Nametags

Here’s a random little topic about a small element of LARPs that often seems to be a given in some LARP communities/styles, but unheard of in others… Nametags! We don’t often think of them as a mechanic, likely because their use is often fairly passive in nature, their purpose often intuitive, but it is a non-diagetic means of representing something diagetic (namely, in-character knowledge that a player lacks), which describes the average LARP mechanic (though not all of them, as the term has recently come to be used to describe actions that don’t represent anything in-game and aren’t meant to interact with the diagesis).

I was first introduced to LARPing with one-shot theater style LARPs, and for years, through many LARPs, from several hour long to weekend longs, they all used nametags. Boffer LARPs (of the one shot or campaign variety) seem to mostly eschew them (particularly if it’s difficult to think of a reason for them to be diagetic) but I believe the first LARPs I played with the HRSFA crowd were the first theater LARPs I experienced that didn’t use nametags.

The biggest benefit to nametags is probably fairly obvious — characters in pre-written LARPs often should be able to identify other characters on sight, even when the players can’t. Even if a GM sends out a cast list in advance, it can be difficult to memorize who is playing all of the characters your character should be able to identify, especially if the list is long. And it’s even more challenging if you don’t know the other players outside of the LARP. Some LARPs are cast at the door, precluding committing this information to memory in advance, and some LARPs specifically conceal the list of who’s who prior to the LARP to prevent pre-gaming. (A number of weekend long theater LARPs I’ve played had this policy.)

And nametags can serve additional purposes. Lots of games have used them to encode information, whether it’s simply writing out what titles a character holds on the nametag, to including symbols or colors or fonts to indicate information (eg character pronouns, or “blue nametags indicate elves, red nametags indicate humans”) which may be public information, or only available to characters with specific knowledge or skills. (Eg A psychic character might have a secret ability to decode the string of numbers printed below the names on the nametags. Any number that ends in 5 indicates they have arachnophobia, any number that begins with 2 means they have been possessed by a ghost, etc.) Or alternatively, I’ve seen LARPs where nametags enabled people to play with the fact that characters might be identical (secret clones, or alternative timeline versions of the same person) by giving them identical nametags, even if the players look nothing alike.

It need not be limited to in-game information; lots of LARPs use symbols on nametags to indicate openness to engaging in romantic relationships between characters, or the level of touch a player is comfortable with, or whether or not the player is interested in being offered alcoholic beverages.

And in the odd setting where nametags could be diagetic, they can reinforce elements of the setting or enhance immersion. (For example, in a LARP set in a prison, players might be referred to by the numbers on their shirts, which can set the tone.) Generally, I’m of the opinion that any LARP for which one can create an in-game reason for nametags to exist (even if it’s a thinly veiled excuse) should use them and specify, if necessary, to players that they are diagetic.

Of course, they’re not a perfect solution to disconnect between the characters’ ability to identify one another on sight and the players’ inability. They require players to get up close to one another and perhaps squint at one another’s shirts, which can often result in one of those awkward, “sorry, do I know you? ‘Count Winchester’… Let me check my sheet… hm, nope never mind, my character wouldn’t have had any reason to approach you” moments. And of course they can be lost or obscured, and in situations where characters should be able to recognize one another from a distance or various angles, if they’re not immediately readable, in that moment, they aren’t helping.

Nametags also might be providing information that characters shouldn’t yet have access to. In other words, characters who have never met before perhaps shouldn’t be able to identify one another on sight, but the nametags still allow them to. If one were to set a game in a time and place where engaging in unusual etiquette is meant to be part of the experience, nametags might have the downside of discouraging players from seeking out and making proper introductions. I’ve played LARPs set in Victorian England where such etiquette is described and encouraged in the introduction materials, and I thought it was a shame it didn’t see much, if any, in practice.

I have seen some LARPs which use nametags, but rather than writing names on them, simply display number codes, and each player receives a list of numbers, which short descriptions of what they know about the person behind each code. This has the downside of causing players to spend more time consulting their sheets during game time, but it enabled characters to go by different names when in different company, and to vary what characters knew about one another on sight, from “I know this person by name very well” to “you’ve never seen this person before, but the sword they’re carrying is of foreign design.”

The mere presence of nametags, if they’re not diagetic, can be somewhat disruptive to immersion, and can detract from the aesthetics of a costume. They can also be literally damaging to a costume, if they’re of the pin type (even tiny holes can be permanents and really show on some fabrics) or of the sticky type (I have a faux leather jacket which has had a faint outline of residue that I’ve been unable to remove for years.) The pin type is particularly troublesome, as some materials (particularly ones used for costume armor, such as metal, plastic, and leather) may simply preclude anything being pinned to a player. (For players who find themselves wearing armor or other such unpinnable costuming to LARP — consider incorporating a ribbon sash into your look — it’s super easy and quick, and provides a pinnable surface should GMs provide nametag pins without obscuring much of your costume.)

There are some badges that come with holders, worn on strings hung around the neck, which are my personal preference, as they are safe for any costuming, though I find they can be the most disruptive to the aesthetics of a costume and to immersion. (This is unfortunately particularly true of the thick black badge holders at Intercon — they’re nice and convenient in lots of ways, though I do wish they had less of a presence in active game spaces.)

Smaller LARPs benefit less from nametags, as players have an easier time getting everyone’s name down early on the LARP, especially for LARPs with fewer than ten or so players. LARPs where pre-gaming is enabled or even encouraged also have less benefit, as players can take the time to learn and memorize the cast list of LARP in advance. (“Pre-gaming” meaning players connecting with one another in advance, sometimes in person, usually over the internet, to develop their characters’ relationships and histories, often while producing and increasing excitement over and upcoming LARP in themselves and one another.)

Conversely, LARPs with large player numbers derive more benefit from nametags, as it’s much harder to connect the names of a large number of characters with their appearances on the fly. Similarly, LARPs which don’t enable or even forbid pre-gaming, or are likely to have a significant number of players who don’t know one another in person from outside the LARP, derive more benefit from nametags, as do LARPs that don’t lend themselves easily to distinctive costuming, or don’t require it from players.

For such games (games with a large number of players, no pre-gaming, players who don’t know one another, and a lack of costuming) GMs who want to avoid nametags might consider introductions prior to the start of game, which can be as simple as everyone going around and saying their character’s name, and making sure people who have in-game connections get a moment to reify those connections, or as complex as a workshop with the sort of ice-breaker games designed to help strangers learn one another’s name quickly. For an in-game reinforcement of this, a LARP can open with “staging” — meaning GMs directing players to begin game in a particular area, or arrive in a particular order with particular groups of people, so that players don’t have to fumble around, trying to figure out where their family members are or who the host of the function is.

If you do decide to include nametags in your LARP, I recommend large, bold lettering in an easy to read font, whether the names are printed or handwritten. (A bit of flavor in the font choice is always nice, assuming it doesn’t reduce legibility.) Or reminding your players to take care to write legibly, if you plan to let players fill out their own blank tags.

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Nametags can alert players to the fact that multiple NPCs are being played by the same GM.

 

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Posted in LARP, mechanics, theater | 16 Comments

The Cult, the Song, and the Club

I went to New Jersey this past weekend to play The Song and the Sunrise, the wuxia themed mechanical and spiritual successor to The Dance and the Dawn“, the gothic fairy tale themed game about six ladies and seven lords looking for True Love at a ball. The Song and the Sunrise replaces the lords and ladies with kung fu fighters and waltzing with displays of martial arts. In addition, a new LARP was scheduled to run the night before, but travel difficulties caused a change in plans, and we played Tyrant Lizards Kings instead. (Tyrant Lizard Kings is running at Intercon R; you can read the blurb for it here.)

Tyrant Lizard Kings is a small LARP for five players. The length can vary a bit, but I think our run went for about two hours. It’s about five friends who were involved in a cult in college that communed with the spirits of dinosaurs, now reuniting six months before an apocalyptic meteor strike.

“Dinosaur cultists at the end of the world” might sound a bit silly on its face, but the LARP actually features some heavy themes (as per the blurb, “loss, reunions, memory, facing down death, and the difficulty of caring about something for which the wider world has no use… It discusses violence, drug use, and spiritual abuse.”) The players have some amount of control over how dark it gets — the character sheets outline the characters’ lives and their relationships (including some broad descriptions of what has gone wrong) but players are welcome to work alone or together fill it in with details.

I particularly liked the mechanics for the ritual in which the characters cast their minds back to their various dinosaur guides, to have experiences that can resemble those that a literal dinosaur might have, or one a more mythological spirit guide might have. As it was described at our run, the players ad-lib something like a verbal version of a text-based adventure for one another, providing brief descriptions and prompts for decisions for the player communing with their patron spirit.

I think this mechanic has a lot of potential for use in other LARP scenarios. I’ve often thought boffer campaigns, for example, could benefit from providing specific avenues for players to provide content for one another, as PCs often have a deeper understanding of other individual characters in a way a staff trying to write and run content for 60+ players might not. And as these rituals involve sitting in a circle and using one’s imagination, the resources it requires are minimal.

I had a really good time playing Tyrant Lizard Kings, but my one regret is that I didn’t have more prep time, either in advance online or in person before the LARP ran, as I think I could have benefited from a little more time for fleshing out my relationships with other characters and inventing memories of shared events. (My suggestion for those who like creating angsty secrets for their characters would be to reach out to fellow players and have one or two of them aware of your character’s secrets before the game begins, to increase the odds of it coming out dramatically during play.) And while the scenarios and dilemmas we created for one another during the rituals in our run worked out well, I think with a little more time, I could have tailored my contributions even more directly to the characters experiencing them.

I hope this LARP gets boxed and released online for purchase — the small size and the fact that it’s set in a private home (ie doesn’t require much space and almost any location can suit) makes it a particularly useful LARP to have on hand for rounding out con schedules or just an impromptu private evening of LARPing.

We played The Song and the Sunrise the next day. The premise of the LARP involves “[t]he six greatest fighters in the land—women, one and all” (rather refreshing) receiving invitations to the citadel of the White Phoenix, where they will have the opportunity to prove their skills and valor and possibly earn the chance to defeat a Demon Prince, win a reward from the Gates of Heaven, and leave with their True Love in tow.

As advertised, it has a lot in common with The Dance and the Dawn in terms of structure and concept, though I enjoyed The Song and the Sunrise even more than The Dance and the Dawn. The LARP is similarly scheduled as a series of blocks of time. Warriors can have Swords test their forms and judge their martial prowess (an opportunity for private one-on-one conversations), they can train one another in martial arts techniques, or they can have conversations with one of the NPCs (the hostess, White Phoenix, the mysterious No-Name, the zither player, or the prisoner Demon Prince.) Between rounds, there is an opportunity for dueling and/or poetry competitions. The end culminates with a duel against the Demon Prince and each Warrior choosing a Swords to accompany them when they leave.

I played Plumblossom Shadow, possibly the strangest of the Warriors competing. She did her best to maintain perfect etiquette, while also having extremely poorly developed social skills. The character has elements that remind me of two campaign characters I’ve played: Quill, my wind-up doll character, and Cricket, my etiquette focused archer. I rather enjoyed channeling a bit of both of them into my portrayal of Plumblossom Shadow. I definitely think I got the best possible casting for me.

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Plumblossom Shadow

Much to my surprise, I won the right to challenge the Demon Prince first at the conclusion of the tournament, though he went undefeated by the Warriors. I also successfully found and took home my True Love from among the Swords, so it was a fairly happy ending for Plumblossom Shadow.

I had plenty of fun occupying myself with the basic interactions prescribed by the schedule, but there’s are also a number of other levels to the LARP if players choose to engage them. The combat system is a complex version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, with additional rules for how one can teach and learn new moves, both from other players and possibly the NPCs. For a short while, I was trying to work out the puzzle on how to ensure certain players ended up with certain techniques, and how to best ensure I, or one of the other warriors, would be able to defeat the Demon prince. There were one or two other plotlines and mechanical systems in the LARP that I never got around to personally engaging with because I was busy enjoying conversations and training with the Swords. Having now read over the backstory and GM and NPC materials for the LARP, I do wish I’d dug a bit further into it with the NPCs.

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“Closed Fist Methodology!”

I happen to know there’s one other LARP in this fantasy matchmaking LARPs — The Tale and the Twilight uses a similar structure and concept, but is set in an Arabian Nights setting. Here’s hoping I can someday catch a run.

Shortly after the end of The Song and the Sunrise, I returned to Boston to get to Sin-o-matic, an event that runs monthly at a nightclub. “Cyber/industrial” is listed among the suggestions for attire, and some of the players of Threshold, acyberpunk campaign, decided to take advantage of it and attend as our characters for an evening of dancing and light RP.

Sadly, I forgot my wig at home, couldn’t find my makeup in the depths of my cluttered suitcase, and my costume contacts were bothering me… so my character, DEX, didn’t look like her usual self, but I decided that as a drone pilot (who usually pilots a combat drone or a medic drone), DEX might also have a party drone for corporate events, and that can look like anything, right? Fortunately, I did happen to have my Project Threshold ID badge and glowing armband all AI are legally required to wear.

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Party Drone DEX

Dancing in-character at a public event was a new and interesting experience for me. I liked making use of the atmosphere created by the club (which includes having a background filled out with nameless NPCs for added realism). I had fun working out how DEX, as an AI, might be programmed to dance — an upbeat sort of style, kinda silly, very repetitive. Like a video game character, who has a simple movement pattern that they do whenever you click the “dance” option. (For some reason, the moves of background dancers in Samurai Jack episodes came to mind.) In a certain way, I felt more self-conscious about my dance moves, especially at one point when a couple at the bar seemed to be watching, as they didn’t know I was trying to role play a very upbeat, inhuman character, but at the same time, it was sort of freeing to have the alibi, and an excuse to deliberately not try my best. “No one can judge my actual dance moves, because this is how my character dances, not me.” I’d definitely like to see the employees of the Threshold Project back at a future Sin-o-matic, and experiment further with roleplay in explicitly public settings.

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged | 3 Comments

Through the Fifth Gate

Recently, the boffer campaign Fifth Gate held its final weekend event of its three year run. The Survivors of the Wrathborn world and the Champions of the Silverfire world came together one last time to determine whose world might be saved, whose world would be destroyed, and what the future for the people of both worlds might look like.

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Ten of the Champions of the Eyrie

To summarize the premise of the campaign for those unfamiliar: Fifth Gate is a boffer (live combat) campaign that uses the Accelerant system. It is actually two campaigns in one: one campaign takes place on the high fantasy Silverfire world, and the other on the post-apocalyptic steampunk/steam fantasy Wrathborn world. Each of the two worlds has one spring event and one fall event, then the two worlds come together for a crossover event each winter. (We’ve been trying to call them the “capstone events” to avoid confusion with another boffer campaign called Crossover.)

In the final event of Fifth Gate, the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn met at the threshold of the Fifth Gate (some of us are trying really hard not to call this the Threshold event because there’s also a campaign called Threshold). We’d known for sometime that we had an impossible decision waiting for us as soon as we arrived. Both the Silverfire King, the great enemy of the Champions, and the Wrathborn Emperor, the great enemy of the Survivors, were on the brink of Ascension to immortality, which would destroy their respective worlds in their wake. We had the collective power to prevent only one ascension, which meant moving the entire civilian population of one world to the other for their survival, then siding with either the King or the Emperor in a battle against the other.

In the year or so leading up to this final event, we’ve been gathering information about the two worlds and various other cosmological factors (including Ruin, the opposing force to Power, Power being the force wielded by the Champions, Survivors, Silverfire King, and Wrathborn Emperor).

For me, barring any cosmological factors that would involve the safety of multiple other inhabited worlds (which there were, but I’m not going to go too deep into them here) the biggest factor was the size of the refugee populations and the state of the world that would be receiving them. Silverfire’s population was listed at 243 million, Wrathborn’s at 37 thousand. Beyond that, as a post-apocalyptic world, much of narrative from Wrathborn was around struggling to provide for its population — it barely had any resources or infrastructure. The refugee crisis we would be creating defied imagination.

An NPC had given us some kind of estimation that an equal number of people would die from hunger on the Wrathborn world as would die in the wars on the Silverfire world. To be honest, this was the point that interfered with my suspension of disbelief, and though I suspect this information was intended to be taken as reliable, I found myself primarily arguing about how illogical this seemed to me during the hour long discussion leading up to the vote on Friday evening.

I had also heard a fellow Champion confidently predict the Survivors would vote to save their own world, and the Survivors outnumbered the Champions. I suppose I might have spent the hour trying to talk people out of it, but this seemed hopeless for someone who had missed the last year of events, so instead I spent it fuming and making dire predictions about how long it would take before people began resorting to cannibalism (I’ve done some morbid wiki-binging on the subject). I made several of my fellow Champions promise to burn my body should I die on the Wrathborn world.

When I wasn’t fuming and speculating about cannibalism, I was chasing down NPCs and trying to convince them to enable me to commit an atrocity; unsurprisingly for out-of-game reasons, none were willing. I will probably save the details a future post summing up my thoughts on my character.

At on point, an emissary of Ruin arrived to offer us a third option — let Ruin win on both of our worlds, which would save both worlds but permanently cut us off from Power. I do think, both in- and out-of-character, this was the right choice (though it would have spelled the end for all of the undead Champions from the Order of the Veiled Ones), though Cricket was selfishly relieved it wasn’t chosen. I suspect this option might have stood more of a chance if it had been introduced earlier, but it very few selected it, though a number more might have if they thought it stood a chance. (Cricket would have, but by the time she cast her vote, it was mathematically impossible for Ruin to win.)

I was shocked and relieved when they announced the Silverfire world won the vote and then was immediately flooded with guilt for having doubted the Survivors and having expected them to vote to create hundreds of millions of refugees. But in actuality, we hadn’t voted to save the Silverfire world — we had voted to try to save the Silverfire world, and there was still a battle to fight.

Between the vote and the big battle, I went on three modules, and spent time solving puzzles to open some boxes that would reveal information on how we could influence the nature of the Wrathborn Emperor as an immortal in the moments leading up to his ascension, a brief window during which he was vulnerable to suggestion.

The big battle itself was something like a four hour ordeal, during which we held off the forces of the Silverfire King while trying to earn the ability to influence the Wrathborn Emperor. (This involved denouncing the Silverfire King dramatically after defeating one of his lieutenants — it was often lost in the din of combat, but it was a rather satisfying mechanic nonetheless.)

Occasionally, the emissary of Ruin would try to break free and corrupt one of our Gates to gain access to our worlds, and groups of Champions and Survivors would split off to stop him… In retrospect, some of us wished we had tried to help him succeed, as that is essentially what we might have voted for, had we taken the third option. This was almost guaranteed not to succeed, but… I think it would have been a really nice role-playing moment to try.

When it was my turn to join the group trying to influence the Wrathborn Emperor by instilling him with Compassion, I went into a building on the side of the field where the battle was being fought. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what methods we were expected to use to instill him with compassion. Inside, we found the ghosts of his mother and father… and a little boy wearing the Wrathborn Emperor’s crown, sitting alone at the far end of the room.

Cricket laughed.

This moment was among the highlights of the weekend for me — one of the most impactful and emotional, where my character’s feelings washed over me. Many LARPers call this experience “bleed”. (The other two highlights were the moments where the results of the vote were announced and then later, when the Wrathborn Emperor ascended.) I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the child was played by an actual child, rather than an adult who either needed some sort of verbal roleplay cues from the other NPCs and/or other visual cues (I don’t know, maybe a teddy bear and a lollipop?) to indicate that this was a child, one who would one day be the Wrathborn Emperor.

The sensation of shock upon seeing the very young NPC reminded me quite a bit of a moment in another LARP, Unheroes, in which someone unexpectedly showed up to NPC a role that I had only imagined moments before. My character assumed that NPC was still trapped in the body of a cat, and I, the player, assumed no one could possibly have had time to coordinate that NPC role. My character and I experienced shock from two different (though related) sources, and the surprise I felt specifically came from me thinking I knew the parameters of what was possible in this LARP, only to have them violated. The effect was sort of a positive feedback on bleed.

I’ve had extremely little experience LARPing with kids — I can probably count the number of instances on one hand. Certainly I’ve never done it during a boffer LARP event (for plenty of extremely valid logistical reasons), though I’ve seen adults play child characters tons of times. (I played one myself at the last Madrigal event.) Having a child that young (I want to say… eleven years old?) at a boffer LARP seemed outside of the parameters of what I thought was plausible (not impossible, but extremely unlikely)… and the resulting shock was a very immersive moment.

I didn’t want to crowd the NPC, so I hung back while the others talked to him and his parents (he had killed them), laughing and shaking my head. It was absurd to think that the undead monstrosity that had slaughtered over a billion people, rendered uninhabitable the vast majority of an entire planet, and raised an undead army in order to ascend to immortality… had once been a small child, with loving parents no less. And it was equally absurd to realize the notion that he had once been a child had never occurred to me. It had never been relevant, but on some unconscious level, it had always seemed… incongruous. So inappropriately for the moment, I laughed at the absurdity of it, and the absurdity that Cricket wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it, and then I laughed at the contradiction of those absurdities.

After a long, grueling fight, we slew the Silverfire King, and the Wrathborn Emperor slew the emissary of Ruin. And then we watched the Wrathborn Emperor cross through the Fifth Gate. In that moment, the Wrathborn world was destroyed, and the Survivors became untethered, homeless.

At previous capstone events, we had gathered in the Crossroads, and occasionally met people wandering through who were Remnants — people with access to Power who had made it off their worlds before their own worlds were destroyed through Ascension. They all seemed to be fading, somehow. Some sought ways to anchor themselves to new worlds, others accepted that they would fade away entirely at some point.

When the Wrathborn Emperor crossed the Fifth Gate, he called, “By My Voice Inflict Trait Remnant to Survivor by Power. By My Voice Remove Trait Survivor by Power.”

All of the campaign closers I’ve been involved with as a PC or NPC thus far, (and all of the ones I’ve heard about) are primarily about evoking a sense of victory. Lots of them are tinged with loss and mourning as the victory comes at a price, but still, the prevailing emotions are positive ones, things like triumph and relief. I think the final weekend event of Fifth Gate was unique in that, while we did achieve a victory over the Silverfire King, the prevailing emotions seemed to be loss, grief, frustration, anger, and doubt, without creating an unsatisfying ending, which I consider a unique and difficult accomplishment by the Fifth Gate staff.

For me, the overwhelming emotion was guilt. I felt it both in and out of character (hence the moment being another highlight brought about by bleed.) I felt horribly guilty that we’d sacrificed their world to save our own, I felt guilty that I’d been vocally angry and frustrated with the Survivors when I thought they might have saved their home, that I’d doubted they’d make the right decision (well, the right decision according to Cricket after Ruin failed to gain the vote). And moreover, by saving our world, we’d sided with the monstrosity who had slaughtered most of their population and laid waste to their world, whom they’d been struggling against most of their lives… The Survivors had allowed themselves to be forced into a position where they had to help the source of all their suffering achieve his deepest desire and ultimate victory… The moment when the Emperor walked through the Gate and achieved immortality was so devoid of justice, Cricket couldn’t bear to look any of the Survivors, no Remnants, in the eyes.

Cricket might have tried to offer condolences or reassurances, but instead she covered her face in shame and ran off the field.

There was one more emotional kick to the gut that night. I spotted a member of the Eyrie, my Warband, headed out of the main building that night, one whose history involved sleeping for years beneath the earth and then awakening just before the Silverfire King turned on us and the Ebon Order resurfaced. I asked him if he was on his way to bed. He said yes and wished me good night. When I sat down with the other members of the Eyrie, the mother of his children explained to me that he was returning to sleep beneath the earth again… not to awake until her time as general of Xo’lal was up, at which point he would awake again to take her place. If the Angels were good, he would wake a few days early. There was a lot of (in-character) drinking that night.

The next morning we built a small bonfire and offered toasts to the fallen, before enacting a short ritual to welcome the Remnants who wanted to create new lives on the world of the Champions (it probably needs a new name besides Silverfire — it was always interesting to me that we called our worlds after the most dangerous and evil people on it). The trait Champion was Granted to those who wanted it; a few chose to join those who wander the paths between the worlds.

And so concludes the Fifth Gate campaign. We have a final dinner at the end of this month, a sort of an epilogue… after which I’ll probably share some thoughts about Cricket as a character, the process of creating her and what it was like playing her.

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Cricket (with storm themed makeup and heterochromia)

It was Fifth Gate‘s innovative concept of two worlds, with two separate PC bases, coming together that drew me to the campaign; I liked the idea of playing around with the standard structure of the boffer campaign. Lots of LARPs feature multiple worlds, but I think it was really the separate PC groups from wildly different backgrounds with limited time together that really made Fifth Gate special. I think the concept proved very successful and it afforded some wonderful roleplay opportunities that I haven’t had in any other campaign I’ve PCed or NPCed. My one major regret from this campaign is never having PCed any of the Wrathborn events. I meant to, but it didn’t work out for scheduling reasons. I NPCed one of their events, but I wish I had gotten to roleplay being a Champion on the Survivor’s home turf. I think this multi-worlds concept still has even more untapped potential, and I would love to see more LARPs build on this in the future.

 

Posted in boffer, LARP | Tagged , | 1 Comment

An American LARPer in London

A little over a week ago, I finally checked off one of the most important items on my LARP bucket list — LARP in a foreign country.

A little over a decade ago, some British LARPers were inspired by Intercon to run their own LARP convention, and thus Consequences was created. (Fun fact I learned while in England: it was named Consequences because it ran about nine months after another convention called Conception.) I finally made it to Consequences this year, where I played in six LARPs, but even better, I got to introduced to a new community and met lots of LARPers from the UK and all over Europe.

I was also lucky enough to get in a bit of sightseeing before and after the convention, which included the Tower of London (a favorite — all three times I’ve been to London, I went on the Yeoman Warder guided tour), St. Paul’s Cathedral, a walk through Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, three separate henges, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and Oakley Manor, where some of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was filmed. (Some of these choices were influenced by my enjoyment of tv shows like The White Queen, The White Princess, The Crown, and especially The Tudors.) One major highlight was getting fish and chips with some friends from my year abroad, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I also had a particularly long layover in Paris on the way home, which provided enough time to see Notre Dame and walk a bit along the Seine.

Consequences runs at the Naish Holiday Village in Christchurch, a vacation spot on the southern coast. Con attendees rent some of the cabins, which proved to be quite nice two-or-three bedroom structures, each with a kitchen and living room, which lent themselves both to the late night party culture and created useful spaces for smaller LARPs.

Check-in was an ever-so-slightly overwhelming process, I suppose because I was meeting a lot people and trying to remember a lot of new names and faces and wasn’t 100% sure if I was hitting all of the check-in steps, let alone in the correct order. I think it was a good reminder of what it’s like to be new to a relatively small con, and is very useful to re-experience if one wants to work on making a convention newbie-friendly.

I think overall Consequences did an excellent job of making their convention newbie-friendly. When I registered as a first time attendee through the convention website, a staff member reached out to me and offered to assign me a con buddy; I was a little greedy and requested two. My buddies were both very helpful, answering questions over email about the con and making suggestions for shopping and packing, explaining the late night party culture, and helping me figure out an appropriate donation for the raffle. (I ended up making a Dr. Who themed tote bag.)

In addition to assigning buddies to newbies, there was also the Tea Party for new attendees. We gathered in one of the cabins, where we were able to meet some of the core staff of the convention in a more personal atmosphere. They introduced themselves, explained some aspects of the con, and answered questions. We also got to meet one another and find out which upcoming LARPs we had in common. It was really nice and very helpful; something other cons could take inspiration from.

I was originally tempted to try out the series of micro-LARPs that were available for walk-ins after the tea party, but I ended up at the trivia contest instead. I’ve always wanted to try a trivia night. (I joined the other Americans on Team Colonies.) Later that evening, I went to my first late night party in one of the cabins.

My schedule of LARPs wound up being three on Friday and three on Saturday, which is a bit denser than most long time attendees of Consequences would recommend. But it wasn’t too bad — I’m used to a dense schedule at Intercon, and a number of my LARPs were shorter than four hours (the typical length for a LARP at Intercon) and afforded breaks of several hours between them.

My first LARP of Consequences (thus my first LARP in a foreign country) was It’s Everybody’s War. I noticed a fair number of LARPs set during World War II on the schedule, and I thought that might mean this setting is a significant part of the Consequences culture, and as I was determined to take in as much of the Consequences culture as possible, I made sure to sign up for one of the World War II LARPs. (Specifically, I wanted one not set in any territory controlled by the Axis.)

As it turns out, World War II LARPs are not particularly common at Consequences and it was a bit of fluke this year, but I have no regrets signing up for this LARP. I really liked my character, an engineer temporarily back at her family’s farm while recovering from an injury sustained in a factory. In the weeks leading up to Consequences, I started watching and enjoying a BBC series called Land Girls to get a sense of the culture (and inspiration for my costume, which also had a little bit of Rosie the Riveter in it.)

I could easily tell a lot of research into this historical era and the efforts by Brits on the home front to do their part went into It’s Everybody’s War, though we were warned before the LARP started that we shouldn’t assume anything about our characters’ futures based on what we knew from history. (I actually learned a fair bit through prepping for this LARP, from reading the blue sheets, and also reading up on some unfamiliar terms on wikipedia.) I particularly liked the telegram mechanic, which punctuated the LARP with poignant, emotional moments as characters received updates about the war or information on loved ones in other parts of the country or other parts of Europe. I also really enjoyed the humorous and extremely well ad-libbed streams of speech from the LARPer playing a plucky evacuee trying to save the community’s pig.

 

On Saturday afternoon, I played in Noble Cause, a LARP set in the universe of the Dresden Files books. The books are modern urban fantasy with a heavy noir flavor. I read the first three books to prepare for the LARP. I can’t say I became a huge fan of the series (I hear the books get much better after the first few) but I do think it makes an excellent setting for LARP, and one definitely need not be fan or even familiar with the setting to enjoy Noble Cause, especially if you like the idea of magic and politicking at a fae masquerade, as the blue sheets explaining the setting are more than sufficient.

My character’s goals included convincing far more powerful magical factions to allow her underdog faction, the Paranet, to join the Accords. I got into a lot of political debates with dangerous supernatural beings but didn’t make much headway, and ended up being responsible for the results of a very dangerous ritual, though it only got her one out of the three required sponsors.  No regrets though!

Since the LARP was set at a fae masquerade ball, so we were welcome to come dressed as our characters or as our characters costumed as anything other than themselves. I decided to try fawn makeup, since I’d long wanted to and this seemed like as good an opportunity as any. I combined it with a modern dress, as my character was among the most human of the guests.

On Saturday evening, I played in Pirates of Skull Cove, which is as it appears on the tin: a classic pirate LARP. I played Tenacious Dave Flint, a pirate captain known for being a clever bounty hunter and investigator, and spent much of the LARP trying to track down a few different stolen treasures (in exchange for a reasonable amount of gold, of course). I also made sure every pirate captain present had a ship and thus a vote in the election of a new chief for our guild, in between cheering on the candidates while they proved themselves through grog quaffing contests and bouts of fisticuffs. It was an evening of classic piratical adventures.

I probably shouldn’t have stayed up so late at another party on Friday evening, as I had three LARPs the next day (including one starting at 10am) but I didn’t want to miss out on this aspect of Consequences culture. The bar was also open an hour after the last games got out, so there was a nice bit of socializing in the main building between the LARPs and the cabin party.

My morning LARP on Saturday was Grasp for the Senate (listed as “Game which needs a new title set in a Galaxy Far Far Away” on the website). It was set at a political event for the election of a new senator on Alderaan, during a tense ceasefire between the Republic and the Sith Empire. I played a Sith apprentice, there to help my Sith master protect the empire’s interests and encourage the proper outcome for the election. I can never resist a LARP set in this franchise, and I’m always happy when I get to play a Force user character, especially of the padawan/apprentice variety. I didn’t manage to keep tabs on how the political activity in the LARP developed, as I was too busy with other plots, including an unlikely team up with one of the Jedi.

This was the LARP I spent the most time and effort on to costume. I wanted to update the costume I wore for Sith Lords. I used the same red and black ao dai, but made a new black pleated robe and red sash to go over it, using a pattern for Dr. Strange cosplay, with some minor tweaks. (A hood and an extra panel of pleating.) The pleating was a real struggle for me, and I came to regret my choice for the pattern, but I learned a fair amount from the process and the red sash covered the worst of the errors.

Surprisingly, the lightsaber (a cardboard tube with some foam and duct tape on it) aroused suspicion at airport security in Paris.

On Saturday afternoon, I played in Coffee with AlIce, a cyberpunk LARP. I was really happy to be cast as an AI. I liked how this LARP handled costuming, which was to first cast the players, then ask the members of each faction what they’d like their standard fashion to be. (Or, at least that’s how our faction did it, which is how we ended up with formal historical military looks… Threshold players would have recognized Sunday Zazou’s outfit there.)

I admit that the lack of sleep had gotten to me at this point, so I don’t think I quite managed to do my character justice. Gist 1.4 was supposed to be very Sherlock Holmes-like (their programmer was a murder mystery fan), but instead I defaulted to portrayal that was a lot like DEXEMBER (my AI character from Threshold) and failed to solve any mysteries. I did, however, enjoy the unique setting and had a very good time bonding with my fellow AIs and dreaming up what kind of physical bodies we’d like for someday operating outside of the Grid.

My last LARP of Consequences was After the Shadow. If you’ve ever heard LARP described as “Dungeons & Dragons, standing up,” this LARP actually fits that description, so it was a lot of fun for me as someone with a background in the classic fantasy tabletop RPG.

I played a dragonblooded cleric, which should have been my opportunity to try making dragon horns again after my first failed attempt, but I accidentally bought the wrong kind of clay and didn’t have time to replace it before my flight to England, so I borrowed a pair of horns and retried the fishnet scale makeup trick, which came out much better this time around. I also used colored contacts and random bits of costuming from other fantasy LARPs (Kingsword, Cottington Woods) to complete the costume.

There was a fair amount of debate going on about how to handle various conflicts and new laws from the political summit aspect of the LARP, and teams of adventurers going on mini dungeon crawls together (mechanically, mostly handled through narrative descriptions with the GM) that were fun, but I think my favorite part of the LARP was the conversation during downtime in which we learned about one another’s culture. I talked a lot about the religion of the old dragon gods, our unusual cold blooded biology, how we related to the modern diminished dragons, and the revival of some of our odder traditions (like consuming the bodies of our fallen enemies.) The LARP ended on a rather dramatic note that I did not see coming.

And then, more partying! I stayed up rather late in an extremely crowded cabin, discussing things like various blockbuster LARPs, the upcoming inaugural run of the weekend theater (or, as the Brits call it, “freeform”) LARP, Shogun.

On Sunday, I stuck around after closing ceremonies. There were about thirty con-goers who hung around after the con to play board games, which was a nice way to wind down and still be social. I learned two new games, Azul and Takenoko, and quite enjoyed them both.

So that was my first Consequences! I had a really wonderful time, enjoyed all of my LARPs and all of the non-LARPing activities, the parties and trivia night and board games, and found everyone to be very friendly and welcoming. I really, really hope I can return next year. In the meantime, I’m dealing with my post-con blues (and a bit of remaining jet lag) by picking out LARPs I’d like to run there next year if I can (Drink Me is the first that came to mind) and looking forward to Shogun, for which I’ll be returning to England in February. I can’t wait!

Posted in conventions, LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged | 8 Comments

A LARP Filled November

Just wanted to share a quick update on the various LARP projects and events I have going on now, while various longer blog posts are being finished.

This past weekend, I was NPCing for Madrigal 3. (And a couple weeks prior to that, I reprised my old Cottington Woods character, Quill, at one of the Tales from the Cotting House weekends.)

Madrigal was a ton of fun — it’s one of the LARPs where I know I can reliably get a wide variety of roles, including recurring face roles, one-off face roles, and lieutenants, (along side so much crunching, I came home from the weekend very tired and sore, but in a good way.) To clarify, “face roles” describes a role where the emphasis is on roleplaying and talking to the PCs, rather than fighting them. “Lieutenants” describes combat roles where there are lots of small minions on the field (aka “crunchies”), but there’s also a small number (maybe between one and five, depending on the size of the battle) combatants who are more powerful/dangerous, sometimes because they outrank the crunchies in some way.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a lieutenant role before, in part because they often go to the more talented boffer fighters, especially ones who can handle getting mobbed by PCs better. I find it very difficult to remember my abilities and keep track of what effects the PCs are landing on me when three or more of them are attacking at once, and as relevant as these skills are for crunchies, they’re that much more so for lieutenants. But I gave it a go as a vampire among cultists at Madrigal 3, and I think I surprised myself by doing better than I expected. It’s actually a really nice feeling. I feel as though, going forward, I could try this again and increase the variety of roles I play when NPCing.

One of the one-off face roles was a lot of fun — an evil wizard on trial, who tried to spring a trap as their sentence was announced. I had a lot of fun snarling at the PCs and refusing to express remorse, and then taking up the role of the boss in a small combat. In a recurring role, I attended their masquerade ball, where, in between political and personal conversations, I tried to make a point of asking PCs to dance with me. I’ve attended a few boffer campaign balls, and often wished the staff would send out NPCs to ensure the PCs who want to dance had the opportunity. (I feel it’s a little easier to ask people to dance as a NPC — it feels as though there’s more “alibi” in a brief role handed to you by staff in that role than in a campaign character you write for yourself.)

Besides Madrigal, I have a Threshold event coming up. (I was torn between the next Threshold event and attending the first After Dark weekend event, but the Threshold one just worked out far better with other travel plans for a number of reasons. That weekend also happens to be SLAW, which has some amazing games this year, and a really cool sci-fi LARP set on a real ship that I would have loved to NPC… maybe next year!) I do have some costuming upgrade projects for Threshold, but I think they’re going to have to sit on the back-burner for now.

And then right after that… I’m finally fulfilling one of the biggest items on my LARP Bucket List… I’ll be LARPing in another country at England’s LARP convention, Consequences! I’m signed up for six games, and I’m beyond excited.

Technically, I could pull all of the costuming I need for Consequences out of my closet, but there happened to be a sewing pattern sale at Jo-ann Fabrics this week, so of course I now have a few sewing projects in progress. (And a crafting project — I’m going to re-attempt dragon horns for a fantasy LARP.)

The week after that is the final Fifth Gate event, where the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn will come together for the last time… but only one of our worlds can be saved. I have enough costuming for my archer character, Cricket, but Jo-ann Fabrics released some new Asian-inspired cotton prints earlier this year and they were so beautiful, I couldn’t resist. (It doesn’t help that my character is a bit of a diva.) So I’ve started working on a new pair of blue ombre hakama pants, and if I have time, Cricket will have a new top as well.


There’s a 50% chance Cricket’s entire world will fall to Ruin, but she’ll be well dressed for its End, I suppose.

I’ve also currently in the midst of meetings for the Living Games Conference, Game Wrap (we finally have a release date for Volume II), a little bit of Izgon: Ascendency (though I won’t be actually playing, as it’s running over the Fifth Gate weekend,) and Intercon R sign-ups! We’ve just had round two of sign-ups, so the community is abuzz with conversations with who is signing up for what. Sadly, I seem to be having poor luck this year (I’m wait-listed for two LARPs, in part because of the accidental early sign-ups just before round one…) but I’m at the top of the wait-lists, so fingers crossed!

Posted in boffer, conventions, costuming, Intercon, LARP, theater | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

We Have Ways of Making You Talk

This topic recently came up in a thread on Facebook, (and I’m decently certain I’m the one who prompted it), so I thought I’d expound on my thoughts here in a blog post, which is better designed for long thoughts than Facebook comments.

There’s a mechanic that comes up fairly frequently in Accelerant boffer campaign LARPs that basically boils down to “Make a speech about Topic X for Y Minutes, then call “By My Voice Effect Z by Trait W [to V].” (An example might be, “By My Voice, Heal 1 by Inspiration to Townsfolk”.)

This is an oversimplification, as there are a bunch of variants on it (including, often, “perform in some way for X minutes” — most commonly, the performance takes the form of a song,) but let’s start here.

To clarify for those unfamiliar with Accelerant, this basically means giving the speech creates some sort of effect on everyone who hears it. The Trait describes the flavor of how the effect is occurring (e.g. “By Inspiration” indicates the listeners are inspired by what they hear, “By Faith” or “By Blessing” might indicate a holy person is channeling the power of their faith or the divine power of a deity, etc.). Adding “to V” at the end can narrow down the receivers of the effect to some subset of people who can hear it (generally, if it’s a positive effect, it can get narrowed down to the Good Guys/PCs present, if negative, it can be narrowed own to only the bad guys/monsters present.)

I can’t really state with authority what purpose for such a mechanic writers have in mind when they write it into their LARP scenarios, but I can surmise based on some discussions I’ve had, and describe the positive effects I’ve seen them create.

It can create an alibi for certain types of roleplay. This is especially true of public, dramatic forms of roleplay. Players may want to try creating a William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling moment, or Aragon at the Black Gate moment, but need the excuse or encouragement to do it, because they’re otherwise too shy, or worry about other players thinking they’re being pretentious or trying to hog the spotlight. It also may simply not occur to players who would enjoy it if it did. If it produces a positive mechanical effect, so much the better, because it can feel reassuring that other players are that much more likely to take notice and appreciate it.

Related, these mechanics often create some sort of visible, tangible effect on a battle. It might be Healing some hit points, or Granting some amount of Protection, or temporarily preventing the bad guys from attacking (the Agony effect). These effects can enable players to make a sudden push, or noticeably switch from being defensive to going on the offense, or in the case of characters unconscious on the ground, may allow them to literally get back up and get back to fighting. Seeing and feeling this sudden shift in the battle (often accompanied by a rousing cheer) can actually give the distinct impression that the speech really did inspire the PCs, which can, in my experience, actually make a speech retroactively seem like it was that much more effective in improving morale.

It often encourages introspection and internal roleplay, and the externalization thereof. Since the mechanic often requests players discuss their greatest source of hope, or faith, or inspiration, or what they appreciate most about their community, this may be what actually prompts players to ask these questions about their own characters and thus determine (or discover) the answers. By verbalizing it (instead of, say, meditating on it, which has its own potential benefits and drawbacks) players can learn about the inner workings of one another’s characters they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to discover, possibly realizing similarities, or differences, or just newfound appreciation for one another.

Similarly, you can use this to evoke conversations that players would like to have, but have a hard time coming up with an in-game excuse to open. If the component of a ritual is “share a secret” or “tell someone about something you haven’t forgiven them for” it can be a great excuse to have more fodder for dynamic conversations.

It can provide a means for players to develop some elements of the world with their own input. A particular example comes to mind — in Lost Eidolons, two characters who were members of the church had the ability to give a short sermon once per event, and anyone who listened could receive a blessing. This sort of thing can encourage players to think about their religion, maybe even make up factoids about it to include in their sermons, and explore ways faith might affect characters in the setting. Their sermons might change over time, and reflect ways the church is developing in reaction to in-world events. I can easily imagine other versions —  say a political character was given opportunity to make political speeches. The staff could decide this has an effect on how the local government is perceived by the masses.

It offers an alternative action as a way to affect a battle. Not everyone who plays live combat LARPs actually wants to engage in actual combat, even if they still want to be present and relevant for the battles. Common alternatives including healers pantomiming performing First Aid to produce healing effects, or magic casters providing magical buffs to their allies. This sort of mechanic provides players with yet another avenue for having a positive benefit on a battle.

It encourages/enables players to provide entertainment for one another. As mentioned above, one common variant of this mechanic is to instruct players to perform in some way (such as singing, playing instruments, dancing, or telling stories). Even giving lectures or sermons can be entertaining for fellow players.

It can be a means of spreading information. Getting players to spread information among themselves can one of the challenges of writing and staffing a campaign. Sometimes players just don’t feel the motivation to do it, sometimes some players are actively hording information for themselves, often to the detriment of the game. Spreading information can be an incidental benefit of this mechanic, but some LARPs use it for this purpose explicitly, by including abilities such as “spend X minutes teaching players about some topic (sometimes specified, other times not) then call ‘By My Voice, Grant 1 Protection by Education’.” This can provide incentive where players otherwise don’t feel it, or counteract the benefits that drive some players to hoard information. (And some lectures can be on real world topics and actually allow LARP to be a vehicle for real education.)

But of course, this kind of mechanic also poses as series of potential drawbacks.

It can be really hard to ad-lib. Some LARPers just always find it difficult, some find it difficult depending on their mood or how much they’ve slept, sometimes people just happen to hit a mental roadblock. Some people just hate public speaking, and the instructions are necessarily for speech in front of a group, or can’t be done while avoiding any audience entirely. Moreover, the Accelerant system tends to use one minute and five minutes as common units of time, and even those who are happy to do a bit of ad-libbing can find five minutes, or even one minute, too long for them.

Sometimes the prompts just don’t suit a particular character (or group of characters). A common prompt I’ve seen for priests is “talk about what gives you faith for one minute” but I’ve also known priest characters whose concept involved specifically lacking faith. Another prompt might be to eulogize an NPC, but the person receiving the prompt doesn’t actually know or care about the deceased. (In theory, a well thought out prompt wouldn’t make these kinds of false assumptions, or the mechanic going unused wouldn’t cause other major problems, but these kinds of things still do happen.) It can make a player either feel like they’ve failed (in or out of character) or it can put them on the spot to lie, or do something against their character’s nature, which can be very damaging to immersion.

It can get extremely repetitive. This is probably one of my biggest issues, personally. It’s not uncommon for prompts to get reused, and or for the instructions to direct a group of players to go around in a circle, taking turns ad-libbing about the same prompt. Even a single person can easily end up repeating thsemselves, and when you have multiple people (especially when the required time period is longer) repetition is pretty much guaranteed. And that repetition can reduce the speeches’ impact. One can imagine if several of William Wallace’s generals gave very similar speeches multiple times throughout the Battle of Stirling, it wouldn’t be able to rally the Scots every time.

It can make it difficult to hear other calls. Accelerant has a call system, one needs to be able to hear and be heard in order to use much of the system. These speech mechanics can make it difficult for their duration to effectively use and respond to other calls. (Not to mention preventing players from hearing non-mechanical speech or sound effects.)

This is particularly true when there is motivation for the speech to be as loud as possible, because the benefit it provides is effectively extended to everyone who can hear it.

It can trap an audience. While it’s always true that someone giving a speech or performance can pressure people into serving as an audience, out of politeness, even when it’s not given mechanical weight in a LARP, there can be an added layer of pressure when it’s part of a mechanic. For example, say players are expecting, based on previous fights against a particular group of challenging enemies, that an upcoming fight could easily swing towards defeat. The healing or other bonuses granted by pre-battle speeches or performances may be necessary to avoid a guaranteed defeat (and on some meta-level, players likely understand that the stats of the monsters are balanced against the assumption that the PCs will be assisted by the protective effects of the speech or performances.)

In that case, the choice might be between serving as an audience when players prefer not to, or increasing the risk of defeat (and diminishing their own personal ability to contribute in combat). In some cases, the characters might literally be trapped somewhere, waiting for a door to be unlocked, or a module or combat might get delayed despite impatient players (and NPCs who are bored and cold waiting for them). Opting out of serving as an audience (while remaining in-character) can become extremely difficult.

For individual cases, I don’t consider this problematic; I don’t think players are necessarily entitled to speech/performance free zones at any given moment or in any given location (well, with the exception of their cabin/tents during sleeping hours in LARPs that promise to enable a full night’s sleep). But if the ability to opt out of serving as an audience is significantly diminished often enough, it becomes a notable drawback to this sort of mechanic.

So how can we maximize the benefits these speech mechanics provide while minimizing the drawbacks? One of the key things that improves the experience for me is flexibility, with regards to multiple elements of these mechanics. Who is required to speak, when they need to speak, how long the speech has to last, the topic it’s on, the ways in which the player can express themselves, how often it needs to be repeated, and who is required to listen.

(It’s important to note that this flexibility should be on both an in-game and out-of-game level. Lots of LARPs have out-of-game rules that enable players to simply drop out of a scene, but players often feel pressure not to use them, which reduces their value. It would be preferable to also offer players a mean to stay in-character.)

Flexibility on who is required to speak. When these mechanics are opt-in skills, players can choose for their character builds, and the natural result is that the players who most want to use them can and do. But when the mechanics pop up in a module, players who would prefer to avoid them can get pressured into being the speaker.

It’s not uncommon, for example, to come across a tag instructing players something like, “someone with the Wizard trait must speak for 1 minute about what magic means to them in order to call “Imbue by Magic” to unlock the seal on this door.” If there only happens to be one or two wizards on the module, the odds are much higher that the person who ends up doing it would prefer not to.

There are a number of ways to increase the flexibility of who has to do it. One can allow multiple categories of people to perform the speech, or alternatively, one can expand the category with a caveat, such as “if there are no wizards present (or none who feel comfortable doing this) another character who feels magic has touched their lives can take their place”. (This maintains the likelihood that a wizard will still get to do if they want to, if your intention is to ensure there is some focus on wizard characters.) One can also enable multiple people to divide the length of time between them, for example, by allowing six wizards to each give a ten second statement, if they choose.

There a number of common situations where it might be difficult to increase the flexibility on when the speech needs to be performed. For example, if the intention is to include the speech as part of a ritual to close a portal, and monsters will continue to attack until it’s done, the timing of the speech is pretty much “as soon as physically possible.” But there are situations where it is possible to increase the flexibility on the timing. For example, the mechanics for granting a boon often instruct the players to immediately grant the boon after the speech or performance, but if they were permitted to delay granting the boon for, say, twenty minutes, it would introduce some flexibility on when the speech can be given. I’ve also seen instructions to perform a ritual at the tavern at a certain time (say, noon, or sunset) but if one broadens the interval of time during which it can be done, the players can more easily find a time where they aren’t either entrapping an audience or making people move.

I find flexibility on how long the speech must last to be one of the most important ways to be flexible. Since Accelerant often uses one or five minutes as common time units, these are frequently chosen as minimum durations for the speech, but even one minute can be a really long time to ad-lib. The required duration generally has two possible categories of purpose. The first is to give it weight, both internally to the player (encouraging them to put a decent amount of thought and effort into it at minimum) and externally, so that it doesn’t seem like the speaker is being dismissive, or that the speech can be blown through. The second purpose is as a balancing factor, or means of controlling the difficulty of the task (time is often a resource in Accelerant LARPs.) The latter is usually relevant when completing the speech is meant to be a challenge while other things distracting and/or dangerous interruptions (usually combat) go on. (It can also amount to other restrictions, such as preventing people from doing it while actively on the front line or contributing to combat in other ways, if the speech can’t be used concurrently with other skills.)

I think in the cases where only the first purpose, to make sure the speech as a minimum of presence, it’s a particularly good idea to be flexible on the timing. So long as PCs are not abusing the flexibility and giving the mechanic only the most cursory of attempts, it’s more important to maximize the effectiveness and drama of the rhetoric. Forcing someone to speak for exactly one or five minutes often drives player to ramble on pass a good ending point if they don’t manage to fill the given time duration, and cut themselves off before reaching a good conclusion if they happen to go on too long.

But even when the time requirement is meant to be a balancing factor, I think it’s still important to be a little flexible on it, for the sake of enabling more natural speech (instead of forced extension to fill the time, or cutting it off short for pragmatic reasons.) If the balance/level of challenge is very important (for example, the idea is to force players to figure out the best possible timing between attacks), and NPC or the text with instructions can allow players to fill up some of the time with other actions, such as meditation, singing, chanting, etc.

Making the subject of the speech flexible can be difficult — if prompts are very specific, players may not have an answer to them, if they’re very vague, they may not spark inspiration. I think the key here might be to offer a broad topic (as many of these mechanics already do) but if possible, also offer some specific, optional prompts in case a player needs it.

One of my go-to solutions when I don’t have any ideas for ad-libbing a speech is to sing instead (“this song represents hope to me”), and I choose songs in a foreign language, so if the subject of the lyrics isn’t exactly right, I’m not dragging down anyone else’s immersion. (It’s not a great solution for everyone; I use it sparingly, and try to only do it when there’s a fair amount of ambient noise, because I’m tone deaf.) I think generally most LARP staffs are flexible enough to go along with this kind of on-the-fly adjustment to the instructions, but it can’t hurt to make it explicitly allowed. (I.e. including, “alternatively, singing for X minutes, or simply meditating for X minutes is also permitted” in the instructions.)

Flexibility on how often the speech needs to be repeated isn’t often applicable — many of these mechanics are intended for a single use (or it comes from a skill that players can self-regulate the use of). I do think, in general, keeping caps on how often these mechanics can be used is a good idea to cut down on repetition, as are out of game suggestions like, “when everyone who wants a turn has had one, you may consider the ritual complete”.

Flexibility on who is required to listen is generally already well built into these mechanics — many don’t even specify any audience at all, or specify something like “any one person”. But if you do want finding the audience to be part of the experience, making the requirements narrow may end up pressuring the few people who qualify into a situation they prefer to avoid. (Also, this can be a good way to spread information from one group of PCs to another, so a flexible but meaningful audience requirement might be “at least one person from outside your family/team/class/nationality.”)

There’s another helpful tactic: providing information in advance. There is something to be said for speech and performance that gets produced spontaneously, but one of the best ways to prevent creative blocks, reduce nervousness, and other difficulties with ad-libbing is to inform players ahead of time, giving them a chance to mull over what they might say, flesh out their speeches, consult other people for ideas, practice delivering it, or even write something down to help them when the time comes.

We often get instructions for the rituals we perform just as a module begins, with no downtime between the instructions and the performance, but there are many cases where an NPC should logically be able to speak to the PCs in advance (“pre-hooking”) and offer some specifics on what players can expect.

I’m not suggesting that all of these adjustments be explicitly added to all uses of these kinds of mechanics. After all, many people LARP to challenge themselves, and this is just one of the many ways we can introduce an unusual challenge to players. I’m simply suggesting that these tools be considered available should LARP staffs decide they want to try adjust the players’ experiences of using these mechanics.

Posted in boffer, LARP, mechanics | 2 Comments

Time Bubble 2018

I recently attended Time Bubble, the fall weekend of LARPs at RPI in Troy, NY. I played in three LARPs and attended a panel.

My first LARP was Amalgamation. To be honest, the blurb for the LARP on the website was a little vague, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I signed up. (As there was little to no prep involved — no character sheets to read in advance or costuming to create, just some rule documents to read shortly before the LARP itself, I still wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it.) It seemed like an unique, experimental, abstract sort of LARP, which was intriguing, but it also had a linguistics theme, which definitely spoke to me.

In Amalgamation, the players play divine beings existing in a void after the destruction of the previous world, embarking on the creation of a new one. Play begins without access to any language, only gestures and expressions. (With gestures being limited only to ones where the meaning was inherent to the gesture and not based on arbitrary associations created by culture; in other words, indexical and iconic gestures, such as flapping your arms to indicate wings or pointing to indicate a particular person, are allowed, but emblematic ones like, like giving the middle finger, are not.

I spent much of this time trying (and largely failing) to identify the others present based on my limited knowledge. I found it very difficult to avoid common gestures that are deeply ingrained. (I caught myself nodding and shaking my head a lot, then briefly dropping character to try to retract it… I recommend if you play this LARP and find yourself accidentally breaking the rules of communication in the first part, try to just ignore it and move on, instead of highlighting it by compulsively dropping character to try and take it back, like I did… which was also a hard habit to break.)

We were excited to receive our first set of words, though communication proved barely any easier. Our speech was pretty bizarre. I don’t want to say too much about the LARP at this point, because while I realize this game probably wasn’t designed to be highly concerned over spoilers, part of what I really enjoyed about the experience was having to think on the fly, and use my creativity to figure out what I wanted to accomplish and how to do it with my limited options, and I wouldn’t want to accidentally influence future players in any particular directions.

I will say that my favorite moment of the LARP came when one of the divine beings suddenly climbed up onto a table and proclaimed themselves superior and demanded deference and worship with proto-sentences.

The final exercise of the LARP was my other major highlight — it was a creative linguistic puzzle which I both really enjoyed struggling with, attempting to bargain with and assist other players, and also hearing what each player produced. Our new world will be a complex one.

I particularly liked how this LARP played with the question of language and thought, and language and culture, addressing which produces which and how they influence one another. Will characters adjust their philosophies (and thus, their core identities) according to the language available to them? Or would they twist the meaning of the language they had (as best they could) to suit their outlooks and desires for the new world? This LARP sort of takes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to a cosmic extreme.

After the game, there was some discussion of LARPs that either run without spoken language, or with very limited spoken language, and the idea of running an event with a solid track of such LARPs. (White Death, Sign, and BABUL come to mind.)

I recommend Amalgamation to LARPers who like weird, experimental structures and/or playing with linguistics through roleplay.

In the afternoon, I attended a panel titled “Tips for First Time LARP Writers”, which included a nice powerpoint presentation and went over the basics. The tip highlighted as most important was to find whatever element of the LARP, no matter how big or small, that excites the writer (or writing team) most, and use it as a focus for inspiration and motivation to see the creation process through to the end. (I’ve run into a number of requests online for resources for first time writers… would love to see this powerpoint expanded on and made available online. Maybe a reprise at an event where it can be recorded and uploaded…?)

My second LARP of Time Bubble was A Hero Killing Calamity, which revolved around the meeting of an organization of villains who were forced into a treaty when they lost a war to the forces of Good, but now find themselves handling the slaughter of a troop of heroes. The villains must discover who committed the violation of the treaty and decide how they will address the issue and demands from the forces of good. And, of course, how they will go about their usual evil business with both the forces of good and their fellow villains, currently concerned about treaty violations, around.

I played one of the villains suspected of slaughtering the troop of heroes. My character was the second-in-command to a troop of mercenaries, and we did our best both to free my character from suspicion, and to take advantage of the situation and try to arrange some lucrative contracts.

It was cool seeing a LARP with all villainous characters play out. I think it’s a popular concept, though one that writers/GMs are often wary of, as a cast of all villains can preempt any cooperation between the players, but the conceit of the LARP worked out well. I thought the characters were all very colorful, playing with popular villain tropes.

My costuming hint for this LARP suggested military themes with a prominently featured crow emblem (our mercenary band was called the Company of the Crow), so I pulled out my black military jacket, and put together simple gray sashes out of ribbon and iron-on patches for myself and the commander. I also added a sash in fiery colors as a nod to my character’s pyromancy.


My last LARP of the weekend was Revolving Door Afterlife Lobby, a LARP that plays with a trope that is very common in comics. A bunch of superheroes and supervillains find themselves in the lobby of the afterlife, with their fates in the hands of three deities, who might choose to send them back (in one form or another), welcome them into their realms, or possibly elevate them to divine status. I played Hathor and Sekhmet, Egyptian goddesses of love and war respectively, and I could flip back and forth between them at will. I was surprised more characters didn’t appeal to Hathor for help, but most of them appealed to Sekhmet, offering to bring glorious battle to evildoers if I would return them to life.

Revolving Door is a fairly simple game, mostly about roleplaying as the colorful characters and mulling over the various decisions before us. I think the structure and mechanics have legs — I could easily imagine a larger cast of divine beings and superheroes, and each run involving some subset of those depending on the players desires for casting.

Coincidentally (and, to me, rather amusingly) the three divine beings, Dionysus, Hathor/Sekhmet, and the Grim Reaper, were played respectively by the LARPers who played Zeus, Aphrodite, and Hades in Siege of Troy.

For costuming, I grabbed the red piece of fabric I used for The Oncoming Storm (literally a large rectangle with a hole for my head), belted it with a gold piece of trim and a gold sash, and threw on my Egyptian beaded collar and some makeup. (I wish I could have had time to create an elaborate horn and disc headdress.)

While I was in Troy, I also got a chance to try out Enigmatic Escape’s Escape Room, “The Secret of the Study” which was a ton of fun and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area.

Amalgamation, by the way, will be running at Intercon R, so attendees will have a chance to play it there. (And the first round of Intercon sign-ups begins November 2, at 7pm EST.)

Posted in conventions, LARP, theater | Tagged | 2 Comments