A few weeks ago, the fine folks that had brought us the first Swiss steampunk larp, returned with the Mad Max-inspired « T’as pas dix balles ?? » (« Can you spare ten [bucks or bullets is the same word in French] ?? »). I had originally hoped to fulfill one of my larp fantasies at this game: to experience a cheesy post-apocalyptic gang meetup with a drummer playing in the background for no apparent reason like in 1990: I guerrieri del Bronx (my other fantasy should be covered by this larp). Unfortunately player groups were already full, I couldn’t find my a decent mullet wig and the would-be drummer couldn’t make the trip. But I needed a larp fix for the fall season, and signed-up as NPC. This was actually my first time ever as NPC without being a organizer : I could finally get the chance to make somebody else’s vision come true, plus give fun to players without the stress of planning, prepping or cleaning the game site.
The game in an ammo shell
The plot was very simple : in a post-apocalyptic world, gangs of scroungers met at the Hotshot’s Vault, a safe haven nuclear shelter converted into a casino with all the amenities you could think of, including a hospital. Gang members used this neutral ground as a place to gamble, trade and relax. From Saturday morning to Sunday noon, strange technologies, drugs and and mutations were manufactured, all kinds of enemies were encountered and people eventually had to choose between humanity and mutation in the final battle. As for the steampunk larp, most players put a lot of effort in their costumes, nerf mods and the game sites were just amazing. The atomic bunker was the main indoor location, with several dorms, restrooms, a bar etc, while the outdoor, mostly fight scenes were run on a visually perfect firemen training ground.
The gameplay was very reminiscent of the Swiss Mordheim larp from three years ago, but on a larger scale. Competing teams, simple missions, battles, XP and equipment gains throughout the day, and a final battle at the end. The one difference with the standard American gamist style was that both games were one-shots instead of campaigns.
But I thought you liked plot and characters ?
This style of video- or boardgame-inspired larp, with loot, points, competition, detailed rulesets, skills lists and frequent out of character breaks is really not my style as a player. But it is what a large chunk of the S.T.I.M. player base wants, and the organizers did more than meet expectations. What was originally billed as a simple Nerf war was an actual larp : even though characters were player-created and one-dimensional, there were many good roleplaying scenes and the genre was nicely simulated. As you may know, one of my pet peeves in Switzerland is the amount of time spent out of character in certain games. But as a serial NPC, I knew well-ahead of the game that, by definition, I would be out of character for extended periods of time, and would find my fun somewhere else, as an organizer’s puppet or stage hand. As a player, I would also have hated the lengthy bookkeeping after each battles, the bickering about the rules etc, but as a « NPC only », the organizers completely took charge and spared me this aspect of the game.Therefore I could concentrate on playing characters and connecting with new acquaintances during lulls. There was a lot of crew, which was a good thing due to the tight scene schedule and turn-based nature of the game, something I’ve seen even in non-violent, more plot-oriented games.
Five shades of NPC
My standard, self-named NPC was Spike, a stupid guard who was mainly there to make sure gang members did not bring weapons into the shelter, or at least didn’t use them too openly. Because playing dumb cop gets tiring after a while, Spike later started to sample all the drugs (candy, weird liquor mixes) player characters would give him, both for comic relief and to give myself some roleplaying opportunities. The second one was a lion, which enabled one of those true WTF moments I hadn’t experienced since playing Soulstrip at Solmukohta. Part of the NPC briefing emails asked us to bring « animal costumes », even partial bits like cat’s ears or whatever, as there would be a « safari scene » where animals escape the compound and get shot by gangers looking for food and hide. Just reading this scene description in the NPC booklet promised there would be a ridiculous tone to parts of the game and this sort of comforted me in the fact that the week-end would not be only about XP and winning. So there I was, with three other guys, one dressed as a rabbit, one with the body of a penguin but as the penguin « hat » was lost, it was replaced with felt antlers with bells on. I was wearing the lion’s mask I once bought when I played Beast in a Fables-inspired larp, and a leopard zentai suit. At this point we were still waiting for the man-sized Totoro NPC to show up. The section of the bunker was off-limits to the players for now, and lit by professional-grade strobe lights. As the organizers were late to bring the players in, we chatted, and made fun of our looks: I was wearing my lion mask as a hat for ventilation, and its mane made the whole thing look like Tina Turner. Combined with the Mad Max theme, we started singing « Simply the best » and « We don’t need another hero », which merged into Bonnie Tyler. Singing Total eclipse of the heart in a strobe-lit nuclear bunker while dressed in a leopard zentai suit was a near death-by-laughter experience. The kicker was when the players arrived, they were so happy to shoot stuff that they didn’t even laugh at the costumes, the situation or anything. Strobe lite or not, being attacked by a 6-foot -tall high Totoro with a halberd should have drawn some chuckles, right ?
For the fat !
My other NPCs were basically opponents for fight-related outdoor missions : random humans bandits, which enabled more roleplay than with animals, some mutants who were a bit stupid and aggressive at first but later became potential allies, and the GRAAA (Groupe de Répression Armée Anti-Abri). The Anti-Shelter Armed Repression Group were well-equipped paramilitaries who were aware that the shelter’s doctor was scheming to create more mutants and wanted to stop it. Even though the GRAAA were the most serious NPCs (from looks to behavior to weapons), the French pronunciation of the abbreviation was homonymous with « gras », i.e. « fat ». So while some of the night assaults were visually impressive, hearing us charging to the battle cry of « Fat! Fat ! For the fat !» sort of lightened the mood. As I normally don’t play paintball and have never tried airsoft, the physicality of the fights was fun, including running around and crawling in riot gear. The last battle, with all players on the field, Calimacil tire irons in hand and darts flying left and right was a great moment. It was also the first time in 13 years of larp that the Sunday morning scenes didn’t suck. Not sure whether it was because we got a decent amount of sleep, a good breakfast with French toast, or just very well trained organizers, but it worked great !
Icing on the cake
There was great local media coverage, both on the radio and in print. This enabled pre-game security warnings to tell innocent passer-bys to relax if running into gangsters walking from the shelter to the firemen practice ground, and a kid on a Sunday stroll with his mother greatly appreciated the nice impromptu entertainment. It also enabled general public education about the fact that larp is not only about fantasy.
So all in all, “T’as pas dix balles??” was 30 hours of good clean fun with a nice expansion of personal horizons. Back to my usual style of larping in the coming weeks and months, with the GNiales in Paris, then a local larp meetup to schedule the 2013 game calendar, which will feature the official rebirth of Coryphée, the larp group famous for more plot and character-oriented games. Can’t wait!
More of my photos there.
Tags2013 burlesque convention critique défi XVIIIème english france français french gn gniales gnidee hip-hop huis clos jdr jeu de rôle jeu de rôle grandeur nature knudepunkt knutepunkt L'Exposition Extraordinaire d'Aven lacepunk larp larp critique le four fantastique live-action roleplaying murder party nordic larp nordic larp talks old news orc'idée paris podcast prop rap review roliste shadowrun sk2012 solmukohta steampunk stim suisse switzerland technocculte XVIIIème