Kingsword at Festival

My LARP for Saturday evening at Festival of the LARPs 2017 was Kingsword, which was another LARP that first ran at Intercon Q, and I was really excited when the authors offered to run it at Festival. I’ve really loved LARPs by these authors in the past, too, (such as Devil to Pay, Venezia, and Stars of Al-Ashtara). Kingsword takes characters from Irish mythology, Arthurian legends, Scottish folklore, and the Welsh Mabinogion, and brings them all together at a tourney in Ireland.

I think playing Kingsword at Festival was possibly the best experience I’ve had yet in theater LARPs.

(Possibly my best ever, depending on how you slice it, but it’s really hard to compare individual moments to one shot games to campaigns, so I’ll just have to leave this as it is, vaguely worded.)

I think what made it such a positive experience for me was a combination of a number of factors, besides the fact that I’m always a fan of classic, romantic fantasy. I had more than enough interesting and emotionally compelling goals to keep me busy through the 4+ hours of game play. I’ve certainly played very busy characters in LARPs before, but I think this is the first theater LARP where I was constantly active straight through the LARP — I always had quests to work on and tons of political negotiation to handle, in addition to the occasional duels which were both fun to watch and the outcomes were often relevant to me. I never had to take a break from working towards my goals if I didn’t want to. The GMs had suggested prior to the LARP that most players would not be able to achieve everything on their list of goals; we were encourage to decide for ourselves which goals seems like the most appealing to work on, and not worry about not getting around to the ones that seemed less interesting. This advice proved useful to me during the LARP.

Also, all of the politicking and questing was punctuated by some very dramatic, cinematic moments for me, the kind I live for in LARPing, mostly related to romance plots, political marriage negotiations, and dueling

I also think I was particularly well cast; knowing what I know now, I think I would have chosen the character I played, Olwen, for myself, but it still seemed like there were plenty of other characters I would also really enjoy.

Additionally, while I disagree with people who assert that production values are the most important element for high immersion, it was really nice to have a well dressed atmosphere. The set dressing and props and costuming filled the room nicely. The GMs did a lot of work to set up the room dividers and tents, string pennants, banners (made by yours truly), and table runners, a small banquet, genre-appropriate music, special seating for royal characters, and a large sword-in-the-stone prop. Having a nice function space (instead of a classroom) was a nice bonus. And the costuming was high quality across the board, with some really nice tabards and armor and robes and jewels and gowns.

The character I played, Olwen, is originally from the Mabinogion, a Welsh collection of early British stories. Olwen’s father, Ysbaddaden, the evil king of the giants, has placed her under a fairy geas. She can never to marry without his consent, which he will not give because of a prophecy that says he will die on her wedding day.  A number of heroes, including several Knights of the Round Table and the hero Culhwch, are questing to free her from the geas.

Because giant territory is located in Pictish territory, in land that is now Scotland, I decided to adopt a very Scottish-inspired look for my costume. I know that the Scottish association with tartan is far more recent than one might think, but I couldn’t resist. I really love the look of tartan and wanted to use in costuming. When searching for inspiration online, I found photo galleries of Celtic dolls, and I tried to recreate the look by making a linen tunic (I’m relieved that the trim came out alright), the skirt, and the sash. Finding and choosing the right tartan was something of a saga. I really wish I’d gotten better photos of the complete costume.


Kingsword has a number of neat mechanics. To pull the sword from the stone, players must acquire the numbers to the prop’s combination lock, which is an abstract representation of earning a great destiny and making yourself worthy to be the High King or Queen of Britain. There are a variety of ways to earn letters, such as by completing great quests, marrying royalty, or having various sovereignties pledge their support to you. I love that all characters in the game, regardless of gender or nationality, can earn the right to be the one to draw the sword from the stone.

Another neat mechanic is the combat mechanic. The outcome of any duel is determined by comparing characters’ valor scores, with some possible bonuses added. Without knowing the results yet, players are given foam weapons to play out a duel, and buzzers to hold in their off hands or pockets. The GMs then remotely set off the buzzers in the hands of the characters with the lower scores.

I liked this combat system a lot — it included the drama and action of actually getting to participate in or watch (mock) swordfighting (which is often absent in theater systems), and GMs could choose the order in which combatants faltered in the melees to maximize drama.

The questing mechanic was also a lot of fun. They were short choose-your-own-adventures, and I felt like there was a lot that was smart about their design. Some quests were searches for artifacts, or defeating foes and monsters, others presented difficult dilemmas or challenging riddles. The quests allowed for various approaches to solving them, and the mechanics of succeeding often required players to find others to work together with, often outside of the allies they came into the game trusting. Figuring out the best combinations of questers and choice of approaches was often an interesting puzzle for me, and it often encouraged negotiations and exchanges of favors between characters. There were also rules in place that prevented individual players from dominating the quest mechanic to the exclusion of other players, which I appreciated a lot.

Kingsword, by the way, is running again this summer, at WPI in Worcester, MA, on July 15th. I’ll be aGMing this run. Sign-ups are opening Monday, June 5th, at 7pm EST. There are also a few other LARPs running that day. More information can be found here.

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Posted in costuming, LARP, LARP Reviews, mechanics, theater | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Festival of the LARPs 2018 — The Stroke of Midnight

Festival of the LARPs 2017, the weekend of theater LARPs, recently ran at Brandeis University. I was coordinator (or con chair, or whatever you want to call it) this year, so that’s been keeping me rather busy over the past month or so. We had 22 LARPs in a variety of styles and about 100 attendees.

On top of running Festival, I also wrote and ran a game designed to give newbies an introduction to boffer LARP. I’m still undecided if this counts as me finally writing a LARP or not… it feels more like an extended module to me. In retrospect, I think creating a LARP for a Festival I was running might have been a bad decision on my part; a number of unusual problems popped up over the weeks leading up to the event, and handling them would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t trying to pull together the game at the same time.

But I couldn’t resist. We had a new space this year, a very large function room, that no other GMs were interested in using on Saturday morning, and seemed like a shame to let Festival’s first giant, open indoor space go to waste… and I really liked the idea of being able to boast that Festival now hosted a larger variety of styles that included boffer. (Festival has hosted boffer practices before, but never an actual game.) I don’t regret writing and running a new game while serving as coordinator, but I definitely would recommend against it to others.

Besides running the boffer game, I also played in four LARPs. On Friday evening, I played in The Day We Came Home, a sci-fi LARP about humans immigrating back to earth as the communities on earth are rebuilding from past major collapses of civilization. Some of the players played representatives of the communities on earth looking to take in immigrants with the skill sets they need, some played immigrants looking for a new home, and a place to fulfill their dreams. I played one of the immigrants, a follower of a religion called the Altarian Way, who wanted to build a school on earth. After hearing good things about the LARP from its first run at Intercon, I’m really glad I got the chance to play.

On Saturday morning, I ran my boffer game, Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Elves of Yule. I was heavily inspired by The Trouble With Turnips, a basic dungeon crawl that introduced me to the Realms system. Turnips is lighthearted, with a simple premise and a structure that would be familiar to anyone who has played any old school pre-written tabletop RPG modules. In Cry Havoc, the mascots of a bunch of holidays team up to take down Santa Claus, who is conquering the other holidays. I chose a holidays theme because I knew there would be a lot of iconography that would be instantly recognizable to everyone, which was very useful for creating PCs and NPCs, and I could easily borrow a lot of set dressing that fit the theme. (The PCs came up with some really adorable, creative costuming for their holiday mascots.)

I think I can best describe the run as extremely chaotic. I learned a lot about running boffer modules and designing for newbies from it, and I think I would like to possibly run Cry Havoc again, with a fair amount of editing. This should probably be its own post, so I’ll just say I think the players had fun, which is the most important thing, and I’m very surprised but very relieved to say we got it all set up and cleaned up on schedule. The NPCs were amazing and did a ton of work, not just roleplaying and fighting PCs (and producing their own awesome costumes), but transporting my excessive amounts of set dressing, setting up tents and room dividers and all of the props and set dressing (and injecting their own creativity into their roles and into the set dressing), and cleaning up so that I could get to my next LARP in time. I am extremely grateful to both them and the players.

Primal Spirits first ran at Intercon Q, and I found the premise extremely appealing, so I was really excited when the submission form for it popped up on the Festival website. In a mythological age, the animals spirits are gathering at the World Tree to decide what sort of spirits they will be, Trickers, Sages, Hunters, or Leaders. Of course, the costuming opportunities appealed to me a lot, too, and I’ve really enjoyed LARPs by these authors in the past, particularly their world building, treatment of magic, and the dynamic relationships they write between characters.

I was cast as Tiger, and a friend was cast as Jaguar, so in the days leading up to Festival, I made us both ears and tails. I was generally quite impressed with the costuming for this LARP — a lot of adorable face paint and ears and tails, and some cool masks and other accessories. I really liked Eagle’s majestic robes, Horse’s mane-like pompadour, Otter’s shell jewelry, and Woodpecker’s red fauxhawk and black facepaint, to name just a few neat details. I particularly liked Turtle’s outfit, which included a turtle necklace, and a Ninja Turtles shell-style backpack over a t-shirt printed to look like a turtle’s plastron and arms.

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homemade Tiger accoutrements

In Primal Spirits, the animal spirits explore their potential paths, part of which involves playing games and performing tasks that demonstrate how the paths suit them, spend time with their various gangs (groups that follow various themes, like the feline gang, or the flying gang), explore various mysteries (the presence of unknown spirits, for example), and pool resources to create New Things in the material world, like Death and Architecture. I liked the mechanics for communing with some of the Greater Spirits — drinking water was a way of connecting with the Water Spirit; lying down, even napping, for five minutes was a way to connect with the Earth Spirit. (Eating some fruit was also a mechanic relevant to some of the plot in game.) All ways to keep players well rested, fed, and hydrated, a series of mechanics that encourage self-care during game that the authors have made good use of in some of their past games.

Also worth mentioning, this LARP had some nice set dressing in the form of a beautiful, sort of abstract representation of the world tree (draped fabric and leaves) and props (like a fake bowl of fire.)

Though as Tiger I wasn’t pursuing the path of Sage, I did see that one of the Sage activities was to share stories and wisdom through art — paper and markers were available for players to use. I always really appreciate opportunities to create in-character art during a LARP. I didn’t create any art, but I did have a ton of fun practicing my Hunting skills through a game of Stalk, Hunt, Pounce (actually Red Light, Green Light, for those familiar with that childhood game), and Tiger ended up dedicating herself to the Hunter spirit in this run.

Since this post is getting quite long, I’ve decided to separate out my Saturday evening LARP (Kingsword) into its own post, and skip ahead to Danger Zone: Crossing the Streams, my Sunday LARP.

I was quite excited to have a chance to sign up for Danger Zone for two reasons. One, as you may have guessed from the title, it’s a crossover LARP featuring characters from the tv show Archer and the Ghostbusters franchise. When I first started watching Archer, I remember thinking, I hope someone will write a LARP based on this cartoon, and I really want to play my favorite character, Dr. Krieger. I’m admittedly not as huge a fan of Ghostbusters, but I did like the recent remake. (Fun fact: much of the climactic battle scene was filmed in Boston, and I was an extra!)

The second reason I was excited to play was that I really enjoyed Star-Crossed, another LARP by the same author, which used an interesting mechanic (“Ghost Loops”) in which the characters are forced to play out scenes from their lost memories in front of one another, and I think it was a really neat technique that added a lot to the experience. I knew Danger Zone was going to reuse it.

My casting questionnaire and one other questionnaire (jokingly) reflected our ongoing feud over who was going to get to play Dr. Krieger.  (Some excerpts from my responses: “Also, he and I have already had multiple fights in the past over who gets to play Krieger in a hypothetical someday LARP. And you just put yourself in the middle of this fight…” “…I can hear him typing a response to this questionnaire, and I have informed him he better not put Krieger…” “Is there anything else you would like to add? If [he] put Krieger, he means “any character but Krieger.”)

And what do you know, the other LARPer got to play Krieger. I was cast as Kevin, the mimbo secretary character from the new Ghostbusters. This casting actually worked out very well for me (I also got to briefly portray another Archer character I’m rather fond of), so I guess I can’t hold a grudge over this.

For costuming, I decided the outfit Kevin wears when he decides he’s also a Ghostbuster would speak with more volume than his outfits when he’s acting as the administrative assistant. I borrowed a white t-shirt (in retrospect, I wish I’d found one a bit more fitted… it’s times like this I really think I should invest in a chest binder) and an olive colored jumpsuit to tie around my waist, and a friend of mine ordered a cheap pair of lens-free glasses. (I’ve borrowed that jumpsuit so many times for LARPs, despite it being much too large on me, I think it’s about time I just bought my own smaller version.) I also did my best to adopt Chris Hemsworth’s beautiful Aussie accent, with rather questionable results.

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I was actually rather impressed with a lot of the costuming for this LARP — there were some inflatable proton packs and Ghostbuster jumpsuits, lab coats, and Holtzmann’s iconic aviators-and-goggles look, and Archer wore his classic black turtleneck and sunglasses. Erin even had a copy of her book, Ghosts from Our Past.

Playing the LARP was a lot of fun, and often very funny. The really nice thing about combining the “Ghost Loop” mechanic with a cast of well known characters is that there are scenes written to set up some of their famous catchphrases and running jokes (much to the delight of the fans playing the LARP) although we definitely found plenty of ways to work them in between the Ghost Loops as well. I think the best moment was during the climax (“phrasing!”) right before the end of the LARP, where we needed Archer to do the Big, Important, Immediately Necessary thing, and when we looked around to see what the big delay was, he was holding everything up to finish off his drink.

There was also a really fun interactive prop — very simple, but tons of fun, which I won’t describe here for spoiler reasons, (sorry, I know that’s kind of a tease, but I just have to mention it) but I definitely want to steal the idea for other LARPs.

The best part about my casting was that the metaphysics of this LARP were, of course, extremely complicated — there was a lot of pseudoscience discussion between the Ghostbusters and Krieger that I was never really able to follow. But luckily, as the exceptionally and adorably clueless Kevin, it was perfectly in character for me to have no idea what was going on.

If you are a fan of either series, I recommend catching a future run.

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

A Weekend of LARPs in NYC

I was back in New York City this past weekend for three theater style LARPs.

The first was On Display, a simple hour and half long LARP for six players.  It is set at a grand ball, where a noble lady must choose, with the help of her sister, a husband from among four suitors. Meanwhile, the hostesses and other guests are negotiating other political (and academic) matters.

In retrospect, I think I should have played my character much more ruthlessly — I had some blackmail material and could have thrown other characters under the bus to protect my own interests, but avoiding that meant utterly failing my House. But purely by luck, after letting my House down, I happened to ally myself with another character who used all the resources I handed over to him to great advantage, and I lucked into a happy ending for my House, if not quite as happy for my character.

On Display is an enjoyable theater LARP of classic elements that seems fairly simple to run and play, so if you’re looking for a small, short theater LARP, I recommend it. You can purchase it online here.

My second, and favorite, LARP of the weekend was Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come was even shorter and smaller than On Display — one hour for four players. It’s a fantasy LARP with deceptively simple premise and straightforward mechanics, but it has the potential for complex, intense negotiation among the characters.

In Kingdom Come, waves of demons are attacking four characters inside a tower, the Tithe (a classic princess), the Fairy Prince, the Grand Vizier (of the Fairy Court) and the Lady Knight. Both a human kingdom and the Fairy Court need an heir, who may need advisers, to prevent civil war; meanwhile, the fairies are under attack from Hell, for thus far failing to pay its tithe. The four players must decide who among them will end up in which land, who will rule each land, and who will act as advisers to said rulers, and what is to be done about the war with Hell.

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Yours Truly as the Lady Knight

Over the course of the LARP, a simple set of mechanics involving a 4-sided die and decks of cards is used to resolve the demon attacks; the demons always lose, but depending on the card draws and the characters’ abilities, whether or not the demons do damage, how much, and to whom, varies. The attacks occur frequently, with very quick resolution.

The really nice thing about this element of the LARP is that the damage organically shifts the negotiating positions of the characters, so even if the players come to an agreement early on, there’s always a chance the next round of demon attacks may cause them to renegotiate. (There are also three contingency envelopes to open at designated times during the LARP that may also change the characters’ opinions on what their desired outcomes are.)

In our particular run, for example, we came to an agreement half way through, but then a series of unlucky card draws meant we accumulated a lot of damage, and we started negotiations and plans in the event of various characters’ deaths.

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reused some Cottington costuming

I really enjoyed playing Kingdom Come, and after the game, we had an interesting discussion about the various elements that make it potentially a really good game for newbies, and also about the possibility of running it as a boffer LARP.

There are a number of elements that make me think Kingdom Come would be a good LARP to run for newbies. A lot of newbies come to LARP with a tabletop RPG background, where fantasy is very popular. Kingdom Come is classic, fairy-tale-esque fantasy, whose characters are well known, popular tropes (and they all seem special in their own way), so it is easy to get into and understand the characters with only a small amount of background reading. The fact that it plays well around a table, with all of the characters focused on a single conversation, makes it unlikely a single player will not know how to get started and end up feeling left out, or like they can’t break into the action. (I’ve seen newbies at LARPs hanging around the outskirts of the event space, feeling shy and unsure of what to do with themselves.) And it’s short, which makes it appealing for new players who are hesitant to commit to longer events to give it a try.

On top of all of that, Kingdom Come seems also fairly easy and simple on a GM to run — players can be pulled in on very short notice — even at the door — because there’s so little reading to get ready for the LARP, and it doesn’t take much in the way of printing or props (just decks of cards, a d4 or other way to randomize a one in four choice, and something to keep time.) We briefly discussed how this LARP could probably easily be boxed in such a way that players could run it without a GM. And in my experience, newbies have a high rate of dropping out last minute, so being able to recast at the door (or have a GM step in to play one of the roles) also makes it a good trait for newbie runs.

I think the only significant downside Kingdom Come has as a LARP for newbies is that it’s pretty much impossible for all four characters to get a happy ending — by design, the characters are given decisions about making very difficult compromises and it’s very likely they will end up unhappy about their own personal fate, the fate of their home, and/or being separated from loved ones. I have heard it argued that a good LARP for newbies will have them coming away from it satisfied with a happy ending (with exceptions made for players who find the idea of playing a mustache twirling villain who fails dramatically).

The notion of converting it into a boffer LARP intrigues me. It would require converting the mechanics, but also adjusting the timing and frequency of the attacks (can’t have a quick attack every two minutes.) I think the most difficult aspect of it would be to take into account how player skill will influence the outcome of the attacks and the subsequent effect on the characters’ bargaining positions, and adjusting accordingly.

It’s also important to keep in mind the issue of PvP combat. In the theater version, there simply isn’t a mechanic for players to attack one another, although I can imagine players improvising, on the spot, drawing cards against one another, especially in a GM-less run. There’s a lot of character incentive not to attack one another (the characters all have things that the others need) and also combat is random and even (every character has the same deck of cards to draw from… although I suppose towards the end of the LARP, a player who has been counting cards might be able to calculate the odds of drawing a high card against another player.)

In boffer, by default, you hand players the tools to engage in PvP fights (the same tools for engage in PvE, or, in this case, PvDemons — boffer weapons) and preventing it would probably involve some kind of clunky manipulation of the mechanics. (For example, if one were to use Accelerant, you might tell the players that all of their attacks are “to Demon”, even uncalled attacks, which is a bit awkward for several reasons). Or you could try heavy handed in-game justifications. (Something like “your weapons are holy and only harm demons” would contradict elements of the backstory.)

The same strong in-game incentives to refrain from attacking one another would exist in boffer, but players might decide it would benefit them to cause damage to one another in order to strengthen one’s own bargaining position, especially towards the end of the LARP. A GM (or the instructions in a hypothetical boxed version) might issue a fiat against violence, but that’s a bit more intrusive in boffer when the tools for PvP combat are immediately present and obvious, and less so in a theater LARP where players would have to improvise a bit with the combat mechanics in order to turn them on one another.

The theater combat system also disincentives combat in that the system is random and, aside from character special abilities, even for all four characters — everyone has an identical deck of cards to randomly draw from. (Though I suppose someone counting cards could estimate their odds towards the end of the LARP.) In boffer, if there’s a high discrepancy in player skill, a talented boffer fighter could reasonably predict the outcome of a PvP encounter… or, if the system allows it, a player might decide to surprise another player with a sneak attack from behind.

This all could be mitigated by a GM fiat not to engage in PvP violence, but I think it might be interesting to see what players (especially long time boffer LARPers) might do in the absence of a fiat… maybe the in-game motivations are enough to prevent it?

I think it would be really interesting to see how abstract mechanics vs live action combat might affect the flow of game play. Kingdom Come isn’t available to purchase online (yet?), but I wonder if I can get permission to run it (either in its original form or as a boffer) at an event, maybe SLAW or one of the Bubbles.

On Sunday, I played in Jamais Vu.  I’ve always liked amnesia games, and I heard that this sci-fi amnesia game started with all of the players being put into particular positions by the GMs, as the amnesia has come on suddenly, while the characters are awake and going about their day. This idea intrigued me — most (if not all) of the amnesia LARPs I’ve played and GMed open with the players waking up out of unconsciousness. I thought the idea had a lot of potential — our initial poses and interactions could provide some RP fodder to kick off the game, and provide both clues and extra mysteries to solve.

As my character’s memories came back to her, I discovered that I was the person in charge, and I spent most of the LARP running around, trying (and failing) to keep order and prevent the situation from descending into complete chaos. It was a struggle for me, not just because everyone (both good guys and bad guys) had their own chaos-inducing agendas, but also because the role involved a lot of steering. “Steering” is a term that describes a positive form of meta-gaming — taking into account non-diagetic, or out-of-game, factors when making in-game decisions. I was trying very hard to balance reacting as genuinely as possible as someone in charge of a dangerous situation with many unknowns (which to me mostly meant trying to control the situation, to put life-saving efforts at top priority, not let people create more unknowns, not let people get their hands on dangerous weapons, not let people tamper with evidence, etc.) and not getting in the way of people’s fun, not controlling the situation so tightly that players felt they were incapable of making any advancements on plot.

I don’t think I successfully maintained that balance — for example, I confiscated a weapon someone created in the lab, but then afterwards, felt badly out-of-character for having negated someone’s in-game accomplishment. I tried to keep people from playing with the larger weapons, but it was an interesting, fun mechanic system to play with, and I knew it was something people who were stalling on other plots and likely had no evil ulterior motives, might want to explore. I think part of this difficulty was compounded by the amnesia element, which meant that my character really couldn’t justifiably trust anyone for awhile. Part way through the game, I think I overcompensated by playing the character as overly lax, not trying to stop anyone from playing with the weapons or engineering strange devices. In some games, when the authority figure character becomes very permissive or blatantly turns a blind eye to shenanigans, that can also reduce the fun of a LARP, as goals that should have been challenging become too easy. But I think this overcompensation wasn’t too damaging in this run of Jamais Vu, as my subordinates were quite active and competent.

I came away from playing Jamais Vu with an idea for a discussion topic at NELCO 2017 — writing and playing leaders/characters with authority.

So those were my three theater LARPs this past weekend. I’m really glad I got the chance to play them all, and I’m already looking forward to more theater LARPs in NYC in the near future. Hopefully, there will be a run of Blood of the Unicorn in June, and maybe I can get a few other LARPs I’ve been hoping to play to run that weekend as well…

Posted in LARP, LARP Reviews, theater | Tagged , | 6 Comments

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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