Last June, I attended Origins, a gaming convention in Columbus, Ohio, where I played in two theater LARPs, Carnivale Arcane and In High Gear, both by FYI (Figments of Your Imagination). After Carnivale Arcane, I got into a conversation with one of the players, who told me about a LARP of his, set at a ball in post-Revolution France. He’d run a number of times already, but he would really like to run it at a convention where players committed to the LARP in advance and come with costuming prepared, and there would be a guaranteed minimum of female players. (LARPs at large conventions often have last minute drops and walk-ins at the door, and can skew heavily male.) I, of course, suggested he check out Intercon.
I know there were some concerns both on Bid Com and among the players who signed up for the LARP over the different expectations between a GM who is used to running a LARP at a general con and players who are used to playing at a LARP-only con. We knew the sheets would be unusually short for an Intercon LARP (one page or under.) There were some issues with the casting questionnaire, andplayers who hadn’t responded were told not long before the con itself that they would be cast at the door.
So like The Tattered Veil, I had some reservations going into Victim’s Ball. And also like the The Tattered Veil, I wound up having a marvelous time. I loved my character — I don’t want to spoil anything about her, because I think there could be wildly different interpretations of the character sheet depending on the player, all equally valid — but as I understood her, her memory issues and possibly deeply traumatizing experiences in her past had left a few screws loose. Normally, I find breaking into conversations difficult in LARPs — so many people are having private conversations and there’s often so little trust between the characters. I often find myself waiting just outside of other players’ hearing, waiting for an opportunity to interrupt. I’ve never had such an easy time as I did as my character in Victim’s Ball, breaking into conversations, saying what was exactly on my mind, then wandering off to someone new whenever I felt like it. It was wonderful.
I thought the atmosphere was also particularly well done. I had never heard of such things before, but apparently, just after the French Revolution, there actually were rumors of Bals des victims, morbidly decadent celebrations of having escaped the guillotine. As per the historical rumors, the ladies at Victim’s Ball went barefoot, and everyone wore a ribbon tied around their neck. There was music playing in the room (I had a few turns on the dance floor — I always appreciate the opportunity to dance in a LARP) that varied from standard waltz to music that was far more dark, eerie, and foreboding. Gradually, things started going wrong in grand Lovecraftian fashion. And I particularly liked the sanity mechanics — how much sanity we lost, and when we hit 0 sanity, in response to various experiences was up to each individual player, and what effect that loss of sanity had was up to each individual player. Typically, in Lovecraftian LARPs, sanity loss and its effect is precisely prescibed; I think I prefer Victim’s Ball‘s individualistic system.
I could see some of the differences between general convention LARPs and LARPs run at LARP-only conventions through Victim’s Ball. This LARP seemed more about the experience of being in the strange atmosphere than it was about connections between the characters. Which of the various characters attended the ball in any given run is highly flexible — it many of the characters could be easily added or removed, which is very helpful if you’re unsure about last minute drops and sign ups, but also makes for a less connected cast of characters, which in turn can make starting conversations and making connections difficult when the LARP begins. I wonder if adding more party games, if appropriate to the historical setting and genre, to kickstart conversations and encourage mingling and dancing, might help.
After the LARP, I had the chance to chat with the writer and GM, who told me a bit about the history of Victim’s Ball (it originally was a tabletop scenario) and some other LARPs he’d like to run at Intercon in the future (ones that I’d certainly like to play.) I know some of the other players had a rougher time with Victim’s Ball, though, but maybe some feedback through the con would be helpful.
A note on costuming — given the late casting, I didn’t get the chance to do anything elaborate, so I merely pulled some black lace clothing from my closet and wore it with my military style jacket (which has proven to be likely the most useful item in my costuming closet.) I had showered right before the LARP, and discovered my black eyeliner had run in the water and given me raccoon eyes… and when I looked in the mirror, I decided it worked for this character and left the smudged makeup as it was.
The other players came decked out in Regency grandeur — I felt somewhat underdressed. I’ll have to rectify this gap in my costuming closet before the next early 1800s LARP.