Name: Mark Mensch
IG Name & Race: Nigel Peaks, Wayfinder & Plethora of others
Number of Years LARPing: 26
Home Game: Alliance LARP
With over twenty years of experience, Mark Mensch is certainty a LARP expert. Attending events worldwide, Mensch has participated in role-playing games and consulted for Hollywood films about LARP culture. He researches LARP gear and manufacturing from weapons to pewter casting for events. This isn’t Mensch’s first “LARPer Profile,” but we’re glad we had the opportunity to learn more about his experiences!
Catherine C. J. Baxley: How did you learn about LARPing and where was your first event?
Mark Mensch: I first heard about LARPing while working at Costume Armor in New York 1991. Someone came in from Boston to get a special piece of armor made and when I asked what it was for, he handed me the 3rd Edition NERO Rule book. I still have it. I knew this was what I had been looking for for some time but it would take a couple years before I would play in a game. My first LARP event wasn’t until 1994 when I attended a “Living Fiction” game in upstate California. It was extremely immersive for the time and I had a blast! It’s a different game when the potions in it were eight-ounce fruit juices and you had to drink it all in order for the potion to take effect. Didn’t really want it to chug seven of them to heal up. It was a ‘paint larp,’ where all weapons had foam strips on the striking surface that had to be regularly applied with fresh paint. Got a mark, it counted as losing the use of that limb.
CCJB: What is the best part about LARPing for you? Worst?
MM: The best part is being able to help shape the story with your actions and interactions with others around you. To create relationships to better the in-game (or IG) world and be able to overcome the obstacles within it. The worst part is the out-of-game (or OOG) drama and sometimes favoritism occurs. Everyone should be treated equally and all players should receive equal attention from the staff. This can be hard to do at every game of course, but care should be taken to be sure no one is being ignored. And leave your real-life egos at the door. They don’t have any place in the game.
CCJB: What has been the most challenging experience in-game (or IG)? Did it coincide with your out-of-game (Or OOG) mentality?
MM: My most challenging experience IG was to build a puzzle box. Due to me ‘suggesting’ how to empower a gemstone with the essence of the Shadows (i.e., rogue skills), I suggested someone creating a puzzle box to put the gemstone into. They said, “Great, go to it!” In this LARP, you actually had to do it, not just hand over some coppers and ask for a tag saying “Puzzle box.” I had no tools to do it, so I had to go around to local smiths to borrow the tools, go to vendors to purchase a box and items and then spend the next two hours modifying a box to have not just one but two ‘locks’ in it. It was an incredible, visceral experience.
As for coinciding with my OOG mentality, my mind loves to work on puzzles and looking at how you can make the most out of what little you have, and working under pressure is something I excel at. Thanks to my work on it, the box actually allowed over 500 people to take part in the grand war at the end of the event – something everyone looks forward to at this game, whom would not have been able to if not for the chain of events that started with the box being finished.
CCJB: What is your favorite genre of LARP?
MM: Don’t have a favorite. My favorite LARPs are ones which are very high in the immersion/360-degree illusion. I’d love to play in a post apocalyptic game where such things as having to eat nothing but MRE’s, oatmeal, or even go hungry if you didn’t complete your missions to forage for food. Something where your IG experience is a direct result via the consequences of your character’s actions and not something on easy mode.
CCJB: What has been the biggest change in LARP culture over the last twenty years?
MM: Although it is starting to wane a bit with new games, there are the games with a sense of entitlement, meaning the amount of work needed to be done was less, that rewards should be handed out and so on. People tend to sit and wait for things to come to them instead of going out and looking for it themselves. Donations and non-player character (or NPC) volunteering used to be done with very minimal rewards, if any. You can now with some games simply pay cash to advance your character without ever attending.
CCJB: You mentioned you helped consulting groups for films such as Role Models and Knights of Badassdom. Tell us about your experience!
MM: I was the Chairman for the Board of Directors for a group called LARP Alliance which was the consultation group that helped with these films. I wasn’t personally involved in it, that was handled by others within the organization (Adrienne Grady, et.al.) but it was amazing hearing about how the group was helping to teach and show the actors how general US LARPing mechanics worked and who took to it like it was second nature. Heard Peter Dinklage was the best fighter out there.
CCJB: According to reviews and members of the community, do you think those films lived up to potential? If not, what could have been improved?
MM: I helped locate the “Lightening Bolt” guy for an episode of Tosh.0 and he had an interesting quote that didn’t make the cut. When they said that they didn’t want to poke too much fun at the hobby, he said, (paraphrasing) “LARPing isn’t something that can be watched and enjoyed like football. It is something that you have to take part in, be a part of to fully appreciate. Otherwise, it will look silly.”
I found watching the audience at Role Models to be the general populace’s take on LARPing. Everyone was laughing at the absurdity of it in the beginning but by the end of the movie, they were cheering on the final battle. I find that a lot of people who try LARPing for the first time tend to do the same thing – think it’s silly to begin with but can’t wait to get back to the next game after experiencing it.
But did they live up to the potential of showing what LARPing could be all about? No. For those in the community, definitely not as the movies used old cliche’s that the community have been trying to live down and improve upon for years. The movies show social outcasts, people unable to separate real life from the game and heavy drug users as the attendees.
There were also misogynistic tendencies as well as the ‘egotistical game runners’ whose entire self worth is wrapped up in running the games. There could have been better costuming, settings, story lines, etc. and ‘normal’ people from various walks of life. More buildup on the intricacies of the plots and showing more about character interactions other than hitting with weapons or talking about sexual situations. All of this could have helped to show more of what goes on at LARP events.
To be fair though, I have attended LARPs that have had all of the points above in them. And again LARPing was not the main focus of the movie plots. LARP Alliance was there to advise, not write the scrip. But I feel that more could have been done to give a more current and accurate portrayal of what LARPs are about these days and show them in a better light.
CCJB: Who is your character and what are their motivations?
MM: My main character is Nigel Peaks, Jack of all Trades, Master of One. He is what I call a Wayfinder – a traveler who goes from place to place to experience what the world has to offer. He started off leaving home to begin work at a new outpost in Twilight Vale in the Dragonlands and became a bartender there. From there, he had become a stonemason, an undertaker, a sailor, carpenter, and many other jobs. Usually, he was that ‘extra guy’ that didn’t seem to hold any allegiances but could be counted on when the Dragon Dung hit the winds.
Many would say his main motivation was stealing and gaining wealth. But in truth, it was always the puzzle and challenge of acquiring the objects, not the objects themselves. There was really nothing to spend the money on since he never used magic or magic items – he feels that magic is a crutch for people who can’t handle the world under their own power so have to borrow it from somewhere else.
He is currently stuck back on the Dragonlands, despite their being blown into nothing but a volcanic wasteland. In fact, any land he settled down in for longer than a year seemed to always undergo some sort of cataclysmic event – not his fault! But every once in a while, he’ll awaken in a new land for a few days as he seems to be needed. Whether it is just to tell a few good jokes or to juggle or perform some of his fire eating routines or casting pewter charms, he’s there to make sure other people are having a good time.
CCJB: Have you ever wanted to run your own game?
MM: I did. I created a fantasy game called Adventures Unlimited in 1994 and ran it for 7 years. It was a lower fantasy game than what was available during that time and without the internet taking off for another half decade, it was rather difficult to start from scratch and the unknown. But it turned into the most popular LARP in the San Francisco Bay Area during that time. Due to personal reasons, I had to sell the game but it is still running in an incarnation as Realms of Conflict – as well as about a half dozen games throughout the world using the basic rule set I developed all those years ago.
CCJB: As a LARP expert, I’m quite envious about your knowledge about the community. What are you currently working on or learning about?
MM: Right now the main thing happening is Blockbuster LARPs – such as New World Magischola. Unfortunately, I’m not in a financial position to attend all of them in the US, let alone worldwide. But they are offering a new style of co-operative storytelling that I feel will help to bring back more of the player driven content into things that will not only lessen the burden of providing content by the game runners but will also allow the players to feel they’re more a part in telling the story than just watching the story be told.
Oh, and implementation of 21st technology into LARPing. Whether it is Ford Ivey’s Legacy System that is having a system tracking your character’s health, effects and magical abilities to Matt Webb’s Planetfall game that uses a proprietary Android App that tracks your character’s stats and abilities and lets you use QR codes on objects to reveal information depending upon your character’s skills (such as a geologist will get more useful information out of a green rock with a QR code attached to it than a soldier would).
I have a pipe dream of developing a LARPing gauntlet that uses six axis accelerometers linked with GPS trackers to do everything from track combat to cast spells depending upon the gestures made to being able to open up a lock depending upon your skill level. Unfortunately, I have very little knowledge in electronics or programming but doesn’t mean someone else can’t come up with it.
I’m now working with someone else to help create a modern fantasy game that will be more of an Augmented Reality Game than your standard LARP. Day games that require a bit of travel around the Bay Area to complete the objectives with one or two overnight events a year where those completed objectives are then used to handle a major issue. Think of something like “The Dresden Files” meets “Warehouse 13.”
CCJB: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MM: There is often a lot of strife that happens within our hobby these days. I would like to say three things about it.
From the SCA to College of Wizardry, there are so many different styles of LARPing out there that no one is the ‘right one,’ just the right one for you. If you don’t like what you’re doing now, try something different, but do respect that if people are having a good time at something, let them have a good time at it.
Game Runners – Listen to your players – even the most squeakiest of wheels. Take into consideration what they are saying and respond to them about it with more than “we’ll take it under consideration.” Give them the decision and the reason why that decision was met. And don’t be afraid to lose players if it means staying on the path you want. If you’re not enjoying making the game, it’ll show in the final product. And please, include everyone. Set up some sort of check and balance to make sure attention is being put forth to all the players in the game and not just a few.
Players – What you put into a game will help what you get out of it. Have goals for your characters, let plot know what those goals are, if they’re not appearing ask them about it. And don’t ever, EVER be afraid to make suggestions or lodge a complaint with them. If you don’t ask for something to be done, nothing will change. And if a game is truly terrible in your opinion, leave. If you don’t let them know you’re having a problem and keep on paying the admittance fee, they’ll assume they’re doing just fine.
In the end, treat everyone like you’d like to be treated. And always ask yourself if you’re doing that. I do it as a player, as a GM and as a reviewer.
Check out Mark’s interview from LARPing.net!
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