February has been a bit of a crazy month, LARP-wise, between Dice Bubble, a Threshold event, a trip to the UK for a weekend freeform LARP, Shogun, and then Intercon, the all LARP convention. I’m determined to get through posts about all of them in a timely manner. I find starting with the most recent helps me get momentum going so… let’s start with Intercon R: Rock ‘n Romance.
The days leading up to Intercon were more rushed than usual this year. I returned from my international trip about three days from the official start of Intercon, and I had been focused on prepping costuming for Shogun up until then. Once I was back in the US, I was focused on finishing costuming prep for Slayer Cake, drawing posters for Intercon R, working on some props and set dressing for Stars of Al-Ashtara, making a new knightly banner for Kingsword, and prepping a discussion about boundaries in LARP. And, of course, packing. (I also managed to squeeze in a haircut and picked up some new black athletic clothes for NPCing boffer LARPs.)
I had a lot of fun with the posters this year. For some reason, the theme of “Rock ‘n Romance” brought an American traditional tattoo art style to mind (watching the latest season of Ink Master recently probably played some part,) so that’s what I ran with, referencing old school tattoos for the lettering, flowers, and music imagery.
On Thursday, I was busy with setting up for the two back-to-back runs of Stars of Al-Ashtara that would run the next day. Like all of Lovers and Madmen LARPs, it has extensive set dressing, including three tents (which would get re-used for the Friday night run of Kingsword.) If there was a better looking LARP set at Intercon R, I didn’t see it. (…Ok Thicker Than Water looked amazing; unsurprisingly, all three of these LARPs have a GM/creator in common.)
The photos don’t do it justice. It had a marketplace with four shops, a university, the palace gardens (with a lily pond) and even a new quilted backdrop to represent the night sky for the star gazing mechanic. (Players look for star formation to help guide their fates.) Someone lent us a few pretty room dividers that also really enhanced the appearance of the environment.
In between setting up Al-Ashtara, I attended two discussions, “Amnesia LARP” and “Intersection of Kink and LARP”, and ran a discussion on “Establishing World Boundaries”. (I took notes on two of them, so I hope to have posts on them after the backlog of LARP posts go up.)
On Friday, I was an assistant GM, or aGM, for the two runs of Stars of Al-Ashtara. This was my first time aGMing (or GMing) at Intercon, so it was a bit of a landmark for me. My primary functions, besides generally helping out as needed, were to run the alchemy system (exchanging lists of ingredients from the two alchemists in game for the potions they created) and running one of the desert quests. I threw together some costuming for the run (including the veil and shoes from the costume I wore when I played this LARP a few years back).
Originally, I was only expecting to aGM one run of this LARP on Friday afternoon, but there was such a long waitlist, the primary GM decided to add an additional run on Friday morning. I did a lot of prep work for this LARP, including reading over all of the character sheets and reviewing the mechanics and quests and prop lists… but I discovered during the first run that there were little gaps in my knowledge and preparation. For example, my list of alchemical concoctions was incomplete (and there was a minor copy and paste error), and a bottleneck formed around a group of characters when their desert quest went on too long.
My job as an aGM went a lot smoother the second time. I knew what alchemy potions were missing from my list (and was prepared for the two identical ingredient list issue), and had a better handle on the intentions behind things like the character abilities. When players wanted to fudge them to try things beyond the abilities’ literal descriptions, I felt empowered to enable it without negatively impacting the game as a whole. I was able to answer far more questions on my own instead of just sending players on to the main GM, and I had ideas on how to prevent the players from taking too long on the desert quest again (though they proved to be unnecessary.)
The player costuming for both runs, by the way, was across the board amazing. I had a lot of fun just admiring the clothing.
Much of the dinner break following the second run of Stars of Al-Ashtara was spent switching the set over to the also elaborately decorated Kingsword (which now includes a new knightly banner based on a player’s custom design for Culhwch.) We left the garden out as a backdrop for Caliburn, the sword in the stone. Then I dashed off to costume for Slayer Cake.
Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Slayer Cake when I signed up for it, but I’d heard such good reviews from players of previous runs, that I couldn’t resist. I got my top pick for music style– baby metal (actually “kawaii metal,” “idol metal,” “cute metal” or “kawaiicore” — the genre as listed in the game materials is named after Babymetal, the band credited with pioneering kawaii metal.) It was my first choice primarily for reasons of costuming opportunity; I wanted to try creating something that blended metal and Lolita fashion. I googled some of Babymetal’s photos and focused on one of their looks with plaid skirts for inspiration.
While sewing the plaid skirt, I discovered just how difficult hemming circle skirts can be. But I covered up the worst of my mistakes with a layered lace trim, and supported the skirt with two fluffy petticoats to try and create that iconic Lolita cupcake silhouette. I paired the skirt with a black lace shirt under a velvet military style jacket, and accessorized with combat-style boots, fingerless gloves, cutesy little butterfly and skull barrettes, and a spiked choker.
I think if I ever reprised this costume, I might like to actually take time with my pigtails so they don’t quickly become a frizzy mess (I suspect this may involve learning to use a curling iron and some kind of hair product.) I also tried to make matching plaid bows for my hair, but they just did not come out right, so I’d like to have another go at them, and maybe find better tights. (Also, I left my prop headset at home. Oops.) Despite the issues, people spotted me in the hallway before and after Slayer Cake and immediately recognized the music style I was representing, which I think is an encouraging sign.
The costuming for the other bands was very impressive. People went all out with their metal fashion (even the understated grunge band looked great — so classic grunge), and I particularly want to mention Hare Mettle, the glam metal band, who featured glittery rabbit logos on top of their fabulous costumes. It made for a really eye-catching, unifying element. Another shout out goes out to the gloom metal band members who wore furs for much of the LARP, along with everyone else who wore leather/pleather or wool, despite the warmth of the room (which increased as the evening went on) and the heat produced through energetic performances.
Slayer Cake invites players to develop their own characters and the dynamics of their bands over email in advance of the game, though for this run, the baby metal band mostly neglected to do any pre-game development. We settled on the name Bubble Fight in the first few minutes of the LARP. (Other bands included the heavy metal band Charismatic Megafauna, grunge band Rust, and emo band A Dying Dream of Romance.) Bubble Fight also lost two players just before the run, but I think being the smallest band sort of played into our cute, easily underestimated, seemingly harmless image. (It also matched the original Babymetal with three female members.)
The LARP itself has two stages: the first involves going from station to station in Metal World, the second involves a battle of the bands style series of performances. Each of the stations encourages some form of roleplay (e.g. between bands or with an NPC playing a member of the press) or enabled players to develop aspects of their performances (e.g. pick which excerpt from which song the band wanted to perform, work on the band’s look, or develop some choreography.)
I enjoyed making the rounds, but it was the performance part of the LARP that was the most fun. I was nervous about my own performance, but I discovered that the other players taking on the roles of wildly enthusiastic fans really did help a lot; it genuinely does make you feel like a rock star. During my first performance, a group of fans in the back row started chanting “Small! Small! Small!” (or maybe “Smol! Smol! Smol!”?) in reference to me (I was a bit shorter than my two band mates) and it had a impressive impact for me — very encouraging.
So I ratcheted up my expression of fannish devotion to the various bands as they performed and looked for creative ways to cheer them on, along with the rest of the audience. We shouted our desire to marry the various band members, threw bits of fabric at the “stage” (stand-ins for undergarments), clapped and stamped and chanted and swooned when the band members came out into the audience. The performances were enthusiastic and creative (and often overtly sexual) — as far as I saw, no one gave the impression of shyness or stage fright.
The mechanic for voting for a winner is clever — sort of like musical chairs, in that a GM plays music for a bit and people sit down when it stops on one side of the center aisle or the other. This enables audience members to let their vote be randomized (by simply wandering until the music stops) or to actually vote (by staying near one side or the other) — which I think helps reduce the bad feelings of losing. (Which can honestly be disappointing if you enjoy performing, since losing significantly cuts down on your stage time.)
There’s a bit of a twist in the middle of the LARP that I won’t spoil here (though I don’t think spoiling it would likely negatively affect most players’ experiences, there’s always that potential), but I will say I rather enjoyed it. There are also superpowers in the LARP (each band has its own) which have very little mechanical weight, but add a lot in terms of flavor for the individual bands and the setting as a whole.
Overall, I had an absolute blast, especially performing on stage and acting as a wild, hardcore fan. Some highlights of the LARP include a beautifully crafted boffer guitar that had pieces designed to break off (and reattch together with velcro), wielded by a musician who communicated solely in grunts (if I replay this LARP, I would enjoy being cast as that character), one musician whose chosen instrument was a chair (“chair! chair! chair!”) using scraps of fabric from my skirt project to dress up band mates, a player bringing in lights that changed color in response to claps/stomps, the grunge band’s attempts to corrupt the baby metal band, and too many moments during the performances to name (including some rather… suggestive dance moves.)
While I have no regrets about choosing baby metal as my music genre, and might very well do so again if I ever got the chance to replay Slayer Cake (which has very high replay-ability value, in my opinion), I do think the baby metal band has one of the most difficult initial challenges, as its songs are all in Japanese and most likely to be unfamiliar (unless the LARP runs in Japan). This makes both lip syncing difficult (on top of the language, there were times during our first performance where I honestly couldn’t tell over the noise from the audience whether or not the music had vocals) and the audience isn’t likely to get psyched up the way they do by the more familiar lyrics or riffs of other songs. The genre is also known for having the entire band doing vocals and synchronized dancing, which would require a lot more effort to look convincing, and the performer don’t have instruments as interactive physical props (microphones are nice, but not quite the same as, say, a fake guitar or drum set) to rely on.
A lot of this is mutable — there’s no rules against, say, a member of the baby metal band deciding they want to represent backup instrumentation if they’re not comfortable with faking their way through heavily choreographed dancing. (I also suspect the GMs would work with the band if they wanted to perform something from off their initial suggested song list.)
I definitely recommend if you play this LARP, don’t be shy about pre-gaming. Honestly, I think the more prep work you do for it, the better. For a future run, I would try harder to get my band mates to work out complicated relationships between the members, more shared history, maybe pick the songs and prep some choreography in advance, prepare more ways to express enthusiastic fandom, such as making signs (things like “The Future Mrs. Drummer”), bringing items so band members can sign autographs, or bringing props to represent undergarments for flinging onto the stage. I think bringing some makeup and a mirror for one of the stations would also be a lot fun.
I came out of Slayer Cake pretty jazzed up and fantasizing about what other songs I’d like to perform/see performed in future runs of the LARP, and what sort of set dressing I’d like to do if I had a limitless budget and endless time for a future a run. Then I happened by Sound and Fury: Lament, a boffer LARP which was still running for a little while longer, where the NPCs waiting for the next attack on the PCs out in the hallway. They commented that my baby metal costume would work well as one of the crunchy bad guys for the big final fight, so I returned after helping Kingsword clean up and fought the finale battle with the NPCs. While avoiding spoilers, of course, so that I can still PC Sound and Fury in a future run.
This meant that I missed the bulk of the Magimundi social, along with the Alleged Entertainment party in the parlor, but I did still have a lot of good LARP theory conversation while clearing up the room that hosted the Magimundi social, hanging out in the con suite, and helping clean up one of the runs of White Death.
So that was the beginning of my Intercon R! Sneak preview for the next post: it’s going to feature a lot of crunchy NPCing for boffer LARPs.