Crossing the Threshold

It’s been a little while since I posted, even though I’m trying to get back on a minimum one post per week (ideally twice per week)ish schedule. Recently, I’ve busy working on costuming for Threshold, a new cyberbunk boffer campaign LARP, along with costuming, LARP prep, and administrative stuff for Festival of the LARPs 2017.)

I missed the first event of Threshold (labeled “Event 0” as it was Training Day for the characters), but I made it to the second event, which ran a few weekends ago at the Chelmsford Radisson, one of Intercon’s old hotels.

Thus far, nearly every boffer campaign I’ve been involved with, as either a PC or an NPC, has been set in a fantastical setting with technology levels well below modern day.  The highest level tech has been part of Shadows of Amun, which started and ended in WWI-era Egypt. (In the middle there, events took place during the Crusades and in Cleopatra’s Egypt. Cyberpunk would be a solid change of pace for me.

For character creation in LARPs (and tabletop RPGs), I  often like to choose the farther-from-standard-human options. So I was torn between an A.I. or a mentalist (human with psychic powers) and settled on the former; I liked the idea of exploring what it means to be sentient and have free will through role-play. Every character is backed by a major corporation (this is cyberpunk, after all) and I chose Vanderson Pharmaceuticals, primarily for its color scheme (“White or greys with orange/grey motifs. Occasionally black with strong orange motifs.”) Personality and function-wise, I took inspiration from Baymax, Clippy, BB-8, and the voice-over character of Dance Dance Revolution. (“Yours is the dance of tomorrow!”)

For my stat build, I chose to play a drone pilot, because the notion of being flexible and being able to serve in whatever role a task force  might need appealed to me. The downside is that the drone version of some role is much weaker than someone who fills that role as their primary function (for example, a medic drone will not be as good at healing as a standard medic.) But relative power level doesn’t concern me much (and I tend to be very conservative with ability-use in combat, anyway.)  On the upside, it’s much harder to kill someone who pilots drones, since they’re typically not actually present on missions, but operating remotely.

For costuming, I threw together a black, silver, and bright orange (or “Vanderson Orange,” as I’ve been calling it) outfit, and made two cropped hoodies (with a McCalls pattern meant for Pokemon Go cosplay), one dark one to throw on when piloting a combat drones, and one white and orange one to represent the medic drone. (A people told me the medic hoodie reminded them of a creamsicle.)

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Dexember in her creamsicle chassis

The premise of the LARP is that in a dystopian cyberpunk world, the Threshold project has exclusive access to new teleportation technology and is using it to “meet global challenges and opportunities.” It’s backed by five megacorporations. The PCs hang out in the forward operating base and travel through one of two giant portals to go on their various assigned missions. As an A.I., my character has a handler responsible for her (one of the “command” PCs) and occasionally meets with representatives of TARA, the organization responsible for all A.I.

I think Threshold took full advantage of the cyberpunk genre to handle a variety of common logistical issues that lots of local boffer campaign LARPs face in smart ways that fit seamlessly into the diegesis of the game.

A few examples:

  • smartphones, tablets, and laptops are all common in-game items, which makes communication between characters in various locations very easy without breaking character. Access to information and the ability to share is also much quicker and easier than it is in your typical medieval-ish setting. A player on their smartphone doesn’t damage immersion.
  • the options for missions/modules are available in advance, PCs with the Command header get access to them and can influence which ones happen and who goes on which mission. The schedule is also posted on the wall; players generally know to be in the right place a the right time. (This is frequently one of the largest logistic hassles of running a module-based boffer campaign. This Threshold event followed its schedule more faithfully than any other LARP I’ve PCed of NPCed for to date.) Additionally, command PCs take responsibility for keeping their teams informed and reminded of their mission schedule, so much of the module “hooking” is nicely in the hands of the PCs, instead of NPCs.
  • In-game, the portals only remain open for a specified amount of time, and only let a specified number of people through. This means that modules don’t run longer than intended, and there’s never an issue with too many people trying to crowd onto a single module. The large timer visible at the top of the portals lets players know exactly how much time left they have before they must return to the operating base, and PCs regulate the pace of their role-playing accordingly for reasons that feel very much in-game and don’t interfere with immersion. (The set pieces for the portals — large circular structures with lights and timers and an industrial, high tech design, are probably some of the nicest, coolest set pieces I’ve ever seen in a LARP.)
  • This LARP is entirely played indoors (which doesn’t interfere with immersion because cyberpunk isn’t the sort of genre suited to outdoor campsites), and this avoids issues with weather and nature.
  • The resurrection mechanic is automated — players go to a computer to run through the “re-sleeving” process. No waiting for staff to take care of (and keep track of) resurrection or NPCs needed to take PCs on a death mod.

The staff also made two smart choices that I think will end up having a strong influence on the local Accelerant community. One, the PC player base is kept pretty small (I think fewer than 30), where the typical Accelerant LARP around here usually aims for something like 70 to 80 players. This might pose challenges with budgeting later on, but I quite like the smaller player number experience. I feel like I’m already far more familiar with a much higher percentage of my fellow players than I was after a year of events in much larger LARPs.

And two, instead of the typical weekend-long event, Threshold runs Saturday-only events. I know some people really like the extended time to get into character and enjoy being in character for several days in a row, with at least one day from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, but I found it didn’t negatively affect my immersion. It made the logistics of traveling and scheduling easier. And lots of people stayed an extra night at the hotel after the event ended, which gave us time to socialize out of character and talk about the LARP, which I think will have a real positive effect on community building.

I want to mention a few highlights from the game — the new players had orientation, which involved a psych evaluation. We went into one of the hotel suites, and were interviewed by NPC A.I.s, who had a series of questions, ranging from normal to bizarre, Rorschach inkblots, and (fake) cheek swabs before and after for us. It was surprisingly fun to role-play, and helped me develop my character a bit before joining the rest of the cast. Later on, the A.I.s were taken aside by a representative of TARA and an A.I. liaison from the Threshold project, where we talked about our experiences and they ran us through a series of scenarios to test our decision making processes. (Things like, which humans to save first, and when violence was warranted.) Very unlike most other modules I’ve played through in boffer LARPs, and lots of fun. There was also a module where we got to play a virtual reality (in the “Overlay”) old school fantasy RPG called “Dragon Stabbers”, which was a ton of fun.

I definitely need to rework my character’s stats (I had four drone options, and only used two) and fix and replace various parts of my costume, but I’m really looking forward to the next event.

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Intercon Q Part V: Snugglebunny Apocalypse

On Sunday morning at Intercon Q, after a long night of dancing and partying, I stumbled into one of the Iron GM LARPs. It was the 11am run, not a 9 am run, but after a late Friday night of packing up the Orgia set and an even later night on Saturday night of dancing and suite parties, I was extremely groggy when I arrived at the Iron GM rooms and got assigned to play the maiden run of Snugglebunny Apocalypse, written by Team Galimatius.

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Iron GM, for those who are unfamiliar, is an annual contest run by Intercon. Sometime in the weeks leading up to Intercon, teams of writers are given various secret ingredients (a theme, a genre, an element, and a prop) and a single weekend to produce a LARP that includes those elements, to run on Sunday of Intercon. There are various other rules, such as it must be suitable for all ages, and it must be runnable with a limited set of supplies. You can find a full list of the rules here. (And there are cash prizes for the winners.)

One of the more interesting, and I think creatively challenging rules, is that the LARP must be able to run with anywhere from 5 to 12 players (inclusive). This requirement was a major contributing factor to the development of “horde LARPs” — theater LARPs where some percentage of the players play a revolving cast of small parts (examples include Time Travel Review Board and An Unconventional Odyssey). It’s fairly easy to make the cast size flexible with a horde — players can simply rotate through them faster and play more roles each if there are fewer of them.

This year, the secret ingredients were:

genre: Parallels Universes
theme: Hope or False Hope
element:Trickster animals
secret prop: 10′ foot strand of green LED lights

Sungglebunny Apocalypse is, as one might guess from the title, a rather lighthearted silly game, in which the characters are attempting to stave of the end of humanity at the fangs of the bloodthirsty snugglebunnies. (I’m sure this LARP takes inspiration from Snugglebunny Wringwraiths, a LARP that was infamously written in negative 5 minutes on napkins, and is the reason I still, years later, occasionally find small heart stickers among my LARP costuming.) Based on my willingness to wear a silly hat, I was cast as Little Sam, a small child who fails to grasp the danger and wants a snugglebunny for a pet. I spent most of the game making a massive nuisance of myself, a small children characters in silly LARPs featuring overwhelming danger tend to do.

This LARP is surprisingly spoilerable; there were some secret identity style twists in this game that I did not see coming (although, to be totally fair, my sleep-deprived grogginess may have played a factor — you’d have to ask the other players not in on the secrets to know if they were actually obvious or not.) I really liked the three snugglebunny characters — they have traits that I really enjoy in a LARP… obvious enough that’s it’s probably not a spoiler to mention here, but I won’t because it’s more fun to discover in the early moments of the LARP, and I’m sure it will run again. There was one particular snugglebunny who was played by a LARPer whose deep voice and august performance makes me unable to imagine that role played by anyone else.

I also really liked the short sketch acted out by the two GMs that opened the LARP and explained the origin of the eponymous threatened end of humanity.

Snugglebunny Apocalypse came in second place, by the way.

And that was my last LARP of Intercon Q! I hear Tales of the Cradle ran on Sunday afternoon or evening, since so many LARPers got stranded at the hotel thanks to the second snowstorm. The odds of another blizzard extending the stay of many attendees again isn’t high (though given our typical dates and location, it’s not that low, either) but there is a decently sized contingent that stays late on Sunday (some until Monday morning), to socialize with LARPers they see no more than few times a year. I think there’s a market for LARPs later on Sunday, and I know there’s a least on team of GMs planning on proposing a LARP for Intercon R to run Sunday afternoon, after closing ceremonies. (Our contract with the hotel gives us the rooms until Sunday night, after all.) I really hope this catches on so I can keep on LARPing on Sunday. More LARP is best LARP!

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Intercon Q Part IV: Stop That Moon! and Burning Orchid

For my Saturday afternoon LARP at Intercon Q, I NPCed for one of the boffer LARPs, Stop That Moon!

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I PCed for the first run of Stop That Moon! back at Intercon O, and had a ton of fun playing Mach III, a speedster-type of superhero, on a mission to take down a supervillain’s base on the moon. The next year, at Intercon P, I recorded a short video as Mach III that played in-game for a few of the players in the second run. Much of the basic premise, structure, and the mechanics of the various scenes within the LARP are the same for each run of Stop That Moon!, but the writers create a new batch of characters and villains each year. I think it’s a great way to tailor the experience so that each individual players gets to try out their favorite tropes from superhero comic books. And the writers’ passion for the genre shows clearly every year.

I’m really pleased to see that boffer LARPs have been consistently appearing at Intercon in recent years. I particularly enjoy knowing there are always opportunities for me to NPC when I don’t get into any other games in a given time slot. (Though I think Rabbit Run, a popular cyberpunk boffer game, might be hitting its upper limits on NPCs, since so many of its previous PCs come back to NPC for future years.) For people willing to crunch (playing random mooks to fight), these LARPs also offer an opportunity for people to find something to do last minute. (One of the vendors joined us when traffic past the various booths was slow.)

It’s also nice to have the variety and see the different communities blending through these games at Intercon. It draws boffer LARPers to the convention, and I know a number of the players in boffer games this year were trying it out for the first time. (And seemed to be really enjoying it, as far as I could tell.) In fact, knowing that a number of Stop That Moon!‘s players were newbies to boffer was a large part of why I wanted to NPC for it this year — I wanted to do what I could to make the experience fun for them so they’d come back for more boffer in the future.

I got to make another recording (this time just audio) as Mach III. This time, it was her talking at an interview about Mach I. Mach III is the clone of Mach II, who in turn is the clone of Mach I, an American heroine of World War II. I talked about Mach III learning about her predecessor from museum exhibits and looking up to her as an icon to be emulated.

During the LARP itself, I mostly crunched, but I also got to play one of the major villains — an opera singer called Alpine Rose, and had the supernatural ability to mind control people into fighting for her. I had a really good time playing this over-the-top character, though I bungled the mechanics a bit and I think the players had trouble hearing me at some points. (I need to learn to project, and to improvise a bit more with Accelerant mechanics like Silence.) Still, it was a highlight of the game for me. At the end of the scene, some of the players refused to let Alpine Rose be killed, so they knocked her out and took her prisoner. I was rather amused when one of the NPCs on the heroes’ side tossed Alpine Rose over her shoulder and carried her out. I would definitely NPCs Stop That Moon! again.

For costuming for Alpine Rose, I realized the outfit I had picked out for my evening LARP (a sort of retro style gown, actually my old prom dress) worked pretty well, which was lucky. I changed into it briefly for my scene as a villainess, and then again for Burning Orchid, a LARP set at a glamorous party during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is highly spoilerable, so I won’t go into into too many details,  but I will say it was, as advertised, very much about emotional interpersonal roleplay, with complex relationships, scandalous pasts, and other adult themes. (And, I might add, my fellow players were magnificently costumed.)

Alpine Rose/a Hollywood publicist in the 1930s.

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Intercon Q Part III: Here is My Power Button

On Saturday morning at Intercon, I played in an American Freeform game called Here is My Power Button.img_20170226_223343Originally, I told myself I should either sign up for a LARP that started later on Saturday morning, or perhaps just skip that slot and sleep in. I knew Friday night would be a late night packing up Orgia, and Saturday night is always a late night, what with the dance and the suite parties.

But I couldn’t resist Here is My Power Button. For one thing, I like to try new things in LARP, and I haven’t done much freeform. Power Button didn’t sound like much else I’ve played. I was intrigued by the idea of exploring emotional intimacy and power in relationships in LARP. But more significantly, I have a new character for a cyberpunk boffer campaign, Threshold, who is an AI, and as this LARP is all about the relationships that develop between a human and an AI, I thought I could really use the experience as inspiration. The blurb on the website suggested that players sign up with a buddy; I signed up with the player playing my human handler in Threshold.

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Current state of my developing costume for my Threshold AI character

This being a freeform LARP, I’m not going to worry about spoilers here. This LARP is mostly about what players bring into the structure, not about surprises or twists.

We started with introductions and a simple ice-breaker game — trying to each shake everyone else’s hand in increasingly shorter periods of time. Then we broke into groups of two and started brainstorming ideas for the human characters who had volunteered to participate in a focus group for a company developing AIs. We each were given a short list of questions (I think the lists varied a bit) to help us work out some details in their lives and what they might want or need an AI for.

Next, we split into two groups, one for the humans, and one for the AIs. For the first discussion, our group represented the engineers developing the AIs, discussing what the humans might like out of the product. Then we took on the AI roles and met our humans for the first time. We alternated back and forth between ten minutes in two groups (AIs and humans) and ten minutes in pairs with our humans, developing our relationships. There were sometimes large skips of time between our meetings with our humans. And I think one more of our large group discussion was again as the engineers, towards the end. And at the beginning of each meeting with our humans, the humans had the option of wiping our memories/developing personalities and starting over with a blank slate.

I think I had one of the more unusual experiences as an AI. Many of the other humans wanted their AIs as companions and/or someone to confide in, but my human decided he was an artist and the blank slate of his AI’s mind was a new medium, a canvas to turn into a work of art, by exposing the AI to the wide spectrum of human emotion and creation. For our first meeting, he played music for me  — Johnny Cash. (In a later session, my AI chose the name Cash for itself.) Next, he played a snippet of a classic old movie, I think Casablanca. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the mood of the things he shared with me into my AI character, so I mostly reflected back his own sort of reckless, enthusiastic attitude and mannerisms back at him, and spouted his theories on art, and how impressions and memories creating immortality to the other AIs. (When the topic of being reset or permanently deleted came up, the other AIs seemed to strongly disagree with me.)

I think only one AI ever got reset over the course of our run, and towards the end, we all become focused on not being permanently deleted or powered down and left indefinitely in storage. Some of the AI had developed a sense of self-preservation and/or had become very attached to their humans and didn’t want to abandon them. Some of the stories developed were rather heart-breaking. Cash, meanwhile, became rather cavalier.

While the direction Cash went with its (her?) relationship with the artist ended up a bit too different from my vision for my Threshold AI, observing the other relationships developing around me did create inspiration. My only suggestion to the GM after the LARP was that some of the group discussions for all of the AIs (and possibly the humans, though I don’t know what their discussions were like) might be broken into smaller groups so that each AI has a bit more time to share their own experiences with their humans. Otherwise, I think it was a very enjoyable freeform LARP that has the potential to go in different directions for different runs.

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Intercon Q Part II: Orgia

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At my first Intercon, I remember wandering around after my Saturday evening game, peeking into the various function rooms to see what kinds of LARPs had just gone on and check out costuming. In Hawthorne, one of the larger rooms on the upper floor, I saw some incredibly cool set dressing — tents, draped fabric, tons of pillows, trees, plates piled with grapes, various other props (not to mention lots of LARPers in really nice Roman-style costuming), and I knew I definitely wanted to play this LARP. I missed the next opportunity (it ran again at Intercon L) but I finally caught a run.

Orgia Domi Lomaximus translates to”Orgy at the House of Lomaximus.” (It was originally called Orgia ad Domus Lomaximus, then was updated to correct grammar, I think, but I’m unfamiliar with Latin.) It went up on the scheduled for Intercon Q, so I pounced on the opportunity to play. The set dressing was, again, among the best I’ve ever seen (possibly the best ever if you exclude LARPs that charge players hundreds of dollars and have budgets in the tens of thousands.) To give an idea of the effort and cost, I went with one of the GMs to rent a U-Haul van to move it all, set-up took hours, and tear down/clean up finished around 4 am, between myself, the GM, and one other volunteer for the first half. (The LARP ended at midnight.)

But the set dressing isn’t just very full and elaborate (three tents, white Roman pillars, a garden of fake plants, hotel cots turned into divans, carpets, small tables, an SPQR banner, taller tables piled with bread and grapes and cups of wood and metal to drink from — more immersive than plastic, of course — and various other props like an oil lamp and a colored glass lantern, not to mention all the lighting equipment). It all gets set up in a very deliberate manner: to encourage players to feel comfortable so they can relax and lounge, to create the illusion of privacy and offer a variety of semi-secluded nooks (without actually creating any space where players can shut one another out), and to ensure that one doesn’t see the entire location at once as they enter the game space (one large tent was situated right in front of the entrance), but rather discover it slowly as they explore. The garden was near the entrance but blocked off on three sides by one of the tents and large potted plants; one had to circle around to reach it. The tents were placed at non-right angles to the walls, which served to vary the size and space and shape of the locations available. And I particularly liked the Middle Eastern-inspired corner piled with rugs and pillows, with its low, round, Moroccan style folding tray tables (much like these). It reminded me a lot of a Bedouin tent I was once a guest in.

I did try to get some photos of it, but I only had my camera on me for early stages of set-up, and sadly never managed to catch its full glory.

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The SPQR banner from Shadows of Amun found second life at a Roman orgy.

The other stand-out feature of Orgia Domi Lomaximus is are the rules of physical contact between players. Players choose a letter on their name badge (which they choose at the door and can change at any time) indicating the level of potential physical contact with other players they are comfortable with. A means no contact at all; B, “polite company” (hand shaking, a tap on the shoulder); C, you can lean on me, hug me, hold hands; D, it is ok to kiss me and caress my head, neck and face; and DD, the same as D with the option to discuss more. (The system, it’s worth noting, is not a blanket consent, just a way to express what options players are open to.)

This stands in sharp contrast with much of the local LARP culture; lots of LARPs that run around here have rules of no physical contact (many others don’t specify but it’s probably understood that no one will go beyond B-level “polite company” contact.) We’re familiar with Ars Amandi, but I have yet to play a game that makes use of it. The Accelerant rule system for boffer LARPs (popular in the local community), for example, has the No Physical Contact rule, “…You have no reason to touch another player in the Accelerant system. Physical contact is not allowed…” But we break that rule constantly during Accelerant LARPs, and other no-touch LARPs as well. Some people feel setting down very strict rules means that they will get broken, but the amount of violation of other people’s personal space will be minimized (or avoided) because people will be erring much closer to no-touch. Other people feel that setting a boundary that is extremely likely to be fudged (at least a little) just leaves room for confusion and possibly even people deciding the rules don’t count.

Hence the touching rules of Orgia — much more detailed and flexible so that players can all set their own levels, instead of having a single one-size-doesn’t-perfectly-fit-all model. Players who want the experience of being kissed in-character can enable that possibility; players who don’t want to be kissed won’t feel like they’re at risk or have to go to extra effort to avoid it. Not to mention how well it contribute to the genuine feeling of the setting and interpersonal roleplay.

There are some disadvantages to these rules. Some players don’t like the idea of having their willingness (or lack thereof) to be touched or to engage in physical intimacy on display for everyone to see and evaluate. And because this game is set at an orgy and is one of the only LARPs where kissing and other forms of physical intimacy are enabled, people are actively paying attention to the letters on one another’s name tags. It was something that made me feel a little self-conscious as we were prepping and waiting outside of the doors to the gamespace for the LARP to begin — people were curiously peering around at one another’s letters. As a result, I felt like I wanted to leave off displaying mine until the last moment; I couldn’t help wondering if people might judge me a prude depending on my choice. And with “DD” being an option, there’s always the possibility of people witnessing intimate actions they prefer not to see. (This possibility is clear from the beginning, but I think people have conscious and/or sub-conscious assumptions about how far the DD players will go, and how much effort people will put into being discreet.)

The system, and the potential it creates for intimate LARP experiences, also makes running the game fraught. Players (and potential players) put a lot of emotional weight into their potential and actual experiences, and they often express a desire for options like assigning themselves different letters for different people, knowing the list of players in advance, or creating private runs where they can control (or at least influence) the player list. Managing these desires is not an insignificant part of being a GM for this game.

There’s also a rather unusual mechanic in Orgia — the mechanic for representing sexual interactions. Every character is given a wire with beads (the wires are in the shape of, ahem, sticks for male characters, and rings for female characters.) Feathers are strewn around the game space, offering a feather to someone is an offer of sex. If the other player accepts, the players then exchange beads, which are not returned to the wire. In order to replenish the beads, characters have to lounge, receive some sort of pampering, perhaps eat some grapes, or engage in other relaxing behaviors.

It all actually gets a bit more complex than this, with elements such as options for good sex vs. better sex, and having more than two people involved; there’s also some overt symbolism and some hidden meanings players might discover over the course of the LARP. I won’t spoil it here; suffice it to say there were some very interesting and often humorous twists.

The feather element of the mechanic is new as of this run, but I found having a concrete way to make a player’s intentions for their characters’ actions clears (without explicit words, if one so chooses) and mark the beginning and end of sexual encounters quite helpful. I once played in a sex farce LARP without such markers, and it made having our characters engage in sexual behavior rather awkward. (There were more than a few moments of “um, are we… now…?” during the LARP.) The feather and beads also served as an avenue for characters to have sex even when players chose the “A” (no physical contact at all) option.

The rules and mechanics briefings prior to game start, by the way, is well scripted and quite funny, and I think they really helped reduce players’ nerves before starting.

I was surprised when I received my casting — my character was a Vestal Virgin, which seems like an unusual figure to have at an orgy. But as it turns out, I really loved my casting. It had several unexpected aspects that I always really enjoy playing in a LARP. And I think, knowing what I know now about the various characters in the LARP, I would have chosen this character for myself if I could. (My highest compliment for casting.) Playing a Vestal Virgin always made it easy to start conversations (lots of people greeted me with, “so, you’re a rather unexpected guest, what are you doing here?”) and then segue into discussions about the rules and traditions of Vesta’s priestesses. I did a bit of research online prior to Intercon, so I had answers ready when questions came up.

I also found that while I was happy to roleplay luxuriating and celebrating in the atmosphere, I didn’t really want to roleplay multiple explicit sexual encounters (even with just a feather and beads) and playing a Vestal Virgin gave me a very easy in-game reason to demure (without, I hope, putting a damper on people’s fun).

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Selene the Vestal Virgin. Photo by John Kammer.

Though I think the atmosphere is the primary distinguishing feature of Orgia, there are some plots of the more traditional kind — a mystery, secret identities, and political intrigue, enough to keep the players who indicate on their questionnaires that they signed up because they like the “Roman” part, and less because they like the “orgy” part, entertained. And players can have a variety of experiences; as the questionnaire indicated; there is madcap comedy, romance, intrigue, and action. (And while comedy can sometimes override the more serious tones of a LARP, I don’t think that was the case here.)

My costume, by the way, was my old favorite stand-by: a chiton. Technically, it’s a Greek, not Roman, garment, but… it was loosely gathered fabric, which I think conveyed the right look. I found this beautiful new fabric — a yoryu chiffon of pale blue with gold metallic threads running through it. All I did was cut it into two rectangles, hem the edges, double it up (it was a bit too translucent for one layer) and pin it at the shoulders. Then I dug around in my closet for the accessories — a white lace scarf, a leafy wreath, and earrings. The gold belt is just a piece of trim with velcro sewn on.

Historically, Vestal Virgins wore all white,  but the blue chiffon still looked still rather pure to me, and it was so pretty I couldn’t resist it. (And I wasn’t alone! I was tickled to see Julia, the emperor’s daughter, wearing a gown of the same exact fabric. Clearly she also shops at Jo-ann Fabrics and has excellent taste.)

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Selene the Vestal Virgin in a blue chiton. Photo by John Kammer.

I almost paired the blue chiton with a white veil, as Vestal Virgins wore, but when I put it on, I thought I looked too much like I was trying to channel the Virgin Mary, who is often depicted in blue with a white veil. (To be fair, this likely isn’t a coincidence — some depictions of Mary are probably influenced by the aesthetics of Vestal Virgins, but even as just a coincedence, it felt rather wrong for this LARP and this character.)

Prior to Intercon, I had intended to sew the points along the shoulder, and maybe add some gold buttons there. But between the snow and helping pack and unpack the set dressing for Orgia, I ended up just using tiny gold safety pins. At first, I was annoyed with myself — the pins didn’t take much pressure to come undone. But this actually lead to some rather hilarious and thematically appropriate misunderstandings during the LARP. For example, at one point, I was having a private conversation with a gladiator when a pin came undone, and someone who had seen our silhouettes through the tent walls yanked aside the fabric and shouted “AHA!” just as the gladiator was helping me pin the dress back up. And later, when the same gladiator was teaching me self-defense moves, it came unpinned again, making the whole affair appear rather more suggestive. So I no longer have any regrets about the safety pins, but if I wear it again for another LARP, I will probably sew it up.

I had a lovely time playing Orgia, and I think it’s safe to say plenty of the other players did, too. (Let’s just say this includes witnessing a few moments that made me blush both in-and out-of-character.) I have one major regret, which is that I asked another player to hide with me outside of game space to help maintain a secret, and he accidentally got left out there for the last twenty minutes of the game (I had thought a GM had retrieved him) which I am still feeling guilty about. I’d still like to make this up to the player. Other than that… I don’t know if Orgia will run again, but if it does, I would absolutely play again.

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Intercon Q Part I: White Death

Another Intercon has come and gone. It’s been two weeks and I still have a bit of the post-con blues.

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I think the post-con blues hit a lot of the Intercon community a bit stronger than usual this year. For the first few days after the con, I could feel it radiating out of various online social media communities. I think this convention is particularly prone to producing the post-con blues. At many conventions, attendees don’t plan anything until just before the con and many figure out their schedules on the fly; at Intercon, most attendees know their schedules months in advance, and start prepping the LARPs they’re running, making the costumes they’re wearing, and reading their character sheets and other materials in the weeks (or more) leading up to the con. And if you’re like me, you might be already looking at the LARPs for the next Intercon as soon as the previous Intercon is over. (Did you know Intercon R already has a number of LARPs up?)

Additionally, in order to avoid traveling during the blizzards that bookended Intercon Q, I was at the hotel for nearly an entire week. (A good number of other attendees were there for extra days as well.) Intercon Q felt like that much larger of an event. That made it that much harder to leave behind.

Knowing it would be snowing hard for most of Thursday, I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, after helping a GM to pack a U-Haul van full of paper goods, props, and a ton of set dressing for Orgia Domi Lomaximus (my Friday evening LARP.) We weren’t the only ones with the idea of arriving early, so there were a handful of other LARPers at the hotel on Wednesday night and Thursday all day. Unfortunately, the snow really interfered with travel; tons of Intercon attendees were significantly delayed, and even worse, a few missed the con altogether.

The panel schedule for PreCon got shifted around a bit due to the snow and delayed/missing people, but my first LARP of Intercon ran as scheduled late Thursday night, starting around midnight. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from White Death. The blurb contained descriptions like, “[t]he genre is not realistic but rather uses an abstract, poetic approach.” I knew  all characters would be created in a workshop at the door, that there would be no speaking, only communication through physical actions, and that all characters would die (or transform, depending upon  your interpretation), one by one, during the LARP. But I couldn’t really visualize in advance what the experience might be like.

I have mixed feelings on “spoilers” for White Death. It is designed with transparency in mind, (as per the blurb: “[t]he game is completely transparent and the focus is on the atmosphere rather than the outcome.”) And the outcome is right there in the blurb: all of the characters will die over the course of the LARP. But I do feel that some elements of the LARP were better for me, personally, because they were surprises that I hadn’t had a chance to anticipate. So I think I’m going to compromise here and share the things that I think wouldn’t have detracted from my experience had I known about them in advance, and I welcome readers to decide for themselves.

So — potential spoilers below, but this LARP is designed for transparency, so deciding that spoilers are not a concern is valid.

We initially had two full runs of White Death, but due the snow, we ended up with two runs with about the minimum number of players. (As it turned out, I thought the number we had worked very well.) We opened with workshops, mostly practicing different forms of movement. There were two broad categories (moving like humans: slow, heavy, awkward, stiff, hard, sudden, violent, etc. and like White Ones: light, soft, flowing, friendly, etc.) We also developed our characters, their movements and relationships, with randomly assigned elements — whom we were close with, whom we disliked, what our movement restrictions were, and how we felt about some of the others. (That last category had things like, “you dislike tall people” or “you want to be close to people with smaller feet than yours.”)

We went briefly over the rules, things like only humans can be in the light, humans can only see White Ones during the storms, how humans become White Ones, what abstract concepts the various props represented, and of course, there would be no talking. The in-game time would be divided into four storms (indicated by the soundtrack), and the time between them. When the soundtrack started, we began the LARP proper.

I admit I sometimes I have difficulty shedding my skepticism when it comes to abstract, “poetic” style LARPs, and I thought there would be a good chance that the LARP would feel pretentious or meaningless to me, that I would feel self-conscious and unable to understand the point of what we were doing. But I was determined to try anyways — I’m a very big believer in trying everything at least once when it comes to LARP.

In practice, while I did feel self-conscious on occasion (especially towards the beginning), I did have a lot of fun playing White Death. (It helped to remind myself that there was really no wrong way to do things like represent the elements of fire and earth through walking.) And I was surprised to discover how much we could convey through movement, expression, and interaction with the props. We created miniature narratives, brief sequences of interactions where we protected and assisted or bullied one another, shared and stole or even destroyed props, and mourned or fell into despair as others were lost to the storm and became White Ones. I liked how my inner circle of trusted friends/family spontaneously developed a hand symbol to reaffirm our loyalty to one another.

Because of the no speaking rule, everything was widely open to interpretation, from the miniature narratives to the general understanding of the White Ones. During the post-LARP discussion, I was surprised that other players had much happier interpretation of events than I did. My own interpretation was pretty bleak. (It reminded me of the end of The Giver, which is also open to interpretation, and I personally buy into the tragic version. I also have similar feelings about The Velveteen Rabbit.)

I think the soundtrack, which interspersed music with a howling wind storm effect (to demarcate the storms) is worth mentioning, though I won’t get into specifics because I felt being caught off-guard by the music was a significant part of my experience. Let’s just say it wasn’t at all what I would have expected, and was very much a presence in the LARP that had an appreciable affect on play. I really liked it.

My personal experience in White Death reminded me of the Allegory of the Long Spoons. It’s a parable that describes heaven and hell as places where everyone is given such long utensils that they cannot feed themselves but can feed one another. In heaven, where everyone is kind, everyone gets to eat and is happy; in hell, everyone is selfish and no one gets to eat. There are various versions of the parable — I originally heard the one where no one can bend their elbows (or simply don’t have elbows). And my physical limitation was that I could not bend my elbows. (I also couldn’t turn my head, but I found that part of it a lot harder to remember and abide by.) I quickly discovered how difficult this made basic actions that I do so commonly I don’t even think about them, and how reliant this made me on the other players. I couldn’t brush my hair out of my eyes, and I had to push my face into other people’s shoulders to move my glasses up the bridge of my nose when they slid down. One of the props was edible, so like in the Long Spoons parable, I found it incredibly difficult to feed myself, but some of my fellow humans took pity on me and helped feed me. (We made quite a mess with the edible props. This LARP requires a vacuum for clean up.)

The physical restrictions for humans made the transformation into White Ones poignant; by the time I succumbed to a storm and joined the White Ones, my elbows were aching from holding them so stiffly for so long; flexing them again hurt but also felt like a huge relief. And I could freely do things like adjust my hair and play however I liked with the props that ended up outside the lit areas. Still, I couldn’t help but interpret everything as a tragedy.

So that was White Death. Worth trying if you want to give the stranger side of LARPing a try (though it’s arguably more of an extended improv exercise than a standard LARP) and see what kind of narrative and communication can be expressed without words, while exploring themes of community and fear of death.

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Intercon P Part VI: The LARPs

Intercon Q starts in less than 24 hours, and I never finished my Intercon P posts. I got bogged down in details over PreCon panels, then procrastinated… Well, here are the LARPs I played at Intercon P, only about a year after they ran.

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On Friday night, I NPCed for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. I would have happily PCed it, of course, but I knew if it wasn’t my first choice, I was unlikely to get in. A boffer one shot with a pirate theme was bound to be a popular choice. But I also really enjoy NPCing, so it wasn’t a large sacrifice.

During the LARP, I crunched as British naval sailors, random pirates, and some undead. I also briefly played a tavern wench in one non-combat scene. I had only the barest familiarity with the plot and the characters so I feel as though if it ever ran again, I’m unspoiled enough to play. It was “elevator style,” meaning the players return to small, separate area between scenes, which could represent a literal elevator stopping at different floors. In Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, the players returned to their pirate ship and sailed to various islands. I think all of the characters seemed fun — it’s hard not to be when you’re all pirates! — but there were a few in particular that I’d like to play, including one creepy character who started the LARP with her mouth sewn shut. There were also some neat mechanics, including one that represented single shot firearms and prolonged reloading time. I have no idea if this LARP will run again, but I would love to sign up if it does.

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two British naval sailors (in awkward lighting)

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ran late, so I was late to my next game, which I feel bad about. I played in Reunions, a LARP with a simple premise: a small group of friends hanging out at convention deciding what events to attend on the schedule, and then again getting together again for a second scene at a birthday party. Each of the characters has one aspect of their history swap between the scenes. I signed up for this LARP because I knew it was written to collect data for a linguistics paper by a linguistics PhD student, and linguistics is one of my passions. I was very interested to hear about the research, but I wanted a chance to play the LARP first. After the LARP, I got to hear all about the data collected, which was focused on the character who is male in one scene, and female in the other, and how we express gender through our language. Reunions offers a neat example of LARP contributing to science.

On Saturday morning, I NPCed again, this time for a LARP called Syncretism: A Coming of Age RitualSyncretism: A Coming of Age Ritual. Syncretism is a cyberpunk LARP, which uses a new combat system (still in development, at least when it ran at Intercon P.) This was another LARP where I mostly played crunchy enemies for the PCs to fight, and I had very little idea about what the PCs got up to. It seemed like they had a fun and emotional experience, so I’m glad that it’s running again at Intercon Q.

The system was definitely different from Accelerant, which is what most of the boffer one-shots running at Intercon use (and the boffer system I’m personally most familiar with.) There were some neat effects that I really liked, including one that forces your opponent to take a certain number of steps back (depending on the number you call) and a version that can affect everyone in the battle at once. They’re similar to the “disengage” effect of Accelerant, but more versatile with the addition of the number of steps, and the version that affected everyone simultaneously provides a really nice breather for NPCs when they’re grossly outnumbered and swamped by PCs.

Another interesting aspect of the system used for Syncretism: after each successful strike with a melee weapon, a player has to “reset” — some action (or inaction) that creates a pause in attempts to attack — before they can score another strike. It definitely changes the flow of battle and makes it less frenetic. I found that while trying to adjust to the system and remember the “reset”, I found it difficult to remember at first, and then overcompensated by resetting even after unsuccessful strikes, which quickly became a very difficult habit to break. I worried that I was basically sending the message “I think I’m scoring hits on you” every time I performed the reset motion, even when I missed. I think I personally need a little more time getting used to the system, but overall, I liked it. Like Devil, I would sign up to PC Syncretism if it runs again.

After lunch, I played in Congress of Vienna, a LARP set during the eponymous historical event, as French mathematician Sophie Germain. All of the characters were real historical personages, though there’s also a great deal of ahistorical supernatural shenanigans going on around the politics. I really enjoyed this game, as I’ve enjoyed a number of games by this set of authors in the past. I loved the complexities of my character. I was kept very busy enjoying politics, romance, and magic for four hours. I would highly recommend it if it runs again.

Sadly, my costume, which was probably the most difficult thing I’d ever sewn, did not come out very well. The skirt bunched awkwardly and the trim was held on with safety pins. If I ever play another Napoleonic era LARP, I’ll probably scrap it and start over. (Though I do hate scrapping costumes. I get so sentimentally attached to them, especially after wearing them in a LARP I really enjoy.) On the plus side, I do feel like I learned quite a lot about creating gathers and sewing overlays, though it was an expensive lesson, considering the fabric I wasted.

On Saturday evening, I played in a LARP called The Always Waltz. I think this LARP is highly spoilerable, so I won’t say much, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The blurb really called to me. I could never resist a LARP with a description that contains keywords like “horror,” “mystery,” “intrigue,” and “romance,” especially when the costuming requirements are as compelling as “[a]s close to decadent masquerade as you can get– mask is REQUIRED”. Also worth noting , the set dressing for this LARP was quite nice. There were drinks and dancing and mysterious dark magic afoot, and the players really took the costuming guidelines to heart. It was a very visually appealing LARP all around.

I had a lot of fun (and more success) preparing this costume — I made a skirt to go under a dress I’d found on clearance (so that it would look like a floor length dress) and put together a mask and wreath out of fake flowers and butterflies. (The necklace was borrowed.)

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My costume for The Always Waltz. Photo by John Kammer.

On Sunday morning, I signed up for the latest installment of the G.I. Joe series of LARPs, G.I Joe: Pirates. I sign up for this series whenever I can — it’s guranteed to be a fun, lighthearted note to end the con on, even if your brain is fuzzy from lack of sleep, thanks to the ridiculous, adorably poorly animated source material. It was another madcap adventure, with over-the-top shenanigans and silly challenges with playful mechanics. I was cast as the Baroness this time around (I’ve played Snake Eyes, the mute ninja, in the past) and had fun trying out her ridiculous unspecified Eastern European accent. (It wavers between Russian-ish and German-ish in the cartoon.)

This costume was a lot easier — all black with a Cobra Command decal stuck to my shirt.

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The Baroness of the early AM run with the Baroness of the late AM run.

And those were my LARPs of Intercon P! Eventually, I’ll get back around to finishing my posts about PreCon, but that will probably wait until after Intercon Q. I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t procrastinate again this year like I did last year.

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