A Charm of Powerful Trouble

Continuing in my now reverse chronological path… The weekend before Festival of the LARPs, I took another road trip to New York City to play in two LARPs with the HRSFA crowd.

The first was a relatively new LARP called Toil and Trouble, which, as you may have guessed from the title, features witches. (In fact, three of the six characters are witches.) My character was a village wise woman sort of witch, the sort who might disguise her spells as folk remedies and simple herbcraft. Together with my two sisters, our little coven was deciding whether or not to cast a spell to set the course of the destinies of three adventurers and how to shape their fates.


Like a number other LARPs written and run by members of this community, it featured rich, detailed character histories and a number of difficult decisions that would have enormous impact on the characters present and the lands they came from. I noticed a number of instances of triple symmetry in the characters and they ways they interacted (though post-game, I also realized I was incorrect about some of my assumptions about the ways the characters mirrored one another), which I thought made for interesting LARP design, and helped make all possible choices come at a high price while remaining valid, which is a difficult thing to do in LARP writing.

I also want to mention the set dressing — it ran in a private apartment, but with the lights dimmed, some candles lit, and a few appropriate props placed on the tables (such as a small cauldron), I thought the atmosphere felt quite immersive.

This LARP is not currently available for others to purchase online, but I asked the writers if they’d be open to allowing me to run it, and they said yes! It was too late to bid it for Festival of the LARPs, but I will definitely keep it in mind for future LARP events, like Intercon, SLAW, Dice and Time Bubble, and future Festivals. With only six players and a relatively low amount of printing, it seems very reasonable for one GM to run on their own.

The next day, in a different apartment, I played in Future Ghosts, which was one of the LARPs written for this year’s Iron GM contest at Intercon P. The ingredients this year were: paranormal (genre), convention and rebellion (theme), and tattoos (element), and the prop this year was plastic kazoos.  (The version we played in New York was an edited version, so sadly, there were no kazoos playing during our run.)

Future Ghosts (which was titled The Weather Underground for the Intercon run) came in third place (out of four teams), which surprised me, because I think it might be my favorite of all of the Iron GM games I’ve played so far. Maybe the editing was particularly effective? Either way, now I really want to catch a run of the other games from this year’s contest.

The premise of Future Ghosts involves an impending apocalypse — the AI have gotten wind of an imminent human attack that will wipe them out, so they’ve decided to preemptively wipe out the human race, all but the humans who have supported their rights. One group of said humans have been hurriedly gathered and informed that the surface of the planet is about to become inhospitable to their race for five years, and they now have a choice of who among them will go to which of four shelters and bring which gifts from the AI with them.

Sometimes, these kinds of puzzles present themselves in LARPs, and there’s inevitably at least one or two players who want to approach it as logically, efficiently, and/or as equitably as possible. This can be a reasonable choice for their characters, but I often find myself wishing it wouldn’t happen. For example, at the last Cottington Woods event, on our way into Neverland, our Happy Thoughts had gotten scattered, and we were presented with the task of getting them back to their original owners through a series of trades. A few characters took point on getting it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. A valid choice, but I was personally having a lot of fun roleplaying experiencing the Happy Thoughts and filtering them through my own character’s perception — swapping the Thoughts with someone who wasn’t their true owner was 9/10s of the fun for me. I learned a lot about some of the other characters that I hadn’t known in three years of playing, and it felt like a great opportunity to roleplay. I wanted to do as many memory trades as possible.

But for Future Ghosts, I found myself taking on that role. I don’t think my character was written to be the particularly practical sort or the take charge sort, but the choices and puzzle of optimizing them were so interesting, that I couldn’t help it. The situation was a very emotional one, but I don’t know… maybe the concept of the near-end of the human race and a complete upheaval of the lives of the survivors was too much for both me and my character to grasp? There might have been some emotional denial in play.

Deciding how to divide the group into four locations, with no more than three people in any one shelter, had an emotional component — how do you decide who the only two people you’ll be spending the next two years with will be? — but also a logic component — how best to divvy up the skills to maximize survival potential? The locations themselves were all fascinating, (and in fact, all described real places, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Bank.)

The gifts the AI offered were also interesting. A number of them weren’t at all what I expected — more fantastical than superscience (I had forgotten “paranormal” was one of the secret ingredients for the Iron GM competition.) But they presented a very interesting mental challenge. How best to ensure everyone’s survival? How best to ensure everyone’s (at least relative) comfort? How best to make sure we could all stay in communication and be able to help one another in cases of emergencies? And if we could work all of that out… what would most likely make my character happy? Some of the options were slightly surreal. Part of the fun was discovering them when the game began, so I’ll only mention one. One of the options was the ability to order whatever we wanted once per day off a menu from the RMS Titanic.

Discussing how to work it all out kept me very busy for the duration of the LARP. I think I missed some of the paranormal stuff going on, but I had a great time nonetheless. I hope the Iron GM games all end available for others to run.

About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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