Back in November, I was contacted about a run of Trial of Lancelot, a relatively new Arthurian theater LARP. Once plans for a run firmed up, and I realized I’d be in NJ for the whole weekend anyway, there were proposals for another LARP, followed by a few more proposals for LARPs I’d been hoping for a chance to play.
I ended up with a schedule of five LARPs — not quite as full as a typical LARP convention weekend for me, as three of the LARPs were 90 minutes or under; still, a solid weekend of LARPing, hanging out with LARPers, and some extra time in the morning to sleep in a bit. (There were also a couple of LARPs that ran that I did not play.) I certainly packed just as much costuming as I do for a typical weekend LARP con.
The first two LARPs of my weekend were Orc and Pie LARPs. Back in 2001, the shortest, yet technically complete, tabletop RPG adventure was created, featuring an orc with a pie in 10×10 ft room. This spawned a number of variants, parodies of the writing styles of tabletop RPG writers. This meme in turn inspired some of the LARP writers in the NY/NJ community to write their own short scenarios featuring orcs with pies, parodying their own LARP writing styles.
Aorch and Pi is a beautifully written 90 minute LARP of political negotiation set in a fantasy world, and it didn’t read to me like a parody. In fact, I wouldn’t have realized it was an Orc and Pie LARP if the divine artifact and magical resource we all coveted wasn’t called the Picene Disk (aka the “Pi”), and the PC who begins the LARP in possession of it wasn’t an adherent of the Aorchish faith (aka an “Aorch”).
I played the head of the New Aorchish church, looking to improve the lives of the peasants. I debated and negotiated with the Aorch, the head of the Academy of Sorcery, and the monarch, over what to do with immense magical potential of the Picene Disk, which of our various political projects to pursue, and how to handle our relationship with our aggressive neighbor to the south. My church ended up with the Picene Disk, which was nice, but to be fair, I did think I had one of the easier positions to argue. In geeky, liberal communities, the social justice angle of this character and the advancement of technology represented by the sorcery academic are the two positions most likely to be viewed favorably. I suspect the Aorch has the most difficult role to play.
For costuming, I wore an off-white colored poncho in a loose weave fabric, over a red kaftan-like thing, and I thought the effect was actually decently clerical. The red had a bit of sparkle, but the poncho’s material is prone to fraying, and the edges looked rough. I thought it nicely reflected my character’s humble beginnings and dedication to remaining an advocate for the lowest class.
The second Orc and Pie LARP was called Scions of Sorrow, and this one is rather more blatantly a parody. It involves the three children of Sorrow facing a test to determine who should be heir, at the expense of a rather nonplussed orc, who just wants to enjoy his pie. We indulged in our most melodramatic acting and ad-libbing and made the orc very uncomfortable; it was all very silly.
On Saturday, we played in Route 108: A Dream of Glam and Cities, a LARP about “the meaning of artistic movements, the stories we tell about ourselves, and mid twentieth century America”. Last year, I played in a LARP titled Dreamlands, which is about fantasy worlds inhabited by dreamers. Each world has two Auspices that reflect its nature. (For example, my character was from a fairytale world, with the Auspices of Snow and Starlight. Another world is a pirate adventure world with the Auspices of Brine and Gold.) I rather like the concept of the setting; it has a lot of potential for future LARPs in a variety of styles and tones. It didn’t surprise me that Dreamlands inspired another LARP, Dreamlands: Heart and Shadow was written with new worlds and new Auspices.
Not exactly a sequel, but set in the Dreamlands setting, Route 108 is a LARP about four rock stars and four personifications of cities facing the end of their Dreamland, and figuring out what comes next. Playing a rockstar in a LARP is always appealing (Slayer Cake is a total blast), and I find the idea of playing the personification of a city to be terribly intriguing — for a while, I was toying with the idea of creating a character based on the personification of Boston for a boffer campaign.
The four cities in Route 108 are imaginary, but based on real world locations: Sireva is inspired by New York, Losmilenos by Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Redwater by New Orleans, and Cascadia by Seattle/Portland/the Pacific Northwest.
I think if I had been cast as a city, I would have most enjoyed costuming as Redwater (I have only fond memories of beautiful New Orleans)… And I spent a bit of time dreaming up an interpretation of Sireva that would have involved a Pizza Rat costume and use of a loud car horn sound effect. (It’s probably for the best I was not cast in this role; I would likely have offended the New Yorkers.)
Instead, I was cast as one of the rock stars, which was also a lot of fun to costume. I wore a jacket with a bejeweled collar, a rhinestone skull t-shirt, bright red leggings, and tall black leather boots with lethal spike heels. I was incredibly impressed with the other costuming in this LARP — Cascadia’s combination of hipster skirt with a techie t-shirt, Redwater’s Old World charm with a layer of Mardis Gras excess on top, Nureva’s professional cosmopolitan attire, and Losmilenos’ slick suit and trilby.
Route 108‘s plots and mechanics take inspiration from Toil and Trouble (a LARP I really like, and ran at Consequences) and Trial of Lancelot (the LARP I would be playing the next day.) I like how this community takes particular effective ideas and finds new ways to explore, combine, and expand on them. I rather wish I had spent more time preparing my speech about the meaning of art, as I got nervous and ended up just sort of stuttering through it. I also got pretty nervous for my monolog describing my performance, meant to represent a story of Cascadia. However, two of the other players wrote actual short pieces of music for Redwater and Losmilenos (in a rather small amount of time) and gave really impressive performances, which was incredibly cool.
I was also particularly impressed with Losmilenos’ roleplaying as a slick city that emphasizes taking big risks, lures people in with the promise of big rewards, can wheel and deal with the best of them, and just might chew you up and spit you out. My character most valued Style as an artistic virtue, so Losmilenos was my choice for the city to essentially become the new member of our band in whatever future we might end up in.
On Saturday evening, I played in Ars Longa, a one hour, two person LARP about two old classmates deciding which of them should confront an evil, powerful sorcerer — their ex-teacher and mentor. In some LARPing communities, the notion a LARP that is, in its entirety, a two person, hour long conversation might be met with some skepticism, but I think it’s a successful formula (and it’s no surprise that there have been a number of other such LARPs written by members of this community that I’m hoping to play.)
My costume was a variation on the Route 108 outfit. I swapped out the rhinestone t-shirt for a ruffly white top, and red leggings for black ones. I think the result had a distinct equestrian vibe.
The character sheets of Ars Longa are long and detailed and clearly indicate the writer’s extensive experience in academia, with all the pride and frustrations that come with it. The characters are well fleshed out, with well developed relationships with both the evil ex-mentor and one another, and there is plenty of fodder to keep the conversation flowing for the hour. In the end of my run, my character was the one to confront the dread sorcerer, but I felt as though we could have easily gone the other way. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other one hour, two person conversation LARPs.
The final LARP of my weekend was the one that got the whole “Not-So-Mini Con” rolling — The Trial of Lancelot. It features King Arthur and eight of his knights (including the defendant himself) gathering around the Round Table to discuss potential verdicts and sentences, in the context of the ongoing decline of Camelot. While I do love LARPs produced by this community, and Arthurian LARPs in general, what initially drove me to want to drive 4+ hours each way to play was this phrase from its blurb: “[i]t is about the struggle for honor and virtue, the meaning of masculinity, and the great difficulty of being dedicated to a grand ideal.” (You can read the full blurb here.) This is the first LARP I’ve personally come across that is explicitly billed as an exploration of the meaning of masculinity, and that intrigued me.
I was cast as Sir Bedivere, whose name, to be honest, I did not recognize (though I’m not entirely well versed in Arthuriana.) In Trial of Lancelot, he is Arthur’s marshal, one of the oldest knights, and notably one of the more mature, level headed among those at the Table. I wore my red and white knightly tabard for costuming (a piece originally made for Quill, hence the giant ragged hole in the back, ripped to make room for her wind-up key.) Bedivere is also described as having a prosthetic silver hand, and I’m still kicking myself for having forgotten the glove I wear for my Winter Soldier cosplay at home. (In some Arthurian tales, Bedivere is known as the handsomest man in Christendom; this description wasn’t in any of the game’s written materials, but I can head-cannon that, right?)
Like many other LARPs coming out of this community, the LARP has a structured schedule, with three evening phases (free roleplay time) and three daytime phases, during which the knights gather at the Round Table and each has a chance to make a brief speech. As part of the speech, each character (with the exception of Lancelot) can tell a short tale, which takes the form of two or three of the players acting out a short scene which represents a decision regarding which of the four primary virtues of Camelot (Duty, Faith, Brotherhood, or Love) to uphold.
All of the tales are pre-written, with the exception of Sir Bedivere’s. As Bedivere, I was welcome to make up my own tale, and support whichever of the four virtues I chose. In the weeks leading up to the LARP, I went combing through online collections of Arthurian tales, trying to find one to modify into a story a decision of virtue, but came up blank. Then I remembered reading in an online blog that “a heart at war with itself” was one of George R. R. Martin’s favorite themes to explore, and on Saturday night, inspiration hit. Borrowing from the stories of A Song of Ice and Fire, I wrote up a quick tale about Sir Bedivere deciding whether or not to knight someone who seemed unworthy of knighthood to save a life. Instead of choosing between two virtues (like the other tales), I tried to reflect all four.
I’m actually somewhat proud of the little tale I came up with — I think it has a lot of room for interpretation, as it seemed there was a lot of debate to be had over which of the virtues Sir Bedivere had upheld. And afterwards, a number of the players came up to me to ask what happened next. (I hadn’t made that up so I just responded, “I don’t recall” — I do wish I had come up with a fuller ending in advance.)
I found the concluding moments of Trial of Lancelot to be particularly emotional, and I came away from the LARP thinking about running it at Consequences. I hope it will be available for others to run in the future.
Following the last LARP, I went off into the basement to attend the NEIL meeting over video chat, where we elected the next president of NEIL, a con chair for Intercon T, and a chair for NELCO. There’s a good chance I’ll be back in NJ in two weeks to judge a small LARP writing contest, but in the meantime, I’m looking through lists of T words to try and come up with a suggestion for the Intercon T theme. So far, Time Travel seems pretty popular. I rather like Time and Tide, or Trapdoor, or Teatime.