This past weekend, Dice Bubble 2019 ran in Troy, NY. But instead of running on RPI campus, as both it and Time Bubble have always done in the past, it ran at hotel near campus, in the function rooms on the lowest floor.
This does mean the event can no longer be free, and there can no longer LARPs on Friday evening (without increasing the price by a huge amount), but it does have significant advantages, besides nicer spaces for the LARPs. Though it becomes less accessible to those who can’t afford it (though there were discounted rates for students and GMs), it becomes more accessible to people who find it difficult to around the rather hilly campus (the usually building has a particularly long steep climb from the nearest parking.) It also enables the staff to not have worry about the campus’ rules and bureaucracy, and creates more of a sense of community, as attendees can eat and sleep in the same building where they’re LARPing.
Personally, as someone who has been staying at this hotel or nearby Air BnBs and walking to and from the campus (including that very steep hill) every morning and evening, I really appreciated having the LARPs and a bed in the same building. I found I had more time to hang out with fellow LARPers in the evenings, and the spaces available for hanging out (the hallway between the function rooms and the hotel lounge) were much more comfortable than the usual classroom set aside as the “consuite” (which has a number of issues that make it an unappealing space for hanging out in.)
I did notice a shift in demographics that resulted from the change of venue and prices — there were a number of attendees who hadn’t been to recent Bubbles (or possibly any) who likely were attracted by the nicer spaces and more physically accessible location, while the number of current students dropped, as did the number of attendees overall.
Dice Bubble is also now using Intercode 2, the new web application developed for Intercon, which worked smoothly.
That said, last I spoke to staff members, it seemed enough attendees paid the full price (rather than the discounted price) that it came pretty close to covering the costs. (I hope the success of the raffle made up most if not all of the difference?) So I think that’s a good sign for future Dice Bubbles running at the hotel. (The plan for Time Bubble is to continue to run for free on campus.)
I signed up to play five LARPs at Dice Bubble. The first was Innsmouth Tourism Board, a LARP in which the players play the members of a tourism board of a small New England town… where a cruise ship has struck Cthulhu, causing the boat to sink and the elder abomination to return to slumber. Now the townsfolk are pissed and the tourism board has called an emergency meeting to address the issue. Each of the characters is their own comedic take on a Lovecraftian tropes, with their own proposals for how to raise money and appease the town (and pursue their secret nefarious agendas), and there are of course sanity mechanics mixed in. We managed to pass every single proposal, and probably brought disastrous ruin on the town, if not the world.
Since we did casting at the door, the players all chose characters based on the appeal of one sentence descriptors. I chose the eccentric artist, who is convinced of their own brilliance, and also happens to be a cannibalistic ghoul. (It brought back fond memories of ghoul plots from Lost Eidolons.)
I had a fun time with this LARP. It was a rather chaotic meeting, so I did often find it difficult to get my voice heard at the meeting (and, in fact, I didn’t get my proposals on the table until the GM sort of prompted the group to give me a chance to speak)… and I think possibly including some sort of bylaws or guidelines (particularly for the chair of the meeting) could possibly address this issue… but the situation is humorous enough and the structure keeps the conversation flowing so well that it didn’t bother me at all. I had fun just listening, occasionally bursting into hysterical laughter as my sanity dropped, and occasionally trying to take a little bite out of the poor professor sitting on my left.
Innsmouth Tourism Board reminded me a lot of Dungeon Owners Association, a LARP about a homeowners association meeting among the evil denizens of a typical Dungeons and Dragons style dungeon, and Plan Eight From Outer Space, a LARP about aliens at a post-mortem meeting for a plan to stop Earthlings from destroying the universe that went terribly wrong. I think one could say that the “wacky board meeting” is a LARP genre unto itself, and it’s one with a lot of legs — that is, one could easily take the bare bones structure, change around the flavor and specifics, and come out with lots of different short comedic LARPs.
It’s a concept that is flexible on player numbers and casting (all of the players will have more or less the same overall experience — sitting around a table and squabbling for a couple hours) and requires little of space. (Lots of hotels and universities that host these small LARPing weekends have board rooms that fit a single large table and chairs and not much else, and they often go to waste, as they can’t really host many other forms of LARP where players need to be able to easily move around and/or may want to have private conversations.)
I’ve heard people use the term “high floor” — that is, the floor representing how poor an individual’s experience, or the collective experience of the all the players can be. (And conversely, the “ceiling” is how great an individual or collective experience can be.) A LARP with a high floor is unlikely for the overall experience to go very poorly (or, if you could somehow quantify how well a LARP runs, it doesn’t drop more than one standard deviation below the average run) or very unlikely for an individual player to have a particularly bad time (so long as the premise of the LARP was clear and appealing to them when they signed up.)
My second LARP of Dice Bubble was Who Killed High Hat, and this was the only LARP I did any costuming for this weekend. (Rather unusual for me!) High Hat is about the family that owns a racing horse, along with their guests, gathered in a VIP bar at the racing track, trying to deal with the suspicious death of their prize horse. As advertised, it’s a darkly humorous game about terrible, selfish people who probably will learn nothing from the experience.
As the trophy wife of the horse’s owner, I threw together a semi-formal spring outfit out of my closet, with kitten heels and lots of pearls, but the best piece was the large, outrageous hat, with lots of lace and feathers that I borrowed. (Statements hats and facinators being traditional Kentucky Derby attire.)
I enjoyed playing up our dysfunctional family dynamics — I think the best bit was my husband’s ex-wife throwing her drink in my face. I also really liked the drinking mechanic, which involves drawing the top index card off of your personal deck each time you have a drink. The cards have simple instructions for ways to blurt out secrets and/or offend people, and keep the squabbling and tension going. I would love to see that mechanic make an appearance in more LARPs.
After High Hat, I played Did I Fall Asleep? a freeform LARP about the relationship between identity and memory. I’m not sure if it’s directly inspired by the tv show Dollhouse, but it involves a concept similar to one in the tv show, where people have contracts with a company that can completely overwrite one’s memories and personalities. The players all start in a waiting room, as an employee takes them out one by one to offer to restore their memories, or renew their contract.
Casting for this LARP was unusual — we first arranged ourselves in a line, with the right side of the line representing “I believe the concepts of Good and Evil are real” and the left “there is no such thing as Good and Evil”. I ended up on the far right because a number of players wanted to be towards the right, but didn’t want to be the last on the right (since lining up single file implied a response relative to everyone else). Then we stepped forward or back depending on whether we thought “people can change” (forward) or “people cannot change” (backwards). The twelve roles were distributed according to our resulting positions (indicated only by the signs of the zodiac as code names, since we started without knowledge of ourselves.)
Despite having zero information on our characters to begin with (and many of us spent a significant percentage of the LARP without information), our situation provided fodder for tense conversation. Could we trust the company? How could we know if they were lying to us about what our original memories were? What if our old lives were awful, and that’s why we chose to temporarily escape them? Our conversation went in anxious circles.
Oddly, the fact that the GM was out of the room, conducting one-on-one scenes with each player was a really positive aspect of my experience in this LARP. I’ve come to realize that one of my least favorite aspects of LARPing is when I’m not sure what my character should be doing, and I worry a GM is watching me and wondering why I’m not engaging in the LARP the worked so hard to run for me. My character in Did I Fall Asleep? was often frustrated with the conversation, feeling as though there was no possible practical outcome to speculation, and often lapsed into brooding silences.
When another player prompted us to lie down on the floor, to shake up the situation and possibly make ourselves more comfortable, I moved to the floor… and even drifted off once or twice during the LARP. I’m embarrassed to admit this isn’t the first time I’ve fallen asleep during a LARP (when that wasn’t meant to be part of the experience) but this time I didn’t feel like I was possibly upsetting a GM or denying players the opportunity to interact with my specific character… as all of the characters, prior to receiving their memories were essentially identical. That was a surprisingly freeing experience for me.
Interestingly, because I found myself in one of the extreme positions during the casting exercise, I ended up as one of the characters written to be a really terrible person. But when I saw the actual memories, I felt they were pretty ambiguous, and I could easily imagine a situation where I was not at all a bad person (and I do think bringing my own physical attributes played a role in this impression.) I chose not to extend my contract, though I suspect if I had interpreted my character the way the writer likely intended, I would have chosen to extend it rather than return to my old life.
Because this LARP has such open ended characters, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and players to invent details, so it includes a safety mechanic where players can write down any content they’d like everyone to avoid introducing through game play. This sparked an interesting conversation with the GM post-game — some players declined to receive the index cards (they felt they had nothing to write) but this could be somewhat problematic, as the process is intended to be anonymous. Fewer people actually receiving index cards can both make it more obvious who contributed what topics, and possibly make people feel pressured not to offer topics if they are aware that most people aren’t. We talked about possible strategies to avoid this, such as distributing the index cards and writing utensils before telling people what they’re for, so that people aren’t visibly declining them.
After the dinner break, I played Into the Silent Sea. This LARP (by Paranoid & Crotchety) won third place in the Iron GM at Intercon R, when the ingredients were sea stories, metamorphosis, and math, and the prop was a wooden shaker egg painted silver. I knew very little going into the LARP, as it is an amnesia game, but I had heard good things from previous players and was excited to play.
There’s not much I can say here, as with most amnesia LARPs, the LARP is highly spoilerable. I can say the premise, which is slowly revealed over the course of the LARP, is very original and creative, and the highlight of it for me was my emotional relationship with some of the other characters, as I jumped to conclusions about what they were, then realized my mistakes and had to readjust multiple times throughout the LARP. I also liked the opening scene, which has the characters positioned in unexpected ways (eg about to kiss, fainting, or struggling for control of a steering wheel) to open the LARP with a confusing bang. There is also some GM-provided costuming pieces for most of the characters — headbands with felt ears — that I thought were particularly adorable and rather effective for the purposes of the LARP.
Late on Saturday evening, I went over to one of the local’s houses, where the RPI community sometimes gathers to hang out, and enjoy some drinks and a hot tub. This has become a common thing for the Bubbles and other LARP events at RPI, but this is the first time I made it there, (and I think for a few reasons, the change in location from the campus to the hotel is to thank.) I had a nice time discussing some upcoming LARP events in the hot tub. I also met a lovely cat and found out that one of the attendees was a competitive ballroom dancer in college, and hopefully this will lead to more dance-centered LARPs in the future.
On Sunday, I played in my last LARP — Before and After Silence. To be honest, I found the blurb somewhat confusing and really didn’t know what to expect, but I was intrigued. The workshop turned out to be about experiencing periods of silence, and then discussing things with the group like how it felt, what might have been challenging about it, or what effects it had on us. For example, several people closed their eyes for the periods of silence, even though it wasn’t required. Others stated the silence felt awkward or anxious, or made time seem to pass slowly. Personally, I realized I was pretty comfortable with silence, so long as it’s intentional. I also realized I have pretty good hearing, as I noticed the very faint beat of music that was playing on the lowest possible setting, which no one else noticed until another song with a louder beat came on.
The main part of Before and After Silence involved taking cues from two decks of cards — one, giving you a description of yourself and the group of people/situation you are in, and the other an instruction for a particular action to take. We pantomimed our various cues, and inserted our strange actions into our scenes. Over the long period of silence, the actions and emotions slowly petered out, and by the end, we were mostly sitting quietly by ourselves. I wondered if a little more structure might significantly change the experience. There’s something to be said for a minimalist structure in this kind of abstract LARP, but by default, the descriptions of groups/situations were mostly not compatible, and so we tended towards concluding “these other people are acting incomprehensibly crazy, and I don’t know what to do with them” over the course of the gameplay. For example, one character was experiencing the silence as people waiting in a hospital, waiting for test results, and found the characters acting boisterous and silly and trying to touch the ceiling to be nonsensical.
The con closed out with con closing ceremonies, amusingly labeled “Bubble Wrap”. (There was also the Dead Dog dinner, which I missed.) During the Bubble Wrap, the raffle prizes were distributed. I once again donated a homemade geeky tote bag — this one had a Star Trek print for the pockets, and I confess I peeked at the tickets to see if the tote bag had earned enough money for the con to cover the cost of materials. (It did!)
Star Trek tote bag
“Shut up… fool!”
“If your cap’n was twice the man he is now…”
“Shut up, you whimpering fool…!”
My other sewing project for Dice Bubble 2019 was a set of banners for the dark romantic fairy tale LARP, The Dance and the Dawn
, which features the Court of Ice and the Court of Ash. I was commissioned to make some set dressing for the LARP — two ice themed banners (blue hearts under snowflakes on a gray field), and two ash themed banners (gray hearts over red stripes on a black field, with a flame symbol over the hearts). The snowflakes were tricky — I learned a bit from the process of making the first one, so the second snowflake came out a bit better. Instead of solid fields, I picked fabric with some subtle texture — white branches for the ice banner, and a sort of charcoal effect on the background of the ash banners. I think they came out nicely! The room The Dance and the Dawn ran in turned out to be the Library, a very nice room which didn’t really need the banners, but I think they’ll be a nice touch for future runs that might have plainer spaces to run in. I like to think creating set dressing is one of the ways I contribute to the local LARP communities.
Banners of Ice and Ash
Dice Bubble 2019 was an experiment in location, and I think it was a successful one. I think having one event at a nicer location, and one event at the free location is a good balance for this community to strike.
And on a totally random note, I ran into Lewis Black in the hotel elevator.