Musica Universalis

There’s a lot of musical talent in the local boffer and theater communities, and recently, I NPCed a LARP that made excellent use of that talent.

Musica Universalis is set in the Dust Bowl in 1935. The musica universalis theory “regards the proportions in the movements of celestial bodies… as a form of music…” and in the setting of the LARP, the universe is coming out of tune, and magic is fading from the world, while Static is creeping in. The PCs play the individuals finding themselves guests of the Circus Liminalis, a neutral spot for angels and demons and other supernatural things to gather in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. The LARP was mostly deep and introspective in tone, occasionally offset by moments of absurd humor.

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photo by Jaime DeCaro

The structure of the LARP blends a lot of the elements common to either boffer and theater in the local communities. It’s designed to run at an outdoor summer camp, over a full weekend, and much of the content is PvE, often in compartmentalized scenes (aka modules), with information coming in to the players from external sources (NPCs), and boffer mechanics for the combat scenes, all elements common to boffer LARPs.* But it’s also a one shot (i.e. not part of an ongoing campaign), has pre-written characters, and most of the content doesn’t revolve around combat, all elements common to theater LARPs.* In fact, I think it’s entirely possible to remain fully engaged with the LARP the whole weekend without encountering combat (or just dipping a toe in) and there was no climatic, town-wide battle either Saturday night or Sunday; the biggest moments were combat-free.

So unsurprisingly, this LARP successfully brought out a solid mix of boffer and theater LARPers, including, I think, a fair number of people who had only tried one form but not the other. It made me pretty happy to see more blending of communities. (For example, some of the New York theater crowd met a lot of Accelerant people and tried Accelerant combat for the first time.)

I’m not sure what the intent of the staff is currently towards the idea of future runs (I certainly hope it runs again, but I heard rumors that they have already nixed the idea), but as I highly recommend this LARP, if you’ve read the above and think this sounds appealing (I also recommend taking a glance at the introduction page on the website), then be forewarned — the rest of the post will contain spoilers. (Also, stuff will be described in past tense, though I have opinions about the use of past and present tense when discussing LARPs, or specific elements of LARPs, that may seem to contradict this.)

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Photo by Allison Danskin

The lowlight was pretty much the weather — it was nice at times, but at other times we had strong winds and heavy rain. Some of this atmospheric for a LARP set in the Dust Bowl with an impending apocalypse (not to mention the serendipitous appearance of a double rainbow, which made for a nice, and possibly ironic, omen), but the wind did destroy some of the tents intended for (I believe) the circus, which was a bit of a bummer. Also, the bugs were out in force for parts of the weekend, especially around dusk. I was crunching as a demon following a fallen angel at one point, and being accompanied by swarms of insects seemed very appropriate, but I just couldn’t stand them constantly in my field of vision, flying in my eyes, nose, and mouth.

The highlights included…

The way music was incorporated into the LARP. Well before the LARP, the staff sent out a list of songs for the PCs and NPCs to learn, so that at various moments, we could collectively burst into song, it made for poignant scene setting that had a well choreographed feeling. (Something LARP generally struggles with, or entirely lacks, as a medium.) The songs chosen had lyrics that lent meaning and took on new meaning to the scenes they accompanied. (I’m sad to say I only caught four of the songs over the weekend, but they were all wonderful moments.)

A number of PCs and NPCs showed off their abilities with various instruments. “The House of the Rising Sun” had two accordions, a guitar, a flute, and a keyboard accompanying it. (And possibly more that I’m forgetting.) There were also a few performances PCs and NPCs brought into the LARP (in addition to the LARP-wide playlist the staff created), including Lillith’s rendition of “Feeling Good”.

In particular, the closing scene of the LARP on Sunday was designed by staff members who are knowledgeable about music, primarily one who is a music teacher, and it showed. The entire PC and NPC base harmonized together to create a poignant sign off for the LARP.

My NPC role as La Llarona, the Weeping Woman. La Llorona is a figure from Mexican folklore with a penchant for drowning. I had some great roleplaying with both PCs and my fellow NPCs alike, especially those connected to the plotlines involving the genius locii of various rivers. I got to be the big bad Boss in a large fight, and improvised some mechanics to support the roleplay of La Llorona’s manipulation of the Rivers and attempts to corrupt some PCs, as well as improvise some mechanics to enable a PC to dramatically take her down.

I enjoyed wearing my costume for the role of La Llorona. I looked over some pictures the staff sent me for inspiration, then put together an outfit of a black lace top and skirt. I also hot glued together a hair band of some fake forest/river-like plant life I found that looked appropriate  — pussy willows and leaves turning brown at the edges. (I felt the flowery hair wreaths I already owned were too pretty and sweet.) I used some blue makeup to try and created a cold, dead look, with red contact lenses, and draped a floor length black veil over my head. Just before I went out each time, I soaked my hair in water to look recently drowned and dripping. I also froze a cup of water and held the ice in my hand just before talking to PCs, so that my touch would feel icy cold and damp. Lots of people told me I looked creepy, which made me rather happy.

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I failed to get a full length photo of the costume, and I don’t think my rushed selfies quite captured the drama of the veil, but I definitely intend to include floor length veils in more costumes in the future.

The Wonder Walk. The way some of the staff members were talking about it made it sounds like this sort of thing might have been done before in our community, but I’ve personally never seen anything like it. I’m not even sure what it meant within the context of the diagesis of the LARP (was it meant to be a collective dream of the PCs? A physical manifestation of meditation? I don’t know.)

At some point, the staff went out and created a enormous tangled web of glowing lights, both from glowsticks scattered on the ground in looping paths and strings of light hung between trees, with various surreal, interactive way-points throughout. PCs could take solitary quiet walks along the paths, late at night, and read snippets of hopes and dreams strung up in a tree, try on masks, blow bubbles, read memories from their old love letters and telegrams, create bits of artwork and music and leave messages for one another… I only wish I could have experienced it as a PC, I’m sure it created wonderful, introspective, internal roleplay.

Please believe me when I say my photos don’t do it justice; I just don’t know yet how to get my camera to capture the countless glowing and twinkling lights.

 

 

The Module in Hell. This was a relative little thing, but I think we pulled it off with panache. We blocked off the stage in one of the module buildings, and filled it with flame wall paper, braziers of (fake) flames, casting red light over the space, and tons of fog. Some of the NPCs played demons torchering the souls of sinners; I played a sinner in chains and spent longer than we had expected the module to last wailing in agony. The PCs came by to bargain with the angel in charge of hell. It was a rather thematic little scene.

Video Does Not Kill the Radio Star. Late Saturday night, I volunteered to crunch for a module in which the PCs had to battle there way through beings of Static to retrieve various movie reels of famous old movies from the era. For each movie reel, the creatures of Static would take on aspects of the movie, and compulsively play them out while attacking. Meanwhile, the NPC hook who gathered the PCs put on his best deep, booming announcer voice narrated the scenes throughout. (“And so our intrepid heroes gathered their weapons and gathered their wits…” “A viscous blow was struck but our brave heroes were not deterred…!” etc. He was excellent.)

Playing the creatures of Static was a lot of fun, and evoked a lot of laughter. For The Bride of Frankenstein we staggered around as Frankenstein’s Monsters, or cackled like Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. (I laughed when voice of Dr. Frankenstein chased the PCs out of the room with a shriek of “I AM LIKE UNTO A GOD.”) For Treasure Island we shouted stereotypical pirate phrases (“ye’ll walk th’ plank, ye scurvy dogs!”) and “Arrr!”ed a lot. For Top Hat, we danced as fought. Two NPCs twirled in the center, ballroom dance style, and spun out their boffer swords to strike the PCs as they tried to dodge by. (“Little did our intrepid heroes realize, despite their elegant dance moves, the creatures of static were still very dangerous...”)

Between the retrieval of each reel, the NPCs reset the props and prepared to play out the next movie. When we got to David Copperfield, we came up blank. Someone asked, “…has anyone here actually read the book? Or seen the movie?” and got silence in response. …So we stooped to English stereotypes. (“Tally-ho, wot wot.”)

My favorite was Cleopatra. It’s long been on my bucket list to be presented as some sort of royal NPC to players while carried aloft on a palanquin. For this scene, just before the PCs entered, my fellow NPCs draped a piece of the set dressing around my shoulders and lifted me up on a chair. When the PCs came through the door, one NPC proclaimed their love for me as Marc Antony, and I imperiously called “By My Voice, Short Repel Until I Am Safely Back on the Ground.” (Not an Accelerant-legal call, but it got the job done.) So it was very brief and very silly, but I’m ticking it off my list.

The Accelerant combat system uses verbal flavor tags to indicate the nature of attacks. (E.g. “5 Damage by Fire might accompany a flaming sword, “Paralyze by Poison” would indicate a blade coated in a toxic venom that affects the nervous system.) For this scene, the tags reflected and reinforced the absurdity and humor of the module; we struck PCs with things like like “Two Damage by High Fashion” and “Maim by Thinly Veiled Allegory” and “Agony by Creative License with History.” It was special.

Blowing up the hoover dam. In another comical module, the PCs fought a battle to blow up the hoover dam. A handful of us NPCs tried to stop them as Evil Bureaucrats taken up to 11. We had a grand time attacking “By Bureaucracy”, insisting on mid-combat coffee breaks, and demanding the interns put themselves between the bosses and harm’s way.

Nametags. In the opening scene of the LARP, the NPCs of the Circus Liminalis greeted the PCs with a rendition of “Come On Up to the House.” There were tables set out with nametag patches, each embroidered with a different PC’s name for them to wear throughout the weekend. I liked that they looked like they were nice quality and diagetic. I heard a lot of positive feedback from PCs over this (it also often made things easier for me as an NPC) which goes to show they can be a positive element even in large boffer LARPs. (Though I know some people feel very strongly otherwise. To head off arguments at the pass, I’m still not saying that this means every single boffer LARP should use them.)

A send-off for my barbell. A little over four years ago, I played a LARP called Cirque du Fey, and I was cast as the strong woman of a circus called the Umbral Fete. Inspired by images of real Victorian-era strong women, I created a costume with a Greco-Roman flair. I also created a giant vintage-looking barbell prop out of two styrofoam balls, the cardboard tube from some wrapping paper, and paint. I have a bad habit of getting attached to LARP props and costuming, and after Cirque du Dey, even though the barbell was pretty cheap and easy to make, I couldn’t bear to throw it out.

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Morgan Tamm, strongwoman of the Cirque du Fae

There sat the barbell in my living room, occupying a chunk of space, for four years. Then I heard that Musica Universalis had the Circus Liminalis as part of its setting, and NPCs were welcome to create circus characters if they needed a non-specific role to play while hanging out amongst the PCs. (Say, during meal time.) So I brought the barbell.

At one point, I went out to hang out with some PCs. One came over to see the barbell, and I introduced myself as the Circus Liminalis’ strong woman, and she said, “but I’m the strong woman of the Circus Liminalis. Were you just hired yesterday?” I realized at this point I had misunderstood one of the staff members, but I said yes and ran with it, and we had a nice little showdown, where I acted out struggling to lift the barbell (the PCs applauded), and she casually plucked it off the ground with one hand.

At this point, the cardboard tube playing the role of the bar collapsed and ripped. (It had already been bending. Lesson learned — if I actually care about these kinds of props lasting, I should reinforce the cardboard tube.) But we rolled with it and roleplayed that she was so strong, she’d accidentally bent a metal tube in half.

It was such a little moment, just a bit of playful off-the-cuff roleplay that came out of a misunderstanding and then a minor prop failure, but I thought it was really nice, and I got to help highlight something that made a PC cool and unique. And it was really nice to validate my excessive sense of sentimental attachment/hoarding tendencies towards LARP paraphanelia in a way that made me glad I kept the barbell, while still having a very good reason to throw it away after. These kinds of things make me weirdly happy.

I came out one more time as the not-as-strongwoman to try and make a play for the PC’s job. We arm wrestled, and I conceded to her superior strength and accepted the role of her assistant for future shows.

The Death/Ressurection module. I actually can’t say too much about this, as I only saw the set-up after the LARP was over, but I peeked into the camp’s nature cabin (which is chock full of things like animal skulls, which gives a nice extra oomph to the atmosphere for lots of different scenes in a number of LARPs that run at this campsite.) There was a carefully curated playlist, glowing lights, and tons of different antique looking boxes, bottles, and hollow books, each one with a different PC’s name on it, and something personalized written on paper within (Some sort of choice, I think, and PCs had one song off the playlist to decide.) I wish I knew more about how they worked out, but I loved the idea of the process of death being personalized for each individual PC, and the sense the room created that Death was prepared for each and everyone one of them.


Here is the playlist. There’s a lot of good music here. Enjoy.

Come On Up to the House” (Sarah Jaroz)
This World Can’t Stand So Long” (Uncle Sinner)
Lungs” (Townes van Zandt)
At the Crossroads” (Those Poor Bastards)
House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals)
Old Devils” (William Elliot Whitmore)
Don’t Want to Die in the Storm” (Anna & Elizabeth)
Sixteen Tons” (Corb Lund Band)
Nothing but the Water” (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
The Angel of Death” (The Devil Makes Three)
Help Yourself” (The Devil Makes Three)
May Be the Last Time, I Don’t Know” (Ndidi O)

*In the local communities. I realize these trends differ a lot from community to community. MET LARPs are a particular example I have very little personal experience with, and I know they often run as campaigns.

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Posted in boffer, LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | 2 Comments

Festival of the LARPs 2018, Part II

Picking up where I left off

On Saturday of Festival of the LARPs 2018, I played three LARPs, Snowrise, Aether, and Aes Sidhe.

Snowrise first ran at Intercon R, and when I first saw the description, I was intrigued. Can’t say I’d yet played a LARP in the genre of Sumerian mythpunk. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I knew I wanted to find out, so I jumped at the chance to play at Festival.

I would say it felt a lot like cyberpunk with a heavy dose of Sumerian mythology in the cast. It’s set in a virtual reality chat room, with all of the characters existing in the form of avatars. Many of the characters are hackers or programmers or wealthy shareholders in tech companies… or else appear to be Sumerian gods wandering about it virtual reality.

I don’t want to say too much about my own character for spoiler reasons, but I loved my role. It’s one of those roles that knowing what I know after the LARP concluded, I would have picked that casting for myself. There was a lot going on in the LARP that I never quite got a handle on, but I had a lot of good role playing moments with the characters my character wanted to protect, and had some unexpected good moments with others who turned out to have surprising connections to them. I feel like I could play again (perhaps as one of the gods?) without spoilers being too much of an issue.

I do wish I had done a bit more for costuming — even though as online avatars, there was really no wrong way to approach it. Some players went very cyberpunk, others more historic. (I went for very plain black, with pink eyes and an Egyptian beaded collar that I thought resembled a Sumerian necklace I saw online.)

One thing I particularly liked about this LARP was its take on technology interacting with mythology. A lot of LARPs play with the theme of the progress of science, technology, and reason contributing the downfall/destruction/fading of the fantastical and mythological elements of the world (in fact, that was a major theme of my evening LARP, Aes Sidhe) but in Snowrise, the rise of powerful virtual technologies and humans reaching their innovative potentials was what allowed mythology to return (but with humans on more equal footing with gods.)

My second LARP of the day was Aether. I was pretty happy to see a boffer LARP on the schedule, which indicates a form of variety that most of the other small LARP conventions (such as Dice Bubble, Time Bubble, and SLAW) haven’t dabbled in yet, and it’s nice to see the excess of space and spring weather that Festival usually boasts put to good use.

We were invited to create our own characters, so I chose the humanoid feline race for the costuming opportunity it presented (I wore tiger ears, a tiger tail and a generic sort of animal snout), and the brawler class because it had an ability that intrigued me — hits to the lower arms and lower legs didn’t count. The system is a hit point base homebrew system (I believe this was the second event run using this system) and it bears a fair amount of similarity to the Accelerant boffer system I’m used to. This meant it wasn’t too hard for me to get into the swing of things, but I also frequently made mistakes such as confusing the meaning of “Maim.” (“Maim” means simply extra damage in Aether, though in Accelerant it means loss of the use of the targeted limb, which tripped me up a number of times.)

The premise/plot was classic urban fantasy — in a modern setting, a rash of mysterious occurrences, including some murders, have lead a local law enforcement official to pull together a temporary militia to get to the bottom of the problems and deal with them. We fought cultists and wild animals affected by a strange necromantic goo, investigated various crime scenes, and eventually tracked the problems to their source, where we prevented a dangerous ritual for a forgotten evil god from going off. Reaching the ritual involved solving a series of puzzles and bypassing some traps in classic dungeon crawl fashion. My character mostly wanted to hit things and make cat puns.

We had the entire first floor of one of the academic buildings, along with the surrounding area outside, and we moved between them for different scenes. At one point, when we were outside, I spotted someone (likely a student) standing nearby and aiming their phone’s camera lens at us. Normally, I’m not embarrassed to be seen LARPing in public, but I was acutely aware that our small group with a casual blend of urban and fantasy costuming looked a little silly, especially me with my tiger tail, ears, and snout. So I stared pointedly at the person until they sort of guiltily put the phone away and walked off. (I like to think they slunk off.) In retrospect, I wish I had actually asked them not to take photos (or maybe video?) without permission and maybe even asked them to delete what they already had. Dwelling on this and regretting not being more direct distracted me for a while.

My last LARP of Festival 2018 was Aes Sidhe, another LARP that ran at Intercon R that I was disappointed to miss. (There was a last minute drop I nearly filled, too.) Aes Sidhe is about a conclave of fae meeting to figure out if and how to adapt to the modern world with its decreasing belief diminishing the fae.

I played a member of the Seelie court, Laethe the Leanan sidhe, a type of fairy known for inspiring their human lovers to great accomplishments, consuming their creative energy, and shortening their lives. (One part muse, one part succubus, one part vampire.) For costuming, I decided to take inspiration from the muse element of the character, and wore the light blue chiton, leafy wreath, and white lacy sash that I used for Orgia. (The look was more Greek than Celtic, but I like to think it was sufficiently fae-ish to work.) I also tied a blue sash around my face to hide my character’s scar, acquired from an attack with cold iron.

Going into the LARP, I rather thought my character’s role was primarily about being a victim, and a generic supporter of the Seelie court, but my story line through the LARP took some very unexpected turns, involved various forms of betrayal, and came to a very dramatic climax and conclusion. It was probably one of the best romance plotlines I’ve ever played in a LARP, which started out as bitter resentment and became increasingly complex, until Leathe got caught on the wrong side of a combat, thanks to a delightfully foolish sacrifice of her True Name that she made in vain attempt to protect some of her dearest friends. (These kind of bad deals and interacting with fae magic like True Names and unbreakable bargains and being unable to directly lie is the stuff I’m hoping for when I sign up for fae-themed LARPs.)

The drama was reflected in my makeup and costuming, as the scar on my character’s face got healed, then recreated when Leathe slashed her own face in response to betrayal, then later was healed again. I was very happy I took the time to put in different colored contacts (pink for a uninjured eye, black for an eye damaged by cold iron); I thought it had a nice effect when I gave other characters a peak at what was beneath the blue sash.

 


But my costuming, while functional, didn’t compare to most of the other costuming in this LARP. Like Thicker Than Water, the cast was extremely well dressed (and the set dressing, with lots of fake plants and Celtic wall hangings, was also really nice.) Mab had a dramatic and sparkly dress, snowflake cape, and large wings, the Great Spriggan had a really amazing tree costume with a tall headdress of branches (and a tiny bird’s nest with an egg), a fetch character had really nice wooden doll makeup, a brownie had tech cleverly integrated into their look, the lord of death looked dramatic in a tux, with antlers emerging from a blindfold… and there were lots of other great makeup jobs and outfits besides.


Sunday I had a tabletop game scheduled, so that was the last of my Festival this year (though I’ve heard good things about the LARPs that ran on Sunday.)

 

Ok, back to work on the Shogun post…

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Festival of the LARPs 2018, Part I

Let me preface this post by saying I haven’t forgotten that a number of people asked if I would write a post about Shogun and/or expressed interest in reading one, and I actually have been very slowly working on a post that is so far a few pages long but still far from done. But I am determined to finish it.

With that out of the way, this past weekend was the Thirteenth Annual Festival of the LARPs, a weekend of free LARPs at Brandeis University. I wasn’t able to attend on Sunday, but I did attend Friday and Saturday, and I had a blast playing four different LARPs — three theater and one boffer.

Being usually the next (mini) convention of LARPs after Intercon, Festival has something of a reputation of being the venue through which people play some of the LARPs they wanted to play at Intercon but weren’t able to for one reason or another. This was certainly true for me this year, as three of my LARPs were all ones I would have loved to have played at Intercon R.

On Friday evening, I played in Thicker Than Water, a LARP set in a happenin’ speakeasy in Chicago in 1929. It features historical characters from around that era, with a little bit of artistic license to make the relevant points of their various careers contemporary with one another and also add a supernatural twist. (True Blood is listed as a source of inspiration in the blurb for a reason.) My prep for this LARP included watching few movies (including The Great Gatsby and Chicago) and looked up some 1920s slang to throw into conversation. (I wanted to seem like I really knew my onions.)

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“…I know a whoopie spot/where the gin is cold. but the piano’s hot…”

I played Helena Rubinstein; in real life she was a cosmetics entrepreneur who became one of the world’s wealthiest women. The version of her in Thicker Than Water is early in her career, has connections with various gangsters, and is hiding a few other major secrets besides. I had a ton of fun with this character; I managed to pull off a few major heists, helped rig a boxing match, enjoyed flirtations with some of Chicago’s more notorious gangsters, and explored some darker themes (which will go unmentioned for spoiler reasons.)

 

This LARP stood out for its excellent atmosphere, which is par for the course for these writers/GMs. They set up plenty of set dressing to create a hell-themed jazz club/speakeasy (called the “The Afterlife”), with vintage set pieces (such as a typewriter, an old fashioned candlestick phone, and a retro microphone), along with snacks (including cannoli) and faux-boozy drinks (sparkling grape juice and apple cider… and suspiciously red Gatorade.) Old school music played continuously, including some tunes good for partner dancing. (“Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers was heard a few times — technically written in 1996, but it’s inspired by 30s jazz, and it includes the lyrics: “In the afterlife/ You could be headed for the serious strife/ Now you make the scene all day/ But tomorrow there’ll be Hell to pay…” I wouldn’t be surprised if this song inspired the name of the club.)

 

Even better, some of the characters are performers (for example, Dean Martin was there, along with the historical inspirations for Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two characters from the musical Chicago.) Some of them sang or lip-synched songs and even danced during the LARP. (At times, this may have provided other characters with necessary distractions.)

But any character who wants to perform was welcome to, so even though Helena Rubinstein wasn’t known as a performer, I decided to go for it. I looked online for some songs from the 1920s and 30s, and tried to pick one with lyrics that had some meaning for my character. I ended up picking “I Want to be Bad” by Helen Kane, the inspiration behind Betty Boop. (I downloaded an audio editor to cut out the instrumental portion — it was harder than I’d hoped it would be.) I thought it might indicate to some of my characters more notorious beaus that despite being an upstanding businesswoman, she was up for getting into trouble. There were some hiccoughs with the music and I got nervous in front of the crowd and forgot some of the lyrics, but the message in my song choice was received, so I’m glad I got out of my comfort zone to do it.

Other players put on noteworthy performances, including Vlad, the owner of the Afterlife, who welcomed us into the club at the start of the LARP with a dramatic goth performance, and Houdini, who escaped a set of handcuffs.

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Also adding to the atmosphere of this LARP, the players really went all out with costuming. If you search for 1920s fashion on Amazon, there’s actually a pretty good selection of sparkly dresses with fringes at reasonable prices (along with lots of options for accessories) and a number of the players, myself included, took advantage of this. (Not to imply the costuming which hadn’t just come from Amazon wasn’t also spectacular, I was just amused by how many of the dresses I recognized from my own online search.)

One of the items on my LARP Bucket List was to get my hair and/or makeup done professionally for a LARP. (For all my years of trying to pick up these skills for LARP, I’m still pretty bad at both.) It’s never really been an option for logistical reasons — there would have to be a salon accessible to me just before an event with an interesting fashion associated with the setting. With Thicker Than Water running in Waltham on a Friday, it was finally an option.

I reached out to the other players, thinking to make it a small group thing with anyone else interested, but I wasn’t able to find an option that could take multiple customers on such short notice. In fact, I only lucked into an appointment when a salon called me Friday morning to tell me another customer had cancelled. (I’m open to trying again in the future, if I can find a more affordable option.)

I had a lot of fun at the salon, though I worried my hair might start to unravel and the makeup start to fade before the LARP itself. (They lasted better than I’d expected.) I think the end result, while technically within the realm 1920s fashion, weren’t as classically flapper girl as I was going for (maybe the hairband could have been lower, maybe the eyes smokier?) but I think it was unmistakable when combined with the dress and rope of pearls. I hope I can find another opportunity to wear this look again.

 

Since this ended up quite a bit longer than originally intended, I’ll save the rest of Festival for the next post.

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Intercon R Part III: Sunday and Monday

On Sunday at Intercon R, I played one of the Iron GM LARPs, then a new boffer LARP called Breadcrumbs.

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Iron GM is Intercon’s annual competition, where teams of writers are given mystery ingredients and 24 hours to write a two hour LARP based around them. They run at Intercon on Sunday morning, the players score them; the winners win cash prizes, and hopefully, they end up in a state where others can download and run them. (More details on the rules can be found on the Intercon website.)

This year, the ingredients were sea stories, math, and transformation, with silver eggs as the prop. Once I heard the ingredients (after playing the LARP), I was retroactively not surprised that I ended up playing a Lovecraftian LARP, involving a number of sailors gathering in a tavern in the 1800s to swap tales of the weird encounters they’ve had; meanwhile, the storm around them seems to be bringing its own weirdness with it. Heart of the Sea was heavy on RP and light on mechanics.

I won’t say more about the content for spoiler reasons here, but I will say I hear it won second place (out of four entries.)

After Heart of the Sea, I went to the Atrium to play in Breadcrumbs. I was really excited to see this LARP on the schedule for multiple reasons. Intercon has all of the game spaces until Sunday evening, so even though the con traditionally wraps up in the early afternoon with closing ceremonies (labeled “Raffle, Announcements and Thank Yous” on this year’s schedule, which cleverly avoids the indication that this is the conclusion of the con), it seems a shame to let the spaces go to waste and not just run more LARPs. In particular, I’m glad to see boffer LARPs making use of the available space, as boffer LARPs can often derive a lot of benefit from lots of space for fewer players, and space is at at premium at Intercon. Most LARPs only get a single room to run in, but LARPs that run on Sunday could potentially take multiple rooms (perhaps even one of the largest rooms that are usually divided by airwalls?) and I think there’s a lot of potential there, and I wanted to support LARPs expanding into the later Sunday slots.

This boffer LARP in particular was described in the blurb as being welcoming to people who had never tried boffer combat before, and that combat would not be the focus, and as a means to express one’s character and tell a story, and not an end in and of itself. I was very interested to see how this LARP might incorporate combat differently. (Though I do want to mention that I’m trying to imply that other boffer LARPs at Intercon do use combat as an end in and of itself, or that combat is the focus of those LARPs, though I do think combat is often a significant element.)

I was also intrigued by the concept that players would not have a clear idea what was happening going into the LARP, that the LARP would have swift and significant changes to the situation, and to that end, players are discouraged from discussing their characters with one another before the LARP. Our community seems to have moved a long way away from “major twist” LARPs (or, as I heard one LARPer call it, “a LARP that has been M. Night Shyamalan-ed”) in favor of setting expectations and full disclosures, which has its benefits, but I think there has been something lost in having a community be very unforgiving towards paradigm-shifting surprises. (This was a major part of the conversation during the “Establishing World Boundaries” discussion, where we talked about how this sort of thing was very popular during the 90s, and then fell out of favor.) Breadcrumbs walks the line between surprising players with a major shift and informing players in advance, by telegraphing in the blurb that the shift was coming without specifying much else besides that.

This of course makes the LARP highly spoilerable, so I won’t go into much more detail here, other than the fact that my favorite part of the LARP was early on, when the GMs and staff made very clever use of the room dividers and the players lack of mutual ground. (This was another major benefit to running a LARP, especially a boffer LARP, on Sunday afternoon — there were very few other LARPs running in the same time slot, so the GMs were able to request all of the room dividers that Intercon provides for GMs available and put them to good use. I would love to see other LARPs take inspiration from their use of the room dividers. (Let’s just say NPCs moving them around while we were roleplaying was a major part of it.)

The combat is, as promised, not a major element of the LARP; players in this run who lacked interest in it were entirely able to avoid it if they chose. (As far as I could tell — in fairness, there were short parts of the LARP where I was unaware of what was happening to many of the other players.) In fact, I ended up engaged in multiple short combat scenarios because many other players declined to get into combat. The combat also occurs in a more controlled, localized manner than most of the other boffer LARPs I’ve PCed or NPCed at Intercon, which I think can be really beneficial for players who are only just learning boffer combat for the first time, and want to test the waters rather than diving in head first. (I think I had a somewhat easier time of it because the system had some similarities to the Accelerant system, but it was not identical.) Rabbit Run, for example, is more of a “dive in head first” introduction to boffer combat.

Much to Breadcrumbs‘ credit, I heard two of the players who were completely new to boffer combat express a desire to try more of it. I had a really good time, myself.

After Breadcrumbs, I helped clean up the room and deconstruct and pack away the room dividers for transportation. By this point, the con had more or less wound down, though there was still a fair number of people around — some people like to hang out for the evening or even until the next day. The parlors were full Interconners hanging out, discussing the games they had just played and LARP theory, playing board games, and enjoying giant heaps of ice cream that the con ordered from the hotel. A number of us stayed on until Monday morning.

Over the course of Intercon R, I aGMed two games (well, two runs of the same LARP), played in three LARPs, and NPCed three LARPs (plus one final fight). So at eight, it ties with Intercon M for number of LARPs I participated in at an LARP convention. But thanks to the LARP schedule expanding into Thursday and later on Sunday, I still managed to get more sleep than usual. Those are I’d like to continue.

We’ve already got some LARPs for Intercon S, by the way, and some very exciting changes to the way Intercon handles sign ups, so needless to say, I’m already excited for next year’s Intercon. If you’re curious, here are some videos about the new sign up system: Intercode 2 Presentation, What’s New — GM Edition and What’s New Player Edition.)

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Intercon R Part II: Saturday

On Saturday at Intercon R, I ended up NPCing in three different boffer LARPs: Bound in Blood, Stop That Moon! and Rabbit Run.

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Bound in Blood is a new boffer LARP that ran in the morning slot. I put myself on the wait-list just on the off-chance there were some drops and last minute no-shows, but I fully expected to NPC it. The GMs were ok with me sleeping in a bit, then showing up to crunch (read: play nameless mooks for the PCs to fight) about half way through.

I avoided learning too much about what was going on so that I can still PC this LARP in a future run. So unfortunately I can’t say much more about it in this blog post other than there was a lot of nice fantasy costuming on the PC side, some nifty tabards on the NPC side, the LARP will appeal to high fantasy fans, and PCs can expect to fight some cultists.

Stop That Moon! is a superhero themed LARP featuring a cast of sidekicks on their own on a mission for the first time. It first ran at Intercon O, where I played Mach III, a speedster superhero, so this was the one boffer LARP at Intercon R where I didn’t feel I should be trying to avoid spoilers. I played mostly crunchy robots who made “ERROR” noises when struck, and a villain who had somehow escaped after being captured at the Intercon Q run of Stop That Moon!

To be more precise, Stop That Moon! is a series of LARPs, each with the same underlying skeleton (the PCs face a series of challenges, the mechanical structurew of which doesn’t change from year to year), but the characters are written anew for each new cast of players, the setting changes a bit (this year, it reflected Intercon’s theme), and there’s some amount of continuity building going on; some of the characters represent the offspring or predecessors, of characters in previous runs. (There’s often some sort of time travel shenanigans going on, so sometimes figuring out the proper tense when writing about Stop That Moon! can be difficult.) The writers clearly have a lot of love for the superhero genre.

Intercon seems to have become a venue for long-time theater fans trying out boffer LARPs for the first time, and Stop That Moon! has been a large part of that. Each run, including this year, has had a number of newbies, and as far as I can tell, they really enjoy themselves. I know of a number who have opted into trying other boffer LARPs at Intercon after playing, and some have even gone on to play boffer campaigns.

Also, worth mentioning, in the first run, when I PCed, one of the players was pregnant and the writers worked with her to create a character and adjusted the mechanics who would be involved in the mission while still being non-combat. In this latest run, a player using a wheelchair played a similarly non-combatant role.

Additionally, I feel compelled to mention this LARP involved superheroes fighting dinosaurs. Any excuse to use those bizarre inflatable costumes (which I have fought both in Threshold and danced with at a previous Intercon dance) is a good excuse to me. I’m just waiting for my turn to NPC in one.

My last boffer LARP of the day (but not my last of the weekend, which would be Breadcrumbs on Sunday) was Rabbit Run. Rabbit Run has been running at Intercon since Intercon N, where I NPCed the first run. It has developed something of a cult following since then — I frequently see threads on social media and overhear conversations at parties where players gush over this LARP and its emotional intensity. It has inspired a large collection of fan fiction, and I’ve seen at least one conversation where people discussed creating an online forum where players from different runs can gather to talk about their experiences without worrying about spoiling prospective players. I don’t know of any other four hour one-shot with this kind of response.

Needless to say, as I mostly avoided spoilers when I NPCed the first run, I’ve been hoping to play for five years — but this LARP tends to fill within literally a second after the first round opens, so it’s difficult to get a slot. But I’ve also specifically been hoping to PC with a friend of mine, since this LARP is notorious for moving players to tears, and being moved to tears is a goal of mine in LARPing. (Haven’t managed it yet.) I thought playing with someone familiar with my RP style, who is comfortable pushing my buttons, might make a difference. In fact, last year, I got in to Rabbit Run, but my friend ended up on the waitlist, so I dropped so that we could try again next year.

This year, a few minutes before first round of sign ups was supposed to open, sign ups got opened accidentally for a short period of time, and a bunch of people starting signing up before staff realized and closed it again. By that time, Rabbit Run had half filled, and I ended up on the waitlist, though my friend got in. I sat for months as number one on the waitlist. My friend offered to drop so we could try again next year, but I decided to chance it. I’ve had extremely good luck with waitlists thus far — in fact, I’d never been on a waitlist for Intercon before and not gotten into the LARP. It seemed like a low risk.

Well, there’s a first time for everything, I suppose. I’d been compulsively checking the website since that first round in November, hoping to see a drop, and never did. I even planned and packed a costume that was generic enough to suit a number of roles in the setting just in case there was a last minute no-show. I confess I went into Intercon a tiny bit bitter and mopey over this. (I was also first on the waitlist for another LARP, A Winters’ Ball, which certainly didn’t alleviate my feelings for various reasons, including watching several males below me on the waitlist get into the LARP ahead of me… but that’s another story and the issues involved will likely be rendered moot by the introduction of Intercode 2.)

But there wasn’t anything else in the Saturday evening timeslot I was particularly keen to play (that had room/last minute drops, anyway) and I still wanted to contribute to the experience of the various new-to-boffer players who were playing Rabbit Run, so I NPCed again. I played a lot of dangerous robots over that weekend. (Additionally, for the first scene in the LARP, there were only five combat NPCs available, six including me.)

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UNAUTHORIZED BIOLOGICAL ENTRANCE DETECTED. SURRENDER WEAPON.

Rabbit Run, being much darker LARP than any of the other one-shot boffers I’ve seen run at Intercon, with a much more brutal setting and premise, has more intense fighting than, say, Stop That Moon! or Bound in Blood. (Although I can’t say that with a high degree of certainty about Bound in Blood, which had PCs with a lot more boffer combat experience, so it’s very difficult to compare.) It also seemed like an unusually high percentage of the PCs were completely new to boffer fighting (or damn near close)… whereas the NPCs were all regular boffer LARPers.

The result was that it felt to me like most of the fights seemed pretty brutal to the PCs, with them frequently getting divided up or backed into a corner too tightly to properly defend themselves or get out of the way, or some grueling combination of both. I worried we were being too harsh on them, possibly to the point where it was having a negative effect on the fun — I think it’s difficult to fully grasp the system initially, and doubly so if your first fights are intense, and I could see this effect in the combat. But I checked in multiple times with the primary GMs in Monster Camp, who seemed to think it wasn’t excessive. Post-LARP, plenty of the PCs were gushing over their intense emotional experience, in person and then later online, so I guess it was right to trust the GMs. I hope my crunchy robots contributed to their enjoyment. (I will say I think this run of Rabbit Run may have the dubious distinction of the highest body count at the end.)

Amusingly, in the first run of Rabbit Run, the PCs had to take down a robot, then trace them with masking tape, and they traded another robot for me, while noting I was smaller and therefore would be faster to trace. It happened again during this run… but then I was discarded in favor of an even smaller NPC.

Sometime after Rabbit Run, I went to join the dance, which was well attended this year. It’s always nice to the dance floor full, because it’s one of the public events where people can go post-LARP; otherwise, everyone would vanish into suite parties, and that can make the con seem a bit empty to newbies who might not know how to find the parties. (I also appreciated the publicly announced pajama party and Alleged Entertainment party the night before for this reason.)

Speaking of non-LARP content, we also had one of those games where posters with QR codes that kick off a series of puzzles are scattered around the con space, and any attendee can try to solve them to win a prize. It was created by Evil Overlord Games as a tie in with Sussurus: Season of Tides. I thought it was a really cool thing for Intercon to boast. I wanted to attempt it, but ran out of time. I hope they do it again next year.

I had an excellent time on the dance floor (adding some more wear and tear on my poor leg muscles before my last boffer LARP the next day), I went to attend a party in the basement and later hung out in one of the suites until the wee hours of the morn.

One thing I noticed throughout Saturday was a number of people commenting that it already felt like a full con had gone by, as a fair number of attendees had begun participating in LARPs as early as Thursday evening, and continued playing all day Friday. By Saturday evening, I had PCed, NPCed, and aGMed six LARPs (not to mention the three discussions/panels and NPCing an extra final fight) which is already a very full schedule by any normal account. I’m quite glad to see Intercon expanding early into Thursday and later through Sunday — more LARP is best LARP.

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Intercon R Part I: Thursday and Friday

February has been a bit of a crazy month, LARP-wise, between Dice Bubble, a Threshold event, a trip to the UK for a weekend freeform LARP, Shogun, and then Intercon, the all LARP convention. I’m determined to get through posts about all of them in a timely manner. I find starting with the most recent helps me get momentum going so… let’s start with Intercon R: Rock ‘n Romance.

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The days leading up to Intercon were more rushed than usual this year. I returned from my international trip about three days from the official start of Intercon, and I had been focused on prepping costuming for Shogun up until then. Once I was back in the US, I was focused on finishing costuming prep for Slayer Cake, drawing posters for Intercon R, working on some props and set dressing for Stars of Al-Ashtara, making a new knightly banner for Kingsword, and prepping a discussion about boundaries in LARP. And, of course, packing. (I also managed to squeeze in a haircut and picked up some new black athletic clothes for NPCing boffer LARPs.)

 

I had a lot of fun with the posters this year. For some reason, the theme of “Rock ‘n Romance” brought an American traditional tattoo art style to mind (watching the latest season of Ink Master recently probably played some part,) so that’s what I ran with, referencing old school tattoos for the lettering, flowers, and music imagery.

On Thursday, I was busy with setting up for the two back-to-back runs of Stars of Al-Ashtara that would run the next day. Like all of Lovers and Madmen LARPs, it has extensive set dressing, including three tents (which would get re-used for the Friday night run of Kingsword.) If there was a better looking LARP set at Intercon R, I didn’t see it. (…Ok Thicker Than Water looked amazing; unsurprisingly, all three of these LARPs have a GM/creator in common.)

 

The photos don’t do it justice. It had a marketplace with four shops, a university, the palace gardens (with a lily pond) and even a new quilted backdrop to represent the night sky for the star gazing mechanic. (Players look for star formation to help guide their fates.) Someone lent us a few pretty room dividers that also really enhanced the appearance of the environment.

In between setting up Al-Ashtara, I attended two discussions, “Amnesia LARP” and “Intersection of Kink and LARP”, and ran a discussion on “Establishing World Boundaries”. (I took notes on two of them, so I hope to have posts on them after the backlog of LARP posts go up.)

On Friday, I was an assistant GM, or aGM, for the two runs of Stars of Al-Ashtara. This was my first time aGMing (or GMing) at Intercon, so it was a bit of a landmark for me. My primary functions, besides generally helping out as needed, were to run the alchemy system (exchanging lists of ingredients from the two alchemists in game for the potions they created) and running one of the desert quests. I threw together some costuming for the run (including the veil and shoes from the costume I wore when I played this LARP a few years back).

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Alchemy aGM (university in background)

Originally, I was only expecting to aGM one run of this LARP on Friday afternoon, but there was such a long waitlist, the primary GM decided to add an additional run on Friday morning. I did a lot of prep work for this LARP, including reading over all of the character sheets and reviewing the mechanics and quests and prop lists… but I discovered during the first run that there were little gaps in my knowledge and preparation. For example, my list of alchemical concoctions was incomplete (and there was a minor copy and paste error), and a bottleneck formed around a group of characters when their desert quest went on too long.

My job as an aGM went a lot smoother the second time. I knew what alchemy potions were missing from my list (and was prepared for the two identical ingredient list issue), and had a better handle on the intentions behind things like the character abilities. When players wanted to fudge them to try things beyond the abilities’ literal descriptions, I felt empowered to enable it without negatively impacting the game as a whole. I was able to answer far more questions on my own instead of just sending players on to the main GM, and I had ideas on how to prevent the players from taking too long on the desert quest again (though they proved to be unnecessary.)

The player costuming for both runs, by the way, was across the board amazing. I had a lot of fun just admiring the clothing.

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Much of the dinner break following the second run of Stars of Al-Ashtara was spent switching the set over to the also elaborately decorated Kingsword (which now includes a new knightly banner based on a player’s custom design for Culhwch.) We left the garden out as a backdrop for Caliburn, the sword in the stone. Then I dashed off to costume for Slayer Cake.

 

Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Slayer Cake when I signed up for it, but I’d heard such good reviews from players of previous runs, that I couldn’t resist. I got my top pick for music style– baby metal (actually “kawaii metal,” “idol metal,” “cute metal” or “kawaiicore” — the genre as listed in the game materials is named after Babymetal, the band credited with pioneering kawaii metal.) It was my first choice primarily for reasons of costuming opportunity; I wanted to try creating something that blended metal and Lolita fashion. I googled some of Babymetal’s photos and focused on one of their looks with plaid skirts for inspiration.

 

While sewing the plaid skirt, I discovered just how difficult hemming circle skirts can be. But I covered up the worst of my mistakes with a layered lace trim, and supported the skirt with two fluffy petticoats to try and create that iconic Lolita cupcake silhouette. I paired the skirt with a black lace shirt under a velvet military style jacket, and accessorized with combat-style boots, fingerless gloves, cutesy little butterfly and skull barrettes, and a spiked choker.

I think if I ever reprised this costume, I might like to actually take time with my pigtails so they don’t quickly become a frizzy mess (I suspect this may involve learning to use a curling iron and some kind of hair product.) I also tried to make matching plaid bows for my hair, but they just did not come out right, so I’d like to have another go at them, and maybe find better tights. (Also, I left my prop headset at home. Oops.) Despite the issues, people spotted me in the hallway before and after Slayer Cake and immediately recognized the music style I was representing, which I think is an encouraging sign.

The costuming for the other bands was very impressive. People went all out with their metal fashion (even the understated grunge band looked great — so classic grunge), and I particularly want to mention Hare Mettle, the glam metal band, who featured glittery rabbit logos on top of their fabulous costumes. It made for a really eye-catching, unifying element. Another shout out goes out to the gloom metal band members who wore furs for much of the LARP, along with everyone else who wore leather/pleather or wool, despite the warmth of the room (which increased as the evening went on) and the heat produced through energetic performances.

Slayer Cake invites players to develop their own characters and the dynamics of their bands over email in advance of the game, though for this run, the baby metal band mostly neglected to do any pre-game development. We settled on the name Bubble Fight in the first few minutes of the LARP. (Other bands included the heavy metal band Charismatic Megafauna, grunge band Rust, and emo band A Dying Dream of Romance.) Bubble Fight also lost two players just before the run, but I think being the smallest band sort of played into our cute, easily underestimated, seemingly harmless image. (It also matched the original Babymetal with three female members.)

The LARP itself has two stages: the first involves going from station to station in Metal World, the second involves a battle of the bands style series of performances. Each of the stations encourages some form of roleplay (e.g. between bands or with an NPC playing a member of the press) or enabled players to develop aspects of their performances (e.g. pick which excerpt from which song the band wanted to perform, work on the band’s look, or develop some choreography.)

I enjoyed making the rounds, but it was the performance part of the LARP that was the most fun. I was nervous about my own performance, but I discovered that the other players taking on the roles of wildly enthusiastic fans really did help a lot; it genuinely does make you feel like a rock star. During my first performance, a group of fans in the back row started chanting “Small! Small! Small!” (or maybe “Smol! Smol! Smol!”?) in reference to me (I was a bit shorter than my two band mates) and it had a impressive impact for me — very encouraging.

So I ratcheted up my expression of fannish devotion to the various bands as they performed and looked for creative ways to cheer them on, along with the rest of the audience. We shouted our desire to marry the various band members, threw bits of fabric at the “stage” (stand-ins for undergarments), clapped and stamped and chanted and swooned when the band members came out into the audience. The performances were enthusiastic and creative (and often overtly sexual) — as far as I saw, no one gave the impression of shyness or stage fright.

The mechanic for voting for a winner is clever — sort of like musical chairs, in that a GM plays music for a bit and people sit down when it stops on one side of the center aisle or the other. This enables audience members to let their vote be randomized (by simply wandering until the music stops) or to actually vote (by staying near one side or the other) — which I think helps reduce the bad feelings of losing. (Which can honestly be disappointing if you enjoy performing, since losing significantly cuts down on your stage time.)

There’s a bit of a twist in the middle of the LARP that I won’t spoil here (though I don’t think spoiling it would likely negatively affect most players’ experiences, there’s always that potential), but I will say I rather enjoyed it. There are also superpowers in the LARP (each band has its own) which have very little mechanical weight, but add a lot in terms of flavor for the individual bands and the setting as a whole.

Overall, I had an absolute blast, especially performing on stage and acting as a wild, hardcore fan. Some highlights of the LARP include a beautifully crafted boffer guitar that had pieces designed to break off (and reattch together with velcro), wielded by a musician who communicated solely in grunts (if I replay this LARP, I would enjoy being cast as that character), one musician whose chosen instrument was a chair (“chair! chair! chair!”) using scraps of fabric from my skirt project to dress up band mates, a player bringing in lights that changed color in response to claps/stomps, the grunge band’s attempts to corrupt the baby metal band, and too many moments during the performances to name (including some rather… suggestive dance moves.)

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This guitar is a beautiful middle finger to everyone who hates on duct tape boffer weapons.

While I have no regrets about choosing baby metal as my music genre, and might very well do so again if I ever got the chance to replay Slayer Cake (which has very high replay-ability value, in my opinion), I do think the baby metal band has one of the most difficult initial challenges, as its songs are all in Japanese and most likely to be unfamiliar (unless the LARP runs in Japan). This makes both lip syncing difficult (on top of the language, there were times during our first performance where I honestly couldn’t tell over the noise from the audience whether or not the music had vocals) and the audience isn’t likely to get psyched up the way they do by the more familiar lyrics or riffs of other songs. The genre is also known for having the entire band doing vocals and synchronized dancing, which would require a lot more effort to look convincing, and the performer don’t have instruments as interactive physical props (microphones are nice, but not quite the same as, say, a fake guitar or drum set) to rely on.

A lot of this is mutable — there’s no rules against, say, a member of the baby metal band deciding they want to represent backup instrumentation if they’re not comfortable with faking their way through heavily choreographed dancing. (I also suspect the GMs would work with the band if they wanted to perform something from off their initial suggested song list.)

I definitely recommend if you play this LARP, don’t be shy about pre-gaming. Honestly, I think the more prep work you do for it, the better. For a future run, I would try harder to get my band mates to work out complicated relationships between the members, more shared history, maybe pick the songs and prep some choreography in advance, prepare more ways to express enthusiastic fandom, such as making signs (things like “The Future Mrs. Drummer”), bringing items so band members can sign autographs, or bringing props to represent undergarments for flinging onto the stage. I think bringing some makeup and a mirror for one of the stations would also be a lot fun.

I came out of Slayer Cake pretty jazzed up and fantasizing about what other songs I’d like to perform/see performed in future runs of the LARP, and what sort of set dressing I’d like to do if I had a limitless budget and endless time for a future a run. Then I happened by Sound and Fury: Lament, a boffer LARP which was still running for a little while longer, where the NPCs waiting for the next attack on the PCs out in the hallway. They commented that my baby metal costume would work well as one of the crunchy bad guys for the big final fight, so I returned after helping Kingsword clean up and fought the finale battle with the NPCs. While avoiding spoilers, of course, so that I can still PC Sound and Fury in a future run.

This meant that I missed the bulk of the Magimundi social, along with the Alleged Entertainment party in the parlor, but I did still have a lot of good LARP theory conversation while clearing up the room that hosted the Magimundi social, hanging out in the con suite, and helping clean up one of the runs of White Death.

So that was the beginning of my Intercon R! Sneak preview for the next post: it’s going to feature a lot of crunchy NPCing for boffer LARPs.

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Posted in boffer, conventions, Intercon, LARP, theater | Tagged | 2 Comments

NPC Bait

A discussion that pops up from time to time among LARP staffs, especially ones of the boffer campaign variety, is how to attract and keep NPCs. NPCs are often a limited (and therefore highly valued) resource for LARPs, and their numbers can have a huge impact on enabling or limiting what kind of content one can run for their PCs.

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Just a humble NPC farmer passing through at Madrigal 3

Before I start listing the things that compel me to NPC for a LARP and then return for more, I want to make clear that this isn’t a list of demands or expectations. I think creating and running a LARP seems like such a monumental task that creates such an enormous drain on so many types of drainable resource  (time, money, talent, emotional fortitude, social capital) that frankly, it often seems miraculous to me.

Rather, this is just a collection of things I’ve enjoyed or desired while NPCing. Food for thought. And as the vast majority of NPCing I’ve done has been for Accelerant boffer campaigns, and this will mostly reflect that. (For a little context for those unfamiliar, this community generally has people playing NPCs for the whole weekend — rather than, say, instead of having NPC shifts for PCs — and while some people NPC every event, often people will NPC for only a few events, or even just one. If stuff in this post doesn’t seem applicable to your format of NPCing, that’s ok! There’s no One True Way.)

Logistics. It kind of goes without saying that this is going to be a huge and limiting factor for everyone. Getting to and from sites is really rough on people without their own cars. Most campsites aren’t public transportation accessible, and even if they are, the amount of luggage needed to NPC (which often includes suitcases, LARP weapons, and sleeping bags) is often not feasible on the bus. If you don’t have anyone able to offer rides, that’s entirely understandable. But if you do, you might want to make it known what are the appropriate channels to reach out and ask for transportation options. I’m often shy and hesitant to ask for help, especially if I have no idea if anyone from the LARP lives in my area — am I bothering the head of staff if I ask for help finding a ride? Am I spamming if I email the whole staff or post on a player forum? Some LARPs offer incentives to PCs for providing rides (CP maybe?) which I think is a great idea.

(As a side note to NPCs accepting rides — don’t forget to thank your driver and offer to chip in for gas if you can.)

LARPs differ a great deal on what they can provide in terms of room and board, and this information should ideally be easy to find upfront. Some NPCs want to know before they end up on your email list or chat groups, so it’s helpful to have it available on your website, and not just sent out in individual emails. How how many meals and/or what snacks are provided, if any? Do NPCs sleep in cabins, in one building together, or some combination, and how many to a room? Can they pick their roommates in advance? Does the site allow tents? What are the accommodations like? Can I bring electronics that plug in, can I store my food in a fridge? Is there heating, AC, indoor plumbing? If this changes event to event and you don’t know the answers until, say, a week out from the event, that’s ok, just say so on the website along with how to get information.(eg “we may not have catering at every event. We try to get the menu emailed out the Sunday before an event to our mailing list.”) A suggested packing list on the website (and minimal costuming expectations) is also nice to see.

Obviously it’s great if you can provide meals and snacks for NPCs so that’s one less major thing they have to worry about prepping and packing, but if not, you don’t want NPCs to have to scramble and poke staff to find the information, or worse, accidentally come unprepared. (Electricity, climate control, and indoor plumbing also tend to make packing and preparing an easier process.)

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Monster Camps that provide sports drinks, caffeinated beverages (especially hot coffee on cold mornings and iced coffee on hot mornings!) and healthy snacks like veggie platters. (Providing chemical hand warmers for cold weather is also a good idea.)

Comfortable Monster Camps. I know this is something most staffs can’t be picky about and they just get the site that works for them in terms of location, size, and price, but all other things being equal, a Monster Camp that isn’t too cramped, has comfortable furniture and room for NPCs to relax between modules will retain more NPCs. Electricity, a fridge, temperature control are also all major selling points. Some camps have pretty unclean furniture and/or weird smells, which can turn NPCs off. (It also might cause them to hang out in their tents or cabins, which can make wrangling them for modules involve a bit more effort.)

This dovetails with Monster Camp hygiene. Bathrooms in the same building are always nice, especially since NPCs tend to get sweaty while fighting PCs and often have lots of makeup to wash off. Keeping the makeup counter clean (and having methods to clean makeup applicators) and well stocked with makeup wipes is appreciated. Reminding NPCs to wipe off masks after use is great (plastic and rubber masks can really trap sweat and condensation.) It’s really tough to remember to wash costuming between (or even during!) events and find someone willing to take that job on (especially if costuming tends to get shoved into the back of storage units between events) but NPC costuming often gets sweaty and dirty and just… unpleasant. Bonus points for sites that have washing machines and LARP staffs that make use of them during the game.

General In-game Information. I find surprisingly few LARPs do this, but it really helps my NPCing experience to feel sufficiently well informed before an event. Having a concise summary of the setting (maybe in bullet point format?) that NPCs have access to before an event is really appreciated. I’ve had access to giant wikis that contained way too much information to absorb, especially in limited time (and also access to zero information in advance), but giving NPCs the basics of the setting and an overview of the relevant setting information and plotlines for that particular event would be really appreciated. NPCs often dislike going into situations where PCs may try to ask questions they don’t know the answer to. (I’ve walked into LARPs and realized half-way into my first NPC role I didn’t know the name of the local town or why the PCs were there.)

Specific In-Game Information. The earlier write-ups for specific NPC roles go out, the better (especially if you’re hoping the NPC will provide their own costuming.) And while brevity is great (especially if they don’t get out so early) I wouldn’t complain about excess details that are specific to the face roles (roles who engage in a lot of RP with PCs) which helps me keep conversations rolling. (And will cover a wider range of possibilities for PCs who get into unexpected topics.) A detailed write-up along with an abbreviated version that highlights the most important facts is ideal. I’ve also really appreciated when the staff hands me a bit of information about the characters who are likely to approach me and how to identify them. (Bonus points for actual photos.)

I find this kind of thing can even be useful for crunchy sorts of monsters who don’t talk to PCs. Knowing what kinds pf crunchies will be going out during the weekend is particularly useful to players who might not want to use face paint, but can supplement with a mask or other costuming, with advance warning. And during the event, having stuff available in writing (bonus points for multiple copies so multiple NPCs can reference the materials at once) so that if you miss what a staff is saying or want to review it before a module begins is great. For crunchies, one or two sentence descriptions of behavior and mechanical information, as well as module structure (how often do they respawn? When do they stop attacking? etc.) is useful. A general idea of how the staff is hoping/expecting a module to go is also a good idea. (Eg how pressed do you want the PCs to feel? How likely to succeed? How long would the module ideally last? Do you want a long sustained fight, or short bursts of action? Are the NPCs “death strike active”? etc.)

Out of Game/Mechanical Information. One of the great benefits of the Accelerant LARPs is that you know the basic rules no matter which game you’re playing, but some Accelerant LARPs have their own individual rules outside of the standard ones, and NPCs should have access to a summary of those changes. This can be glossed over thanks to “Clarify?” but it’s even better if it’s not necessary. This also goes for non-standard indications for things like PCs who are non-combat, or off-limits locations to re-spawn from. And of course, some of your NPCs may be brand new or relatively new, and an abbreviated copy of the rules, with emphasis on the most common calls, available to review prior to the LARP online and during the LARP in Monster Camp, is a good idea.

Roles available. This probably goes without saying, but having a wide variety of roles available and being permissive with what NPCs play, even if they’re not committing to future events, is likely to result in a happy NPC returning. Some NPCs only want roleplay/face roles, some only want to crunch, some need a solid mix, some want specific roles in combat (like only ranged, only healing, “lieutenants” — ie special bad guys more dangerous than the average mook, or even the Big Bad themselves.)

I want to give a shout-out to Madrigal here. At one event I NPCed, they had a box full of one-off roles to go out. They were all ghosts who needed something in order to pass on. Some were pure RP (“get three PCs to toast to their fallen loved ones with you”) and some were puzzle based (“find someone who can answer your three riddles”) and some were combat based  (“find a PC who can beat you in one-on-one honorable combat”), and they could go out at any time, whenever an NPC wanted to. Each ghost had its own little packet with a description and any possible props they might need. I think it was brilliant and would love to see more LARPs create NPC content inspired by this idea.

Additionally, support for Monster Camp tasks can be a plus for some NPCs, whether it’s general instructions on the wall (how to organize costuming and props bins that got messy, where to find batteries to replace the ones in lights, where to find cleaning supplies, etc.) or having a staff member designated as someone who can delegate these tasks. Sometimes NPCs don’t want to go out to interact with PCs, but they still want to feel useful and not like they’re just sitting around.

Some LARPs have a system for creating a “townie” role — a role an NPC gets to customize for themselves that they can use when they hang out with PCs during meals or downtime, or even have minor plotlines that directly involve the townie role, which is a really nice bonus.

Scheduling. A Monster Camp that has a schedule and sticks to it is huge — it’s really nice to know when I can take time off for a nap or a meal because I’m not scheduled for anything for an hour. (Or that it’s safe to go to bed because there’s nothing left that evening.) I also love being able to tell staff about my scheduled preferences and have it taken into account. Personally, I’m a night owl and I’m happy to stay up to the wee hours if I know there’s something specific going on, but I prefer to avoid being scheduled for anything in the early morning, and I’m more likely to NPC for a LARP that is willing to try and accommodate that. (Special shout out to Shadows of Amun for their scheduling skills here.)

Personal requests. This comes up a lot in NPC discussions; being personally asked to play a particular role is pretty flattering and lots of NPCs will specifically show up to a LARP if contacted about a specific role for them. NPCs who can’t commit to a whole weekend will also often make time to show up for a portion of the event to play a particular role. Which reminds me…

Make allowances for NPCs to attend for part of the weekend. This can be as simple as offering instructions for people parking mid-event and offering partial CP, and in my experience, you’re more likely to get more people who wouldn’t otherwise attend at all than people who might have stayed the whole weekend but stayed for less time because it was a supported option.

Encourage (positive) PC Feedback. Lots of staffs have figured out that encouraging their PCs to express appreciation for NPCs, and reference specific characters and specific moments. I’d like to add a note about trying to mention the NPCs who spend the whole weekend crunching if possible. Crunching can be hard, tiring work, and as it’s not a roleplay role, NPCs who only crunch often don’t get recognized by PCs. PCs — if you can remember a moment where an NPC made combat particularly fun, either by how they acted out their role, or how they used their skills, thank them in your PEL! (Post Event Letter — a common feedback form for Accelerant LARPs.)

Some LARPs have a Three on One rule/guideline., meaning PCs are discouraged from having more than three melee attackers attacking a given NPC at once. NPCs are often heavily outnumbered by PCs in combat, and lots of NPCs find getting repeatedly swarmed simply not fun. I much prefer combat as an NPC if I feel like I can actually pose a threat to PCs instead of just getting immediately taken down by hits from all directions at once. (Otherwise you spend most of combat just walking back and forth from the fight to the spawning points.)

I know it’s tough when the ratio is heavily skewed, and I know this can often lead to some PCs just not getting to fight. I dislike swarming an NPC almost as much as I dislike being swarmed as an NPC, and there have been many a battle where I simply stood there because there weren’t any NPCs not being engaged by three or more PCs already. (This can really drain immersion for me.) It’s not uncommon for LARPs to have a subset of PCs who are aggressive and will always take the front lines and actively engage with NPCs, preventing those who don’t want to swarm NPCs from getting to fight.

I don’t really have a great solution for this other than for a staff to try and be aware of it. Providing NPCs with mechanics (like Repels and Disengages, but really any mechanic that will temporarily disable some PCs) to delay the most aggressive PCs can really help the flow of combat. (In my opinion, every Accelerant LARP should have a blanket rule that NPCs can have as many Disengages as they want, not to use to gain advantage against PCs, but to reduce the swarming effect of too many PCs, and to get out of bottlenecks at doors and tight bunches in corners. Bottlenecks and getting cornered often make a low NPC to PC ratio that much worse, and the fight is that much less fun for both sides.)

Another shout out to Madrigal, which has a totally optional system for PCs to take temporary NPC shifts, to help adjust the NPC-PC ratio.

Similarly, be aware of your most aggressive PC fighters. Some LARPs develop reputations for having groups of PCs who consistently swing too hard, and this will turn some NPCs off, especially from melee combat roles. It’s something to keep an eye out for even if you aren’t receiving official complaints — some NPCs are too worried about being labeled as fragile and overly sensitive to register complaints. Sending out (and taking to heart) NPC PELs can help with these kinds of issues (and a number of the ones listed above.)

This is all stuff a LARP staff can address, but PCs can help in a number of ways. (And I know as a PC, I love to see a large NPC base for the staff to draw from!) Besides putting effort to thank NPCs in your PELs (be specific about people and things they did they like, and again, don’t forget the crunchies!), I think the main thing PCs can do is to be kind and patient with NPCs, including but not limited to newbies. I’ve seen a few out-of-game arguments over rules or aggressive combat escalate on the battle field, and it leads to bad feelings all around. Some LARPs publicize strategies for handling on the field disagreements (such as just rolling with the mistake, unless it would result in something like a character death) but if you really feel something must be said in the moment, using a friendly tone is a huge improvement over trying to correct someone with an angry or accusatory tone.) And of course, don’t forget that you can be a recruiter for NPCs, not just the staff members. (maybe even suggest to a staff you’d like to see someone play a particular role from your background?)

So how about you? What encourages you to NPC for a LARP, and what gets you to come back for more?

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