This past weekend, I was back in Troy, NY for Dice Bubble, RPI’s weekend of short theater LARPs.
My first LARP of the weekend was Muppet Purgatory. The premise involves tragedy striking the Muppet Theater; all of the muppets have been found dead. Now their souls are in purgatory, where God and Satan have taken the forms of the hecklers Waldorf and Statler and will be judging their performances to determine their final fates.
I played this LARP ages ago at Intercon, as Statler, a role which basically involves getting to watch all of the performances and judge the muppets performing, while cracking wise and insulting the performers. It was a ton of fun, but I wanted to see what the LARP was from the other side, have a chance to perform and see how things went backstage, so I signed up to play again when I saw it was running at Time Bubble.
Muppet Purgatory is a horde game, meaning some of the characters are cast — the main cast of muppets (and one guest star, Neil Patrick Harris in our run) are played by players who stay in that same role through the whole game, while the rest of the players play horde, and rapidly switch through different roles, playing all of the various minor muppets who perform with the cast in their sketches.
I was really happy when I was cast as Animal, who has always been one of my favorite muppets. I watched through some scenes featuring him as prep (also watched The Great Muppet Caper) and decided I wanted to put on the “Oh Danny Boy” sketch, which has the Swedish Chef, Animal, and Beaker all singing. (The joke being that none of their peculiar speech mannerisms are suited for it.) Fortunately, the player playing Beaker was on board, as was one of the horde who wanted to perform as the Swedish Chef.
For a costume, I decided I wanted to make furry hood for Animal’s shaggy head, which turned into a fairly big project. The fake fur proved difficult to work with for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the giant mess it made. (People commented it looked like I had killed a muppet in the living room — there were bright scraps of fluffy fur everywhere.) The final product has various issues and mistakes, but I still really enjoyed wearing it. I also acquired spiked black leather trim and plastic chains for Animal’s accessories.
I recall when I had played Statler, I thought the sketches were really funny and well done, so I had assumed backstage the prompts and prep work for each sketch was pretty extensive. It turned out to be far more chaotic and off-the-cuff than that. There are also a lot more prompts for roleplay and interaction backstage besides preparing acts — the muppets have a mystery to solve (how they had died), and goals to achieve (avoid being blamed for the casualties and perform acts of repentance for the worst of their sins.) There is also a mechanical system to wrestle with, involving the acquisition and trade of tokens which enables muppets to go on stage.
I didn’t end up doing much with the mystery solving plot or trying to keep people from blaming Animal for the deaths — I think it was by sheer luck that poor Beaker ended up accused, and not Electric Mayhem’s shaggy drummer. I had a lot of fun roleplaying through the sheer chaos backstage, but I’d be interested to see this LARP run with more of an emphasis on prepping the acts (both in the weeks leading up to the LARP and during it) and removing the impediments for the muppets to get on stage.
We hilariously botched the opening musical number (“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights…”) by missing our various cues, and I’m afraid I personally messed up during the final performance (the Muppets sang their version of “Bohemian Rhapsody“), which was otherwise well done, but I am proud to say that, after the LARP ended, when the players playing Statler and Waldorf were asked about which sketches were highlights for them, the “Oh Danny Boy” act was the first one that came to mind.
The performances got recorded — if clips end up available for public viewing, I’ll be sure to share some links here.
On Saturday morning, I played in Inheritance, one of the HRSFA LARPs I’ve been meaning to catch for a while now. It’s set in a transhuman future, where technology has made immortality a reality, but a popular author has committed suicide and one of his characters has been charged with determining who will inherit his works, the Thousand Worlds he created. It’s a short LARP, designed to evoke philosophical conversations between the players. I enjoyed talking with the fascinating characters (including a hive mind and a highly advanced AI) about the nature of identity, epistemology, the value of art, and worthwhile goals for an immortal mankind. In our run, my character ended up inheriting the Thousand Worlds and used them to create artificial realities where people can fully immerse themselves in the story.
After Inheritance, I played in Walk the Pattern: A Chronicles of Amber Game. The game is set in the world of a fantasy book series (that I have yet to read,) and involves the siblings of Amber’s royal family gathering to witness their sister’s dangerous ritual of Walking the Pattern, which may kill her or render her insane. The entire LARP involves the nine players sitting in a circle, discussing whether or not to utterly destroy their enemy, the Courts of Chaos. Meanwhile, the siblings pass around a deck of tarot cards, each holding it for ten minutes, until each sibling has had a turn. While holding the deck, there are various rules of etiquette to observe (most prominently, the deck-holder can only ask questions and the questions must be answered), and each sibling gets a chance to add cards to the deck of the sister who is Walking the Pattern, to affect her outcome and possibly sway her opinion in favor of their stance on Chaos.
Sadly, in our run, our sister came out of her ritual insane. We also did not destroy the Courts of Chaos, to my character’s frustration.
I think the real strength of this LARP is the mechanics of the tarot deck. We each had a chance to add up to four cards to our sister’s deck after our turn holding the tarot deck. After the first three siblings’ turns, she drew a card. After the second three, she drew a second card. And after the last sibling’s turn, she drew a final card from the deck we has been adding to. If her final draw was lower than her first two cards, she died. If it was between them, she went insane. If her final draw was higher, she lived with her sanity intact.
The cards each of the siblings have to choose from poses an interesting challenge. How much risk are we willing to put our sister in in order to sway her opinion on Chaos? It was likely to matter, as the rest of us were deadlocked — three wanted to end Chaos, three did not, and the remaining three were undecided, so if we put it to a vote, our sister’s vote would break the tie.Throughout the whole game, we were internally strategizing — how likely was everyone else to put our sister’s life and mind at risk to further their own ends? As the first two cards were drawn, that also impacted our strategies and encouraged those whose turns hadn’t come yet to reevaluate their cards and possible choices.
I wish I’d reread the cosmology background on this LARP before playing it, because I had some of the metaphysics and terminology confused, but one doesn’t need to have read the books in order to enjoy this LARP. I’d really love to see this mechanic, or other mechanics like it, used in other LARPs, with its interesting ongoing calculation of risk and likelihood of altruism from your fellow players.
On Saturday afternoon, I played in Tales of the Cradle. Tales of the Cradle is a five player sci-fi LARP played out in 11 short scenes, most of which involve the players playing new characters for each scene, all discussing whatever situation and/or decision is presented by each scene. The structure of Tales was inspired by Tales of Irnh, Adrift on a Starry Sky, and Second Chance for Wings. The author liked the structure, but decided he wanted to try writing it such that the decision points had a deeper impact on the branching storylines– which future scenes got played out depended on previous decisions. I believe in the three LARPs that inspired it, the scenes that get played out are more or less the same regardless of what choices get made, though players can take previous decisions into account during discussions.
Tales from the Cradle focuses on mankind’s first interaction with an alien race. I don’t want to get to far into details here because I think spoilers would have a serious impact on the game — part of the experience is very much about being caught off-guard by the extremity of the decisions that need to be made. Let’s just say there’s a lot of “lesser of two evils, two very evil evils” going on.
I also really liked that there was a fair amount of variety in the decision points. For example, some of them had more than two possible outcomes, some of them involved everyone unsure of how they wanted to proceed and any of characters could use a veto.
I suggested that the LARP seemed very “boxable” — it pretty much involves printing (a LOT of printing) and a few props, and other than that, seems pretty straightforward to run– GMs simply have to hand out the corresponding sheets for the next scene after each decision is made. And I’m quite happy to say the author has since offered to let me run Tales of the Cradle at SLAW.
I didn’t originally have anything scheduled for Saturday evening, but someone else at Time Bubble had brought along Unheroes, a freeform game from the 2014 run of the Golden Cobra challenge, so six players who didn’t have anything else scheduled that evening (including one player who had never LARPed before, but was hanging around in the con suite) gave it a try.
The premise involves six former superheroes whose reality was rewritten, and now they’re mundane people in a mundane world. The players receive a series of prompts which enable them to create characters, develop relationships between them, and work out their backstory — how and why things went wrong and caused reality to change. Once that is done, the players play out a scene of the old reality starting to reassert itself, their memories of that reality returning, and the decision about whether or not to put things back the way they were.
It was a fun, interesting exercise. Certainly, with this kind of improvised creation of characters and backstory, it’s easy for things to go astray in various ways. For example, with the story we came up with, the decision to return to the old reality wasn’t particularly difficult. If this had been a more typical LARP, a writer probably would have made the cost of returning higher and the benefits lower or less certain, so as to make the final decision more fraught. But it was still a lot of fun to play out.
Unexpectedly, I did have one of the coolest, most surprising moments I’ve ever had in LARP while playing out the scene. I created a character who had a twin sister who was a shapeshifter (jokes about the Wonder Twins came up during character creation), and she was stuck as my pet cat in the new, superpower-free world. As the old reality began to leak in around the edges of the new reality, my sister, in human form, randomly passed by and greeted me on her way. Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t be unexpected to a player in a LARP (however surprising it is to the character)… but I had just created my character and the concept of her having a twin sister only a few moments before, and I hadn’t seen one of my fellow players sneak off to ask another LARPer to do a quick cameo during our scene. I thought I knew what was possible within the parameters of the LARP — that no one could have been prepped to play the role of the sister — so it completely knocked me off guard and felt very surreal. I guess it’s the little things.
Besides that moment in our particular run, I thought the coolest thing about the Unheroes is that it makes a really good exercise for collaborative character creation, and that’s something I’ve been really struggling with for boffer campaigns. The last few campaigns, I’ve been trying to tie my character history in with other characters and develop dynamic relationships and interesting shared stories. But it’s not easy, especially when people are struggling for inspiration for their own characters, let alone everyone else’s. Using a system like the one in Unheroes could really help, especially if you add a few more steps and perhaps come up with methods for people to insert surprises into one another’s backstories to discover during the campaign. In fact, the Eyrie, my warband in Fifth Gate: Silverfire, was walked through a very similar process by someone who had played Unheroes, and this is how we created the story of one of our warband’s adventures during the great war. In retrospect, I wish we had done a lot more of this exercise, and created a few more shared stories to reference in-game and help flesh out the dynamics of the relationships between members of the Eyrie.
On Sunday, I played Some Assembly Required, a LARP created around the idea of playing with legos as the primary mechanic. How can you resist an idea like that? The characters were very diverse and colorful, since there are so many different lego sets in so many different genres. I was cast a spaceship pilot, who was based on Turanga Leela from Futurama. (Two of the characters I was working with were inspired by Fry and Bender, and I think a third was inspired in part by Zapp Brannigan.) It was a wacky, high energy LARP, and I wish I’d gotten more sleep over the weekend so I could have been more awake and alert for it, but I did have fun getting to play with legos and created some weird inventions based on various prompts in the game. (Example: for one adventure, I had to create an anti-mind control device while two police officers held off a horde of enemies. The time limit for my lego crafting was simply as long as it took for the endless waves of enemies to knock the cops out.)
And that was my Time Bubble 2016! I’m looking forward to SLAW (also a weekend of theater LARPs, but run at WPI in Worcester), and I’ll be back at RPI in December to play Siege of Troy, a weekend long theater LARP with a Greek mythology theme.