This weekend, I went to Brandeis University to play in Across the Sea of Stars. It’s a sci-fi storytelling LARP written by Jeff Diewald that lasted about 10 hours (including dinner break, not including game wrap).
For those unfamiliar, storytelling LARPs are a genre of theater style LARPs that involves a LARP having multiple smaller LARPs within it. Typically, the characters of the large, framing LARP are telling tales to one another, and playing out the mini-LARPs represents the stories being told.
LARPs of this genre that I’ve played in include Tales of Pendragon, which had us all playing mundane medieval characters in the frame LARP. Those characters gathered around fires at night to tell grand tales of King Arthur and his knights. Another was The Last Seder, which involved friends gathering around a Passover seder and telling tales of how ecological disasters had come to befall the planet. Arguably, A Garden of Forking Paths was also a storytelling LARP, though 0ne might say that the focus of the LARP being on the tales, rather than on the frame LARP, might change the genre. (And typically, the mini-LARPs that represent the stories in a storytelling LARP are all individual tales, while the mini-scenes of A Garden of Forking Paths made up chapters of one whole story.) But there’s no one solid definition of a storytelling LARP, so who can say for certain?
The confusing, slightly ridiculous thing is that there’s another genre of LARPing that I’ve heard referred to as storytelling LARP. It involves some kind of setting that encourages people to sit around and tell stories, such as in a bar or around a campfire, and has characters… sit around and do just that. The players sit and talk throughout the whole LARP, rather than act out their tales. I believe I’ve played in just one- it was called At World’s End and focused around characters from different worlds all getting trapped by a reality storm in the tavern at the end of the world. (Based on a Neil Gaiman story.)
Maybe this is a sub-genre of the storytelling genre? Or something different, and people out there have a different term for such LARPs? I’m not sure, since I have so little experience to go by. I just know that when I see the term “storytelling” pop up in a LARP blurb, I make sure to clarify which it is (if the rest of the blurb doesn’t make it clear.)
That all said, I knew Across the Sea of Stars had a very similar structure to Tales of Pendragon, along with very similar mechanics. The run of Pendragon I played in is somewhat notorious among the New England theater LARPing community for being something of a disaster. However, I was one of the few people who had a truly wonderful time (largely thanks to my extremely lucky casting- really, that was one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played.) So I was excited when I heard a similar LARP, Across the Sea of Stars, was running.
When I walked into the room where Across the Sea of Stars was being run, I was rather impressed with the set dressing. There were four large theater style flats in each of four corners. Each one depicted some common setting from science-fiction; a generic spaceship, a temple-like Hall of Justice, a futuristic bar, and a barren desert planet. One GM went around with a camera, taking shots of costumed players in front of the flats, which I appreciated a great deal. I always love having nice photos as mementos from LARPs. The GMs themselves were wearing matching maroon robes (the graduation gown sort) which granted them just the right sort of look for their in-character personae of our mysterious hosts. And the best prop loomed over us on a stage- an enormous ringwraith like figure, draped in black fabric with eyes that glowed red from beneath a dark hood. I’d say it was at least 8 feet tall.
I was also rather impressed with everyone’s costumes, but I think that’s going to get its own post because I want to write all about what I loved about the costuming hints and how I created my own very simple but extremely tacky and fun costume.
I spent most of my time as my main character trying to cultivate a false sense of security in my enemies, all the while trying to obtain the means to destroy them. (This was not the nicest of my characters!) I was also trying to make sense of a rather unusual situation regarding my romantic opposite.
The tales/mini-LARPs we told all seemed to be either ridiculous and zany, or else incredibly tragic. My first few all ended with the doom of an entire populated planet. They provided great opportunities for really dramatic roleplaying. Extremely entertaining. The funniest one involved a bunch of diplomats of different alien races that had their bodies switched and it resulted in some rather outrageous behavior.
Twice during the day, once as my primary character and once as a character in a tale, I ran off with another player to allow our characters to have a roll in the hay, as they say. Both times, I purposefully mis-buttoned my jacket and rumpled up my hair. The second time, I stuck the jewels from my hair into the other player’s hair. If I’d remembered bright lipstick (and had the other players consent) I might have left bright red lip marks on cheeks. These are just some fun, silly PG idea to indicate what amorous characters get up to off-stage.
Overall, I had a really fun time. Science-fiction isn’t my favorite genre and story-telling LARPs aren’t my favorite structure, but I’m really glad I still decided to play.