I recently attended Time Bubble, the fall weekend of LARPs at RPI in Troy, NY. I played in three LARPs and attended a panel.
My first LARP was Amalgamation. To be honest, the blurb for the LARP on the website was a little vague, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I signed up. (As there was little to no prep involved — no character sheets to read in advance or costuming to create, just some rule documents to read shortly before the LARP itself, I still wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it.) It seemed like an unique, experimental, abstract sort of LARP, which was intriguing, but it also had a linguistics theme, which definitely spoke to me.
In Amalgamation, the players play divine beings existing in a void after the destruction of the previous world, embarking on the creation of a new one. Play begins without access to any language, only gestures and expressions. (With gestures being limited only to ones where the meaning was inherent to the gesture and not based on arbitrary associations created by culture; in other words, indexical and iconic gestures, such as flapping your arms to indicate wings or pointing to indicate a particular person, are allowed, but emblematic ones like, like giving the middle finger, are not.
I spent much of this time trying (and largely failing) to identify the others present based on my limited knowledge. I found it very difficult to avoid common gestures that are deeply ingrained. (I caught myself nodding and shaking my head a lot, then briefly dropping character to try to retract it… I recommend if you play this LARP and find yourself accidentally breaking the rules of communication in the first part, try to just ignore it and move on, instead of highlighting it by compulsively dropping character to try and take it back, like I did… which was also a hard habit to break.)
We were excited to receive our first set of words, though communication proved barely any easier. Our speech was pretty bizarre. I don’t want to say too much about the LARP at this point, because while I realize this game probably wasn’t designed to be highly concerned over spoilers, part of what I really enjoyed about the experience was having to think on the fly, and use my creativity to figure out what I wanted to accomplish and how to do it with my limited options, and I wouldn’t want to accidentally influence future players in any particular directions.
I will say that my favorite moment of the LARP came when one of the divine beings suddenly climbed up onto a table and proclaimed themselves superior and demanded deference and worship with proto-sentences.
The final exercise of the LARP was my other major highlight — it was a creative linguistic puzzle which I both really enjoyed struggling with, attempting to bargain with and assist other players, and also hearing what each player produced. Our new world will be a complex one.
I particularly liked how this LARP played with the question of language and thought, and language and culture, addressing which produces which and how they influence one another. Will characters adjust their philosophies (and thus, their core identities) according to the language available to them? Or would they twist the meaning of the language they had (as best they could) to suit their outlooks and desires for the new world? This LARP sort of takes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to a cosmic extreme.
After the game, there was some discussion of LARPs that either run without spoken language, or with very limited spoken language, and the idea of running an event with a solid track of such LARPs. (White Death, Sign, and BABUL come to mind.)
I recommend Amalgamation to LARPers who like weird, experimental structures and/or playing with linguistics through roleplay.
In the afternoon, I attended a panel titled “Tips for First Time LARP Writers”, which included a nice powerpoint presentation and went over the basics. The tip highlighted as most important was to find whatever element of the LARP, no matter how big or small, that excites the writer (or writing team) most, and use it as a focus for inspiration and motivation to see the creation process through to the end. (I’ve run into a number of requests online for resources for first time writers… would love to see this powerpoint expanded on and made available online. Maybe a reprise at an event where it can be recorded and uploaded…?)
My second LARP of Time Bubble was A Hero Killing Calamity, which revolved around the meeting of an organization of villains who were forced into a treaty when they lost a war to the forces of Good, but now find themselves handling the slaughter of a troop of heroes. The villains must discover who committed the violation of the treaty and decide how they will address the issue and demands from the forces of good. And, of course, how they will go about their usual evil business with both the forces of good and their fellow villains, currently concerned about treaty violations, around.
I played one of the villains suspected of slaughtering the troop of heroes. My character was the second-in-command to a troop of mercenaries, and we did our best both to free my character from suspicion, and to take advantage of the situation and try to arrange some lucrative contracts.
It was cool seeing a LARP with all villainous characters play out. I think it’s a popular concept, though one that writers/GMs are often wary of, as a cast of all villains can preempt any cooperation between the players, but the conceit of the LARP worked out well. I thought the characters were all very colorful, playing with popular villain tropes.
My costuming hint for this LARP suggested military themes with a prominently featured crow emblem (our mercenary band was called the Company of the Crow), so I pulled out my black military jacket, and put together simple gray sashes out of ribbon and iron-on patches for myself and the commander. I also added a sash in fiery colors as a nod to my character’s pyromancy.
My last LARP of the weekend was Revolving Door Afterlife Lobby, a LARP that plays with a trope that is very common in comics. A bunch of superheroes and supervillains find themselves in the lobby of the afterlife, with their fates in the hands of three deities, who might choose to send them back (in one form or another), welcome them into their realms, or possibly elevate them to divine status. I played Hathor and Sekhmet, Egyptian goddesses of love and war respectively, and I could flip back and forth between them at will. I was surprised more characters didn’t appeal to Hathor for help, but most of them appealed to Sekhmet, offering to bring glorious battle to evildoers if I would return them to life.
Revolving Door is a fairly simple game, mostly about roleplaying as the colorful characters and mulling over the various decisions before us. I think the structure and mechanics have legs — I could easily imagine a larger cast of divine beings and superheroes, and each run involving some subset of those depending on the players desires for casting.
Coincidentally (and, to me, rather amusingly) the three divine beings, Dionysus, Hathor/Sekhmet, and the Grim Reaper, were played respectively by the LARPers who played Zeus, Aphrodite, and Hades in Siege of Troy.
For costuming, I grabbed the red piece of fabric I used for The Oncoming Storm (literally a large rectangle with a hole for my head), belted it with a gold piece of trim and a gold sash, and threw on my Egyptian beaded collar and some makeup. (I wish I could have had time to create an elaborate horn and disc headdress.)
While I was in Troy, I also got a chance to try out Enigmatic Escape’s Escape Room, “The Secret of the Study” which was a ton of fun and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area.
Amalgamation, by the way, will be running at Intercon R, so attendees will have a chance to play it there. (And the first round of Intercon sign-ups begins November 2, at 7pm EST.)