Brandeis University’s annual Festival of the LARPs was this past weekend. I played in four LARPs, and I can tell that it was a busy weekend with very little time to sit still based on how my feet feel now.
On Friday, I played in the second run of A Mayfair in the Colonies. It was set on Mayday, 1770, and the players all took on the roles of various famous and important figures of the Revolutionary War. Much of it was inspired by history (though, of course, there was a lot of fudging of dates and locations, and of course significant liberty taken with the various personages. There was a large map of the Boston area up on the wall, through which various characters could move the troops they commanded. (I had a battalion of minutemen at my command. Other movable units included British red coats, local militias, Hessian Troops, and even Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. )
Near the map was a board where characters could post their various publications, including such classics as Common Sense and a certain infamous letter written to the Royal Academy by Benjamin Franklin. (The wikipedia article claims Franklin wrote his letter as a commentary on the pretentiousness of various academic societies. If only the world had more Benjamin Franklins.)
Next to the publications, we had two large meters indicating the relative power of the patriots and the Tories to indicate how well each side was doing. We schemed and made treaties and alliances and played out various significant major events that lead up to and opened the Revolutionary War.
Both George III and General Washington met with… shall we say, misfortune during the LARP, and as one the rebelling colonists, I regret to report that the rebellion was put down. And we are today loyal subjects of Great Britain as a result. This happened rather shortly after I was nominated as general of the colonial army to replace George Washington, so some of the fault lies with me. I spent the last minutes of the LARP failing to convince the Marquis de Lafayette to commit French support to my cause. (Though I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have made a difference by that point.)
We also danced around a maypole sometime in the middle of the LARP, which was even more fun than I expected. LaFayette took advantage of his height and varied his level of cooperation throughout the dance, sometimes forcing other dancers to jump or duck as he wove his ribbon past them. Let’s have more maypole dances in LARPs!
Rather typical for the primary author, Mayfair was heavy on faction-based politics and strife, mechanics, romance/lust and immoral characters. Most LARPs that heavily feature factions tend to keep character loyalties and memberships hidden to keep the intrigue interesting, but that is rather difficult to do when the characters are particularly well known for their historical actions. While there were some surprises and changes from characters’ real historical goals and motivations, I was particularly impressed with how this LARP kept things interesting and surprising even though many characters’ true loyalties were known from history (and many characters wore badges — red, white, and blue rosettes for the patriots, and God Save the King pins for the loyalists, to make them even plain even to players unfamiliar with this chapter of American history.)
One thing I feel compelled to mention is that I heard a few people compare this LARP to a “Roman senate themed LARP in which aliens show up and invade” in terms of unexpected weirdness and supernatural. From what I knew while it was being written, and from what I heard from various GMs and players, I suspected this was, at best, grossly misleading. Now that I’ve played and am privy to all of its secrets, I can say with certainty that this description is patently false. And I think it’s a great LARP.
A quick note on costuming, because you know I can’t describe a LARP without addressing it — this run was well costumed, and it was exciting to see all of the tricorn hats and mob caps about. I didn’t get the chance to create costume from scratch, but luckily for me, my mother has a costume she wears when teaching her kindergartner class about the colonial era. It wasn’t quite my size but with some safety pins, it worked out.
On Saturday morning, I played Pru Garland in Midsummer Mischief, a humorous British LARP set in the Wodehouse version of the 1930s. The GMs had played it at the British LARP convention, Consequences and enjoyed it enough to run it at Festival.
I regret to say I never got around to reading any of the source material, nor watching any episodes of the tv show based on the books, so some of the humor might have gone over my head, but overall, it was quite amusing. Many of us tried affecting British accents to varying degrees of success. I particularly liked some of the prank and romance-related mechanics, which did a great job of affording hilariously awkward situations and silly shenanigans.
After lunch, I played in My Big Fat Pixie Wedding, one of the LARPs written for this past Intercon’s Iron GM contest. Which means it was written in a single weekend, and featured the four elements, a theme of change vs. tradition, a comedy of manners, and origami butterflies.
The premise was a pre-wedding party hosted by the pixie bride and genie-groom, with ten guests, each some very common supernatural archetype with minimal background information. (An elf, a dwarf, a mermaid, an android, a zombie, etc.) The LARP was pretty much all characterization and no-plot.
As the pixie bride, I was given some brief, very open ended instructions on a variety of party/ice-breaker games, which I ran with my genie fiance. It was a lot of fun to play with the classic fantasy (and sci-fi) tropes for a couple hours. A few times, without concrete instructions, we stalled just a bit. (As it turns out, with minimal character histories, it’s not so hard to ad-lib answers to questions, but it can be hard to come up with questions.)
I think with an accurate blurb (i.e. something like “this is very light, all characterization and no plot, come play some fantasy archetype at a little party” it would be fun to run at one of the low key theater LARP weekends, like Dice Bubble, Time Bubble, or SLAW. I’ve got a few ideas to make it run just a bit smoother, such as arranging the furniture to make moving around and mingling a bit easier. (Maybe just some big cushions on the floor, and have any long tables in the room shoved to the side?) and maybe provide the ideas for questions we came up with for Person Bingo to the bride and groom in case they blank. (Or maybe google a few more party games/ice breakers before it runs.)
Games like this really lend themselves well to costuming. There’s no pressure, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to have do something fun and easy and iconic if one is so inclined. A few people had full outfits, and I liked a lot of the little accessories the players brought, such as the werewolf’s fuzzy tail and ears, the android’s mirrored eye piece and thematic tie, and the siren’s blue wig, just to name a few.
Even though the LARP was pretty low key, I couldn’t resist the costuming hint I received — a pixie bride, associated with the element of air, and I might have been a tad overdressed. I found butterfly wings at the dollar store, and pulled some random white items out of my closet. I also wore silver sparkly flats and pink contacts from Intercon (any excuse to wear costume contacts is a good excuse) and pinned some flowers and a birdcage veil, in my hair. I also found a variety of no-sew tutu tutorials online, and made one out of tulle and ribbons. I will probably write up a post on that experience in the near future, since it’s a useful, easy costuming trick, yet not quite as straightforward as I expected it to be.
After My Big Fat Pixie Wedding, I had a break for dinner, then switched gears from a light atmosphere of cute party games to a darker, angstier atmosphere in Epitaphs, a LARP inspired by the poems of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology . In Epitaphs, the characters were all ghosts who had lived in the early 1900s in small-town Illinois, rising up in their graveyards, and trying to figure out how they would be remembered via the epitaphs on their gravestones. Paper gravestones bearing each characters name and an epitaph — some typical, some flattering, some hateful and harsh, were set up on chairs in one section of one of the classrooms where the LARP ran.
The primary mechanic of the LARP involved characters changing what was written. The LARP is, as described in the blurb, roleplay-heavy, mechanics-almost-nonexistent game, focused on the interactions between the characters, who all carry a great deal of pain, regret, anger, secrets, and unfinished business, and it delves into a number of very dark and sensitive topics. Like Mayfair, I don’t want to go to deeply into the character I played, for reasons of spoilers, but I do want to share my impressions of the LARP overall.
The GMs set the tone of the LARP by having the players all close their eyes, reading poetry, and acting out a conversation between two NPCs. I think this was particularly well done, and I’d love to see more of this stuff in future LARPs, taken even further. (Maybe with dimmer lights or quiet era-appropriate melancholy music? I could even see this LARP being run right in or next to a real cemetery.
There were a number of themes running through the LARP that I thought were really interesting. For example, the question of what constitutes power and how it can be used and abused, and what happens when it drastically shifts, was something I ended up exploring a lot with my character. My character was one of the most tragic and powerless people in life, but in death, she was actually, in a certain light, the most powerful character in death.
Which reminds me — the characters were contesting the words on one another’s tombstone, so there was some incentive to try and be the very last to act before the GMs called game. This is a problem I’ve seen before, but it was partially mitigated by there being a limited resource required to change the headstones, and the cost went up each time they were redone, which incentivized early action. This helped mitigate the problem a lot. There was a little bit of “let’s just put our differences and role-playing aside to work out the puzzle of how to spend resources most efficiently” towards the end, though I feel that if you approach this LARP as a mechanical challenge to be “won”, you rather miss its strongest suits.
One random thing I noticed — the LARP was set in the state of Illinois, but I forgot this little fact and found myself trying to affect a slight southern drawl. I think wasn’t the only one, and the accent got picked up and spread a bit over the course of the LARP. It’s sort of interesting, from a linguistics perspective, how that happens. (It happened a bit with British Accents in Midsummer, too. I’ve also seen it happen when I tried to affect a French accent, and others started using it even though I played the only French character.)
And another random thing — my character had a limp (leftover from childhood polio) and I’m hoping no one noticed that the limp switched legs back and forth as the LARP went on and one foot started to tire faster than the other.
During Epitaphs, by the way, another run of Blackfyre Rising was going on in a neighboring building. I went by to see costumes and set dressing before the LARP, and couldn’t resist joining in on a conversation of how the politics in the LARP developed. I wish I could have played this LARP again! As it was, I loaned costumes to a number of players (a Tyrell wore my Tyrell cloak, a Targaryen wore my Targaryen necklace, and both Daemon Blackfyre and King Daeron the Good wore tabards I made, a black dragon on red and a red dragon on black, respectively. I just somehow have a closet full of appropriate costuming.