Shifting Shadows

I NPCed Shadows of Amun  the weekend before last. Until then, I’d been describing it as the “horror and adventure LARP set in 1918 Egypt” (as per the tagline on its website), however, as the PCs have just found out, it is no longer set in 1919. It’s now set in Egypt, 1168, between the Second and Third Crusades.

The staff has had this time travel planned since the beginning; they’ve been referred to the first three events as “prologue”. (First privately, now they use that term publicly.) Most NPCs were informed at the Shadows of Amun meeting in mid-March. There’s always a risk with these sorts of sudden, major changes in genre and setting, so I’m particularly curious to find out how the players are feeling about it. So far, there seems to be a lot of positive reactions (and I certainly saw a lot of grins after game closed on Sunday) but there also seems to be a significant amount of wariness, and in a few rare cases, people saying they are likely to stop playing. (Which was a risk the staff had been well aware of.)

Over the weekend, I played three minor NPCs of the victim variety, and a few minor, crunchy roles.

On Friday, I played a victim about to be attacked by cultists for new players to find and rescue on their way into Luxor. It was fairly straightforward, a way to open the LARP for the new players with a bit of action and an introduction into the largest ongoing threat facing the players. This role, a goat herder named Omorose, became a recurring NPC who hooked two more modules on Saturday.

After the new players rescued me, I put on some loose black clothing, including some dark netting over my face, to play a shadow summoned by an evil magic user to protect him while he completed a ritual. The ritual had some neat flavor text, and the end result was supposed to be an opportunity for the PCs to speak with the summoned spirit of King Tut himself, but this module did not go as planned. We got mowed down before the ritual had a chance to go off. Then the PCs dragged the magic user off and us shadows lost track of him.

If nothing else, it was a lesson in the ways in which mechanics might need to be tweaked for a module’s particular purpose. And at least the PCs got their hands on a text prop describing the ritual, along with some artifacts used for summoning.

This was followed by another module, in which I played a distraught wife whose husband had suddenly apparently drowned by drinking water, was given CPR and brought back to life, but remained comatose. Then, while the PCs examined him, my character was supposed to drink some water and also drown, and then, should the PCs choose to revive her, describe a nightmarish vision which would hint at a cause and its relationship to an ongoing plot.

This module took considerably longer than expected, in part because the PCs hadn’t initially brought anyone with them who had any medical expertise, and in part because the building we used was fairly far from everything else. On top of that, the PCs seemed hesitant to waste resources on reviving me (completely understandable), and then they wandered off before I had a chance to describe the vision. Eventually, I described the vision to two of them.

I feel as though I probably should have found a way to move the scene along before the PCs got bored, but failed to do so. And I’m also not sure I really hit the mark between “distressed wife” and “completely in denial that her husband cannot be saved and trying to keep it together”. I think my affect might have just been a bit too bland.

On Saturday, I went out twice more as Omorose, once to alert some PCs to a murder scene, and once to confront some cultists who had her father and sister captured.

The murder scene was specifically designed to provide one of the new players a chance to use their investigation skills. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the new PC with investigation skills when I went to Rick’s (the local in-game hang-out spot), so other PCs went. (I feel a bit bad about that — I hope the new PC detective found other ways to use her investigation skills.)

The next step of this plotline involved me coming back out as Omorose to take PCs to confront some cultists (and rescue Omorose’s sister and father in the process.) Hooking players took much longer than I expected, in part because it was around lunch and a number of them just wanted to eat, and others were off on archaeological digs. I vaguely worried the other NPCs were bored and annoyed that it took so long to bring PCs around.

And then Omorose’s sister died (she could have lived or died depending on PC actions)… and think I once again failed to properly roleplay grieving over the sudden loss of a loved one. I just hope my lackluster grieving didn’t negatively affect PC immersion.

There were two other scenes on Saturday that I was involved with. One involved a handful of female PCs coming to investigate a factory turning out British military uniforms, in which I played one of the NPC seamstresses working in deplorable conditions. A handful of male NPCs were playing British overseers, and I rather think they did a marvelous job with their cockney accents and bullying attitudes. They made fantastic villains, keeping up patter with the PCs that sounded very natural to me, and I hope the PCs really enjoyed turning the tables on them. and holding them off at gunpoint. It was tons of fun for me just to watch.

The last scene was a giant standoff between the British army and Egyptian protesters. All of the NPCs played roles in this scene, to really make it seem like a crowd getting out of hand. (I put on my WWI era uniform and joined the British side.) We shouted at one another and quickly escalated into violence, which the PCs threw themselves into, trying to break up the fighting and keep the bloodshed to a minimum. It felt quite dramatic to me, and I think it made the local political situation seem very relevant and urgent.

On Sunday, I arrived in time for the big final field fight. Monstrous scarabs were wreaking havoc all over the world, and the PCs were making their last stand. The NPCs played fleeing refugees, then came back out as scarabs (and a few cultists, as with the Violence Committee joining the NPCs, we ran out of bug costumes.) We attacked the PCs in waves, until they triggered the time travel, and some NPC Crusaders showed up to help them finish off the scarabs. It made for a rather dramatic scene. I wish I could have played one of the charging crusaders.

tattoos of a bug cultist

Overall, I think most of the smaller scenes I was involved with might not have been representative of the of weekend as a whole — some of them kind of stalled or ended anticlimactically, at least in part, I think, because of my lack of skill in ad-libbing and roleplaying grief. (So much for being able to produce tears on demand.) I like to think I’m generally better than I was as Omorose and the drowning wife, but either way, it’s something I should work on. Having heard more about what went on in the scenes I missed, it sounds like there was a lot of well received, dramatic plot surrounding the domari in particular. (I think my domari NPC might have been eaten by the scarabs.)

On a different note, I f finally got a chance to check out the PC accommodations, including a bunch of tents the PCs set up. I’m impressed with how well the they dressed up their spaces and how well it all suited the setting. And most significantly, the tents seemed a lot more comfortable to sleep in than the cabins. I asked around about how long they took to set them up, where they bought them, the cost, etc.

I sleep in a friend’s SCA pavilion style tent for Cottington Woods when possible, and I love it, but it’s very time consuming to set up (and requires cooperative weather.) I’m convinced — I need to invest in a tent of my own. I’m open to reviews of brands and information on sales if anyone has any.

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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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One Response to Shifting Shadows

  1. Alon Levy says:

    It’s very difficult to pull surprises off successfully. In a theater LARP, it’s easier: you can design a casting questionnaire that covers possible events, you can include trigger warnings if the change warrants them, and you can design the game in a way that’s resilient to mid-game quits if someone feels uncomfortable at the change. In Planetfall, the casting questionnaire’s question about angst comes with a warning that anyone putting less than a 3 out of 5 would not enjoy the game (and we did in fact have a mid-game quit, coming from a player who’s into a different kind of angst, but the game can survive a quit or two).

    In a boffer, the setting is usually inherently resilient to mid-campaign quits, but the emotional investment is much bigger so more people would drop out at an equal change, and a spoiler-y warning would spoil several weekends rather than a few minutes. I suspect there’s also a gamist issue, in that a lot of boffer character builds are minimaxed, so spoilers could actually break the game. This isn’t to say a time travel to a premodern setting has to work this way, but the reveal would probably have to be after the players send in their character builds.

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