I’ve been on the mailing list for the Assassin’s Guild (MIT LARPing group) for ages now. They have an unusual sign up system, in that they accept as many applications as they can, then cast the best fits for characters from among them. (This differs from the system I’m most familiar with, which is generally “first come, first serve” and everyone after that ends up on the waitlist. Then the GMs just try to fit the players to the cast of characters as best they can.)
I’ve only ever sent in an application for two LARPs. One was a LARP set in ancient Greece (or was it ancient Rome?) But I didn’t get in. And the second was The Rider on a Pale Horse, which I played this past Sunday.
MIT LARPs have a reputation for being very mechanics-heavy. I’m not sure how many MIT LARPs I’ve played, since one or two tend to run at events like Intercon and Brandeis’ Festival of the LARPs. It’s possible I’ve played a few without realizing where the authors/GMs were from. I know Sky No Longer Blue, which I played at the last Festival of the LARPs, was an MIT LARP. I certainly wouldn’t call it mechanics-light, but it didn’t seem to be extraordinarily mechanics-heavy, either.
(Those terms, “mechanics-light” and “mechanics-heavy” beg definitions… I’m actually not entirely sure if there is a common definition, or if people are using the terms to mean subtly different things. Certainly there’s no unit for quantifying mechanics in a theater LARP, though if there was, MIT would be the place to come up with it, no? The way I see, whether a game is mechanics heavy or not depends on how many rules/sets of rules there are in a LARP, how complex they are, and how much one is likely to interact with them during the LARP.)
The Rider on the Pale Horse ran at the previous Intercon, and I heard really great things about it from people who played there, so I was really excited when I got the email saying it was running again at MIT. I always think it’s kind of a shame that blurbs don’t typically mention what to expect in terms of mechanics in a LARP (the description suggests a lot of emotional roleplaying), but then again, without a way to measure mechanics or a standard point of reference, I guess it’s kind of impossible to give an objective description. (LARP doesn’t really do standards for anything, does it.)
MIT seems to do a few things differently from what I’m used to. For example, they had a rules briefing and a character packet distribution several days early. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, so the GMs emailed me my character history, blue sheets and the rules and told me to let them know if I had any questions.
And here I have a small confession to make.
I felt really bad about not making it to the rules briefing/packet distribution, and I was kind of worried that I would give MIT LARPers the impression that I was a problematic player who was a pain in the butt to have in LARPs and couldn’t be bothered to make the effort because I wasn’t used to things being done their way.
And I found the rules kind of baffling. For example, I didn’t understand how to initiate scenes, which are a major part of the mechanics. In other LARPs with mini-scenes, there’s usually some kind of indication, such as one player who has a schedule to follow (as in The Last Seder, where the character hosting the seder- ceremonial Passover dinner- lets everyone know when to head into the next room to play out a scene whenever they come to one in the LARP’s version of the hagaddah- booklet that serves as a guide for the seder.) In Tales of Pendragon, the weekend long Arthurian LARP, players initiated tales by approaching a GM with a set of packets containing what were essentially mini-LARPs to play out and asking for one.
For The Rider on the Pale Horse, I didn’t understand the charts which indicated which characters were in each mini-scene, or the chart that indicated which scenes were available to play. I also didn’t really understand the other major mechanics, flirting and consorts, which seemed like a complex system of flirts, counter-flirts (that term really threw me!) and which types of flirting one could use when.
But I really hated to return to the GMs over email with, “um… I didn’t really get any of this.” I thought it would make them think I should have put in more effort to get to the rules briefing. So I thought I’d try to observe other people using them first and then wing it.
Sunday morning, I took public transportation to get to the LARP. I got a lot of stares on the T, since I was carrying my prop bow and quiver set, first made for Where the Wild Things Will Be. (My character was described at one point as a “virgin huntress.”) While waiting for the LARP to get set up, players took the masks in their packets, white plastic ones that come in packs, and brought out some art supplies. Hot glue, feathers, etc., to personalize them according to which Aspect of Arthur their characters represented at the start of the LARP. (The masks would get traded around during the LARP as we switched roles.) I don’t know if they mentioned this at the rules briefing or if it was in an email (some emails were going to my junk mail. I tried to fix that, but maybe I missed something?) but I hadn’t expected it. Luckily, I had some leaves left over from my costume, so I hot glued a bunch to my mask. It didn’t really represent Arthur the Protector, but it did match the leaves in my hair.
At any rate, I think this inclusion of a little arts and crafts to personalize some of the props was a brilliant idea, and I’d love to see it in other LARPs.
When the LARP started, I floundered a bit and tried to figure out the mechanics. One of the other players helped me quite a bit, so I did pick them up as the game went on. Though I think it’s worth noting that even without getting the mechanics, I still had a great time just conversing with the other players and discussing the various issues facing the fae. The characters seem pretty rich and diverse, and some of them helped me look at my goals from an entirely different point of view.
I didn’t succeed in much- by the time I trying to figure out strategies with the mechanics, various issues had skewed in certain directions, though I did sort of achieve my romance goal thanks to the whim of my love interest. But I had a complete blast trying.
I think there’s this sort of notion of a false dichotomy in LARPing- people see mechanics and technical goals with “win” and “lose” conditions as being opposed to a focus on powerful storytelling and emotional roleplaying, but this LARP had a very hefty dose of both. I read someone else’s character sheet after the LARP was over, and it was one of the best, most flavorful, emotional character sheets I’d ever read. The kind of thing that reminds you that writing a LARP is a craft, just like any other form of writing.
If it runs again, and you don’t mind adult themes and complex mechanics (I know some LARPers will happily ignore mechanic systems if they can; in Rider, they’re kind of unavoidable,) I’d highly recommend signing up.
A few ending notes:
-Costumes were amazing all around. The queen of the fae had cool make-up, evocative of Elizabeth I. The fire-theme fae wore red and yellow contacts to amazing effect (one of these days I will find an excuse to buy and wear striking colored contacts to a LARP), and the “starry-eyed” debutante fae wore false lashes with mini rhinestones in theme, which I thought was a cute representation of her naivete. The knocker fae had these really cool laser-cut wooden accessories that he made himself. (Including dragonfly-like wings stuck into his hat and a piece with cogs and gears that really turned. You can check out the shop where he works here.)
-MIT LARPers refer to Dead Dogs (aka the dinner after a LARPing event where everyone discusses the event and rehashes the best part) as a “Dinner Mob.” Their term is somewhat more logical. Kinda reinforces the notion that MIT is somewhat more isolated as a LARPing community than other universities in New England.