Another Intercon has come and gone. I’m still worn out from going straight from hectic costuming prepping and packing to running and attending panels, to playing or NPCing in seven LARPs (include two with boffer combat,) and stopping by as many suite parties as I could find. I’m entirely worn out, but it was more than worth it. Much more.
Once again there’s far too much to write for one post, so I’ll start with the LARPs, and save PreCon and other fun Intercon related things (like more detailed costuming production and party hopping) for future posts.
My first LARP, on Friday evening, was Heirs to the Throne. It was a historical political intrigue set in Rome in 795 C.E., at a papal conclave. It was probably the most down to earth historical LARP I’ve ever been in, with the characters and plots feeling like they were taken straight out of an textbook for an advanced history class. Dirty politicking was the pervasive theme of the LARP, with almost every character neck deep in blackmail and backstabbing and the harboring of dark secrets. There was no overt violence, no shouting matches, just lots of quiet muttering in the corners. I enjoyed the challenge and the focus on out-maneuvering one another. I tried to move outside my usual comfort zone and role-play my character, an abbot close to King Charlemagne, as more ruthless than strictly necessary. I’m not sure I succeeded, possibly because I shied away from overtly threatening people, but when I was aware that I was playing nicer than I had to, I tried to challenge myself to go against my instincts. This was the LARP I asked the GM if I could join last minute, and I’m very glad I got in.
One thing I love about LARPing at the Radisson is that the rooms are so much nicer than the average university classroom or function space. I noticed that the chandeliers enhanced the spaces of a number of LARPs, including Heirs. And I really liked the inclusion of the chair of St. Peter in the game space — such a simple gesture, but the draped fabric, crossed keys and crown spoke volumes to me.
Saturday morning started off with Star-Crossed, a LARP I have almost played but somehow missed out on a couple of times already — either it filled too fast or got canceled. It sounded intriguing to me. Well, a number of Saturday morning LARPs sounded intriguing to me (I’m hearing really cool things about two other top choices, M vs M and The Wreckers. I hope they both run again.) And… I based my final decision on the fact that Star-Crossed would allow me to sleep just a little later.
I have no regrets — Star-Crossed was a really cool and unique experience. The small size of the LARP (only 12 players, all in one hotel suite) lent itself to a tightly knitted, dramatic, and personal experience. The surreal nature of the character sheet was quite cool — it took me a couple reads to understand, which I’m certain was intentional. Instead of a “who you know” section, there were 11 paragraphs after the basic history, each abruptly describing a random but intense shared moment with another character, with absolutely no context, and no segue from one to the other. Some were fights, or just thoughts about harming one another, some were two or three sentences in the middle of panicked arguments, some were sweet moments sharing ice cream, some were preludes to dark and kinky sexual encounters. Many of the characters were terrible people, or at least had done some terrible things.
Memories came back to us at random moments in the form of short scenes described on cards handed out to various characters. The characters would act out the short scenes. They were typically quite dramatic, and revealed important snippets of information to everyone. Characters could not keep their major secrets.
Normally, in LARPing, we’re pretty big on character agency. That’s what makes this medium so unique, right? Complete control over our characters? So having scripted scenes between PCs is very uncommon in LARPing, and it was certainly a very unusual experience for me. (I’m wracking my brain, trying to think if I’ve ever done something similar in a LARP before, and currently coming up blank, but maybe if I go over my Master List of LARPs, something might pop up.) Since the scenes were actually memories for the characters, it didn’t actually deprive us of agency much more than any other character history does, other than forcing us to reveal information about our pasts to one another. (And isn’t the best thing one can do with a secret in a LARP to reveal it?)
I think our run of Star-Crossed contained some of the best acting I have ever seen in a LARP. Again, I would have to consult my Master List of LARPs to see if anything jumps out as me as having unusually good acting, but Star-Crossed might just top the list. The scripted scenes accounted for a lot of it (I suppose having that bit of guidance, with the conclusion of the scene being predetermined, really reduces the difficulty of improv.) But there was also a lot of great moments that were not scripted. The LARPer playing my character’s brother was a lot of fun to riff off of. And there was brief moment where another LARPer simply walked over to him with a paper clip in his hand and made some very vague statement with a meaningful look. (Maybe something like, “see this paper clip?”) And from his reaction it was abundantly clear that one character knew the other was perfectly capable of creatively torturing him with the paper clip, possibly even from past experience. It was so well done, I thought for sure there was some mention of torture with a paper clip in both of their backstories, but I asked after the LARP. It was off the cuff, and they both just rolled with it so well.
Also worth noting, all of the characters were gender neutral, and I think it was pulled off quite well. People talk about all gender neutral LARPs being very awkward to write, but my experience has thus far indicates it’s quite plausible.
After Star-Crossed, I went back to my suite to get ready for Cirque du Fey. I had a brief moment of panic when I realized the bulk of my costume was missing. I tore the suite apart and finally found it piled together with the luggage of one of my suite-mates. I had put it in a separate plastic bag to try and contain the spread of glitter, and somehow it had been gathered with his things.
I have to say, Cirque du Fey was one of the best costumed LARPs I have ever played in. Which is unsurprising when you consider that the premise lends itself to creative and pretty costuming — a Victorian era soiree hosted by European royalty for two strange and wild circuses that may or may not be secretly populated by Fair Folk and other strange creatures. In fact, the LARPs that I have played that were written by the two writers of Cirque have always had wonderful premises that lend themselves to excellent costuming — a conclave of Sith Lords, a masquerade hosting Wild Things (this was the LARP where my character was a Middle Eastern princess turned fairy-like hunter of the wild beasts of another world, sneaking backing into the mortal realm to attend a masquerade — what a costuming hint!), a Grecian feast hosted by a king for future sacrifices to the minotaur, gods and the greatest mortals gathering in the Egyptian afterlife.
Cirque was par for the course in this regard. And the set dressing — some potted trees among two tents draped with colorful swaths of fabric really set the mood. It was an incredibly flavorful LARP. Surprisingly, I think this LARP actually had remarkably little conflict — and much of it was not PvP. The characters were largely working together, working through metaphysical problems and complex interpersonal dynamics among larger than life personalities. Family was a central theme in my character’s experience, and I think that was true for many other characters as well.
I must confess that I don’t think I had the best possible casting for my personal preferences. My character was incredibly cool, and it probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that the strong woman of a circus called the Umbral Fete was a badass. Not knowing the surprising secrets of my character, she was likely one I would have chosen for myself. I think many other LARPers would really enjoy this role. There was nothing inherently flawed about the character, and there was a lot to like. And I’ve looked back over my casting questionnaire — it was well suited to what I put. I had forgotten to mention one or two key things about themes I prefer to play through and themes I prefer to avoid in LARPs. I won’t go into more detail here for reasons related to spoilers.
Despite that, I still had a great time and I’m really glad I managed to snag a spot in this LARP with my first round pick.
After the LARP was over, many of the players went up to the suite of one of the LARPers who is also a professional photographer. (Or… a hobbyist with professional level skill, I’m actually not certain.) He had set up a small photo studio in his suite, complete with sheets pinned up to the wall and high quality lighting equipment. We took turns getting our photos taken in costume. I have not yet seen the photos of my costume, but I have seen a few of some of the other characters, and I’m really impressed. I find having high quality photos of LARP related subjects (especially when it includes costuming I worked really hard on) to be incredibly valuable, and I’m very grateful. People talked about the possibility of setting the impromptu photo studio in the corner of con suite next year, so that more LARPers would know and be able to participate. I really hope it happens.
In the meantime, I took a few shots of my own in the hotel room. This was one of the costumes I worked really hard on, and it received a number of compliments, which made me quite happy. People particularly found the pink costume contacts startling, so I consider them well worth the price. I’m really glad I decided to paint silver numbers on the dumbbell, too, though one side came out slightly off center.
After Cirque du Fey was Rabbit Run, a cyberpunk hybrid theater and boffer LARP that I NPCed, mostly as a series of crunchy robots, but also as the sister, friend, and patient of several of the PCs. And after that was Welcome to the Dragon Palace, another boffer-theater hybrid when I PCed as the champion of the rabbit goddess in a Heian era fantasy setting. But I think I will leave those two for their own post and skip ahead to my two Sunday LARPs.
A while back, I placed myself on the wait-list of G.I. Joe: Noir, the latest installment of the G.I. Joe series of LARPs that are based on Intercon’s various themes. Last year, I stepped in for a drop to play Snake Eyes the ninja and had a blast. The game was quite funny and creative, and this year was no different in that regard. The LARP split the cast into two and ran several scenes in two separate suites, before bringing the group back together for a final scene in one suite. I joined another NPC to open with a classic film noir device — a scene that takes place after the conclusion of the plot, leading to the story being told in a flashback. The other NPC was meant to be a senator shouting at the Joes in a hearing while I played another senator who harumphed in the background. Instead, the other NPC decided to surprise everyone (both the players and GMs) by dividing up the lines of the pre-scripted rant so that we had a humorously coordinated diatribe that went back and forth. It went over pretty well.
This was followed by a series of short mini-adventures with silly challenges for the Joes and the Cobras. The room was decorated with some amusing Cobra posters, as the plot took place in an alternate universe where they defeated the Joes and took over the world. I played an Australian gangster who shouted at them until they escaped from prison, and then a minion of Dr. Mindbender, followed by the alternate universe version Dr. Mindbender, who had a science-off in his laboratory with the PC Dr. Mindbender.
The challanges for the Joes were a lot of fun. I watched the PCs build some sort of super-science MacGuffin out of collapsible strainers, tape, some sort of glowing toy, and a part of an old fashioned vacuum. I think the most popular challenge was watching the second team of Joes play out a fight scene on the roof of a moving train (a rectangular section of carpet designated with masking tape). Every now and then a GM would shout “tunnel!” and swing a large piece of cardboard, cut out and painted like a tunnel entrance, around shoulder height, forcing the PCs to duck.
After the G. I. Joe LARP, I went off to one of the Iron GM games. A couple of weekends before Intercon, several writing teams are given some guidelines and secret ingredients, and have one weekend to write a small LARP. The three secret ingredients this year were a comedy of manners, tradition vs. change, and the four elements. There was also a secret optional ingredient — origami butterflies. I wound up playing The Importance of Being Convergent, a fantasy game about a political summit in a country that is divided into elemental theme castes. For a game written in one weekend, it was actually quite good, and we had plenty to argue about for two hours. It won second place.
Of course, since it was Sunday morning and I was dead tired, and neither LARP allowed for costuming in advance, I attended both in my pajamas. And then I had to pack my luggage in a huge rush, and it went home with someone who left the con early… and I forgot to keep a pair of jeans… so I spent the entire day in Batman-print flannel.