Friday night at NELCO, I slept rather poorly. Getting to bed rather late was my own fault. I was enjoying just hanging out in our little con suite (the Radisson’s Executive Board Room) after the last panels had ended too much to get to bed at a more reasonable hour. But the bigger problem was the hotel’s thin walls. I heard the hotel staff and several guests shouting, laughing, and moving around in the hall outside my door well before I was ready to get up. This explains why we need room blocks for Intercon- mixing our rooms with the other guests leads to noise complaints. I never realized how bad it could be.
Quick Costuming was my first panel of Saturday, and my first one of NELCO 2013 as a panelist. I actually was under the impression that the other panelist, lisefrac, was in charge of this panel (she’s a much more advanced costumer than I am) but she had been under the impression I was (and besides, she was already running a panel on costuming for the cavalier era, in part thanks to the upcoming run of King’s Musketeers, and a workshop on hand sewing techniques.)
I’ve run a panel called Costuming for Beginners twice at PreCon (the small conference that runs Thursday night and Friday morning before Intercon, very similar to NELCO). Both times the audience was quite small, maybe a handful of people, and it mostly consisted of costumers sharing tips with one another. Fun, but there was some indication that neither PreCon nor NELCO really has much of an audience for this sort of panel on very low level costuming. I don’t honestly recall bidding Quick Costuming for NELCO, though apparently some people thought the idea came from me? The brainstorming process for panel ideas was chaotic and took place a while ago… so who knows. At any rate, I always love talking about costuming, so I ended up running the panel. I mostly used notes from the Costuming for Beginners panels as a starting point. And it turned out to be about the size I expected — two panelists, three audience members.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since those two previous costuming panels was how to make a chiton (or peplos), and how incredibly useful that very simple bit of knowledge is. I like the way they look- loose and flowy, and they can look very flattering on one’s shoulders. They’re so simple and quick to make, especially if you choose a fabric that doesn’t require hemming. Plus, they fit in with a lot of fantasy settings, Greco-Roman settings, and any sci-fi that works with the Crystal Spires and Togas trope. I think I’ve worn chitons at least three times since learning to make them, and made one for the base of an Egyptian costume that has been used for three different LARPs. I brought in my shiny, disco ball chiton that I wore for Across the Sea of Stars as an example.
I also brought in a few of the rhinestones I’d stuck to velcro dots to show how to make really quick hair accessories, but discovered that they only work in certain hair types. If your hair is too thick and curly, the velcro becomes harder to get out. Good to know.
Lisefrac, my co-panelist, showed me and the audience how a Roaring 20s costume could be thrown together from thrift store finds. She also recommended a useful book, Instant Period Costumes, by Barb Rogers. We talked about borrowing and lending costumes and the staples of a theater LARPer’s costuming closet. A lab coat is a common suggestion- scientist and doctor characters are pretty common in theater LARPs. I maintain that a white poet shirt with poofy sleeves can cover male characters (and many female characters) from historical or fantasy LARPs set in or inspired by 1000 AD to 1900 AD, and even a bit beyond. (Assuming you’re not caught up on historical accuracy, which few theater LARPs are.) And as I include costuming descriptions in my Master List of LARPs, I was able to look the list over before NELCO and determine that my cropped black military jacket has been a staple of my own costuming wardrobe. I’ve worn it for many LARPs, in a wide variety of genres.
After Quick Costuming, I went to hear Designing Interesting Boffer Modules, which I was quite excited about. I think I may have even been the one to suggest this topic, I’m not sure. One of the panelists was missing, but luckily Dave of Xeph Ink was able to keep the panel going on his own.
I admit the panel was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be about designing individual modules, with an emphasis on how to structure combat to keep it fresh and compelling. In other words, how can we set up physical challenges for boffer LARPers besides the typical defend-the-ritual or fight-until-we’ve-gathered-the-items structures? I’ve fought in many boffer battles where the PCs clumped up and the NPCs fought in more or less a line until some straightforward objective was achieved or the monsters stopped respawning, But the fights that seemed the most exciting and memorable were often the ones where we were forced to face combat in a new or unexpected way- such as fighting one-on-one duels for some reason, or splitting up into smaller groups because the battle ground was too big to cover more than small fractions of it at a time. (This is why our final battle at Lost Eidolons, dubbed The Battle for Tomorrow, was so exciting!)
The panel actually covered designing and running boffer weekends from a more general standpoint. We talked about preparing for the unexpected, like rain or black outs. A really good tip that I picked up from this panel is that a lot of the campsites we use have old, two prong outlets, and a lot of our modern gear (lights and fog machines and such) require three prong outlets, so converters are a good thing to have. We also talked about the standard pacing rules for a weekend — things like how field fights are frequently scheduled, and how players dislike being taken off guard when thrown into major fights when they were expecting something minor, but that it’s still important to do it every now and then to keep them on their toes and not make your LARPing weekends too predictable. Dave presented the idea that players are paying for obfuscation–a LARP shouldn’t be transparent.
Next up was the Designing Non-Physical Mechanics panel, which defined non-physical mechanics as non-boffer (or non-live action) mechanics. Like many other panels, it opened with trying to define and decide what qualifies as a mechanic. We talked about what purposes mechanics serve, besides allowing characters to do things the players can’t (such as cast magic spells) they also prevent characters from doing things the player can. That was a side of mechanics I had never considered. To explain via example, if a LARP has two rooms, and one room represents the secret passages under Paris, a player can simply walk next door with ease. But a mechanic might say that a character can only enter the passages if they have the right knowledge of their secret entrances. Mechanics also serve to highlight what actions are important for players to be taking and characters to be thinking about in a LARP.
The panelists explained their opinions on how many mechanics a LARP needs — that generally, less is more, and it’s often better to simplify mechanics if you can. We also talked a fair bit about disincentive actions through mechanics- for example, if you want your players to avoid combat, making it high cost (perhaps even if you win you get a wound, or it wastes a resource you could be using on other things) can do that.
The next panel was Giving Players What They Want. Two panelists sat at the front, and after waiting on the third panelist, they suggested I take her place until she showed up. Initially, I hesitated — I wasn’t actually sure what the panel was about — that title could mean a lot of things, and I certainly hadn’t prepared for any of them. But as it turned out, nobody knew what the panel was specifically meant to be about, including the other panelists. So I thought, what the hell, and sat at the front table. When the other panelist finally arrived, there was already a conversation going, and it didn’t seem to really matter where I sat, so I stayed at the front and once or twice offered my own opinions.
If I had to guess, I suspect someone suggested this topic without really going into detail about what it would cover, and enough people voted for it on the survey that it wound up on the schedule. I don’t think whoever initially suggested it was any of the panelists… so no one really knew what the intent was for this panel. But it didn’t really seem to matter. It prompted good conversation about LARP for an hour, and that’s a big part of what I want out of NELCO. The focus wandered a bit over the hour, so I don’t recall much in the way of specifics. But I do recall suggesting that running LARPs at Intercon afforded GMs an unusual opportunity, in that there was an enormous pool of theater LARPers (over 400 last year) and you don’t have to write LARPs that will appeal to everyone, because even if your LARP appeals to a narrow range of LARPers, you can still probably find enough of them to fill at Intercon. But if you run it outside of Intercon, and your cast is filled with whomever happened to be available and willing at some particular time and place, it’s harder to run a LARP successfully unless it caters to the most popular tastes and sticks fairly closely to the conventions of a standard LARP.
…Hence the genre of “pop-LARPs“. They exist because this format is unlikely to put the average theater style LARPer off. They may not break boundaries or redefine the hobby or create life-altering experiences (for the most part)… but they’re not likely to crash and burn, either.
My last panel before dinner was Blogging LARP… but I think I will save that for its own post.