“How I spent my weekend”
I spent last weekend producing a LARP experience for the Steampunk Symposium, a steampunk-themed convention held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. My contribution ended up being a lot of narrative work and experience design, plus a minor role as an NPC (David Bainbridge of Sotheby’s).
For details of the LARP, Lauren Scime (who played one of the lead NPCs) has provided a great summary of the LARP, Angelique Toschi published a lovely collection of photos, and April Arrglington (Transmedia L.A.’s Content Curation Director) provided more coverage of the event.
This was my second time behind the design table of a LARP (the first was a Runes of Gallidon-based LARP I ran for Wyrd Con 2), and it was unique in a couple of ways.
First, it was layered on top of the Steampunk Symposium, so we tried to create intersections between our LARP and the overall theme of the convention, which was that Victoria II, Queen of Steam, was taking her annual birthday celebration cruise. I wanted to make sure anyone playing in our LARP could easily carry the story with them into other LARPs being run at the convention without disrupting the other experiences. This meant crafting our LARP and its NPCs to be coherent even when its participants stepped outside the LARP to pursue other activities (e.g., shopping at the dealer’s area, attending performances, dancing at the masquerade ball, etc.). The upside of this was that players and NPCs could also recruit new players for our NPC and do so totally in character.
For me, the coolest part of our LARP was having the Queen of Steam herself, accompanied by her entire entourage, knight two of the players in the LARP for services deemed worthy of the crown’s attention. The icing on the cake was then having one of the knighted players play “Happy Birthday” for the Queen via his musical hat (a hat with a music box that would “play” strips of hole-punched paper, much like a player piano).
This kind of unplanned, serendipitous encounter is a perfect example of why LARPing can be so rewarding.That player would likely never have had the chance to play his tribute to the Queen in character (she was only available for limited times during the convention, and most of that was filled with pre-scheduled obligations), and being able to show of his creativity in character was simply a fabulous way to wrap up the LARP.
The second difference between this LARP and my Runes of Gallidon one is that this LARP spanned three days, which included three set/scheduled events plus activities for players to pursue in-between the events if they liked. Instead of trying to fill a two-hour timeslot, we had to fill multiple-hour time slots Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday, plus string them together in a way that allowed us to accordion the rollout of the story based on how fast (or slowly) players were moving through it.
Lastly, I was working with a team of creatives instead of going solo. We had a diverse group of talent to draw from, and roles were assigned based on skillset, interest, and availability: producing or procuring props, handling social media components, playing NPC characters, writing the story, designing the experience, etc. This allowed us to do some pretty cool things a one-person show could never have achieved. A bonus was that many of the team members I already knew through Transmedia L.A.: Aaron Vanek, Lauren Scime, Phil Gable, and Angelique Toschi.
As I suspected, working on this LARP was almost entirely a different experience from the Runes of Gallidon one, but it was just as rewarding.
Aside from having a blast, I learned first-hand some of the challenges (and solutions!) to designing a multi-day, multi-event experience that ran parallel and intersected with another persistent experience. I’m still getting my head around LARPs, but I’m finding them to be great sandboxes for playing with narrative, testing design ideas, and exploring the possibilities of collaborative, improvisational storytelling. And what I’m learning from LARPs is influencing my ideas about telling stories in other formats and mediums.
Stripped down, LARPs can be fairly short (less than a half-hour), they don’t require props of any kind, and you can focus just on story if you have limited time/resources. If you’re at all interested in playing with story, I highly recommend trying your hand at designing a LARP if you have the time!