We were invited to Colony Wars Larp, to join up with a band of colonial marines. So Stuart and I travelled to a venue running alongside Stansted airport runway to find out more. What we encountered were colonial marines, morally ambiguous synthetics, apes and giant spiders. It was a good larp.
Of course a good larp, doesn’t say much. So what do I mean.
Aliens hints a large number if surveyed worlds, terraforming projects and drops by marines. Couple this with the strong 80’s vibe that permeates the Aliens universe, the existence of the Engineers, and Predators and we have a rich mythos that is lightly explored on screen. This is what Colony Wars tapped into – quite successfully.
Of course one universe is never enough. So for this event the feel and attitude of the Apes from Planet of the Apes is also added. Interestingly the more thoughtful Apes and gung-ho marines made an interesting combination. Also when I say Planet of the Apes this is not a literal taking from the movie. The humanoid apes are there. This variation saw a shamanistic religion being developed by the Ape players. Which is great – just the sort of thing Weyland-Yutani likes exploiting.
Ok so that’s the vibe –
What about the game itself ?
First of all – I loved the Ape masks. These were all specially created for this event and were very comfortable to wear. Instead of having latex in contact with skin, we had the inside of a motorcycle balaclava. Great idea as this a fair more breathable and friendly material. It meant that the masks could be worn all day, which definitely aided immersion.
Next up I’ve got to shout out the guys playing marines. Great combat gear and also a superb level of Nerf modification. My favourite had to be the M41A Pulse Rifle, Made from 3D printed parts mounted over a nerf chassis this really looked and felt the part.
Also the marines and Weyland-Yutani (insert expletive here) staff, put together a great camp with cooking on an open fire. There was a kind of Vietnam feel here and that to me that hit the mark.
The rules themselves were minimal. There were safety considerations and it the outcomes of combat and technology use were quickly apparent. The device of having one of the game refs play a synthetic really helped glue things together.
An aspect to this game that really stood out was the use puppeteering. It worked like this. In game there were creatures (face huggers and giant spiders) that the players encountered. The actions of these were controlled by a puppeteer who wore black. The idea was that players would focus on the beastie and not on the crew member. This worked supremely well. The players role-played keeping their focus on the creatures and ignored the crew. Speaking to them later it looks as if they were genuinely only observing the puppets.
Oddly during my time playing a spider I found myself remembering and channelling the amazing spiders from Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time. Brilliant book and seriously recommended.
Colony Wars is a great example of what a small larp can achieve. Good plot, well organised but above all run with the players very much in mind. This was a first class event.
My final view is that of the players and organisers. Fantastic people. Very friendly and I can’t thank them enough for asking us in.
Apes like to think
We need more coffee
My beret is looking good
Scientist – knowledge is a burden
What comes next marine
Dance like an alien
The Apes need to discuss things
Time to mvoe
How dud we get into this
Marine Corps Media
Xenomorph Jazz hands
Still getting out of here
Predator – you can’t see me
Apes around the fire
Don’t worry he’ll be fine
Marines let think about this
Which predator wears a mask like this
The marines are getting whistful
Something Furry in the wood
Mad scientists make mutatnts
The Alien says it this was big
Its a wood, what could go wornf
Rocking this forest
The Apes an Aliens have a relationship
Time to make a call
Elite Marine Sitting down
The Facehugger wanted to be friends
Stuarts Xemomorph interview
Apes and Marines
The Ape Shaman
Will there be more?
At the end of the game the organisers said no more. This was the last. I later saw the words never say never crop up online. So this is why no link to the organisers. At least no until they say they want to more. Should that happen I’ll be more than happy to report back to you.
Balrog as its affectionately known is older than it looks and was played years ago well ok before the year 2000. That makes it more than half the age of the hobby. So in LARP terms – Long Ago.
It then went through a period of Hiatus but was restarted in 2005. Balrogs original creator and group of LARPers who decided that the Gathering (UKs Biggest Fest LARP), was just not for them. The reasons where varied but all boiled down to the fact that they wanted a game on August Bank holiday. A game that had scope and a lot of plot. A game that could expand. That brought Balrog back into life.
The system is focussed on playing high fantasy. The basics are straightforward enough to follow and character creation is straight forward. In play the calls follow a common sense logic – so even if you’re no familiar with Balrog you can still pick up the game and get into it. This doesn’t mean to say the rules are lightweight. There is enough depth in them for anything – its just that common usage is easy.
A favourite inclusion is that weapons and armour can become damaged. This means quieter periods are often full of in character repairs and patching going on. So if you are in a slow part of the game you are going to wonder – have you missed something and also can I repair my kit before the next big thing happens.
The world is Yarm and Yarm is shaped like a doughnut. During an event this generally doesn’t matter but between games – this topology can make for some interesting travel plans. Yarm does not exist in isolation. Yarm exists as part of a connected multi-verse of worlds and travel between them is possible and does have an impact of the plot. You don’t have to understand all of the cosmology. Just that other places exist. People and things do travel to Yarm and nothing can be assumed to be what it is.
Like many fantasy world Yarm is full of races. Whilst you get the usual scattering of elves etc there are also all kinds of beast-men. Of the non human races my favourites are probably the icemen- proud, fierce, troublesome and blue (btw never call one a smurf!).
The plots are always deadly serious. The style is fun. The awesome ref team and the players themselves all want to have fun. So whilst the plots are big, world threatening and on a scale that really needs campaign play there is also an injection of humour. Making for game that has both moments of fear and also crazy laugher.
I mentioned campaign just now and that is critical. Balrog games are critical moments in a larger scheme of things. They are parts of a story that has been played in LARP over a period of years. The campaign also reaches beyond the event into an annual PBEM (play by email). Although being part of the play by email campaign is not essential or mandatory it is beneficial. Its used to flesh out the detail of what happens between events. It contains opportunity for character growth and for perhaps developing the play style for your character.
PBEM is also used to help acclimatise new players. Joining an ongoing game that has been going for a long time can be daunting. This method of allowing character interaction and conversation before a game means that characters have relationships before the players ever meet up in person . That is a huge boon.
Unlike some systems Balrog does not play often. There is a single 4 day event every year. Currently this played at Barnswood Scout Camp near Leek in Staffordshire.
How To Get in Touch
Balrog maintains its own website and Facebook group. You can find these at:
As part of the last LARPBook podcast (Audio / Video) we chatted about the idea that a LARP could be created that could be played on a global basis. I thought it might be a good idea to put down some of those ideas here – just to see how the idea worked when read by others.
The idea is simple. A single LARP campaign but played out via multiple venues worldwide and on the Internet via social media. The story would follow an event that engulfed the world. My initial thought here would be to follow an unfolding global catastrophe as it happened. From there the world view would evolve and an ongoing game would be created.
Here’s how it may work.
The first live game would take a place on a set day. However thanks to time-zones and the international date line this won’t be simultaneous everywhere. The live games would start in the South Pacific (say New Zealand) and then follow the sun so the game would go to Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa and finally into the Americas. This means that results or information from the earlier games can feedback into later games. Not everything – as that is unrealistic; but perhaps enough to make the game feel random enough to be a living and real thing.
The Off-Live game would take place on the Internet. It would take place via Social Media. There would be Twitter hash tags; Facebook pages, Websites, YouTube Channels and websites. All of these things would need updating. A lot of this would be from people playing On Line only. This is the idea behind Off-Live. Not in a LARP but working with the results from a Larp, feeding information into a larp and just plain playing online with the plot. This is where characters can be established that will be played live at a later date. It is a form of Play By Mail that happens to run concurrently with live games.
Something this big would need to be Federated. That is a see a central control centre bringing it all together but I see regional and local groups building their own games in their own way. That’s the federated aspect. Local control but being part of a much larger whole.
That brings me onto the rules. The online game would need a set of guidelines to keep things fair and within reasonable guidelines. The live games though would only need to send in results. They need to send in plot and the status of characters. This means that local games can run under existing local rule-sets. This would help players transition into the new game. The only issue is would be if players moved between games – that is geographically travelled from one game group to another. Under a game like this that is reasonable. Strong methods and guidelines for this would need to be established.
After rules come organisation. We would need an organisation made up of experienced players and games organisers from around the world to make this work. It would need funding – and my best guess would be some form of crowd-funding and potential players paying a subscription to help get their games off the ground (which I also a form of crowd funding). However this is where creating an experienced team would help. There are a lot of practical considerations that need to be addressed for a game like this – and that’s why it would need an International team would be essential.
Finally I’m coming to story. Perhaps the most important part of such a game. I mentioned earlier that perhaps it should be a global catastrophe, and that is appealing. Thinking more abstractly the story would need to be global in scope (stressed again as that is essential). It would need to offer something to players from different cultures and larping cultures. Perhaps most importantly it would need to have the ability to grow and morph under a very large number of influences. My feeling is that the base idea needs to be very simple. Yet also thought out well enough to cope with change.
That’s the idea. It is a big one. I don’t believe it is impossible. It would need strong leadership.
What happens next? I am not sure. I like it and I know I would need a lot of help of to get this started, If there is feedback to this post – we can work from there.
In a recent episode of the LARPBook podcast we were asked to help a listener who on running low on podcasts to listen to was concerned that that he / she may have to interact with people on a regular journey of several hours long. As you can imagine the podcast produced some ideas that were as usual – interesting.
Then it struck me that a lone larper on a journey could be in fact be playing a larp. The number of players would be somewhat limited, well 1. However the number of NPCs is a potentially large number since it is everyone around you.
Of course you cannot pull our your trusty larp weapon of choice on public transport. That kind of thing is frowned upon – although likely to get you on the evening news. Instead these mini games are all played out mostly in your head. Though both have ways of including some action.
1 – Rise of The Zombies
You put your mobile phone down. You’ve just read the terrible news that a deadly infection is sweeping the nation. People are catching it and dying in a matter of a scant few hours. Moments after dying they are rising again as insatiable man eating undead monsters. More updates are sure to come but what do you do in the here and now?
Which of your fellow travellers looks a bit ‘peaky’
Are you sure you understand the symptoms any way
Do you have exit routes
Do you have weapons
What if you destination is full of zombies
Could you deal with any of your fellow travellers if they turned?
Sat in your bus / train / plane just what can you do? Should you text or Facebook for help? Should you think about preparing weapons? How do you get off without being bitten or worse eaten? Who are the biggest threats to you? Its time to think about surviving the opening few hours of the Zombie apocalypse.
This game has a possible two or multi player component – if you have one or more larping friends available there is no reason why should not larp by phone. Use text messaging and social media updates to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation and figure plans to get you from out of where you are to somewhere safe.
2- The Dead Drop
You are a spy. An international person of mystery and you are carrying a secret. Opposing terrorist organisations are onto you and they have already hacked your phone. Not to worry – you threw that left that behind. So for the moment you are a little safer. They won’t do anything against you that is obvious – not on public transport.
You’re sure your people know where you are and wondering how to help you. You need to get a message to them and that means a dead drop. Working with whatever you have on your person you need to create a coded message that can be left at at an appropriate place when you reach your destination. The message needs to be short, to the point and decodable It needs to contain a time and place for your collection and bringing in to happen.
Once you have the message its time to think tactically. Are any of your fellow passengers likely to be agents? If they are how do you evade them on departure. Also how do you evade being tailed when you get off the transport and onto your feet.
Work out how to do this, make your way to dead drop and plant your message!
Lets start by saying what this is – it is the skeleton outline of a LARP game that should run for 3 – 4 hours long. It is flexible, it is adaptable. However what this is not a is a complete play plan – details are left open to allow for different styles of interpretation or implementation. This should help you out should you choose to adapt it to your own use.
The Base Premise
When it comes to the matter of death and the afterlife no religion has it entirely right. Also no religion has it entirely wrong. The premise of the game is that the afterlife exists and there are various gods, heavens and hells all of which exist independently. On death – depending on belief a soul will travel to the appropriate heaven or hell, enter limbo or be reincarnated. The problem is that there a lot of people who do not have a clearly defined destination. To cope with this a sort of clearing house system has evolved. On death if a soul needs to be judged it goes to the clearing house. Judgement is decided by an Adjudicator (who typically looks a little bit like the ancient Egyptian god Anubis and two assessors – one to fight for the case for good in people and one to point out the evil. They are in competition with each other and both want to get the largest number of souls possible to their side of the afterlife. Most of the game takes the place of a trial. The name “The Weighing of the Heart” comes from the ceremony said to be conducted by Anubis which determined if someone was suitable for the afterlife.
This game suits itself to indoor play. However it has been run with some of the characters starting outside. If this done then it is recommended that the game is played at night in a remote or seemingly remote locations.
Angels and Demons
Also known as those that act for light and dark, good and evil. Angels try to remain out of sight but act in the clearing house to make sure that there is a level playing field. This usually means they act to give the characters in the game a means of defending themselves from Demons.
Demons on the other hand take a different approach. They attempt to kidnap souls to their domains and they are not too fussy on who they take.
Generally neither demons or angels interrupt the trials of the souls. Though in exceptional circumstances it is possible for a demon to attempt this. There would probably be consequences for its master – but that is a separate issue. What does matter is this – when a soul is taken by demon its body can be reanimated by the demon. Possession will take place. Again something for a later event perhaps. Once the game starts though the player characters can be made aware of the consequences of possession. Giving them a common foe to fight against.
Creating Player Characters
The Weighing of the Heart does not take place in a physical location. It is place occupied by souls beyond our physical plane. The upshot of this is that characters can be drawn from any background. The downside is that this can be confusing for players trying to create characters. It would be a good idea for refs to generate the characters (preferably with plenty of opportunity for inter-character conflict). If you’re using player generated characters then it is a good idea to create a common hook that will guide players.
I’ve found one that helps is “You can play want you need but give me some background notes about your family and relationships as this game is based on relationships”
Starting Point – The Player Characters
For the PCs the game starts moments after the death of their character. For each PC the game starts with the last moments of life being played out, and then they realise their surroundings have changed.
Starting The Game
The game starts with the player characters reliving their last moment. I’d recommend giving the players some time to settle in and get to know each other. From this point you can go one of two ways.
We now need a period for the characters to get to know each other. Any bonds forged now will become important later in the game. One solution is to split the characters into 2 groups (A and B). Group A is locked in an enclosed space with nothing but their own company to content with. Group B and placed in a larger area (outside). Both places represent limbo before trial. Group B are pursued by demons looking for newly released soul to capture. Eventually the situation of both groups converges on where the trail of their souls will take place,
The Living Won’t Leave the Dead Alone
We often don’t let the dead go peaceably. It is reasonable that their may be attempts to stop death or get around by those the characters have left behind. This includes attempts at resuscitation at one of the scale to attempts to talk to the soul at the other. An upshot of this might be that during the “bonding” phase dead characters have communications from the other side or temporarily see their rescuers before “relapsing” into death.
The Trial of Your Life
This is the point on the game where the assessors and the adjudicator enter. The playing of these characters is critical to the game – so spend time figuring out how you want these 3 to interact and play. Their goals are
Adjudicator: The dead must go to the right place. The adjudicator has 4 options – “Heaven”, “Hell”, reincarnation, miraculous return to life.
The White Assessor: Find people with a good heart and make sure that they end up in “Heaven”
The Dark Assessor: By any means fair or foul get as many souls to “Hell”
These 3 characters will now do what they need to force a trial. Each character will judged for life decisions and actions. The assessors will make statements about the character and ask questions that will prove the characters inclinations.
During the process the characters are able to defend themselves and this is where the meat of the role-playing is. Given the circumstances – what would you say to save your soul?
During the trial both the Adjudicator and the assessors will use the other players as a jury of sorts.They will ask if they believe the character being judged, and use the jury to but pressure on the character in the spotlight.
At the end of each trial the Adjudicator will ask the jury what they think should be done with the character and may or may not follow the advice of the “jury”.
Once a judgement is given that character is taken out of the game – either consensually or by force.
The trial continues until all the characters have met their fate.
The game then ends.
For You The Game is Over
One of the problems with this game is that characters tried early leave their player with nothing to do. Fortunately there is a way around this. The Adjudicator will want to maintain a jury pool that is a similar size. To make up for the natural loss of people being sent to their fate he will summon previously judged souls to make up for the loss.
When a player is removed from the game they are not taken out of play. They are instead taken to a prep area where they are issued a new character and costume and briefed on their new role as a judged soul being called for “jury service”.
You should pre-build all the additional jury member characters with a view to pushing the mood of the game the way you want it to go and also with consideration for your players to ensure that they will get something they can play. Its also a good idea to build more characters than you need – that way you have some flexibility to help account for changes in how the game is going.
The weighing of the heart is a talkative game. It can be played in a number of different styles. The only thing I would remind you at this stage is that if you run a version of it remember that it depends on a key part of religion to work – so try and make sure you don’t insult any of your players beliefs – or at least give them an idea of what they are in for if that seems suitable.
This is published under a creative commons licence and you are free to use and adjust as necessary. If you do use it – then it would be fantastic to hear about your version.
This is a pre-release interview with the creators of Treasure Trapped – a film about Larp with an imminent release. Its a timely interview with good information and a good starting point if you want to start thinking about Larp with fresh eyes, I didn’t republish this article – as tempting as it was, since I really wanted you to read this one in its place of origin.
Next up is something for readers from America – or anyone who wants to learn more about Larp in the USA.
This is a reincarnation of a previous Wiki and it looks as if this one is looking to expand and needs editors. If you think you can help you should get in touch. Otherwise its a resource to be used and enjoyed.
The third and final link is Larps from the Factory
This site contains material from the Larp Factory Book and is a collection of Larps and resources. It is nothing less than a collection of Nordic Larps and help to run and play them. You can buy the full book here, but even if you’re not sure about that its a great place to learn about playing and writing a nordic larp. If you do buy the book they also have a scheme for you help a Larper living in a country where the book is completely unaffordable to get a copy.
That’s it 3 Larps – people thinking about larps, creating encyclopaedia of larps and of course some games in there own right. 3 ways for you to get new Larp content.
Between March and November this year UK cities will play host to the 2,8 hours later. This is an App directed LARP event where players face zombies at night in the streets of major cities. The game ran successfully last year. It is now back for a second year of zombie chasing terror.
Players represent groups of individuals trying to find essential supplies. Standing in their way are actors made up as zombies. Intent on marking their victims with a UV spray to show the passage of infection.
This is effectively a quest and chase game. it contains a storyline, players, monsters and ruleset. Effectively it is a LARP. But it is a Larp dressed up in a way to appeal to a mass audience. This is unusual. In the UK at least LARP is not seen as an activity with a popular following. Yet this use of tropes, publicity and technology does show something that all Larpers have long suspected. People like larp if its presented to them in a way they can easily assimilate. I don’t know if this game will mean more Larpers in the UK. Perhaps though more people will accept Larp when they discover it.
Interestingly the game has been well received in the local press – take a look at this
Meanwhile the first infected city is Cardiff (where I think the trailer was shot).