A few weeks ago, I was at RPI for Lime Shirts’ latest weekend long theater LARP, Operation: Atlantis. I wasn’t expecting to be able to attend, so I didn’t sign up until the last minute. In fact, I received my casting after I had already packed. Luckily, this LARP is pretty loosely structured and easily accommodates players joining late. Although I’m sure I added to the burden of the GMs by creating demand for more last minute printing, I hope that there was some benefit in that I provided a sort of safety net to cover last minute drop.
Interestingly, knowing I wasn’t going to be cast until the last minute proved to be a sort of freeing experience. I knew I was likely to get a character that the LARP could easily run without. Normally, these kinds of characters are of a weaker variety; they feel unimportant to the game at large and often go ignored by other characters. But knowing this in advance helped me approach the LARP with a very casual attitude and relaxed expectations. And as it turned out, my character had very few connections to other characters and plots going on, but it didn’t bother me. I actually quite liked my character, particularly because the connections I had and other members of my faction were LARPers I enjoy LARPing with, but don’t get to often enough. Even my costuming hint was extremely broad and vague (“business formal”), which made packing a lot less stressful. I couldn’t be accurate, so whatever I brought would be fine.
Operation: Atlantis is a SILWest Game, first run back in 1988. It’s set in the real world, in the near future, with a sci-fi twist. The UN is creating a flying city called Atlantis to encourage international cooperation and world peace in the face of the recent invention of an anti-gravity field that everyone fears will be exploited by foreign powers for military purposes. Naturally, on the weekend it’s scheduled to be completed and launched, things start going terribly wrong, with mysterious deaths, signs of sabotage, and rumors flying about various secret organizations and their nefarious schemes.
In many ways, Atlantis is a classic SILWest game. (Other LARPs I’ve played by SILWest include Nexus, Secrets of the Necronomicon, and Dragon). For example, factions play a very heavy role — there are multiple prevalent public factions (in this case, nationality or membership to the core staff of Atlantis) and multiple prevalent secret factions (various spy organizations, both good and evil.) It seemed as though a number of characters at least are primarily defined by which faction or factions they belong to — most if not all of the other characters they know coming into the LARP are the other members of their factions, and their goals align with their factions’ goals. (Certainly this was true of my character.)
Another example — SILWest LARPs commonly include widget hunts as a core element of the game, and Operation: Atlantis was no exception. Widget hunts involve players searching for and finding ways to acquire small items that exist to be collected. In some ways, they’re like the small, numerous version of MacGuffins. In fantasy LARPs, they’re often random little components for spells; in sci-fi, like Atlantis, they’re often random electronic machine components that can be combined into useful devices. There were a number of widget hunts going on in Atlantis, some of them fairly large and complex, one of which was key to getting the city off the ground. The list of widgets was pages long, and some players spent the bulk of the game trying to acquire them, which involved balancing a budget and comparison price shopping from the two vendors present.
Other elements of the LARP included a bomb threat. The prop for it was fairly simple — a large cardboard box with various components and lots of envelopes, some nested within others, that contained various puzzles to solve to represent deactivating it. Making mistakes often resulting in the bomb releasing dangerous poisons, such as a knockout gas that left several characters temporarily unconscious. It was nice to have a source of puzzles in the game for players to go work on when they had little else to do. I wish I’d gotten more chances to interact with it, but some of the stages required skills my character lacked, and at other times, the bomb was closely guarded by some of the players who didn’t trust anyone they didn’t know to interact with it.
There were other puzzles in the LARP as well, such as a puzzle to get the machine that enabled the city to fly working, and another that popped up that no one knew what solving it would accomplish. I won’t say what the solution revealed for spoiler reasons, but both puzzles proved ridiculously difficult. The former we only managed to solve the first of two stages, and the latter took a large number of players a ridiculous number of hours. Honestly, I’m still surprised we solved it. It was a string of letters over a thousand characters long, with no instructions or clues as to what manner of puzzle it was or how to approach it. (My own contribution was limited to ruling out a bunch of options for types of code.) I’d be curious to know what percentage of runs of this LARP had players successfully solve these puzzles. The players who solved it in this run were so surprised and proud when they finally managed to solve it that people starting taking pictures of the laptop with the solution on the screen.
There were also several elections for political positions in Atlantis going on during the weekend. One player interpreted his character as a ridiculously hilarious parody of Bernie Sanders. It included a wig that is sold as a “rude grandpa” wig, a variety of stuffed animal birds, (“Feel the Bird!”) and some very cute political posters.
Both of the previous runs of Operation: Atlantis at RPI happened to be scheduled at times I couldn’t make, and at this point, I’ve played in many of the weekend long theater LARPs that Lime Shirts run, so I’m really glad I managed to catch a run of one of the few I had yet to play!