My decade in LARP, 2010 – 2019

Warning: The following is probably only relavant if you are a fellow LARPer..

With the dawn of a new decade I’ve seen a few friends post about their last decade in both life and LARP, I posted my one about life a while ago on Facebook around New Year but my LARP one is a bit more complicated and I wanted to properly compose my thoughts so it became this blog post instead as I didn’t want to fill up my Facebook feed with it. All of the below are my personal experiences and shouldn’t be taken as anything else.

1989 – 2009

I first started LARPing back in 1989, I can still remember wearing my sisters nursing cowl, carrying a sword made of carrymat (with a bamboo pole at the core) and wrapped in gaffa tape walking around a boating lake in Nottingham late into Saturday nights/Sunday mornings. I moved from this to joining the Adventurers Guild (an early attempt at LARP organisation, remember kids this was the time before the internet) where as part of the welcome pack you got a list of LARP clubs in your area. It was from this where I found Starlore Adventures and had my first taste of both Laser-Tag and Sci-fi LARP in early 1992. Having bought my first car in January of that year I would go on to my first big LARP events across the country, Hunting Party in March, the first Dropzone in May, Convergence III and the first Gathering in August, I went to these games hardly knowing anyone. I look back and wonder how I did that then when its so much easier to talk and make connections these days, but I’m digressing.

My LARP’s in the 90’s were mainly focused on a combination of Laser-Tag/Sci-Fi and Dreamscape. I would run my first LARP as a GM in 1996, this would also turn into my first unfinished series of games that even now, over 20 years later, still rankles to a degree.

Moving into the mid 00’s I find myself wandering into other hobbies (early disenchantment?). Cosplay was becoming more of a thing (although I don’t think it was called Cosplay then) and after meeting them at a convention I got very heavily involved in Star Wars Costuming with the UK Garrison of the 501st. This takes over a large part of my life and I even sacrifice going to some LARP’s in preference of going to there events. It doesn’t end well though, as after a lot of infighting, sniping and overall politics I walk away in 2008 and have never returned, I made some good friends in that time and happily I’m still in contact with some of them.

The central theme of the 2009 Dropzone has aspects of time travel (I’m part of a team of Victorian big game hunters) and a chance conversation about costume after the game ends leads to me volunteering to run a game a year later, good job I’ve got something I’ve been working on.

Victorian Big Game Hunters with their latest trophy!  (Dropzone 2009)

This then leads us to 2010 and the last decade.

2010 Onwards

Highpoint of 2010 was Dropzone (the annual Laser-Tag Fest that takes place at the end of May) where I (with Pete and Rob Morton) run the first Goldrush game. This was a game set in the “Firefly” universe that I’d been writing on and off for the last couple of years and had initally been designed as a weekend long adventure but Andy Flood had convinced me to run it at Dropzone after the “Last Great Adventure” theme the previous year. The game seems to go down well and a series of follow-on weekend games are soon planned that will build on plot points introduced here (anyone remember the silver case?).

2011, the first Goldrush weekend game takes place, the whole thing is conceived as a series of five games, each one mostly standalone but always coming back to the overall arc of the story which would gradually increase as the games themselves progress.

2012 brings what was probably my worst ever LARP up to that point in March. Its hard to pin down why it was and charitably I think it was down to a failure of communication, the refs told us the inspiration behind the gameworld and we worked around that but as players we never really fitted anywhere and we ended up making up our own entertainment. It did give me a great memory though, I was playing a spaceship engineer (this was set in a Dan Dare/Ministry of Space gameworld) and my good friend, the late Mik Reid (playing a scientist) had spent all night building his ‘death ray’ out of spare parts in an out of the way room and I remember walking in and seeing how proud he was of his creation and I then pointed out it was too wide for the door and the look of shock on his face as he realised was priceless.

Mik is still very much missed, the sad thing is he went into hospital a month after I came out in 2016 and his last message to me was passing condolences regarding my Fathers passing.

The LARP might not have been up to much but it helped having friends around  (Rockets, Rayguns and Really Nice Tea)

2012 also gave us another Goldrush, the plot advances! It is also the 20th anniversary of Dropzone and, at the time, there was only 6 of us who had been to every one since 1992!

The Dropzone “6” with their long service medals awarded after the Star Wars themed game is over (the very first Dropzone had a Star Wars theme also)  (Dropzone 2012)

2013 was the middle Goldrush event and major chunks of plot are revealed, I can still see players faces as their jaws drop as events that had happened on the previous two games suddenly make sense. This year also marks the first time I go to Consequences and experience Freeform LARP and also the first time I experience being ‘cast’ into a character as opposed to creating my own. I will admit that being ‘cast’ is still a relatively alien experience but I can see the advantages of the process when it comes to writing and structuring LARP’s.

2014, Apart from another Goldrush I get to play out another childhood fantasy by playing a Blakes 7 LARP where my character is a computer expert, wrongly convicted of crimes but absolutely isn’t the one you’re thinking of.

2015 Brings the end of Goldrush and I exorcise the ghosts of all those unfinished stories, from Awakenings to The Xeros Strategy and a couple of others, Goldrush: The Rubicon Conspiracy is complete! In the hyperbole of the aftermath, I declare that Goldrush would return, hindsight and all that. A month or so later I would write a retrospective of Goldrush which compiled some of the thoughts and ideas that went into the overall design which you can read here. We also get to play another Blakes7 game and this time some of us replicas of the Liberator blasters!

2016 February brings my first weekend freeform game and it’s based on various westerns (I was playing The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford from the film)). Not long after this is the cruise I’ve mentioned in Facebook in the past where afterwards I then spend a month in hospital and then take two months off work in recovery after that, consequently I have to miss Dropzone for the first time since the event started back in 1992. My LARPing is also severely curtailed this year, I think I only made one other game after coming out of hospital and then not all of it (I got there during the Saturday day), the first “Fallen Days” at Candleston.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  (Once Upon a Time in Tombstone)

2017 brings not one but two Goldrush LARPs featuring an all new story and cast of characters! However, all is not well this time round, there are major problems with player dropouts ahead of the game but the event scrapes through. The second part of this trilogy of games happens later in the year and has even less players (just 9) and the story comes to a rushed and premature conclusion. This is a bit of a kicker as it’s probably the worst thing for a writer of LARP’s when no-one wants to play your games. Looking back this is almost certainly where my antipathy/disenchantment with the hobby starts. I would write another retrospective except this time on the failure of Goldrush and if interested you can read that here.

2018 and I attend my first new system in a long time, “Humanity Ascendant”, the LARP uses Laser-Tag (a different system) and is set in a post apocalyptic world, I attend with a couple of friends and have a great time. I don’t really enjoy Dropzone but it’s a good social as its one of the few events a year that everyone tries to get to. The year ends with me attending “Returned”, a one off larp run at an indoor site in Birmingham, another scifi LARP and if I’m honest isn’t too dissimilar to stuff I’ve played/run before but its fun and I have a good time. I resolve to make 2019 the year I rediscover my love of LARP, the year ends with me signing up to my first international LARP. You may have heard of it, it was called Odysseus..

(Strictly speaking it’s not my first international LARP, that was when a bunch of us went to Seattle in September 2001 and played Laser-Tag with a bunch of Americans, I flew home and landed the morning of the 11th)

2019 and my first LARP of the year is Babylon 5 by Starlore Adventures (yes, that Starlore from all those years ago). This is also the first LARP I think I have ever walked off from (I would probably have walked off the one in 2012 but that was in Blackburn and this one was in Leicester and only 30 minutes drive home). I wasn’t the first to leave early and I wasn’t the last. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why, they are many and varied and there’s enough negativity out there already. Other people have written their thoughts and I can’t disagree with any of the points they raise. A lot went on behind the scenes in the months before the game, that looking back I should have seen what was coming. I tried to help and offered assistance but it felt like I’d thrown someone a life preserver who was drowning in the water and they were complaining about the colour. Whatever others may say, I really wanted the LARP to succeed, the whole thing really did leave quite the taste in the mouth. I also now have my own “do not play with” list after the actions of some players on that game, this makes me incredibly sad.

You then add in the row I get into at Dropzone in May with the lead GM of Starlore and I really do wonder why I’m doing this at all. It doesn’t help when issues that are over 20 years old (that I genuinely thought were long resolved) get dragged up and are then thrown back in my face. It also doesn’t help that I really don’t enjoy Dropzone either to the degree where I was quite seriously looking to go home on the Sunday.

Odysseus is rapidly approaching and I’m really in the doldrums about it, a week before the event I’m thinking quite seriously of dropping out, it’s Nick Reynolds who convinces me to go. If you’re a long term reader then you’ll know I had an amazing time at the very best LARP I’ve ever attended, I’ll be elaborating more on that during the presentation at the (when you read this) upcoming TagCon 2020.

So 2020 beckons and what are my LARP plans?

  • TagCon 2020, giving a presentation about both the High Frontier universe and giving one about Odysseus with Nick Reynolds.
  • The Goodman Protocol, the first LARP I’ve written and will also GM for several years
  • Solmutohka, the annual LARP design conference being held in Finland
  • Mission Together, another European LARP, sci-fi again but this time I’m flying to Spain.
  • Humanity Ascendant, I’ve enjoyed crewing the LARPs previously and hopefully going again

I’m hoping to do some other stuff, I’m just not sure what yet!

Notice there’s no mention of Dropzone, and as I write this I’m very undecided about this years event for various reasons but mostly stemming from last years.

So there we are, LARPing in 4 different decades! In closing I can’t thank the GM’s, crew and fellow players of Odysseus (particularly my fellow marines, #AlphaAlways) enough for showing me what was possible and for restoring my faith in what I still believe is the greatest hobby in the world.

Apologies for the huge post but thanks for reading if indeed you still are.

Marine Team Alpha, ESS Odysseus  (Odysseus)