Monday, September 24, 2012

The end WAS Nigh: a Review of Dystopia Rising

Shockingly enough, I'd never done a boffer LARP.

I know! My love of RP, characters and swordplay, it would be a No-Brainer to try Boffer LARPs. But I'm a New Yorker on a tuppence budget, not many opportunities to get to go out into the great wild and beat people with foam rubber weaponry in odd settings.

This weekend, I got the chance.

I went with my friend Courtney to Sparta New Jersey to play Dystopia Rising, a Survival Horror LARP based on a setting written by Michael Pucci, and run by Mike and his tribe of Marshall's and Storytellers. Dystopia Rising is set 4 or 5 generations after the world shat itself. Overrun with Zombies (colloquially known as "Zed"), radiation, mutations all abound and general wierdness, it's safe to say that society as we know it died so definitely Rasputin would have claimed it overkill.

The current time is when the few who survived (though not unscathed) get together in the town of New Havyn, which prides it's self as a Brewery town (Distillers are a Job/Class that can be taken, and brews can be made to buff stats). The town and the surrounding area is relatively safe...relatively being the operative word. Zed attacks, mercenaries, raiders, mutated animals and just generally creepy fucking things abound here.

Then there are the goddamned citizens, who sometimes are joined at the most by the desire to not die that night, or at least long enough to shoot at each other.

Fun times.

What this means outside is this: any where between 2-3 hundred players come to a camp every month. From Friday 9pm to Sunday around Noon, those players are In Scene. There is no real out of character area, no real safe times. You run the risk of being attacked at any point during the day from without and within. You are, for all intents and purposes, at the End of the World surviving on what you can find out there.

I'll give you the run down of my weekend. I rolled a sheet for a Rover Tinker. Rovers are like Gypsies, in that they are Caravan drivers, traders, and the like. They each and everyone one of them are devoted to a sense of personal honor and hospitality. Breaking faith is a great sin regardless of it's them or others who do the breaking. Not the best of fighters, only armed with Small Melee Weapons (knives, person had a Fish)  Tinkers are item builders and fixers, specializing in weapons and armor and deal mostly in Scrap (which are located all around the camp grounds throughout the weekend and require a skill to pick up)

I was taken on a Module for New Players and Characters, we were taken in by a member of the town guard to various check points, created using flares. At various points, we were attacked by Zed. Let me remind you that this was 10pm at night in the middle of the Jersey Woods. We couldn't see three feet past ourselves. So when the Zed (people playing NPCs, I'll get into more detail later) appeared, people needed to be ready. They attacked in numbers and in force, I got hit a few times (we were all encouraged strongly to RP our wounds) and needed medical attention.

Let me take the moment to state something. You can die in this game. When you do, you are absorbed into the earth and brought to the morgue, where you are brought back, this time a little more off (think Derangement). Every race has a set number of times you can do this. Once you've reached Zero, you die for Real and come back as a Zed.

We get into town, and immediately hit the Bar. The Town of New Havyn is centered around one building, the Bar/Town Center, called the "Double Tap". That's where the offices of the elected officials were, a section of space cordoned off for unaffiliated visitors (new players) could sleep, and where most attacks happened. Naturally, a lot of people stay camped infront of the entrances to the Double Tap when not getting a drink. I got myself situated in the Shanty Town (the new player space) while others found other accommodations throughout the camp, either in pavilion tents throughout the grounds or their own tents. I met a few faces I knew and had ties with. There wasn't much to do for a new player, especially one who wasn't a hitter or affiliated with any of the outside camps or religions.

That is, until around midnight.

That's when the fireworks went off, literally. Followed shortly by the screams of wounded players in the distance. Soon, people were coming to the Double Tap in droves, some of them carried in to see medics, healers, and patch up artists. Fighters were bartering with people to repair their weapons and armor, and that meant me. I worked for about two hours, repairing people's armor and weapons, Roleplaying the actions of hammering, screwing and fixing the swords, guns and armors. I was useful, and I was needed, and above all I got paid for most of it. There are three kinds of payment in Dystopia Rising: Credits, Scrap/Herbs/Food or Reputation. I made a bit of all three that night.

By around 3, things were quiet. People went back out into the night taking on mercenaries and shamblers/zombies. I stayed outside, still waiting for more to show. After a while, Myself, Courtney and others went back to our cots in the shanty town.

That's when the Hunter arrived.

Hunter's from what I gather are a type of Zed that are super fast, super aggressive, and cockroach tough. The only thing that keeps them away is light. And it was headed right for the shanty dorms. So there I was, a mechanic with a 2 damage meat cleaver and Courtney with her 3 damage ball bat and psionic ammo (she could only confuse and knock back people). I shouted "Zed!" and people came running, chasing him off into the dark, again and again until the Hunter walked towards the doors of the Double Tap and promptly flopped on the floor.

Everyone looked at this quizzically. Zombies don't just DROP dead. Not unless it's the Zombie of Ric Flair, dropping down after five minutes of getting the shit beat out of them. It had to be a trap. So, of course, people went to investigate, resulting in this exchange:

Someone behind me: "5 Cred if you lick that Zombie to see if it's dead"
Someone Else: "How the fuck would that tell if he's dead or not!?"
-two beats later-
Me: "You're not seriously going to lick the fucking Zombie, are you?"

needless to say, it wasn't dead.

After it was finally gone for good, we went back to bed. We made the wise decision to sleep with our shoes on and our weapons within arms reach. Courtney craddled her's like a teddy bear. It was adorable if you forgot it was a foam nailbat.

The next morning came, and I shambled out. By 11, I headed over to the game Operations barn, it was time for my NPC shift. DR has required NPC shifts for most of the players. Some pay to opt out of the shift, but most dig in, performing standard duty for whatever scenes/modules the STs required. I got to play a Zombie in two modules, one a shambler, a generic Zed and the other an Animate. Animates are what happens when vermin get infected and start nibbling on bodies: the bodies become infected with vermin, making them masses of rodents and insects and snakes in a meat suit. They are hell  on combat. So there I was, in corpse make up, terrorizing the shit out of people. It was probably one of the more active things I've done in a long while and certainly felt good to have people back up and take cover as you approached.

It was hear that Frank, the head ST, said some good Storytelling advice. "LARPing is a large social experiment. We see if we can't effect change through our choices."

One of the funnier things that happened that I found interesting. Most of the area isn't accessible to all the players, only except when on modules. However, as we were doing the Animated one and cleared out the first group, the retreating party ran into a returning party from another module, and we proceeded to wipe the floor with them too!.

After wards, when I went back in character, the city went Dark. The generator went out, and none of the lights or the radio station(a legit radio station). We all huddled into the bar, knowing the worst would come out soon. Followed very quickly however was a very real down pour. Very soon, we had Zed coming in wave after wave, almost making it to the door. We have PCs fighting each other, fights and other conflicts were going on all over the area. It was quiet after a point, and we went back to bed. Not before, however, another Zed attack and strange masked men walking through our doors. The didn't attack, they just looked at us, holding their fingers at their lips as they backed away.

Sleep came uneasily, our weapons remained at our sides.

The rest of the morning went by without a hitch, until game was called.

Dystopia Rising was a challenge, a challenge to remain in character for as long as possible. I found myself slipping more into me after a while, because I was new, and because I didn't have the strongest of grasps on the character base of Rover yet. I may change that. However, the fact that everything I did in the game for the most part was live was exhilarating. I had to be ready at all times.

One of the things that worried me was that, as far as I could see, there was very little policing of people's stats. It worked on a form of Honor System, you knew how much HP you had left, you keep in your mind. I suck at numbers, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Also, I wasn't told at any point during the game that Mind Point (any major action like repairs, etc) had to be notated on your sheet. I kept as much to my limits as possible, but short of a Marshal or ST stopping me (which I never saw once during the weekend) I could have just done actions the entire day without any one the wiser.

One of the other problems is that there is a lack of connect for New Players. After the beginner's mod, we were on our own. Unless we had strong character ties already going in with individuals, groups or nationalities, we were essentially on our own. It kind of reminded me about Requiem, where the political groups and coteries stick to each other, sometimes hogging all of the plot to the detriment of new players. However, the DR modules are mostly designed for anyone to jump and go off on adventures, creating ties that way through shared experience.

It was also amazing to meet a lot of people I knew from Camarilla, Jedi and the general geek community. I'd met people I'd only heard of in anecdotes, and working with them was a lovely pleasure and surprise. Speaking with my friend and fellow player Ericka, it was not unlike a Camarilla Convention, except it's one Venue and it is on for 40 hours

In the end, I liked Dystopia Rising. There is a learning curve to it, no doubt, but it's only because it's based on simplicity and trust. The total immersion was refreshing and a wonderful challenge. It's not for the casual player, make no mistake. You are in the woods, and you are fending for yourself and your friends. Bring some food that can be cooked quickly (strip the labels off of Cans and bottles to make it appear scavenged in a bid to stay in character). It's worth it if you want some more Live Action in your Live Action Roleplay. It requires less focus on your sheet and more on your natural skills (sense of direction, good listening skills in the dark, and decent eye sight are pluses hear. Plus a good sword arm.) It's a hit to the wallet, especially if you plan on opting out of NPC duty or wish to buy extra XP points. I get the reasons why, there is a level of dedication in having this space. There are props, equipment, buildings, upkeep, rentals, storage and amenities that need to be paid for plus also promotional stuff. There's a trilogy of canon-novels coming out in October/November, and we're pretty sure we met some of the characters this weekend.

It's worth going to, just to experience it. Like Frank said, it's a social experiment, and it's interesting to see where it leads.




  1. See you in October? I'll be there with some friends, two you know from Lost...

    1. I can't in October. Money is shot from here until I get a job, especially with NYCC and GKE in October and November. Which two friends?

  2. I'm sad to hear that you didn't see any marshals during your time here, I can tell you were sure did see you. We run mods through out the game, frequent various areas of the game, and hold a wide variety of professions SO we can spread out. I might have shared a workbench with you at times. We fought you at various times, and even fought by your side. We are all required to wear pins which state our position, sometimes look for a glossy circle or square on our shirts or hats.

    Glad to hear you had a good time.

    1. Allie, wasn't that I didn't see you guys I just didn't see the sheet audits.

    2. There are plenty of times in game where Marshalls call for a hold to card check everyone. They're making sure that you're recording your skills and trying to stay honest (because let's face it. In the heat of combat, it's hard). Though they usually happen after major battles. This weekend had relatively few major battles in it (only two that I actually know of). So it is possible that they weren't checked for that reason. I am 100% positive that the character sheet marshalls do go through and check them after game like crazy though. It is a lot of honor system, but at the same time, they do check throughout the game to make sure that you were trying to be honest.