New World Magischola 7

I recently returned to New World Magischola, an institution for higher education in the magical arts in North America, for the beginning of a new semester.

New World Magischola is similar to College of Wizardry, a Harry Potter-inspired LARP that runs in a real castle in Poland. This event was NMW 7, First Semester; I have previously played NWM 3, First Semester and NWM: Yuletide Escapade, Week 1 (2016.)

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Ready to learn some magic!

You can read my previous post about playing NWM3 here, where I talk about what makes this LARP series unusual for my experiences in LARP, some of which changed a bit for me from week 3 to week 7. Some of the atypical elements included:

  • high budget, high production values — lots of quality set dressing and props, some costuming provided to players (robes and school ties)
  • extensive workshopping before and after the LARP
  • player input into pre-written characters — some players play their characters as written, others changed a little, some changed them a lot
  • consent based magic mechanics — when players cast spells on one another, the recipient decides the outcome, which can be as the caster intended, no effect (the spell fizzles), or the magic goes wrong and something else occurs
  • encouragement to momentarily drop out-of-character, both through mechanics and culture, mostly for players to check in on one another and to negotiate roleplay
  • player requested content — players can request scenes (including outcomes, if they like) which the staff will support with NPCs

Since M Duggan (my character for NWM7 and Yule) was already cast for this event, I was given a new character. I actually went through a number of possibilities (I feel a bit bad for the poor staff member handling casting) because I had a few preferences:

  • Non-first year. I really loved being sorted in NWM7 (it was a major highlight of the weekend for me) but this time, I really wanted to try the experience of starting and staying with a single house.
  • Non-Cryptozoologist. I had loved playing a cryptozoologist (being an animal and nature lover in real life), but I was hoping to try classes in new subjects.
  • Same year and house as a friend, to allow for more roleplaying time together. (While I have enormous sentimental attachment to Maison Du Bois and would very happily play it again, I was also curious about the other houses.)
  • Originating from Thunderbird (the Pacific Northwest), which fit the most with the hipster costuming I had developed for previous events, and was the most likely to have wizards who mess with mundane technology (I wanted to take photos.)
  • Pureblood descent. It seems like there are more family politics to explore for pureblood students than for mixed blood or mundane born.
  • A member of the Explorers of the Eternal. Explorers of the Eternal was another highlight of NWM3 for me.

The character I ended up with, A. Young, is a pureblood third year cursebreaker in Maison Du Bois, from the Thunderbird region, with family history relating to Virginia Isle. My character as written wanted to avoid dealing with her family, which I changed because it seemed like a shame to have a character who wanted to reduce opportunities for roleplay with other PCs.

I also decided that I was still interested in developing the character I’d already been working on, so I interpreted my new character as an alternate universe/alternate timeline version of my previous one. I named her Mickey again, and kept some of the details I’d developed in the past, such as details about her wand, interest in Thunderbirds, and her nagual ability to turn into a rabbit, then added a few more details (like a semester abroad in Australia, based on my own experiences) just for fun and flavor.

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Mickey

My experience in NWM7 was broadly different from NWM3. This was primarily, I think, because I started with a house, instead of getting sorted into one halfway through.  In NWM3, I spent much of the first half of the event, including opening workshops and meals, with one group of players (the first years), then the second half with another group (my housemates in Maison Du Bois.)

While being sorted was an amazing experience and given the chance to go back, I wouldn’t do NW3 differently, I do think it presented a challenge in terms of connecting with fellow players. Getting to spend a lot of time, from the opening workshops to the closing workshops and throughout the game between, with my fellow Du Bois meant it was much easier to learn names and get to know them in and out of character. I also really enjoyed welcoming the new bear cubs as they got sorted (we chanted, “you have wandered!” “Now you are home!” and gave them bags of gummy bears) and, under the guidance of our house presidents, setting up the Du Bois common room and planning and executing the initiation ritual. I think as a house, Maison Du Bois really bonded. (We won the House Cup, by the way!)

As it was in my previous two events, I think the best element of the LARP for me was just the immersive, realistic environment. NWM7 really did feel like returning to college. The setting feels full and complete, with extensive information on the history and culture of the school and the Magimundi (the mage’s world), the set dressing is extensive, and the robes and school ties give weight to the visual aspect of the experience (though many students often decide to forgo their robes due to the heat and humidity.) I particularly liked the set dressing in the various common rooms; the house presidents went above and beyond to reflect their house colors, mascots, and mottos with fun decor.

My favorite thing to do at Magischola is attend classes, take notes, and even do homework. I really enjoyed participating in class activities. In Magical Wellness, we did meditative breathing exercises, manipulated a fire elemental, and used our personal auras to create defensive spells. In Artificiery, we made amulets out of stones in the first class, and in the second, I watched a student make a magical prosthetic arm for another student (out of real chicken bones!) In our first Healing class, we discussed the procedure for healing in the field, and identified and discussed bi-runes. In the second class, deliberately drank (non-lethal) poisons, discussed ethical questions while they kicked in, then practiced identifying the poisons and creating antidotes, which was a ton of fun. In Ethics and Theory, we practiced illegal curses on one another (compulsion and pain spells) and discussed the topic of how non-humans are treated in the Magimundi society with a guest vampire and dark fae.

My other class was Curse Breaking and Runic Magic. Along with Healing, it was one of the more structured courses with a lot of pre-prepared lecture materials, which I really enjoyed. We learned about the different classifications of curses (hexes, jinxes, scourges, and blights), and how to identify, analyze, and neutralize them. We also learned about the different forms of runes (pictograms, ideograms, logograms, morphograms, and phonograms.) In our second class, we analyzed runes and tried to draw conclusions about the artist who drew them.

This class particularly appealed to me not just because of its more structured style, but because I felt like I was really learning something — the classification of curses seemed very plausible, and we actually were learning real information about graphemics, which dovetailed with my passion for linguistics. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a small moment during the runes analysis, when I received double points for my answer. It might sound like such a silly and small thing, but having my character do well at a topic dear to my heart really made me smile.

For clubs, I got involved with the Crossed Wands, which involves competitive spell dueling. We practiced outside, throwing spells at one another and trying out balancing exercises. At one point, a real owl perched in a nearby tree to watch us. We mused over the possibility that it was a spy from our rival school, Imperial, trying to gain an edge for an upcoming match. The owls’ presence really added a magical spark to the evening. (Other wildlife also lent their flair to the weekend; a deer wandered by during one encounter with fae in the woods, a number of turtles were spotted swimming in the lake, and butterflies were fluttering all over campus.)

A few of us tried to get photos of our feathery audience; believe me when I say they don’t quite capture its majesty, size, or proximity to the duels.

We staged two duels with students from Imperial (played wonderfully by NPCs), losing the first one in order to set up a comeback match during the school dance that closed out the event. I thought the comeback match went pretty well — students could keep dancing in the main room if they felt like it, or wander out to watch from the balconies overlooking the match.

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Mickey with Marlon, her stylish date to the dance (and captain of the Crossed Wands club!) Photo courtesy of New World Magischola, by Strike and Hide

The one downside to Crossed Wands was that the first match made me a few minutes late for the Explorers of the Eternal meeting. It was fun working on the puzzle that revealed the time and location, though I think it came out a bit too late for some students to finish in time. When I got to the room, the meeting was in progress, and they wouldn’t allow latecomers (though the meeting at NWM3 did.)

For NWM7, I decided to engage in the pranking culture that thrives at the school. (For example, students love to submit silly messages for announcements, which our wonderful chancellor is obliged to read aloud.) Over the week or so leading up to the event, I bought 10 yards of muslin, cut into five pieces of two yards each, and two packs of fabric markers. I drew up mock versions of each of the house banners, with the mascots replaced with cartoon characters. (I think they were all recognizable, except possibly Wally Gator, an old Hanna-Barbera character, not terribly well known.)


Late on Thursday night, when most people had gone to bed, I and a fellow Du Bois went sneaking from common room to common room, hanging the mock banners over the real banners, along with a little note saying the banners had been hexed to be unmovable.

Over Friday and Saturday, I kept an ear out for buzz about the banners. There were some amusingly indignant announcements from students accusing Maison Du Bois (as the only house with an unpranked banner), though all but two Du Bois were in the dark and denied involvement. I found overhearing snippets of conversations from people debating about who might have done it rather gratifying. I hear there was a meeting of the house presidents, where it was decided that Maison Du Bois students would make the rounds and help break the hexes keeping the mock banners stuck in place. (Lakay Leveau declined to have theirs removed, because they liked theirs so much.) I think the other houses moved theirs to let the original banners show, but kept the mock ones on display elsewhere in their common rooms.

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After the LARP, I admitted to being the culprit, and got a lot of compliments, which was really nice. People thought the prank was very cute. I was really happy that it gave people something to talk about and roleplay over. The students of Maison Du Bois decided they wanted one, too, so on Saturday night I brought the last piece of muslin and the markers down to our common room and we drew up a banner featuring a Care Bear. Yogi Bear (“smarter than the average bear!”) and Winnie the Pooh (“oh bother!”) were close seconds for choices.

NWM7 was a magical weekend. Maison Du Bois has been doing a remarkable job of keeping and touch, which I think reflects how well we really bonded as a house. The next Yule events are sold out, but I’m hoping to see them (and lots of my other fellow players) at future events!

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Snipe!

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, Nordic Style, theater | Tagged | 6 Comments

Lessons From Cry Havoc

As I mentioned in a recent post, at Festival of the LARPs 2017, I ran a boffer game designed to introduce newbies to the Accelerant system. I was inspired by a LARP I played twice at SLAW called The Trouble With Turnips, which is designed introduce newbies to the Realms boffer system. (Please excuse the repetition if you have read the related posts recently.)

The structure of The Trouble With Turnips is pretty simple, and probably familiar to anyone who has played through any classic tabletop RPG dungeon crawls. The PCs play a group of adventurers who were summoned to deal with the evil Turnipmancer, who has been ransacking farms and creating monsters that have been ravaging the country side. The adventurers enter the Turnipmancer’s lair, bypass a series of traps, fight a series of monsters (all with root vegetable themes), and solve a series of puzzles in order to earn the keys to unlock a chest containing the weapon that can defeat the Turnipmancer once and for all. (There is also a friendly NPC who gets turned into a turnip-head monster and requires rescuing.)

There was a lot I loved about this structure as an introductory boffer LARP. The familiarity and simplicity of the structure of the story — Bad Guy’s lair is full of traps and puzzles and monsters, good guys need to find and unlock the MacGuffin to defeat him — made it easy for me to focus on learning and practicing the rules of combat. The comical nature of the scenario, the frequent puns, and the over-the-top cacklingly evil portrayal of the Turnipmancer all made me feel a lot less self-conscious about being a total newbie and making a lot of mistakes while I was learning. The traps and puzzles all allow for endless attempts, NPC monsters are low-powered, and the NPC healer aiding the PCs has endless healing, making PC death and failure to defeat the Turnipmancer highly unlikely, highly unlikely (if not impossible). All of this also keeps the event low-pressure and enables the players to focus on the activity they like best, whether it’s combat or puzzle solving. Even players who lack any natural athletic abilities or might struggle with riddles can feel like they’re contributing.

The game also seemed relatively easy to set-up and run; a bunch of the props are actual root vegetables (which I hear traditionally make it into a stew after a run.) Other props are simple things like cardboard puzzles and plastic spoons. I think the low production values actually really suit the comedy of the game and the low-pressure atmosphere, and make the game feel very welcoming and accessible to players who want to try out Realms LARPing without having to create a lot of costuming and/or boffer gear, or worry about whether their “newbie-ness” might drag down the game.  (Another way Turnips is very welcoming to newbies: the GMs bring buckets of generic fantasy costuming to loan out to players along with boffer weapons.)

The only thing I sort of disliked about Trouble With Turnips was that the players aren’t given pre-written characters. (Nor is there any workshop for players to create them.) The players all play more or less identical generic adventurers. Players are welcome to come up with a name (or whatever other elements of a character) if they like, but this is all done at the door, in a rush with no guidance, and it doesn’t have the ability to affect game play in any official way.

Also, the newbies are all given bare bones skill sets (simply the ability to wield a single weapon). A few regular Realms players came in with other abilities, other weapons and shields, and the only healer was an NPC. This all has huge advantages — it’s that much easier to run on the staff and it’s a flexible structure which means that last minute player additions or drops are no problem, but I personally would have liked to try it with a character background and personality to inspire roleplay, and skill sets that allow the players to try out more of the mechanics besides melee combat in its simplest form.

For Cry Havoc, I took the basic premise, then tweaked it a bit, to suit the different time and space available (at SLAW, Turnips had a whole evening in multiple rooms, whereas at Festival, Cry Havoc had one giant room for less time) to provide a bit more roleplay fodder in the form of pre-written character sheets, and to allow the players to play a bit more with the options the Accelerant system provides.

The basic premise of my scenario was as follows: Santa Claus has turned evil and is taking over the other holidays. The PCs are a collection of mascots from other holidays (I let the players choose what mascots they wanted to play, either ones from popular culture, ones they made up, or ones I made up for them) who have traveled to Santa’s lair to uncover his weakness, defeat his three lieutenants (other holiday mascots) and their minions, then summon and defeat Santa once and for all.

The lieutenants have a predesignated order in which they arrive through the Seasons Portal (Easter for Spring, then Independence Day for Summer, then Halloween for fall), but  if the PCs can collect enough tokens, they can alter the order in which the lieutenants arrive. (Various aspects of the fight are easier if they’re rearranged to summer, fall, then spring.) Tokens can be earned by taking them off fallen foes or solving the various puzzles (which included lock-picking) scattered around the room. The Easter Bunny, also an additional plot and challenge: they’ve become a lich and the players must find their Easter eggs and collect them into an Easter basket to purify them.

And as mentioned in a previous post, I do think the players had fun, which is of course the most important thing, but the run was pretty chaotic, so it’s difficult to assess how much of the mechanics of the scenario (things like how to operate the Seasons Portal and how to safely move Easter eggs) and the actual Accelerant rules, were actually successfully conveyed to the players, and how much of the non-combat stuff successfully entertained the players.

Before I delve into the specifics of the improvements I’d like to try, I do think I should mention the  various aspects of Cry Havoc that were successful and make me want to run it again in the future.

I think the theme and visuals worked out very well. I chose holidays both because it seemed lighthearted and because I knew it would be easy to find, produce, and borrow props and set dressing that suited the theme. (Dollar stores also often have holiday themed stuff.) Christmas gift bags, for example, made nice containers for puzzles and loot. NPCs could easily dress up like a hoard of Christmas elves with mundane red and green items. (I think I actually overdid it with the set dressing; even though, miraculously, thanks to the amazing NPCs, we did get it all set up and taken down in a rather timely manner, I would probably cut way back in the future. And sadly, I did not get any photos.) The familiarity of the theme also meant there was a minimum of writing and reading needed to convey the setting; everyone already knows who Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are.

I also think the PCs also felt able to costume easily with this theme. Because they were essentially able to pick their characters and the character concepts were heavily open to interpretation, PCs who wanted to create extensive costuming (or wear costuming they already owned) could. (One player created a really adorable Halloween spider costume), but those who just wanted to pull something from their closet were also able to. (The NPCs did the same — a few owned some fun patriotic stuff, which is why there were a lot of bad guys to fight from Independence Day.)

It also wasn’t too hard to tweak puzzles and riddles and some of the loot to suit the theme. For example, one puzzle involved drawing lines correctly between circles on a page (Bridges puzzles) which easily became drawing tinsel between Christmas ornaments. The moving-turnips-on-spoons challenge became moving Easter eggs on spoons with a purchase from the Dollar Store.

I also think assigning characters to the players, rather than letting them all show up as random adventurers, worked out. The characters were pretty simple, a few had some RP ties to connect them, and there was redundancy in most of the holidays and themes, so the game was able to handle last minute drops. I think it’s also helped contribute to the excitement.

I think a lot of the puzzles and physical challenges were ones I’d like to reuse — I think many of the puzzles weren’t attempted, and a number that were attempted never got solved, but I think that was mostly because of the chaos and combat going on simultaneously… But if I ran the LARP again, I’d probably still use things like Bridges, Loops, Shikaku, and Dominosa. (This website allows you to easily pick the size and difficulty of the puzzles.) I also tailor made two logic puzzles; one involved figuring out which unlabeled bottle contained which potion, and the other, which order to put different colored candles in a menorah. (Solving it unlocked a special ability, “Eight Damage by Dedication”.)  Even though the latter went unsolved (and was accidentally printed with the solution,) I would love to use them again.

I think there were two major factors that contributed to the problematic chaos of the run. The first was that the Groundhog’s Shadow, the friendly, helpful NPC designed to explain mechanics like the Seasons Portal and be available to answer questions, clarify things, and offer hints and tips as needed, was meant to be summoned as soon as the PCs entered the room. But there were so many distracting things to interact with right away, only one player ended up trying to summon the Shadow, and it took them a fair amount of time while working alone. There was clearly a lot of confusion about how various things worked (particularly the Easter eggs), and it took much longer for the helpful NPC to be summoned, so there wasn’t an easy, in-game fix readily available to address the confusion. I won’t go too far into details about how I tried to prevent this before the LARP and the various kludged efforts I made after the LARP began, but I will say that if there is a next time, the NPC will be present before the PCs walk into the room.

The other issue is that everything interactive was always in one room at the same time: the combat, the puzzles that require concentration and/or pencils and paper to solve, the movable terrain, the Easter egg balancing challenge. In Turnips, the balancing challenge was a room by itself with nothing else in it, and most of the puzzles were in a single area with combat only happening around the outskirts, at the entrances and in the hallways.

When LARPs have only a single room to use, one can divide it into smaller spaces (if there are enough space dividers, furniture, and/or large set pieces) though this typically feels less “official” and may result in a lot more flow back and forth between the spaces than one might have with permanent walls. (It’s also hard to create doors that actually block movement.) A common method of “dividing” up a single space is to run an “elevator module” — basically, a vestibule or area just outside of the door in the hallway, or a temporary space created by room dividers, is set aside for the players to be in between scenes. It often represents a vehicle that is on the move, or, as the name implies, elevator taking the PCs from floor to floor. While the PCs are in this space, the NPCs move around set dressing, furniture, and props to represent new rooms. This method is pretty popular in the one-shot boffer LARPs run at Intercon. (Stop That Moon, Rabbit Run, and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, to name a few, used this method.)

The upside of this method is that one can use the entire room multiple times over to effectively have as many rooms as a LARP might require. The downside is that it can be pretty time and labor intensive, as it requires staff to quickly re-set the stage over and over while players wait in a small area. To deal with the enforced downtime, I’ve seen some LARPs include interactive elements to the “elevator” — videos to watch, puzzles to solve, fodder for inter-PC roleplay. (And water and even snacks while PCs catch their breath.) Elevator mods also only allow a single room to be available at a time and generally strongly support a very linear LARP, which can be both an advantage or a drawback, depending on the desired design of a LARP.

I decided not to use the elevator mod format because the room was very large to begin with, so it didn’t seem necessary to functionally expand the space, and we were rather tight on time, so I didn’t want to have to budget a bunch of downtime for re-staging the set. I also figured the players were mostly new and might not know what elements of the LARP they might find most enjoyable, and I didn’t want to risk there being long scenes where the focus was on a single element that some players might not find interesting.

In retrospect, I think this was a mistake and ensuring players always had access to a variety of elements so that they could always focus on whatever interested them most was not really worth the confusion and chaos. I think players felt like they couldn’t quite focus on the Easter eggs balancing or the puzzles with combat always happening all around. (Veteran players might have put puzzle solvers into a defensible position and put the melee fighters, especially shields, between people focusing on puzzles and the monsters, but that’s an instinct that takes a bit of time to develop.)

There were some other minor fail points that caused issues — some of the puzzles didn’t get their instructions printed (printer failure during prep), and some of the locks (even though they were the kind that is the easiest to pick and were tested before the LARP) simply wouldn’t open. But a more notable issue was that I never heard the players make a single call, either for attack or defense, during the LARP, which made me think the LARP didn’t really properly introduce the style to newbies.

If I were to run this LARP again, here are some of the changes and improvements I’d like to make:

One, depending on the time and space available, I’ll either divide up the room into distinct spaces and only allow the players access to one at at time. Or, alternatively, if there’s tons of time, I’ll run it as an elevator mod.

Two, as mentioned, the PCs will start out with the helpful NPC. (I would probably reuse the concept of the Groundhog’s Shadow — since shadows can change size and shape, and the mask was a solid blank black hood, any NPC who was available at any given moment could play the part.) But PCs will either begin game with the shadow, or will summon the shadow (without having to take time to solve anything) before encountering any other part of the LARP.

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Gonna be six more weeks of winter…

Three, begin printing much earlier, so that if there is printer failure, another one can be found before the LARP. (This is a pretty plan for running any LARP event.)

Four, simplify the mechanics available to the PCs, and have smaller, one on one fights (and demonstrations of other mechanics), at the beginning of the LARP so they can ease into it and try things out before larger group combat begins. It probably couldn’t hurt to have an even longer tutorial before the LARP begins, as well.

Five, telegraph more to the NPCs in advance. I didn’t want to overwhelm the NPCs with tons of information before the LARP, especially since they were all experienced players and I wanted them to feel empowered to adjust things like their stats and how often they respawned on the fly, according to how busy/pressed the players were at any given moment. But I think when things like the Easter egg mechanic got confused, this might have been too hard to adjust for on the fly without fuller understanding of the mechanic in advance.

I do think that a formula for creating and running a basic, dungeon-crawl style game can be extracted from what I learned by playing Trouble With Turnips and running Cry Havoc. I occasionally see people posting in online LARP forums, saying there are no boffer LARPs in their area but they’d like to run something for their friends, how can they do it? And I think this formula might be one valid answer to that. That is likely going to be its own post in the near future.

Posted in boffer, conventions, LARP, LARP Reviews | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Kingsword at Festival

My LARP for Saturday evening at Festival of the LARPs 2017 was Kingsword, which was another LARP that first ran at Intercon Q, and I was really excited when the authors offered to run it at Festival. I’ve really loved LARPs by these authors in the past, too, (such as Devil to Pay, Venezia, and Stars of Al-Ashtara). Kingsword takes characters from Irish mythology, Arthurian legends, Scottish folklore, and the Welsh Mabinogion, and brings them all together at a tourney in Ireland.

I think playing Kingsword at Festival was possibly the best experience I’ve had yet in theater LARPs.

(Possibly my best ever, depending on how you slice it, but it’s really hard to compare individual moments to one shot games to campaigns, so I’ll just have to leave this as it is, vaguely worded.)

I think what made it such a positive experience for me was a combination of a number of factors, besides the fact that I’m always a fan of classic, romantic fantasy. I had more than enough interesting and emotionally compelling goals to keep me busy through the 4+ hours of game play. I’ve certainly played very busy characters in LARPs before, but I think this is the first theater LARP where I was constantly active straight through the LARP — I always had quests to work on and tons of political negotiation to handle, in addition to the occasional duels which were both fun to watch and the outcomes were often relevant to me. I never had to take a break from working towards my goals if I didn’t want to. The GMs had suggested prior to the LARP that most players would not be able to achieve everything on their list of goals; we were encourage to decide for ourselves which goals seems like the most appealing to work on, and not worry about not getting around to the ones that seemed less interesting. This advice proved useful to me during the LARP.

Also, all of the politicking and questing was punctuated by some very dramatic, cinematic moments for me, the kind I live for in LARPing, mostly related to romance plots, political marriage negotiations, and dueling

I also think I was particularly well cast; knowing what I know now, I think I would have chosen the character I played, Olwen, for myself, but it still seemed like there were plenty of other characters I would also really enjoy.

Additionally, while I disagree with people who assert that production values are the most important element for high immersion, it was really nice to have a well dressed atmosphere. The set dressing and props and costuming filled the room nicely. The GMs did a lot of work to set up the room dividers and tents, string pennants, banners (made by yours truly), and table runners, a small banquet, genre-appropriate music, special seating for royal characters, and a large sword-in-the-stone prop. Having a nice function space (instead of a classroom) was a nice bonus. And the costuming was high quality across the board, with some really nice tabards and armor and robes and jewels and gowns.

The character I played, Olwen, is originally from the Mabinogion, a Welsh collection of early British stories. Olwen’s father, Ysbaddaden, the evil king of the giants, has placed her under a fairy geas. She can never to marry without his consent, which he will not give because of a prophecy that says he will die on her wedding day.  A number of heroes, including several Knights of the Round Table and the hero Culhwch, are questing to free her from the geas.

Because giant territory is located in Pictish territory, in land that is now Scotland, I decided to adopt a very Scottish-inspired look for my costume. I know that the Scottish association with tartan is far more recent than one might think, but I couldn’t resist. I really love the look of tartan and wanted to use in costuming. When searching for inspiration online, I found photo galleries of Celtic dolls, and I tried to recreate the look by making a linen tunic (I’m relieved that the trim came out alright), the skirt, and the sash. Finding and choosing the right tartan was something of a saga. I really wish I’d gotten better photos of the complete costume.


Kingsword has a number of neat mechanics. To pull the sword from the stone, players must acquire the numbers to the prop’s combination lock, which is an abstract representation of earning a great destiny and making yourself worthy to be the High King or Queen of Britain. There are a variety of ways to earn letters, such as by completing great quests, marrying royalty, or having various sovereignties pledge their support to you. I love that all characters in the game, regardless of gender or nationality, can earn the right to be the one to draw the sword from the stone.

Another neat mechanic is the combat mechanic. The outcome of any duel is determined by comparing characters’ valor scores, with some possible bonuses added. Without knowing the results yet, players are given foam weapons to play out a duel, and buzzers to hold in their off hands or pockets. The GMs then remotely set off the buzzers in the hands of the characters with the lower scores.

I liked this combat system a lot — it included the drama and action of actually getting to participate in or watch (mock) swordfighting (which is often absent in theater systems), and GMs could choose the order in which combatants faltered in the melees to maximize drama.

The questing mechanic was also a lot of fun. They were short choose-your-own-adventures, and I felt like there was a lot that was smart about their design. Some quests were searches for artifacts, or defeating foes and monsters, others presented difficult dilemmas or challenging riddles. The quests allowed for various approaches to solving them, and the mechanics of succeeding often required players to find others to work together with, often outside of the allies they came into the game trusting. Figuring out the best combinations of questers and choice of approaches was often an interesting puzzle for me, and it often encouraged negotiations and exchanges of favors between characters. There were also rules in place that prevented individual players from dominating the quest mechanic to the exclusion of other players, which I appreciated a lot.

Kingsword, by the way, is running again this summer, at WPI in Worcester, MA, on July 15th. I’ll be aGMing this run. Sign-ups are opening Monday, June 5th, at 7pm EST. There are also a few other LARPs running that day. More information can be found here.

Posted in costuming, LARP, LARP Reviews, mechanics, theater | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Festival of the LARPs 2018 — The Stroke of Midnight

Festival of the LARPs 2017, the weekend of theater LARPs, recently ran at Brandeis University. I was coordinator (or con chair, or whatever you want to call it) this year, so that’s been keeping me rather busy over the past month or so. We had 22 LARPs in a variety of styles and about 100 attendees.

On top of running Festival, I also wrote and ran a game designed to give newbies an introduction to boffer LARP. I’m still undecided if this counts as me finally writing a LARP or not… it feels more like an extended module to me. In retrospect, I think creating a LARP for a Festival I was running might have been a bad decision on my part; a number of unusual problems popped up over the weeks leading up to the event, and handling them would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t trying to pull together the game at the same time.

But I couldn’t resist. We had a new space this year, a very large function room, that no other GMs were interested in using on Saturday morning, and seemed like a shame to let Festival’s first giant, open indoor space go to waste… and I really liked the idea of being able to boast that Festival now hosted a larger variety of styles that included boffer. (Festival has hosted boffer practices before, but never an actual game.) I don’t regret writing and running a new game while serving as coordinator, but I definitely would recommend against it to others.

Besides running the boffer game, I also played in four LARPs. On Friday evening, I played in The Day We Came Home, a sci-fi LARP about humans immigrating back to earth as the communities on earth are rebuilding from past major collapses of civilization. Some of the players played representatives of the communities on earth looking to take in immigrants with the skill sets they need, some played immigrants looking for a new home, and a place to fulfill their dreams. I played one of the immigrants, a follower of a religion called the Altarian Way, who wanted to build a school on earth. After hearing good things about the LARP from its first run at Intercon, I’m really glad I got the chance to play.

On Saturday morning, I ran my boffer game, Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Elves of Yule. I was heavily inspired by The Trouble With Turnips, a basic dungeon crawl that introduced me to the Realms system. Turnips is lighthearted, with a simple premise and a structure that would be familiar to anyone who has played any old school pre-written tabletop RPG modules. In Cry Havoc, the mascots of a bunch of holidays team up to take down Santa Claus, who is conquering the other holidays. I chose a holidays theme because I knew there would be a lot of iconography that would be instantly recognizable to everyone, which was very useful for creating PCs and NPCs, and I could easily borrow a lot of set dressing that fit the theme. (The PCs came up with some really adorable, creative costuming for their holiday mascots.)

I think I can best describe the run as extremely chaotic. I learned a lot about running boffer modules and designing for newbies from it, and I think I would like to possibly run Cry Havoc again, with a fair amount of editing. This should probably be its own post, so I’ll just say I think the players had fun, which is the most important thing, and I’m very surprised but very relieved to say we got it all set up and cleaned up on schedule. The NPCs were amazing and did a ton of work, not just roleplaying and fighting PCs (and producing their own awesome costumes), but transporting my excessive amounts of set dressing, setting up tents and room dividers and all of the props and set dressing (and injecting their own creativity into their roles and into the set dressing), and cleaning up so that I could get to my next LARP in time. I am extremely grateful to both them and the players.

Primal Spirits first ran at Intercon Q, and I found the premise extremely appealing, so I was really excited when the submission form for it popped up on the Festival website. In a mythological age, the animals spirits are gathering at the World Tree to decide what sort of spirits they will be, Trickers, Sages, Hunters, or Leaders. Of course, the costuming opportunities appealed to me a lot, too, and I’ve really enjoyed LARPs by these authors in the past, particularly their world building, treatment of magic, and the dynamic relationships they write between characters.

I was cast as Tiger, and a friend was cast as Jaguar, so in the days leading up to Festival, I made us both ears and tails. I was generally quite impressed with the costuming for this LARP — a lot of adorable face paint and ears and tails, and some cool masks and other accessories. I really liked Eagle’s majestic robes, Horse’s mane-like pompadour, Otter’s shell jewelry, and Woodpecker’s red fauxhawk and black facepaint, to name just a few neat details. I particularly liked Turtle’s outfit, which included a turtle necklace, and a Ninja Turtles shell-style backpack over a t-shirt printed to look like a turtle’s plastron and arms.

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homemade Tiger accoutrements

In Primal Spirits, the animal spirits explore their potential paths, part of which involves playing games and performing tasks that demonstrate how the paths suit them, spend time with their various gangs (groups that follow various themes, like the feline gang, or the flying gang), explore various mysteries (the presence of unknown spirits, for example), and pool resources to create New Things in the material world, like Death and Architecture. I liked the mechanics for communing with some of the Greater Spirits — drinking water was a way of connecting with the Water Spirit; lying down, even napping, for five minutes was a way to connect with the Earth Spirit. (Eating some fruit was also a mechanic relevant to some of the plot in game.) All ways to keep players well rested, fed, and hydrated, a series of mechanics that encourage self-care during game that the authors have made good use of in some of their past games.

Also worth mentioning, this LARP had some nice set dressing in the form of a beautiful, sort of abstract representation of the world tree (draped fabric and leaves) and props (like a fake bowl of fire.)

Though as Tiger I wasn’t pursuing the path of Sage, I did see that one of the Sage activities was to share stories and wisdom through art — paper and markers were available for players to use. I always really appreciate opportunities to create in-character art during a LARP. I didn’t create any art, but I did have a ton of fun practicing my Hunting skills through a game of Stalk, Hunt, Pounce (actually Red Light, Green Light, for those familiar with that childhood game), and Tiger ended up dedicating herself to the Hunter spirit in this run.

Since this post is getting quite long, I’ve decided to separate out my Saturday evening LARP (Kingsword) into its own post, and skip ahead to Danger Zone: Crossing the Streams, my Sunday LARP.

I was quite excited to have a chance to sign up for Danger Zone for two reasons. One, as you may have guessed from the title, it’s a crossover LARP featuring characters from the tv show Archer and the Ghostbusters franchise. When I first started watching Archer, I remember thinking, I hope someone will write a LARP based on this cartoon, and I really want to play my favorite character, Dr. Krieger. I’m admittedly not as huge a fan of Ghostbusters, but I did like the recent remake. (Fun fact: much of the climactic battle scene was filmed in Boston, and I was an extra!)

The second reason I was excited to play was that I really enjoyed Star-Crossed, another LARP by the same author, which used an interesting mechanic (“Ghost Loops”) in which the characters are forced to play out scenes from their lost memories in front of one another, and I think it was a really neat technique that added a lot to the experience. I knew Danger Zone was going to reuse it.

My casting questionnaire and one other questionnaire (jokingly) reflected our ongoing feud over who was going to get to play Dr. Krieger.  (Some excerpts from my responses: “Also, he and I have already had multiple fights in the past over who gets to play Krieger in a hypothetical someday LARP. And you just put yourself in the middle of this fight…” “…I can hear him typing a response to this questionnaire, and I have informed him he better not put Krieger…” “Is there anything else you would like to add? If [he] put Krieger, he means “any character but Krieger.”)

And what do you know, the other LARPer got to play Krieger. I was cast as Kevin, the mimbo secretary character from the new Ghostbusters. This casting actually worked out very well for me (I also got to briefly portray another Archer character I’m rather fond of), so I guess I can’t hold a grudge over this.

For costuming, I decided the outfit Kevin wears when he decides he’s also a Ghostbuster would speak with more volume than his outfits when he’s acting as the administrative assistant. I borrowed a white t-shirt (in retrospect, I wish I’d found one a bit more fitted… it’s times like this I really think I should invest in a chest binder) and an olive colored jumpsuit to tie around my waist, and a friend of mine ordered a cheap pair of lens-free glasses. (I’ve borrowed that jumpsuit so many times for LARPs, despite it being much too large on me, I think it’s about time I just bought my own smaller version.) I also did my best to adopt Chris Hemsworth’s beautiful Aussie accent, with rather questionable results.

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I was actually rather impressed with a lot of the costuming for this LARP — there were some inflatable proton packs and Ghostbuster jumpsuits, lab coats, and Holtzmann’s iconic aviators-and-goggles look, and Archer wore his classic black turtleneck and sunglasses. Erin even had a copy of her book, Ghosts from Our Past.

Playing the LARP was a lot of fun, and often very funny. The really nice thing about combining the “Ghost Loop” mechanic with a cast of well known characters is that there are scenes written to set up some of their famous catchphrases and running jokes (much to the delight of the fans playing the LARP) although we definitely found plenty of ways to work them in between the Ghost Loops as well. I think the best moment was during the climax (“phrasing!”) right before the end of the LARP, where we needed Archer to do the Big, Important, Immediately Necessary thing, and when we looked around to see what the big delay was, he was holding everything up to finish off his drink.

There was also a really fun interactive prop — very simple, but tons of fun, which I won’t describe here for spoiler reasons, (sorry, I know that’s kind of a tease, but I just have to mention it) but I definitely want to steal the idea for other LARPs.

The best part about my casting was that the metaphysics of this LARP were, of course, extremely complicated — there was a lot of pseudoscience discussion between the Ghostbusters and Krieger that I was never really able to follow. But luckily, as the exceptionally and adorably clueless Kevin, it was perfectly in character for me to have no idea what was going on.

If you are a fan of either series, I recommend catching a future run.

Posted in conventions, LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged | 2 Comments

A Weekend of LARPs in NYC

I was back in New York City this past weekend for three theater style LARPs.

The first was On Display, a simple hour and half long LARP for six players.  It is set at a grand ball, where a noble lady must choose, with the help of her sister, a husband from among four suitors. Meanwhile, the hostesses and other guests are negotiating other political (and academic) matters.

In retrospect, I think I should have played my character much more ruthlessly — I had some blackmail material and could have thrown other characters under the bus to protect my own interests, but avoiding that meant utterly failing my House. But purely by luck, after letting my House down, I happened to ally myself with another character who used all the resources I handed over to him to great advantage, and I lucked into a happy ending for my House, if not quite as happy for my character.

On Display is an enjoyable theater LARP of classic elements that seems fairly simple to run and play, so if you’re looking for a small, short theater LARP, I recommend it. You can purchase it online here.

My second, and favorite, LARP of the weekend was Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come was even shorter and smaller than On Display — one hour for four players. It’s a fantasy LARP with deceptively simple premise and straightforward mechanics, but it has the potential for complex, intense negotiation among the characters.

In Kingdom Come, waves of demons are attacking four characters inside a tower, the Tithe (a classic princess), the Fairy Prince, the Grand Vizier (of the Fairy Court) and the Lady Knight. Both a human kingdom and the Fairy Court need an heir, who may need advisers, to prevent civil war; meanwhile, the fairies are under attack from Hell, for thus far failing to pay its tithe. The four players must decide who among them will end up in which land, who will rule each land, and who will act as advisers to said rulers, and what is to be done about the war with Hell.

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Yours Truly as the Lady Knight

Over the course of the LARP, a simple set of mechanics involving a 4-sided die and decks of cards is used to resolve the demon attacks; the demons always lose, but depending on the card draws and the characters’ abilities, whether or not the demons do damage, how much, and to whom, varies. The attacks occur frequently, with very quick resolution.

The really nice thing about this element of the LARP is that the damage organically shifts the negotiating positions of the characters, so even if the players come to an agreement early on, there’s always a chance the next round of demon attacks may cause them to renegotiate. (There are also three contingency envelopes to open at designated times during the LARP that may also change the characters’ opinions on what their desired outcomes are.)

In our particular run, for example, we came to an agreement half way through, but then a series of unlucky card draws meant we accumulated a lot of damage, and we started negotiations and plans in the event of various characters’ deaths.

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reused some Cottington costuming

I really enjoyed playing Kingdom Come, and after the game, we had an interesting discussion about the various elements that make it potentially a really good game for newbies, and also about the possibility of running it as a boffer LARP.

There are a number of elements that make me think Kingdom Come would be a good LARP to run for newbies. A lot of newbies come to LARP with a tabletop RPG background, where fantasy is very popular. Kingdom Come is classic, fairy-tale-esque fantasy, whose characters are well known, popular tropes (and they all seem special in their own way), so it is easy to get into and understand the characters with only a small amount of background reading. The fact that it plays well around a table, with all of the characters focused on a single conversation, makes it unlikely a single player will not know how to get started and end up feeling left out, or like they can’t break into the action. (I’ve seen newbies at LARPs hanging around the outskirts of the event space, feeling shy and unsure of what to do with themselves.) And it’s short, which makes it appealing for new players who are hesitant to commit to longer events to give it a try.

On top of all of that, Kingdom Come seems also fairly easy and simple on a GM to run — players can be pulled in on very short notice — even at the door — because there’s so little reading to get ready for the LARP, and it doesn’t take much in the way of printing or props (just decks of cards, a d4 or other way to randomize a one in four choice, and something to keep time.) We briefly discussed how this LARP could probably easily be boxed in such a way that players could run it without a GM. And in my experience, newbies have a high rate of dropping out last minute, so being able to recast at the door (or have a GM step in to play one of the roles) also makes it a good trait for newbie runs.

I think the only significant downside Kingdom Come has as a LARP for newbies is that it’s pretty much impossible for all four characters to get a happy ending — by design, the characters are given decisions about making very difficult compromises and it’s very likely they will end up unhappy about their own personal fate, the fate of their home, and/or being separated from loved ones. I have heard it argued that a good LARP for newbies will have them coming away from it satisfied with a happy ending (with exceptions made for players who find the idea of playing a mustache twirling villain who fails dramatically).

The notion of converting it into a boffer LARP intrigues me. It would require converting the mechanics, but also adjusting the timing and frequency of the attacks (can’t have a quick attack every two minutes.) I think the most difficult aspect of it would be to take into account how player skill will influence the outcome of the attacks and the subsequent effect on the characters’ bargaining positions, and adjusting accordingly.

It’s also important to keep in mind the issue of PvP combat. In the theater version, there simply isn’t a mechanic for players to attack one another, although I can imagine players improvising, on the spot, drawing cards against one another, especially in a GM-less run. There’s a lot of character incentive not to attack one another (the characters all have things that the others need) and also combat is random and even (every character has the same deck of cards to draw from… although I suppose towards the end of the LARP, a player who has been counting cards might be able to calculate the odds of drawing a high card against another player.)

In boffer, by default, you hand players the tools to engage in PvP fights (the same tools for engage in PvE, or, in this case, PvDemons — boffer weapons) and preventing it would probably involve some kind of clunky manipulation of the mechanics. (For example, if one were to use Accelerant, you might tell the players that all of their attacks are “to Demon”, even uncalled attacks, which is a bit awkward for several reasons). Or you could try heavy handed in-game justifications. (Something like “your weapons are holy and only harm demons” would contradict elements of the backstory.)

The same strong in-game incentives to refrain from attacking one another would exist in boffer, but players might decide it would benefit them to cause damage to one another in order to strengthen one’s own bargaining position, especially towards the end of the LARP. A GM (or the instructions in a hypothetical boxed version) might issue a fiat against violence, but that’s a bit more intrusive in boffer when the tools for PvP combat are immediately present and obvious, and less so in a theater LARP where players would have to improvise a bit with the combat mechanics in order to turn them on one another.

The theater combat system also disincentives combat in that the system is random and, aside from character special abilities, even for all four characters — everyone has an identical deck of cards to randomly draw from. (Though I suppose someone counting cards could estimate their odds towards the end of the LARP.) In boffer, if there’s a high discrepancy in player skill, a talented boffer fighter could reasonably predict the outcome of a PvP encounter… or, if the system allows it, a player might decide to surprise another player with a sneak attack from behind.

This all could be mitigated by a GM fiat not to engage in PvP violence, but I think it might be interesting to see what players (especially long time boffer LARPers) might do in the absence of a fiat… maybe the in-game motivations are enough to prevent it?

I think it would be really interesting to see how abstract mechanics vs live action combat might affect the flow of game play. Kingdom Come isn’t available to purchase online (yet?), but I wonder if I can get permission to run it (either in its original form or as a boffer) at an event, maybe SLAW or one of the Bubbles.

On Sunday, I played in Jamais Vu.  I’ve always liked amnesia games, and I heard that this sci-fi amnesia game started with all of the players being put into particular positions by the GMs, as the amnesia has come on suddenly, while the characters are awake and going about their day. This idea intrigued me — most (if not all) of the amnesia LARPs I’ve played and GMed open with the players waking up out of unconsciousness. I thought the idea had a lot of potential — our initial poses and interactions could provide some RP fodder to kick off the game, and provide both clues and extra mysteries to solve.

As my character’s memories came back to her, I discovered that I was the person in charge, and I spent most of the LARP running around, trying (and failing) to keep order and prevent the situation from descending into complete chaos. It was a struggle for me, not just because everyone (both good guys and bad guys) had their own chaos-inducing agendas, but also because the role involved a lot of steering. “Steering” is a term that describes a positive form of meta-gaming — taking into account non-diagetic, or out-of-game, factors when making in-game decisions. I was trying very hard to balance reacting as genuinely as possible as someone in charge of a dangerous situation with many unknowns (which to me mostly meant trying to control the situation, to put life-saving efforts at top priority, not let people create more unknowns, not let people get their hands on dangerous weapons, not let people tamper with evidence, etc.) and not getting in the way of people’s fun, not controlling the situation so tightly that players felt they were incapable of making any advancements on plot.

I don’t think I successfully maintained that balance — for example, I confiscated a weapon someone created in the lab, but then afterwards, felt badly out-of-character for having negated someone’s in-game accomplishment. I tried to keep people from playing with the larger weapons, but it was an interesting, fun mechanic system to play with, and I knew it was something people who were stalling on other plots and likely had no evil ulterior motives, might want to explore. I think part of this difficulty was compounded by the amnesia element, which meant that my character really couldn’t justifiably trust anyone for awhile. Part way through the game, I think I overcompensated by playing the character as overly lax, not trying to stop anyone from playing with the weapons or engineering strange devices. In some games, when the authority figure character becomes very permissive or blatantly turns a blind eye to shenanigans, that can also reduce the fun of a LARP, as goals that should have been challenging become too easy. But I think this overcompensation wasn’t too damaging in this run of Jamais Vu, as my subordinates were quite active and competent.

I came away from playing Jamais Vu with an idea for a discussion topic at NELCO 2017 — writing and playing leaders/characters with authority.

So those were my three theater LARPs this past weekend. I’m really glad I got the chance to play them all, and I’m already looking forward to more theater LARPs in NYC in the near future. Hopefully, there will be a run of Blood of the Unicorn in June, and maybe I can get a few other LARPs I’ve been hoping to play to run that weekend as well…

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Crossing the Threshold

It’s been a little while since I posted, even though I’m trying to get back on a minimum one post per week (ideally twice per week)ish schedule. Recently, I’ve busy working on costuming for Threshold, a new cyberbunk boffer campaign LARP, along with costuming, LARP prep, and administrative stuff for Festival of the LARPs 2017.)

I missed the first event of Threshold (labeled “Event 0” as it was Training Day for the characters), but I made it to the second event, which ran a few weekends ago at the Chelmsford Radisson, one of Intercon’s old hotels.

Thus far, nearly every boffer campaign I’ve been involved with, as either a PC or an NPC, has been set in a fantastical setting with technology levels well below modern day.  The highest level tech has been part of Shadows of Amun, which started and ended in WWI-era Egypt. (In the middle there, events took place during the Crusades and in Cleopatra’s Egypt. Cyberpunk would be a solid change of pace for me.

For character creation in LARPs (and tabletop RPGs), I  often like to choose the farther-from-standard-human options. So I was torn between an A.I. or a mentalist (human with psychic powers) and settled on the former; I liked the idea of exploring what it means to be sentient and have free will through role-play. Every character is backed by a major corporation (this is cyberpunk, after all) and I chose Vanderson Pharmaceuticals, primarily for its color scheme (“White or greys with orange/grey motifs. Occasionally black with strong orange motifs.”) Personality and function-wise, I took inspiration from Baymax, Clippy, BB-8, and the voice-over character of Dance Dance Revolution. (“Yours is the dance of tomorrow!”)

For my stat build, I chose to play a drone pilot, because the notion of being flexible and being able to serve in whatever role a task force  might need appealed to me. The downside is that the drone version of some role is much weaker than someone who fills that role as their primary function (for example, a medic drone will not be as good at healing as a standard medic.) But relative power level doesn’t concern me much (and I tend to be very conservative with ability-use in combat, anyway.)  On the upside, it’s much harder to kill someone who pilots drones, since they’re typically not actually present on missions, but operating remotely.

For costuming, I threw together a black, silver, and bright orange (or “Vanderson Orange,” as I’ve been calling it) outfit, and made two cropped hoodies (with a McCalls pattern meant for Pokemon Go cosplay), one dark one to throw on when piloting a combat drones, and one white and orange one to represent the medic drone. (A people told me the medic hoodie reminded them of a creamsicle.)

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Dexember in her creamsicle chassis

The premise of the LARP is that in a dystopian cyberpunk world, the Threshold project has exclusive access to new teleportation technology and is using it to “meet global challenges and opportunities.” It’s backed by five megacorporations. The PCs hang out in the forward operating base and travel through one of two giant portals to go on their various assigned missions. As an A.I., my character has a handler responsible for her (one of the “command” PCs) and occasionally meets with representatives of TARA, the organization responsible for all A.I.

I think Threshold took full advantage of the cyberpunk genre to handle a variety of common logistical issues that lots of local boffer campaign LARPs face in smart ways that fit seamlessly into the diegesis of the game.

A few examples:

  • smartphones, tablets, and laptops are all common in-game items, which makes communication between characters in various locations very easy without breaking character. Access to information and the ability to share is also much quicker and easier than it is in your typical medieval-ish setting. A player on their smartphone doesn’t damage immersion.
  • the options for missions/modules are available in advance, PCs with the Command header get access to them and can influence which ones happen and who goes on which mission. The schedule is also posted on the wall; players generally know to be in the right place a the right time. (This is frequently one of the largest logistic hassles of running a module-based boffer campaign. This Threshold event followed its schedule more faithfully than any other LARP I’ve PCed of NPCed for to date.) Additionally, command PCs take responsibility for keeping their teams informed and reminded of their mission schedule, so much of the module “hooking” is nicely in the hands of the PCs, instead of NPCs.
  • In-game, the portals only remain open for a specified amount of time, and only let a specified number of people through. This means that modules don’t run longer than intended, and there’s never an issue with too many people trying to crowd onto a single module. The large timer visible at the top of the portals lets players know exactly how much time left they have before they must return to the operating base, and PCs regulate the pace of their role-playing accordingly for reasons that feel very much in-game and don’t interfere with immersion. (The set pieces for the portals — large circular structures with lights and timers and an industrial, high tech design, are probably some of the nicest, coolest set pieces I’ve ever seen in a LARP.)
  • This LARP is entirely played indoors (which doesn’t interfere with immersion because cyberpunk isn’t the sort of genre suited to outdoor campsites), and this avoids issues with weather and nature.
  • The resurrection mechanic is automated — players go to a computer to run through the “re-sleeving” process. No waiting for staff to take care of (and keep track of) resurrection or NPCs needed to take PCs on a death mod.

The staff also made two smart choices that I think will end up having a strong influence on the local Accelerant community. One, the PC player base is kept pretty small (I think fewer than 30), where the typical Accelerant LARP around here usually aims for something like 70 to 80 players. This might pose challenges with budgeting later on, but I quite like the smaller player number experience. I feel like I’m already far more familiar with a much higher percentage of my fellow players than I was after a year of events in much larger LARPs.

And two, instead of the typical weekend-long event, Threshold runs Saturday-only events. I know some people really like the extended time to get into character and enjoy being in character for several days in a row, with at least one day from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, but I found it didn’t negatively affect my immersion. It made the logistics of traveling and scheduling easier. And lots of people stayed an extra night at the hotel after the event ended, which gave us time to socialize out of character and talk about the LARP, which I think will have a real positive effect on community building.

I want to mention a few highlights from the game — the new players had orientation, which involved a psych evaluation. We went into one of the hotel suites, and were interviewed by NPC A.I.s, who had a series of questions, ranging from normal to bizarre, Rorschach inkblots, and (fake) cheek swabs before and after for us. It was surprisingly fun to role-play, and helped me develop my character a bit before joining the rest of the cast. Later on, the A.I.s were taken aside by a representative of TARA and an A.I. liaison from the Threshold project, where we talked about our experiences and they ran us through a series of scenarios to test our decision making processes. (Things like, which humans to save first, and when violence was warranted.) Very unlike most other modules I’ve played through in boffer LARPs, and lots of fun. There was also a module where we got to play a virtual reality (in the “Overlay”) old school fantasy RPG called “Dragon Stabbers”, which was a ton of fun.

I definitely need to rework my character’s stats (I had four drone options, and only used two) and fix and replace various parts of my costume, but I’m really looking forward to the next event.

Posted in boffer, costuming, LARP, LARP Reviews | Tagged | 2 Comments

Intercon Q Part V: Snugglebunny Apocalypse

On Sunday morning at Intercon Q, after a long night of dancing and partying, I stumbled into one of the Iron GM LARPs. It was the 11am run, not a 9 am run, but after a late Friday night of packing up the Orgia set and an even later night on Saturday night of dancing and suite parties, I was extremely groggy when I arrived at the Iron GM rooms and got assigned to play the maiden run of Snugglebunny Apocalypse, written by Team Galimatius.

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Iron GM, for those who are unfamiliar, is an annual contest run by Intercon. Sometime in the weeks leading up to Intercon, teams of writers are given various secret ingredients (a theme, a genre, an element, and a prop) and a single weekend to produce a LARP that includes those elements, to run on Sunday of Intercon. There are various other rules, such as it must be suitable for all ages, and it must be runnable with a limited set of supplies. You can find a full list of the rules here. (And there are cash prizes for the winners.)

One of the more interesting, and I think creatively challenging rules, is that the LARP must be able to run with anywhere from 5 to 12 players (inclusive). This requirement was a major contributing factor to the development of “horde LARPs” — theater LARPs where some percentage of the players play a revolving cast of small parts (examples include Time Travel Review Board and An Unconventional Odyssey). It’s fairly easy to make the cast size flexible with a horde — players can simply rotate through them faster and play more roles each if there are fewer of them.

This year, the secret ingredients were:

genre: Parallels Universes
theme: Hope or False Hope
element:Trickster animals
secret prop: 10′ foot strand of green LED lights

Sungglebunny Apocalypse is, as one might guess from the title, a rather lighthearted silly game, in which the characters are attempting to stave of the end of humanity at the fangs of the bloodthirsty snugglebunnies. (I’m sure this LARP takes inspiration from Snugglebunny Wringwraiths, a LARP that was infamously written in negative 5 minutes on napkins, and is the reason I still, years later, occasionally find small heart stickers among my LARP costuming.) Based on my willingness to wear a silly hat, I was cast as Little Sam, a small child who fails to grasp the danger and wants a snugglebunny for a pet. I spent most of the game making a massive nuisance of myself, a small children characters in silly LARPs featuring overwhelming danger tend to do.

This LARP is surprisingly spoilerable; there were some secret identity style twists in this game that I did not see coming (although, to be totally fair, my sleep-deprived grogginess may have played a factor — you’d have to ask the other players not in on the secrets to know if they were actually obvious or not.) I really liked the three snugglebunny characters — they have traits that I really enjoy in a LARP… obvious enough that’s it’s probably not a spoiler to mention here, but I won’t because it’s more fun to discover in the early moments of the LARP, and I’m sure it will run again. There was one particular snugglebunny who was played by a LARPer whose deep voice and august performance makes me unable to imagine that role played by anyone else.

I also really liked the short sketch acted out by the two GMs that opened the LARP and explained the origin of the eponymous threatened end of humanity.

Snugglebunny Apocalypse came in second place, by the way.

And that was my last LARP of Intercon Q! I hear Tales of the Cradle ran on Sunday afternoon or evening, since so many LARPers got stranded at the hotel thanks to the second snowstorm. The odds of another blizzard extending the stay of many attendees again isn’t high (though given our typical dates and location, it’s not that low, either) but there is a decently sized contingent that stays late on Sunday (some until Monday morning), to socialize with LARPers they see no more than few times a year. I think there’s a market for LARPs later on Sunday, and I know there’s a least on team of GMs planning on proposing a LARP for Intercon R to run Sunday afternoon, after closing ceremonies. (Our contract with the hotel gives us the rooms until Sunday night, after all.) I really hope this catches on so I can keep on LARPing on Sunday. More LARP is best LARP!

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