LARPing in the Age of Quarantine

I’m in my pajamas, sitting on the couch. This upcoming weekend was supposed to be Festival of the LARPs. Everyone I know seems stressed out, scared, frustrated… For me, this is all just deeply surreal. I’ve mostly just been feeling internal pressure to be productive and creative. Besides spending way more time on video chat these days  (NEIL meetings, birthday gatherings, or my weekly dance class’s new format…) I’ve been pouncing on every project that pops up online… dipping into lots of stuff, not finishing enough of them, and then feeling annoyed with myself about it.

In particular, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to focus on writing blog posts. I have a bunch of barely started ones, on Intercon, Threshold, Dice Bubble… thoughts on previous NELCO topics… Lots of people are saying they’re finding writing particularly challenging, because of the stress, but that doesn’t feel like a valid excuse for me. I think I’m mostly just either convincing myself I could be doing something more productive (e.g. sewing masks)… or else when I sit down at my laptop to write, I get instantly distracted by the excessive amount of online chatter generated by lots of stressed out, lonely humans trapped in their homes. A bunch of new Discord channels have sprung up among various LARPing communities (plus one or two pre-existing ones that are new to me)… and I might be addicted. I’m literally checking back once or twice per sentence even as I’m writing this.

My last blog post was nearly a month ago, and that was only my second blog post of 2020. (If I were on track for my New Year resolution, I should be writing my seventh.) So here’s what I’ve been up to. (Besides Discord.)

1. Sewing

I’m determined to push forward with my themed-tote-bag-for-costuming-organization project, but it has been predictably stalling as I turned to sewing face masks instead. I’ve made a Ninja Turtles one for myself out of one pattern, then tried out a second pattern, this one with pleats, on some cute sushi and Pokémon prints. One is made from leftover fabric from my LARP character Cricket’s pants, for a fellow PC from Fifth Gate: Silverfire; it amused me to think of him wearing Cricket’s pants on his face.

I’ve given away much of the non-geeky cotton prints I had occupying space in my sewing/crafting/costuming closet, to other crafters making masks. It feels good to get rid of the stuff I was never going to use, but I’m experiencing weird reluctance to give away or even use my geeky cotton novelty prints, whether I bought it just because the print called to me (an impulse I used to be able to resist), or even if I already used it for its intended purposes (eg a geeky tote bag) and then couldn’t bring myself to throw out the excess.

This is very silly. What am I saving these remnants for, if not for a practical, fun project that actually can be made out of even the smallest of my scraps? What was I buying some of these prints for, if not for a project just like this? Apparently, fabric is my Dragon Hoard, but I have to fight my hoarding instinct.

On the plus side, I find I really like the look of the first mask, as a fashion statement, and I’m looking forward to making more for myself and others.

Besides the masks, I also joined an online sew-along. The project is a more elaborate style of tote bag than the sort I have been making. (Lining and more pockets and an adjustable strap.) A while ago, I bought some bright pink and purple fantasy castle cotton on a whim. The colors are pretty garish, so it’s just been sitting in my stash for months. I feel guilty that this project has stalled for a bit, but I’m determined to finish. I’m hoping the learning experience will be helpful for my simpler tote bags for costuming organization.

2. Costuming

I joined a Facebook group called “Quarantine Costuming Challenge” where the moderator posts a new challenge each week, then members put together costumes based on the prompts and share photos of the results. So far, I’ve done “modern version of a mythological figure”, “sci-fi tarot card” and “literary tea party”. It’s not as practical of an activity as my sewing projects, but it’s a lot of fun, and nicely scratches my costuming itch. I also really like seeing what the other costumers come up with — there’s a lot of creativity and cool photography to enjoy, whether people are just pulling one or two items out of their closet, or getting super crafty, or doing amazing makeup.

For my modern mythological figure, a few people were doing zodiac signs, so I put together an outfit for Cancer. I always like to tell the story of the crab that nearly took a finger off my scuba diving instructor just for being in its personal space. Now that cranky little critter is my zodiac sign. This one was a little hasty; I wish I’d done some more elaborate makeup inspired by the finger-snipping crab or something.

For the sci-fi tarot prompt, I chose the Two of Swords, which is often depicted as a blindfolded figure holding two swords crossed over her chest. I threw together a second lightsaber for this costume, out of the tube from a roll of tin foil, hot glue, and whatever bits and bobs I found in my crafting closet.

For my literature character attending a tea party, I used this an excuse to finally get some photos of my Good Omens Crowley costume (first assembled for a LARP at Consequences 2019). I wish I’d gotten better shots of the yellow contacts, snakeskin belt and boots, and snake belt buckle.

This week’s prompt is “fae at war”. Hmm.

Separately from this Facebook group, I also did a meme where I threw together a Pokémon gym leader costume from stuff in my closet based on an element randomly assigned to me — ghost. I think the end result has kind of a creepy nun/corpse bride/medium vibe. That works for me.

I feel like these challenges have been good for getting in some makeup and hair practice, which is cool.

3. LARPing (of course)

I have seen the odd LARPer online moping about the lack of LARPing while we’re all social distancing, but I think everyone needs to embrace the unusual formats, namely online LARPing and Letter LARPing. …Which, very happily for me, my community has been! I’ve already played a bunch of short LARPs online, I’m currently playing an ongoing week-long one over social media, and I’m looking to schedule another soon. People are either scouting around for pre-existing LARPs suited to online forms communication, adapting ones meant to run in-person, or creating new ones designed to run over the internet. I’m incredibly impressed and inspired with how well our very social hobby is flourishing in the current climate of social distancing.

I’m going to quickly digress into a bit of definition, because I know this kind of thing inspires debate around terms like LARP, LAOG, and tabletop. (This might be a blog post in its own right so I’ll try to be brief.) In my understanding, LARP and tabletop RPG are not binary concepts; they exist on a spectrum, and it is possible for a single game to be legitimately classified as both. If the players are primarily doing more or less what their characters are doing, it’s a LARP. So if the characters are engaged in an online video chat (or conversing through square magic portals or something), that’s a LARP. But also, if the presence of the screens and the fact of the distance between the players is incidental (that is, their characters are in fact sitting and chatting and the players are simply pretending it’s all around the same physical table), then I can see how some LARPers might struggle with immersion in such a situation (what with connection issues, confusion over settings, etc.)… but it’s still a LARP.

That all said, the LARPs I’ve played so far/am playing are EVIL Henchmen, Report!, touch_myelf Chatroom, As We Know It, Miss Coocooniverse, and Welcome Guests.

Evil Henchmen, Report! is a Carmen Sandiego inspired LARP, in which players play high ranking members of EVIL, the villainous organization, attending a meeting to determine promotions and root out a double agent. I played The Dilettante, and gave my character a genre-appropriate alias (Countess Ivana de Frawd), likes (fast cars, sparkly accessories, her six poodles — her baaaabies) and dislikes (public transportation, uggs, actual babies). I did a bit of costuming, throwing on some costume jewelry, hair sticks, and red lipstick, and we all had fun hamming up our villainous tropes. Some of the players made good use of Zoom’s background feature (eg. a mad science style lab for The Engineer).

touch_myelf Chatroom is a LARP played entirely via text in a dedicated Discord server. The characters are all elf fetishists, with online personas that may or may not line up with their real selves. Players take elf-themed quizzes, discuss elf-themed ads, and make plans for an upcoming elf convention. It’s quite adorable, and I found I really enjoyed the all text format. I do enjoy LARPing via video chat, but besides fewer technical difficulties, there’s something very relaxing about the pace of text roleplaying.

I tried to get some New Zealanders to play, but there didn’t seem to be much interest. I hear there’s a German/Danish run in the works, which I think is pretty cool.

As We Know It is a freeform style LARP that was published through Golden Cobra. I’ve been wanting to play ever since someone mentioned on twitter that they were LARPing from inside a dark closet. (It ran at least once at Intercon, but alas, not a time I could make it.) There’s a brief workshop to determine some details about the alien invasion apocalypse setting, before players begin texting one another as strangers, each hiding in their own chosen corner of the ruined world. (I picked the tunnels under Disney World as my hiding spot, and found it made for some fun conversation fodder.) I really wanted to play from inside an actual closet, but just before my run began, I realized… not one of my closets has free floor space. (So much costuming…) So I played it huddled on the floor of a darkened bedroom, with Discord channels representing text messages. I ended up having a series of surreal conversations, absurd in their lightness and awful in their darkness, and I ended the one with the first person to text me by telling them, with complete IC seriousness, that bizarrely, I now loved them and to stay safe.

Miss Coocooniverse is a freeform LARP about moths, beauty contests, and the biases of popular conservationism. Players do a little research on moth species, create moth characters, and over the course of a week, create Facebook posts as that moth character, competing for the status of a protected species. I’ve created a rosy maple moth with a sweet tooth named Merrybell, and so far, I’m quite impressed with the creativity of my fellow moths. I’m very interested to see how LARPing via social media posts plays out!

Welcome Guests is another freeform LARP about guests in the home of a family of cannibals. It isn’t designed for video chat, but it worked fairly well over Zoom, with the breakout room feature substituting nicely for the “heading in the kitchen” mechanic. I rather enjoyed getting eaten and then haunting those left around the dinner table.

I am also working on scheduling a run of Debrief, a new two person, one hour conversation LARP set during the Cold War, featuring a British medium and a recently deceased turncloak spy. I’ve read my character sheet (I’ve been cast as the medium) and quite frankly, this is one of the most heartbreaking LARP scenarios I’ve ever read. I’ve been consuming a lot of Cold War media in preparation.

4. Writing a LARP

I generally try to avoid talking about works-in-progress before completion is within sight, but here we are. A few theater LARPers have been running an informal QMOLW — Quarantine Marathon of LARP Writing, where ingredients went out to writers, though there’s no formal judging process this time around, just a little inspiration to create LARPs we can play while in quarantine. (The prop ingredient, was, naturally, computers for all of the players to play through.)

Given that weekends are when these writing projects run, but weekends don’t work for me, until now, I’ve participated through reading, scoring, and playing, but not writing. But this time, given that lots of us are stuck at home without work, running it in the middle of the week was plausible, so when someone offered, I jumped at the chance. …Then I immediately started doubting my decision. I’ve never really come up with a solid idea in response to the ingredients/prompts, what if I still couldn’t? I’ve never gotten past an elevator pitch for a LARP, what if I still couldn’t? What if I just dragged an experienced LARPer down and wasted 48 hours of their life…? Well, given how unusual the opportunity was, I felt I couldn’t back out.

So I gave it a go! We didn’t come close to finishing by the 48 hour deadline, but the deadline was meaningless in this informal version, so no matter. We ended up pulling in a third writer along the way. I’m pretty excited about our format experiment, which combines two-person video chats with text communication. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on that.

Gonna end this post with some links that have been floating around the online LARP communities.

One Hour LARPs for One Person to Play Over the Phone with an NPC (anyone wanna sponsor a review post…?)

An Online Social Distancing LARP Writing Jam

Some LAOG (live action online games) to Try

A Spreadsheet of LARPs Playable Online (created by The LARP Shack, an LARP group from North Carolina)

The Shaped Mask Tutorial I tried

The Pleated Mask Tutorial I tried (I replaced the elastic with four long fabric ties, as in the Shaped Mask instructions.)

Stay safe, stay healthy everyone. And remember, if someone’s within your melee range, they’re too close.

About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years, in all different styles. I love trying out all different styles and genres and formats. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serving as a board member of NEIL, and a member of bid com for the British convention Consequences. I was also the coordinator of Festival of the LARPs in 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I've also served as an editor for Game Wrap, NEIL's publication about the art and craft of LARP, and served on Intercon staff in various roles over the years.
This entry was posted in community, costuming, LARP, LARP Reviews, on a more personal note, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to LARPing in the Age of Quarantine

  1. Pingback: LARPing Online | Fair Escape

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