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.
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).
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.
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. 😄 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.