It occurs to me I never quite finished my post-Intercon S reports.
On Sunday at Intercon, I played in two LARPs.
The first was an Iron GM LARP. Iron GM is an annual LARP writing contest that Intercon runs, where teams of writers are given a group of ingredients (a genre, a theme, an element, plus a secret prop to incorporate) and a weekend to produce a two hour LARP for five to twelve players.
I try to play an Iron GM LARP most years for a few reasons. It’s a project I like to support, even if it’s just as a player in the Intercon runs, because it’s a great way to encourage new LARPs to be written. And there’s something fun and low pressure about having a LARP that is a surprise on your schedule — you never quite know what you’re going to get, for style, genre, setting, or character. It often means I’ll be stepping outside of my comfort zone, and there’s no prep to be done. You just show up at the door and see what happens.
This year, Iron GM needed a few more readers, so I volunteered. This means I read all of the written materials for a number of the Iron GM LARPs, and evaluated them based on a handful of criteria, such as presence and completion of required documents and how well incorporated the secret ingredients were.
I thought being a reader would preclude me from being a player, but then there was some concern over a character in one of the LARPs, and the Iron GM coordinators asked me if I would play that particular role. So I did end up playing an Iron GM LARP on Sunday morning, and, unlike a typical Iron GM LARP experience, I knew my character and a bit about the setting of the LARP going in.
I usually roll out of bed on Sunday morning at Intercon and head straight to Iron GM LARPs in my pajamas (can’t costume in advance, so might as well!), but this year, amusingly, I was the only one perfectly costumed. The LARP I played, The Call, was set at a boarding school, and opens with students responding to mysterious screaming in the middle of the night. The GMs described the costuming aesthetic for the LARP as something like, “3am Fire Alarm Chic”. (I love that descriptor and I’m stealing it.)
The Call is centered around the students, who are still coming to terms with their supernatural sides, unraveling the mystery of the screams and confronting the ancient mysteries of their campus. I don’t want to spoil it here, but I will say it has kind of an X-Men meets Lovecraft vibe. Also, I particularly liked their use of the prop ingredient (a mirror) and their evocative descriptions of the school and its campus in their setting document are really good. One would not think this LARP was written in a single rushed weekend.
My second LARP on Sunday at Intercon was Strangers. I’ve heard really good things about, so I was excited to get a chance to play at Intercon S. (Also, it ran from 2-6pm, and I’m also very happy to see Interconners take advantage of the fact that we have the function rooms until late on Sunday. There’s no reason for the fun to stop Sunday morning.)
Strangers is a blackbox LARP by Nina Essendrop, the LARP writer behind White Death. (Which has now run a fair number of times in the local community.) Like White Death, strangers is an abstract sort of LARP, without any speaking. Both LARPs explore community as a theme; Strangers also explores culture clash between refugees and native populations.
The LARP opens by dividing the players into two populations, the greens and the blues. (Indicated with colored ribbons pinned to your shirt.) One population will end up fleeing one by one to the other. I should mention I have, since Intercon, played this LARP a second time, and so I have seen it both from the perspective of the native population and the refugee population.
Through a series of workshops, the players establish a very limited vocabulary of gestures, and their culture’s daily routines — a series of abstract activities involving interactions with props and one another, cued by short runs of instrumental music, along with brief periods of sleep. After several runs through the daily routines, with each culture operating independently on their separate sides of the room, the GM begins moving members of the refugee population one at a time to the other side of the room during the sleep periods. This migration creates disturbances in both sides’ routines, and it’s up to the players how well (or how poorly) this integration works. Will the cultures blend? Will one get overtaken by the other? Will they end up still largely separate, even while together in the same half of the room? Or some combination?
It was a really interesting experience both times. The workshops are a ton of fun. It’s playful and not too mentally or physically demanding. Also, this LARP does something most LARPs struggle with — it establishes the baseline of the setting, the routine, such that players have a clear idea of how the routine is getting interrupted. A common problem a lot of LARPs, of all different styles and genres, run into is failure to establish the norms. (For example, how many of us have played a LARP where players are told their characters are among the most powerful or unique in the world, but then run into endless NPCs who are of similar power and it muddies the understanding of the setting? Or characters are meant to think the setting is perfectly mundane, and players aren’t quite sure how readily they’re meant to accept claims of ghost sightings?) It would be interesting to extrapolate the workshops of this setting into other styles of LARP, perhaps less abstract ones.
Like White Death, this LARP’s structure lends itself to lots of poignant little moments that are very much open to individual, equally valid, interpretation (which may or may not be compared during post-game chatter). In particular, trying to understand the language (hand gestures) of the other culture leads to some very interesting moments of confusion, and lead to us all making a series of decisions — when we would we compromise with people from a different culture? When would we try to impose our own culture on them, or let them interrupt our routines, or adapt to include them, or try to stay as separate as possible? It was fun, but also very thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I recommend playing it twice and seeing it from the perspective of both populations.
And that concludes my Intercon S posts! It only took about seven months. Time to look over the LARPs already listed for Intercon T…