Time Bubble 2016

This past weekend, I was back in Troy, NY for Dice Bubble, RPI’s weekend of short theater LARPs.

My first LARP of the weekend was Muppet Purgatory. The premise involves tragedy striking the Muppet Theater; all of the muppets have been found dead. Now their souls are in purgatory, where God and Satan have taken the forms of the hecklers Waldorf and Statler and will be judging their performances to determine their final fates.

I played this LARP ages ago at Intercon, as Statler, a role which basically involves getting to watch all of the performances and judge the muppets performing, while cracking wise and insulting the performers. It was a ton of fun, but I wanted to see what the LARP was from the other side, have a chance to perform and see how things went backstage, so I signed up to play again when I saw it was running at Time Bubble.

Muppet Purgatory is a horde game, meaning some of the characters are cast — the main cast of muppets (and one guest star, Neil Patrick Harris in our run) are played by players who stay in that same role through the whole game, while the rest of the players play horde, and rapidly switch through different roles, playing all of the various minor muppets who perform with the cast in their sketches.

I was really happy when I was cast as Animal, who has always been one of my favorite muppets. I watched through some scenes featuring him as prep (also watched The Great Muppet Caper) and decided I wanted to put on the “Oh Danny Boy” sketch, which has the Swedish Chef, Animal, and Beaker all singing. (The joke being that none of their peculiar speech mannerisms are suited for it.) Fortunately, the player playing Beaker was on board, as was one of the horde who wanted to perform as the Swedish Chef.




For a costume, I decided I wanted to make furry hood for Animal’s shaggy head, which turned into a fairly big project. The fake fur proved difficult to work with for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the giant mess it made. (People commented it looked like I had killed a muppet in the living room — there were bright scraps of fluffy fur everywhere.) The final product has various issues and mistakes, but I still really enjoyed wearing it. I also acquired spiked black leather trim and plastic chains for Animal’s accessories.


Trying on the hood

I recall when I had played Statler, I thought the sketches were really funny and well done, so I had assumed backstage the prompts and prep work for each sketch was pretty extensive. It turned out to be far more chaotic and off-the-cuff than that. There are also a lot more prompts for roleplay and interaction backstage besides preparing acts — the muppets have a mystery to solve (how they had died), and goals to achieve (avoid being blamed for the casualties and perform acts of repentance for the worst of their sins.) There is also a mechanical system to wrestle with, involving the acquisition and trade of tokens which enables muppets to go on stage.

I didn’t end up doing much with the mystery solving plot or trying to keep people from blaming Animal for the deaths — I think it was by sheer luck that poor Beaker ended up accused, and not Electric Mayhem’s shaggy drummer. I had a lot of fun roleplaying through the sheer chaos backstage, but I’d be interested to see this LARP run with more of an emphasis on prepping the acts (both in the weeks leading up to the LARP and during it) and removing the impediments for the muppets to get on stage.

We hilariously botched the opening musical number (“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights…”) by missing our various cues, and I’m afraid I personally messed up during the final performance (the Muppets sang their version of “Bohemian Rhapsody“), which was otherwise well done, but I am proud to say that, after the LARP ended, when the players playing Statler and Waldorf were asked about which sketches were highlights for them, the “Oh Danny Boy” act was the first one that came to mind.


Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Animal

The performances got recorded — if clips end up available for public viewing, I’ll be sure to share some links here.

On Saturday morning, I played in Inheritance, one of the HRSFA LARPs I’ve been meaning to catch for a while now. It’s set in a transhuman future, where technology has made immortality a reality, but a popular author has committed suicide and one of his characters has been charged with determining who will inherit his works, the Thousand Worlds he created. It’s a short LARP, designed to evoke philosophical conversations between the players. I enjoyed talking with the fascinating characters (including a hive mind and a highly advanced AI) about the nature of identity, epistemology, the value of art, and worthwhile goals for an immortal mankind. In our run, my character ended up inheriting the Thousand Worlds and used them to create artificial realities where people can fully immerse themselves in the story.

After Inheritance, I played in Walk the Pattern: A Chronicles of Amber Game. The game is set in the world of a fantasy book series (that I have yet to read,) and involves the siblings of Amber’s royal family gathering to witness their sister’s dangerous ritual of Walking the Pattern, which may kill her or render her insane. The entire LARP involves the nine players sitting in a circle, discussing whether or not to utterly destroy their enemy, the Courts of Chaos. Meanwhile, the siblings pass around a deck of tarot cards, each holding it for ten minutes, until each sibling has had a turn. While holding the deck, there are various rules of etiquette to observe (most prominently, the deck-holder can only ask questions and the questions must be answered), and each sibling gets a chance to add cards to the deck of the sister who is Walking the Pattern, to affect her outcome and possibly sway her opinion in favor of their stance on Chaos.

Sadly, in our run, our sister came out of her ritual insane. We also did not destroy the Courts of Chaos, to my character’s frustration.

I think the real strength of this LARP is the mechanics of the tarot deck. We each had a chance to add up to four cards to our sister’s deck after our turn holding the tarot deck. After the first three siblings’ turns, she drew a card. After the second three, she drew a second card. And after the last sibling’s turn, she drew a final card from the deck we has been adding to. If her final draw was lower than her first two cards, she died. If it was between them, she went insane. If her final draw was higher, she lived with her sanity intact.

The cards each of the siblings have to choose from poses an interesting challenge. How much risk are we willing to put our sister in in order to sway her opinion on Chaos? It was likely to matter, as the rest of us were deadlocked — three wanted to end Chaos, three did not, and the remaining three were undecided, so if we put it to a vote, our sister’s vote would break the tie.Throughout the whole game, we were internally strategizing — how likely was everyone else to put our sister’s life and mind at risk to further their own ends? As the first two cards were drawn, that also impacted our strategies and encouraged those whose turns hadn’t come yet to reevaluate their cards and possible choices.

I wish I’d reread the cosmology background on this LARP before playing it, because I had some of the metaphysics and terminology confused, but one doesn’t need to have read the books in order to enjoy this LARP. I’d really love to see this mechanic, or other mechanics like it, used in other LARPs, with its interesting ongoing calculation of risk and likelihood of altruism from your fellow players.

On Saturday afternoon, I played in Tales of the Cradle. Tales of the Cradle is a five player sci-fi LARP played out in 11 short scenes, most of which involve the players playing new characters for each scene, all discussing whatever situation and/or decision is presented by each scene. The structure of Tales was inspired by Tales of Irnh, Adrift on a Starry Sky, and Second Chance for Wings. The author liked the structure, but decided he wanted to try writing it such that the decision points had a deeper impact on the branching storylines– which future scenes got played out depended on previous decisions. I believe in the three LARPs that inspired it, the scenes that get played out are more or less the same regardless of what choices get made, though players can take previous decisions into account during discussions.

Tales from the Cradle focuses on mankind’s first interaction with an alien race. I don’t want to get to far into details here because I think spoilers would have a serious impact on the game — part of the experience is very much about being caught off-guard by the extremity of the decisions that need to be made. Let’s just say there’s a lot of “lesser of two evils, two very evil evils” going on.

I also really liked that there was a fair amount of variety in the decision points. For example, some of them had more than two possible outcomes, some of them involved everyone unsure of how they wanted to proceed and any of characters could use a veto.

I suggested that the LARP seemed very “boxable” — it pretty much involves printing (a LOT of printing) and a few props, and other than that, seems pretty straightforward to run– GMs simply have to hand out the corresponding sheets for the next scene after each decision is made. And I’m quite happy to say the author has since offered to let me run Tales of the Cradle at SLAW.
I didn’t originally have anything scheduled for Saturday evening, but someone else at Time Bubble had brought along Unheroes, a freeform game from the 2014 run of the Golden Cobra challenge, so six players who didn’t have anything else scheduled that evening (including one player who had never LARPed before, but was hanging around in the con suite) gave it a try.

The premise involves six former superheroes whose reality was rewritten, and now they’re mundane people in a mundane world. The players receive a series of prompts which enable them to create characters, develop relationships between them, and work out their backstory — how and why things went wrong and caused reality to change. Once that is done, the players play out a scene of the old reality starting to reassert itself, their memories of that reality returning, and the decision about whether or not to put things back the way they were.

It was a fun, interesting exercise. Certainly, with this kind of improvised creation of characters and backstory, it’s easy for things to go astray in various ways. For example, with the story we came up with, the decision to return to the old reality wasn’t particularly difficult. If this had been a more typical LARP, a writer probably would have made the cost of returning higher and the benefits lower or less certain, so as to make the final decision more fraught. But it was still a lot of fun to play out.

Unexpectedly, I did have one of the coolest, most surprising moments I’ve ever had in LARP while playing out the scene. I created a character who had a twin sister who was a shapeshifter (jokes about the Wonder Twins came up during character creation), and she was stuck as my pet cat in the new, superpower-free world. As the old reality began to leak in around the edges of the new reality, my sister, in human form, randomly passed by and greeted me on her way. Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t be unexpected to a player in a LARP (however surprising it is to the character)… but I had just created my character and the concept of her having a twin sister only a few moments before, and I hadn’t seen one of my fellow players sneak off to ask another LARPer to do a quick cameo during our scene. I thought I knew what was possible within the parameters of the LARP — that no one could have been prepped to play the role of the sister — so it completely knocked me off guard and felt very surreal. I guess it’s the little things.

Besides that moment in our particular run, I thought the coolest thing about the Unheroes is that it makes a really good exercise for collaborative character creation, and that’s something I’ve been really struggling with for boffer campaigns. The last few campaigns, I’ve been trying to tie my character history in with other characters and develop dynamic relationships and interesting shared stories. But it’s not easy, especially when people are struggling for inspiration for their own characters, let alone everyone else’s. Using a system like the one in Unheroes could really help, especially if you add a few more steps and perhaps come up with methods for people to insert surprises into one another’s backstories to discover during the campaign. In fact, the Eyrie, my warband in Fifth Gate: Silverfire, was walked through a very similar process by someone who had played Unheroes, and this is how we created the story of one of our warband’s adventures during the great war. In retrospect, I wish we had done a lot more of this exercise, and created a few more shared stories to reference in-game and help flesh out the dynamics of the relationships between members of the Eyrie.
On Sunday, I played Some Assembly Required, a LARP created around the idea of playing with legos as the primary mechanic. How can you resist an idea like that? The characters were very diverse and colorful, since there are so many different lego sets in so many different genres. I was cast a spaceship pilot, who was based on Turanga Leela from Futurama. (Two of the characters I was working with were inspired by Fry and Bender, and I think a third was inspired in part by Zapp Brannigan.) It was a wacky, high energy LARP, and I wish I’d gotten more sleep over the weekend so I could have been more awake and alert for it, but I did have fun getting to play with legos and created some weird inventions based on various prompts in the game. (Example: for one adventure, I had to create an anti-mind control device while two police officers held off a horde of enemies. The time limit for my lego crafting was simply as long as it took for the endless waves of enemies to knock the cops out.)

And that was my Time Bubble 2016! I’m looking forward to SLAW (also a weekend of theater LARPs, but run at WPI in Worcester), and I’ll be back at RPI in December to play Siege of Troy, a weekend long theater LARP with a Greek mythology theme.

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Upside of Memes

Every now and then, a LARP-centric meme goes around Facebook. Sometimes they happen in clumps. Most recently, there was a meme where LARPers would start a thread with the instructions:

“Post your character name here and I’ll tell you what my PC in that game thinks of them.” For games where the original poster and the people responding didn’t both PC, people used NPC characters.

I posted names of my characters whenever the person offering it had PCed or NPCed in one of the campaigns I was significantly involved with — mostly Quill, Cricket, and once, my Lost Eidolons PC, Taz. I often feel a little self-conscious engaging with such memes; it feels so self-indulgent to ask people to talk to me about my own characters, even though they’re offering and everyone else is enjoying participating without feeling self-conscious. But I’m also very curious about people’s impressions of my characters, so I couldn’t resist.

I found out some surprising things. I assumed the Lost Eidolons NPC wouldn’t remember Taz, or at least not enough to be specific, but he did, down to details about how she reacted to his death just as the Battle for Tomorrow began. And I’ve been finding Cricket difficult to portray the way I imagine her in my mind; I like to think she has hidden layers, but it’s hard to portray subtlety in LARP — too overt, and it’s all on the surface, too subtle and no one picks up on it. I am sure many LARPers feel this way, feeling as though their character is nuanced and complex, but doubt anyone else will ever think so. The responses to this meme taught me that other characters are, in fact, picking up on the layers to Cricket, and have multi-faceted responses to them. She has also provoked some unexpected reactions from some PCs, which reveals some interesting insight into how people interpret in-game cultures. Quill also provoked some unexpected reactions; others were expected but deeply heart-warming to read. It is really something to know your favorite character is loved by someone who understands the character.

I also read a lot of responses to other people in various threads, even when I wasn’t familiar with the relevant characters or the LARPs they were from. They were often long, thoughtful posts, reflecting complicated, deep relationships. It was really cool and really fascinating to see the varied ways characters related to one another, how they affected one another, how they impacted one another’s perceptions, how they influenced each other to change and grow. People described characters giving one another hope, how they relied one another, inspired one another. They described what the characters taught one another, how they worried about each other, loved one another, hated one another, lusted after one another, scared one another, respected one another, enabled the best and worst in each other, made one another feel inadequate or guilty, had many conflicted feelings about one another,   They compared first impressions with later developments, about missing and mourning the characters who had died. The descriptions often reflected something deep and complex and meaningful and beautiful.

And here it’s worth noting that the posts I saw were mostly from boffer/live combat campaign LARPs in the US.

I read a lot of LARP related content online — news pieces, blog posts, discussions, etc., and I have from time to time run across this attitude that boffer campaigns, especially fantasy ones, especially American ones, are shallow, are all about leveling up in power or collecting loot or strictly about combat and players are just looking to hit things, that roleplay is an afterthought or boffer LARPers are “afraid” to bleed, that it can’t lead to introspection or self-improvement or self-discovery, or reflect serious issues. Surely, not as well as some other forms of LARP, right?

I know I slipped into this once or twice while on panels about Theater LARPing Meeting Boffer LARPing, and I regret that.

I often get the impression it’s well-intentioned. Maybe people have limited (or even non-existent) experiences with this format, but somehow developed these impressions, and just want all forms of LARP to learn from one another, to show the boffer LARPers what else is out there.

It’s not always well-intentioned. Sometimes it’s intentionally judgemental and condescending and derisive and dismissive. Luckily, that’s not too often.

But it is all completely untrue. I’ve always known it, but this meme very much reflected what I already knew. Boffer LARPing, even in the US, is capable of amazing depth and I wish people who find themselves thinking otherwise would read the threads I read.

To everyone who participated in that meme: thank you for sharing. I hope I’m able to create characters in the future that inspire the kind of responses I saw.

Posted in boffer, LARP, on a more personal note | 4 Comments

NELCO 2016 Part III

IMG_20160821_131443633 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in conventions, panels, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

NPCing Wrathborn and Madrigal

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


Fifth Gate: Wrathborn

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


Spirit of the Thunderstorm Mask

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

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

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

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

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


a wereling in Monster Camp

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


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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NELCO 2016 Part II

IMG_20160821_131443633 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NELCO 2016 Part I

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

IMG_20160821_131443633 (1).jpg

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

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

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

Posters I made for the various tables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in conventions, events, LARP | Tagged | Leave a comment


The week after I played a student in New World Magischola, I traveled to Pennsburg, Pennsylvania to play in a one-shot boffer LARP that ran from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon put on by Source LARP Inc. It was called Sunadokei, which is Japanese for “hourglass”.

Bear in mind this LARP may run again (maybe in New England?) and this post contains spoilers!


Heroes of Nihon

When the players signed up for the LARP, there were two options to pick from — Nihon, or feudal Japan, and modern Japan, so we knew off the bat there would be time travel shenanigans.

I picked feudal Japan as the more romantic option with more interesting costuming opportunities. I have a number of Japanese inspired costuming pieces from playing Fifth Gate, so I could have avoided having to do any sewing for this LARP, but that just isn’t my style, I guess. I asked to play a miko, a Shinto shrine maiden, and I knew I wanted to wear their traditional red and white accoutrements, which meant I had to sew my fourth pair of hakama pants, this time in red. It was a lot of work while prepping for New World Magischola, but at least I can say my skill in sewing hakama pants is improving. Then on top of that, I offered to sew tops for two other players. I ended up bringing my sewing machine, Mr. Sew-and-Sew, along with me on the trip and sewing in the hotel room between LARPs. But I finished it all in time for Sunadokei.

I was quite excited when I learned about the site we’d be on (despite knowing it lacked AC.) It was a boy scout camp that had several bunks designed to look a castle, a frontier town from the Old West, a fort, and a pirate ship. The PCs would be sleeping in the castle and using it as a base for the LARP. (The modern group started elsewhere, but joined us pretty quickly in the castle.) Between Sunadokei and New World Magischola, I’m getting spoiled on really cool LARP locations.

As we were getting ready on the feudal side, I was really impressed with the players’ costuming. I was relieved that the three pieces I had made all came out ok and fit. One was a tunic with a print of birds and waves, for a character who wielded air and water magic.


Another was a tunic with subtle gray, brown, and navy stripes, for a peasant fisherman, seen below on the player on the right. On the left is me in my new red hakama pants (and matching red bow in my hair.)


Photo by David Jacobitz.

But my favorite costumes on the feudal side were two sets of armor. One was a set of Japanese armor borrowed from a SCAdian, worn by a samurai. It looked excellent. The other was a homemade set of peasant armor made from bamboo, worn by the head of the peasant militia, which I think was my favorite costume of the weekend. You can see both below in a photo I really love, showing the samurai being helped into their armor, while the head of the militia adjusts his own and the master smith from the Kazan temple looks on.


The same player who made and wore the peasant armor also brought a number of other props, including a calligraphy set, a tea set, and setting appropriate food, which I thought were really nice touches to help our immersion.

We played agents of the Shogun’s spymaster, refugees, and native Islanders, fleeing from the Yuan (Mongol) foe, who had summoned dark magics to banish most of the kami and conquer Nihon. We had gathered at the foot of Byobu-yama (Byobu Mountain) on Hirado Island to find the Oracle, and learn how to stop the Yuan invasion. It was a long hard slog up the mountain, fighting Yuan on the way up. We lost the Spymaster, who sacrificed himself to save the rest of us.


I really love this photo by David Jacobitz.


Surrounded by Yuan! Photo by David Jacobitz.

The weather, by the way, did not do us any favors in our fight against the Yuan, but we fought through it. Recently, I wrote a post describing the most brutally hot and humid LARP weekend I’d yet experienced at Fifth Gate: Silverfire, which was bad enough to cause players to take refuge in the walk-in fridge. I spoke too soon; it was in the 90s (30s in Celsius) at Fifth Gate, but the temperature climbed over 100 (37) during my weekend at New World Magischola. We weren’t boffer fighting in the sun, but the campus was huge, and simply walking between the buildings could be a surprisingly draining task. At Sunadokei, it wasn’t in the 100s, but the humidity was intense. We were sweating buckets, and even the rain wasn’t enough to cool us off. I have a great deal of admiration for the NPCs who worked so hard to entertain us despite the heat and humidity and lack of AC on the campsite.


Almost ready to save Nihon.

We met the Oracle on the mountain, who brought us to Hirado Castle to perform a ritual to summon heroes from among our ancestors to joins us and help us fight the Yuan. They came to us through a massive rip in time that they had been performing scientific experiments on in the year 2023.  They helped us retrieve artifacts stolen by oni from the shrines in Hirado castle and re-consecrate the shrines. Over the course of the day, we also met the prince, who came from the front lines to hear about our progress, we stole artifact from the Yuan that enabled us to put up a protective ward at night, and crafted items out of gifts left to us by kami to thank us for the sacrifices we offered them. Late at night, I participated in a ritual with a spirit of Void who told us one of us would summon him in the future to this time. (I hope one of us remembered to perform the summoning ritual, or we may have created a paradox.)

I particularly liked the repeated encounters with the elemental oni — in the first fight, we lost but we learned about their strengths and weaknesses. Before we split up to face them again, we were able to make strategic decisions about who was best suited to face each one. This element of learning about the enemies’ unique nature and then being able to incorporate it into our decisions and strategies in a meaningful way is not as common as I’d like it to be in LARPing.

The next day, we moved the rip in time, defending it from attacks all along the way, out to a ship in the water (represented by the pirate ship pictured above, of course) in order to enable us to summon a kamikaze (divine wind) to drive the Yuan from Nihon once more, before we fought a final battle against the Yuan, their oni allies, and those they had managed to corrupt, including the spymaster who had sacrificed himself and the prince. (We were able to save the prince and the spymaster.) I learned from the Oracle which of the summoned heroes was my descendant, and bonded with him just before they returned to their own time. There were other plots involving clever things with time travel that I didn’t personally get very involved with, including a prophesized assistant for the Oracle, the fate of the two players who summoned the second kamikaze, and a romance that spanned the ages. And apparently, if an ancestor died, their descendant would be affected by the time travel paradox, which I thought was a neat twist.


Getting the rip in time to the ship.

This was my first LARP with Source LARP, Inc., but I really hope it won’t be my last, especially if the idea about a musketeer themed LARP comes to fruition. (I would just love love love a musketeer themed LARP.) And if Sunadokei runs again, I’d love to NPC it.

Posted in boffer, LARP, LARP Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment