Afloat on the Isles – What Goes into Running a LARP – Part 3

I’ve told you about my LARPing history and told you what goes into preparing for one. So now, the magical question…how did the opening weekend of The Isles: Purgatory Station go? Did my vast amount of history give me a leg up? Did our prep work prepare us properly to knock the socks off of our players?

Well, read on, gentle reader.

Friday Afternoon – Andy Shows Up Early, Still Feels Unprepared

I woke up ridiculously early on Friday, despite having the day off. On a normal day, I lounge until 10 or later, thanks to my job starting at 11 AM and working from home. Instead, I woke up at 7 AM, got up, and never went back to sleep. So I busied myself making sure things were prepared. I created and printed out paper tags for various items that would be needed over the weekend. I spent time with my dog, since I wouldn’t see her all weekend. I gathered and sorted props and costumes. I was determined to make an early start of it, the better to prepare for the weekend ahead.

Yeah…didn’t really help. Despite all this, I didn’t leave until 1 PM, long after I’d intended.

This wasn’t a big deal. I still got there my 2:30 or so and was one of the first people on site. I took the chance to cut out tags, organize Monster Camp (where the NPCs congregate), set up the areas for the Forge and Alchemy Lab (two buildings used by the townsfolk to make things they can use in game), set up my wardrobe in the bedroom attached to the “Chapel”…

And then things got bad.

Friday Evening – Andy Loses His Legendary Cool

Around 5 PM, I realized that three major effects for the weekend…the Train Station, the Galeesh Gate, and the Lady in White…weren’t ready…at all.

Given the long hours I’d put in getting ready, I was pretty upset that these important items weren’t ready to go. I wasn’t sure what upset me more…that the very first thing the players were going to experience as they came into game…the departure of a train…had been totally overlooked, or that two big effects were waiting for plot folks to show up and construct them…or that the Galeesh gate, left partly constructed the week before…had all but fallen apart since we’d set it up.

I coordinated with Jim, one of the other plot folks who had arrived early, and asked him to make sure that the folks who were bringing the materials to finish the Gate, one of the first things players would see after coming into game, would be coming soon.

Now, I have a friend named Dan, who’s part of our plot team. I know that Dan knows he has, shall we say, punctuality issues, so I hope he won’t mind me calling him out a bit on this. He was supposed to be bringing the last materials for constructing the Galeesh gate, and he told us he’d be at site by 6 or so. I looked over at Jim and said “He’ll be here at 8, the earliest.”

Thankfully, at 7, Lee and Laura showed up. They’re both plot and staff, with Lee acting as our Monster Master. It was very helpful for me to have them there, as I could stay busy and focus on showing them how I’d organized Monster Camp. Once I was done, however, panic began to grow in my stomach. We weren’t ready, very few NPCs had signed up to be there, and we knew we’d lost players and staff to another LARP that was having its final event that weekend.

Around 8:00, Dan had yet to appear. Players were arriving and asking me if I thought we’d start by 10, our proposed opening time. I had to be honest. “I don’t know,” I told them. “We’ll certainly try to.” My husband came in, excited to play, and, I have to be honest, I dragged him someplace private to vent to him. I told him that I was afraid we were about to be in the middle of a huge disaster.

Why was I so flipped out? Well, imagine you’re the writer-director of a play who’s also going to be acting in it. Imagine it’s opening night, your sets aren’t built, and the people who need to build them haven’t shown up, you’ve only got half the actors you need, and it’s less than 2 hours to curtain call.

Yeah, it felt like that.

It also hadn’t helped that I’d eaten lunch at 1, but then been so busy keeping myself busy that I hadn’t eaten since. I’m sure my blood sugar was doing a conga.

But then, NPCs showed up. We had far more than I expected. Then Dan showed up! Okay, it was closer to 9, but that didn’t matter. He was there. Lee assigned him all the NPCs on hand, and they made that gate happen.

Cooler heads than mine made the decision to push the opening from 10 to 11. The players, most of whom are also good friends, were understanding. They had questions, which I sat down and answered for them, working out issues with rules and giving them a plot overview of how we’d gotten to where we were.

I got into costume, applied my make-up, and got into character as my NPC: Father Isengrim. A bear cleric. Quite a stretch for me.

The players went up to the train station set to prepare to come into game. I picked up my mace and shield and went up to play my role…one of two people meeting them, and the main voice of authority in those first few moments.

I do authority well, actually.

So how did the opening go? Well, there was no big train effect (we’ll fix that for next time), but no one seemed to notice. The Galeesh gate actually looked quite good and got questions from the players. The transport from the train station to the tavern went smoothly. We actually seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Thanks to the efforts of Lee, the NPCs, and the rest of staff, events fell into place. I kept a mental check-list. Has the guy basically playing Don Quixote made it through his opening module yet? Yup, there he is. Have the rat-like skekli gone into play? Here comes an NPC yelling how the skekli have invaded the forge. What about the way to repel them? There’s Jeff, playing Merrikh the Gravedigger, and Jim playing Rythiene Candahar the merchant, telling players about the benefits of Stella blossoms, that can drive skekli away. Are the A-1 Construction Company and the native archeologists called Tovaanites feuding? Yup. There’s Jon as his Tovaanite leader, almost starting a bar-fight. My lips threatened to curl into a smile. Things were actually happening. On time!

By the time I went to sleep, people were having spirited discussions with me about religion. They wanted to know about joining the Mages Guild. Things seemed to be proceeding the way we’d planned, and I knocked off about 3 AM with a feeling of surprise.

The Rest of the Weekend

With only one hiccup (the framework for the Lady in White effect needed to be constructed last minute, and it didn’t go off til 12:20 rather than right at midnight), the rest of the weekend went surprisingly smoothly. I played Father Isengrim and gathered around me a Mages Guild that encompasses over half of the player base! I played Kovar Tol, of the Galeesh Sodality of Honor, along with three other NPCs, and we were both intimidating and looked awesome. Yay, turquoise make-up! I played the spirit who calls himself Gnosis, an emissary of Life, and presented Chris, our General Manager, with a brooch I’d found that exactly matched the design on his polearm! (He told me later that his sharp intake of breath was a combination of things…in-character surprise at something from his homeland appearing so far away and out-of-character horror that plot was already aimed at him. I had warned him that we intended to make life interesting for him in the Chinese-proverb sense… ;))

When the weekend was over, people told us that we’d had a solid event…one of the smoothest running opening events ever, and they included the original The Isles: Asylum weekend in that! A couple of folks said that this had been the first LARP campaign opener they’d been to, and they couldn’t imagine better staff and players to be with. It was a heart-warming love-fest, reminding me of the final event of The Isles: Asylum, where people had been in tears talking about how much the game meant to them.

And I guess it means that to me, too. Because I’m still here, getting ready for our event on the last weekend of June. And I’ll be damned if that train sequence at the beginning of the event doesn’t happen!

It would be very remiss of me not to call out the various people who helped make the weekend go so well. My fellow plot team members, Carl, Dan, Jeff, Jim, Jon, Laura, and Lee, all did great (even if Dan is habitually late. I love you, bro, but you know you are!) We had so many NPCs that I know I’ll forget some, but thank you Blue, Brad, Brendan, Cody, Heather, Jason, Kate, Mark, Matt, Matt, Ryan…and those of you who I’ve forgotten. Thank you. And thank you players! You guys were patient, understanding, eager to play, and fun to play with. I hope all of our efforts are enjoyed.

Your Turn

So, what do you think, gentle readers? Ever been to the very first weekend of a LARP? Did it have its opening night problems? Was it smooth as silk? Are you glad you were there at the start, or did you wish you’d come in later, once they’d worked out the bugs? Tell us your tale, or ask any questions about LARPing you might have. I look forward to hearing from you.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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