I was in Troy, NY this past weekend for Dice Bubble, one of RPI’s weekend of theater LARPs. I played in three LARPs and sort of presented/attended two panels.
My first LARP was Dreamatorium, in which I was cast as “horde”. I found this LARP to have a particularly interesting structure, in that it featured elements of a horde LARP, but also differed in minor but meaningful ways. It also featured elements of a tale-telling LARP.
Horde LARPs are a format of theater LARPs in which some percentage of the players are not given one specific character to play, but rather switch relatively rapidly from one small role to another (not unlike NPCs — though whether they qualify as NPCs is a topic for another post.) Usually, the casting of the horde character happens randomly, and descriptions of the roles are usually very short — from a two word description to a brief paragraph or two — and handed out to whomever happens to be available when they’re needed. This format increased in popularity with the Iron GM contests at Intercon, which requires that the entries be runnable with a cast as small as five and as many as twelve players. The horde format affords that flexibility. Examples include Time Travel Review Board, An Unconventional Odyssey, and Collision Imminent.
(I refer to these as formats of theater LARPs, as thus far I’ve only seen them used for theater LARPs, but I suppose both styles could easily be translated into boffer LARPing.)
In the case of Dreamatorium, the premise involved shopping at a mysterious store that sells dreams and uses memories for currency. I quite liked the setting. Sprites working for the shopkeep come out to take on various roles in the dreams purchased and play them out. In a typical horde LARP, the players actually switch from one character to another. In Dreamatorium, technically, we were each always playing the same sprite, and it was the sprite character who was taking on the facade of the new roles. And as we pulled all of the cast characters into each dreams, it was a lot like the tales of a tale telling LARP.
I’m not sure what the LARP looked like from the cast’s point of view — I know there was an economy of trading around memories and dreams, but I don’t know how that worked out. I was too busy going back and forth from the Dreamatorium’s storage room, where we were given roles and sorted through piles of random costuming bits to represent them.
The LARP proved mostly lighthearted and wacky, but I think its basic concept is very flexible. It could easily be adapted into a variety of sequels with new dreamers as the cast and different dreams to buy. I’d be curious to see how it might work out with a darker tone.
My second LARP of Dice Bubble was Holding Room 23. It was a LARP about a group of newly awakened clones in a locked room, awaiting inspection to determine if they have any defects. I would classify this LARP as fairly susceptible to spoilers — the lack of context and information upon starting out really helps create the atmosphere, so I won’t get into too many details. The LARP did have its own brand of wackiness, but it also delivered on the psychological distress the blurb warned about. In some ways, the wackiness juxtaposed the dark, unsettling aspects of the LARP in a way that highlighted it, but I also thought that at times, it might have undermined the pervasive fear. I really liked the experience — it was honestly one of the most tense and scary scenes I’ve ever played in a LARP, but like Dreamatorium, I’d be very curious to see Holding Room 23 run with the comical elements either removed or converted into something subtler and more serious. The combat mechanic, which involved trading insults, was definitely original and creative, but I’m not sure we players were always successful at using it. I wonder what effect trading it for something more direct might have had.
One element I have to share — Room 23 featured a lavatory in the back, represented by a corner sectioned off with desks and covered over with black tarps. The GMs described the bathroom as containing “a sink and two toilets, facing one another.” Sure enough, when I looked inside, there were two desks, representing the toilets, facing one another, and nothing to separate them. What possible reason could someone have for constructing a bathroom like that? It was so bizarre and illogical that it bordered on surreal to me. On one level it was kind of funny, but it also added to distinct sense that something was very much off. I talked to one of the writers about the possibility of allowing other people to run the LARP. I think if I were ever to GM a run, I would definitely include the lavatory as it was.
My third LARP of Dice Bubble was Pokemon: Research Under Review. Definitely a LARP for fans of the Pokemon franchise, much like Fungal Coronation (same writer) was definitely for fans of the Super Mario Bro.s franchise. The combat system, for example, (coupled with a GM ready to present random pokemon if players hung around in the area designated as “tall grass”) closely mimicked pokemon battles in the video game. I think I was able to keep up with most of it, having played through Blue (one of the original video games) years ago, though some of content from the latest editions went over my head. This LARP was both a loving homage to the franchise, but also poked fun at its use of tropes and fan memes. After speaking to a LARPer who had played my role, I think in retrospect I played my role too tamely. I had an ability I might have used to stir up a lot more trouble and chaos. I do wish some of the mechanics were less reliant on GMs — at times, I refrained from taking some actions because I didn’t want to pull a GM away from others doing what seemed like more important things, but I still really enjoyed getting to LARP in a setting that holds a lot of nostalgic value for me. (It’s not a coincidence that I’ve wound up wearing my pikachu sweatshirt to a lot of events. And happily, thanks to this LARP, now when I cosplay as pikachu at conventions, I might have an Ash to cosplay with.)
I also attended and ran a panel at Dice Bubble. Panels are still a very new thing to Dice and Time Bubble, and since the two panels were very late additions to the schedule (and running against two LARPs) I thought there was a solid chance neither would be attended by anyone else. As it turns out, there was one freshman, relatively new to LARPing, in attendance for both. The first panel, which went over the system for describing a LARP’s mechanics devised at a workshop at the last NELCO, went fairly well. We talked about the system, then segued into a more general discussion about mechanics, and the strengths and weaknesses of various common ones.
The second panel went less well, I thought. I talked a bit about very basic costuming and brought out some examples of easy projects that I use from time to time — namely, one of the tabards I’ve made with iron-on adhesive, a basic white chiton used for Egyptian and Roman costumes, and a project I’d started earlier in the week to see if I could try out some no-sew techniques to turn a basic t-shirt into a piece of garb with minimal cost and no sewing machine. (It didn’t turn out well, but I did learn something from it, and I imagine a second attempt will go a lot better.)
In retrospect, I wish I’d brought more hands on examples. We did go over how to insert eyelets (adding lacing to clothing is one common way to make something look more “garb-ish”.) But I might have conveyed how to use the iron-on adhesive more clearly if I’d actually brought some to cut up and use. (Though that would have meant bringing an iron as well.) Bringing some fabric and safety pins and actually creating a chiton might have gone over better, too. As it was, I think my audience of one stayed to the end out of politeness.
As usual for RPI, I saw new faces at Dice Bubble and ones I’d seen once or twice before back for more LARPing. And relatively new LARPers are writing and running really cool games. I continue to be impressed with this community. I wonder if I couldn’t get some of the members to do a panel at NELCO on how to achieve this for the benefit of other universities, like Brandeis. Before starting my own costuming panel, it occurred to me that doing a panel on the various LARP events around the Northeast might be more valuable, and I regretted not thinking of that when I still had time to prepare one. (Though I did plug Festival and mention that it is currently looking for game bids!) In fact, someone else suggested the same thing on Sunday. (For any RPI students reading this who are interested in events outside of RPI: this post might be a good place to start.)
And just yesterday, I received an email from the Dice/Time Bubble mailing list, announcing a new LARP writing initiative called Support Network for Organizing and Promoting LARP Writing, or SNOPLW. (I pronounce this as “snowplow” in my head — I’m sure the current weather was the inspiration for this acronym. And I just love it!) It’s inspired by NANOWRIMO, as it’s intended to help people get through their projects with community support in various forms, though it will run over eight months instead of one. What a fantastic idea!
* “Tale-telling” and “story-telling” are also terms I have heard used to describe a different format of theater LARP, in which players play only one character, and the emphasis of the experience is on telling and listening to stories. One such LARP was At World’s End. This use of the terms seems considerably less common than the ones described above.