Brandeis University’s annual Festival of the LARPs has come and gone. Over the weekend, I played in four LARPs and ran a boffer practice. (I also served as housing coordinator, and I’m relieved to say no one who needed crash space went without.).
My first LARP of the weekend was Hello, You Must Be, a LARP a British LARP that ran during a previous PreCon to much acclaim. And a couple of players who played during one of the most recent Intercon runs all said that while they thought the secrecy around the LARP was unnecessary, they really enjoyed it. So I was very excited to have a chance to play it at Festival.
The blurb is incredibly vague by design — the writer clearly wants to avoid spoiling any aspect of the LARP, especially the opening moments. Some people disagree about the purpose of the various LARP conventions in New England and about a GM’s prerogative keep various elements (up to the entire LARP) from being spoiled for potential players. I fall into the camp that believes that at least one of the purposes of the LARP conventions is to be a venue to showcase the LARPs for LARP writers, in the same way a gallery is a showcase for an artist’s artwork. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a convention should have no limits whatsoever on what LARPs they feature (for example, this doesn’t give LARP writers license to include highly sensitive or offensive topics in their LARPs without forewarning their players.) But I do think that the GM’s prerogative applies to Hello, You Must Be, and that there is something significant to be gained from going into the LARP without set expectations.
So while I won’t comment on the content here, I will say that I think the blurb description is accurate (it is character driven, intense, and at times, quite funny) and that it will appeal to a wide audience, especially among the theater LARPers of the Intercon crowd. (I’m confident it will appeal to plenty of LARPers outside of the Intercon community as well, but I base that claim on much less personal experience.)
The blurb also suggests that the LARP is based played by LARPers who have signed up in pairs with someone they know very well. I do think signing up with a very close personal friend enhanced my experience, but I also think that players could easily enjoy this LARP even if cast in a pair with a stranger.
My first LARP on Saturday afternoon was Tales of Irnh, a sci-fi LARP about the androids left behind after a plague has wiped out the biological inhabitants of their planet. Irnh is a tale telling LARP, meaning it is comprised of multiple short scenes, but unlike many other LARPs of this format, the players are not given “base” characters to return to in between the tales. The players simply go straight from one scene to the next, switching roles and situations each time. The casting is arranged in such a way that ensures every player gets a chance to play at least one protagonist, one antagonist, and a few other role-types, which I think was a great way to ensure each player had a variety of experiences and no one will come out of the LARP feeling consistently outshined.
Through the various scenes, we explored what it meant to have purpose and meaning and free will. Irnh also other themes that changed from scene to scene. One scene, for example, felt to me like an allegory for transgender and other queer experiences. For a brief moment, before the scene began, I was worried about how this would play out, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the scene had a very positive message: being willing to examine and question and change one’s identity, instead of simply accepting the one society hands to you, can be a beautiful thing. And encouraging it in others can be a huge boon not only to the individual, but also the collective.
My favorite character of the LARP turned out to be the most comedic of the roles I played, even though I usually find it difficult to be funny on command. The role was made even better by the presence of a straight man (of the dignified, long suffering sort) to play off of.
I think a couple of scenes ran a bit long — us players seemed to have a little trouble finding a good ending point a couple of times and we occasionally got stuck in repetitive conversations, which necessitated GM intervention to help us bring a scene to a close.
Overall, Tales of Irnh was a lot of fun, and I think anyone who enjoys the tale telling format (especially if their favorite part is the tales and not the “base” characters) and/or science fiction LARPs would really enjoy it.
Little bit of amusing trivia: the name Irnh (the race that created the androids) comes from an acronym that was used as a placeholder during the writing process. It stands for “Insert Race Name Here.”
After Tales of Irnh, I played in House of Becoming, a post-apocalyptic LARP. (Some might label it a “post-post-apocalyptic” LARP, meaning it wasn’t right after a massive disaster, but much later, after human society has had some time to shape itself into a new structure.) House of Becoming ran at the most recent Intercon; it was another LARP that got high reviews from the Intercon players, so I was very excited to get a chance to play for myself so soon after its first run. And the blurb describes a system for characters marking themselves with meaningful symbols, which sounded particularly intriguing to me.
House of Becoming did not disappoint. The GMs had set up our game space beautifully. They transformed a function space in an academic building into a spiritual, temple-like atmosphere, with creative lighting, excellent sound effects, austere looking space dividers, brown paper painted with symbols hung on the wall, and a low table in the center bearing face paints for us to use. Between the set dressing and our costuming (there was a lot of austere-looking. rpbe-like garments going on, including two sheets wrapped like a toga. I went back to my old standby for flexible but non-modern costuming — a chiton, combined with a large shawl wrapped around me. (Someone told me I looked “Roman”.) The space had internal windows open to the upper floors in the building, and I spotted people standing at the glass and watching us in apparent fascination at various times during the LARP. This sort of thing makes some LARPers feel like fish in a fishbowl, I know, but I find something oddly enjoyable about it.
The premise of House of Becoming involves a ritualistic evening for the members of a handful of tribes to become elders privy to the secrets of their Houses. There are four Houses (the House of Healing, the House of the Wheel, the House of Wisdom, and the House of Fate,) each of which has an important role to play in the post-apocalyptic culture. The various communities that have developed after the apocalypse feature very diverse social structures for procreation and raising the young — one features traditional male-female pair bonding, one lacks any structure at all, one divides the males and females into two separate communities (outsiders to this community do not know how procreation happened in that village) and one is a matriarchal society featuring a single male in the role of the Father, who procreates with a group of female leaders (the Mothers), while the majority of the villagers do not participate in procreation. (My character was from this last one.) These unusual structures provided very unusual backgrounds for us players to explore various forms of interpersonal relationships. My romance plot, in particular, was unlike any other I’ve played in a LARP, as my goal wasn’t to pursue someone for myself, but rather to pursue someone to procreate with all of the leaders of my village.
There are three periods during House of Becoming which involve the characters separating into their respective Houses and learning about each House’s beliefs and traditions. Each House also has its own Mystery, a secret that the characters are forbidden to reveal to anyone outside their House, involving a specific task for the initiates to perform. After the LARP, I chose not to ask about the secrets of the other Houses, so that I might be able to play again as a member of a different House should the opportunity arise. But I will say that the House of Healing’s Mystery was quite intense and my favorite part of the LARP. It worked out to be especially meaningful in our run based on some choices we made. I’m very curious to know what the other Houses’ Mysteries are.
I also particularly liked the use of face painting in the LARP. All of the painted symbols and the location on the body where we chose to paint (face, neck, or hands) have specific meanings, which gives players insights into one another’s characters. One symbol, for example, meant that someone’s life had been touched by suffering. Seeing it on someone’s hand provides unspoken information and possible fodder for conversation of a personal nature. I would love to see other LARPs incorporate this idea.
On Sunday, I played in a freeform LARP called Out of Dodge. It bears a great deal of similarity to a scene in Reservoir Dogs. Four criminals are speeding off in a car right after a heist has gone terribly wrong, with one member shot and bleeding in the backseat, and a bag of loot that is very difficult to divide. For a brief moment, I thought we might be playing this LARP in a real car. Instead, we sat in four seats arranged in a classroom, facing a projected video of a long drive (the video was shot in England, we noticed; backwards writing revealed that it had been flipped in order to look like we were driving in the US.) For such a small, simple game, it felt particularly well propped to me.
I think Out of Dodge was the first game I’ve played that is given the label “freeform” by the writer. (Other LARPs I’ve played could potentially be labeled as freeform, but I don’t know if any were specifically identified as such by the writers.) I really liked the various little triggers injected into the LARP to keep the conversation flowing, and the elements of the scene that were randomly generated from a list. The random generation of Out of Dodge makes it more replayable, as some key details can change from run to run. I also liked the “it ends when you think you’ve reached a good end” aspect of the LARP. I brought our run to a close when the other three criminals briefly stepped out of the car. One character was shot dead, and I took the opportunity to drive off with part of the loot. To indicate this, I leaned over the keyboard and hit play on the video (which was paused) and yelled something like, “so long suckers!”
Out of Dodge was a ton of fun, and I’d love to try more freeforms. The only issue I had with the run was my own struggle to do improv — the game will run best if the players are up for creating a story together on the fly, but I most often felt myself drawing a complete blank. I wish I’d been more creative in coming up with more details, such as how the heist had gone wrong and what our plans for the loot had been
After Out of Dodge, I met a bunch of LARPers for outdoor boffer practice. Happily, the weather was cooperative that afternoon. With Fifth Gate right around the corner, a number of players were keen to try out their new characters’ builds. Initially, I thought the practice would be very small, but one of the local boffer LARPs had canceled, (their site had plumbing issues) which was a real shame, but it meant that our practice got quite a few people. We briefly went over a quick introduction to the Accelerant rules system. (I wish I had prepped that better.) I hadn’t considered preparing specific scenarios in advance for the players to try, but luckily, two of the boffer LARPers who showed up were happy to come up with stats for those who volunteered to be the monsters. They also ran an impromptu “obtain the McGuffin” quest, with my roll-up camp mattress playing the role of the McGuffin, the Jade Bedroll.
Since I didn’t really have a build, I simply played bad guys the whole time, which was tiring but also tons of fun. I think the Fifth Gate LARPers appreciated the chance to try out their builds and practice using team tactics, and I hope the people new to Accelerant found it enjoyable enough to want to try again. I’d love to see more boffer practice, and maybe even a short one-shot boffer LARP, at future Festivals.