This past weekend, I was back in New Jersey for more short theater LARPs. This time, I was acting as a judge for the Marathon of LARP Writing — or MOLW (mɔːl’-wʌ) — contest, so I played another series of five short theater LARPs, which were written back in November. That’s ten LARPs for 2019 for me so far… at this rate, I’ll be on track to break my old record for number of LARPs in a year (47).
MOLW has some similarities to the Iron GM contest that runs at Intercon. In both Iron GM and MOLW, that teams of writers are given “ingredients” (three concepts/themes and a physical prop) to include in a two hour LARP written in a short amount of time (and presented in a such a way that another team of GMs could run it), then teams of players play the LARPs and judge them on various criteria. (Coincidentally, the Iron GM contest for Intercon S writing happened on the same weekend we played the MOLW LARPs. The Iron GMLARPs are scheduled to be run on Sunday morning of Intercon, and yours truly is signed up to play one.)
However, Iron GM and MOLW have a few key differences. Iron GM gives its contestants 24 hours to write in, MOLW gives the writers 48. Iron GM LARPs are run for the players by the writers themselves, with casting at the door. The coordinator of MOLW runs all of the LARPs (possibly with an assistant) so that they can be judged anonymously, and if casting questionnaires and instructions are provided, the LARPs can be cast in advance. Iron GM has different sets of players for each LARP; MOLW uses the same set of players to judge all of the contests. Iron GM also requires all LARPs to be playable with as few as 5 players and as many as 12; MOLW writers create LARPs for 8 players. (There are some other minor differences as well, such as the prizes and the limits on printing.)
Our schedule worked out to be two LARPs on Friday evening, then three on Saturday. The four ingredients were Rediscovery, Duality or Dichotomy, and Metropolis, along with a set of Bristle Blocks as the physical prop.
Our first LARP was Gift of the Titans, in which we played mythological creatures building a city for our mortal worshipers. I think this was one of the two LARPs that incorporated the blocks best; we used them to construct a model city, with mechanics for building our very selves into the tallest towers. I played a protective Titan who wanted to help the mortals. I particularly liked our specialized combat abilities, which provided a poignant emotional moment for me as I tried and failed to save as many worshipers as possible. The mechanics of Gift of the Titans were the most complex of the five entries in MOLW 2018, and I admit I had trouble understanding them at first, but I liked how combat affected city construction and vice versa. I’m afraid the metropolis we constructed in this run was a bit of a tangled nightmare for the poor mortals.
The second LARP of the weekend was Where the Heart Is, which turned out to be the winner of the contest. It is about denizens of a collapsing metropolis who find themselves trapped underground with strange, unfamiliar technology. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it was an emotional experience. This was the other LARP that I felt made really good use of the bristle blocks, though in this case we were slowly taking apart a construction, (rather than building one up, as in Gift of the Titans.)
Early Saturday afternoon, we played the third LARP, City of Mirrors, which proved to be an interesting exploration of Marxist themes. In City of Mirrors, our characters were primarily archetypes representing different classes within a city at war, (but also could be seen as individuals in various ways.) I played The Artist, passionate yet embittered over a (perceived) lack of appreciation. I think I played my cards a bit too close to my chest for our particular run; when emotions ran high towards the end of the LARP, I realized I might have made more progress if I had been more vocal and honest all along.
The fourth LARP was One for All?, which was both my personal favorite overall, and had my favorite character to play. One for All? is a sci-fi LARP, featuring a crew of unusual aliens exploring an unmanned ship that appears to have just flown unharmed though a star. I remember while filling out the casting questionnaire that all of the races sounded appealing to play — it has giant moths with heightened senses, sentient fire, parasitic fungi that puppet host bodies, friendly aliens with terrifying visages, and a sentient planet.
I wrote that I would happily play any of these races on my questionnaire, but I really lucked out by getting cast as the sentient planet (who is remote piloting a robot body in order to serve as the ensign of the crew. Oh, how I wish I could have costumed for this role. (Some of the other players did a really good job with impromptu costuming — sunglasses for the light-sensitive moths facepaint for the fungus, and a jacket and face mask to represent the containment suit for the living fire.)
I had a lot of fun portraying the planet’s alien mindset, with an entirely different set of priorities than most creatures, a very flat affect, and poor understanding of emotions, and a tendency to take everything much literally. I think the mechanics of this LARP could use a little tweaking, but I enjoyed discovering the secrets of the ship and debating the implications of our discoveries.
The last LARP of the weekend was Powers of the Lost City, the only LARP for which we did not fill out a casting questionnaire. This was easily the most humorous of the LARPs, and also probably the most classic “secrets and powers”. We played a collection of quirky people descending into the ocean to explore the ruins of lost Atlantis. (Amusingly, my fellow players felt compelled to ask if I was wearing my Wookie onesie in character.) I liked my character’s concept and had some fun abilities, though I came nowhere near my character’s goal. But I did pretty well at answering some riddles, which were very cute.
I enjoyed the experience of judging MOLW overall; playing the LARPs was a lot of fun. But I think some of the most valuable aspects of it for me — besides connecting with the community/communities that participated in it — were the conversations, both during the weekend and after, about topics such as what motivates us to create LARPs, what structures we have to support new LARP writers, and what makes a good LARP.
I’m hoping some of these LARPs will appear on the schedule for Dice Bubble, the all LARP convention in Troy, NY, which is happening March 16-17, and will be running in a hotel! Dice Bubble and Time Bubble have thus far been running in university classrooms, so this is an exciting new change that I hope goes well.
The website does not have info on it just yet, but it will very soon, so keep an eye on https://dicebubble2019.concentral.net/ !