Festival of the LARPs 2017, the weekend of theater LARPs, recently ran at Brandeis University. I was coordinator (or con chair, or whatever you want to call it) this year, so that’s been keeping me rather busy over the past month or so. We had 22 LARPs in a variety of styles and about 100 attendees.
On top of running Festival, I also wrote and ran a game designed to give newbies an introduction to boffer LARP. I’m still undecided if this counts as me finally writing a LARP or not… it feels more like an extended module to me. In retrospect, I think creating a LARP for a Festival I was running might have been a bad decision on my part; a number of unusual problems popped up over the weeks leading up to the event, and handling them would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t trying to pull together the game at the same time.
But I couldn’t resist. We had a new space this year, a very large function room, that no other GMs were interested in using on Saturday morning, and seemed like a shame to let Festival’s first giant, open indoor space go to waste… and I really liked the idea of being able to boast that Festival now hosted a larger variety of styles that included boffer. (Festival has hosted boffer practices before, but never an actual game.) I don’t regret writing and running a new game while serving as coordinator, but I definitely would recommend against it to others.
Besides running the boffer game, I also played in four LARPs. On Friday evening, I played in The Day We Came Home, a sci-fi LARP about humans immigrating back to earth as the communities on earth are rebuilding from past major collapses of civilization. Some of the players played representatives of the communities on earth looking to take in immigrants with the skill sets they need, some played immigrants looking for a new home, and a place to fulfill their dreams. I played one of the immigrants, a follower of a religion called the Altarian Way, who wanted to build a school on earth. After hearing good things about the LARP from its first run at Intercon, I’m really glad I got the chance to play.
On Saturday morning, I ran my boffer game, Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Elves of Yule. I was heavily inspired by The Trouble With Turnips, a basic dungeon crawl that introduced me to the Realms system. Turnips is lighthearted, with a simple premise and a structure that would be familiar to anyone who has played any old school pre-written tabletop RPG modules. In Cry Havoc, the mascots of a bunch of holidays team up to take down Santa Claus, who is conquering the other holidays. I chose a holidays theme because I knew there would be a lot of iconography that would be instantly recognizable to everyone, which was very useful for creating PCs and NPCs, and I could easily borrow a lot of set dressing that fit the theme. (The PCs came up with some really adorable, creative costuming for their holiday mascots.)
I think I can best describe the run as extremely chaotic. I learned a lot about running boffer modules and designing for newbies from it, and I think I would like to possibly run Cry Havoc again, with a fair amount of editing. This should probably be its own post, so I’ll just say I think the players had fun, which is the most important thing, and I’m very surprised but very relieved to say we got it all set up and cleaned up on schedule. The NPCs were amazing and did a ton of work, not just roleplaying and fighting PCs (and producing their own awesome costumes), but transporting my excessive amounts of set dressing, setting up tents and room dividers and all of the props and set dressing (and injecting their own creativity into their roles and into the set dressing), and cleaning up so that I could get to my next LARP in time. I am extremely grateful to both them and the players.
Primal Spirits first ran at Intercon Q, and I found the premise extremely appealing, so I was really excited when the submission form for it popped up on the Festival website. In a mythological age, the animals spirits are gathering at the World Tree to decide what sort of spirits they will be, Trickers, Sages, Hunters, or Leaders. Of course, the costuming opportunities appealed to me a lot, too, and I’ve really enjoyed LARPs by these authors in the past, particularly their world building, treatment of magic, and the dynamic relationships they write between characters.
I was cast as Tiger, and a friend was cast as Jaguar, so in the days leading up to Festival, I made us both ears and tails. I was generally quite impressed with the costuming for this LARP — a lot of adorable face paint and ears and tails, and some cool masks and other accessories. I really liked Eagle’s majestic robes, Horse’s mane-like pompadour, Otter’s shell jewelry, and Woodpecker’s red fauxhawk and black facepaint, to name just a few neat details. I particularly liked Turtle’s outfit, which included a turtle necklace, and a Ninja Turtles shell-style backpack over a t-shirt printed to look like a turtle’s plastron and arms.
In Primal Spirits, the animal spirits explore their potential paths, part of which involves playing games and performing tasks that demonstrate how the paths suit them, spend time with their various gangs (groups that follow various themes, like the feline gang, or the flying gang), explore various mysteries (the presence of unknown spirits, for example), and pool resources to create New Things in the material world, like Death and Architecture. I liked the mechanics for communing with some of the Greater Spirits — drinking water was a way of connecting with the Water Spirit; lying down, even napping, for five minutes was a way to connect with the Earth Spirit. (Eating some fruit was also a mechanic relevant to some of the plot in game.) All ways to keep players well rested, fed, and hydrated, a series of mechanics that encourage self-care during game that the authors have made good use of in some of their past games.
Also worth mentioning, this LARP had some nice set dressing in the form of a beautiful, sort of abstract representation of the world tree (draped fabric and leaves) and props (like a fake bowl of fire.)
Though as Tiger I wasn’t pursuing the path of Sage, I did see that one of the Sage activities was to share stories and wisdom through art — paper and markers were available for players to use. I always really appreciate opportunities to create in-character art during a LARP. I didn’t create any art, but I did have a ton of fun practicing my Hunting skills through a game of Stalk, Hunt, Pounce (actually Red Light, Green Light, for those familiar with that childhood game), and Tiger ended up dedicating herself to the Hunter spirit in this run.
Since this post is getting quite long, I’ve decided to separate out my Saturday evening LARP (Kingsword) into its own post, and skip ahead to Danger Zone: Crossing the Streams, my Sunday LARP.
I was quite excited to have a chance to sign up for Danger Zone for two reasons. One, as you may have guessed from the title, it’s a crossover LARP featuring characters from the tv show Archer and the Ghostbusters franchise. When I first started watching Archer, I remember thinking, I hope someone will write a LARP based on this cartoon, and I really want to play my favorite character, Dr. Krieger. I’m admittedly not as huge a fan of Ghostbusters, but I did like the recent remake. (Fun fact: much of the climactic battle scene was filmed in Boston, and I was an extra!)
The second reason I was excited to play was that I really enjoyed Star-Crossed, another LARP by the same author, which used an interesting mechanic (“Ghost Loops”) in which the characters are forced to play out scenes from their lost memories in front of one another, and I think it was a really neat technique that added a lot to the experience. I knew Danger Zone was going to reuse it.
My casting questionnaire and one other questionnaire (jokingly) reflected our ongoing feud over who was going to get to play Dr. Krieger. (Some excerpts from my responses: “Also, he and I have already had multiple fights in the past over who gets to play Krieger in a hypothetical someday LARP. And you just put yourself in the middle of this fight…” “…I can hear him typing a response to this questionnaire, and I have informed him he better not put Krieger…” “Is there anything else you would like to add? If [he] put Krieger, he means “any character but Krieger.”)
And what do you know, the other LARPer got to play Krieger. I was cast as Kevin, the mimbo secretary character from the new Ghostbusters. This casting actually worked out very well for me (I also got to briefly portray another Archer character I’m rather fond of), so I guess I can’t hold a grudge over this.
For costuming, I decided the outfit Kevin wears when he decides he’s also a Ghostbuster would speak with more volume than his outfits when he’s acting as the administrative assistant. I borrowed a white t-shirt (in retrospect, I wish I’d found one a bit more fitted… it’s times like this I really think I should invest in a chest binder) and an olive colored jumpsuit to tie around my waist, and a friend of mine ordered a cheap pair of lens-free glasses. (I’ve borrowed that jumpsuit so many times for LARPs, despite it being much too large on me, I think it’s about time I just bought my own smaller version.) I also did my best to adopt Chris Hemsworth’s beautiful Aussie accent, with rather questionable results.
I was actually rather impressed with a lot of the costuming for this LARP — there were some inflatable proton packs and Ghostbuster jumpsuits, lab coats, and Holtzmann’s iconic aviators-and-goggles look, and Archer wore his classic black turtleneck and sunglasses. Erin even had a copy of her book, Ghosts from Our Past.
Playing the LARP was a lot of fun, and often very funny. The really nice thing about combining the “Ghost Loop” mechanic with a cast of well known characters is that there are scenes written to set up some of their famous catchphrases and running jokes (much to the delight of the fans playing the LARP) although we definitely found plenty of ways to work them in between the Ghost Loops as well. I think the best moment was during the climax (“phrasing!”) right before the end of the LARP, where we needed Archer to do the Big, Important, Immediately Necessary thing, and when we looked around to see what the big delay was, he was holding everything up to finish off his drink.
There was also a really fun interactive prop — very simple, but tons of fun, which I won’t describe here for spoiler reasons, (sorry, I know that’s kind of a tease, but I just have to mention it) but I definitely want to steal the idea for other LARPs.
The best part about my casting was that the metaphysics of this LARP were, of course, extremely complicated — there was a lot of pseudoscience discussion between the Ghostbusters and Krieger that I was never really able to follow. But luckily, as the exceptionally and adorably clueless Kevin, it was perfectly in character for me to have no idea what was going on.
If you are a fan of either series, I recommend catching a future run.