My LARP for Saturday evening at Festival of the LARPs 2017 was Kingsword, which was another LARP that first ran at Intercon Q, and I was really excited when the authors offered to run it at Festival. I’ve really loved LARPs by these authors in the past, too, (such as Devil to Pay, Venezia, and Stars of Al-Ashtara). Kingsword takes characters from Irish mythology, Arthurian legends, Scottish folklore, and the Welsh Mabinogion, and brings them all together at a tourney in Ireland.
I think playing Kingsword at Festival was possibly the best experience I’ve had yet in theater LARPs.
(Possibly my best ever, depending on how you slice it, but it’s really hard to compare individual moments to one shot games to campaigns, so I’ll just have to leave this as it is, vaguely worded.)
I think what made it such a positive experience for me was a combination of a number of factors, besides the fact that I’m always a fan of classic, romantic fantasy. I had more than enough interesting and emotionally compelling goals to keep me busy through the 4+ hours of game play. I’ve certainly played very busy characters in LARPs before, but I think this is the first theater LARP where I was constantly active straight through the LARP — I always had quests to work on and tons of political negotiation to handle, in addition to the occasional duels which were both fun to watch and the outcomes were often relevant to me. I never had to take a break from working towards my goals if I didn’t want to. The GMs had suggested prior to the LARP that most players would not be able to achieve everything on their list of goals; we were encourage to decide for ourselves which goals seems like the most appealing to work on, and not worry about not getting around to the ones that seemed less interesting. This advice proved useful to me during the LARP.
Also, all of the politicking and questing was punctuated by some very dramatic, cinematic moments for me, the kind I live for in LARPing, mostly related to romance plots, political marriage negotiations, and dueling
I also think I was particularly well cast; knowing what I know now, I think I would have chosen the character I played, Olwen, for myself, but it still seemed like there were plenty of other characters I would also really enjoy.
Additionally, while I disagree with people who assert that production values are the most important element for high immersion, it was really nice to have a well dressed atmosphere. The set dressing and props and costuming filled the room nicely. The GMs did a lot of work to set up the room dividers and tents, string pennants, banners (made by yours truly), and table runners, a small banquet, genre-appropriate music, special seating for royal characters, and a large sword-in-the-stone prop. Having a nice function space (instead of a classroom) was a nice bonus. And the costuming was high quality across the board, with some really nice tabards and armor and robes and jewels and gowns.
The character I played, Olwen, is originally from the Mabinogion, a Welsh collection of early British stories. Olwen’s father, Ysbaddaden, the evil king of the giants, has placed her under a fairy geas. She can never to marry without his consent, which he will not give because of a prophecy that says he will die on her wedding day. A number of heroes, including several Knights of the Round Table and the hero Culhwch, are questing to free her from the geas.
Because giant territory is located in Pictish territory, in land that is now Scotland, I decided to adopt a very Scottish-inspired look for my costume. I know that the Scottish association with tartan is far more recent than one might think, but I couldn’t resist. I really love the look of tartan and wanted to use in costuming. When searching for inspiration online, I found photo galleries of Celtic dolls, and I tried to recreate the look by making a linen tunic (I’m relieved that the trim came out alright), the skirt, and the sash. Finding and choosing the right tartan was something of a saga. I really wish I’d gotten better photos of the complete costume.
Kingsword has a number of neat mechanics. To pull the sword from the stone, players must acquire the numbers to the prop’s combination lock, which is an abstract representation of earning a great destiny and making yourself worthy to be the High King or Queen of Britain. There are a variety of ways to earn letters, such as by completing great quests, marrying royalty, or having various sovereignties pledge their support to you. I love that all characters in the game, regardless of gender or nationality, can earn the right to be the one to draw the sword from the stone.
Another neat mechanic is the combat mechanic. The outcome of any duel is determined by comparing characters’ valor scores, with some possible bonuses added. Without knowing the results yet, players are given foam weapons to play out a duel, and buzzers to hold in their off hands or pockets. The GMs then remotely set off the buzzers in the hands of the characters with the lower scores.
I liked this combat system a lot — it included the drama and action of actually getting to participate in or watch (mock) swordfighting (which is often absent in theater systems), and GMs could choose the order in which combatants faltered in the melees to maximize drama.
The questing mechanic was also a lot of fun. They were short choose-your-own-adventures, and I felt like there was a lot that was smart about their design. Some quests were searches for artifacts, or defeating foes and monsters, others presented difficult dilemmas or challenging riddles. The quests allowed for various approaches to solving them, and the mechanics of succeeding often required players to find others to work together with, often outside of the allies they came into the game trusting. Figuring out the best combinations of questers and choice of approaches was often an interesting puzzle for me, and it often encouraged negotiations and exchanges of favors between characters. There were also rules in place that prevented individual players from dominating the quest mechanic to the exclusion of other players, which I appreciated a lot.
Kingsword, by the way, is running again this summer, at WPI in Worcester, MA, on July 15th. I’ll be aGMing this run. Sign-ups are opening Monday, June 5th, at 7pm EST. There are also a few other LARPs running that day. More information can be found here.