Some larps can really affect their participants. Or people running them. In my personal experience, I was most affected by the Izgon larps which I ran (Izgon is the Croatian word for Exile). Without failure, all three of them so far have brought certain changes. Some friendships grew closer, others went apart. There was a lot of stress, and a lot of happy moments. A ton of bleed-in and bleed-out, to the effect that the larp became a way of life for a few of its' participants. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but then again, I've been thinking how to write this article for the past 3 months since Izgon 1.1 ended. This review is way past its' time, as the experiences of Izgon 1.1 happened a few months ago, and have already been "digested" by a lot of players, and there have been other reviews for months already - such as this one on the Fair Escape blog.
Let's start at the beginning. Izgon 1.1 was a third larp in the series of urban fantasy pervasive larps. It was played in the actual environments where all players live, the entire world was a "larp terrain", and it lasted for five weeks. The storyline originally ended with Izgon 2. Izgon 1.1 was and wasn't a remake - it was a "parallel universe" alternate version of Izgon 1, which fits in the setting and was even one of the plot points. Sign-ups for the larp were limited - original goal was slightly more than Izgon 1's number of players (which was in low 20s when all characters were counted, including minor), and under Izgon 2's number of players (96 signed up for it, about half ended up actually playing in a significant way). A total of 45 players signed up for Izgon 1.1 - about a third of them ended up not showing up, which presented one of the problems in larp. All the players were Croatian, Hungarian or American. Characters were reused from Izgon 1, with several details changed to avoid spoilers - since it was, after all, a parallel universe. In an interesting twist of fate, despite more players overall signing up for Izgon 1.1 than in original Izgon 1, there were fewer male players, so not all male characters were given. Other characters were drawn from Izgon 2. There was one exception to this - in original Izgon, there was a character called Li'naris, and his friend I'sal had died. Here it was the other way around.
The story was concentrated in four cities: Zagreb and Rijeka in Croatia, Budapest in Hungary, and Boston, MA, in USA. Of these cities, Rijeka was probably the least active - as some of the players from the area simply didn't show up for the larp, which severely limited interaction there. Zagreb had another issue - almost the entire two factions (Hunters, Prophets) ended up inactive, which caused a lot of play to be skipped. Budapest had several player groups with different ideas on how to play, and there were some communication issues there which proved problematic for the play quality. Boston had only one faction, and it was probably the most harmonious city around regarding players. As in Izgon 2, the main language was English due to international participation. If you're interested in rulesets, factions and histories, please check out this link.
Two of the main "alien" factions, Kalesti and Amani - which in first Izgon only speculated about other ones' existance for weeks at time in the first larp - met here at the very start of the larp, at midnight, as people from it were actually having a drink together after the vampire larp which just ended up an hour earlier. Diplomacy started immediately, and players soon split into roughly two groups - one which was very active and invested a lot of hours each day in the larp, and one which was casual. They were operating at different speeds.
One big news was the Shadow Broker faction and website. They operated a webshop, and traded for information and the in-game resources, which was magical power (mana). Actually, there were several incidents regarding the website: first it was hacked just before the game started, after one of the players posted its' address at 4chan's /x/ board. This caused extra cost (which was paid by the player in question), as the website was quickly moved to another server one day before larp started. Then in the middle of the larp it ended up DOS-ed - there was an URL game on the website, and a few players used a script to try and guess all the URLs... Near the end of the larp, it got "hacked" again, as players used how Joomla works to get a list of usernames.
Dealing with these issues opened up a big can of worms: how much should this larp be "do what you can", and how much it should be "use the resources in a very strict and defined manner"? How to adequately control all of that while keeping the larp functional? This was not defined in the beginning, and it was the cause of a lot of misunderstanding. A valuable experience for me, and hopefully for everyone else who reads this and tries something similar. "Common sense" is not universal, it means a lot of different things to different people, and despite the fact that Izgon 2 built upon Izgon 1's safety / play nice with others sense, and Izgon 1.1 built upon Izgon 2, there were still new challenges for which it was not adequately prepared.
Oh yeah, back to Shadow Brokers. Apart from the shop interface and the already mentioned URL game, there were also forums, podcasts, "mana forecast", and a lot more. The faction produced a lot of documents, videos, and much more which helped bring the larp to life - organized meetings, produced some side quests such as Halloween Puzzle Quest. But it took a while for people to start trusting them enough to use their services. Either way, they took a large logistical load and became a very important part of what made this larp work. As the larp ended, the players chose to remain anonymous, to preserve their mystery for the future larps. And their mystery is only exceeded by their power, or how did that quote go? :)
Finding stuff around the city was an important plot point in this larp. As in previous Izgon larps, there was a certain number of mana spots which had to be found, and a center point which could be calculated from them. This time, the locations were reset, and almost all of them were different than in the previous larp. Also, players would no longer get 1/day hints from GM as on previous larp, but they could buy locations (or a list of hints) from the Shadow Brokers. They did, however, manage to discover or buy all these spots in all the major cities. There were new tasks in addition to the Izgon 1 storyline: player characters needed to find another, Anchor point, and perform a certain ritual there. And there was another set of points (which were hinted) in a Halloween quest organized by Shadow Brokers, who also ran puzzles on their website - the URL game, and puzzles and hints hidden in various podcasts. All of this resulted in a lot more of exploration, puzzle solving and discovery than in previous larps.
The players who played Hunter characters, with the exception of one in Hungary, didn't manage to do a lot - plenty of them ended up not playing, and the few who did ended up socially isolated by other players. A similar thing happened to the Prophet faction - I tried to animate them, by playing a character of a mad prophet called Yuri, but that only worked up to a certain point. The best experience was had by players who managed to frequently and constructively interact with other players - which is a challenge to ensure in such a distributed larp as this one.
One of the ways to track players' actions was with the in-character diaries. They needed to be filled so that I could get an accurate representation of what players were going through. Unfortunately, very few people actually wrote in their diaries, and out of them only a few wrote more than a few pages over the entire larp. You can read three diaries which were made public here. Two of them are in Croatian, one is in English. The longest one is A'lana's, almost 42000 words long - it's close enough to almost be a short novel itself.
A week after the larp was over, there was a public debrief. Unfortunately, only a few members participated on it. However, there was an online debrief on the public Izgon mailing list, and you can read players' personal experiences here. These are all in English, so they can give you a better sense of a lot of things that happened in larp - conflicting interests, betrayals, plots and a lot of things players can come up with in five weeks of play.
As to my overall feelings, they were mixed. It was a big project. There were issues with it, me and other players managed to deal with a lot of them in the runtime, but some didn't get fixed. They remain as an experience, as something to watch out for in the future - although I have to wonder, how did original Izgon manage to work so nicely, even better than this larp, when I didn't keep an eye out for so many things? I guess a lot of different factors are involved. Parts of this larp were stressful, but overall I have to say I had a lot of fun, and once the larp was over I felt thoroughly drained, but proud.