I had a busy LARPing weekend. Clockwork Skies, the “steam and sorcery” boffer campaign, had its first weekend event, and on Sunday afternoon/evening, I played a Lovecraftian HRSFA (Harvard sci-fi club) theater LARP called Ex Ignorantia.
I really wanted to NPC for Clockwork Skies, whose staff contains many good friends of mine, and I really wanted to play another HRSFA LARP with the Harvard crowd.
I just really didn’t want them to be on the same weekend.
But they were, and LARP-fanatic that I am, I went to both and came out of the weekend extremely tired but very happy.
A few days before the opening event of Clockwork Skies, the internet was predicting that much of the weekend had over a 70% chance of rain. By Friday morning, the prediction was around 100% rain the entire weekend. It was either lightly raining or heavily raining from the time the LARP began to when it ended. Except for when it was sleeting. And I hear it even briefly snowed a bit overnight (though it didn’t stick.) One would think that scheduling a LARP in late May would preclude sleet and snow during your event, even if it is in the mountains of New Hampshire.
Normally, I like a bit of rain during LARPs. I find it can be extremely atmospheric. I still think back fondly to a dark evening at Lost Eidolons where my character had a paranoid panic attack (lost sanity) in weather I like to call “Hollywood rain” because it’s the sort of rain that movies use for drama. Cottington Woods‘ first event also had some rain late at night that I rather appreciated during the darker moments.
However, at Clockwork Skies, it was very cold and I had come foolishly unprepared for it, and the rain was relentless. I brought extra pairs of socks and my feet were never dry for more than a minute or two. Playing an NPC means dying often, which at first meant lying down in the grass, but that quickly proved too cold and wet for me. Even kneeling meant my pants were constantly soaked. At one point, the staff decided to move all combat indoors, which meant the big whole-town fight was a little overcrowded. It was hard to move away from the fire in the tavern. And I was too cold to do anything without my coat on, which meant that all of the NPCs I played looked similar.
But enough whining about the weather. Despite the cold and the rain, I had an amazing weekend, and I think the other NPCs and PCs generally had a blast.
A bit about the LARP itself- the staff calls it “steam and sorcery”- a blend of steampunk and fantasy. In terms of genre and flavor, it’s one of the more varied LARP settings I’ve seen. The premise involves giant floating land masses that only recent found out about one anothers’ existence. They float over a planet with poisonous mists, and only recently has science found a way to purify sections of the air, which allows the Nepalu Expedition (i.e. the cast of PCs) to explore a newly discovered floating land mass. Each of the previously populated floating land mass has its own flavor; for example, there’s Jhumar with its Indian academia arcana-punk flavor, the Nordic fantasy land Sindrisil, the smoggy steampunk London-like Meridian, Saliana with its combination of French and Western culture, the Renaissance-ish theocracy Vox, etc.
What’s great about this from a staff point of view is that any role I might be in the mood to play, any sort of plot I might want to write, this setting is varied enough such that it can probable be worked in.
Friday opened with a party to welcome the members of the expedition, and the staff went out as various NPCs to greet them. I went out as a librarian from Jhumar. I was really impressed with the creativity of the players’ characters and costumes and props.
Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time playing “crunchy” NPCs- aka monsters who are mostly there for the PCs to enjoy fighting with. I tried to use a sword and shield as often as possible in order to practice for Cottington Woods. I played mutants who came up from below the surface, ghosts who were trapped and forced to attack anyone who came near, living marionettes being spit out from a machine built by members of the previous expedition (which mysteriously disappeared), and angry raptors. I think my favorite monsters to fight as were the living marionettes, because I got to move around jerkily, as though being pulled on strings, and I tried to maintain a rictus grin the entire time, even after being killed. One PC commented “man, this one is creeping me out” which made my day.
I also spent a bit of time hanging around the tavern as one of two recurring characters- the librarian, and a corporate bureaucrat named Johanna who was primarily meant to “hook” the Saturday night fight (in other words, inform the PCs about a big problem, explain what was needed, and bring them to the building to fight monsters.)
One highlight of the weekend was a very late night module where PCs were entering the dream of a recently deceased woman. At first I played monsters made of dreams who attacked the PCs, but once they solved a puzzle, they were able to banish the monsters and fully explore the dream. The dream was written to be bizarre and surreal- it involved an NPC hosting a picnic of bones and spitting out teeth. (Losing teeth is a common theme in dreams- I know I have nightmares where my teeth are cracking and falling out fairly frequently.) I played one of the dreamer’s silent butlers, which involved wearing a bloodstained bit of rag around my lower face and bearing a bloody napkin over one arm while I served platters of bones. I stood silently and stared down the PCs while they were puzzling over the strange picnic, and I think us butlers really creeped people out.
I’ve found creeping PCs out to be strangely extremely satisfying.
Another highlight was another late night module in which I played a Vrykol. Vrykol are vampire-like creatures, people who have undergone an uncontrollable transformation that makes them inclined to attack people and drink their blood. The church finds them and binds them to either a paladin or cleric to keep them under control. The staff played a bunch of Vrykol who were, in one way or another, free from bindings to any church official, and wanted to stay that way. The PCs were told various townspeople nearby had gone missing and that our nest of unbound Vrykol was likely to blame.
The set-up was very conducive to interesting RPing with the PCs, and we probably talked to them for over an hour, with them trying to convince us to either surrender or at least promise not to eat any more humans, and us insisting we wanted our freedom. I had a particularly great conversation with two or three PCs about my character, who hadn’t originally realized that she was breaking the law. One, a paladin, even offered to bind with me right then and there just to avoid bloodshed. It did eventually break down into combat, at which point our leader deathstruck us followers rather than let us be tried and executed by the church (or forced into a binding.)
One particular moment set off a very interesting series of discussion regarding PC agency and dealing with death and justice in the LARP. A PC died during a combat that I asked PCs, as Johanna, to fight. After he was resurrected, he blamed my underling (another NPC) and killed him in retaliation. On Sunday morning, I went out as Johanna again to see what had become of the PC (other PCs had offered to “deal with him” and some NPCs were planning on putting him on trial.) I’m curious to see how this will all be worked out.
NPCing offers an entirely different perspective on boffer LARPing. It’s kind of fascinating to see things from “behind the scenes.” I found a few unexpected perks to NPCing that I hadn’t realized from previous, less substantial NPC experiences.
For one thing, if you’re bad with names, it’s great. I was perfectly justified in asking the PCs their names multiple times, each time as a different NPC. I also liked hearing how PCs interpret things and seeing how it differs from staff intentions. For example, many PCs were describing the mutants they fought as “giant bees”. And we expected them to decide the Vrykol were murderers and deserved to die a lot quicker. It makes me wonder if and how I’ve reacted to things as a PC that differed from staff expectations.
I also met a few members of the Violence Committee- a group of LARPers who go around serving as NPCs for various live combat LARPs. They were a lot of fun to hang out with in Monster Camp. A few were as big fans of A Song of Ice and Fire as I am, and I spent some time between modules happily discussing crazy theories.
I have a few goals for the next event. First, I want to wear more distinctive costuming for my roles. Even if it’s cold and I have to wear a winter coat the whole time, I plan to try and find a way to make my characters more visually distinctive, perhaps with bright scarves or sashes or some kind of headgear.
Second, I plan to flesh out my ideas for a plot involving magic through henna-like body art. I was trying to think of ways to entertain PCs beyond the typical ways we already do it. Providing combat and puzzles are the two most common, I think. But I think creating art in character would appeal to some players.
Third, I want to have read all of the character histories. It will be a lot of reading- I think there are over 70 registered characters and some people wrote very long backgrounds, but I have until September, and I want my NPCs to be able to engage with them on a more personal level.
PELs (post-event letters, feedback for boffer LARPs) are coming in already, and I’m really enjoying reading them. Not only do a lot of players sound very happy with the LARP so far, but they also give very useful constructive criticism. Boffer LARP is unlike theater LARP in this way I find.