One Perspective: LARPing at DEXCON 16
by Nicolas Hornyak
This week marked one of the biggest gaming conventions in the Northeastern United States. Offering one of the most expansive selections of all types of gaming, thousands of players flocked to the Morristown Hyatt & Conference Center in Morristown, N.J. for DEXCON 16, including yours truly for the first time, all in the pursuit of play
During the convention, attendees had a plethora of options to choose from. Primarily, my guilty pleasure is LARPing. Munchkin held the highest attendance at the tables, alongside other Steve Jackson Games, and Steve Jackson himself was the guest of honor over the course of the weekend, presenting panels about things to come and hosting various gaming events.
Easily some of the most popular offerings this year, though, were LARPs. Phoenix Outlaw Productions made a huge splash with three games, two of which joined the top tiers of attendance. Eschaton Media Inc. returned with another infamous Dystopia Rising game, along with a brand new system in theatrical LARP. Meanwhile, the standard Firefly LARP returned with high attendance, and of course, there were the usual Changeling, Cthulhu Live, and Mind’s Eye Theatre games. And between all those big names, there were many LARPs whose names were being tossed like wildfire. I myself attended a variety of games I was interested in, and with every game, I was astonished at what storytellers had crafted. Seriously, next chance you players get, just thank your Story Tellers (STs), because they do it all for you.
Hereafter follows my trail of gaming through the convention. Enjoy!
Doomsday “The Survivor”
I originally planned on attending four LARPs, but after being pitched this concept, I was interested. The world of Doomsday sets its monthly LARP on the planet Tempest with one core concept: no one there has ever owned a spaceship or left their planet. In the wake of events that tore apart humanity’s empire, these humans are just trying to get by now, or at least survive.
However, this convention game turned that on its head and set itself on a spaceship where we played a brand new species of humans known as the Terrens. Largely symbiotic with their ship, their implants allow them to communicate with holograms that none of the invaders can see or hear. Other than that, rules were light: if you were roleplaying doing it, you were probably doing it. The only true flaw that came of this was the lack of mechanics for medical treatment, but they, along with other rules, are most certainly present in the monthly LARP sessions themselves.
Overall, this was an excellent introduction to a science fiction game, a genre I’ve been eyeing for quite some time now.
Recently, various game designers, largely headed by Eschaton Media Inc., have come together to attempt to create a universal theatrical LARP system that possessed the fastest combat mechanics ever seen. These are high terms for such a system, but the efforts are not going to waste, and have culminated in the CHRONOS system. To be fair, the combat system is only fast if you’re familiar with it, so new players found the learning curve to be fairly intimidating.
The lore and its inherent procedures were also intimidating, but this design, or “skein,” allowed for beautiful dramatic moments and a chance to smile and relax—something which various convention LARPs lack due to the pursuit of serious plotlines and high stakes.
In the end, ExArcana was a breath of fresh air, but the system is not quite there yet and the roleplaying itself was fairly hard to access.
Battlestar Galactica’s “Straight on ‘Till Morning: Tales of the Rising Star”
One of DEXCON 16’s signature events this year, the Phoenix Outlaws stepped up to the challenge and did so beautifully. Set on a military hospital ship with a surprisingly minimalist system of mechanics, this LARP ranks as one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in, complete with truly genre appropriate props provided.
Its only true flaws seem to be the restrictive relationships among the different factions, with the military operating on a policy of high security, limiting movement of civilians. However, this garnered a high amount of tension which culminated in a very satisfying conclusion.
The designers are hoping to bring this game to next year’s DEXCON as well, and if they do, for any fans of the re-imagined series out there, this is a game you shouldn’t miss!
The 2013 World Night’s Black Agents Championship
Largely an experiment by Kenneth Hite, designer of the GUMSHOE engine, this concept of secret agents vs. vampires was done in a special format. First done in a brand new LARP form, followed by an intense tabletop session, this was an incredible game of subtlety, wit, and a chunk of luck. Set in a military base, you’re either an agent or a mole, and you have to accomplish your goals. Completing the LARP with deadly, intense twists, moving on to the tabletop game itself was fluid and relatable in the plot.
The only issue was that the players weren’t given their back stories until they were playing the tabletop portion of the competition, but otherwise there was plenty of room to role-play your character the way you wanted to.
Overall, this was a daring experiment that paid off in the end, and it was a delight to play and learn a new system.
The Dresden Files: Final Frost
The Dresden Files was easily DEXCON 16’s most popular LARP, having filled up twenty minutes after the start of the convention (and then some). This was the fourth and final session of a chronicle that spanned two-and-a-half years of work, and to new and returning players alike, it was a satisfying end.
Further cleaning up the Fate system utilized, stakes were high and outright deadly. Afterwards, we were informed that the session was a stress test on the system, which is why players were being battered and wrecked left and right, but the events that transpired hit many people hard (some more than others). I have never cried for an hour straight as a character, but I did here, and the performances the STs put on were amazing and terrifying.
This one was easily the most immersive experience I’ve had in LARP so far, and despite the end of the story, the stories with the characters will continue in a brand new chronicle, coming to Dreamation 2014. If you’re at all a fan of urban fantasy, the Phoenix Outlaws most certainly have this particular one ready to go for many more years to come.
Nicolas Hornyak is a writer, poet, and prospective game designer from Scarsdale, N.Y. He currently studies Creative Writing and Playwriting/Screenwriting at Purchase College, and maintains a blog for various pieces of advice and articles about writing and gaming alike.