To Another World - My Experience at Armistice Arcane, a Blockbuster LARP in New Orleans

Armistice Arcane is a high-immersion, rules-light larp set in 1890’s America produced by Peculiar Crossroads Productions held at Le Pavillon Hotel in New Orleans. Photos, unless otherwise noted, are by Alicia Nicole Trisciuzzi and I used this website to make them look old-timey! Thanks to Daniel Tan and Michael Kollen who edited this article.

 

Blockbuster LARPs have exploded since I started larping in 2014. This year alone boasts over six blockbusters scheduled across the country. For those unfamiliar with the term, LarpWiki defines a blockbuster LARP as

“a large, high-budget, high-profile larp which attracts international players and media attention.”

Blockbuster LARPs are still growing and organizers are still resolving questions including finding fair pricing, or if they are replacing local campaign games. I’ve found that people who have not attended a blockbuster are often hesitant to commit or suspicious that the experience may not be worth their money. Making the jump from $50 a month to $550+ for one weekend with little to no public reviews and information is difficult. Having been to a few blockbusters, I hope to shed more light on what I got from my time and money at Armistice Arcane.

I decided to use Youtuber LarpAnalysis’ system for “reviewing” LARP events. You can find his channel HERE. He also has an in depth video that explores the lore of Armistice Arcane.

Mechanics/Rules:

Before attending my first low mechanics (or what some might describe as Nordic or Nordic inspired) LARP, I was pretty confused about what exactly the game play would look like. Even after watching Youtube videos and reading articles about similar games, I still just didn’t get it. Coming from a NERO-inspired boffer larp, I had a hard time believing players would willingly accept a negative effect on their character for the purpose of good story. Armistice Arcane showed me how a simple set of well designed mechanics and high expectations of players could work together to build a collaborative story.

Armistice Arcane was a very rules light game. The only real “mechanic” was something the designers called, “open mediation and narrative decision making”, which is a fancy way of saying, every action in the game against a character must be consented to. So while character death and defeats were prevalent, none of them happened without the express consent of the “losing” player. This is the first time I really understood the phrase “play to lose”.

Here is just one of the many ways this played out: My character had the magical ability to sway and manipulate people’s emotions. At one point I was speaking with a character who was reticent towards me. While we chatted about mundane in-game things, I leaned forward and said, “if you consent, you feel very safe around me and that you can trust me.” That player then went on to reveal a few trivial secrets through the course of our conversation. It was a fun RP moment for both of us and there was no arguing about whether or not the effect happened. I am confident it was knowing that you had ultimate control over how magic affected your game that gave players a chance to be vulnerable to it.

I also loved the “no closed door” policy. I’m not sure if it was a mechanic per se, but it had a huge effect on how the game worked. The policy mandated that meetings must be held where other players could easily come across them. Therefore, plot wasn’t concentrated into the hands of a few high-ranking characters. In my past larp experience, players were reluctant to share their hard earned secrets and as a result, new players had a difficult time participating. “No closed door” made sure that this mistake wasn’t replicated at Armistice Arcane.  

Since the game was so “rules-light” the few in place were more in regards to safety and good community building and I will discuss those in the “Safety” section.

Lastly I want to discuss the expectations of the players. AFrom the first moment at Armistice, I was impressed by how professional the organizational team was and how they expected the same level of professionalism and maturity from their player base. Even at the best larps there are issues, but I couldn’t believe how few I witnessed at Armistice. For the most part, players accepted negative effects with grace and acted so well that the hotel actually offered a good deal for us to come back. I really believe treating your players with respect and showing them the same level can go miles towards building a thriving community.

One more thing I forgot to mention: The organizers also set up an escape room located in a fancy suite in the hotel. Throughout the weekend players were encouraged to attend with different factions to solve the room for pieces of in-game information. I attended one of these sessions and it remained completely in-character. This experience was completely optional and a cool bonus activity, as well as a way to meet players you wouldn’t normally interact with.

Atmosphere

For me there are three different elements that go into creating the atmosphere of a larp: the environment, the themes, and the quality of costuming.

Environment: The event was held at Le Pavillon hotel in New Orleans and WOW, was it beautiful. While there were elements of the game that were not in decorum (plastic cups, exit signs, and other modern items) they never distracted me from being immersed. Most of the players were staying on the 2nd floor, and we had full access to the conference rooms on this floor so we didn’t have non-player hotel guests stumbling on scenes (though we did upset one of the hotel staff who thought Larp Girl’s characters poisoning was an actual illness XD.) The rooms available to us gave plenty of locations for rituals, dancing, meetings, and more. The staff did a good job utilizing lighting and props-most amazingly building a fake wall with a mirror out of which an NPC literally came out of to the great surprise of all of the players. We also had live music one night that greatly enhanced the environment.

 

The themes of the game were definitely dark, but not overly so. While it pushed boundaries, I think this is a safe game for people who may not be comfortable exploring the darkest themes-especially because you can tailor your character to your comfort level. For a more in-depth look at some of the themes, Tara has written an excellent piece which I will link to when it goes live. Reading her experience showed me the vast range of stories this event contained.

The costuming was excellent. Some players were dressed in full Victorian garb, some were closer to Edwardian, and some were dressed in outfits from different time periods that fit their factions. I personally really enjoyed the variety I saw in costuming. I also want to give a shout out to Raquel Skellington who helped me (and more than a few others) find the majority of my costuming on Amazon for cheap!

Top right and bottom left photos by Foulweather Photos 

Roleplay

The roleplay at Armistice Arcane was excellent. I did not feel the need to be out of character one single time during the weekend. The amount of care the writers took with characters meant that most players, regardless of their level of RP experience, felt at ease. I came into the game with connections as well as information that was of interest to other players. This ensured that I felt I was an integral part to the experience right off the bat. While Evie did not sign any agreements or end anyone’s life, she was still an important part of at least a few other character stories.

The main engine of roleplay was player actions based on pre-written character sheets that each player received prior to the game. These sheets outlined our histories, our powers, our motivations, and our positive and negative relationships.

Highlights from my 7 page long character sheet. Your sheet includes a detailed story of your past, your motivations, and primary allies and enemies.

The organizers set up several events throughout the weekend (a high tea, a ball, dancing lessons) and sent out several NPCs, but most rituals and scenes were up to the individual player. For example, my character wanted to talk to someone from her past who had been murdered and may have a key piece of information. I spoke with a character who could contact the dead and she agreed to the ritual. We popped into the out-of-game room and told the storyteller our idea. He nodded, and sent me out of the room. He then told the other character what would happen if we attempted the summoning. Later we gathered in one of the ritual rooms, accompanied by two other characters. We performed a seance that was easily one of the most intense scenes for me of the weekend. I had tears pouring down my face as I listened to her relating how scared and alone the person from my character’s past was. I loved the way this worked. The only thing to look out for is that new larpers may not realize if they want scenes like this, they just need to ask. I know that when I was a new larper, I had no idea how to ask for or create plot. While many jumped in right away, a few players mentioned afterward that it took them awhile to understand how it worked. One potential remedy to this is to empower new players to ask plot for scenes such as this.

An intense meeting, me being whirled around the dance floor, and a kiss before a dramatic confrontation!

One thing I really loved about the RP was that it seemed that the designers accommodated for everyone’s level of comfort. As someone who is relatively new to heavy RP, I felt that my character had just the amount of drama that I was able to stay in character but was comfortable with her storylines. While my drama was relatively tame, I also heard from a veteran RPer that her character story arc was incredibly difficult and surprising for her, something she didn’t often get to experience anymore. I feel that the designers really took into account what you wanted out of the experience. I also felt that I had the ability to push myself further if I wanted, but that staying in my comfort zone did not detract from Evie’s story.

Safety

I really admire the staff’s attention to the safety and comfort of their players. Larp can be rough on players physically. Lack of sleep, forgetting to drink water, too much alcohol and high sugar content foods can be disastrous. While some of these are outside of the control of organizers, they certainly did their best to anticipate any issues. The staff went out of their way to ensure everyone was taking care of themselves, offering water and checking in on our well being. We also received a gift bag with snacks at registration. A few times I was so immersed in RP that I forgot to eat and those snacks saved my life. I personally did not sleep enough and did not eat at designated meal times, which did hurt my experience. However, this was completely personal and I will be sure to be better next time.

The emotional safety the organizers provided was amazing. They prepared us for the high drama of the weekend through an excellent pre-game workshop, a system for checking in, and escape mechanics for tough scenes. During the event there was a safe room players were welcome to decompress in with snacks, drinks, and a staff member with a certification of some sort in mental health. After the event they helped us decompress with an after party and a post-workshop. I loved that the game only ran until midnight on Saturday, because it gave us plenty of time to ease out of character safely.

This is particularly important to me because my last larp experience had none of these safety measures and completely threw me for a loop. I played a character that betrayed my family. Without any sort of pre or post workshop and general lack of communication, I was devastated when the game ended with my family sentencing me to death. Since many people in my faction were new to RP, I was worried that they would not separate my in-game betrayal from me as a person and I had no time to speak with them about any lingering feelings. Additionally, without a post-workshop I was confused about certain plot points and was frustrated by the lack of clarity. I felt used and upset. Every single issue I had at that game and others like it was anticipated and addressed by the staff at Armistice Arcane.

Some safety mechanics I think are worth stealing for other larps:

Okay-Check System: This system uses an unobtrusive hand gesture to check in with fellow players during high emotion scenes. For example, if someone is crying, you may make the “okay” hand gesture at them to check on the player’s emotional well-being. They have the option to respond with a thumbs up, a hand wave, or a thumbs down. There were many times Evie cried during the weekend, but Westbrook never felt she was in over her head.

Green/Yellow/Red: This is a system we were encouraged to use in any intense scene. A player can easily slip the word “green” into dialog to check in their partner is okay with what is happening. Green means “yes”, yellow means “ stop building intensity here”, and red means “full stop”. If someone says red, the scene is over and players walk away. It is as if the scene never happened and the player who called red does not have to revisit the situation unless they want to.

Community

The community was one of the best aspects of this larp. I will break this up into three phases:

Pre-larp: After your initial ticket payment, we were added to a players Facebook group. Once we were cast, we also had a seperate faction group where we hosted hang-outs and made plans for our faction. I specifically asked to be in a faction where I didn’t know any of the players because I’m still finding my RP legs and I was worried playing with my friends would make it harder for me to stay in character. The Facebook group was pretty active, there was a lot of character art, costume progress, and a little bit of shit talking between rival factions. We had some really cool LARP creators at the event including Larp Girl, GD Art, WanderingWolf, Momo O’Brien, and Raquel Skellington, who did a great job bringing the community together with photoshoots and character expose videos. We also had several talented visual artists who took commissions and costumers who offered their services.

At the event: There were plenty of meet-ups and hangouts on Thursday in New Orleans for people arriving early to get together. I felt that everywhere I turned there was a friendly face who wanted to check out a restaurant, bar, or even get pre-game pedicures together! A few of us explored the city and shopped at some of the many costume shops NOLA has to offer.

 

Exploring Bourbon Street and taking a quick pit stop on our ghost tour in a bar full of…dogs? Photos by me.

I was really blown away by how welcoming and inclusive the community was. Often times in larp there are “asshole characters” who use their character as an excuse to make others feel intimidated and excluded. Throughout the weekend, even the scary and “asshole” characters were approachable for RP. After the event there was a post-party where I felt comfortable mingling with different groups and getting to know everyone. The organizers were not excluded from this. After the Sunday wrap up, I attended a ghost tour run by one of the amazing NPC’s who is an actual professional tour guide in NOLA. We explored the French Quarter and afterwards a large group went out to Bourbon street for karaoke and dancing. While I was out dancing, still others stayed at the hotel for a more calm but just as awesome night. It really felt that everywhere you turned, you could find someone to hang out with.

Post event: The Facebook group is still active and I am in contact with many players who I now consider good friends. I actually found a sizable group of players from my city, so that is exciting. Some of us (not me sadly) are preparing for the next North American blockbuster larp (Real Royalty anyone?) and of course we are all busy making plans for Armistice Arcane 2!

Overall I found the community inclusive, safe, welcoming, and inspiring to both new and veteran players.

Approachability

I would say this game is highly approachable for new larpers. There were a large amount of people playing who had never larped before and I heard nothing but good things from them about their experience. A few new people expressed that they were a little intimidated to really go for some of the more dramatic scenes, but that they were excited to come back with more confidence and knowledge. The only significant barrier for this game is the costuming. I was quite intimidated by acquiring a Victorian ensemble and therefore went more Edwardian. I was happy with my costume, but it caused me a significant amount of stress before the event. I think next year it would be awesome if some of the veteran players can compile more resources-especially knowing I eventually got my outfit for under $100 on Amazon (Thanks Raquel!)

Accessibility

Physical Accessibility: The RP areas were physically accessible and the staff was on hand to help with any accommodations players might need. The organizers made it very clear that the player only need reach out to them if they needed accommodations. As someone who lives with a person in a wheelchair, I spend a lot of time noticing how events are run and their accessibility. This game would be great for those who are alter-abled with a few modifications and some pre-planning.

Financial Accessibility: Financially this larp was rather pricey, with packages starting at $550. You also needed Victorian costuming and transportation to and from the hotel. Notice I say pricey, not expensive. For what you got in the package (two nights in the hotel, a goody bag and swag, all meals catered, in-depth character sheets and personal plot lines, a fully catered ball with drink tickets and a string quartet, dancing lessons, etc) I can’t believe I only payed $550. At this point I would probably go for a higher package now that I have a longer time to pay for it and just because the swag was SO COOL.

Conclusion:

Overall I had an amazing experience that I found well worth the money. I am excited to return to Armistice Arcane 2 next year as well as see what other games Peculiar Crossroads Productions will come up with. If you are considering Armistice Arcane or are interested in finding out what other LARPs are happening in your area, I am happy to answer any questions at r.westbrook.evans@gmail.com. In the interest of full disclosure, I am friends with the organizers. However I did not receive any financial or other gain from this positive review. I have given them lots of my money and plan on doing so again because I really do believe in the experience they are creating.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Want to learn about upcoming larps like this?

* indicates required

6 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Jesse AAA February 1, 2018 Subscriber

    Thank you so much for the awesome write up! As someone who wasn’t able to attend and saw that a lot of my friends did go, I’m glad to know see some people documenting how their experience was. I’m definitely going to do everything in my power not to miss their second run.

    • westbrookeevans February 1, 2018 Author

      You are very welcome. I was so impressed and pleased with how hard Peculiar Crossroads worked it was a pleasure to write something about it! I am all for getting more information out there about these events! You have a whole year to plan so hope to see you there 🙂

  2. Dan Luxenberg February 1, 2018 Subscriber

    Excellent article! I wholeheartedly agree – AA was a fantastic game! I also want to thank you for incredibly fun role play at tea and the subsequent attempt at matchmaking (next game it may succeed ;-)).

    • westbrookeevans February 1, 2018 Author

      haha yess, that whole plot was so unexpected! It will be one of Evie’s goals for sure…

  3. Ryan February 1, 2018 Subscriber

    Thanks for the article! As one of the creators of an upcoming blockbuster (Project Ascension, a cyberpunk event this May in New York) and an old friend of some of AA’s creators, I appreciate seeing what you like and didn’t like.

    Here’s a question: how did you discover Armistice Arcane?

    • westbrookeevans February 5, 2018 Author

      Hey Ryan! I have heard awesome things about your project and I can’t wait to hear how it goes. Sadly my travel is booked for the year or that would be the perfect game for me. Anyway, I first heard about this from Lauren and Jordan who run this website as well as The Voyage North. I also met some of the Peculiar Crossroads team at Dragon Tbeones last year so I was already following Mark and Kathy’s vague-booking on an exciting project.

Leave your comment

0

Your Cart