NELCO 2018: Co-Creating Characters


The first topic of discussion I participated in at NELCO 2018 was Creating, Customizing, and Integrating Co-Created Characters. The intention was to focus on character creation for live action campaigns. This is a topic I was particularly interested in and excited to brainstorm over, because I feel I’ve been struggling with character creation for the last few campaigns I’ve PCed.

Generally, the character creation process for the local Accelerant community (the live action campaign community most people present were familiar with, though there was also a writer for NERO at the discussion) involves the staff putting forth setting and mechanical information for the campaign. Then players read through it and individually design character histories and stats according to the staff’s guidelines, submit it to the staff, and receive approval. Sometimes there are minor variations — a staff member might suggest an edit or two (and occasionally, rejections happen if the proposed concept doesn’t fit in with the staff’s vision for the campaign.) But often there is little to no back and forth with the staff (or between players) unless a player takes the initiative to send a specific question or request to the staff.

During the discussion at NELCO, we talked a lot about additional information that could be provided by staff to help guide character creation. Players are often offered descriptions of elements of the setting — species characters could be, nationalities they could have, career paths they might follow, institutions they might belong to, etc. — but the written materials often don’t go into detail about what kind of experiences players might expect to get out of selecting options from these categories. For example, if I sign up to play a priest, in one campaign this might mean uncovering cosmological secrets, because the priests are often in contact with the divine elements of the setting. In another campaign, this might mean dealing with the bureaucratic or political inner workings of the church.

If that kind of information — what sorts of plots one might expect depending on the various selection one makes off the creation menu is available — were made available, it might be very helpful to players, though it’s entirely understandable if it isn’t available at the start of a campaign. Writers may not have all of the specifics planned out in advance, and the writers assigned to different parts of a setting may change over the course of a campaign. Additionally, staff may not want to spoil players on potential content, but some staff might be comfortable with allowing players to opt-in to additional information that might otherwise be hidden from players before a campaign begins.

We also discussed ways in which character creation need not be completed before a campaign’s first event. (Or rather, the first event any given player plays, as it’s not uncommon for new players to join in the middle of campaigns.) I suspect a lot of staff members of the various local campaigns are open to the idea of players adjusting to their backgrounds mid-game, but it might help to provide an explicit channel for it if staff are supportive of the idea, or even make it a standard part of the process.  We often have avenues for building an entirely new character should a player decide mid-way through a campaign that the setting elements connected to their character creation choices aren’t working out for them, but I haven’t yet seen much in the way of enabling official ret-cons. (Threshold has something similar — not quite a ret-con, but an option that essentially allows for a diagetic resetting of stats.)

Obviously, there might be some downsides to allowing ret-cons for characters, but I think there are benefits that might be worth exploring. For example, a staff might have players deliberately leave blanks in their character creation process, and have players fill it out a year into the campaign, once they’ve had a chance to get a glimpse at some of the options. Say academic type characters have a choice of which in-game universities they might have attended, but players are welcome to retroactively choose after having met a few of the alumni in-game. This might require a bit of steering to avoid in-game contradictions (PCs and NPCs alike might need to know not to ask “where did you go to school?” until after players have decided.) But it would also allow for players to make informed decisions about which NPCs they’re most interested in interacting with in-game.

Much of the NELCO discussion focused on integration along the course of the campaign. We talked about feedback forms (such as Post Event Letters, or PELs) as the primary means of communication between players and staff, and how flexibility and enabling players different options for structuring feedback could be helpful. Allowing players to respond in short answer surveys, long answer surveys, or maybe even in-person dialogs if possible, could be useful in producing more actionable feedback, as everyone has different preferences for communication styles.

I do wish we’d had a bit more time to brainstorm different ways to involve additional people in the character creation process, which is what I was most excited to discuss. I think there’s an assumption that players want complete control over their character creation, within the bounds of the setting and mechanics the staff presents, but I’d be very open to allowing staff more control over my character creation.

Some options might be:

— Players create basic frameworks for characters and allow staff to fill in the details, some of which could be kept secret to discover in game
— staff creates frameworks for characters and players fill in the details (New World Magischola does something like this)
— staff creates the entire characters and casts players the way many one-shot LARPs do (possibly allowing for minor tweaks, just in case some aspects really don’t suit a player)
— staff creates an opt-in system for players to create connections with one another, including secrets (for example, “click here if you’d like to discover a long lost sibling among the other PCs during the campaign”, with staff secretly assigning two players to be long-lost siblings.)

Some of these things do happen to a certain extent already (common examples include characters with amnesia in their backstories) but I would jump at the chance to play a campaign where it was officially built into the character creation process. Some of these ideas also necessarily involve more work on the part of staff upfront, which is a hard thing to justify encouraging, but maybe it could make writing easier in the long run. What if it ensures all plots will have at least some characters interested, so that no plot writing goes to waste? Or perhaps it might go a long way towards ensuring an even division of players get involved with each of the in-game institutions, preventing issues of different institutions getting disproportionate “screen-time” in game?

We also ran out of time before I had a chance to mention the workshop from Unheroes, a Golden Cobra game in which players create a shared backstory thanks to a series of prompts about their relationships and a shared mission that went wrong. Prompts include things like, “one other player is angry with you, what did you do and why?” or “you gave the order that caused things to go wrong. What order did you give?” In Fifth Gate, one member of my warband lead the others through a similar series of prompts, and together we created a shared piece of backstory about an attack on an enemy stronghold, during which the warband’s previous leader was lost, and a couple new members were gained. We ended up referencing this story throughout the campaign, and I often wished we had gone through the process a few more times together, to develop our in-character relationships and create more shared memories to reference and inform roleplay.

I’d love to see a campaign include something like this as a, perhaps optional, part of character creation, especially if the campaign encourages players to form groups like the warbands in Fifth Gate. (Even better if some of the prompts encouraged players to involve characters in other groups.) Co-created content between players also need not be restricted to the beginning of campaigns. I think players can actually be a really great writing resource for a campaign LARP. For example, my favorite personal moments in Cottington Woods came from content created and introduced by one of my fellow players. PCs often have connections with one another and insight into one another’s characters that staff may not have, so why not enable and encourage them to create content for one another?

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NELCO 2018 and Little Boffer Con

This past weekend, NELCO 2018 ran (with yours truly as the conference coordinator), accompanied by two tracks of six one-shot boffer LARPs in an event titled Little Boffer Con. The first of it’s kind, and if I have anything to say about it, not the last.
NELCO 2018 FB Event Header v1.png
NELCO stands for New England LARP Conference, and it’s been running annually since 2012. It’s the first LARP conference in the US, and it features discussions, panels, workshops, and presentations, all about creating, running, and playing LARPs. This year, it featured two tracks of content all day Saturday, as well as informal socializing time on Friday evening and Sunday morning.

In recent years, a new format of LARPs has been developing — one shot boffer/live combat LARPs with pre-written characters. (Similar forms have existed, but I do think there’s something unique about what’s developing in our community, primarily through Intercon.) They’ve become quite popular, which spawned the idea of running a bunch of them at their own standalone(ish) event, with the idea that they would be available for people who can’t make Intercon (or perhaps are turned off by the idea of attending a primarily theater LARP convention.) The hotel that has been hosting NELCO for the last few years has an enormous ballroom, divisible into two rather large function spaces, and we’ve been trying to bring more of the boffer community into the NELCO discussions, so this seemed like a very good fit. And so Little Boffer Con was born.

I think, overall, NELCO went pretty well. As coordinator, I definitely made some mistakes, but at least I learned a lot through them. There were issues with the website (not the fault of the website; it just wasn’t designed for how we ended up handling sign ups and payment for PCing the boffer LARPs.) I forgot to print a couple different things, and there were a variety of ways I should have made Ops a lot smoother.

Despite the issues, we had two solid tracks of NELCO events, on a diverse array of topics. The Hour of Controversy ended up totally filling, as people were inspiring one another to share their controversial opinions about LARP. We sold a few copies of Game Wrap, and inspired a few possible ideas for future Game Wrap articles. (Game Wrap is accepting articles for volume 3, by the way.) LARP Box set out a few foam launching muskets and rifles for people to try out. (They were so much fun!)

In previous years, filling out the schedule hasn’t been easy, but this year, we received enough ideas for topics to run that I ended up cutting all of my own ideas out of the initial schedule to make room for everyone else’s. We did have a few last minute drops, so one of my topics made its way back onto the schedule in the last couple days before the conference. I’d had the idea of prepping a list of questions for each of the topics and blurbs and questions for a few additional backup topics, just in case there was a last minute drop, but someone else present was willing to step in and run the topic as a discussion, or else run a discussion on an alternative topic. (This is how a discussion on Climaxes in LARP ended up on the schedule at the last minute.)

Our topics for NELCO 2018 were, Avoiding Erasure in LARP; Beyond Gender in Casting: Changing Cultural Norms; Climaxes in LARP; Consent and Negotiation in Low-Transparency Designs; Creating, Customizing and Integrating Co-Created Characters; Genre Theory; The Hour of Controversy; Litform LARP: Strengths of the Form; The Permission Space of LARP; Queer Narrative in LARP; Running PvP/CvC Content in Live Combat Campaign LARPs; Welcoming New People; Workshops and Foreplay; and Writing LARP for Kids and Adults. (About half got recorded.)

I personally attended discussions on Creating, Customizing, and Integrating Co-Created Characters, sat in the audience for the presentation on Genre Theory, co-ran the discussion on Climaxes in LARP, sat in on the Hour of Controversy (and gave a very abbreviated version of my own controversial topic in the last minute and a half), and participated in the Workshops and Foreplay workshops. For the last four hours, I PCed one of the Little Boffer Con LARPs, Rabbit Run.

Little Boffer Con went very well overall, I think — members of the boffer community who had never tried this format attended, people really enjoyed the LARPs, and post-event chatter indicates that people are inspired to write more LARPs in this new genre, which is exactly the sort of outcome I hoped for. We hit some snags in the process and some logistics would have to be adjusted to ensure a smoother Little Boffer Con 2 (for example, the pricing structure might have to shift a bit), but the important thing is, coming out of this experiment, Little Boffer Con 2 seems like a real possibility.

One of the major challenges for Little Boffer Con was prepping the room dividers necessary for the LARPs to run. NEIL has the components for about 30 simple room dividers (piping with plastic tarps taped on) that have been primarily used for Intercon LARPs (upon request), and GMs use them to subdivide the single rectangular rooms our hotel affords most of the LARPs that run there. Lots of the boffer LARPs, in particular, use them to section out part of the room as “Monster Camp” and change up the layout of the space for different combat.

Ensuring that all of the room dividers for two tracks of boffer LARPs were assembled in time for Saturday morning’s first games, and disassembled around the time we needed to vacate the hotel ballrooms was no mean feat. Many of the attendees who arrived early to socialize on Friday and stayed late after the last discussions and LARPs of Saturday night donated their time and effort to putting the dividers together and then taking them apart and packing them up again. (For which I am extremely grateful.) If the hotel hadn’t granted us early access to the hotel room (or had been around to demand we vacate the rooms exactly on time) the whole process would have been so much more difficult and time consuming (and I suspect the LARPs would have had to make do with a lot fewer.) Certainly, for the next Little Boffer Con, another logistical element that will likely need adjustment will be a plan for a volunteering system, to ensure we have the space and manpower to repeat this feat.


LARPers, Assemble!

Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the various topics and my experience playing Rabbit Run.


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Summer Projects

Thought I’d do a short post about the various LARP-related projects (mostly sewing) I’ve working on this summer.

First of all, this upcoming weekend, I’ll be at the Summer LARPin’ event at WPI, where I’m playing a Peaky Midwest LARP, Dungeon Owners’ Association. (In addition to Winterhorn, but that does not require prep from players.) As one can probably guess from the title, Dungeon Owners’ Association is about a group of monsters who live in a Dungeons and Dragons style dungeon, at a Home Owners Association meeting, arguing about topics such as how the zoning laws apply to the ogre’s den.

I’ve been cast as Bobbie the Beholder, and I’m going to fight my natural costume diva instincts (I admit I enjoy a good reveal for new costuming pieces at LARPs) to share my progress so far. The hood is sewn from fleece and lining, the eye stalks are made from carved up styrofoam cones (intended for floral arrangements, I believe), styrofoam balls, and plenty of hot glue. It’s not quite finished — I’m planning to add velcro closures, possibly one more eye stalk, teeth, and eyelids to the big center eye… and maybe some flappy pointy bits out of fleece… but here is my beholder costume thus far.


The week after Summer LARPin’ is NELCO 2018. I’m coordinating NELCO this year, and in addition to our usual two tracks of discussions, panels, workshops, and presentations (plus social time on Friday and Sunday), Little Boffer Con is running! It’s an experimental structure, with five LARPs of the 4-ish hour, one-shot boffer variety that have been increasing in popularity lately at Intercon. We’re kind of learning and figuring out the logistics of this kind of event on the fly, (as far as I know, this is the first event of its kind) I’m hoping this will be the first of many Little Boffer Cons.

This is happening in two weeks, you can check out more information about the event here.

I will be playing in Rabbit Run at Little Boffer Con. We received casting a little while ago, and I’ve finally settled on a design for my costume. The PCs are a ragtag bunch of survivors in a cyberpunk world taken over by the evil robotic PryMor Corporation. My costume plans involve a pattern for a hooded pullover and some black scuba knit/mesh combo fabric, and possibly some iron-on applique numbers.


this is futuristic survivor, right?

I’m also trying to finish a tote bag by NELCO so I can hand it off at NELCO– it’s for a charity auction run by Incantrix Productions, the organization that puts on events like Winter’s Revel, which I attended two winters ago. It charity event run in MIT’s rather atmospheric hunting lodge-like Endicott House, in which guests danced with fae and ghosts and solved puzzles and threw their support behind one fae court or the other. It was a lovely evening.

For the upcoming raffle, I decided to make a tote bag. I find they’re pretty universally useful, and not too difficult or time consuming for me to make, as I’ve become very familiar with the pattern. Plus Jo-Ann Fabrics has tons of fun character cotton prints to make them appealing to a geeky crowd. I’ve done Star Wars, Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Marvel comics, Dr. Who, and now I’m making a black one with a Harry Potter themed pocket, featuring the Marauder’s Map.


How do you not love this Marauders’ Map print.

And lastly in August, I’ll be playing a LARP that I think might be the dream LARP I’ve always been waiting for, which is Pocket Monsters: the Hunted, a dark comedy survival horror parody LARP, in which players play the Pokémon of their choice (from the first generation of Pokémon) and NPCs play trainers, professors, gym leaders, and members of Team Rocket, chasing them through the woods, throwing pokéballs at them, trying to catch them all. (If you were ever a fan of the cartoon, you simply must watch the trailer for this LARP.)

Trying to settle on a Pokémon for me was a very long, drawn out decision process. (And I’m still second guessing my choice.) Factors included what kind of costuming I would like to make, would it be comfortable if it’s very hot (we’ll be running around and boffer fighting outdoors in August), what would make a decent costume to reuse as cosplay at geek cons, what the evolution process might mean, and what other people are choosing to play. I also thought about how various Pokémon concepts might translate into LARP and boffer combat. (I’m still tempted to switch to lickitung and make myself a giant boffer polearm resembling a tongue.)

I know it’s kind of a cliche, but I settled on pikachu. (…Probably.) I do have a homemade pikachu sweatshirt, but I’m worried it will be too warm, so I’m making a much lighter version from scratch. I also plan to make the ears and tail such that I can swap them out for a raichu ears and a tail, in case I evolve. I’m also working on sandshrew and sandslash costuming for a friend. This is mostly in the planning stage, which involves googling images of cosplayers and gijinka art. I do have a sewing pattern and some yellow knit fabric ready to go.
Also, it took more searching than I expected, but I finally found yellow nail polish.


I’m changing the name of this polish from “Mellow Yellow” to ‘Pika Yellow”

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The weekend before Intercon R, I was back in the UK for Shogun, a weekend long theater LARP.  Arguably, going on an international trip so soon before Intercon was not the most prudent of choices, but I have no regrets.

I’ve been playing weekend-long theater LARPs of a similar style for years now, (a number of which share authors with Shogun.) They’ve mostly run in university spaces, often with minimal to no set-dressing, and very lax attitudes towards costuming. Now, don’t mistake me here; I think there’s immense value in LARPs that run on restricted/minimal budgets, which is one way to increase accessibility significantly (for poor students in particular, in these cases), and also accessible for people to run. I could go off on a long, derailing tangent about the benefits of these LARPs and what I love about them, but I think I’ll have to save that for a separate post.*

That all said, I personally really like to acquire a wide variety of LARP experiences, and I’ve done the low key, minimalist versions of weekend long theater LARPs a bunch of times. I wanted to try one with a specified minimum standard for costuming, run in well dressed function spaces of a nice hotel (where players can sleep on site).** I was also looking forward to playing with a mostly new group of LARPers. (I knew very few of the likely players when I first signed up for Shogun; after attending Consequences in November, getting to see some of the Consequences LARPers again was another major plus.)

The UK Freeform Society (the group that put on Shogun, and has put on a variety of other weekend theater LARPs) has a lottery system to handle sign-ups, which is weighted in favor of new players. Despite this,  I didn’t initially get in. But as luck would have it, there were two drops later on, and the female character that became available happened to suit my casting questionnaire rather well. (In their system, getting in off the wait-list after casting isn’t solely dictated by the order generated by the lottery or a first come, first serve system, but rather it takes responses on the casting questionnaires into account. I think there’s probably a blog post somewhere in there about the pros and cons and possible outcomes of different systems for admission into LARPs.) I really lucked out in that regard.

I wasn’t able to get in much touring on this trip, for reasons of tighter time constraints, but before the weekend began, I did manage to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I made sure to catch the Japan exhibit.


The hotel for Shogun, the West Rutford Hotel in Rutford, Nottinghamshire, is a beautiful location for LARPing, and the GMs really went to another level with set dressing. From what I understand, a fair amount of the set dressing was brought in by players, which I think worked out really nicely. I’m sure there’s always a risk of items getting lost or damaged, but I think using the players as a resource for set dressing and making the environment a communal effort is a strategy I’d like to see explored more often in the local community. (Local boffer LARPs have done it to decorate the in-game taverns, but the theater community has done very little of it, as far as I know.)


hotel grounds

There were handmade banners (resembling nobori) hanging all around the game space, with hand drawn art and lettering to label the different areas.

There were pillows and lanterns and table cloths in various corners of game space. A tea house was set up in one of the side rooms. The geisha house in particular was something special, with bamboo floor mats, pillows, tea sets, a miniature rock garden, fans, kimonos, and other items.

The costuming was also, across the board, very beautiful. A large number of players ordered clothing from Japan. I particularly admired some of the armor I saw at the LARP, and one LARPer managed to style her hair in an impressive shimada.  For my own costuming, I used the haori, kosode, and hakama I made for Fifth Gate. (A friend lent me some tabi to wear.) I also made a number of items for the friend I was traveling with. (There was a lot of last minute sewing involved for Shogun that got in the way of last minute Intercon projects.)



Cricket costume from Fifth Gate

Shogun game play has a lot of elements in common with other weekend long theater LARPs that have come out of the UK Freeform community. I think they have a winning formula, so it’s not surprising to see some mechanical structures in common. For example, like in Torch of Freedom and Siege of Troy, the game space is divided into areas, some of which can only be freely accessed by certain sub-groups of players. (Mount Olympus can only be freely accessed by the gods and immortals, while the slums of Petronia were only safe for those of the lowest class.) This kind of structure may seem like it would stymie the flow of the LARP, but it also provides significance to secret alibis and sneaky abilities and encourages players to involve characters from other groups in their actions by requesting escorts.

The romance mechanic is also a version of a system that has popped up a few times before — characters can earn one another’s love by performing actions listed as their “heart’s desires.” I’m a fan of this system; I find it provides a convenient avenue for characters to get involved in one another’s plots and pick new goals throughout the LARP, as they like. It also provides mechanical support for playing concepts like a very charming suitor or a fickle-hearted object of effection.

These hearts’ desires romance systems may seem on the surface like it’s a heavy handed way of mechanizing roleplay that should be emotional, fluid, and subjective. But in practice, I find it pretty easy to fudge to suit individual LARPers’ tastes. That is, the balance of power in the game isn’t going to be upset should I decide, on the fly, that someone performed one of my heart’s desires so spectacularly that it should count as ticking off two items on the list. The system is there if one enjoys it, or if one is feeling too shy or awkward or indecisive to engage with romance without a concrete system to engage with as a guidance, but it’s not in the way if one prefers not to engage with mechanics.

I also like how the system can direct players towards the characters that were written with the possibility of romantic relationships in mind, without cutting off the possibility of romance with other characters. (For example, “your childhood friend needs to perform only four tasks to win your heart, everyone else would have to perform six.”)

(Warning: some spoilers pertaining to my character, Ishida Kiri, below the image.)


Ishida Kiri

In the case of my character, Ishida Kiri, I felt like the mechanics supported one of the most complicated romance arcs I’ve yet played through in a LARP. My character had two potential love interests, neither of whom were entirely right for her, and she struggled a lot with feelings of attraction conflicting with issues of personal honor and the interests of her clan.

I think it’s difficult to write a romance plot for a LARP in which family members and issues of politics and honor are meant as a foil for the romance — I think most theater LARPers at some point have played a romance where the resolution basically involved the relevant characters simply getting over it and accepting the relationship. (In fact, I recall a player once commenting that when cast in the role of disapproving older relatives, they simply decide before the LARP their character doesn’t want to interfere.)

But in the case of Shogun, it felt like a genuine source of internal conflict for my character, and when push came to shove, I felt inclined to put the interests of my clan first, even when it interfered with marriage plans. I’ve been reading a lot of A Song of Ice and Fire analysis blogs recently, which often discuss the politics of inheritance and titles, and how factors like the relative ranks of spouses or a lack of clear heirs influence such things; the content from these blogs inspired my stance when negotiating a marriage contract in Shogun. The negotiation turned out to be a lot of fun, all the more so because romance wasn’t simply trumping all other considerations.

There was a particular moment when my character’s motivations crystallized rather dramatically for me — the head of the Ishida clan, Kiri’s uncle, declared he was willing to support my character’s marriage, but it meant appointing someone else as the new Ishida clan heir. My character suddenly realized her clan was most important to her and was willing to call off the marriage, not just because she very much enjoyed her position as clan heir on a personal level, but also honestly thought it would be best for her clan if she remained the heir. (It was an enormous relief for Kiri when her ex-fiance announced his intention to marry another person he loved, though in theory this might have offended her.)

On top of this, my other romance plot developed into a rather satisfying moment when the character told Kiri her own expression of optimism and honorable conduct had pulled him back from falling to the dark side. It was a really nice and rather unexpected roleplaying moment for me.

Through all this, I felt like the romance mechanics never quite dictated what my character had to do, but provided support so that I never had to second guess my character’s decisions regarding her love life. For example, when I initially accepted a marriage proposal, but insisted on hammering out contract to protect my clan’s interests, it made sense based on the romance mechanics — Kiri was the process of being courted, but her heart hadn’t yet been decisively earned. Effort was still needed to make the relationship work.

On a side note, regarding my romance plots in Shogun, I want to mention that I particularly appreciated the player in the role of my character’s father, who played up their role as a foil to the romance, shouted at my suitor in public, and forbade him from speaking to me. Whenever we wanted to have a conversation, said suitor would bring in another character to pass messages between us even as we were sitting about a foot from one another (and pointedly not looking in one another’s direction.) I thought that was a nice way to involve other players in our roleplay and plots.

Shogun also has a lot of other mechanical systems to engage with, and my character’s driven, go-getter personality was channeled into engaging with them for the sake of the honor and prosperity of her clan. As a samurai and the heir to the Ishida clan daimyo, I was kept quite busy for most of the LARP, chasing after profitable ventures, acquiring land, and accruing honors for the clan as a whole and also for herself and other individual members (whose accomplishments reflected on the clan, of course), all the while exemplifying the virtues of Bushidō, the samurai code of honor.

I struggled with parts of this, especially early on. With a cast of more than 70 players, most of whom I was meeting for the first or second time, and a large hotel for them to scatter throughout, I had trouble tracking down the various characters I needed to speak to; Friday evening was particularly difficult for me. A few times people tried to help me find characters by giving me the real names of the players, and I was sometimes too embarrassed and shy to admit I wasn’t sure who that was, especially if it was likely a person I had met earlier in the day, or at Consequences, whose name I should theoretically have known. By Saturday afternoon, I got a bit more into the flow of things.

While I enjoyed engaging with the economy and systems of clan honor and martial combats rankings, my favorite parts of the LARP involved engaging with cultural activities. There was a schedule of events for the weekend, including things like a sumo tournament (the mechanics for which looked creative and fun, though I don’t have the details on that), a courtly debate, a poetry contest, tea ceremonies, a mah jong tournament, and a go tournament. (Plus a lot more; no one player could possibly do it all. …I do wish I’d managed to try flower arranging and calligraphy.)

There is also a system for putting out fires in the city which I really liked. If a fire is started, someone calls “kasai!” and everyone who hears it takes up the call. (We didn’t want to actually call out “fire!” in English for obvious reasons.) Then everyone available has to form chains to transport buckets of water from a source to the flames, which is represented by passing blue balls from player to player from a container to a bucket. This proved to be a lot of fun, and it was nice to have breaks in the politics and intrigue where the characters were forced to temporarily put aside their differences and work together to save the city, with a fun little cooperative physical challenge.


water for putting out kasai

I’m very sad to say I missed the poetry contest, but I really enjoyed being one of the debaters over the most important virtue of the Bushido code. (Though I really do wish I had done more prep work and maybe written out something to read; I was pretty nervous doing ad-libbed public speaking, and it showed.) I also really enjoyed taking the tests to be accepted into the bakufu (the Shogun’s administrative officials), though I think I only made it through one stage. (I was eliminated on the rock garden arranging portion.)

The lowlight of my weekend was, sadly, accidentally missing the kabuki performance. I was distracted by a private family meeting behind closed doors (which involved some really wonderful roleplay — too bad my timing on it was less than ideal.) It wasn’t the first time I missed out on a mid-LARP performance, and last time that happened I had resolved not to let it happen again, so it was a bit of a sore point for me. I’d really been looking forward to it ever since I started working on the kabuki costume for one of the performers. I was given a detailed description later, but it wasn’t the same. But I heard great things about the actual performance.

I did get to see the head of the performing troupe attempt to create an oshiguma (an impression of the kumadori — make-up — made on a cloth after a performance, created as a piece of art and memento. It was done on a napkin; I rather wish I had thought to bring a better cloth for it.



On Sunday, the drama all came to a boil, as it does in this style of weekend long theater LARPs. For me, it reached a somewhat overwhelming point — multiple marriages and so many deaths and final confrontations against various evils, that I felt I just couldn’t properly roleplay an emotional response to all of the dramatic moments going on around me, and I slipped off to the beautifully decorated geisha house, which turned out to be empty. I sat down on a cushion on the bamboo mat floor, and tried my hand at some origami. It made sense to me that my character might seek somewhere quiet and engage in some meditative art forms while reflecting on the upheaval going on, especially the upheaval within her own clan.) This moment was another highlight for me.

When I came back downstairs, the LARP was concluding and the mechanics revealed Ishida clan in a position of great honor and power, with our daimyo being declared the new shogun. Honestly, I hadn’t realized this was a possible outcome, but I like to think a lot of the hard work Kiri did advancing the interests of the Ishida clan had something to do with it.

After the LARP, a number of staff members and players stuck around the hotel for another evening; we spent a lot of time hanging out at the bar, discussing Shogun and future LARP projects. It’s always nice to use the post-LARP hours to get to know the community players a little better. I’ve got my fingers crossed we can convince the staff to run the LARP here in the US, or at least box it for others to run. (I think it would go over extremely well at RPI.)


custom printed cards for some of the mechanical systems

*I wrote and then deleted about three long paragraphs here. They have been saved in a draft for another post that’s actually meant to focus on production values.

** I been to a few New World Magischola events, but it’s a very different style of theater LARP.

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Musica Universalis

There’s a lot of musical talent in the local boffer and theater communities, and recently, I NPCed a LARP that made excellent use of that talent.

Musica Universalis is set in the Dust Bowl in 1935. The musica universalis theory “regards the proportions in the movements of celestial bodies… as a form of music…” and in the setting of the LARP, the universe is coming out of tune, and magic is fading from the world, while Static is creeping in. The PCs play the individuals finding themselves guests of the Circus Liminalis, a neutral spot for angels and demons and other supernatural things to gather in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. The LARP was mostly deep and introspective in tone, occasionally offset by moments of absurd humor.


photo by Jaime DeCaro

The structure of the LARP blends a lot of the elements common to either boffer and theater in the local communities. It’s designed to run at an outdoor summer camp, over a full weekend, and much of the content is PvE, often in compartmentalized scenes (aka modules), with information coming in to the players from external sources (NPCs), and boffer mechanics for the combat scenes, all elements common to boffer LARPs.* But it’s also a one shot (i.e. not part of an ongoing campaign), has pre-written characters, and most of the content doesn’t revolve around combat, all elements common to theater LARPs.* In fact, I think it’s entirely possible to remain fully engaged with the LARP the whole weekend without encountering combat (or just dipping a toe in) and there was no climatic, town-wide battle either Saturday night or Sunday; the biggest moments were combat-free.

So unsurprisingly, this LARP successfully brought out a solid mix of boffer and theater LARPers, including, I think, a fair number of people who had only tried one form but not the other. It made me pretty happy to see more blending of communities. (For example, some of the New York theater crowd met a lot of Accelerant people and tried Accelerant combat for the first time.)

I’m not sure what the intent of the staff is currently towards the idea of future runs (I certainly hope it runs again, but I heard rumors that they have already nixed the idea), but as I highly recommend this LARP, if you’ve read the above and think this sounds appealing (I also recommend taking a glance at the introduction page on the website), then be forewarned — the rest of the post will contain spoilers. (Also, stuff will be described in past tense, though I have opinions about the use of past and present tense when discussing LARPs, or specific elements of LARPs, that may seem to contradict this.)


Photo by Allison Danskin

The lowlight was pretty much the weather — it was nice at times, but at other times we had strong winds and heavy rain. Some of this atmospheric for a LARP set in the Dust Bowl with an impending apocalypse (not to mention the serendipitous appearance of a double rainbow, which made for a nice, and possibly ironic, omen), but the wind did destroy some of the tents intended for (I believe) the circus, which was a bit of a bummer. Also, the bugs were out in force for parts of the weekend, especially around dusk. I was crunching as a demon following a fallen angel at one point, and being accompanied by swarms of insects seemed very appropriate, but I just couldn’t stand them constantly in my field of vision, flying in my eyes, nose, and mouth.

The highlights included…

The way music was incorporated into the LARP. Well before the LARP, the staff sent out a list of songs for the PCs and NPCs to learn, so that at various moments, we could collectively burst into song, it made for poignant scene setting that had a well choreographed feeling. (Something LARP generally struggles with, or entirely lacks, as a medium.) The songs chosen had lyrics that lent meaning and took on new meaning to the scenes they accompanied. (I’m sad to say I only caught four of the songs over the weekend, but they were all wonderful moments.)

A number of PCs and NPCs showed off their abilities with various instruments. “The House of the Rising Sun” had two accordions, a guitar, a flute, and a keyboard accompanying it. (And possibly more that I’m forgetting.) There were also a few performances PCs and NPCs brought into the LARP (in addition to the LARP-wide playlist the staff created), including Lillith’s rendition of “Feeling Good”.

In particular, the closing scene of the LARP on Sunday was designed by staff members who are knowledgeable about music, primarily one who is a music teacher, and it showed. The entire PC and NPC base harmonized together to create a poignant sign off for the LARP.

My NPC role as La Llarona, the Weeping Woman. La Llorona is a figure from Mexican folklore with a penchant for drowning. I had some great roleplaying with both PCs and my fellow NPCs alike, especially those connected to the plotlines involving the genius locii of various rivers. I got to be the big bad Boss in a large fight, and improvised some mechanics to support the roleplay of La Llorona’s manipulation of the Rivers and attempts to corrupt some PCs, as well as improvise some mechanics to enable a PC to dramatically take her down.

I enjoyed wearing my costume for the role of La Llorona. I looked over some pictures the staff sent me for inspiration, then put together an outfit of a black lace top and skirt. I also hot glued together a hair band of some fake forest/river-like plant life I found that looked appropriate  — pussy willows and leaves turning brown at the edges. (I felt the flowery hair wreaths I already owned were too pretty and sweet.) I used some blue makeup to try and created a cold, dead look, with red contact lenses, and draped a floor length black veil over my head. Just before I went out each time, I soaked my hair in water to look recently drowned and dripping. I also froze a cup of water and held the ice in my hand just before talking to PCs, so that my touch would feel icy cold and damp. Lots of people told me I looked creepy, which made me rather happy.


I failed to get a full length photo of the costume, and I don’t think my rushed selfies quite captured the drama of the veil, but I definitely intend to include floor length veils in more costumes in the future.

The Wonder Walk. The way some of the staff members were talking about it made it sounds like this sort of thing might have been done before in our community, but I’ve personally never seen anything like it. I’m not even sure what it meant within the context of the diagesis of the LARP (was it meant to be a collective dream of the PCs? A physical manifestation of meditation? I don’t know.)

At some point, the staff went out and created a enormous tangled web of glowing lights, both from glowsticks scattered on the ground in looping paths and strings of light hung between trees, with various surreal, interactive way-points throughout. PCs could take solitary quiet walks along the paths, late at night, and read snippets of hopes and dreams strung up in a tree, try on masks, blow bubbles, read memories from their old love letters and telegrams, create bits of artwork and music and leave messages for one another… I only wish I could have experienced it as a PC, I’m sure it created wonderful, introspective, internal roleplay.

Please believe me when I say my photos don’t do it justice; I just don’t know yet how to get my camera to capture the countless glowing and twinkling lights.



The Module in Hell. This was a relative little thing, but I think we pulled it off with panache. We blocked off the stage in one of the module buildings, and filled it with flame wall paper, braziers of (fake) flames, casting red light over the space, and tons of fog. Some of the NPCs played demons torchering the souls of sinners; I played a sinner in chains and spent longer than we had expected the module to last wailing in agony. The PCs came by to bargain with the angel in charge of hell. It was a rather thematic little scene.

Video Does Not Kill the Radio Star. Late Saturday night, I volunteered to crunch for a module in which the PCs had to battle there way through beings of Static to retrieve various movie reels of famous old movies from the era. For each movie reel, the creatures of Static would take on aspects of the movie, and compulsively play them out while attacking. Meanwhile, the NPC hook who gathered the PCs put on his best deep, booming announcer voice narrated the scenes throughout. (“And so our intrepid heroes gathered their weapons and gathered their wits…” “A viscous blow was struck but our brave heroes were not deterred…!” etc. He was excellent.)

Playing the creatures of Static was a lot of fun, and evoked a lot of laughter. For The Bride of Frankenstein we staggered around as Frankenstein’s Monsters, or cackled like Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. (I laughed when voice of Dr. Frankenstein chased the PCs out of the room with a shriek of “I AM LIKE UNTO A GOD.”) For Treasure Island we shouted stereotypical pirate phrases (“ye’ll walk th’ plank, ye scurvy dogs!”) and “Arrr!”ed a lot. For Top Hat, we danced as fought. Two NPCs twirled in the center, ballroom dance style, and spun out their boffer swords to strike the PCs as they tried to dodge by. (“Little did our intrepid heroes realize, despite their elegant dance moves, the creatures of static were still very dangerous...”)

Between the retrieval of each reel, the NPCs reset the props and prepared to play out the next movie. When we got to David Copperfield, we came up blank. Someone asked, “…has anyone here actually read the book? Or seen the movie?” and got silence in response. …So we stooped to English stereotypes. (“Tally-ho, wot wot.”)

My favorite was Cleopatra. It’s long been on my bucket list to be presented as some sort of royal NPC to players while carried aloft on a palanquin. For this scene, just before the PCs entered, my fellow NPCs draped a piece of the set dressing around my shoulders and lifted me up on a chair. When the PCs came through the door, one NPC proclaimed their love for me as Marc Antony, and I imperiously called “By My Voice, Short Repel Until I Am Safely Back on the Ground.” (Not an Accelerant-legal call, but it got the job done.) So it was very brief and very silly, but I’m ticking it off my list.

The Accelerant combat system uses verbal flavor tags to indicate the nature of attacks. (E.g. “5 Damage by Fire might accompany a flaming sword, “Paralyze by Poison” would indicate a blade coated in a toxic venom that affects the nervous system.) For this scene, the tags reflected and reinforced the absurdity and humor of the module; we struck PCs with things like like “Two Damage by High Fashion” and “Maim by Thinly Veiled Allegory” and “Agony by Creative License with History.” It was special.

Blowing up the hoover dam. In another comical module, the PCs fought a battle to blow up the hoover dam. A handful of us NPCs tried to stop them as Evil Bureaucrats taken up to 11. We had a grand time attacking “By Bureaucracy”, insisting on mid-combat coffee breaks, and demanding the interns put themselves between the bosses and harm’s way.

Nametags. In the opening scene of the LARP, the NPCs of the Circus Liminalis greeted the PCs with a rendition of “Come On Up to the House.” There were tables set out with nametag patches, each embroidered with a different PC’s name for them to wear throughout the weekend. I liked that they looked like they were nice quality and diagetic. I heard a lot of positive feedback from PCs over this (it also often made things easier for me as an NPC) which goes to show they can be a positive element even in large boffer LARPs. (Though I know some people feel very strongly otherwise. To head off arguments at the pass, I’m still not saying that this means every single boffer LARP should use them.)

A send-off for my barbell. A little over four years ago, I played a LARP called Cirque du Fey, and I was cast as the strong woman of a circus called the Umbral Fete. Inspired by images of real Victorian-era strong women, I created a costume with a Greco-Roman flair. I also created a giant vintage-looking barbell prop out of two styrofoam balls, the cardboard tube from some wrapping paper, and paint. I have a bad habit of getting attached to LARP props and costuming, and after Cirque du Dey, even though the barbell was pretty cheap and easy to make, I couldn’t bear to throw it out.


Morgan Tamm, strongwoman of the Cirque du Fae

There sat the barbell in my living room, occupying a chunk of space, for four years. Then I heard that Musica Universalis had the Circus Liminalis as part of its setting, and NPCs were welcome to create circus characters if they needed a non-specific role to play while hanging out amongst the PCs. (Say, during meal time.) So I brought the barbell.

At one point, I went out to hang out with some PCs. One came over to see the barbell, and I introduced myself as the Circus Liminalis’ strong woman, and she said, “but I’m the strong woman of the Circus Liminalis. Were you just hired yesterday?” I realized at this point I had misunderstood one of the staff members, but I said yes and ran with it, and we had a nice little showdown, where I acted out struggling to lift the barbell (the PCs applauded), and she casually plucked it off the ground with one hand.

At this point, the cardboard tube playing the role of the bar collapsed and ripped. (It had already been bending. Lesson learned — if I actually care about these kinds of props lasting, I should reinforce the cardboard tube.) But we rolled with it and roleplayed that she was so strong, she’d accidentally bent a metal tube in half.

It was such a little moment, just a bit of playful off-the-cuff roleplay that came out of a misunderstanding and then a minor prop failure, but I thought it was really nice, and I got to help highlight something that made a PC cool and unique. And it was really nice to validate my excessive sense of sentimental attachment/hoarding tendencies towards LARP paraphanelia in a way that made me glad I kept the barbell, while still having a very good reason to throw it away after. These kinds of things make me weirdly happy.

I came out one more time as the not-as-strongwoman to try and make a play for the PC’s job. We arm wrestled, and I conceded to her superior strength and accepted the role of her assistant for future shows.

The Death/Ressurection module. I actually can’t say too much about this, as I only saw the set-up after the LARP was over, but I peeked into the camp’s nature cabin (which is chock full of things like animal skulls, which gives a nice extra oomph to the atmosphere for lots of different scenes in a number of LARPs that run at this campsite.) There was a carefully curated playlist, glowing lights, and tons of different antique looking boxes, bottles, and hollow books, each one with a different PC’s name on it, and something personalized written on paper within (Some sort of choice, I think, and PCs had one song off the playlist to decide.) I wish I knew more about how they worked out, but I loved the idea of the process of death being personalized for each individual PC, and the sense the room created that Death was prepared for each and everyone one of them.

Here is the playlist. There’s a lot of good music here. Enjoy.

Come On Up to the House” (Sarah Jaroz)
This World Can’t Stand So Long” (Uncle Sinner)
Lungs” (Townes van Zandt)
At the Crossroads” (Those Poor Bastards)
House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals)
Old Devils” (William Elliot Whitmore)
Don’t Want to Die in the Storm” (Anna & Elizabeth)
Sixteen Tons” (Corb Lund Band)
Nothing but the Water” (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
The Angel of Death” (The Devil Makes Three)
Help Yourself” (The Devil Makes Three)
May Be the Last Time, I Don’t Know” (Ndidi O)

*In the local communities. I realize these trends differ a lot from community to community. MET LARPs are a particular example I have very little personal experience with, and I know they often run as campaigns.

Posted in boffer, LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | 5 Comments

Festival of the LARPs 2018, Part II

Picking up where I left off

On Saturday of Festival of the LARPs 2018, I played three LARPs, Snowrise, Aether, and Aes Sidhe.

Snowrise first ran at Intercon R, and when I first saw the description, I was intrigued. Can’t say I’d yet played a LARP in the genre of Sumerian mythpunk. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I knew I wanted to find out, so I jumped at the chance to play at Festival.

I would say it felt a lot like cyberpunk with a heavy dose of Sumerian mythology in the cast. It’s set in a virtual reality chat room, with all of the characters existing in the form of avatars. Many of the characters are hackers or programmers or wealthy shareholders in tech companies… or else appear to be Sumerian gods wandering about it virtual reality.

I don’t want to say too much about my own character for spoiler reasons, but I loved my role. It’s one of those roles that knowing what I know after the LARP concluded, I would have picked that casting for myself. There was a lot going on in the LARP that I never quite got a handle on, but I had a lot of good role playing moments with the characters my character wanted to protect, and had some unexpected good moments with others who turned out to have surprising connections to them. I feel like I could play again (perhaps as one of the gods?) without spoilers being too much of an issue.

I do wish I had done a bit more for costuming — even though as online avatars, there was really no wrong way to approach it. Some players went very cyberpunk, others more historic. (I went for very plain black, with pink eyes and an Egyptian beaded collar that I thought resembled a Sumerian necklace I saw online.)

One thing I particularly liked about this LARP was its take on technology interacting with mythology. A lot of LARPs play with the theme of the progress of science, technology, and reason contributing the downfall/destruction/fading of the fantastical and mythological elements of the world (in fact, that was a major theme of my evening LARP, Aes Sidhe) but in Snowrise, the rise of powerful virtual technologies and humans reaching their innovative potentials was what allowed mythology to return (but with humans on more equal footing with gods.)

My second LARP of the day was Aether. I was pretty happy to see a boffer LARP on the schedule, which indicates a form of variety that most of the other small LARP conventions (such as Dice Bubble, Time Bubble, and SLAW) haven’t dabbled in yet, and it’s nice to see the excess of space and spring weather that Festival usually boasts put to good use.

We were invited to create our own characters, so I chose the humanoid feline race for the costuming opportunity it presented (I wore tiger ears, a tiger tail and a generic sort of animal snout), and the brawler class because it had an ability that intrigued me — hits to the lower arms and lower legs didn’t count. The system is a hit point base homebrew system (I believe this was the second event run using this system) and it bears a fair amount of similarity to the Accelerant boffer system I’m used to. This meant it wasn’t too hard for me to get into the swing of things, but I also frequently made mistakes such as confusing the meaning of “Maim.” (“Maim” means simply extra damage in Aether, though in Accelerant it means loss of the use of the targeted limb, which tripped me up a number of times.)

The premise/plot was classic urban fantasy — in a modern setting, a rash of mysterious occurrences, including some murders, have lead a local law enforcement official to pull together a temporary militia to get to the bottom of the problems and deal with them. We fought cultists and wild animals affected by a strange necromantic goo, investigated various crime scenes, and eventually tracked the problems to their source, where we prevented a dangerous ritual for a forgotten evil god from going off. Reaching the ritual involved solving a series of puzzles and bypassing some traps in classic dungeon crawl fashion. My character mostly wanted to hit things and make cat puns.

We had the entire first floor of one of the academic buildings, along with the surrounding area outside, and we moved between them for different scenes. At one point, when we were outside, I spotted someone (likely a student) standing nearby and aiming their phone’s camera lens at us. Normally, I’m not embarrassed to be seen LARPing in public, but I was acutely aware that our small group with a casual blend of urban and fantasy costuming looked a little silly, especially me with my tiger tail, ears, and snout. So I stared pointedly at the person until they sort of guiltily put the phone away and walked off. (I like to think they slunk off.) In retrospect, I wish I had actually asked them not to take photos (or maybe video?) without permission and maybe even asked them to delete what they already had. Dwelling on this and regretting not being more direct distracted me for a while.

My last LARP of Festival 2018 was Aes Sidhe, another LARP that ran at Intercon R that I was disappointed to miss. (There was a last minute drop I nearly filled, too.) Aes Sidhe is about a conclave of fae meeting to figure out if and how to adapt to the modern world with its decreasing belief diminishing the fae.

I played a member of the Seelie court, Laethe the Leanan sidhe, a type of fairy known for inspiring their human lovers to great accomplishments, consuming their creative energy, and shortening their lives. (One part muse, one part succubus, one part vampire.) For costuming, I decided to take inspiration from the muse element of the character, and wore the light blue chiton, leafy wreath, and white lacy sash that I used for Orgia. (The look was more Greek than Celtic, but I like to think it was sufficiently fae-ish to work.) I also tied a blue sash around my face to hide my character’s scar, acquired from an attack with cold iron.

Going into the LARP, I rather thought my character’s role was primarily about being a victim, and a generic supporter of the Seelie court, but my story line through the LARP took some very unexpected turns, involved various forms of betrayal, and came to a very dramatic climax and conclusion. It was probably one of the best romance plotlines I’ve ever played in a LARP, which started out as bitter resentment and became increasingly complex, until Leathe got caught on the wrong side of a combat, thanks to a delightfully foolish sacrifice of her True Name that she made in vain attempt to protect some of her dearest friends. (These kind of bad deals and interacting with fae magic like True Names and unbreakable bargains and being unable to directly lie is the stuff I’m hoping for when I sign up for fae-themed LARPs.)

The drama was reflected in my makeup and costuming, as the scar on my character’s face got healed, then recreated when Leathe slashed her own face in response to betrayal, then later was healed again. I was very happy I took the time to put in different colored contacts (pink for a uninjured eye, black for an eye damaged by cold iron); I thought it had a nice effect when I gave other characters a peak at what was beneath the blue sash.


But my costuming, while functional, didn’t compare to most of the other costuming in this LARP. Like Thicker Than Water, the cast was extremely well dressed (and the set dressing, with lots of fake plants and Celtic wall hangings, was also really nice.) Mab had a dramatic and sparkly dress, snowflake cape, and large wings, the Great Spriggan had a really amazing tree costume with a tall headdress of branches (and a tiny bird’s nest with an egg), a fetch character had really nice wooden doll makeup, a brownie had tech cleverly integrated into their look, the lord of death looked dramatic in a tux, with antlers emerging from a blindfold… and there were lots of other great makeup jobs and outfits besides.

Sunday I had a tabletop game scheduled, so that was the last of my Festival this year (though I’ve heard good things about the LARPs that ran on Sunday.)


Ok, back to work on the Shogun post…

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Festival of the LARPs 2018, Part I

Let me preface this post by saying I haven’t forgotten that a number of people asked if I would write a post about Shogun and/or expressed interest in reading one, and I actually have been very slowly working on a post that is so far a few pages long but still far from done. But I am determined to finish it.

With that out of the way, this past weekend was the Thirteenth Annual Festival of the LARPs, a weekend of free LARPs at Brandeis University. I wasn’t able to attend on Sunday, but I did attend Friday and Saturday, and I had a blast playing four different LARPs — three theater and one boffer.

Being usually the next (mini) convention of LARPs after Intercon, Festival has something of a reputation of being the venue through which people play some of the LARPs they wanted to play at Intercon but weren’t able to for one reason or another. This was certainly true for me this year, as three of my LARPs were all ones I would have loved to have played at Intercon R.

On Friday evening, I played in Thicker Than Water, a LARP set in a happenin’ speakeasy in Chicago in 1929. It features historical characters from around that era, with a little bit of artistic license to make the relevant points of their various careers contemporary with one another and also add a supernatural twist. (True Blood is listed as a source of inspiration in the blurb for a reason.) My prep for this LARP included watching few movies (including The Great Gatsby and Chicago) and looked up some 1920s slang to throw into conversation. (I wanted to seem like I really knew my onions.)


“…I know a whoopie spot/where the gin is cold. but the piano’s hot…”

I played Helena Rubinstein; in real life she was a cosmetics entrepreneur who became one of the world’s wealthiest women. The version of her in Thicker Than Water is early in her career, has connections with various gangsters, and is hiding a few other major secrets besides. I had a ton of fun with this character; I managed to pull off a few major heists, helped rig a boxing match, enjoyed flirtations with some of Chicago’s more notorious gangsters, and explored some darker themes (which will go unmentioned for spoiler reasons.)


This LARP stood out for its excellent atmosphere, which is par for the course for these writers/GMs. They set up plenty of set dressing to create a hell-themed jazz club/speakeasy (called the “The Afterlife”), with vintage set pieces (such as a typewriter, an old fashioned candlestick phone, and a retro microphone), along with snacks (including cannoli) and faux-boozy drinks (sparkling grape juice and apple cider… and suspiciously red Gatorade.) Old school music played continuously, including some tunes good for partner dancing. (“Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers was heard a few times — technically written in 1996, but it’s inspired by 30s jazz, and it includes the lyrics: “In the afterlife/ You could be headed for the serious strife/ Now you make the scene all day/ But tomorrow there’ll be Hell to pay…” I wouldn’t be surprised if this song inspired the name of the club.)


Even better, some of the characters are performers (for example, Dean Martin was there, along with the historical inspirations for Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two characters from the musical Chicago.) Some of them sang or lip-synched songs and even danced during the LARP. (At times, this may have provided other characters with necessary distractions.)

But any character who wants to perform was welcome to, so even though Helena Rubinstein wasn’t known as a performer, I decided to go for it. I looked online for some songs from the 1920s and 30s, and tried to pick one with lyrics that had some meaning for my character. I ended up picking “I Want to be Bad” by Helen Kane, the inspiration behind Betty Boop. (I downloaded an audio editor to cut out the instrumental portion — it was harder than I’d hoped it would be.) I thought it might indicate to some of my characters more notorious beaus that despite being an upstanding businesswoman, she was up for getting into trouble. There were some hiccoughs with the music and I got nervous in front of the crowd and forgot some of the lyrics, but the message in my song choice was received, so I’m glad I got out of my comfort zone to do it.

Other players put on noteworthy performances, including Vlad, the owner of the Afterlife, who welcomed us into the club at the start of the LARP with a dramatic goth performance, and Houdini, who escaped a set of handcuffs.


Also adding to the atmosphere of this LARP, the players really went all out with costuming. If you search for 1920s fashion on Amazon, there’s actually a pretty good selection of sparkly dresses with fringes at reasonable prices (along with lots of options for accessories) and a number of the players, myself included, took advantage of this. (Not to imply the costuming which hadn’t just come from Amazon wasn’t also spectacular, I was just amused by how many of the dresses I recognized from my own online search.)

One of the items on my LARP Bucket List was to get my hair and/or makeup done professionally for a LARP. (For all my years of trying to pick up these skills for LARP, I’m still pretty bad at both.) It’s never really been an option for logistical reasons — there would have to be a salon accessible to me just before an event with an interesting fashion associated with the setting. With Thicker Than Water running in Waltham on a Friday, it was finally an option.

I reached out to the other players, thinking to make it a small group thing with anyone else interested, but I wasn’t able to find an option that could take multiple customers on such short notice. In fact, I only lucked into an appointment when a salon called me Friday morning to tell me another customer had cancelled. (I’m open to trying again in the future, if I can find a more affordable option.)

I had a lot of fun at the salon, though I worried my hair might start to unravel and the makeup start to fade before the LARP itself. (They lasted better than I’d expected.) I think the end result, while technically within the realm 1920s fashion, weren’t as classically flapper girl as I was going for (maybe the hairband could have been lower, maybe the eyes smokier?) but I think it was unmistakable when combined with the dress and rope of pearls. I hope I can find another opportunity to wear this look again.


Since this ended up quite a bit longer than originally intended, I’ll save the rest of Festival for the next post.

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