at the hotel, hotels that focus on renting out function space are your best bet, though even that can be challenging, as LARPs tend to require a lot of square feet per participant. For example, a LARP for 20 people might run in a room that can host 100 people, if they’re seated in rows and listening to a lecture, and the rates for renting the space will reflect that.

While searching for hotel function space to host a LARP, it’s best to start early. Hotels often book out their function spaces months to a year or more in advance. The winter season, excluding the time around the holidays, is often cheapest because it’s the slowest time of year for the wedding industry. (Which is part of why Intercon runs in late February or early March.) And while negotiating a contract, remember that their sales person’s estimates on cost are pretty much guaranteed to be significantly lower than the final numbers. And the closer a hotel is from food options and public transportation, the more expensive it is.

For large LARPs where the players will sleep at the hotel, it’s a good to find a hotel that just fits the number of participants, or close to it, and not just to avoid non-LARPers walking through the spaces. The more rooms that aren’t occupied by LARPers, the more a hotel will want to hold back on function spaces because they’ll hope to bring in another event on the same weekend to rent out the remaining rooms. (A few hotels we looked at during the Intercon search had enough function spaces for us, but the hotels didn’t want to offer a contract that included all of the them because we didn’t expect to rent out most or all of the guest rooms.)

The panel also talked a bit about the idea of designing a LARP to fit an available space, vs. finding a space and then designing around it. A lot of LARP organizers begin with one or the other (though I’m sure many end up with some combination and compromise along the way. I suspect with one shots, it’s generally LARP first, location second, and most theater LARPs in the local community are written with fairly minimal set requirements, while boffer campaigns probably begin with writing, but then as the staff learns their site, starts writing content with various locations of their site in mind. But the NELCO panel advocated a bit for intentionally using simultaneous approach — begin the search for a site at the same time as beginning the writing process, and adjusting both the writing and expectations for what kind of sites are available and what they have to offer as you go.

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NPCing Wrathborn and Madrigal

I often don’t feel like I do enough NPCing for boffer LARPs, so I was really excited when I got the chance to NPC for Fifth Gate: Wrathborn and Madrigal 3 over the past few weekends.

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Fifth Gate: Wrathborn

Fifth Gate is two campaigns in one. Two events per year take place in the high fantasy Silverfire world, and two events per year take place in the post-apocalyptic Wrathborn world. And for one event in the winter, the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn cross paths and have one large event together. I’ve been PCing in Silverfire, but I hadn’t yet NPCed for Wrathborn, as lots of players do. For the first year, I was avoiding learning things about the Wrathborn world out-of-character so that I could genuinely learn it all for the first time when I met the Survivors during the capstone winter event. I know the staff makes an effort not to spoil Fifth Gate players when they NPC for the other world (which many do, as there’s bonus CP to be had) but I still wanted to be certain.

But now that the first capstone event has come and gone, I wanted to give back to the game (especially the Wrathborn PCs who often NPC for us Silverfire folk), get to know the staff a bit, and maybe learn a little bit about how the sausage was made.

I spent the weekend mostly crunching. I had expected to do nothing but (or almost nothing but) crunching. Mindless combat foes are the easiest roles to give out while minimizing spoilers (I now know a fair amount about the setting of Wrathborn, but there are always ongoing plots to spoil.) I did occasionally ask for the story behind some of the encounters and got back, “sorry, can’t tell Silverfire players” but I did get to chat for awhile with PCs in two encounters, which actually puts this weekend on the higher end for amount of time spent talking to PCs instead of just fighting them as mooks while NPCing for a boffer campaign.

The crunchy roles were corrupted wolves, Black Sun cultists, and undead. Lots and lots of undead.

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Zombie!

The players also had two encounters in which they ventured into a population of people where signs of plague was spreading, and had to determine who among them had contracted the plague. Healthy people behaved more or less normally, those infected but who had not yet succumbed were confused and disoriented, and those who had succumbed would mindlessly attack. I cycled through as people at all different levels. The infected level was the most fun to play, what with acting confused, forgetting that they had already introduced themselves, and thinking their names were my name. I think it tugged on their heartstrings to have to put down someone they were talking to who wasn’t violent yet. I found it interesting that they were willing to search for loot through the pockets of someone who attacked them right off the bat, but not search the pockets of someone they had spoken to and then had to put down, even though both sets of people were infected by the same plague.

In another module, the players immersed themselves in a vision from another world with a Western flavor, where they met the regulars at a local saloon and a mine outside of town. First I played Mr. Casterly, the owner of the saloon, and welcomed the players and tried to seed our conversations with information about the location and current events. Another observation I found interesting — players used female pronouns for me even after I introduced myself to them as “Mr. Casterly” and I think one or two assumed I was the mayor (the female NPC they were expecting to meet). Crosscasting is just far less common in boffer, I think. Maybe the “Mr.” didn’t register, or maybe it was easier to assume a female character wanted to be called Mr. than a female LARPer would be playing a male character?

On Sunday, the last fight involved the PCs taking on various people inhabited by the spirits of various types of storms. I played the spirit of the Thunderstorms. I played it as a ranged caster; my Silverfire character is a Tempest archer, and I knew this module would likely tie back into Tempest training, and I wanted to see how the mechanics worked out in ranged fighting. (I think the Survivors are possibly being set up to teach the Tempest Champions about the nature of the various storms.)

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Spirit of the Thunderstorm Mask

One of the Thunderstorm abilities was “Short frenzy and short repel,” which was great fun to use. Survivors would attempt to charge me, seeing that I had no melee weapon to defend myself with if they closed, and I would try to tag them with the Frenzy, which caused them to attack the nearest available person indiscriminately; the Repel directed them away from me. Frenzy is one of my favorite effects in Accelerant. I don’t know if it will become available for my Tempest archer to pick up, but if it is, I’d love to pick up the skill.

Madrigal 3 is the third chapter of one of the earliest Accelerant campaigns, headed by the guy who created the Accelerant system. The first two were very popular, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I joined a Facebook group called the “Mad Squee 3 Club” to follow updates on the setting and rules as they were released and join in on the conversations as people excitedly planned their characters’ histories, builds, and costuming. The enthusiasm was pretty infectious. For a long time I dithered about PCing or NPCing, but inspiration to create a character never struck me, even though the setting had lots of elements that really appealed to me. (Seriously, what costuming diva could resist a nation whose fashion trends are described as “[t]o say their clothing is theatrical is an understatement…”?), so in the end I defaulted to NPCing. I later found out Madrigal isn’t putting a cap on players, and they wound up with around 180 players, which over double what the typical Accelerant campaign in New England has, so I think they could really have used an additional NPC!

The site for Madrigal is a really nice one — the YMCA Camp Woodstock in Woodstock, CN.  It’s a really large site, large enough that they often lease it out to multiple groups at once, and it has lots of nice features and areas for modules. And I was really impressed with how far the players went to create atmosphere. On top of tons of really incredible costuming, they set up a lot of set dressing in the tavern and in the spaces between their cabins, to make the space really immersive.

And the building we used as Monster Camp is large and comfortable, with large bathrooms and a kitchen and a big porch overlooking the lake. It was a really nice time to hang out between modules.

I spent most of the weekend at Madrigal crunching as hobgoblins, shadows, werewolf-like werelings, and on Sunday as the undead spirits of pirates. To help bolster the NPC numbers for the very large PC population, they had a system both for PCs to sign up in advance to volunteer for NPC shifts (which were organized in a way to help PCs avoid missing out on plotlines of interest to their individual characters) and the “Scarlet Scouts,” which would go out and collect PC volunteers during the event (in exchange for treasure.) The additional numbers helped make the battles less of a “meat-grind,” for NPCs. At one point, I heard PCs remarking on how they were now aware of some of the issues with other PCs swinging too hard, and what crunching in such uneven numbers was like, which was kinda nice to hear from them.

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a wereling in Monster Camp

I also briefly went out as an elf from the Silken Call, a nationality with a goth-inspired culture that heavily indulges in a spider motif. I had spotted some black stretch velvet with silver sparkly spider webs and spiders in Jo-ann Fabrics, and I liked it so much, I bought a few yards and a very simple pattern and threw a dress together in the week leading up to Madrigal. Which then meant I needed to find an excuse to wear it, so I went out briefly at dinnertime to meet some of the PC Spidersilk elves. Sadly, I never spotted any of the Spidersilk elves in this role, but it was still nice to get an excuse to trot out the dress. I’ll have to app for some fairy tale villainess roles in some theater LARPs and get more excuses to wear it.

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On Sunday, I had my favorite crunchy role of the weekend: the spirits of pirates. Having some basic stereotypes to fall back on (“Arrr, matey!”) made it easy and fun to inject a little roleplay into fighting, despite being tired and hot. I also liked that one of the staff members introduced a mechanic to keep the NPCs from getting completely wrapped and/or having all of the melee fighter NPCs from fighting 5 (or more) on 1 for the entire fight. Every now and then, he would call “Ambient Short Repel by Waves” to indicate the motion of the sea was pushing them back, which helped keep the NPCs from getting swamped, and I think that in turn helps make the battle a little more challenging for the players.

I spotted a number of the new style of packet bows, which resemble slingshots shaped like bows, on the field over the weekend, mostly among PCs, though monster camp had one or two, too. I’ve spotted them a couple of times at Fifth Gate, and tried them out once. They’re a lot of fun to use, and get way more range than simply throwing packets. They work best with packets with short tails, to keep them from hitting the strings. I know there’s been some concern over how hard they hit, so I will say got hit with them a few times over the weekend and for the most part, it didn’t hurt. I would love to get one myself, though in the name of complete disclosure, I will say that I would understand if some players weren’t thrilled with the bows. I did take one shot to the throat that stung quite a lot, though it wasn’t close ranged.

(If you’d like to read more about NPCing for Madrigal 3, there’s a great post on it here.)

I think the best part of NPCing both Wrathborn and Madrigal 3, for me, was the opportunity to hang out with other members of the community in Monster Camp between modules. PCing doesn’t afford many out-of-character socializing and bonding opportunities, especially with the standard Accelerant “you’re in character 24 hours a day, throughout the entire weekend” culture. I think the local theater community is a bit better at this kind of community-building — most of the events happen at conventions, where the games are usually four hours long, and we have breaks between them, including meal breaks, that enable us to hang out and get to know one another outside of game. Sometimes boffer players get together after weekend long events for dinner, and there’s some bonding to be had while helping a staff set up, but there are always plenty of players in any given campaign I’ve PCed that I’ve never spoken to out-of-character, and even a number whose real names I never learned. NPCing gave me a chance to get to know some of the people I LARP with better.

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NELCO 2016 Part II

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My second panel of NELCO 2016 was “Information Flow in Boffer LARPs“, for which I acted as moderator. This was one of the topics I suggested. (In fact, I had just played a boffer LARP prior to one of the calls for topic suggestions, and a number of the topics ended up inspired by my experiences.)

All of the boffer campaigns I’ve participated in as either a PC or an NPC, have run into challenges with information flow at one point or another. There were a few forms of information flow in particular that I was hoping the panel would cover.

One was information flow during battle. Two prime examples were in my mind when I suggested this topic (though certainly my experiences in boffer battles are littered with others). One was a late night on Saturday battle at the last Fifth Gate: Silverfire event, in which the PCs ended up in the dreaded”hedgehog” formation — tangled up in a tightly clustered ball, fighting NPCs on all sides. We had no idea how much progress we were making, if any, throughout, and wound up staying on the field much longer than we had to instead of retreating at the earliest possibility, which cost us a high number of casualties. The second was also a Saturday late night (technically, an early Sunday morning) fight at Cottington Woods in the Slumberlands, a long, incredibly difficult slog with multiple steps, and I recall never knowing how far along we were or how much longer it might be, no matter whom I asked, PC or NPC.

The other form of information flow was that of facts about the environment and current events from the staff to the players both on a large scale and a small, more immediate scale. How do you ensure information generally gets through to the players and passes from one to another and reaches everyone who needs to know or everyone who might want to know? And how do you make sure when you have information relevant in the immediate sense (such as the circumstances and specific mechanics of a battle the PCs are about to march into) that it reaches everyone quickly and is promptly understood?

We talked about some of the common techniques used by local LARPs (mostly Accelerant) to convey information during a battle. Visual cues are one of the most common — often, lights are turned on or off to indicate something has changed on the battlefield. For example, if there is a ward up between the PCs and their objective, it will be represented by rope lights, which will be turned off when the PCs manage to bring the wards down. Or lights will be strung around a doorway, and someone will turn them on to indicate a portal is now open for PCs to go through. Glowing lights in dark encounters in particular work well for conveying information in that generally, all players can see it at once, and lights suddenly going on or off is hard to miss. (Other cues with similar advantages include things like turning on or off a fog machine, or turning on or off loud sound effects.)

One of the most common difficulties with using this kind of cue is how often electronics can fail. Especially with rope lights laid out on the ground, players trip over extension cords and things come unplugged. Of course, the electricity can go out and electronics can simply break. It’s nice when something visually bright goes on or off at the appropriate moment, but LARPs generally need something as a backup cue when they fail, and an NPC to monitor the situation and make sure PCs don’t misinterpret things going wrong.

Rope lights are popular for two obvious reasons — they’re flexible, so they can be arranged in various ways according to the needs of various scenarios, and they’re cheap and easy to find. Understandable, but we did offer kudos for the lighting props that avoid the unplugging and breaking problems. the final battle of Lost Eidolons, where the visual cues were large glowing pillars with bright lamps on top that didn’t need to be plugged in, and they never accidentally went off in the middle of battle.

Of course, this also requires playing knowing what the various visual cues mean. Rope lights laid out across the floor or around a doorway are fairly intuitive and so commonly used, that generally it’s not a problem if a player misses the briefing in which they’re told “when the magic ward stops glowing, you can cross”. But other cues, such as a fog machine turning on, aren’t necessarily clear, in which case players still need to be briefed before the encounter or have a means of finding out during the battle, such as text props and/or tags.

Speaking of text props and tags, besides putting them somewhere players can’t miss (eye level is a good idea, or covering a doorknob so that they cannot enter without encountering the text and using bold colors, it’s a good idea to use large, bold print, so that more than the one person standing directly in front of them can read the text at a time. (I’ve noticed many LARPs print such things in standard 12 pt fonts, which is usually too small for text being read during combat scenes by groups of people.)

But even if players aren’t fully clear on the meaning of cues like fog or sound effects, they can be very useful in letting players know that things are progressing. (Or, alternatively, it might mean the situation is deteriorating.) This is important, because having no indication that anything is changing can be demoralizing for players, and that can suck the fun out of encounters. It’s very difficult, if not impossible to make meaningful decisions instead of blind guesses on things like when to press the advance, when to hold the line, when to take risks and make sacrifices, if/when to sound the retreat, and when to spend resources and use abilities, if you have no idea how or if the battle is progressing.

For example, in one of the aforementioned battles, part of what made them a struggle for players (rather than being solely a struggle for the characters and more of an enjoyable challenge for the players) was that we didn’t know whether or not we had accomplished anything, how far along we were, and how much longer it might be. In the Fifth Gate battle, we were told it would take about 45 minutes to enable some innocent villagers to slip away and escape, but the villagers weren’t visible from the battlefield, and no one on the PC side had any method of telling time, which was why we stayed out on the field longer than we needed to, and many characters wound up losing their lives. (If you have a long timed effect, it might be good to either provide players with something to keep the time — like a large hour glass, or an NPC on their side who can covertly check their watch .)

Other cues can be mechanical or situational. In Accelerant, it’s common to use the Inflict or Imbue call (examples of calls you might hear are, “By My Voice, Inflict to Undead” or “By My Voice, Imbue By Light”) to indicate something is happening. Inflict calls against the enemies are a common cue to indicate the monsters should leave the field because the PCs have achieved victory, but they can also be used to indicate changes in the middle of the battle. The downside is the limit of the human voice, especially in the chaos of battle — people can miss or mishear the call, and it’s not always clear what the call means if it isn’t immediately followed by an obvious occurrence.

More subtle, indirect ways to use mechanics might be to switch up the abilities the enemies have. For example, if the PCs’ progress causes the enemies to increase in power as they get closer to victory, each time the NPCs spawn, they might receive an additional point of damage, or a new ability to Repel or Maim the PCs. This kind of cue might not work well, though, because it’s common for a LARP staff member to adjust NPC stats on the fly during combat if they meant for the battle to be much easier, or much harder, or didn’t realize the PCs had a certain resource to expend and mitigate the threat, or the ratio of PCs or NPCs is not what they expected. PCs might assume there are practical, out-of-game reasons for monsters having different abilities mid-fight. Even if your LARP has never done it, it’s part of the local community’s culture.

A better way to approach this method might be to use abilities that are very rare in your LARP/the local LARPs (such as Slam or Silence for the local community), or change up the flavor of the abilities. In Accelerant, we use attack traits to indicate the flavor of an attack (such as a the phrase “by Fire” in a call, “Five Damage by Fire”.) Having a mob of enemies go from calling “2 damage” to “5 damage by Hellfire” might alert the players to the fact that the portal to Hell has been opened. (This can also be paired with costume changes — such as leaving a pile of tabards in a new color and/or headbands with horns at the respawn point.)

But it’s important to realize that this method of conveying information to the players reaches players unevenly. Front line fighters tend to find out first, and then it reaches the ranged attackers and healers (and any other battle roles your LARP has.) And similarly, your NPCs might not all get the message to switch simultaneously — you’ll need a way to make sure they’re alerted to it so that your monsters aren’t sending your PCs mixed messages. (Having someone or something they can consult at their respawn points is an option.)

On the subject of general information flow about the environment (outside of combat), we discussed the various ways staff introduces new information to PCs and common problems that prevent information from flowing, such as misunderstandings, a lack of access to information, or players actively keeping information from one another.

Between Event Skills, or BES, are common in the local community. Not many games allow players to take significant actions between events, but many provide a number of ways players can gain information, such as through research, writing letters to NPCs, or supernatural means like prophetic dreams or praying to deities for answers. Responses are sometimes emailed out in advance, sometimes handed out at the start of game. (If they’re emailed out in advance, it’s not a bad idea to also hand out hard copies for players to reference at game start, since players are prone to forgetting the content and not printing out their own copy. But if a staff does not want to print out BESs at game, perhaps to save on paper and ink and time, informing players they shouldn’t expect a hard copy is a good idea, so that they know to print their own if they want one.)

When it comes to introducing information through BESs (or other methods), one might to use giving individual players information that no one else as a means of making players feel important, but that creates a bottleneck for the information flow, and a single player who forgets information, or hoards it, can prevent the rest of the PC population from finding out. Providing redundant avenues avoids this issue. Even better, providing multiple PCs with some of the same information about a single topic, with a few additional bits that are unique to one or two players, encourages players to discuss the topics and pool information, which helps it spread. I recall when a group of PCs in one LARP consistently received the exact same text in response to their BESs, players quickly realized it and stopped gathering to discuss it. It saves the staff time on writing, but provided much less fodder for in-game discussions.

We also discussed using mechanical motivation for gathering and spreading information between players. Some games have skills that enable and encourage this. Invictus, for example, had a class of characters called Scribes, that had mechanics that enabled them to ignore attacks and negative effects, so long as they were taking notes, and the ability to grant protection and extra attacks to an audience if they teach other PCs what they learned.

In general, having as much in writing as possible in-game is a good idea. You can send in a herald to make announcements, but having him carry a notice that he can post on the wall of the tavern for players to view later, or carrying the letter he received when he first learned the information and is willing to share it, is even better — it ensures the information is available for people who aren’t present at the right moment, and enables them to get it first hand, to avoid the telephone problem (information getting altered or lost as it passes from person to person.)

Overall, it was a useful discussion; it probably could have been two separate panels (information flow during combat and general information flow in campaigns. A lot of it came up again in the panels on hooking modules and online RP.

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NELCO 2016 Part I

The New England LARP Conference, or NELCO, held its fifth annual event at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over the past weekend.

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Prepping for it has kept me pretty busy this year — a few months ago, I was on the hotels search committee, which was a time consuming process, and later I did what I could to drum up panel ideas, panelists, and help arrange other content for the weekend.

Friday night was scheduled to be a more relaxed evening. The only panels were the Writing 101 presentation (which kicks off the Build Your Own Game program every year) and a panel explaining the process of creating Game Wrap, NEIL’s publication on the art and craft of LARP. We spent the latter half of it brainstorming ideas for future topics.

There was a LARP Forum too, which is meant to be a social event where a number of local LARP organizations host tables to showcase the LARPs they run to players from the area. (I’ve attended two standalone LARP Forums in the past, and there was one that ran over dinner last year’s NELCO.) Unfortunately, the people coordinating it this year bowed out about a week out from the event, so the only tables we had were for Intercon, Lime Shirts, Festival of the LARPs, and New World Magischola.

Posters I made for the various tables.

We had a bartender, so people mostly hung around the common area, chatting about LARPs and having a drink. There were some LARPs available to run on demand; I brought the print-outs and props for a run of Drink Me, and another attendee brought some freeform style games that I’d really love to try, though none of them ended up running. We did have a nice little reunion among some New World Magischola attendees, and I won a Maison DuBois patch in the raffle.

My first panel on Saturday morning was “Start in the Middle, End Before Consequences: Anime as a Model for Four Hour Theater Style LARP.” We talked about how anime commonly drops viewers into the middle of a story with no explanation or background and expects them to pick it up as they go along. In one sense, a typical four hour theater LARP often naturally does this, as players are dropped into the middle of a situation with an incomplete idea of what is going on, though character sheets do provide some background.

This naturally segued into a discussion about amnesia LARPs, which are a more definitive example of dropping players into a story with no explanation or background. We talked about the benefits of kicking a LARP off with an immediate source of excitement and/or threat, to avoid one of those awkward opening scenes where players aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves first. (Sort of a LARP variant on Chandler’s Law.) This can be doubly beneficial in amnesia LARPs, where players may have no context whatsoever to base their initial interactions on (and the “who are you?” “I don’t know, who are you?” can drag on.)

We also discussed the idea that not every plot needs to be wrapped up — anime frequently leaves various plotlines hanging. (Starting after the beginning and ending before the end is often a result of an anime adaptation from an unfinished or indefinitely running manga.) Sometimes players need resolution, but leaving things open ended enables players to envision any ending (or continuation) of their characters’ stories, even where they conflict with one another. It’s sort of an extension of the attitude that says that game wraps that involve GMs describing what happens next, or encourages players to announce what happens next can invalidate other players’ personal narratives. Infinite Magic Glories, the magical girl themed LARP (which obviously drew direct inspiration from the anime genre), is designed to end on a climactic note with high potential for devastating fallout for the characters, but also enables players to determine the long term effects on their individual characters for themselves. And of course, many one-shot four hour LARPs do this unintentionally anyway, for reasons of time limits.

We discussed the downside of leaving a LARP plot unresolved is that it can feel unsatisfying — not every player is content with their own version of the outcome, but instead want an official version. One method for mitigating this issue is to provide goals that involve a series of steps, so that players can make significant, tangible progress even if they aren’t completed by the time the game ends.

The panel also went over techniques that can be used to enable games to start in the middle the way an anime does, but still fill in gaps in information along the way. In amnesia LARPs, most commonly, players receive bits of text representing their memories as they recover them, either naturally over time, or when triggered by specific events or experiences. (Most agreed that shorter texts for memories are better, to enable players to absorb them and spend less time out-of-character, reading them.) Flashback sequences, where the players act things out rather than read about them, are less commonly used but can be very effective. (Star-crossed uses flashback sequences to great effect; they keep the action going and enable some amount of player agency over the memories, though the general direction and conclusion of the scenes are dictated in advance.)

The topic of flashbacks then gave rise to the topic of flash-forwards, which seems like a less commonly used device in local LARPs, though some LARPs conclude with Some Number of Years Later scene. (Cottington Woods ended this way.) They might provide another approach to the issue of unresolved plots being unsatisfying if players can play out possible futures. Making them possible futures rather than definite futures avoids the issue of predestination. It’s all a balancing act between providing resolution and enabling individual players to envision the ending, or at least the next stage, for their characters.

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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.

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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 included 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 the 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.)

 

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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!

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