This past weekend Brandeis University ran its annual Festival of the LARPs. (Little trivia for you: that name is a reference to Brandeis’ annual Festival of the Arts.) This year’s Festival was its largest to date, and overall, a fantastic weekend.
I played in five LARPs: Devil to Pay, Dying of the Light, High Tea, YGOTAL, and The All Crotchety Old Folks With Shotguns Game.
Devil to Pay was an amazing, very complex, mechanics heavy pirate themed LARP. The writers and GMs successfully created a very dark, desperate atmosphere. In most theater LARPs, if your character does nothing for the duration of the LARP, you will probably still be relatively fine, or no worse off, at the end. This was not the case for the pirates of Devil to Pay. Characters started out with Infamy scores, which, if not offset by their Asset scores by the end of the LARP, destined the character for the noose. Receiving the “Black Spot,” or the Ace of Spaces, was another potential source of doom. Many characters died. My own character survived, but suffered a number of terrible losses during the course. I ended up throwing most of my efforts behind seeking terrible revenge. And when I got it, people asked if I was happy. No, I told them, not happy, but satisfied.
The combat mechanic was rather interesting. The only acceptable form of violence among the Brethren of the Coast was dueling with pistols. Players were given cap guns, with some caps punched out depending on their character’s skill. (2 of 8 punched out for the most skilled, 4 of 8 for average shots, and 6 of 8 punched out for those who were entirely untrained with pistols.) When players pulled the trigger, if a cap went off, their opponent was hit, and if not, they missed. Several duels were deadly for both characters involved. I liked the combat’s quick, clean, real-time aspects.
There were also fairly involved systems for going on adventures around the Caribbean on boats and conquering various islands, which involved collecting various needed supplies (ships, crews, provisions, gunpoweder, etc.) and seeking out characters with the right skills. I personally never went on any, though a few adventures sounded quite interesting and despite pulling groups characters out of the game, typically never did it for more than a couple minutes.
Of course, I’ve got to mention the props and set dressing, since I had a hand in some of it. I was worried the game space wouldn’t look quite as nice as it did at Intercon M, where Devil to Pay had a nice hotel function space to run in. At Brandeis, we had a wide hallway with a stairwell in the middle. But it ended up looking fairly nice, with the scene setters along the back wall, the flags scattered about, a big map on the wall, and a bench set up with the rum (iced tea) barrel, various fruits and that new treat from the New World, chocolate. We also had background noises to set the scene- waves crashing and gulls crying, which I thought was a very nice touch.
A memorable moment for me- the worst loss my character suffered involved witnessing something rather dark and painful and gruesome. I had a very out-of-character moment in my head, trying to decide how to roleplay my reaction. I thought my character might swoon, but I was rather worried about people thinking I was trying to steal the attention away from another character, who was having his evil madman moment. This internal debate went on for about half a minute before I decided, screw it, regardless of what people might think, my character would likely faint. So I did. I think that was the first time I ever chose to do it in a LARP (and not made to do it by some mechanic.) I think I need to work on following my gut instinct when it comes to in-character reactions.
Saturday morning, I played in Dying of the Light, which was the winner of Intercon M’s Iron GM Contest. It’s rather difficult to review without spoiling, but I will say that while it’s a fairly straightforward, basic LARP in structure, it’s also extremely unpredictable, which makes it rather exciting. I admit that I struggled with my character a bit- not because it was a bad character, but because the character was meant to be very clever and I wasn’t able to think of much clever to do. Still, I rather enjoyed my casting.
I played in High Tea on Saturday afternoon. This is another LARP that’s very difficult to review without spoiling. The basic premise is a Downton Abbey–like tea party for England’s high society… and then things start getting very weird. The LARP has two rather distinct groups of characters, each of which experiences the LARP very differently. From my point of view, it almost felt like I was in a group of PCs, with the other group very NPC-like, there to create a scenario for my group to play through. Even though they had plenty of their own plots going on. I had a fantastic time, though I’m very curious to know what the other group thought of their experiences.
I will say that this LARP had one of the most interesting overarching plots (which had some really unusual and interesting mechanics and effects) I’ve ever seen.
Also, I was rather pleased to have a cryptoquote (a particular form of substitution cypher) to solve in game. I’ve had a lot of practice with them, since I love to do the one in the Boston Globe whenever I get my hands on it.
Saturday evening, I played in YGOTAL (aka Yu-gi-oh, The Abridged Series LARP). This was… by far… the most cracked-out LARP I’ve ever played, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with the Abridged Series on youtube. (Short, trope-lampshading parodies of an anime with a rather ridiculous premise and cheesy characters.) It was non-stop outrageous, nonsensical shenanigans from beginning to end. Every character had some wild schtick. My character, Serenity Wheeler, was blind, though she could see people’s auras. I worried at times that I was crossing over into offensive humor, as this LARP was not exactly written to be tasteful. One character, Duke Devlin, is apparently infamous for his theme music, and the LARPer cast as him, brave soul, spent the entire LARP with a small pair of speakers clipped to his belt, playing the theme endless on loop. People frequently felt compelled to dance as he walked by.
Also, this LARP had an utterly fantastic intro, aided by a computer recording, that was right up there with G.I. Joe: Metamorphosis‘ fantastic use of video. I thought it was rather funny and clever.
On Sunday afternoon, I played in the amusing The All Crotchety Old Folks with Shotguns Game. It was as it said on the tin- a small cast of stereotypes of the elderly (along with one of the cats of the Cat Lady), all shouting at one another and shooting at one another with shotguns. Each character had a pre-written obituary in case of death, and we got to read them all (along with one another’s character backgrounds and impressions of one another) at the end. They were pretty funny. I think my favorite character sheet belonged to Snookums the cat. That thing was demon-spawn. My character had an ability involving cursing in Russian, so I had some fun looking up Russian obscenities to use with impunity during the LARP.
The Dead Dog (or “spill” or “dinner mob,” depending on your local community’s lexicon) was fantastic. We had an entire Indian restaurant reserved for Festival LARPers. I spent a fair amount of chatting with a small contingent from RPI, which I was very happy to see at Festival. It’s always nice to see more overlap between the various sub-communities.
One other note on the weekend- my host had a very sweet pet rabbit named Dr. Watson. There was a small flock of turkeys (or, apparently, a “rafter” of turkeys) on campus. A very large, grumpy tom was strutting about the quad where the Festival was hosted, gobbling at any student foolish enough to get too close. And as the university was welcoming newly accepted students that weekend, there was also a small petting zoo on Chapel Field. With sheep, goats, two very sweet bunnies, and another grumpy turkey (not for petting, just for glaring at everyone.) As I’m a huge sucker for animals, it was all a very nice addition to my LARPing weekend.