This past weekend, NELCO 2018 ran (with yours truly as the conference coordinator), accompanied by two tracks of six one-shot boffer LARPs in an event titled Little Boffer Con. The first of it’s kind, and if I have anything to say about it, not the last.
NELCO stands for New England LARP Conference, and it’s been running annually since 2012. It’s the first LARP conference in the US, and it features discussions, panels, workshops, and presentations, all about creating, running, and playing LARPs. This year, it featured two tracks of content all day Saturday, as well as informal socializing time on Friday evening and Sunday morning.
In recent years, a new format of LARPs has been developing — one shot boffer/live combat LARPs with pre-written characters. (Similar forms have existed, but I do think there’s something unique about what’s developing in our community, primarily through Intercon.) They’ve become quite popular, which spawned the idea of running a bunch of them at their own standalone(ish) event, with the idea that they would be available for people who can’t make Intercon (or perhaps are turned off by the idea of attending a primarily theater LARP convention.) The hotel that has been hosting NELCO for the last few years has an enormous ballroom, divisible into two rather large function spaces, and we’ve been trying to bring more of the boffer community into the NELCO discussions, so this seemed like a very good fit. And so Little Boffer Con was born.
I think, overall, NELCO went pretty well. As coordinator, I definitely made some mistakes, but at least I learned a lot through them. There were issues with the website (not the fault of the website; it just wasn’t designed for how we ended up handling sign ups and payment for PCing the boffer LARPs.) I forgot to print a couple different things, and there were a variety of ways I should have made Ops a lot smoother.
Despite the issues, we had two solid tracks of NELCO events, on a diverse array of topics. The Hour of Controversy ended up totally filling, as people were inspiring one another to share their controversial opinions about LARP. We sold a few copies of Game Wrap, and inspired a few possible ideas for future Game Wrap articles. (Game Wrap is accepting articles for volume 3, by the way.) LARP Box set out a few foam launching muskets and rifles for people to try out. (They were so much fun!)
In previous years, filling out the schedule hasn’t been easy, but this year, we received enough ideas for topics to run that I ended up cutting all of my own ideas out of the initial schedule to make room for everyone else’s. We did have a few last minute drops, so one of my topics made its way back onto the schedule in the last couple days before the conference. I’d had the idea of prepping a list of questions for each of the topics and blurbs and questions for a few additional backup topics, just in case there was a last minute drop, but someone else present was willing to step in and run the topic as a discussion, or else run a discussion on an alternative topic. (This is how a discussion on Climaxes in LARP ended up on the schedule at the last minute.)
Our topics for NELCO 2018 were, Avoiding Erasure in LARP; Beyond Gender in Casting: Changing Cultural Norms; Climaxes in LARP; Consent and Negotiation in Low-Transparency Designs; Creating, Customizing and Integrating Co-Created Characters; Genre Theory; The Hour of Controversy; Litform LARP: Strengths of the Form; The Permission Space of LARP; Queer Narrative in LARP; Running PvP/CvC Content in Live Combat Campaign LARPs; Welcoming New People; Workshops and Foreplay; and Writing LARP for Kids and Adults. (About half got recorded.)
I personally attended discussions on Creating, Customizing, and Integrating Co-Created Characters, sat in the audience for the presentation on Genre Theory, co-ran the discussion on Climaxes in LARP, sat in on the Hour of Controversy (and gave a very abbreviated version of my own controversial topic in the last minute and a half), and participated in the Workshops and Foreplay workshops. For the last four hours, I PCed one of the Little Boffer Con LARPs, Rabbit Run.
Little Boffer Con went very well overall, I think — members of the boffer community who had never tried this format attended, people really enjoyed the LARPs, and post-event chatter indicates that people are inspired to write more LARPs in this new genre, which is exactly the sort of outcome I hoped for. We hit some snags in the process and some logistics would have to be adjusted to ensure a smoother Little Boffer Con 2 (for example, the pricing structure might have to shift a bit), but the important thing is, coming out of this experiment, Little Boffer Con 2 seems like a real possibility.
One of the major challenges for Little Boffer Con was prepping the room dividers necessary for the LARPs to run. NEIL has the components for about 30 simple room dividers (piping with plastic tarps taped on) that have been primarily used for Intercon LARPs (upon request), and GMs use them to subdivide the single rectangular rooms our hotel affords most of the LARPs that run there. Lots of the boffer LARPs, in particular, use them to section out part of the room as “Monster Camp” and change up the layout of the space for different combat.
Ensuring that all of the room dividers for two tracks of boffer LARPs were assembled in time for Saturday morning’s first games, and disassembled around the time we needed to vacate the hotel ballrooms was no mean feat. Many of the attendees who arrived early to socialize on Friday and stayed late after the last discussions and LARPs of Saturday night donated their time and effort to putting the dividers together and then taking them apart and packing them up again. (For which I am extremely grateful.) If the hotel hadn’t granted us early access to the hotel room (or had been around to demand we vacate the rooms exactly on time) the whole process would have been so much more difficult and time consuming (and I suspect the LARPs would have had to make do with a lot fewer.) Certainly, for the next Little Boffer Con, another logistical element that will likely need adjustment will be a plan for a volunteering system, to ensure we have the space and manpower to repeat this feat.
Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the various topics and my experience playing Rabbit Run.