Ever want to try all the LARPs (live action role playing games) without committing to extensive costuming requirements, multiple hours-long trips, and hundreds in attendance fees? Held annually in Morristown, NJ, Dreamation is a gaming convention that offers a heavy sampling of LARPs with origins both local and international.
LARP is a significant but partial representation of the games represented at Dreamation, which also features tabletop RPGs, board games, and more.
Below is a rundown of the LARPs I attended while at this four day long convention. I have a background in American campaign boffer LARP in NJ. The LARPs I regularly attend were not exhibiting at this event and I went in hoping to try some different games and styles. I had a particular interest in freeform and Nordic-inspired LARPs and believe in the possibility of finding (or running) a LARP that includes gripping elements of both boffer games and freeform parlor LARPs. (I happen to be a fan of intense RP, awesome costuming, and foam weapon / boffer combat.)
American Gods: A Carnival, A Wedding, and a Funeral
Run by Damocles Thread Development, I had no idea what to wear or expect from this particular game. I have read “American Gods” and had reserved a spot in the LARP, but not a role – and when I got there, I was presented with a list of gender neutral and female characters (gods). I selected Media, who turned out to be the only ‘new god’ in the group.
This game ran in the Akashic System. All participants were given a stopwatch. Instead of rolling a D10 (which would be kind of immersion-breaking and would require us to go to a table or roll the die on the floor), we were simply to start and stop the timer and look at the last number.
I’m not a fan of having to memorize numbers and rules systems on short notice, so having a consolidated system was pretty awesome. The points you could spend use abilities (almost like spell or magic points) were also your hit points.
Each character had assigned tasks. Mine gave me some relationship pointers (who could always be counted on for good ratings) and tasks. Naturally, some of the characters’ tasks conflicted. This really drove the plot.
Additionally, the GMs were always there to answer questions and help players take actions. They also responded really well to some unconventional actions or avenues that others might have considered significantly off-track.
As for the set, some imagination was required. We were mainly costumed, but the play spaces were what our imaginations made them. I certainly look forward to playing more Damocles Thread games in the future and would consider running one for fun.
Knight Realms: Catacombs of Argis
I’ve heard a lot of conflicting information about Knight Realms, a medieval fantasy LARP operating in NJ, so I was eager to check out this game for myself. I found out a couple of my friends were also LARPing in this KR adventure and the game staff assured me it was permissible to come in and head out as needed – which was essential to my participation because I wouldn’t have had time to eat.
Assuming my friends were playing combat characters and wanting to play a low-key role in a system new to me, I opted to play a healer. From the character selection process (I used a pre-generated character), it was evident that many rules had changed over the years this established game has run. I suited up and headed in.
The main game setting took place in a monastery (as opposed to the typical inn setting) and PCs were asked to explore catacombs. As an experienced LARPer in this genre, I was incredibly impressed with the time and detail that went into the adventure and the setting itself. They used the space well to create very immersive spaces.
My healer was pretty fragile, which actually became part of her persona. I found that treatment of healers in this game was a little different than I was used to in others because (at least at the levels we were playing) other PCs generally could not heal themselves. They seemed pretty respectful and protective.
PCs and NPCs were all on point with engaging RP. I am still concerned that it would be difficult to enter the game as a low-level character, but I would not rule out attending one of their regular events just for the high level of RP I could expect there.
This Miracle is a two-phase freeform LARP created by Lizzie Stark and Nick Fortugno. Initially, I intended to create a new character for this game, but ended up portraying my main character from my favorite American campaign boffer game.
In this game, the group is divided into three mini-groups, each creating an aspect of a culture from the ground-up, from a religious perspective. This is done as each player has an archetype in mind. I selected “The Ruler” to represent my character’s ambitions in her usual environment. We created an aspect of a religion and sacred objects, which we then handed off to another group in a sacred ceremony.
During the hand-off ceremonies, I drew upon m archetype and character to lead. I was often the first one in, and when another group came to deliver artifacts to us, I stood before them as a leader might. I wasn’t obnoxious about it and I was unchallenged.
In our groups, we then constructed rituals which we left with our facilitators, who also played archetypes and characters. While they conferred and set up rituals, we interacted with each other. Since I was playing a religious character from another game, I actually had a prayer to sing and enjoyed exploring the connection between music and spirituality with other PCs. We then went through the rituals created by our groups with time between to interact with each other.
These rituals created some rather intense and emotional scenes as our characters reflected upon themselves and each other. I found one of the rituals particularly effective for character development and also determined that it would fit in well with my character’s culture in my home game – so much so that I plan to take the ritual back into my regular game. I really like the idea that my campaign LARP character influenced the culture and story in This Miracle which then in turn gave her something to take back to the campaign LARP. It was, in fact, spiritually transformative for the character.
In this game, the preparation and debrief were organized and comfortable.
Oblivion LARP: The Strife of Perception, Part Two
Oblivion is a LARP operating here in New Jersey. It’s a post-apoc / superhero game taking place in its actual location. In this particular module, we mainly portrayed avatars of our characters as they were represented in the subnet. The set looked like Tron. It was disconcerting in the best of ways.
One thing that caused me to feel hesitant about Oblivion LARP is the rather involved rulebook, but the pre-generated character, combat rules, and skill use rules were all easy enough to learn and understand.
I wanted to play more of a political character (class ‘Advocate’), and although my character was mainly interacting with NPC machines, my efforts were rewarded. With real charm and some computer science knowledge, I felt like a bit of a technomancer in there.
I’ll write a more detailed review of Oblivion LARP in the future, but I found this relatively new game particularly promising and welcoming.
Golden Cobra Freeform Sampler: Unheroes
Before heading out on the final day of Dreamation, I checked out the Golden Cobra Freeform Sampler. Host James Stuart took pitches from GMs; our group then divided up into various gaming groups.
I had a serious interest in Unheroes, a game about superheroes who gradually reawaken in a new reality. We began the game with general discussion about superheroes and naming our favorites. Of course I mentioned Thor. When it came time to randomly select the superhero archetype card, I got “mighty.” Pure serendipity, I suppose.
Collaboratively, we decided upon a story – why are we where we are? What were our characters’ relationships? Game materials and our facilitator helped us with this part of the process. Once the game began, our powers re-activated at different times within the hour as indicated on our cards.
In this game, I started playing a very bold character – and due to story occurrences, ended up drawing inward towards the end. I’m very accustomed to playing the opposite – deliberately – which results in self-empowerment. Fortunately, playing this the other way around was not detrimental, though I did feel a bit of bleed until I met some friends for lunch after the game ended.
I also watched the boffer tournament. There were different categories: dagger, sword/shield, and gauntlet. The competition was pretty fierce; there were about ten combatants, only one of whom was female (she ranked high).
The tournament was swept by one Kane who fought with precision and speed.
What I Learned From Freeform Games
The debrief is the essential piece that I am missing at campaign games. I can jump into character as easy as turning on a light switch, but without the debrief, I (and others) leave these games sometimes without unpacking feelings.
Something reinforced – sometimes I’m playing a main character and other times not so much. In Unheroes and American Gods, I felt like more of a supporting character; in This Miracle, I had a significant impact on the story. All of the experiences were rewarding.
I see many possibilities in combining existing styles. I know a fair amount of LARPers who enjoy emotionally intense RP and challenging combat. (In my region, it would be considered moderate to heavy boffer combat.)
I look forward to exploring the possibility of a game structured somewhat like This Miracle with a tournament or combat challenge at the climax. In this type of game, I would also write in crucial non-combatant roles.
I thought I might miss the more competitive nature I’m used to in LARPs when I tried freeform games, but what I found is that character goals, like those provided in American Gods, were more than sufficient.
Disclosure: I received a press pass to attend this convention.