The New England LARP Conference, or NELCO, held its fifth annual event at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over the past weekend.
Prepping for it has kept me pretty busy this year — a few months ago, I was on the hotels search committee, which was a time consuming process, and later I did what I could to drum up panel ideas, panelists, and help arrange other content for the weekend.
Friday night was scheduled to be a more relaxed evening. The only panels were the Writing 101 presentation (which kicks off the Build Your Own Game program every year) and a panel explaining the process of creating Game Wrap, NEIL’s publication on the art and craft of LARP. We spent the latter half of it brainstorming ideas for future topics.
There was a LARP Forum too, which is meant to be a social event where a number of local LARP organizations host tables to showcase the LARPs they run to players from the area. (I’ve attended two standalone LARP Forums in the past, and there was one that ran over dinner last year’s NELCO.) Unfortunately, the people coordinating it this year bowed out about a week out from the event, so the only tables we had were for Intercon, Lime Shirts, Festival of the LARPs, and New World Magischola.
Posters I made for the various tables.
We had a bartender, so people mostly hung around the common area, chatting about LARPs and having a drink. There were some LARPs available to run on demand; I brought the print-outs and props for a run of Drink Me, and another attendee brought some freeform style games that I’d really love to try, though none of them ended up running. We did have a nice little reunion among some New World Magischola attendees, and I won a Maison DuBois patch in the raffle.
My first panel on Saturday morning was “Start in the Middle, End Before Consequences: Anime as a Model for Four Hour Theater Style LARP.” We talked about how anime commonly drops viewers into the middle of a story with no explanation or background and expects them to pick it up as they go along. In one sense, a typical four hour theater LARP often naturally does this, as players are dropped into the middle of a situation with an incomplete idea of what is going on, though character sheets do provide some background.
This naturally segued into a discussion about amnesia LARPs, which are a more definitive example of dropping players into a story with no explanation or background. We talked about the benefits of kicking a LARP off with an immediate source of excitement and/or threat, to avoid one of those awkward opening scenes where players aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves first. (Sort of a LARP variant on Chandler’s Law.) This can be doubly beneficial in amnesia LARPs, where players may have no context whatsoever to base their initial interactions on (and the “who are you?” “I don’t know, who are you?” can drag on.)
We also discussed the idea that not every plot needs to be wrapped up — anime frequently leaves various plotlines hanging. (Starting after the beginning and ending before the end is often a result of an anime adaptation from an unfinished or indefinitely running manga.) Sometimes players need resolution, but leaving things open ended enables players to envision any ending (or continuation) of their characters’ stories, even where they conflict with one another. It’s sort of an extension of the attitude that says that game wraps that involve GMs describing what happens next, or encourages players to announce what happens next can invalidate other players’ personal narratives. Infinite Magic Glories, the magical girl themed LARP (which obviously drew direct inspiration from the anime genre), is designed to end on a climactic note with high potential for devastating fallout for the characters, but also enables players to determine the long term effects on their individual characters for themselves. And of course, many one-shot four hour LARPs do this unintentionally anyway, for reasons of time limits.
We discussed the downside of leaving a LARP plot unresolved is that it can feel unsatisfying — not every player is content with their own version of the outcome, but instead want an official version. One method for mitigating this issue is to provide goals that involve a series of steps, so that players can make significant, tangible progress even if they aren’t completed by the time the game ends.
The panel also went over techniques that can be used to enable games to start in the middle the way an anime does, but still fill in gaps in information along the way. In amnesia LARPs, most commonly, players receive bits of text representing their memories as they recover them, either naturally over time, or when triggered by specific events or experiences. (Most agreed that shorter texts for memories are better, to enable players to absorb them and spend less time out-of-character, reading them.) Flashback sequences, where the players act things out rather than read about them, are less commonly used but can be very effective. (Star-crossed uses flashback sequences to great effect; they keep the action going and enable some amount of player agency over the memories, though the general direction and conclusion of the scenes are dictated in advance.)
The topic of flashbacks then gave rise to the topic of flash-forwards, which seems like a less commonly used device in local LARPs, though some LARPs conclude with Some Number of Years Later scene. (Cottington Woods ended this way.) They might provide another approach to the issue of unresolved plots being unsatisfying if players can play out possible futures. Making them possible futures rather than definite futures avoids the issue of predestination. It’s all a balancing act between providing resolution and enabling individual players to envision the ending, or at least the next stage, for their characters.