Two years ago, I wrote a blog post going over my LARP-related New Year resolutions and seeing which I had made any progress on or completed, and which I had yet to attempt. I found it pretty helpful in terms of actually getting them accomplished. Last year, I started writing a similar post, decided it was boring and self-involved, and therefore didn’t belong on a blog. So I left the post unfinished.
At the end of the year, I realized this probably had a negative effect on how many resolutions I completed, or even attempted. So even though I haven’t really shaken off the feeling that this doesn’t belong in a public blog, I’m writing it anyway… about two months late.
My most recent LARP event was Summer LARPin’, a weekend event of small theater LARP. And in a year without Intercon, a lot of locals were champing at the bit for something like this.
In the three or weeks leading up to the event, in addition to lots of costuming, I created set dressing and/or props for four LARPs. (Basically, I put it all off until after Starfall Academy, which has its own blog post in the works.) But I’m planning to write a separate blog post just about all the costuming and crafting, so that I can feel a little more able to ramble about it. (Hopefully, this will also give me a little time to recreate the costumes I didn’t get decent photos of… including the one that has yet to make its debut. So please excuse the lack of photos in this post!)
A death has left the local LARPing community reeling.
Posting in my blog feels obscene. Nothing I have to say about anything else could possibly matter in the slightest. But writing about the loss feels awful and selfish. What right do I have to write about it, when so many people knew him so much better, were so much closer? However much it hurts, (and oh, it hurts), there are so many out there hurting so much worse.
But silence feels even more obscene. If this blog was intended to provide a glimpse into the general goings-on of the local LARPing community, how could I consider not posting about it? (But I don’t know what to say — specifics feel like a violation of privacy, vagueness feels superficial. Every possibly option feels deeply wrong, somehow. That’s just how death is.)
Well. Here is what is going on in our community.
A drunk driver stole one of the points of light out of our constellation, never to be replaced.
About a month ago, the weekend that was supposed to be Intercon U came and went. Back in January, NEIL made the difficult decision to delay it a second year for pandemic reasons. To stave off some of the no-LARP-con blues, a small group of LARPers ran and played in a smattering of small theater LARPs over that weekend. I think it helped a lot to distract us from thoughts like, “I should be playing all these great LARPs I managed to get into this past fall” and “it’s probably gonna be another solid year before Intercon happens and I get to see the LARPers I used to see once a year…” The gathering was cheekily dubbed “Intracon”.
Last September, I played in a LARP called The Shiretown Shindig. It’s based on a LARP that ran in Australia, titled The Hobbit’s Hoedown; the head creator of Hoedown collaborated with local staff for Shindig. When a large album of gorgeous photos from Hoedown was shared on Shindig‘s FB group, the aesthetics, tone, and flavor of the LARP came across loud and clear, and I was sold.
Last year, I added an extra note to the end of my LARP toast for the New Year. “And 2021 is going to be better. I know it.” When I wrote that, I was feeling pretty optimistic about vaccines becoming available. I might have actually thought we were going to wipe out COVID-19, like smallpox. I was super excited eager to get my vaccine. Wasn’t everyone?
Well, obviously, I was pretty far off the mark in multiple ways. 2021 really wasn’t a stellar LARPing year for me. Not just in terms of the low number and variety of LARPs I participated in (and the number of LARP related resolutions I missed). My joy of LARPing frequently felt overshadowed by pandemic-related concerns, as well as the fraught social politics of everyone’s different expectations and preferences and limits around safety precautions. Not to mention the guilt that went along with attending in-person events (and the raging FOMO over the ones I missed). And lots of people were getting burnt out on online LARPing.
It was really hard for me to write about. Over 2021, I only wrote sixteen blog posts (eight shy of my goal). My most common type of blog post is post-LARP reviews and I had fewer opportunities to write those this year, but it wasn’t just that. Even when I was playing LARPs, it felt wrong to write about them while leaving out all COVID-related elements, such as thoughts about the safety precautions that were and weren’t included, how they worked out in practice, and the outcomes of those decisions. But it also felt really bad to include these elements — like it would come across as a harsh criticism and add even more post-event stress to everyone, especially the staff members who were honestly doing their best to navigate an impossible scenario.
Despite all that, there’s still a lot at which to look back fondly (and probably some value in recording thoughts about the rougher stuff), so here we go.
Over the weekend of Halloween, I played in two LARPs.
The first was Intersections at the End of the World, or, as it was nearly always called, “the Goth LARP”. The idea for it spawned out of a conversation among a few LARPers bemoaning the lack of excuses to fully indulge in goth fashion. (This topic has also spawned two goth picnics in a cemetery, which were lots of fun.)
The premise of Intersections involves the staff, band, and regular patrons of a goth club (“The Ankh”), having attempted a spell to bring forth the spirits of the dead. The spell went wildly off course, resulting in each participant connecting with a mythological figure from the Courts of Death. And now they are all are gathering to attempt the spell a second time. In essence, each player has two characters — their mortal goth clubber (dubbed “clubsonas” by one of the players) and their Harbinger from the Courts of Death. Before the end of the LARP, all characters must decide which of their two forms they will assume permanently.
Meanwhile, the apocalypse is waiting at some undetermined but not too far off time in the future.
It sounds as though this LARP is unlikely to run again, or at least not without some editing, but just in case, I’m putting the spoilers below the cut. Continue reading →
I recently played four LARPs at Dice Bubble 2021 — A Peace Summit on Cybertron, Pulse of the Empire, The Borden Legacy, and Venezia.
The safety rules included a requirement to wear masks at all times in con space. I understand the mask rule was somewhat controversial, and resulted in some people declining to attend, but I tried to view it as a costuming opportunity — a way to display some element of your character right on your face! I sewed myself four new masks, (three of which were double sided) to cover the three characters I was cast as, and also cover three broad categories of characters I might sub in as (in case of last minute drops from the Sunday LARP I was aGMing.)
Clockwise from top left, masks for: a transformer, a character named Iron Leopard, a priestess of Dagan, a Renaissance lady, a Renaissance gentleman, and a cardinal.
In practice, I found the masks didn’t interfere with my roleplay. I know some people find them uncomfortable or that they make communication a little more difficult, and I sympathize. They didn’t bother me, though, and I support any LARP event that wants to make them required.
I also made a Pikachu/Ninja Turtles mask to wear outside of LARPs, because… why not. LARP cons are a time to let your geek flag fly!
My Saturday morning LARP was A Peace Summit on Cyberton. It’s a diplomatic LARP set in the world of the Transformers franchise. I’m actually not that familiar with the source material — I’ve seen the first Michael Bay movie, but haven’t seen any of the cartoons or read any of the comics. But I heard good things about the LARP, and I have a soft spot for 80s action cartoons. So I signed up, then watched the first episode of the original cartoon online to get the general feel of it.
I’d never heard of the character I was cast as — Drift. But I found his backstory pretty interesting and appealing as a LARP character — he was once a Decepticon (read: bad guy) who defected and joined the Autobots (read: good guys.)
The LARP is just as it is described on the tin — nine Autobots and Decepticons, along with one neutral bot, sit around a table and squabble over the terms of a peace treaty, try to come up with the basic structure of a new government, and decide what to do with various powerful artifacts. There’s a depth and breadth to the setting lore in this LARP that surprised me, and lots of difficult questions to chew over, both practical and philosophical, and the cast of characters is very colorful. It made for a really fun LARP.
In our run, we argued animatedly in circles for the first hour or so before we realized just much time we were wasting and how little time was left to get through a lot of important decisions. We ended up with a tripartite government, with an elected official, the Prime (as designated by the Matrix of Leadership artifact), and the strongest warrior, as the three heads.
A major factor in our ability to get anything substantial accomplished was the rule that whatever we decided, Grimlock had to understand. Grimlock is primitive sort of Dinobot* (“Me Grimlock! Grimlock king!”) who prefers things uncomplicated and direct. This encouraged us to to keep our proposals short and sweet, and not try to bog them down with lots of provisions and exceptions. And in our run, Grimlock ended up recognized as Prime. I think that will probably be for the best.
We got our casting with less than a week before the game, but I was determined to do some kind of costuming. I would have liked to have based a look on a design from the original cartoon, but near as I can tell, Drift was not a character yet. It seems various iterations of Drift have had very different designs (the Michael Bay version is based on Samurai armor and has a lot of visual appeal) but I really wanted the closest thing to the classic 80s design style. I went with a version of Drift that has a black and white body, with red details, and tried to translate his basic silhouette into a sort of Disneybounding version with athletic gear. With six Autobot logo stickers, blue mirrored sunglasses, and a light gray mask for my face, I think the end result was really not bad, considering how little time I had.
“Autobots, roll out!”
The stickers that survived being stuck and unstuck from fabric with some stickiness intact have since been added to the windows of my car. (Which is what they were actually designed for.)
But the best costume of our run definitely goes to Starscream, who, despite the very short time between casting and game, showed up with a set of jet-wing armor crafted out of cardboard. He had some trouble going through narrow doorways, but looked great.
My second LARP was Pulse of the Empire, originally written for MOLW (a LARP writing initiative that resembles Iron GM in some ways.) The required themes were Cycles of History, Heists, and Visions/Hallucinations. The required prop was a metronome. I would have assumed all of the LARPs with this set of themes would have characters trying to plan or execute a heist, but in this LARP, the characters are the guards (and one observing bureaucrat) guarding the object of a heist. I thought that was a particularly clever and intriguing twist.
The artifact in question is a magical harp with the power to sustain dynasties and empower new ones, and the characters all have very complicated feelings about the dynasty they currently serve. Meanwhile, new information occasionally reaches the guards via visions from the Harp (and other sources), and the tempo of the metronome gives the players creates an atmosphere of tension while indicating how close the heist is to reaching its final goal.
I really enjoyed this LARP! I thought the characters began play with complex considerations to chew over and discuss while making life or death or honor decisions, and got plenty of new ones along the way to keep the roleplay going. Playing in a space that precluded easily having private conversations enhanced the game, in my opinion. The conclusion of the LARP felt very much like a tense climax. I would love to run this LARP at an event like Consequences, with the authors’ permission… someday when such a thing is possible again.
For costuming as Iron Leopard, the commander of the unit of guards, I went with my go-to basic knightly look — my red and white tabard over simple blacks and tall suede boots. (And lightning bolt earrings, a tiny nod to the Lightning Dynasty my character served.) I really wished I’d had time to sew matching tabards for all of the guards, assuming my fellow players were on board with the idea. Maybe I’ll make it an option for the players of my hypothetical some day run.
My third LARP was The Borden Legacy, which was originally written by British LARPers to run in the actual Borden House, where the infamous Borden murders took place. In this setting, the elder gods of the Lovecraftian mythos have arrived some 300 years before. The characters are gathered for a memorial service and a will reading following the gruesome demise of Andrew and Abby Borden.
I played Pastor Constance Seaborne, a traveling preacher of the esoteric Order of Dagon. I had some interesting mechanics that I kinda botched — I misunderstood how they functioned and basically used them much too early in the game, but I suppose it could have been worse. I also have some regrets about not including two other characters into my shenanigans… but overall, Borden Legacy was a very cute, classic-feeling secrets-and-powers LARP, and despite some early misgivings, I ended up really liking my character.
For Sunday morning, I had submitted a presentation and workshop about the Accelerant rules (a system created for boffer LARPs) — specifically, how the non-melee components could be inspiration for theater mechanics that integrate with roleplaying scenes much more smoothly than our usual index card systems do.
It didn’t run. Only a single person ever signed up or showed up — the only other attendee at Time Bubble who already plays Accelerant LARPs. He brought some boffer swords with him, so we sparred for a bit and chatted about the various local boffer campaigns that are running or starting up soon.
I’m not sure if the time slot had some influence on the lack of attendance — people often like to sleep in Sunday mornings if they don’t have a LARP — but I think it was something more than that. Maybe right now people are yearning for actual in-person LARPs and social time, and have less interest in LARP theory discussions. I was somewhat disheartened to hear one or two attendees refer to this as “your boffer thing,” when it was explicitly about the non-boffer elements. Maybe this community just sees the word “boffer” and gets turned off. I’m not sure.
My last LARP was Venezia. Officially, I was an assistant GM, and I spent two days of the week leading up to the event helping stuff this behemoth of a LARP. (I used this an as opportunity to have some fun with acrylic stamps and my rudimentary calligraphy skills, acquired over the periods of strictest quarantine. The character packets got a bit fancied up as a result.)
But LARPs this large have decent odds of last minute drops, so I packed three extra costumes just in case — a Renaissance gown (in fact, the dress I wore when I played Lucrezia Borgia back during Venezia‘s first run in 2012), a Renaissance outfit for men (including the doublet worn by one of the LARP’s writers during that same first run) and a black robe and red sash in case I needed to play one of the cardinals.
The French General
Well, there was indeed a late drop, and I did end up stepping into the role of the French general, so I wore the men’s black and silver Renaissance outfit. I don’t know if I did the role the full justice it deserved — the French general is one of the major players in the war game, and I had not familiarized myself with the mechanics prior to the start of the LARP. I think the general was meant to considerably more self-interested than I played him, but I was erring on the side of being too cooperative rather than uncooperative, for fear I’d end up blocking people’s plots and goals with my rushed attempt to absorb the long character sheet and war game rules.
It felt like a frenetic run to me — Venezia is a very mechanics heavy LARP, with multiple complex interacting systems — besides the war game, there is also a competition for the most influential city, a papal election, a system for commissioning of great works of art and publishing literature, spying, etc. Much of this game is about resource management — political, economic, and religious influence are the three major forms of currency. And besides all of this, Venezia has a three act structure, with every character facing a choice at the end of the first and second act, and receiving a new addition to their character sheet depending on their choices. It was a lot for a single GM to manage (when this LARP would probably be easier to run with at least three GMs), and the run time was shortened to four hours, when it normally runs in five. Despite all of this, the LARP seemed to me to be very well received, and it has since been bid to run at Intercon.
The set dressing of Venezia was worth a mention — the event space was filled with pillars and vases filled with artificial flowers, and there were glittery Venetian masks all over the room.
With Time Bubble 2021 now complete, it’s time to start looking towards the next events on the horizons, including a few private runs of theater LARPs, Winter Boffer Con in December… and the Intercon U schedule should be up on the website in the near future…
*As primitive as a robot that can transform from humanoid to dinosaur shape can be, I suppose.
About four months back, a question popped up in one of my online communities — what should GMs wear while running a LARP?
Costuming as a PC (and occasionally, as an NPC) is something I like to think about, plan out, and create, and I’ve written about my thoughts on it and my various projects a lot on this blog. But what I wear as a GM (or aGM) usually comes down to convenience and what strikes my fancy more than anything else… which I think is a valid approach. GMing a LARP is often a labor of love, with a much higher cost of money, effort, time, and emotional energy than PCs usually estimate, (even when they’re estimating high).
But assuming we do want to be thoughtful and deliberate with what we wear as GMs… there are a few different schools of thought on this topic. Some options that came up in the online discussion:
Casual street clothes — whatever you might be wearing if you weren’t LARPing
Casual street clothes with a nod to LARP premise — e.g. a t-shirt featuring a logo of the franchise the LARP is based on
Stagehand blacks — solid, plain black, head to toe
Business black — also plain black, but with a more formal silhouette (e.g. a black blazer)
An understated branded shirt (e.g. a polo or t-shirt) — maybe a solid dark and/or neutral color with a embroidered logo
A loud branded shirt — a bold, attention getting color, and/or with a large logo
Low key costuming — something understated that suits the setting in a non-specific way
Costuming that reflects a role that GMs might represent in character, e.g. the castle servants, waitstaff, or messengers
Full costuming that reflects the aesthetics of the LARP
Some factors to consider:
Are you trying to create professional atmosphere? Or a casual, relaxed one?
How important will comfort and practicality be while GMing? (Do you expect to be on your feet for many hours in a row?)
Do you feel it’s important to contribute to the “magic circle” of the LARP? (As a GM, do you want your outfit to project, “this is a designated space where imaginative play is welcome and encouraged”?)
Do you expect non-LARPers to wander by, and if so, do you want them to instinctively come to you with questions rather than approaching the nearest player? (Strangers may be more likely to approach you if you’re something like a uniform, rather than in street clothes and looking like a fellow passer-by, or blending with the players in costume.)
Do you want players to feel welcome and not out of place if they choose not to costume or do low key costuming? (E.g. do you hope or expect some newbies, who might find really elaborate, high level costuming intimidating, to sign up?)
Are you concerned about being perceived as upstaging players?
Does your PC cast list include strangers who wouldn’t be able to pick the GM(s) of your LARP out of a crowd? Or are you only running for people who already know you? If you expect players to range from no costuming to full costuming, you may not be easy to spot as a GM in street clothes or costuming, but stage blacks will likely make a GM team easier to spot in a busy event. A GM team in matching brightly colored t-shirts will be even easier to find.
Is it important the GMs to be easy to spot from across a large venue?
Would you like to visually blend in, and avoid detracting from the atmosphere or immersion?
Do you anticipate many player questions for GMs will be able to be handled IC? (E.g. will many questions be things PC guests might ask the butler?) Would you rather players try to maintain immersion as much as possible? Or would you rather players feel encouraged to drop out of character freely?
Will your roll as GM involve more out of character interaction off to the side of game space, or maybe scuttling around through game space (while trying to draw minimal attention to yourself?)
Do you anticipate the possibility of playing multiple quick, minor NPC roles throughout the game? Is it important that they be visually identifiable, fully immersive, or easy as possible to swap in and out of?
If a player has to leave during the LARP, would you as a GM step in to fill that role?
Is opportunity to costume part of what brings you joy when LARPing, even as a GM?
Is visual spectacle an important part of the experience being offered to players?
In the local live combat community, a lot of these questions often have default answers based on the structure of the LARP, and GMs typically default to stagehand blacks along with the rest of the NPCs, because they play multiple costumed NPC roles throughout the weekend. (Although I have heard newbies express mild frustration with being unable to easily identify staff and distinguish them from fellow players when hanging out in the local tavern, and feeling pressure not to drop character to pursue answers to questions that popped up over the weekend.)
I find there’s a lot more variety in what GMs wear in the local theater communities, reflecting a large variety in structure of games. I personally tend to lean towards mostly black but with a nod to the setting via an on-topic t-shirt, or some very basic costuming if some of my GMing duties can be done via a minor NPC role. (E.g. playing a messenger if there is lots of new information being delivered to players mid-game.) But I think all of the listed options above are potentially valid.