This past weekend, I played in Be Not Afraid, a LARP about angels cast from heaven.
Be Not Afraid was running twice (once on Thursday evening, once on Friday evening) at Vericon, Harvard University’s geek convention. The Friday evening run lost a player, so I stepped in to play Michael on Friday evening.
I’ve been to one Vericon in the past. Can’t recall the year, but George R R Martin was the Guest of Honor. And that was awesome. This time around, I originally planned to only show up for the LARP, but I was convinced to stick around for the rest of the convention, and I’m really glad I did. I heard Tamora Pierce speak (haven’t read any of her books, but now I plan to.) I learned some traditional medieval dances, played some Super Smash Bro.s (my favorite video game, haven’t picked it up in ages), and attended a reading by Greer Gilman. I also had a blast dancing at the Masquerade, while desperately wishing I’d thought to bring a lightweight costume. Once again, the stereotype of geeks being unable to dance was utterly smashed. And I saw Mary Poppins getting down to “Can’t Touch This.”
I also tried out Osiris Sanction, a new project by Ford Ivey, one of the original founders of NERO (one of the largest American boffer LARP organizations.) I remember seeing it mentioned in the latest WyrdCon book and was really excited that I’d have a chance to try it out at Vericon. When I stopped by the Osiris Sanction set-up, the friend who came with me nudged me and whispered that Ford Ivey was a huge figure in American LARP history. They kicked off our run with a nice bit of roleplay- an NPC-like figure in fatigues lined us up and shouted at us for a bit… then my team got our butts kicked in round of laser-tag that ran through some classrooms.
One of the best part of Vericon, for me, was the Classy Fucking Soiree, which was held after everything else closed down for the night in one of Harvard’s common areas. I’d met a few of the LARPers at IMA (Intercon Mid-Atlantic) the run of The Dance and the Dawn that I played in Manhattan, and Rider on a Pale Horse, a LARP I played at MIT, but outside of that, I didn’t really know anyone, and it seems HRSFA (Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association) is a fairly tight-knit group. Despite that, I found that everyone was very friendly and welcoming to the outsider and really got to know a bunch of them through a game of Truth or Drink that ran past 5am. I get the impression a lot of people were very tired, but it was such an interesting experience, and everyone was being very open and honest, so no one wanted to call it a night.
Getting back to Be Not Afraid, I’m really, really glad that I was able to fill in the vacated slot and play Michael. It was an amazing LARP, I think one of my favorites ever. I thought my character was extremely well written, and was the under the impression the other characters were, as well. Michael was complex and conflicted, with a view of the world that seemed simplistic on the surface but was actually fairly deep, and his relationships with the other characters and strong opinions of them made excellent fodder for great roleplaying. I think since I didn’t know most of the other LARPers very well outside of the LARP, I held back a bit on expressing Michael’s emotions, which I somewhat regret, but there was still a lot of great, intense interpersonal roleplaying going on.
I say “he” though Michael wasn’t actually male. The angels were all written such that they had no inherent gender, though they’d been exiled from heaven and were taking on human characteristics, which was left open to the players’ interpretations. I personally felt as though Michael was androgynous, maybe even leaning towards male, though he didn’t really yet fully understand gender or how it applied to him, and thus would respond to he, she, or any other pronoun.
At the start of the LARP, we were invited to give a brief description on how we wanted our character to be interpreted, gender-wise, and some players took the opportunity to describe how their character’s appearance differed from their own. Personally, I don’t think my costume was fully successful- I intended it to be androgynous, though looking over pictures, I think it actually had femininity to it, though I wore a sturdy sports bra to give myself a less female shape. I never noticed anyone refer to Michael by any pronouns, so I’m not sure how others interpreted me. I could have said “I appear androgynous” but I didn’t want to create that disconnect between what the other players were seeing and what their characters were seeing. I also wish I’d incorporated more armor into the costume to reflect Michael’s militaristic aspect- I don’t think the jacket was enough. I actually had a gorget I borrowed from a friend, but in the end, it was proving bulky and looked awkward with the jacket, so I left it off.
The LARP had some game aspects in the political issues and mechanics for our projects (all characters had projects they wanted to accomplish) but the mechanics and the various issues we voted on all had rich flavor texts that made them much more than just mechanics.
Overall, I liked the setting and concept a lot- it was very different from any LARP set among humans and encouraged a lot of great conversations about the nature of our being.
Before the LARP, there was a lot of chatter over email, including some in-game descriptions of what our various characters were doing and what their living quarters might look like. I hesitated to participate; I enjoyed reading what others were writing, but I wasn’t sure just how human Michael was, and some of the in-game chatter made the whole setting seem more human to me. I did send one in-character response to someone who sent me an in-character letter, which was kind of cool and new for me. There were also some emails discussing personal space and boundaries, which was interesting. It’s a topic that I’ve seen come up many times, but I don’t think any individual LARP Ive played has had players discussing it over email before. One player, whose character had personal ties to mine, invited me to meet over coffee or tea before the LARP, which was quite unexpected for me, but very nice.
I’m really hoping to play more LARPs with this crowd. And maybe convince some of them to come play some LARPs with the Intercon(/Brandeis/WPI/RPI) crowd. Pity this year’s Festival is already full to the brim.