The Aftermath of Lullaby Pass

It occurs to me that I’ve not actually written much on Lullaby Pass, the event I ran with Black Swan Horror (who have now be renamed to Aeon Horror). Given how much I wanted to talk about it when I couldn’t, it’s odd how much my brain falls flat now that I can.

I’ll start by saying that, from all I’ve heard, the event was a complete success. It was quite experimental in nature, with a fairly simple plot framed in a large play area with a constant threat. It was survival horror, it was barricading doors and setting watches. It was all about a sleeping deity whose endless childish¬†want had caused it to empower the local wendigo – creatures that were once human, but overpowered by their own greed and hunger into eating human flesh, twisted and transformed in doing so.

I won’t go into the plot in great detail, but I will say that this event particularly appealed to my contact-LARP skillset. We had a large crew presence, for a start, who needed to go out at various points as the wendigo and I thoroughly enjoyed helping to manage that. Deciding how many of which, and who was playing what, are all a big part of being Monster Ref. The ‘who playing what’ is often the least popular part, too – the crew are there as volunteers and no one wants to dick on anyone, but sometimes you have to pick who’s going to do what you want them to do most effectively and that can lead to sour grapes. It means you need good communication between your ref and the crew, both in terms of what people want to do (and feel comfortable doing), and in an honest assessment of what we’re likely to cast them as. I know one of my bigger frustrations is that some of our wendigo suits weren’t big enough for a few of the taller guys to play them comfortably, despite their interest in doing so.

Props

Image

That’s me being a second-tier wendigo. The third-tier ones had huge elongated arms as well as freaky skull faces.

Making the wendigo involved a painted up zentai suit combined with a skull mask that we enhanced by splitting the lower jaw to open the mouth, and the addition of false nails to give sharper teeth. We also used cheap ‘witch’s fingers’ to give them long nails, and for the largest ones, hands made of wood and wire on the end of a wooden pole that the monster gripped in both hands, giving them an extra joint and about another three feet of arm. This absolutely relied on it being a non-contact system – there was no real way for the wendigo to hold weapons, most of the time, and it would have been very difficult to fight safely. The suits did get wet and filthy after a bit of running around in the mud, but, especially at night, they still remained effective.

Propping in general is completely different in one-shot LARPs like this to my experiences in VIP or running the odd Saturday LARP. While I have used props in Obsidian Arcana linears, they’ve usually been written and there’s an amount to which a smaller number props is used to represent a ‘selection’ of a greater whole – I might only write three patient files because I only have time to write three, but the players understand that there are actually dozens. Indeed, quite often in regularly running LARP it’s understood that sometimes these things are just described. When you’re running every other week, it’s a lot harder to go all out in actually making everything you should see.

Weekend horror LARP is basically the opposite of this – everything must be made and shown, and if it isn’t physically present then it isn’t there. If someone has letters in a box, the letters they have are the letters you can read. This creates a fantastic level of immersion but also takes a fair bit of time and preparation.

Still, it’s the little props like this that can sometimes be the most fun. One of the things I wrote was the diary of the original families who’d got lost in the Pass and resorted to eating one another to survive. It’s the kind of prop that can add so much atmosphere – indeed, the players all sat in the living room while someone read it aloud, and listened to it together – and it’s really great fun to be able to build up the tension and throw in little hints and useful details. It’s the same reason I love doing downtimes in VIP, really – I just love the additions to the story that you can present, I love making the NPCs into people with flaws and ambitions and wants of their own. Of course, writing the thing digitally took me a few weeks and then it was several hours hard grind for our kind crew volunteer who eventually wrote it up by hand into a notebook for us – the sort of thing that you just don’t get the time for in regular LARP (and sometimes when you do, players just hoover it up into a pocket for later, so you lose the impact on the day anyway and the stories your props tell are removed from the wider context of the linear).

Character Writing

I learned a lot about writing characters for the Aeon system this time around, and I mean a lot. I’m generally really happy with how all four of mine turned out (and indeed two of the players have requested I come back to write for them again, which has left me super chuffed). Nonetheless, I think next time I’m going to approach them much more from the trinity of flaw, active coping mechanism and passive coping mechanism. Although I had considered them in vaguer terms beforehand, I found coming back to it and needing to really solidify them was a lot trickier than I’d thought. This was particularly in the difference between a character’s flaw and their coping strategies – the flaw really has to be something that underlies everything, a basic instinct that happens to them without them even thinking about it, an inherent reaction to trouble and/or life in general. The coping strategies are easier to fit in, but knowing the flaw beforehand I think will help me create stronger characters who hold together well in the context of the system.

Concept

This is actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about next year. Although I feel like I had a lot of influence on the specifics of the last event, by the time I was brought on board the setting and themes had already been decided. It was a basis that I then helped mold, but the idea of being involved in a project where I see the ideas go from the start is pretty exciting.

It’s a weird realisation that the major contribution I made to this event – the God foetus – didn’t actually get to show up. This was something I was expecting, to be honest, as the easier and more obvious endings involving the pre-written ritual didn’t give it a presence onscreen, and in my experience, players will generally work with what they’re given before they’re comfortable messing around and making up something new (especially when it comes to magic (although having said that, never underestimate the power of players to do something completely unexpected)). On the one hand, that might mean some of the special effects for it can be used later in another system (I have ideas); on the other, it’s something that’s very hard to implement outside a horror LARP because of the sheer amount of set up it requires. It might be that I will never be a goo-covered foetus. XD I’m sure I’ll learn to live with it.

I actually need to go and make dinner now, so I’ll leave the musings here for now.

On Empire

This post may not be the most coherent thing I’ve ever written, as I’m still pretty exhausted and flumped from a long and involving weekend. Still, I felt it was worth gushing over and when I went to write a status on Facebook I realised it would’ve turned into something long and monstrous and so was probably better off as a blog entry.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, this weekend I went to Profound Decision‘s LARP system Empire, which is (to quote from their website), ‘a game of politics and epic battles set in a richly-detailed fantasy world’. I’m pretty happy to agree with that summary. This was the Winter Solstice, first event of four in a year, and only the fifth ever Empire event.

First I want to talk about the scale a bit. The weekly LARPs I attend usually comprise of about 18-25 people on any given day. I don’t know the exact number of attendees at Empire, but it was over a thousand. Fest LARP is an entirely different experience, and a little bit intimidating for when you’re new. This is only exacerbated by being a fairly shy introvert with social anxiety who isn’t that big on camping – and camping it is, with a large field full of all the OOC tents, the ground lumpy and bumpy and full of spiders. I had the great fortune to not encounter any bigger than a 2op piece and as such was able to cope without a full on arachnophobia moment and just shake off any that tried to make their homes among my clothes.

My only prior experience of fest LARP was one Lorien Trust event, back in 2007 (I think). I know a fair few people who do LT and love it, but a mix of absolutely appalling weather, OOC illness (including some super fun hypothermia) and an inability to actually find anyone who would help me get involved (or even have much of a conversation IC) meant it wasn’t exactly the greatest time. There were some very friendly people OOC, but it was still difficult to penetrate the very established groups and I had such little energy that I ended up doing nothing other than wandering aimlessly.

Empire was completely different. It helped hugely that I was going as part of a larger group – thirteen of us in all, with many planning and coordination and food-making and all sorts. We were a group with goals and ambitions and a base to come back to in the event that the outside world became a place of terror. There was homebrewed alcohol and more food than we could possibly eat. If anyone is thinking of going, I can’t recommend this enough – having a base with all the comforts, IC and OOC, made everything a lot easier.

Right from the start, everyone was incredibly friendly and keen to help get us involved. We were part of Wintermark, and on the first night a moot was held around the fire where new Halls were given the opportunity to introduce themselves, giving us a chance to meet a few new people. The more I think about it, the more I’m impressed with how the system and setting is geared towards providing opportunity for people to get involved. Certainly I was never bored, as there were always things that my character could be involved in, whether that was general nation business, or things specific to my line of tradition, the Kallavesi, or going to find fellow Spring Ritualists, or going to the great Conclave, a meeting point for all mages where everyone has a vote and people pay to speak. Sparring happened at times around camp, and there were several IC taverns to drink in, as well as meetings and plans and trade… I didn’t even touch half of the stuff that was going on. Then there were the other nations. I didn’t get a chance to go and see everyone, but the ones I did go to were very happy to receive visitors and chat or trade and make plans.

I can’t overemphasise how bloody friendly everyone is. People wanted you to have a good time, and they wanted you to get involved.

It was also very immersive. I was able to stay IC pretty much the entire time, and while there might be occasional OOC talk it was the exception, and not the rule, and if you approached a group you could generally assume they were in character. It was so much so that I keep getting weird flashes of Saija, like the accent, or thought of more things I want to do, even a day later. It’s not quite character hangover, but more WORLD hangover, which isn’t something I’ve really had before. I’m pretty gutted I can’t make the next event, but really, really keen for E7 in July. I think there’s so much more we can do, and I have more plans for kit (like making that damn headdress more comfortable) and character and all the things… The Empire wiki and such are all down at the moment because the servers are still on site during clean up, and I keep refreshing because I want to check things.

Although I had some problems with OOC health, including a freezing cold first night with less than two hours sleep, some mild hallucinations from the PTSD and a simple seizure Monday morning that made packing up about twice as hard, I had a fucking amazing time.

There are always, of course, some things that don’t go quite according to plan or could be improved. The tents were very close together and sometimes wandering around at night was a bit like something out of the Crystal Maze with all the guy ropes overlapping each other. I was also surprised at how little information they took about OOC health issues – I was able to list that I¬†had a medical condition on the application form, but there was never any space to say what. If I’d been away from people who knew me OOC and had a complex seizure, it might have caused some panic as there was nothing on record attached to my player ID. Obviously when you’re dealing with that many people it’s impossible to know everything, but just having a note on someone’s file about medication or disabilities would probably help.

The big battle on Sunday was nearly made frustrating when about a dozen players were kneeling for a Man Down call, during which a bunch of the monsters were moved into place to effectively block us in on two sides. If we’d been moving we wouldn’t have been quite so badly fucked by this, but the OOC necessity to stay still while they were able to move and set up tactically was… frustrating. Fortunately the monsters were fair, and we were able to just move past without anyone dying, but I know it was a contributing factor to some of our fighters getting further cut off behind. I am totally okay with losing and dying for IC stuff, but when it’s because of OOC limitations it can be a bit sour.

To end on a positive note (because it really deserves it), I’m going to record a few of the best moments for my own terrible, thyroidally-challenged memory.

  • The Hunters of the Mark and their story about the rabbit
  • Elsa’s later attempt to retell this story
  • Elva scaring a poor barbarian by charging him screaming, ‘Get your filthy hands off my husband!’
  • The moment where we saw the Thane and Elijas were still alive despite falling behind
  • Seeing the Imperial Orcs charge the flank of the barbarians
  • Pretty much that entire fight
  • My first ever ritual where I was surprise!ritual leader and blessed seven farms
  • Monstering! Being a herald of Roshanwe and causing trouble was pretty damn awesome
  • Meeting our lovely Egregore in real life after knowing him for a while online. The legend.
  • Seeing all the children in kit. Oddly adorable.
  • Brand telling us about future plans for rituals
  • Stories around the fire
  • Standing up for the unaffiliated mages at the Conclave (not that we needed much standing up for, just finding information on our voting capabilities and then counting our votes when we did so)

Basically, all the things. It was a fantastic weekend, worth every penny, and I cannot wait to go again.