LARPing is a huge hobby which covers a wide range of approaches to design and play. Generally speaking, particularly in its early days, the Cape Town LARP scene has a fairly specific flavour: these are generally three-hour modules in a single, atmospheric setting, with carefully-designed characters and complex plotting. While there is a write-your-own-character, whole-weekend style of LARPing present in South Africa, I and most of my co-designers have never had much to do with it. Our LARPs work on the assumption that players will accept the parameters of a character and play within them, since plot development depends on a certain degree of fidelity to the concept. This does not in any way prevent each running of a particular LARP from being wildly different from the one before.
LARPs as represented below are extremely carefully plotted and written, taking anything up to about six months to plan and write. Generally, design will include regular weekly meetings for several months, and a lot of note-taking; in all the LARPs listed below, I've done the actual writing, which in my experience is the only real way to nail all the continuity errors.
Chimera is a recurring three-person LARP design team comprising Philip Anastasiadis, Eckhard Gartz and myself. Chimera LARPs in particular can be considered to be advanced LARPs aimed at experienced players; character sheets are, on average, five or six pages long, and the plots are both complex and, at times, adult-themed.
This was our first go at LARP writing, idea by Dylan. It was a LARP written by beginner designers for beginner players - it's very simple, but there's enough in there to keep players busy and paranoid.
The Cold War is over. It’s 1988, and the first nuclear missiles of World War Three were launched six weeks ago. Inside Nevada’s Silver Creek air force base, nine people, the only survivors of a tactical nuclear strike, wait nervously in the bunker complex for word from the outside.
You’re a mismatched group: the attack drills failed, and most of the people who should have been in here were sealed outside by the automatic doors. Communication lines have been severed by a cave-in in part of the complex. The appropriate officers are missing, so the base’s single nuclear missile remains unfired; any orders to fire it obviously haven’t got through. There’s plenty of food, but the nuclear reactor which powers the complex is playing up.
The six weeks have passed slowly and uneventfully. Until yesterday, when the soldier arrived in an army jeep: a messenger from NASCOM (the national strategic command centre), but he has remained unconscious, and his message is unknown. Perhaps when he wakes up, all will become clear...
CharactersLieutenant Maria Djugashvili, the highest-ranking military officer present.
Corporal Elron Snyder, a Special Forces operative
Second Lieutenant Troy Corning, a middle-aged member of the base’s admin staff.
Dr. Elizabeth Tepper, a prominent aerodynamics researcher
Valerie Ford, a jeep mechanic attached to the base.
Clinton van Ellis, medic and technician
Cassandra Eckhard, a mousy electronics technician
Roland O’Shaughnessy, ace reporter for the Boston Herald
Victor Woo, the elderly Oriental janitor.
by Philip Anastasiadis, Dylan Craig, Jessica Tiffin, concept by Dylan Craig.
Everyone in South Africa has played Roxy. Well, maybe I exaggerate. But since its first appearance at Dragonfire 1995, we've run it almost annually in Cape Town, with more runs in Johannesburg and Durban. It's the first taste of LARPing to a lot of South African LARPers; the 30s Chicago gangster setting, with men in tuxes and hats, women all glitzy, is easy to relate to and damned good fun to dress. It tends to be the highest body-count LARP we run, too - all those guns...
You'd understand if you'da been there. Chicago was hot. Not like you think, but the streets were hot. Squirts like you don't know what it's like these days, with your fancy threads, your numbers routines and your petty dime-store peddlings. It was a rainy autumn, and Boss Frangioli's mob had just gone down. The Boss himself got scraped off the sidewalk after a little accident outside his house. Seems like he'd got hisself on the wrong side of the twenty or thirty pounds of dynamite under the hood of his old Hispano-Suiza sedan. That's how it was done those days - one slip, boom. Mobster spaghetti.
Anyways, what was left of his mob was rich for the pickins. But the other bosses weren't just gonna move in straight away. No, things were civilised back then. The two biggest bosses that was left was one of the old timers, old Boss Ciccone, and this new guy who'd been coming up fast, called Kramer. They set up a meet at this hotspot, the Roxy, which was a real sizzling club on 45th Street. We'd all been there a coupla times. Everybody knew it was a family establishment, if you know what I mean. Anyways, word was Ciccone was hosting a get-together to decide on the splits from the Frangioli thing, all civilised-like. So nobody would be steppin' on nobody else's toes when they moved in.
So, a bunch of Ciccone's fellas was to meet with Kramer and a bunch of his boys at this place. Everybody brought their girls along for a night on the town. And a real foxy bunch of chicks they were. In fact, now I think about it, everybody was pretty foxy those days. Hot times, kid, and we were hot people. The amount of things going on under the surface there, boy, you wouldn't believe it. It hadn't been long since the Groundhog Day raid, and folks was still pretty jumpy 'bout that. 'Sides, there was this poker game that had been brewing for a coupla months - pretty much everybody had been in it once or twice, and there was some grudges. Tonight was supposed to be the big game, settle it once 'n for all. Of course, rumours was goin' round that Ciccone himself was going to show up, and no-one had really seen him before. Cautious type - never showed his face.
So the "Closed - Private Party" signs went up at the Roxy that afternoon. But all over town we sat in the various dives we used to go those days, and tried to figure what would go down that night.
But kid, if you'd told me, I'd have never believed you.
Florida, Boss Ciccone's girl
Tony "Coatrack" Ferreira, Ciccone's lieutenant and front man
Luigi Ferreira, hitman.
Delores Ferreira, alias Delores Delicia, ex cabaret singer and wife of Luigi Ferreira
Jimmy "the Weasel" Ciccone, the boss's nephew
Daniella Gonzales, Jimmy the Weasel's moll
Jimmy "Twinkle" Ferroza, bodyguard
Jimmy "Red" Russo, hitman
Lucky Ginch, enforcer
Luigi "Yellow Dog" Lansky, enforcer
This was the first ever Chimera LARP, a Gothic-feel setting, perhaps 18th century, but without any historical reality: the effect is European, but multi-cultural. The political setup is designed to induce extreme paranoia, and the evening runs with an underlying sense of menace. This is increased by the setting, a disused barn in the forest, during a thunderstorm, with wolves outside. We tried the effect of not including character list on the character sheets, which works very nicely: beyond a certain point, the players do not know who is going to be present until the character actually arrives, which keeps players off balance. Hence the long list of "People of Importance": any of them could actually be present.
The year is 421 - that is, 421 years since the founding of the Wulfsberg dynasty of Lutania, marked by the ascension to the throne of Randolph I. It has been a harsh winter, and the country suffers not only under the winter storms and depradations of starving wolves, but from the heavy taxes imposed by Otto I, currently king of Lutania.
Otto was crowned some seven years ago, in 414, after much controversy. His half-brother, Prince Casimir, the elder son of their father, Randolph VI, is now in hiding after an unsuccessful bid for the throne. Otto persuaded both Church and nobles of his superior claim to the crown, on the grounds of the heresy charges brought against Casimir’s mother, Queen Alexia, in 389, shortly before Casimir’s birth. The death of Queen Alexia in childbirth that same year served only to prove to the Church the truth of the heresy claims, since her death was obviously a judgement from God. The beraved King lost little time in replacing his unfortunate wife; Otto is the only child of Randolph VI’s second wife, Queen Leonora, whom he married in 391.
Otto is not a benevolent ruler. Under his iron hand, the peasants and merchants are cruelly taxed, while the nobility grow fat vying for favour in the court. In the seven years since Otto’s coronation, a resistance movement has gathered momentum in the land, determined to overthrow Otto’s wolfish rule and reinstate the wronged Prince Casimir. Otto’s Secret Police, for all their fearsome reputation, have not managed to stamp out the largely peasant resistance, and the countryside mutters ominously as taxes are raised and the King’s soldiers ride out.
And with the winter comes a new threat - along with the starving wolves in the forest, fearful reports of werewolves abound, supernatural horrors who may change shape from wolf to man and, not content with killing sheep, seek human flesh. The Inquisition daily rants more furiously against these monsters, and the Inquisitors, armed with sacred silver and holy water, sniff around the villages.
It is a time of fear and secrecy, of desperate plans and secret plots. The Resistance and the Secret Police are the words on every lip; the Inquisition looms always in the background, alert for heresy and sorcery. The little village of Thistlewood, isolated amid its thick forests, is no exception. While the carelessness of the village’s lord, Sir Hugo Grenville, has reduced the crippling effect of taxes, it is well known that his overlord, the Conte de Guisard, is a trusted councillor and close friend of King Otto. Furthermore, there have been reports of werewolves in the area, prompting the arrival of an Inquisitor, Monsignor de Montescire, from the capital, Aurona. And, while none dare speak of it openly, it is well known that the Resistance are active in the village, meeting secretly in forest glades and lonely barns, made desperate by the winter and the taxes...
People Of Importance In The VillageAdeline, Gregor’s wife, the village midwife
General d’Alyre, a nobleman recently imprisoned for an attempt on de Guisard’s life - he was a supporter of Casimir
Bartholomew, Adeline’s brother, a merchant from Aurona who often passes through the village
Bruno, the innkeeper’s son, recently arrested, together with his father, by de Guisard, on charges of Resistance involvement.
Celia, the daughter of Cuthbert’s housekeeper, and Cuthbert’s ward
Father Cuthbert, the village priest
Gervase, the miller, the richest man in the village, although he’s getting old now and his son, Jerome, mostly runs the mill
Gregor, a farmer and part-time smith
Byron Grenville, Hugo’s younger brother, died tragically a few years ago - he was serving as de Guisard’s page at the time, and mistakenly drank poisoned wine meant for de Guisard.
Sir Hugo Grenville, the village squire - a careless overlord, drinks and gambles with his friends from Otto’s guard in Aurona, but does no real harm.
Dominic, Comte de Guisard, Grenville’s overlord, a notorious womaniser with a string of mistresses in Aurona
Isabelle, Contessa de Guisard, Lord Dominic’s wife
Jerome, the miller’s son
Judith, Bartholomew’s daughter
Lucas, the innkeeper
Marianne, Gregor’s daughter
Mathew, Gregor’s son, killed earlier this summer
Monsignor Ferdinand de Montescire, Inquisitor
Bernard Selwyn, Theodore Selwyn’s son, now employed on Gregor’s farm as a shepherd
Christina Selwyn, Bernard’s sister
Dr Theodore Selwyn, deceased. a reclusive intellectual who used to live in the village
Gilbert de Sainte-Claire, deceased, father of Isabelle de Guisard
Simon Smith, the village smith
People Of Importance In The CountryKing Otto I of Lutania
Prince Casimir, his exiled older half-brother
Queen Leonora, Otto’s mother
Otto’s Hound, head of the Red Wolves, the Secret Police
We list the influences on this one as "Mervyn Peake, the Addams Family, Blackadder, The Grotesque, James Thurber, P.G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, 1066 and all that, the Goon Show and CLAWroom scrabble." Don'tsay we didn't warn you. Character sheets are short and silly, card-operated abilities are rife and silly, and it has a Sinister Philatelist Sub-Plot and Evil Sex Twins. We need say no more, no??
It's official. After trade disagreements, exchange of insults, diplomatic incidents, isolated unrest, heavy fighting, siege engineering, forlorn hopes, treachery, and some fatal absent-mindedness* on the part of the Twelfth Vaporian Guard ("The Well-Intentioned"), Vapour has fallen. Its two deadly enemies, Spasm and Fugue, momentarily forget their own enmity as they smirk at each other over the smoking corpse of their foe. Celebration is in the air, as the leaders of the two victorious states gather to feast, swop war stories and gloat. The sleepy cathedral city of Banter tonight hosts King Quench and Queen Peninsula, soverigns of Spasm, and Count Lustre and Countess Silica of Fugue. They are attended by family, courtiers, functionaries, dignitaries, luminaries, necessaries, and mere hangers-on.
But wait! Where are the contents of the Vaporian treasury? Who is this heavily disguised individual, and how did they get in? Who is the best thief in the kingdom, and, more importantly, where are they tonight? What is the sinister significance of the polar bear plot?
As midnight approaches with the inexorability of - well, clockwork - all will be revealed ....
* "Oops. I think I just let the drawbridge down. Aaaargh!"
CharactersKing Quench and Queen Peninusla of Spasm; their son Prince Gyrate; their daughter Princess Daffodil; their niece Princess Anemone; Barracuda the chief of spies; Archbishop and Lady Frigate of Spasm; Chancellor Fetlock; Forester Plunge; Lord Patent Glyph, court magician; Mayoress Spume; Sir Spathe and Sir Spavin, knights of Spasm; Peake the Scholar; Hunch and Hale, notorious thieves.
Count Lustre and Countess Silica of Fugue; their children, Lord Yawn and Lady Slumber; Lady Sequin, the Count's mistress; Royal Promoter Mandible; Bodyguard Glue.
A slightly lighter note than Wolves: Sultan's Tear is a fantasy LARP in an Arabian Nights setting, and should bring players out in a rash of baggy trousers. The influence is more Ancient Persian than Arabic: we have left Islam out of the equation entirely, with any religious overtones being centred around the inscrutable workings of Kismet, or Fate. This is a fun LARP, although it is complex and has some highly serious elements.
For many generations, the great Sultanates of Qu’urash and Mirjhan have eyed each other uneasily across their mountain barrier. At times, trade caravans have moved between them, carrying spices and pearls from Mirjhan’s southern ports, the fine horses of the Jandaq nomads, jewels from Qu’urash’s mountains, and carpets and sandalwood from Qu’urash’s profitable trade with Hindustan and Persia. Between trading, the two Sultanates harry each other’s borders with raids and hurl their armies at each other’s throats. The peace has never been more than uneasy, and the young men of the kingdoms are bred as warriors, eager for battle. Thus far, no one Sultanate has gained the ascendant, for, if Qu’urash’s armies are larger, Mirjhan’s are better armed by Mirjhan’s famed weaponsmiths, and besides, are led by General Nazradeen, the most skilled tactician of his time. Mirjhan’s brigade of Nubian mameluks, attached to the Sultan’s household after a marriage with a Nubian princess several generations ago, are also fearsome fighters who have made some difference in the conflict.
But the balance of forces cannot last forever; one side must eventually fall. War breeds strong sons, but conflict, however traditional, is bad for trade. Even more worrying, both Sultan Nashir al Niam of Mirjhan and Sultan Sharif Abu Ali Khayam of Qu’urash are uneasily aware of the might of Bagdhad, separated from the Sultanates only by the Demon’s Breath Desert. The Caliph of Bagdhad, Haroun al Rashid, is a subtle man, greedy for power, and only in unity would the Sultanates be able to resist him. It is rumoured that he has frequent dealings with the Old Man of the Mountain, the head of the Assassins, whose agents are found in every kingdom, willing to arrange convenient deaths - at a price, and whose warning Golden Daggers appear to the most well-guarded victim.
Further unrest is caused by the attacks of the Torch of Kismet, the fearsome and shadowy group of religious fanatics who strike randomly and without warning across Qu’urash. None can predict where the Torch will strike next. They kill and burn victims without reason, for they believe that Kismet’s random death will pass over them as long as they are acting as agents of that death. Sultan Sharif’s army have proved powerless against these fanatics. Likewise, the armies of both Sultanates, distracted by the war, have failed against the continual bandit attacks on their trade caravans.
Two years ago, with all these matters in mind, the two Sultans proposed the marriage of their children; Princess Zariyah, daughter of Nashir, to Prince Selim, eldest son of Sultan Sharif. What with one thing and another - distrust, disagreement over trade concessions, the almost-rudeness of Prince Selim himself - the negotiations broke down, and no marriage ever came of it. Both kingdoms threw themselves once more into the fray with renewed zest and vigour. Then, five months ago, the greatest battle yet was fought. Thousands died on both sides, among them Prince Selim of Qu’urash. Prince Ghanim, heir to Mirjhan, was grievously wounded. Shaken, both Sultans called a halt to the fighting. Four months ago, Prince Hammal, Sharif’s second son, now his heir, travelled to Nashir’s court with a retinue, to propose the re-opening of the marriage negotiations, this time between himself and Princess Zariyah.
This time, there must be no failure. Both Sultans have done their utmost to be conciliatory. Preliminary negotiations are over; it remains only to finalise matters of the dowry and the trade concessions, and to solemnise the marriage itself. Princess Zariyah will be wearing the Sultan’s Tear, the great jewel of her house, which traditionally dowers the royal brides, returning to the Mirjhani treasury upon the death of the bride.
That there can be no fear of treachery, the two royal houses have agreed to meet at the Sultan’s Tear oasis on the edge of the mountains which divide Mirjhan and Qu’urash. The mountains are something of a problem for trade, as they are the home to bandits such as the legendary Shakash, the Tiger of the Desert. Some say the great sorcerer Zaman has his tower in an inaccessible pass. As caravans may skirt the mountains by going through the Sultan’s Tear, it remains a vital point on the trade route between the two kingdoms. The Sultan’s Tear has traditionally remained neutral territory, an area of truce around the water which both sides need. The oasis itself is associated with regret and conciliation - legends say it was named for a long-ago Sultan whose daughter fled with her lover, only to die in the desert. The Sultan, finding their bodies, allowed his tears of grief and remorse to fall upon the sands, and a spring of water rose up, creating the oasis. Perhaps this will be a good omen for the negotiations - a point much emphasised by Sultan Sharif, a man who sets great store by omens.
The oasis is neutral ground, but the negotiations themselves will take place in the tent of Nashir, who, as father to the bride, must extend hospitality. Such hospitality is itself the best safeguard against treachery; all who are accepted into the tent are sacred guests, and the honour of the host rests upon their remaining unharmed. Likewise, guests are bound to respect the compact of hospitality.
The retinues of both Sultans are large - although, by arrangement, they contain no soldiers beyond a few personal guards - and many tents have sprang up around the spring. A select group only will take part in the negotiations themselves, however, and Nashir’s great tent will be sealed, so that none may leave or enter until such time as the marriage has been celebrated. Both groups arrived the preceding day, but have not formally met. This will happen in the negotiation tent at midday, when the bride and groom - both of whom have been under the traditional vow of silence for the last week - are presented to each other.
There have been some unexpected presences at the oasis. An unfortunate merchant, battered by sandstorm, has trailed into the camp with his sadly diminished train of camels. A wandering holy man, a dervish of the desert, is also present. This is great good fortune, since it is well known that unexpected guests, particularly holy men, bring much good luck to a wedding. Both Khazib the merchant and the holy dervish Nur have been invited to be present in the negotiation tent, as their status demands. The other outsider present is the young noble Hakim Bey, an Ambassador from Bagdhad; both Sultans, whatever their reservations about the Caliph’s interest, have courteously agreed to his presence.
Much hinges on this marriage. While its power to unite the warring Sultanates in peace is vital, so too are the trade concessions which accompany it. There will be some hard bargaining this day...
MirjhanSultan Nashir al Niam
Su’uban, the Sultan’s half-sister, daughter of his father by a concubine
Prince Ghanim, the Sultan’s son - not present, as he has not fully recovered from his wounds, re-opened on a recent trip of state to Qu’urash
Princess Zariyah, Nashir’s only royal daughter, the bride
Dunyazad, Nashir’s daughter by a concubine
Captain Masrour, known as the Red Whirlwind, head of the palace guard
General Nazradeen, chief of the army
Councillor Jeerjis, Nashir’s chief advisor
Qu’urashSultan Sharif Abu Ali Khayam
Sultana Zubaydah, his wife
Prince Selim, killed in battle several months ago
Prince Hammal, Sharif’s heir, and the groom
Prince Ajib, Sharif’s younger son, with Sharif’s troops and not present.
Wazir Malik, Sharif’s brother and chief advisor
Captain Hassan, Sharif’s bodyguard
Yazeen, Zubaydah’s slave girl
Jhadima, Sharif’s only daughter (by a concubine), only 12 years old and not present.
OutsidersHakim Bey, Ambassador to the Caliphate of Bagdhad
Nur the Dervish, a holy man of Hindustan
Khazib the Merchant, a trader from Egypt
This LARP uses the Castle Falkenstein setting - a steampunk environment, where Victorian Europe is mixed with Faerie lords, dragons, dwarves, sorcerors and the Unseelie Court. The setting is highly Victorian, with the funeral gathering requiring the most correct behaviour. The Falkenstein style is generally swashbuckling and heroic, and Where There's A Will tries to exploit this: the LARP has no villains among the player characters, and thus operates rather differently to the usual conflict-based scenario. Reviews of this one have been mixed - some people love the slower pace and lack of serious confrontation, others hate it. It's certainly different.
It’s 1865, and Queen Victoria, God bless her, is on the Throne. Britain, Europe’s great industrial Power, is allied with Bayern and France. Prussia, another industrial Nation, is a powerful Military Force, its landfortresses poised to roll over the rest of Europe. France may be secure in the power of its mighty Verne Cannon, but little Bayern and the weak and decadent Austo-Hungarian Empire seem only too Vulnerable to Prussian attack. An attack which is as yet only a Possibility, for, while her industrial machines churn out yet more Weapons of War, Prussia makes no overt moves, and officially, is no-one’s enemy.
In Britain, there are Rifts within the Lute: while the official political Alliances are kept, Britain’s powerful Steam Lords are a law unto themselves, flirting with power-hungry Prussia. The Steam Lords are a Conglomeration of English nobles who have made fortunes in Britain’s Manufactories, and who work to establish an industrial Feudalism with themselves very much in power. England’s Poor, the unfortunates who labour in the Factories or live in poverty in the Slums, have no reason to thank the Steam Lords. Yet, despite their authoritarian rule, the Steam Lords have considerable Influence over Queen Victoria.
And, alas, the Queen lacks other support, being disappointed in the character of her Son and Heir, Prince Albert Edward; Bertie, as he is known, is a weak young man, interested only in Dissipation, his notorious Affaires a continual Embarassment to the Crown.
Britain’s correct and well-regulated Society gives little hint of these political Undercurrents. In Victoria’s Britain, Propriety is paramount, and Political Disagreements are not permitted to upset the polite Interactions of the Upper Classes. Not even the doings of the Sidhe lords, the Dragons or the secretive Sorcerous Orders have the power to ruffle the social Calm.
Political alliances may trouble Europe, but they seem very remote from the little Village of Tannadice and from McRath, the isolated Scottish Estate where the Relatives and Friends of the old Laird have gathered for his Funeral. An eccentric and a recluse, old Royston McRath; a wealthy man who exercised tyrannical Power over his Dependants, and whose Temper was legendary. Such behaviour has led to tragedy - both of Royston’s sons were killed in a feud with the Munroe clan, leaving only his Grandchildren to succeed him.
McRath died two days ago, a final Siezure ending three weeks spent upon his Deathbed. His Funeral this morning was attended by most of his Family, many of whom were gathered about him in his Illness. Even the Prussian branch of the family is represented. It is unfortunate that the late Lord McRath’s Sister is unable to be present, as she is in India with her Husband, an Officer in the British Army. However, both her children are here, as are the old lord’s Grandchildren, including Edwin, the new Lord McRath.
The Funeral over, the mourners return to the McRath Mansion, a large stone building built around the remains of a medieval Keep, and set amid the rolling Hills of the Highlands. Some Anxiety will certainly be evident among the gathered relatives as they partake of Tea in the Drawing-room before the Will is read...
CharactersLord Edwin McRath, the new laird, Royston’s grandson.
Elinor McRath, Edwin’s cousin and the old laird’s grand-daughter.
Uncle Alasdair McRath, a rather vague and eccentric old man, a cousin and close friend of the old laird’s.
Joscelyn Hamilton-Smythe, eldest daughter of the old laird’s sister. She is a scientist and inventor.
Captain Edward Hamilton-Smythe, another nephew of the old Laird, and Joscelyn’s younger brother. Ned is a dashing young Captain in the Horse Guards.
Amphelisia Maplethorpe, Dowager Duchess of Broome, an old friend of old Lord McRath’s; she is connected to the family through Royston’s wife, and is godmother to Elinor.
Colonel Siegfried von Ratz, a Prussian cousin and a highly-regarded military man.
Lady Letitia de Wilton. A longtime resident of McRath, she is generally known to have been old Lord McRath’s mistress.
Count Pashkov. A Russian aristocrat who was a longtime friend of Royston’s.
Mervyn Hawkshaw. The well-known London lawyer who administers the McRath estates.
Dr. Cameron Campbell, the young doctor who attended old Lord McRath’s deathbed.
Mademoiselle Giselle Renaud, Elinor’s French governess.
Thurston, the McRath family butler.
Christabel Murray, the parlourmaid.