Five days after -and still reeling from- that Swedish Battlestar Galactica larp, it was time to try something completely different. But on a Friday night, after a long work week, three hours of total train rides to and from snow-covered La-Chaux-de-Fonds, having to book a hotel room as game finished after the last train, all this for four hours of game time, what was I thinking?
An offer I couldn’t refuse
- I think there aren’t enough murder mystery style larps publicly advertised in Switzerland (most of them are invite-only things organized among friends), so when some do get organized, they should be encouraged by quick sign-ups
- I was curious to see whether S.T.I.M. could deliver on a short, intense, plot-dense game. I was also dead scared they couldn’t (I had even more slow moments in their first steampunk game than at Celestra)
- I could play the same character as last time, hence re-use all the costume and craft work I put into it
- They had kept my two favorite factions of their setting, a regular anglo-steampunk one and a Venetian-lacepunk one. Meaning there would be masks and tricorns, and that alone half justifies my attendance at any larp.
- Game would be run in a bar open to the public, with regular customers asked to dress steampunk. Last time I played in public was in Vampire larps in San Francisco, so I was curious to see how this would fly in Switzerland
- If the game sucked, there was still the Ludesco gaming festival next door so I could retreat to a warm space with amazing craft beer and friendly gamers
- You only had to pay the small 10 CHF con fee, you’d get a glass of champagne, and you’d have to pay for your own drinks at the bar, meaning the game was dead cheap for non-drinkers
- What better way to get over post-larp blues than with… more larp?
Real life logistics
We met at the con site for pre-game briefing, and just like for every S.T.I.M. game it was fun to see lots of new (to me) faces among the 21 players. Different larp scene sure, but also complete noobs, including an older lady (not that common), showing that advertising larp through a family-oriented game festival worked. There were also people I had NPCed with at the last post-apocalyptic game. Always fun to see one of your former SWAT buddies now playing a smarmy priest, or not even recognizing a fellow mutant because she lost the pustules, changed hair color and gained 10 cm with heels. Spirits were high, briefing went well, and I was glad to see the organizers had gone easy on their usually gamist tendencies: this was going to be about roleplaying our PCs and their personal objectives, not necessarily solving a murder mystery or gathering stuff. We then moved to the bar and game started in confusingly progressive manner due to the absence of a loud “game on” signal.
The bar looked nice, with a badass stained glass light fixture, plenty of wood paneling and leather seating areas and geeky steampunk posters added for decoration. Of course, costumes and set looked nothing like the previous week’s visual orgasm, but for a cheap con game it was very nice. Main drawback was the sound level, regular for a Friday night in a bar, but too loud for roleplaying diplomatic stuff. Still, that could be managed, and we just yelled over the music during our super-secret meetings.
It was also pretty easy to ignore patrons who were not in costume or in character. Even though I’m a very visual larper, it does make you think about the need for 360° illusion. The main issue, which I heard about after the game, was that some male organizers and female players were harassed by some patrons. While this was dealt with and there was no physical assault, one should not have to be subjected to such behavior, larp or not larp. Especially as, thanks to the magic circle/alibi/whatever, larpers are used to safe environments, letting their guard down and exploring things both from a behavior and costume point of view. The playing-in-public was an idea from the gaming con organizers, with the goal to show larp to the general public. It is a worthy attempt, but obviously needs to come with a better system to ensure the safety of the players. Lesson learned.
The plot dammit!
Noces de plomb literally translates as “leaden wedding (anniversary)”. In French, lead is associated to 14th wedding anniversaries, but it here it obviously referred to bullets. After years of violent gang war, the heads of two mafia families, the Dockers Gang (anglo-steampunk) and the Free Cities Chain Mafia (venetian-lacepunk, always wearing masks) decided to make peace through the marriage of their offspring. The game started after the wedding, with a party held on Dockers territory. Their boss gave a speech but Don Zombaldini dropped dead halfway through his, in classic murdery mystery style. The rest of the evening was “what do we do now?”.
Some people of course wanted to know what happened, but many of us had other things to deal with. I was playing Llomand Crosley, the smuggler captain of the Luciole Sereine, the Zombaldini’s zeppelin. My character sheet was about two pages, mixing background from the previous game and adding new content. My goals for the night were:
- To receive my nobility title (roleplaying with the widow to the tune of “I get you nominated head of the clan instead of your son, you get me knighted” was so much fun)
- Destroy the alliance between the Dockers Gang and the Free Cities Chain Mafia (that worked quite well, I wasn’t the only one to be scared/pissed off to be in enemy territory with our boss dead)
- Get revenge against those who led Dockers raids against my zeppelin (it worked out in the end, though thanks to other characters)
- Finding out about James Cunnington, another dubious character (wasn’t too effective on that one, and suspected other people to be spies, not him)
So as you can see, even outside of mere survival of murder investigation, I had a lot of stuff to do without having to create any plot. And this was for a 4h-game, not 32h!
Of course, goals intermixed, and there was much more than that, nearly all resolved through discussion and a few mind-control style powers or skills. The final scene for example was a great product of criss-crossing plotlines and player initiatives. We decided to leave the Dockers territory with my zeppelin, with the Zombaldini of course and quite a few locals who wanted out. Zombaldini Junior had somehow been convinced by his father in law to commit suicide, but he wanted to take the old man out before shooting himself. So upon his signal we yelled the code phrase “Next round’s on me!” and walked to the door of the bar. Then everything happened really fast: the doctor I was supposed to convey was subdued by a crooked cop, one of my political allies stabbed the Zombaldini widow to death (he wanted more democratic ruling of the mafia, democracy is a common Swiss larp trope). So there were fewer passengers than expected in the zeppelin, but we were glad to escape the Dockers muscle (and stop that stupid alliance anyway). Zombaldini Junior did stay behind, shot his in-law to death and turned the (Nerf) machinegun against himself.
Noces de plomb was a lot of fun and confirmed that:
- Larping in public can work but means bringing extra security
- I love playing social characters. Playing Crosley was so much easier than playing Lightbulb, and enabled me to roleplay with everyone in a relaxed-at-first manner, while still keeping room for tension
- I prefer dense games with pre-loaded stuff to do rather than sandboxes
- S.T.IM. can totally deliver on short murdery mystery larps
- Swiss larp being built on secrecy, a few more information-sharing techniques would have been good (as I just came back from those weird Nordics, I shared like crazy, and it was fun, but better information flow could have kept the pacing faster for everyone)
- Whatever the setting, whatever the character, in a Swiss larp at least one person will start a democratic confederation
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