Between a road trip to New York City to play in two LARPs with the HRSFA crowd and preparing to run three LARPs at Festival of the LARPs, (well, two LARPs, one of which ran twice,) I’ve been neglecting this blog. I’ve been trying to get out posts about Intercon in a chronological order, including detailed write ups of the various panels and discussions and workshops I attended at PreCon. They weren’t recorded and I personally would like to be able to go back over what I learned from them with something other than my own notes from PreCon, hastily scribbled on scrap paper, but writing them up is proving a slow process. It’s been well over a month since Intercon, and I haven’t even begun writing posts about the actual LARPs I played there.
So I think I need to set aside the writing posts in chronological order thing for now, and instead write about what’s the most fresh in my mind/what I’m most excited to write about at the moment. And right now that’s the 11th annual Festival of the LARPs.
Festival of the LARPs is Brandeis University’s annual weekend of LARPing. It runs in April every year, and it has thus far been almost exclusively theater LARPing, (though last year it hosted a boffer practice designed to allow Fifth Gate PCs to test out their new builds.) This past year, I bid Drink Me and, since it’s a small game that can be run in a single small room in an hour, offered to run it as many times as I could squeeze it in around my own schedule.
While assisting with the scheduling process, I realized there was plenty room for more, so I thought I’d find something completely new to the local community. I turned to an online group of New Zealander LARPers and asked for recommendations for a LARP that wouldn’t be too difficult to run on short notice. I got a list of several great options. (Some titles that popped up included Boffo’s Birthday Bash, Angels in the Fog, The Bell, Face of Oblivion, Boats Against the Current, Tesla’s Wedding, Small Town Folks, and The Governor’s Dinner Party.) I ended up selecting The Bell.
I had such a good time playing Drink Me in New Orleans, I was excited for the opportunity to run it for other players. Even though Drink Me can run with no props save for six cups of water, I had fun collecting and preparing props for it. I found miniature booze bottles for a dollar each at liquor stores in a variety of interesting shapes, peeled the labels off, and painted some of them with nail polish. I borrowed a few fake candles for lighting and found cave sound effects to play. (This one is also nice if you want something more echoey.) I also brought in some fabric to drape over the table and a few other props (usually represented with item cards for this LARP) that I won’t describe here for minor spoiler reasons.
Casting proved more difficult than I expected. (I had figured with only three characters, all of which are described pretty well in the blurb, it would be easy.) I’m embarrassed to admit I started pretty late for both runs. I wasted time looking for missing props, and for the first run, I had trouble getting the sound and lighting to work, and for the second run, I found filling the bottles took longer than expected. But other than the slow starts, I think they ran just fine. It was very interesting to see how different players interpreted the characters differently, and how incredibly different the tone and pace and end results of the story can be, depending on who drinks which potion and in which order. It was a lot of fun to watch, I’d happily run this LARP again at SLAW or one of the Bubbles.
Also interestingly, before the first run of the LARP, I forgot to mention during the briefing that the only mechanic for combat or any other contested action between players was GM fiat, and the players never got into any such situations. But I remembered before the second run, and the players got into a situation where two tried to force the third to consume one of the potions. It’s only two data points, but it does support the “if you build it, they will come” theory that providing mechanics for some type of actions causes the players to try them (or lack thereof to avoid it.)
Originally, I was signed up to play Platform 6 on Friday after the first Drink Me run, a game about space pirates going on various missions, but it didn’t get enough players, so it was replaced with Queer Mad Scientist Speed Dating. The idea for this LARP was posed at a BYOG but didn’t end up being written as part of that collaborative program, so instead, it was written over the course of only a couple days so that it could run at Festival. My character sheet was nearly 2000 words, and very densely detailed. With twelve characters, I was very impressed with how much was written in so little time, especially since they all reflected a lot of knowledge of a wide variety of scientific topics and their various practical applications. I wish I had more time to reread my history a few times before playing the LARP, as I mixed up a few of the details, but fortunately, those kind of mistakes couldn’t really interfere with the LARP.
My character was the confident, driven, all-business type, but I found it hard to express this during the game because all of the other characters I met were such talented, accomplished people with amazing sounding jobs, that I couldn’t act impressed and spent most of the time pressing them for details about their job. Though I’ve never done any speed dating in real life, I imagine this was a very accurate impression of the experience, with five minute conversations flying by (for the most part — I did have one or two conversations with awkward pauses.) I think the second round was a little unusual — my impression of speed dating is that in order to follow up on the conversations, people privately expressed their desire to do so, and if it was mutual, the event hosts arranged it or facilitated and exchange of contact information. In QMSSD, we had to select our follow up conversations out loud with everyone present, which I think led to some people feeling shy and awkward about it. After the LARP, we sat around discussing which relationships were likely to continue and what they might be like.
The Bell is a sci-fi game about about a group of passengers with waking up with amnesia from stasis on board a spaceship experiencing problems mid-flight. Despite setup being a lot more involved for The Bell than it was for Drink Me, I was much more on schedule for it. I must say, preparing for this LARP was quite a pain, through no fault of the LARP itself (or the way it was boxed.) The printer I was using gave me a lot of grief, and for some reason, and my laptop occasionally refused to play the music that came with it. But other than that, it wasn’t too work intensive to run — the LARP comes with a full set of easy to follow instructions for every step of the way.
Reading over the LARP, I thought it sounded quite cool and wished I had a chance to play it before GMing it, but happily, the GM has a neat NPC role to play. I knew it was going to be an unusual experience for this community, which very rarely runs LARPs that cast at the door (as opposed to casting between days and weeks in advance with casting questionnaires) and while amnesia is a common genre for us, I knew the memories would form a more sparse character sheet than local players are used to. Character sheets seem to be shorter on average in LARPs written in New Zealand than they are in LARPs written in the US.
I think overall The Bell went quite well at Festival. Most of the players seemed fairly engaged in trying to solve the problems with as little harm to everyone on board as possible. Casting at the door worked out remarkably well for many players — a few came up to me afterward to tell me they felt they had found the best characters for them. I think the soundtrack that came with the game was very effective in creating atmosphere.
It wasn’t a perfect game for all players, however. It was hard to say, since I spent almost the entire game sitting in a chair on the side of the room, playing the NPC role, but I think I did see a few players looking as though they weren’t quite sure how to fill the time, especially when characters they had connections with were busy elsewhere, and I think there was some small confusion about mechanics that likely sprang from cultural differences between the LARP community where this was written and the one where I ran it.
I made a few small modifications to the LARP, and if I were to run it again here (which I’d rather like to), I think I will repeat them and maybe add a few more. For example, the LARP is essentially divided into three acts (the divisions created by the moments when the characters receive a additional memories.) The first two acts are almost equal in length, but I thought that the first section should be much shorter, since the players have the least amount of information to go on (both about themselves and the mechanics of the ship.) As the soundtrack can dictate the length of the acts, I adjusted them by deleting tracks from the first act and adding more to the second. But most players seemed to think the first section was still too long, so if I were to run it again, I would shorten the first section and lengthen the second even further. (Not sure about the third act.)
After The Bell, I played in The Inversion of Me and My Room, a LARP I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about. I’m so glad I finally caught a run. It’s an incredibly surreal experience. Lots of LARPs are set in dreams (or feature scenes set in dreams), but I find it’s very difficult to capture a dream-like atmosphere. This LARP did that for me, especially in the opening scene. I don’t want to go into detail here — not because it’s thickly plotted or there’s a careful balance of power based on an economy of information or anything, but because much of the success of the LARP (for me, at least) depended on being surprised and/or suddenly confronted with the structure and content of the scenes. Props and set dressing were minimal but extremely effective, I think, and I don’t think they would have been as successful in creating tone if I’d known what to expect. (There was one piece of set dressing in particular that was honestly one of the scariest things I’ve ever interacted with — or avoided interacting with — in a LARP.)
Happily, the writer/GM said Inversion is likely to run again multiple times.
Sadly, a return of extremely cold weather, including high winds and an early morning snowfall, put the kibosh on the informal boffer practice I was hoping to run. (Welcome to April in New England.) I may try to reschedule it — I’d certainly like to get more practice outside of actually PCing and NPCing. But I did get to play Woodplum House, a comedic LARP inspired by the works of P. G. Wodehouse. I used to watch Downton Abbey, so I definitely was hoping to be cast as the character closest to the Dowager Countess, in all her magnificent snarky glory. I think my portrayal of the chatelaine of Woodplum was too shrill and loud to have done Dame Maggie Smith’s character any justice, but I still had plenty of fun completely failing to keep my wayward family out of their uncouth shenanigans.
To cap the weekend off, I accepted the position of con chair for next year’s Festival. I’m currently trying to figure out what would make a good beginner LARP to run before next April and see if I can’t pull in a few current students for Festival 2017.
So what would a good theme for the twelfth annual Festival be? The LARP Zodiac? Twelve Angry LARPers? The Twelve LARPs of Hercules? LARPtoberfest?
(Past Festival themes include Turn it Up to 11!, Festival X (the X Files), ¡Fiestaval!, Triskaidekafestival, The LARPocalypse, LARPercalia, V for Vestival, FestEvil, and Temple of the Lost LARPs.)