This past Sunday, I played the second installment of To Be Continued, a campaign theater LARP where all of the characters are from various pop media sources, attending a rather unusual school. It’s been about six months since the first event. I play Arya Stark of A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones, for those who watch the HBO series.) We were missing a few players (some were still at the Endgame finale) but we also got a few players who had hadn’t been at the first event.
To Be Continued, or TBC, is my first campaign theater LARP. I was particularly excited for this event, because the first event was fun, but didn’t feel particularly different in structure from the common one-shot theater LARPs I’ve played. I was interested to see how theater LARPs work as campaigns.
Fairly early on in the game, my character was hit with a possession plot, and I switched back and forth between playing Arya and the alien possessing her. There were a handful of other students also being possessed. I found the way the plot was written really interesting; first, the possessions all happened together and lasted half an hour, then they happened randomly at some point between 4 and 5 pm for half an hour, and then again at 6pm. Essentially, I was trying to outsmart myself using the rules of possession- the alien could access all of Arya’s memories, but I had to roleplay Arya as though I couldn’t remember what the alien had done while controlling her body. (One of my fellow students, Tyrion Lannister, seemed very confused when Arya seemed to be forgetting things he had said to her only a few minutes before.) If I wanted to work with my allies as the alien, I had to first figure out whether or not the other students were currently being possessed.
There were all sorts of other supernatural shenanigans going on- a lot of fighting demons, I think. Luna Lovegood of the Harry Potter books was possessed by a demon, and the LARPer who played her put in yellow costume lenses with black diamond pupils to great effect. They were cheap, so they weren’t weighted, which meant the diamond pupils spun. It wasn’t by design, but it was still very creepy and distracting. Perfect for a demon. Arya was also accused of theft and I spent some time trying to figure out what to do about that.
The other plot that kept me busy was a piece of personal plot where I was passing notes back and forth with an NPC… I won’t go into details for spoiler reasons, but at one point, the NPC left me a note that said to meet him somewhere by following a set of instructions. The instructions consisted of a starting point and a list of numbers, each one followed by an arrow.
I went to the starting point and started trying to decipher the instructions. At first, I wasn’t sure about the order of instructions. Did the number three followed by an arrow pointing left mean “take three steps then turn left”, or “take three steps to the left”? And how big of a step was I expected to take? Was I supposed to take the steps as big as a grown man might (I suspected the NPC was a grown man) or did he try to guess how big a step I would take with my shorter legs and plan accordingly? Or did the numbers refer to the tiles under my feet (much smaller than a step)?
I tried a slew of combinations and found myself going around in circles in the basement of the building for awhile. I felt quite frustrated. Finally, I decided to operate under the assumption that I was expected to follow a turning hallway, so even if the number of steps didn’t exactly work out, I fudged it a bit. With this strategy, the instructions seemed to more or less take me to a door leading outside. Following the instructions inside the hallway worked out well enough- if my strides weren’t perfectly even, I could still tell more or less where each set of steps was supposed to end, and the hallway had only 90 degree angles, so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally turning a bit too far (or not far enough.)
All bets were off outside, though, where I could neither measure 90 degrees perfectly, nor make guesses on how far each set of steps was meant to take me without the hallway to act as a guide. I found myself wandering a small patch of trees outside the building, at one point wondering if the directions were trying to get me back inside through another door. And meanwhile, I was keeping my eye out for something that looked like it had obviously been left by the LARP staff. I went over to look at a few items that turned out to be trash, and even opened a cardboard box that also turned out to be trash.
Then I heard someone whistling at me from up the slope. A GM/NPC was sitting under a tree, waiting for me. And as I knew the NPC in real life, I could tell the note was in his handwriting. So I drew my prop sword (Arya’s Needle) and walked over and stopped at what seemed like a safe distance.
Here I have a confession. Despite having LARPed for …what, 8 plus years? and thinking that I’ve evolved as a LARPer to the point where I can recognize out-of-game emotions and keep them out of my role-play, and just roll with whatever the GMs throw at me (it’s just a game!), I was frustrated as hell, angry, and above all, felt humiliated. I wasn’t mad at the GM who had given me the set of instructions, in truth, but mad at myself for having so much trouble with something that seemed so simple. And now this GM/NPC was watching me stumble around like an idiot and whistling at me. (To clarify, he was whistling a tune, not cat-calling, as if to say, “here I am. I’ve been sitting here watching you blunder around in the woods picking up garbage.” Which… actually, in character, he was.)
I took it out on the GM/NPC, I’m ashamed to say. Though I wasn’t playing the exact version of Arya Stark that exists in the books, I don’t think either Arya would have reacted in such a hostile manner to this sort of NPC. But instead of just giving the NPC what he wanted and banking on him keeping his word, I insisted he give me some sort of guarantee, which the NPC clearly hadn’t prepared for. I also told him that his set of instructions was idiotic because there was no way for me to know how big my steps were supposed to be. I stayed in character, but the character was a lot angrier than she might have been.
Arya was pretty nasty to the NPC.
I think the worst part of this was that the GM/NPC had ad-libbed this little bit of plot on his own, because he thought (correctly) that having a little puzzle to work out, followed by an actual meeting with the NPC was much more interesting for me to roleplay than leaving a few notes at a drop point and waiting until the next event for a response. And berating the NPC for giving me an “idiotic” set of instructions translated to telling the GM that his efforts had created something that I’d hated and thought was stupid. What I really wanted to do, as soon as I heard him whistling, was flip him off and walk away with as much dignity as I could muster. But I also really wanted to pursue this plot as Arya, not cut it off at the roots. So I stuck around to talk… and insulted him. I still completely botched the plot. Why this NPC would bother contacting Arya again… I have no idea.
After the meeting with the NPC, the player who plays Tony Lannister (Tony Stark/Iron Man, if he’d been born into the Lannister family) brought me out of game for a moment to point out a mother turkey wandering the campus with a bunch of baby turkeys. (Or, more officially, a hen with a rafter of poults?) He knows I’m a huge sucker for baby animals. I took a couple shots with my phone.
After seeing the turkey family, my frustrating and anger deflated and I started feeling very guilty, so I found the GM and apologized. We ended up going through the steps together, and found where my biggest source of confusion was- I thought one step was meant to get me to the door, when actually it was meant to get me next to the door, and the next two set of steps were supposed to get me to the door itself. But I took those two steps outside the door, which set me off in the wrong direction. He expected me to walk straight out of the door, but I went right and wound up among the trees. He said he had to follow me around to figure out where I was going and ended up whistling so I’d finally find him.
Though he did say the spot we ended up was better than the one he originally picked.
Despite my poor performance and subsequent in-character tantrum, the LARP was a ton of fun. I really liked the possession plot. There was also a neat excavation mechanic where we literally dug through a box of sand to look for artifacts. We got a few new students who hadn’t been at the first event, including Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I had a nice, if short, conversation with him commiserating about being stuck in houses we didn’t like (Zuko was put in Bobby Singer’s School for Juvenile Delinquents, Arya was in Milady de Winter’s School for Girls.) And the costuming was amazing. I also took a couple of shots of two of my favorite costumes:
Both had homemade armor! I’m extremely impressed, and now I know who to turn to for tips when I want to try incorporating armor into my own costumes.