Reports from Festival of the LARPs 2012

I'm the president of Brandeis University's gaming club - and by gaming, I mean non-traditional board games and role-playing games, all the way up to theater-style live action role-playing. As a result, it fell on me to help run an event we like to call Festival, a weekend-long convention at which quite a number of awesome LARPs were run over the last weekend. (That word "help" is important; I wasn't in charge, but I was on the event staff.)

I'm not by any means a dedicated LARPer, but I have played in a few before (most notably at Festival two years ago) and certainly I enjoy the unique fun of entirely pretending to be someone else for a little while. Tabletop RPGs are fun, no doubt about that, but it can be hard to maintain the verisimilitude of role-playing sometimes when all you've got are some dice. And theater-style LARPing, in which combat is adjudicated through some kind of mechanic (such as drawing a card to produce a random number), and in which character interaction comes to the forefront, usually produces an enjoyable few hours of conversation and intrigue.

Of course, I wasn't just helping to run Festival. I took almost every chance I got to play in games over the weekend as well. I can't say too much about any of them, because I don't want to reveal spoilers about the games, but I'll share what thoughts I can.

Over the weekend, I played in four games. I only actually signed up for three, but the game on Friday evening needed another player, and I ended up filling in for that slot. And on that note, my first game of the weekend was Venezia. It was a historical game set in 15th century Italy that gave each player wide latitude to affect the way the game played out; major decisions shaped the events that occurred both for one's own player and for others. For a game that I wasn't planning on playing, I had a great deal of fun; the character sheets were extraordinarily long, but absolutely worth the time and effort to deal with, and my character was a joy to role-play as. (Also, the level of effort that the GMs put into decoration and setting up the scene was nothing short of amazing.)

Following that, I made the mistake of daring to sign up for three games on Saturday. What this meant in practical terms was that I was committing myself to 12 hours of gaming, on only about six hours of sleep. Given that all three of the games I signed up for required a high degree of mental engagement (there weren't any fluffy LARPs on my schedule that day), I was kind of setting myself up for a crash. It did come... but I'll get to that in due time.

First up on Saturday was The Stand, a Western-themed LARP. It gave me the excuse to go looking for a Western-themed costume, which ended up being awesome, and now I own a new hat. So yeah. Past that, it was a perfectly solid LARP. I feel like I didn't do as much as I might have liked to accomplish, and looking back on the game I definitely ended up kind of missing the point of what my character was trying to accomplish. (I still succeeded in his goals, though! Just kind of inadvertently.) It's not like I didn't get things done, but I feel like very little of it was overwhelmingly important.

Unfortunately, the length of game wrap-up (which was worth it anyway to figure out what I was supposed to be doing) meant that I pretty much skipped lunch break and went straight into the second game of the day, Dance of Flame and Shadow. It was my favorite game of the weekend anyway. Just to make this clear, it was a game set in the world of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, and I now have my own (legally purchased PDF) copy of the rule book for that game. Draw your own conclusions.

I think I ended up playing my character a little oddly, but there's not exactly anything I can do about that now. Besides, I'm pretty sure it all worked out in the end. Unfortunately, there's very little I feel like I can say about the game, because spoilers. I found the game wrap-up to be awesomely hilarious (in a "ha ha I win" way), and I can't even talk about why that is. *sigh*

Moving on, I did manage to score myself some dinner (yay first actual meal of the day! ... no, it didn't end well) before moving on to Interesting Times. I was attracted to this game by the promise of singing in public. No, really. The game was essentially a vaguely steampunky musical turned into a LARP. I was freaking out over my level of preparedness before the game, because I hadn't listened to my songs all that much, but in the end the music side of things went off pretty much without a hitch. I loved having an excuse to sing my thoughts to the world, and the songs were fun and enjoyable to play with too.

Unfortunately, I've been alluding to an impending crash all through this post? Yeah, at this point it's getting close to midnight. The character sheets for Interesting Times were decidedly unlike any others I've dealt with (mostly in that they lacked a clear accounting of people you know, and also didn't define goals clearly either), forcing me to pay a lot more attention to what I'm trying to do. Essentially, I spent at least the last hour of the game entirely disengaged, as a result of being both exhausted and confused. The songs made it all worthwhile, really, but...

So yeah, that was my weekend. I have missed LARPing; unfortunately it's not an activity that one can do anytime you like, and I keep moving around and not really staying in one place long enough to really get into a LARPing community. I mean, I'm acquaintances with a lot of the people here in Massachusetts, but I don't know how much longer I'll be sticking around...

Well, I'll keep an eye out wherever I do end up, because I do like playing LARPs. And anyone that is in the broad New England area? Festival's running again at Brandeis next year, of that I have little doubt.

(Note on comments: If people would like, I have no problems with discussing the games that I played in detail in comments. Given that, I won't even attempt to avoid spoilers in the comments.)

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