Comics, Cosplay, LARPs, RPGs, Fiction, and more... all from Chicago


The Chicago LARP Scene – A Guide

My friend Susan Weiner pulled together his list of local Chicago LARP.  It’s a living document and regularly updated. If you know of an event or ongoing LARP that’s not listed, please contact the organizer,

Campaign Games

Stories in the Sanguine City

  • Description: Dresden Files setting, Fate Accelerated System
  • Dates: First Saturdays
  • Location: Palette and Chisel Art Academy
  • Game Runner: Laurie Rich
  • For more information:

Shifting Sands: Space 1889

Ask Again Later

  • Description: Midwestern Gothic
  • Dates: First info session in April, game begins late June
  • Location: Unity Lutheran Church in Edgewater
  • Game Runner: Carly Ho
  • For more information:


Mage: The Awakening, 2nd Edition

One Shot LARP

Chicago One Shots Group

  • Description: Organizes runs of one-shot LARPs in Chicago
  • Dates: Sporadic
  • Location: Variable
  • For more information: Join this list!forum/chicago-one-shots


  • Description: Weekend of one-shot LARPs
  • Dates: Memorial Day weekend
  • Location: North Barrington, IL
  • For more information: (join their mailing list, or keep an eye on the website)

Peaky Midwest

  • Description: LARP writing weekend, players welcome Sunday
  • Dates: March 17-19, 2017
  • Location: North Barrington, IL
  • For more information:

Other Useful Resources

Chicago Gaming Slack

Find a live version of this document at

About that Werewolf Pack – When LARPs Don’t Go As Planned

A few months back, I talked to a very excited David Zoltan about joining a new Werewolf LARP. The first session went well and he was excited to continue with the troupe. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse.

I followed up with David this week to find out what happened.

CGG: Are you ready to tell me about your experience? I see there’s been some activity in the FB group.

There’s a lot of consternation about the hard reset (a complete restarting) of the chronicle.

Part and parcel of that is the problem that the ST of the game hasn’t respected the players and the time and effort they’ve been putting into the game. He’s seen it purely as a playtest whereas the players have been actually playing the game in good faith and investing themselves in their characters.

He hasn’t organized his staff in any way which is a part of that disrespect. He hasn’t invested himself into personal storylines, into downtimes, into fleshing out the world beyond the plot points that he wants to push for the purpose of playtesting. Though to be honest, I could imagine far better ways to playtest the system.

When there is misalignment of such magnitude between the head ST and the players, conflict is inevitable. Either in the form of revolt or in the form of people walking away from the game.

CCG: What was the first thing you noticed that felt off?

Being told by the ST that he hadn’t read my background stories and probably wouldn’t.

You can’t build a game built on personal and grand horror without understanding the characters involved.

CCG: How long had you been playing by that point?

A couple of months, I believe.

And, as you note, it was the first thing I noticed.

On its own, it can be forgiven.

People are busy. STing doesn’t pay anything. Some STs can craft great stories with very, very little.

But it was the first of many problems.

CGG: In the earlier interview, you spoke about how the players really engaged you in the first session. Did that help the situation with the ST’s or make it worse? How did the rest of the players respond to this environment?

The players are largely fantastic folk. They are the main reason I stuck around as long as I did. I’ve made a bunch of friends among the players, and it frustrated me for a long time how things were run. Especially as I started seeing people drift off as games were cancelled due to lack of ST structure and initiative to find alternative sites. The ST failed to ban a player who was regularly sexist, racist, and slightly abusive because the player was a friend. Scenes were abandoned because the ST wanted to run a giant combat that was then limited from many people from even getting involved, grinding the game to a halt despite other members of his staff being around but having no plot kit details or at least being able to help run the combat faster.

My last straw was that he introduced major metaplot information when the PDF of the new rule book was released, but when I asked a simple question of how did we get this news and why was it confirmed now, he flippantly gave a three-word response. Not “I can’t answer right now because I’m busy” or “I’ll let you know as soon as I have a chance to think about it some more”, just an answer that showed how little he gave a shit about our experiences.

Now, the other players are mad because they are finding out that their characters that they’ve been invested in for a year or so and build histories and packs and connections around are not going to have any real chance to have their stories fully told all because this ST wants to take us into a networked game instead of continuing the story we started.

And rightfully so.

CGG: What, in your opinion, should the STs do now to rebuild trust?

The way that they got into trouble in the first place was that the ST didn’t listen to the players and treated the players as incidental to the ST’s goals. I would be pleasantly surprised if they stopped and turned that around to regain our trust, however that will take drastic action at first and rebuilding of trust over time. More likely, I think you’ll see players just walk away or implement drastic change in spite of the current ST.

CGG: Do you know what they are doing?

I’ve heard a lot of grumbling and talk, but I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen just yet.

CGG: Do you give the game much chance of survival?

I think there are a number of people that are dedicated to the game and want to make it work somehow. It’s going to morph somewhat one way or another, but we’ll see what happens.

On Joining a Werewolf Pack

My friend, David Zoltan, recently made an excited Facebook post about joining an ongoing, Werewolf LARP.  I jumped on the opportunity to ask him about his personal process of joining a story, currently in process.

The Day of….

CGG: What’s your personal history of role playing?

DZ: I’ve been participating in role playing games since I was 11 years old. I started (like I think most people do where pencil and paper games are concerned) with Dungeons & Dragons, though I quickly got into several other systems after that, including Middle Earth Role Playing and Marvel Super Heroes among others. It has been my most consistent hobby across my lifetime, and it is the one that brings me the most joy.


“One of the best damned Silent Strider Players ever…damned fine ST, too” – Cat Williams

I started LARPing when I was in college. As a sophomore, I found the Vampire the Masquerade LARP at the local game store at Michigan State University. It wasn’t long after that I found out about the Werewolf the Apocalypse game as well. It started a love affair with that setting that continues to this day. WtA is hands-down my favorite RPG setting of all time and probably always will be. I especially enjoy playing Silent Strider characters. I have even managed the Silent Strider tribal settings material and acted as a player resource for Strider players, and for Storytellers in need of assistance at the global level, for one of the largest global campaigns out there.

These days, I play a regular Iron Kingdoms game with friends once a month. I play off and on with another group in a D&D campaign. I search in vain mostly to find a Hero System campaign to jump in on, because I love that system tremendously for how adaptable and cinematic it is. I try to make it to cons and jump in on various games there as well from Shadowrun to Hackmaster whenever I can.

CGG: What made you decide to go looking for a new LARP?

DZ: Well, in this case, it kind of fell into my lap. A close friend of mine, that I used to LARP with a number of years ago, was talking about the game. I jokingly asked her why she hadn’t told me about it. She thought she had. Suddenly I had rules and character sheets; I was pulling a character that I hadn’t gotten to play more than a few times and get his story out of the mothballs.

A couple of conversations with the Storyteller later, and I’m going to my first game in years tonight, with a character that has existed more in short story form than in games. I am pretty excited about it.

CGG: What do you expect out of a first session?

DZ: First sessions are almost always about getting the lay of the land, both in terms of other characters and what plots are running around that might snag my character. I hope to be able to introduce some plot of my own (of course) as well, to add to the fabric of the game right off the bat, but you always have to play that by ear. There’s a balance between just standing back and observing and making yourself the center of attention. You don’t necessarily want to do either too much right from the beginning before you know the dynamics involved.

That’s especially important in a game like Garou where pack and sept dynamics are incredibly important, and I’ll be coming in alone and without a sept. I happen to be playing a character well-suited for just that, but it doesn’t mean I can steamroll the game either, or want to! In any LARP, there must be a dimension of shared spotlights and knowing when and how to take the stage. Sometimes discretion is truly the better part of valor early on.

I know other people have different approaches on this, and they want to grab the spotlight as early as possible. I know it’ll come my way though, and I play my cards accordingly.

CGG: What red flags do you look for when you start in a new game?


No red flags here. Nope!

I don’t go in looking for red flags necessarily. However, I generally hope to see the more experienced players taking newer players under their wings. I like to see the experienced players reach out to make character connections and bring them into the game in a positive way, especially when the new player is new to gaming or that particular game system.  Experienced players can help new ones to understand what they’re doing and feel comfortable asking questions.

I also hope not to see any one person or group of people that try to dominate all the game time. Even when the spotlight is on you, there are always ample opportunities to share that spotlight and get others involved. LARP is about collaboration and shared storytelling, so these are core elements that the players in any LARP group should embrace. Beyond that, I just want to see people having fun, participating in the game, and not getting too cliquish out-of-character, even if they have in-character reasons to separate out from the group as a whole, and so forth.

One Day Later….

The Mage Zoltan

The Mage Zoltan

CGG: Well. How did it go?

It was a whole lot of fun. Big game with lots of people. It was great seeing the various degrees of costuming as always. Especially with only a couple of days to throw something together, I felt pretty good about my ensemble. Far from the most extravagant, but not the laziest either, which made me feel at home; if that makes sense?

CGG: It does. Will you go back?

What was supposed to be a moot night turned into a sort of maintenance night as a couple of key players couldn’t come to game due to injury. One of the players found out I was playing a Strider and gave me an instant reason to come to the sept and make a delivery, as well as a contact that I would know. That helped a lot. Huge kudos to that player.

I had a fun, low-key time. Made connections, and yes, I will definitely be going back. I was given some neat plothooks, a bunch of things to look into, and goals to achieve.

I knowingly made a character that was a little more difficult to integrate into a pack off the bat, but I still have other characters to work with on projects, so that worked out very well.

All in all, it was very successful, and I can’t wait for the next game in a couple of weeks.

CCG: What do you think it is important for gamers to remember when joining into a new game?

There are two competing forces at work. One, you want to get into the game, so you want to get noticed, and integrated, make connections and friends, maybe even some enemies and so forth. Two, you don’t want to be so obtrusive as to make the entire game about you and your entrance. Find a balance. Be willing to share the spotlight and get people involved in your story as well as getting involved in theirs.

CCG: How you think STs should handle new players?

DZ: There’s an article in that question all by itself… Possibly a series.

Cooking for the Apocalypse! An Interview with Chef Val

Cooking and LARP. Chef Val is no newcomer to either game. She started in both fields 22 years ago and has been making an impact ever since. I had a chance to catch up with her and get her thoughts about overlapping what seem like two very disparate pastimes.

CGG: What is your background in food preparation?

Chef Val in civilian gear.

Chef Val in civilian gear.

Chef Val: Like every teenaged kid, I started in fast food, and that’s where I learned the importance of speed, sanitation, and consistency.  I then moved on to working at a resort in Lake Geneva WI in a fancy restaurant where I learned about food prepping in volume for both restaurant service and banquets. They even paid for half my culinary tuition in exchange for a two-year commitment. I decided to do the school and stick in the profession. I was quite good at it and the field was filled with my kind of people: everyone swore, had tattoos, and partied every night. It was high pressure and high stress, but simultaneously an art form that insisted on precision, camaraderie, and an attention to many details. A professional kitchen allowed me the perfect balance of being a rogue, an artist, and a mastermind.

CGG: What would you say are your greatest professional accomplishments?

Chef Val: I was the first executive level female chef in the world famous Palmer House hotel and started a trend of chefs doing rooftop gardens and beehives in Chicago. I got a lot of media attention for that, which allowed me to relaunch a campaign for Midwestern food and old world cooking methods such as preservation, pickling, wildcrafting, etc. I worked with the National Honey Board and had a number of internationally published articles on my work with honey and Midwestern ingredients. Having multiple television shows trying to cast me on shows was kind of fun. Despite the fact I chose not to; I considered that sign I had done made significant impact in the field.

CGG: Let’s talk about your history of LARPing. When did you first start? What attracted you to the hobby?

Chef Val: I started LARPing 22 years ago in a Vampire game. My friends talked me into going. I was hooked and have been LARPing consistently ever since. I have always loved the escapism, costuming, and epic storytelling.

CGG: How did the two interests start to merge?

The Victorian Chef Val

The Victorian Chef Val

Chef Val: The first time I cooked for a LARP was a one-shot 10 course dinner commemorating the 100th anniversary of sinking of the Titanic. That was insane but a blast.

When I started playing Dystopia Rising I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I made the character creation easy by playing a cook. I made genre appropriate meals for our crew and all the other players totally dug what we were doing. Soon after, I started doing the meal plan for the whole game on top of cooking for our ever-growing apocalyptic crew.

In my grand finale at the Indiana Chapter, I cooked 250 meals for the game, 100 meals for my crew, and a 5 course fine-dining meal for a fancy scene. That weekend was pure insanity, but it went off without too many hitches. Now that I ST for the Wisconsin chapter of Dystopia Rising, I make the menus, delegate the cooking tasks, and cook about a fourth of the meal plan (on top of cooking for my crew). It may not sound like it, but it is less work than I was doing before.

CGG: How did you get roped into Last Dinner on the Titanic?

Chef Val: Well, all those years of making custom menus for weddings, parties, etc made for an easy transition. Dig & Gail (of Fete Fatale and Castle Whately fame) wanted to do the one-shot LARP and we all researched the meals together. I modernized it for our palates and ease of service.

I like my LARPs to be highly immersive, and food really helps with that. If done correctly, it can really add to the overall experience.

CGG: How does approaching a menu for a LARP differ from say, a wedding?

Chef Val: Not as much as you would think. When approaching a wedding menu, you take into consideration the cultures and traditions of the client, as well as the theme and setting of the event. I also think about the logistics of making easily portable hors d’ oeuvres that won’t ruin someone’s tuxedo.

When cooking for a LARP, it’s about genre (culture), ambience (setting), and how portable the food can be without ruining someone’s costume.

They’re not really that different at all. They’re both performance pieces where food can be an expression of culture and enhance the ambience of the event.

CGG: Can you describe an event where you absolutely nailed it?

Post Apocalypse Chef Val

Post Apocalypse Chef Val

Chef Val: I’m my own worst critic, so that’s a rough one. Probably the last time I “nailed it” was the post-apocalyptic 5 course meal for a bunch of fancy muckety-mucks at Dystopia Rising. We had a gorgeous table setting, mismatched china, and 5 beautifully executed courses, all served by a caravan of rovers armed to the teeth with boffer weapons (in case things went south). In-character, I “hired” combat waiters and guards to protect the diners from zombies and other dystopian threats. The food was timed and plated perfectly and I brought a lot of players into the scene to help it go off without a hitch. I think that’s the best way to measure LARP-catering success: immersion is never broken, lots of characters get involved, and the food is precisely genre. Oh, and everyone said it was delicious and they had fun!


Stately Castle Whately

The mummy bursts from the tomb to snatch the girl!

The mummy bursts from the tomb to snatch the girl!

The six-foot-five figure pauses as it surveys the room, its wraps hanging loosely from its form. Grunts and guttural growls escape from its muffled mouth. Its victims huddle against the far wall, away from the gaping hole the hulking creature just punched through the pyramid’s thick, stone walls. A blonde, teen adventurer faints away at the sight.

The mummy lunges forward, scooping up the fallen woman. A shriek echoes in the space as the creature lurches back into the ancient ruin.

That’s how it all started.

Gail “Vortex” and “Dig” Doug Freedman were not newcomers to interactive fiction. Along with writing partner Doug Peterson, Gail had written two “How to Host a Murder Mystery” games for Decipher, INC. back in the early 90’s. Amazon still sells Roman Ruins, with an average rating of four stars. The Champaign County Historical Museum hired the two of them to pen the stories behind three of their annual murder mystery party fundraisers. The Museum paid the pair with a free rental. Gail had arranged to run a Live Action Role Play written by a friend from the East Coast with her free night, and was looking for players for the last couple slots. Overhearing the conversation, Doug Freedman raised his hand and suggested, “Choose me.”

Gail and Dig later collaborated on “Christmas with the Soddentarrys,” an interactive murder mystery served with a full period dinner, set against a December backdrop of pine boughs, garlands, and fairy lights of Champaign’s Wilber Mansion.

It took little time for the two to establish a reputation in the larger LARP community. They broke through the Appalachian Wall, proving to East Coasters people LARPed west of that mountain range by running games at the then Baltimore-based Intercon. Players got to know them for their intricate murder mysteries and sometimes quirky games. (Their Infobahn 2000 used croquet to resolve combat, for example.)

Looking to bring LARP back to Chicagoland, Doug and Gail started Fete Fatale Productions in 1996. Originally conceived as a LARP writing group, the organization transitioned to a production company, facilitating games of high quality in the area. The group brings LARP authors from as far away as the UK to run games, organizes the annual Tapas de Larpas festival over Memorial Day weekend, and hosts an annual LARP writing workshop, Peaky Midwest.

Doug and Gail strive to craft authentic, well researched stories. They want to convey the wonder of looking through someone else’s eyes, someone from a different time, someone from a different place.

The two married in 1999, moving into a 3,400 ft2 home in Inverness, Illinois. To celebrate, Gail and Doug decided to run a love letter to Hammer Horror films, a LARP entitled The Curse of Whately Manor, written by Frank Branham. After two successful runs, Doug looked over to his wife and asked, “You know, for my birthday next year, how about we write a LARP haunted house.”

In a gesture that would become emblematic of their marriage, Gail answered. “Sure, honey. That’s a great idea. How about we….”

With the blessing of Frank Branham, the two embarked on crafting The Curse of Whately’s Mummy. Roping in their two then teenaged children and a handful of friends, they took a week off before the first run to finish up the story and set aside a $500 budget to transform their home into an Egyptian labyrinth. Fifteen and seventeen at the time, Maggie and Rob remember having to take down foam core walls to make their way into their bedrooms at night. The game ran for four Saturdays (the story needed the very tall Rob to play the mummy, and his Friday evenings were taken up by high school football) and the four runs combined drew in 39 players.

Concerned they hadn’t written enough plot, or given the players enough to go on (the character sheets for Mummy ran six pages long), Doug and Gail worried the group would burn through their adventure in less than 20 minutes. As they watched, their costumed son broke through a Styrofoam wall to “kidnap” their daughter, and the first round of players completely lost their shit.

Dig describes it…

The excavators had found the tomb earlier, and then the archaeologists and sponsors gathered for the ceremonial breaking of the seal. The ceremony went like this: Whately made a tiny little hole to break the seal, and his daughter (an NPC played by Maggie) immediately collapsed. He said the only thing that could save her would be found in the tomb and quickly made his toast so they could go in, but as soon as he took a sip from his glass he fell over dead – poisoned! Then the mummy burst through the wall (and everyone screamed), picked up the daughter, and disappeared with her into the tomb. The players sat in stunned silence for a long moment before creeping fearfully through the ruined wall.

Contrary to Doug and Gail’s fearful expectations, the players spent four excited hours plumbing the depths of the milieu they had created. The couple realized they had hit on something and would have to do it again. The two reckoned they had crafted a niche.

Every evil mastermind's volcanic lair needs a 20' tall missile. If only those pesky spies would stop blowing them up!

Every evil mastermind’s volcanic lair needs a 20′ tall missile. If only those pesky spies would stop blowing them up!

Their efforts have continued over the next fifteen years and involve nine other adventures, each paying tribute to a different sub-genre of horror or adventure:

2000 – The Curse of Whately’s Mummy

2001 – The Curse of Whately’s Mythos (Cthulhu)

2002 – The Curse of Whately’s Mausoleum (Dracula)

2003 – The Curse of Whately’s Mesa (Haunted Mine)

2004 – The Curse of Whately’s Monster (Frankenstein)

2005 – The Curse of Whately’s Meddling Kids (Scooby Doo)

2007 – The Curse of Whately’s Mission (James Bond)

2010 – The Curse of Whately’s Moonbase (Alien/2001)

2012 – The Curse of Whately’s Mayans (Indiana Jones, treasure hunts)

2015 – The Curse of Whately’s Mysterious Island (Jules Verne)

The Mayan god awakens! (Audio recognition software listens for players to play the correct tune on a set of bells to light the eyes and turn on the airflow, then players block the god's mouth to trip a pressure switch to fire fog and sound effects and receive the god's gift.)

The Mayan god awakens! (Audio recognition software listens for players to play the correct tune on a set of bells to light the eyes and turn on the airflow, then players block the god’s mouth to trip a pressure switch to fire fog and sound effects and receive the god’s gift.)

Looking back at their work, the success they’ve enjoyed, and the high quality of games they’ve produced, they realized they set the bar higher with each iteration. After moving into a 5,000 ft2 house in North Barrington last year a “What the fuck have we gotten in to?” moment struck them.

Planning for The Curse of Whately’s Mysterious Island started twelve months before the planned runs. Construction was scheduled to last for 10 weeks with a proposed budget of $6,000. Doug and Gail do virtually all of the writing themselves, while a crew of around 50 people–carpenters, computer programmers, sound engineers, network specialists, electrical engineers, plumbers, prop makers, set design and decoration, chemists, costume designers and creators, puppeteers, chefs, NPC’s, and an actual stage manager–will completely transform their home into an enigmatic jungle island, complete with a full size temple.

As fans of the series grew, so did the people willing to volunteer time in constructing the next adventure. A larger pool of talent allows Doug and Gail to explore new technologies to strengthen the emergent experience. “Designing for a LARP like this,” Gail explains, “is very different than designing for the stage or film. Everything here is three dimensional. People walk around props, interact with them. If we make something, it has to survive over 100 people touching it. Items need to work when they’re supposed to work, on the players’ timing. On the set of Star Trek they had two stage hands operating the doors to the bridge of the Enterprise, and they added the sound in post-production. For Moonbase, the doors opened automatically when the players activated them, complete with whooshing sound.  And everything needs a backup plan in case of failure.”

The rescue team arrives at the frozen moonbase to find the stranded station crew locked away in lifepods, barely alive. But time is running out. They must get life support (glowing in the background) up and running before that Thing the mining company awoke finds them! Or the insane computer sanitizes them. Or the alien virus turns them into monsters... The survival rate for this one was pretty low.

The rescue team arrives at the frozen moonbase to find the stranded station crew locked away in lifepods, barely alive. But time is running out. They must get life support (glowing in the background) up and running before that Thing the mining company awoke finds them! Or the insane computer sanitizes them. Or the alien virus turns them into monsters… The survival rate for this one was pretty low.

Use of technology paid off. A film student working on The Curse of Whately’s Moonbase received college credit for their constructions. That particular adventure also included a custom designed and programmed moon landing simulator, and used RFID tags to automate a sick-bay biobed emulation.

Not to say the elaborate sets and props don’t take some getting used to by the participants. In The Curse of Whately’s Mummy a hopeful player declared, “I pick up the pot where I’ve painted the mummy’s name and shatter it on the floor to break the curse!”

“Right. Go ahead and do it,” a GM replied.

“What? Really? You want me to break this clearly homemade pot?”

“Yes. We have a source.”

With a squee of delight, the player dashed the pot on flagstone. Doug and Gail expected it. They had procured one pot for every run.

In addition to expanding into new technologies, this fall’s The Curse of Whately’s Mysterious Island hopes to foster more role-playing and character connections than previous stories. Character sheets will weigh in at about five pages. Players will have an opportunity to work through important scenes in their characters’ past as pairs or trios before the main game begins. The authors hope this will let the characters establish stronger emotional ties to each other that will provide a richer experience during the game.

The Curse of Whately’s Mysterious Island also introduces a five year chronicle LARP set in the world of Space:1889, Frank Chadwick’s tabletop RPG of Victorian science fiction. Ever since running into copies of the rules and source material at a used bookstore in Champaign, Gail has wanted to tell a story set in this fantastic world of Victorian-era powers in space. Planning that game started in January of 2015 and it’s set to debut in the spring of 2016.

This year’s run The Curse of Whately’s Mysterious Island has completely filled. For news on some of the best LARP’s in Chicago, the new Space:1889 LARP, or the next visit to Whately’s something, visit


Dystopia Rising

The patrol is nearly finished. Warm stew and maybe a hot shower will soon replace days of canned dog food and frost coated nights. Counting the remaining ammunition of the team would take less than one hand. Raiders and Zed. Raiders and Zed. This time they offered up only fights and the barest of scraps. The squad walks in disappointed silence. No one will consider this outing a success.

Quinn hears it first. A quiet mew of an infant growing into a full breathed cry of hunger, pain, and fear. The snap of a twig and a low grunt marks Zed’s arrival to the rear. One way leads to potential salvation, another towards safety. Behind you is only death. Which way will you go?

It’s been at least four generations since the undead plague. In an attempt to save itself, the peoples of the Earth declared war on humanity. Only Death emerged the victor. With civilization destroyed, small groups of survivors huddle together against each other, against the undead horde. This is the stuff of nightmares. This is the stuff of Dystopia Rising.

Faust takes a moment in the bunkhouse. Photo courtesy of Tantalizing Enigma Photography at a Dystopia Rising: Pennsyltucky event

Faust takes a moment in the bunkhouse. Photo courtesy of Tantalizing Enigma Photography at a Dystopia Rising: Pennsyltucky event

The brainchild of Michael Pucci, Dystopia Rising bills itself as a fully immersive Live Action Role Play experience. Players gather monthly at one of the few remaining settlements of humanity to spend a weekend in character while living in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. With hopes of branching out into Europe, the backing of a national organization behind Dystopia Rising ensures an even application of rules and stories, adherence to a certain level of quality, and  allows for players and their characters to move around and play with different communities throughout the US.

Inspired by scenes of co-operation and exploitation Pucci witnessed after a sudden storm at a music festival, the often competing motivations of humanity drives this version of the setting.  “It became concrete in my mind, right then,” says Pucci. “No matter what happens in the world, we will always have people trying to better themselves at the expense of others while clusters of others would latch together. That sort of human nature, and the way people clung to one another, was the basis of what would later be my envisioning of post-apocalypse culture.[i]

Organizationally, Dystopia Rising actively seeks to head off many of the issues present in other ongoing games. After hearing about a new game with far fewer of the regular problems that might plague a LARP, Mike Surma, Co-Director of the recently founded Wisconsin chapter found himself instantly attracted to the community aspect of “denouncing [out-of-character] drama of any sort, and the willingness of both chapters and the network as a whole to enforce that concept.”

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

At an individual level, the game seeks to push the emotional boundaries of the players. “We want to make the character miserable,” explains Jeff Moxley, the Director of the New Jersey chapter, “while making the player happy.” This dichotomy attracted Heather Surma, Co-Director of the Wisconsin chapter. “I love that Dystopia Rising has such a welcoming community, despite being quite a terrifying game.”

Pucci has a specific goal for the players of the game. When asked in an interview “What sort of game experience do you want your players to have?” in 2011, Pucci answered,

Fun? Is that a valid answer? I mean I want players to be able to be as immersed in plot or as sandbox free as they feel while still providing environment and world story that allows players to be a part of the world. Some players love running through the woods and hitting things with sticks, so we make sure those module opportunities exist. Some players love complex riddles and political plots, so we introduce a heavy thread of those as well. Really, if the players want to be scared the opportunity is there. If the players want to fight the opportunity is there. If the players want their heart broken with moral gray area and dynamic emotional tension, the opportunity is there.[ii]

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

A session typically starts on a Friday night at a dry campsite. The players stake out an area for tent or cabin camping. Some gatherings offer meal plans. Others leave people on their own in terms of food. In any case, players are expected to bring their own equipment and snacks. From the time of “Game On!” that Friday night until game wrap on Sunday morning, participants stay in character, breaking only to fulfill a required four hour shift as an NPC.

Crafting tasks such as fishing, tinkering, farming and brewing all require a commitment to complete and occur in a modified real time environment. Simple jobs may only take a few minutes; more complex, up to two hours. Performing these undertakings allow players ample opportunity to role-play and may force some important decisions. With the possibility of wasting the effort spent during the last 45 minutes repairing armor, deciding to what to do while a horde of zombie-like Zed tries to break in adds tension and a certain verisimilitude.

Character creation and progression focuses on inspiring characters to work together. An individual character will be deficient in at least one area, the jacks-of-all-trades lacking in most. This system shifts a common dynamic found in LARP’s from adversarial to cooperative. Instead of plotting and scheming against each other, characters must work together to survive.

“With a boffer LARP,” the Surma’s explain, “sometimes people have a misconception that there is a lot of Character versus Character fighting.  We’re quick to point out, even through example, that the game itself throws massive amounts of enemies at you.  Your environment is out to kill you far more than your fellow characters.  Players that have shown up with the thought of characters fighting with each other regularly quickly find out that your neighbors can also be your salvation, and that characters are often required to work together to make survival a realistic option.” That doesn’t mean the characters have to like each other. It does mean they have to work together.

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

Dystopia Rising Mass: Winter 2015. Photo courtesy of Kristin Bodnar.

The Game Masters and members of Dystopia Rising expects certain things from players. Participants need to physically survive a weekend outdoors by bringing food, water, and shelter. Slightly more than other RP genres, horror requires a clear and strong separation between the player and their character. Horrible things may happen to a character, but they don’t happen to the player. That character is an asshole. That character’s player, hopefully, is not.

The organization disallows certain backgrounds and actions. Rape and sexual assault are forbidden. From the national level to the individual chapters, the group looks to create a “Safer Space,” to accept people of all walks of life at the game. Those unable to respect those different from themselves are unwanted. The game does not allow for out-of-character drama and will remove players for fostering such an environment. “We are here to have fun, and enjoy our weekends together,” say the Surma’s. “Drama is a quick way to kill that fun for others.”

Dystopia Rising has chapters in 13 US states, including Indiana and Wisconsin, and two Canadian provinces. Games cost $20 for the first session, and $45 for every session thereafter. The organization’s website offers information and tips for first time and ongoing players. The site store sells a tabletop version of the rules and setting, for the non-camping inclined. The rustic setting, the intensity of both the action and the character interactions, and the equipment, food, and session costs may mean that Dystopia Rising is not for everyone; but those who play enjoy it immensely and enthusiastically.

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[ii] Ibid.

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