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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Greatest (LARP) Of All Time

A few months ago, I saw chatter about Goat LARP start to pop up around LARPy spaces on the internet, and like many others upon first hearing about it, I thought it was likely it was just an elaborate joke. I really hoped it wasn’t, though.

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Ready to LARP!

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Intercon S: Part III

On Saturday at Intercon S, I played a theater LARP in the morning, PCed a boffer LARP in the afternoon, then NPCed a boffer LARP in the evening.

I almost didn’t sign up for a Saturday morning LARP this year because I knew I’d be up late the night before, helping to clean up the extensive set dressing for Dance of the Dragons. But it didn’t take much to convince me to sign up for One Flew Over the Cloud Cuckoo’s Nest, both because it is inspired by a scene from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and also of the morning LARPs, it was one of the shorter ones and later to start. (As all morning slot LARPs ideally would be.)

There’s a storyline in The Sandman where Dream has acquired the keys to Hell, and various beings from different pantheons and mythologies show up at his doorstep, with various offers and threats and bribes to convince him to give them the keys. One Flew Over the Cloud Cuckoo’s Nest creates an alternative version of this scenario. The Progenitors, Earth and Sky, are in possession of the keys to an abandoned piece of metaphysical real estate: the realm of the birds, Nubicuculia (from the ancient Greek play, The Birds). And now emissaries from various factions have arrived at a conclave to convince Earth and Sky to give them the keys.

I was cast as Sky, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I really loved this character concept and thought it would be a lot of fun to costume, but I received the casting fairly late and was already stressing over finishing the monster that was my Targaryen dress in time for Intercon. It’s a concept fairly open to interpretation, and the prudent thing to do would be to pull stuff out of my closet.

Instead, I doodled up some rather ambitious costuming plans… then wasted a day and several yards of fabric on a dress that just looked… ugly. I ended up using the pale blue chiton I originally put together for Orgia. And in my defense, I avoided one of the more ambitious parts of my design — a spiky halo to represent the sun, and instead went a hairband with suns on it. (I’ll come back around to that halo project for some future costume, I’m sure.) I also accessorized with sun and moon earrings, a rainbow sash, and some little birds clipped to my shoulder. It wasn’t what I designed, though I did end up liking the end result, especially with how striking the rainbow looked.

I have been meaning to put this costume back on for photos, but as the earrings are currently missing and I have delayed this post too long already, a photo of the components will have to suffice for now.

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I can certainly understand why some other Intercon attendees thought I was a Grecian interpretation of Rainbow Dash.

I also want to give a shout out here to the costuming of all of the other players in this LARP — when I walked into the room, it was immediately obvious which faction everyone belonged to. There was a riot of random bright color at one table, and that was clearly Chaos, a lot of prim, professional looking black and white at another, Order of course, along with wings and hints of fantasy for the Fae, and a few more specific looks for the Quasiveritables (the Tooth Fairy’s excessive pearls were a really nice touch.)

I struggled just a bit for lack of sufficient sleep to play my character as written — Sky is meant to be more temperamental, I think, but everyone was just so nice and polite, it was hard to find even little things to overreact angrily to. Sky also might have rejected more ideas, but instead I found myself expressing Sky’s flighty nature by liking every idea and supporting whichever one I heard most recently. The sentence, “Earrrth! Let’s do that one!” came out of my mouth every few minutes. I think Earth and I also made a nice contrast — Earth was steady, slow, patient, and soft spoken, and I think it nicely juxtaposed my own impulsiveness, chirpy voice, short attention span, and constant fluttery movement.

Cuckoo’s Nest proved to be a uncomplicated LARP, high on characterization and low on plot, very nice for a morning slot, and I enjoyed hearing all of the creative plans people came up with for Nubicuculia. (True to character, I couldn’t really decide, but I supported Earth’s choice.) I think it’s flexible on numbers and length, which makes it a useful addition to LARP convention schedules.

The afternoon LARP I PCed was They-Ro and the Rulers of Perpetua, the gender neutral version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power. This LARP embraced the 80s cartoons in all of their campy glory, from their over-the-top sci-fi/fantasy setting, black and white morality, bold and bizarre fashion, and even their moral and safety lessons of the day. They-Ro uses the Accelerant system; I think embracing humor and cheesiness is one of Accelerant’s strong suits.

I was cast as Bear-At-Arms, a warrior with cybernetic bear arms. I made myself a pair of sleeves that ran from shoulder to knuckles (with holes cut for my thumbs) out of fuzzy brown material, then hot glued on some gray gears to the elbows and paw pads to the palms. A very simple, last minute project, but I think they came out kinda cute and successfully conveyed the character’s main schtick, but as I predicted, the material proved too warm for the whole LARP. I ended up wearing them scrunched down over my forearms (and the inside of the bear arms got pretty sweaty.)

I planned to wear the bear arms over whatever tight, spandex-y leggings and tops I could pull out of my closet, but discovered a problem — most of such clothing I own is black, because I often use it for NPCing boffer LARPs. But black looked distinctly wrong for a good guy in He-Man/She-Ra universe. I ended up borrowing a brown bathing suit bottom and creating an outfit in brown and red — kinda ugly, but at least I looked like a tacky hero and not a tacky villain. Fur trimmed boots are pretty common in the cartoons, so I think my footwear suited the aesthetics well.

As with the Sky costume, I have yet to get decent photos of myself actually in the costume; in the meantime, here is a shot of the components laid out.

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Another shout-out to my fellow players for costumes — people took the spandex and bright colors and frequent pantlessness and ran with it. In particular, I appreciated the red sequin evening gown and opera gloves worn by our Enchantrix, and the full body wool outfit worn by the character based on Orko. It perfectly captured Orko’s silhouette and left only the player’s eyes visible. Both looked amazing and must have been incredibly difficult to keep on through all the combat, for different reasons.

Also, I wish like hell I had gotten a photo of Head-Cannon’s helmet, which was a centurion style toy, with the crest replaced with large Nerf missiles; I thought it was terribly cute and creative and appropriate for the LARP.

They-Ro is really just an adorable LARP. It’s structured like an “elevator mod”: players engage in a scenario, or “episode” in this case, then duck into a small, cordoned off area to roleplay and rehydrate — or deal with smaller challenges, such as puzzles or even quick art projects — while the game staff rearranges the main area for the next scenario. At the end of each “episode” in the main area, each player has a turn choosing a moral or lesson of the day to read out to the rest of the cast, which were just as cute and funny as you could expect.

There are lot of really fun, creative physical mechanics, for tasks like crossing a floor of llava (a less dangerous version of lava), and tight-rope walking across a chasm. I loved the silly rituals and challenges of the wild animals level, and all of the silly themed villains and all their terrible puns. It caps off with a dance in the royal palace, which I thought made for a very nice end scene (and a sweet conclusion to all the awkward romantic fumbling along the way.)

They-Ro is running again at Little Boffer Con this year; this run is full, but I highly recommend catching a future run if you like funny boffer LARPs, cheesy 80s cartoons, and/or want to give boffer a try in a low stress one shot game.

Saturday evening is one of the slots that filled so completely this year, with significant wait-lists for many LARPs, that I’m really glad I have NPCing a boffer LARP like Rabbit Run (which always have extra room for more crunchies) to fall back on. In fact, a number of attendees who didn’t get into a Saturday evening LARP ended up in the bar in an impromptu event ironically titled Alison Drinks Alone, and I hear it collected somewhere around 20 or 30 people, who all had a good time playing Alison’s “horde”.

I do think the low player slots to attendees on Saturday evening had something to do with the high NPC numbers (though I haven’t gone through the numbers yet to see if there was actually a significantly lower ratio than previous years), but I also think it’s a credit to Rabbit Run how many players want to come back and NPC. At one point, I counted over 20 NPCs, which meant we outnumbered the 14 PCs by a decent amount, and that’s unusual in boffer LARPs in the local community. Another nice thing about the high NPC numbers was that I felt able to duck out and say hello to the cast and horde of Alison Drinks Alone a few times.

This is my first year, I think, that I didn’t attend the Saturday evening dance. I’m feeling slightly guilty about that, but I did have a really good time at the birthday party in the basement, where Targaryens (and the odd Greyjoy and Velaryon) from Dance of the Dragons reunited around the Iron Throne (relocated to the basement for the birthday honoree) and downed some fireball shots to cheers of “Fire and Blood!” It says something nice about a LARP when feelings of camaraderie among in-game factions last past the end of it.

There was also a sort of adorable parody LARP going on at the party, created by another Intercon attendee as a birthday gift, where people randomly generated characters based on tropes the birthday honoree likes to play. (I ended up as a “double secret princesstitute”. I gotta say… I would play a lot of the characters this “LARP” generated.)

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What’s your typecast?

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Cards and Banners

Now that the first event of Invictus 2 has run, I can share a couple of art projects I did for the new campaign.

The first is a colored drawing I did for a custom deck of cards, which serves as a prop for the death/resurrection mechanic. After discussing with staff what kind of symbolism to include, I ended up drawing an hour glass topped by a skull, with vines growing up the frame. Inside the hourglass, in place of sand, there is a tree growing from an acorn, and a garden with winding stone paths between the flowers. It’s all drawn with basic mechanical pencils and felt tip pens, but the coloring was done with high quality dual tipped alcohol markers, which were a lot of fun to use.


There are some parts I feel I could have done better, but when the scan was shrunk down to the size of the card, it quite nicely minimized the issues, without giving up image quality. I saw the cards during clean up of the event, and I think they came out looking quite nice. I hear the artwork is likely to be used for other props in the LARP.

I also designed the runes for the front of the cards. It was kind of a challenge to come up ways to represent the various concepts, striking the balance between too abstract and too literal, without looking too much like pre-existing runes. I doodled them up with pens, then when they were approved, I created digital versions with the free art program on my laptop. I think someone with more experience in graphic design and a program actually intended for these sorts of projects would have had a much easier time… but again, when I saw the final cards,  I actually think the fronts also came out quite nice.
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(A different staff member put together the background they’re sitting on.)

I also got a request for six banners about a week before the event, so I rushed to the fabric store as soon as I could, and picked up cotton in six different colors and four yards of silver trim. I saw them hanging in the dragon shrine after the LARP ended, and thought they filled out the space nicely, especially with the cabin lit up by glowing, shifting blue and purple lights. There was also a dragon statuette and two more dragon banners, featuring some very clean gold artwork that I quite admired , done by another staff member. (I wish the quality of the photos was better; I was in a bit of rush.)

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Festival of the LARPs 2019

The weekend before last was Festival of the LARPs, the annual all LARPing weekend at Brandeis University. I was somewhat worried about Festival this year, as there was a bit more of a time crunch than usual, and it looked like the attendee numbers might be down. But happily, we ended up with over 100 attendees registered, and nearly all of the LARPs filled (and the one LARP that didn’t hit minimum player numbers was replaced by ones that did.)

I tapped the New Zealand LARP community for suggestions for LARPs that would be new to the community, looking for small games that would be easy to run. They gave me a few good suggestions, which I downloaded off of DrivethruRPG, though I only ended up running one due to how the numbers shook out for sign ups. I have the others in my back pocket for future LARP events, like the Bubbles and SLAW. (Specifically, I thought about running Argonautica, The Demon Gate, and The Face of Oblivion.)

I didn’t end up playing a Friday evening LARP, which was unusual for me. My first LARP was one of the late additions to the schedule, But Not Tonight, which ran on Saturday afternoon. But Not Tonight is a freeform LARP that was described to me as “The Breakfast Club,set in a fallout shelter”. Through the workshop, players create characters by choose a formal and informal name, a clique, a keyword, a grade, a wound (a problem they’re struggling with), a gift (a strength that helps them address problems), and positive and negative relationships with the other students and the guidance counselor (also a player).

I decided to draw on personal experience during the workshop. I initially reached for “athletes” for my clique (varsity volleyball was a significant part of my high school experience), but since two other players also chose athletes, I swapped to artist. I really liked the name element, where each character picked a formal name and an informal name, something people who know you well would call you, and something people who don’t, which players can use during the gameplay to reflect changing relationships dynamics. Again, drawing on personal experience, I decided my character had an older sister with a rhyming name, and school staff that didn’t know her well usually called her by her sister’s name. I think my favorite detail was that she was the person inside the mascot costume (which was the basis of her positive relationship with the cheerleader.)

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Mina/Nina, senior artist

For my wound, I chose “having an affair with a teacher” because it seemed the most interesting, but later I found it difficult to steer my character in the direction of revealing the details and/or discussing it in depth, particularly with the guidance counselor present, for fear of getting the teacher in legal trouble. (In retrospect, I feel I should have steered harder towards not being concerned about that particular consequence, both for my own sake, and for the sake of the experience of the guidance counselor, and another player playing the teacher’s nephew.) I also found it somewhat difficult to use my character’s gift — being outspoken for what she believed in — in a way that didn’t feel contrived.

 

The highlights of the LARP for me included the game of Truth or Dare, which was basically a series of prompts for good roleplay — either to reveal secrets we had already determined, or a fun way to come up with new ones on the fly. (I think this is a good sign for an upcoming weekend long LARP which will likely involve a lot of ice breaker/sleepover type games.) I also really liked the way But Not Tonight cleverly simulated a montage of time dragging past, and the little moment when we discovered twinkies and tang in the school fall out shelter.

An interesting thing about this sort of freeform LARP, where characters are created through workshops before play, is that they’re very open to replay, and they might even potentially be better the second time around, as players can make more informed decisions during the workshop to lead to the kind of play they hope to have. It’s probably also often easier to figure out how to successfully steer (that is, positively metagame) for dynamic roleplay.

Even though this was a freeform with no pre-casting, I still did a little costuming, and wore my more retro pair of glasses (they’re not exactly 80s, but that’s ok), a retro looking striped t-shirt, jeans, converse sneakers, and my vegan leather jacket. I thought it worked well enough for an 80s high school student when combined with a side ponytail. (I only wish I’d remembered to crimp my hair.)

 


My evening LARP at Festival was Blackwell. This was my first choice sign up, one I was excited to play based on some positive reviews I’d heard about a run at Intercon. Inspired by a book, The Red Garden (I have not yet read it, but now I would like to), Blackwell is set in the 19th century during an unspecified war in a small town somewhere in Western Massachusetts. (Prior to the LARP, there was some discussion over the most likely war, with the American Civil War being the obvious answer, and the Mexican-American War and Spanish-American war as not-impossible alternatives.)

I was cast as the mysterious Fisherman’s Wife. I was very excited about this character when it came through email; it seemed like a lot of fun, with some very interesting roleplaying challenges and a nice opportunity to re-wear the costume I put together for an NPC role at Musica Universalis, with its long dramatic veil. (I even soaked my hair in a sink a few times during the LARP, just as I did for MU — you never realize just how quickly hair dries until you want it to stay wet.) It’s a very spoilerable sort of role so I won’t say too much more here, other than it was just as fun as I expected it to be, and definitely the role I would have picked for myself, were I asked to self-cast knowing everything I know about the LARP now.

 


Highlights of the LARP included a play performed by two characters just before the end, in which they told the story of much of their time in the town, and a poem written and read by another character. I think if players are up for it, more LARPs should include performances, whether its music, dance, poetry recital, or theater. Part of the play included me as a participating audience member tossing (nearly empty) cups of water in the actors’ faces (at their instruction). It was a recreation of a moment from earlier in the LARP, in which I tossed cups of (entirely imaginary) water at them.

It seems like such a little thing, but I thought it made for a nice, dramatic bit of showy roleplay. We shy away from things like this in LARP, in part because we often avoid exaggerated expressions of negative emotions (though in this case, my character was not expressing a negative emotion, she was trying to be helpful), but more practically, (and entirely reasonably) we avoid creating even minor physical discomfort (or risking damaging costuming.) Of course, this is the kind of thing that requires pre-negotiation, but it’s such an easy way to create instant drama, I’d like to keep it mind for future LARPs.

One odd observation — even though the LARP was explicitly set in Massachusetts (and nearly all of the characters were locals), I noticed a number of LARPers affecting a Southern drawl.

On Sunday morning, I was signed up to play a LARP mysteriously labeled ????? on the schedule. The blurb for the LARP was originally also ?????, but later updated to reassure people it wasn’t an error, but was in fact a LARP intentionally labeled and described with question marks. And it filled, which I think says something about this community and its eagerness to LARP, along with how it values surprise in LARP. However, upon arrival on Sunday morning, I found out the LARP had one extra player, and so I agreed to NPC instead. It turned out to be a wacky LARP about random characters from history and literature playing a bizarre, chaotic, and poorly managed game show in Purgatory. I played random harried stage hands, confused but enthusiastic studio audience members, and later some vague authority figure closing down the whole affair. I found some large paper bags in the classroom where we ran, and with some board markers, created impromptu signs cheering on the different players while in the role of the audience.

After ?????,  it was time for Spellbound! a LARP from the New Zealand community inspired by supernatural 1960s sitcoms (specifically, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie), along with a bit of Stepford Wives and Mad Men, set at a Thanksigving dinner. I’m not a terribly experienced GM, so I was a little nervous about running it, but the writer was very nice and patient when answering my questions over email, and casting worked out such that I didn’t feel there were any characters that didn’t fit the corresponding questionnaire responses.

In prepping for the LARP, I had fun making a little bit of set decoration and props. I pulled some vintage Thanksgiving art off of the internet and made some cards. I also put together an ad that had been produced by the advertising company that two of the characters work for. And I had fun decorating two green bottles, one large, one small, with nail polish, gold paint pens, and stick-on gems. Since I didn’t manage to obtain a rat prop, I pulled an image off the internet, printed it, and cut it out. I think the props worked out well.

 

 


At the start of the LARP, the family started inside the main game space, and I had the guests enter in the order I thought would most maximize awkwardness and tension. And during the run, I pulled up an audio clip of a laugh track and played it on my phone whenever someone had a good quip and the moment felt right. Since the LARP is set at a Thanksgiving dinner, we ended the LARP by having everyone sit down and say what they’re thankful for. Most players went for a heartfelt sentiment rather than a quippy remark, so I quickly pulled up a sound effect of a studio audience saying, “awwww….” and played that after the various remarks.

I think it would be fun to run this LARP again, and I have a few ideas for how I might improve the way I handled the rules briefing . In particular, the way some of the open-ended magic went off in the game resulted in me as the GM having to repeat to players as they walked around the space, “here is what you see…” and I think I’d like to discourage players from creating that sort of situation. I also think I could have been smoother with the part meant to cover any changes to character pronouns,

If you’d like to run Spellbound!, it’s available on DrivethruRPG.

Now that Festival is over, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming Summer LARPin’ and NELCO. (NELCO is now accepting bids for topics, by the way, and there’s a schedule up for Little Boffer Con!)

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Hodor and the Dragon Dress

I failed to get any photos of my most difficult LARP costuming project to date at Intercon S, where it was debuted for the A Song of Ice and Fire LARP, Dance of the Dragons. Then the dress ended up in a friend’s car, where it languished while I repeatedly failed to make arrangements to retrieve it, and so was unable to included even belated photos in my blog post about the LARP.

But I think I managed to make up for it! There was recently a promotional event in Boston at an AT&T store, where people got to take photos sitting on a replica of (the TV show version of) the Iron Throne, and then with Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, in front of a replica of the cave door (complete with undead bursting through.) He was rather gracious when I sputtered out something about being a big fan. There were also two costumes on display in the store, one worn by Ned Stark, the other worn by Bran Stark, as well as an AR (augmented reality) demonstration where one could put on an AR set and wave a torch at wights and slay an Other that comes bursting through the wall.

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With Kristian Nairn

Most people attended in normal clothing, or Game of Thrones licensed t-shirts. I showed up in my homemade Targaryen dress with two friends – one of the writers/GMs of Dance of the Dragons, who borrowed my Tyrell cloak, and the other was the player who played Qoren Martell, whose costume was an Oberyn Martell cosplay ordered off of Etsy.

Somewhere ahead of us in the line, there were two other fans in costumes that looked North-ish, but the three of us stood out. A number of people asked to take our photo, and someone from a local radio station asked me a series of Game of Thrones trivia questions. (I aced it, of course.)


Sadly, the dragon appliques have come off the upper parts of the sleeves (one may be lost). I need to replace those, and sew folds into the sleeves so they’re not dragging so far past my hands. And I look a the way the black textured fabric reflects light and wonder if I shouldn’t have picked a less shiny fabric. Still, I did receive a lot of compliments and requests for photos, which is reassuring. I hope I’ll have more opportunities to wear the dress sometime.

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