I have PCed and NPCed my first LARPs of 2020!
Both LARPs are of the one-shot boffer variety with pre-written characters, a format that continues to increase in popularity in the local communities, through Intercon and Little Boffer Con. The first was Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a pulp pirate adventure, and the second was They-Ro and the Rulers of Perpetua, a gender neutral version of the classic 80s cartoons He-Man and She-Ra. Both ran indoors in a hotel function room (though the weather was so strangely warm and mild for January.)
I had NPCed Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea twice before playing. Once at Intercon P, during its debut, where I mostly crunched (played the waves of nameless enemy combatants). Then again, very briefly, as a couple of “face roles” (roles primarily intended for PCs to talk with) at 2019’s Little Boffer Con. I tried to avoid learning too much information about what was going on so that I could still PC without being very spoiled, and I think I mostly succeeded. I did learn a few facts about some of the characters that made a number of them seem very appealing to play; two in particular stood out to me, and I was very happy to get cast as one of those two for the most recent run.
In the days leading up to the LARPs, I made Jolly Rogers for the two pirate ships sailed by PCs. A mermaid bearing a sword and shield for the Red Lady, and a triskelion of skeletal arms holding blades for the Shatterjack. (My character sailed on the Shatterjack.) I like how the Red Lady‘s flag came out, but I think I could have done better on the Shatterjack.
Deep Blue Sea is structured like a classic “elevator mod” — meaning, a small corner of the room is sectioned off, and players spend brief periods of time there between scenes while staff resets the main section of the room (often moving around room dividers, furniture, removing or adding set dressing and props, etc.) In the ur-example, the sectioned off area represents an elevator, and each time the main area gets reset, it represents a different floor. In the case of Deep Blue Sea, the elevator is a pirate ship, and the “floors” are different islands somewhere in the Caribbean.
I played Charity, the silent zombie gunner and assistant to the resident sorcerer on board the Shatterjack. For costuming, I went for classic low-ranking pirate — a white shirt with poofy sleeves, a sash tied around the waist, capris-length black leggings, brown sandals, hoop earrings. For the zombie aspect of my character, I wore the yellow contacts so many LARPers found creepy at Consequences, dark smudgy makeup around my eyes, and big black stitches painted over blue lipstick. The stitches were drawn on with an eyeliner that claimed to last “36 hours”… there was some flaking off by the end of the LARP, but the stitches were still identifiable. I think my favorite detail was some faux seaweed I pinned into my hair and stuck into my belt. I thought it gave a subtle drowned look.
In the early days of my LARPing, I used to be nervous about the prospect of playing a non-speaking character — what if I got sick of the silence and pantomiming and found the frustration wasn’t worth it? But I’ve tried it out a handful of times in LARP and thus far, I’ve consistently really enjoyed it. (Though I do worry a bit that other players find it frustrating or unsatisfying to roleplay with a mute character.) Playing Charity was no exception.
This was also one of the first LARPs where I played a character whose combat skills focused primarily on firearms. There were some neat mechanics to represent the single-shot flintlock pistols appropriate for the genre, and the time it takes to reload them. (For those who speak Accelerant, you take a Destroy Firearm to Self each time you fire, with different Repair Firearm speeds depending on a character’s skill at reloading.) I thought this felt very genre appropriate, and made guns useful without allowing them to dominate battles on either the PC or NPC side. That said, I’m pretty inexperienced with sword-and-gun as a boffer style, and I found my pistol misfired often enough to cause frustration (I think it was an issue of too many damaged Nerf bullets). As we were playing indoors, the PCs were often tightly clustered, which made it difficult for me to smoothly re-holster a gun and draw a sword (or vice versa.) I see the appeal of sword-and-gun in boffer combat, but I think I’m unlikely to choose it again for myself, at least for indoor combat, without first having a lot more practice via NPC roles.
Another element of this LARP I really enjoyed: every character has a Bad Idea skill — something with a significant impact and a high cost (either of high cost to the character using it, or to all of the PCs). They are designed to have 50% chance of being used. Examples include players permanently lowering their own hit points to heal another, or doing massive amounts of damage to everyone present, enemies and allies alike. I didn’t end up using mine, but a few other players used theirs, and I thought they were all very cool and interesting.
Another very cool mechanical thing — one of the characters had a “scout ahead” type of ability, which allowed him to quickly view the scenario outside the ship (without alerting the NPCs) and report back to their shipmates. I don’t think I’ve yet seen that in one of these one-shot boffer LARPs, and I think it’s a clever way to relay information to players, make a character seem special, and also enable players to do a little pre-encounter strategizing.
I also want to mention the sound effects for this LARP — the staff provided wind and waves sound effects while we were sailing our ships, jungle noises for when we went ashore, and tavern noises for the relevant scene. It made for nice cues for different scenes. And as a really nice bonus, one of the NPCs used his real musical skills to provide accordion music for the tavern. (I tried to coax him onto the Shatterjack so we could have music while we sailed, but I think he found the drowned looking zombie and her stitched up mouth creepy and bolted.) Alas!
NPCing They-Ro and the Rulers of Perpetua was a lot of fun. Many of the NPC roles are over-the-top, cheesy bad guys with some sort of ridiculous shtick (very appropriate considering the source material). I did my best to keep up the puns and one-liners through combat, but it’s not easy! Some of my roles included Hammerhead Shark, Under-Koalafied (one of Bear-At-Arms foes, who distracts enemy combatants with his adorable fuzzy belly), and Sarcasmo, the sarcastic robot. I didn’t stick around too late afterwards for post-game chatter, but near as I could tell, the PCs were having a good time hamming it up and saving the day.
You can read more about They-Ro in my blog post about playing it at Intercon S. Quick summary of some of the highlights: cute, interactive content in the “elevator” between episodes (including a chance to create a little artwork), which are demarcated by moral lessons read aloud by the various PCs, llava mechanics (like lava, but less dangerous), scene setting projections covering one of the walls, and an adorably awkward dance scene to close out the LARP. (Shout out to my fellow NPC who returned to the final scene as one of his evil robots, announcing “I have been reprogrammed to boogie”.)
I’m amused by how much costuming for this LARP is getting reused. The armor worn by the captain of the guard (ersatz Teela, for those who familiar with He-Man) in the first run was re-worn by this run’s captain, the mesh shirt with strategically placed purple seashells worn by the first Mermada reappeared for this run, and Bear-At-Arms borrowed the fuzzy brown bear arms I made for my turn at that role.
If you’ve never played a LARP of this style, I highly recommend giving it a try. I think it’s a great way for boffer LARPers who usually create their own characters to give pre-written characters a try, and a great way for theater LARPers to give boffer a try. I expect there will be six such LARPs on the schedule at this year’s NELCO/Little Boffer Con, which is running on July 25th in Boxborough, MA, so mark your calendars!