Last Saturday, I helped run Devil to Pay, the dark historical pirate themed theater LARP written by Lovers and Madmen, for the HRSFA crowd. I think it went fairly well.
To clarify, when I say “historical” I mean all of the characters are inspired by real pirates from history, as are many of the events and plots. None are made up whole-sale or borrowed from fictional settings. Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Calico Jack Rackham (doesn’t that name just roll right off your tongue?) and Anne Bonny are walking about; Long John Silver, Captain Hook, and Jack Sparrow are not. Some characters have backgrounds that combine several historical pirates together, and they’ve all been altered to make sure their stories overlap and occur at the same time.
Originally, I was expecting to run two parts of the LARP – the pistol dueling mechanic (the only form of interpersonal combat in game) and play a mysterious sort of NPC. Someone else showed to help run the combat system, so I focused on my NPC role.
Officially, this mysterious NPC role is referred to as simply the “sharply dressed man” and can only be found if you know where to look for him. As per my usual policy, I will avoid spoilers here. I wore the pirate costume I originally made for PCing this LARP, and it received a number of compliments, which made me happy to hear, though I do think the outfit was a bit too feminine looking for my male NPC role. Oh, well.
For the first hour or so of the LARP, only one or two PCs came to see my NPC, so I thought I would be spending most of the LARP just watching PCs (which is fun, don’t get me wrong), but after the first hour, a lot more PCs came to see me. They kept me pretty busy until almost the end of the LARP.
I used a small coat room on the side (filled with the extra chairs and tables) as the space where players could meet the sharply dressed man, and tried to dress it up a bit. I found a couple of boards used for a bean bag toss game stored in the coat room. When flipped around, I thought they looked a little like pieces of a ship with port holes, so I propped them up behind my chair. I brought in some cups to serve iced tea. The cardboard pirate chest was a gift from the head GM as a thank you for helping. It was filled with chocolate with gold wrappers, which I offered to players as they came to see me. I imagine the sharply dressed man probably would pride himself on being a proper host. I also put a couple of small props on the table (loose leaves, a gold colored scroll and a small velvet black bag filled with gold buttons and coins) to create a bit more flavor.
I found the role a lot of fun to play. I thought it was going to be a fairly simple and straightforward role, but the PCs had various unexpected ideas that kept things very interesting. For example, one PC managed to cheat me into serving on his ship for a year and a day. Another read a psalm at me. A third forced others to come see me at gun point. And I’ve discovered something about my GMing style — I fall more on the permissive side, I think. Even though I was given a very specific set of things I could do with the PCs, when they left the script behind, so to speak, I was generally inclined to make it work so long as it didn’t blatantly break the game. (I always double checked with the head GM /one of the writers.)
If this LARP ever runs again, I would love to reprise the role of the sharply dressed man.
After the LARP was over, I gathered some of the set dressing create a simple background for pictures. I’m a big believer in providing something other than event space walls (or worse, classroom desks and white boards) whenever possible to produce better pictures of players in their LARP costumes. Unfortunately, the island backdrops were already taken down by this point, but I think the boxes worked decently. In retrospect, I wish I’d dragged over the single fake tree we had (also found in the coat room) and maybe pulled a pirate flag or two out of the boxes.
We went to IHOP for a Dead Dog (aka the Dinner Mob, I think?) where I got to hear about the LARP from the perspective of a handful of PCs, and and their ideas of what happened after the end.People seemed fairly excited and animated about the LARP, which I take as a good sign.