The Second Exile

While I was at SLAW, sometime Saturday afternoon, an alien being from another dimension arrived on Earth and inhabited my body. Her name was So’haya of the White Pillar, and she was a Kalesti from Kep’ti.

So’haya of White Pillar

She stuck around for two weeks, gathering mana from locations of importance to humans in both Boston and New York City, before finally departing sometime last Saturday evening.

This past summer, I signed up for an international, two week long LARP called Izgon 2. I remember when the first Izgon was announced. I declined to sign up for it because it was based out of Croatia, and though anyone anywhere was welcome to sign up, I couldn’t see how anyone so far from Croatia could meaningfully participate. I assumed those on other continents probably interacted with it solely through email. And I didn’t know what my schedule would look like when it ran.

But when I read reviews after the first Izgon was over, I regretted missing out and decided that if a sequel ever ran (or any other international LARP had open sign-ups), I’d jump at the opportunity. And luckily, last summer, the writer and GM of Izgon, Ivan Zalac (of CroLARPer, the blog about LARPing in Croatia) announced Izgon 2.

(Side note, Ivan doesn’t know this, but I have begun referring to him as my Croatian pen pal.)

I wasn’t entirely clear on what to expect, so the questionnaire I filled out for what sort of character I’d like was, I’m afraid, rather vague. But I was still quite excited. I posted links to sign-ups on Facebook a couple of times, but I didn’t really encourage anyone in particular or post links here. Part of the experience was meant to be not knowing who else was playing, and I was trying to leave it ambiguous as to whether or not I had signed-up, so that I could surprise and be surprised by other players in-game. In retrospect, I probably should have worked a bit harder to recruit more players in my region.

Izgon 2 blurs the line between ARGs and LARP. ARG, or alternate reality games, are like LARPs in that players interact with fictional plotlines, but differ from LARPs in that they are generally integrated with one’s real environment (LARPs typically set aside a game space and a designated time in which a fictional setting is imagined) and while LARPers imagine themselves as imaginary characters other than themselves (hence the “roleplay” part of ‘live action roleplay”), in ARGs, players are still themselves. I have yet to try an actual ARG , though they frequently come up in discussions about LARP as a medium.

In Izgon and Izgon 2, players can either roleplay as the alien being from another dimension, which is LARP-like, but they can also choose to let their human hosts takeover and avoid interruptions to their lives whenever they liked. And the human hosts were simply us, the players, which was ARG-like.

Izgon 2 had a grand total of 96 players, hailing from six different countries: Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA. Within the US, there were players in New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia and Washington. Additionally, some of the LARP played out in Poland, Slovenia, and Austria.

The premise of Izgon 2 revolves around various groups of advanced beings from other dimensions coming to Earth and inhabiting humans. Their intention was to work out a peace treaty among them, but their arrival on Earth is sabotaged, and they get scattered across the globe. They then have two weeks to gather enough mana to power their various magical spells and rituals. At the end of the two weeks, if they have not managed to build a portal home, they die.

Mana can be drawn from places of importance to humans. Memorials, installations, significant buildings, and tourist attractions are common sources of mana.  (I understand that there is an ARG called Ingress which operates on similar principles.)  Drawing mana is done by touching the source and taking a picture of one’s hand.Three players doing this simultaneously places a mana net, which draws mana from the source once a day without requiring players to physically return to the spot.

There were other mechanics, for exiling (i.e. killing) the alien beings and erasing the memories of their human hosts. (If your alien character was killed, you could continue to engage with the game as the host, i.e. yourself. You could not perform magic, but you retained your memories, and if you wanted, use that information to help or hurt the various factions and characters.)

There was also a system of using magic to issue commands to fellow players, but I never once used it. It’s a very open ended mechanic, and I could see it potentially leading to player arguments, though I heard that it generally went smoothly. I would be curious to see this system used in theater LARP here in the New England community. Is it universally a smooth system? Or does it jive better with the Croatian community (and other European communities) than it would in New England?

Characters are fairly minimal. My background sheet was under a page and a half. So’haya of White Pillar is a librarian, with a failed romance in her past, a younger brother who hits on her best friends, and a cousin who has gone missing after traveling to Earth (in the first Izgon.) I think the characters were bare bones to facilitate easy roleplaying that would seemlessly integrate with the players’ real lives.  Much of So’haya’s personality was based on mine, so reacting as her came to me pretty easily.

So’haya with her brother, Ko’ris, in New York City

Before the LARP started, we all created gmail accounts for our characters. On our own, mana-rich home worlds, we were psychically linked, and that link had a divine personification called Sil. (Other factions have their own versions of Sil.) Earth is too mana-poor for the link to manifest in the usual way, but the aliens find a way to communicate to one another through Sil and to Sil itself using Earth technology… in other words, a mailing list.

I actually forgot to log into my account until about 24 hours into the LARP, and by then, there were already many email chains going on. Catching up was a bit of a struggle. People were already sharing their host’s names and contact information in effort to organize as quickly as possible. By the time I logged in, Sil had already posted my own host’s name (i.e. my real name) and the names of all my Kalesti brethren, including the other two LARPers in the northeast of the US. (There was also someone in Texas who I believe went to one site — The Alamo — and then essentially dropped the game.)

One ally I had already known– another LARPer in my local community who agreed to sign up when I mentioned it to him. He played Ko’ris of White Pillar, my character’s younger brother. The other turned out to be a LARPer from New York City whom I’ve seen at Intercon and other similar LARPing events, but I’d never really interacted with outside of a handful of LARPs. His character’s name was Ty’ris of Fire Cave.

The first thing I saw was that Sil had shared clues for local mana sites. In Izgon, the number of mana sites in cities are proportional to the population of the cities. Boston has eight sites and a ninth convergence point. New York City has 84. (New York City, I’ve since learned, has nearly double the population of all of Croatia. It seems like a shame to have so many mana sites in a city with only one player, and much fewer in Zagreb, which had many players. Then again,  if there were 84 in Zagreb, I imagine gathering enough mana for a portal would be extremely easy with minimal need for conflict over territory.)

The first clue for Boston described a location humans have historically thought of as a great meeting place and market place. That sounded like Fanueil Hall, so I proudly told Sil I might know the first mana location. Then I realized not only had Ko’ris already been to Fanueil Hall and confirmed its status as a mana site, but he’d spent much of Sunday going all over Boston, trying various locations, and he’d found three more.

But traveling to all of the locations in Boston daily was time consuming, and having only one Kalesti in New York was very inefficient. So Ko’ris and I decided on a road trip to New York City, in order to gather three of us in one place so that would could place mana nets for more efficient mana gathering.

On Wednesday, Ko’ris and I stopped at a Boston mana site (Sil’s clue: a hill where a battle took place — Bunker Hill), a few other sites Ko’ris had found, and took photos at MIT and the Museum of Science before hitting the road. (Sil asked us to take pictures at places devoted to human sciences to share with our homeworlds.) It’s about a four hour drive between Boston and New York City in normal traffic.

Ko’ris atop a tortoise at Trinity Church…

…and So’haya on a hare.

Museum of Science in Boston

Sculpture at MIT

At MIT

In New York, we dropped our bags at Ty’ris’ apartment and visited a few mana sets he’d found, placing nets as we went. Sil asked us to elect a leader and pick a name for the US community. We chose Ty’ris as our leader, and Redwood Fen for our community name.

We spent most of Thursday walking all over New York City, placing mana nets (one every half hour was the max). At one mana site (the Soldiers and Sailors Monument,) Ko’ris muffler broke (well, his host’s muffler), so he and I were stuck in New York City until Saturday night. (We discussed how it must have been sabotage, as the perfect parking spot we’d found must have been a trap.)

Ty’ris and Ko’ris at the Crack is Wack playground, a mana site

Placing a mana net at Columbia University

Gathering mana at the Peace Fountain

From back to front, Ko’ris, Ty’ris, and So’haya

Placing a mana net at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

We also ran into a troop of Roman legionnaires, of all things, at the massive James A. Farley Post Office (another mana site). Oddly, the columns of the post office were lit with green light. (Turns out it was some kind of publicity stunt for a new video game console.)

Roman legionnaires on the steps of the Post Office

And then on the following Monday, Ty’ris came to Boston, and we set mana nets at all of the Boston sites, save the Bunker Hill monument. This allowed us to calculate the convergence point of Boston, which turned out to be the capitol building. This information allowed us to potentially open a portal in Boston rather than Zagreb, should an emergency arrive.

Spotted in the Boston Public Gardens: George Washington wearing a baseball jersey and a beard in honor of the Boston Red Sox

So despite there being only three of us, and us living four hours apart,  the Redwood Fen trio provided a massive portion of the Kalesti’s mana. Without competition threats, it was much easier for us than it was for our European counterparts. I’m sort of proud to think we had a significant impact on the LARP, despite being so far away from the bulk of it.

The rest of the LARP was fairly low key in the US. I mostly just kept an eye on the emails my allies in Europe were sending. It sounded like various European locations were buzzing with activity (especially Zagreb), and it was hard to keep track. Various characters got exiled, people argued over whom to trust from other factions, and  everyone debated over a ritual that would unite three of the known factions (the Kalesti, the Melki, and the Amani) into one community, and what form that union would take. I sporadically chipped in my two cents and made contact with a Melki in Washington, who had much more information than I ever did.

Over the course of the two weeks, I learned bits about three other factions that had been unknown to me when the LARP began. There were the Draak, a race who claimed to have created and enslaved the rest of us, intent on causing strife between the factions so that we’d never be strong enough to take them down. There were the Hunters, a group of humans who were trying to stop us from taking mana because it was damaging the Earth. And there were the prophets, independent agents with a lot of information.

On Thursday evening, at some late hour for us on the east coast of the US  (and some ungodly hour in Zagreb ) we successfully pulled off the ritual to bind the Kalesti, the Melki, and the Amani factions into one community. This was a huge relief. Had our enemies in Zagreb kept us from completing the ritual, we might have been forced to open the portal in Boston. And since neither Ko’ris nor I were specialized in the magic of opening portals, it would have cost one of us our lives to save everyone else. But the ritual went off, and it allowed us to teleport freely. Our alien characters were saved, able to teleport home any time before Saturday night at midnight (or Saturday at 6pm EST.)

And there was much rejoicing.

On Sunday, Ko’ris and I called up Ivan Zalac while the European players gathered in a restaurant to mark the end of the LARP. We didn’t talk that long, but getting to say hello to other players was pretty cool. Apparently, in Croatia they often have a post-LARP coffee, since coffee drinking is much bigger part of their culture. (And dining out is a bigger part of American culture.)

There are a few other thoughts I have to share about my experience in Izgon 2.

One, our alien characters fed by meditation, and during the LARP we were required to spend five minutes a day meditating. I admit I accidentally missed a couple of days, but I really liked the concept of including meditation. I think meditation is an underused method for getting into character, and it’s something I’d like to explore more in the future.

Two, Sil asked us to produce works of art representing the communities of our surreal homeworlds. I just love having good reasons to created in-game art. Ty’ris had a very nice art set, with water colors and craypas and other art supplies, that he graciously let Ko’ris and me when he hosted us. Our art had no mechanical effect. Similarly, fulfilling Sil’s request for pictures of sites dedicated to human sciences  had no mechanical effect. But I really appreciated these extra little things to do in-character.

Top row: Fire Cave, by Ty’ris. Bottom row, l to r: White Pillar by So’haya, White Pillar by Ko’ris

Three, I think I expected to roleplay less, as the only players I had face-to-face interaction with were allies. I assumed we’d just be acting by rote, moving from mana site to mana site without anything to disagree about, or much to say at all. But the notion that we could flip back and forth between ourselves/the hosts and our alien characters provided some very interesting fodder. Technically, we could just say the aliens had perfect access to all of our memories and knowledge, but we decided that not all memories were universally instantly accessible, which allowed us to remark on puzzling human phenomena. The LARPer who played Ko’ris decided Ko’ris could not drive his car, so he essentially made bargains with himself. He would drive Ko’ris to mana sites if Ko’ris agreed to let him take control when he wanted. There were times where we weren’t sure with whom we were talking, our hosts or the aliens. Sometimes we could guess based on roleplay of subtle personality changes. Ko’ris had a sort of impish smile that helped me distinguish him from his host. The roleplaying in this LARP proved to be a lot of fun.

Four, the reason Ko’ris and I suggested Redwood Fen as our community name was to honor of our beloved local baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. (World Series champions 2013!) Ty’ris only realized what we’d done when we stopped by Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox to put a mana net there. In character, we discussed the inexplicable conflict that seemed to exist between humans living in the city of New York and humans living in the city of Boston and how it might have something to do with the ubiquitous emblem of two red socks that popped up all over Boston.

Go Red Sox!

Clearly, we should avoid wearing red socks in New York, lest the humans there recognize our hosts as natives of Boston and turn hostile.

Five, the effect of producing so many pictures of hands touching various monuments and buildings (all with the rest of the people out of frame) was actually pretty neat. To me, it had a very surreal effect, and this was quite evident in the mock website someone (likely a Hunter) had set up online. It was a blog claiming there was a conspiracy to cover up an alien invasion, with pictures of our hands on various monuments (gathering mana) as evidence. It was particularly surreal when I scrolled through the blog and recognized the hand of Ko’ris, somewhere in Boston, in one of the images. How had this anonymous blogger known about it? How did they get access to our pictures? It created a very immersive sense of paranoid and fear.

Absorbing mana at the Old City Hall

And six, I have always loved Boston, but this LARP gave me a sense of renewed connection to it. We spent a lot of time walking from one interesting site to the next, explicitly taking inefficient routes because we had to wait half an hour between placing mana nets. Boston prides itself on its history, and it shows. This LARP helped me see how much.

A marker along the Freedom Trail in Boston

Granary Burying Ground in Boston

Boston Library, with the Prudential in the background

View from Boston Commons

Overall, it was a very cool experience. Given the chance, I would definitely play another sequel to Izgon. I have already bid a panel to PreCon wherein Ko’ris, Ty’ris and I would describe our experience to anyone in the Intercon community who might be interested. There’s a lot to learn from the design of Izgon and Izgon 2 about what LARP is capable of (international two week LARPs! Who knew?) and maybe sharing our stories will inspire other LARPs that exist way outside the box.

Ko’ris, So’haya, and Ty’ris, the Kalesti of Redwood Fen, at the Massachusetts State House, the convergence point of Boston

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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13 Responses to The Second Exile

  1. Cam says:

    I was super excited to play this game, and it did not disappoint. Yes, I wish there had been more people to interact with face to face, but I liked the long format and the pervasive nature of the game. It reminded me a little of the Guerrilla Prime Experiment.

    I thought we got a lot of out deciding that information didn’t pass from host to possessor and back perfectly – it opened a lot more opportunity to play out cultural discovery, as you point out, but also to develop the inner game of the relationship between the two characters (and I do think that playing yourself with an alien that sometime possesses you is a character).

    The combination of needing to be out on the streets plus the alien mindset was very engaging. I could have played for longer!

    • Fair Escape says:

      I think if playing yourself but with the alien sometimes possessing you is a character, then all ARGs are a subset of LARPs. My understanding of ARGs is that you play yourself, but with the content of the ARG as real. If the hosts in Izgon are characters, then all ARG players are characters… in which case, ARG is a form of roleplay, no?

      One of the LARPs I played at the last Intercon was a zombie scenario, in which our characters were described as “yourselves, but if you’d follow the career path we designated for you and wound up at a conference at this hotel this weekend.” I think that also sort of blurs the lines between ARG and LARP.

      • Cam says:

        I certainly would treat ARG as a type of LARP. But then I tend to insert roleplaying into everything. While there is a difference between playing yourself in a fictional scenario and playing fictional character, both require some extrapolation of personality and acting. In Izgon, I found that I needed to restrict certain types of behavior when not playing the possessor so that those qualities could be identifiers of that character.

      • Ivan Zalac says:

        While there are some similarities between ARGs and larps, I wouldn’t say that ARGs are a subset of larps. However, there’s a large overlap between the two, and pervasive larps such as Izgon are certainly there in that overlapping area. In ARGs you don’t actually “play” yourself, though the in-character context does exist – but you’re no more expected to RP it than to RP in an online computer game.

        The characters used in Izgon were paper-thin – at least the host portion of Amani/Kalesti/Melki/Draak, but regarding Prophets and Hunters, they were completely paper-thin. This was done primarily to increase immersion and bleed as using the players’ own experiences or background might sometimes create a stronger emotional experience. The basic idea is: you use a differentiated character to explore new stuff, and how it would be if you were a different person in a different situation, while you use paper-thin characters to discover more about yourself in a safe environment. Izgon had both (and there’s an opportunity for cool inner role-play and conflict, without having to play two personalities who are different than you).

        A similar technique of paper-thin characters is used on some Nordic larps (like Limbo: http://www.crolarper.com/2013/06/limbo-larp.html) which are meant to provide a strong experience to players. Of course, this doesn’t work if you’re playing something very different than yourself. But it has its place in the bigger larp toolbox 🙂

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