I am really proud of All For One.
Six years ago Rich Smith started a Facebook group called “H runs a musketeers game.” 30 months ago, Bill Thomas signed up to do prop. build on game. (I’d cruelly deceived him by saying it was the Dogtanian version.) 2 years ago Ian and Rachel Thomas said “OK”.
Then the work started.
As the site says, “All For One is a larp inspired by The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan’s Daughter, Cyrano De Bergerac, and The Princess Bride, produced in glorious Cinedrama.”
As I’ve said elsewhere, All For One doesn’t really fit into any of the usual UK LRP pigeonholes – although on my lazy “UK vs. Nordic” scales of Performative vs Immersive, Competitive vs. Collaborative and Type 1 Fun vs. Type 2 Fun – it was Performative, Collaborative and Type 1 Fun, which is two out of three UK, so maybe you can call it a UK lrp… In other places, they might call it a “Blockbuster larp”.
Whatever it was, after five years growing expectation, or hype, if you prefer, it was absurdly stressful to bring to production. Essentially, we wanted to drop 3 dozen players into the films. Not just the events of them, not just the look, but the style of them. The escapades, the feel, the humour.
There wasn’t a lot that had never been done before – maybe even nothing – but we did all of it at once. A gorgeous site, some Nordic-style tricks, old-school British staples, bits of re-enactment, running to time, cultural nods carried off, and all together it was pretty much everything I had hoped it’d be.
It wasn’t perfect, larp never is. But honestly, it was pretty awesome.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful and informative post about how we designed it, you probably want to be over here, on Ian’s blog...
If you want a more subdued post, with where I think we have lessons to learn, I’m getting round to it.
But if you want a gush of barely coherent froth, your place is here.
A beautiful site… Treowen
It had been suggested before, but looked smaller on the website. Then Terry Laverty got me in to cater for Strange LRP and I saw it was bigger…
Then I saw you could have fireworks on site for an extra £40, and I asked the owner if a “gunpowder musket display’ counted as fireworks for those purposes, and when he said “Yes”…
He had me.
Then we did the site walk, and talked woodland hire for adventures and orchard for camping too, then…
He had all of us.
It’s not a cheap site, but it’s a gorgeous place to stay, and plenty IC enough to play the part we wanted it to.
Nordic tricks… a Black Box.
A black box is a space where you roleplay with your disbelief suspended from a great height. Ian layered a projected back-drop and sound and music effects on top of that to make a thing we called The Soundstage. And on the Soundstage, the players travelled to Versailles, the Vatican and the storm-lashed sea.
I’d heard of them in that Nordicland, one in the UK as part of Marked, but I’ve been waiting to see Ian’s implementation with what can best be described as the grinning anticipation of a moon-faced buffoon… Well, it didn’t disappoint. We sacrificed the most atmospheric room in the whole house to it, and it paid us back manyfold.
I got to throw (expanded polystyrene) “hailstones” at a cadre who managed not to corpse until right the end of the shot. 😀
…and reveal the cheap gag of the Holy Relic “Defiance of San Michel” in a controlled space. (It was a single upraised finger…)
…and tell probably the worst joke I know to a captive audience as a pub scene extra.
…and snore as a guard in a manner inspired by the legendary Si Childs.
And essentially abused my position of organiser to get there as often as I could.
Oh, it was so much fun. Hat doffed to Mr Ian Thomas and his crew of actual legit actors who inspired the hell out of the players.
Old-school British staples… Linears in the woods!
A revelation, and not only because the very idea of a linear was new and exciting to some our out-of-town musketeers. Yes, we stole a march from Odyssey and just had three or four encounters per linear. Yes, it was a good wood for adventuring in.
But the idea of directing a linear was gold. The person with the clipboard who in other games would just organise the encounters actually advising players how to play them to have the most fun. No need for naturalistic play in a Cinedrama linear; you don’t need to genuinely surprise the cardinal’s guard because they’re leaning in to your gag. Your ambush is going to work, you don’t need to hard-skill surprise that much. Your nuns’ disguises are going to work. Don’t get me wrong, without a deft touch it’d have been awful. But with it, it was ace. Just ace. I loved the couple of linears I got to be part of, and I’ve not said that for a long, long, time. Kudos to Tom Butterworth and Woody for making that work.
Bits of re-enactment… Things that went bang!
I don’t think any of the players expected messengers on horseback, or being trained to fire muskets, or charging to combat supported by gunpowder artillery and live fire muskets…
Because we hadn’t told anyone that was going to happen.
I’d never managed horses at an event before. Nearly at Odyssey, during the years we were actually based at a stable, but never actually managed it. Having a vet on the team made it happen – thanks Rachel.
I’d worked with the re-enactors before: with both of them on Wars Of The Roses re-enactments for the public, and Tim on Game Of Roses. They run Time Capsule Education who do a lot of work with creative writing for schools. We spoke a bit about what insurance and risk allowed, and what we could guarantee and we kept it all very quiet. Because rain would have stopped almost everything.
And until Gwent police turned up on Friday morning with the explosives license, we weren’t sure on the muskets or artillery… No stress.
It turns out that if you don’t have guaranteed access to secure on-site storage for your gunpowder, a garden shed is acceptable, and if you don’t expect there to be a garden shed, you can bring your own and build it there and then and that’s Ok.
It turns out fighting with the smell of gunpowder in your nostrils and explosions all around is a load of fun. I guess if I’d joined the Sealed Knot when I was a kid, I’d know that.
I’m sure it’s better in Cinedrama though. Thanks to Jon and Tim for throwing themselves into it so hard.
Running to time…
This, I was mostly expecting to be OK to be honest. Solid months of effort checking and re-checking plans, spotting risks and putting more plans in place to reduce the chances they’d wreck anything. Then the last couple of weeks of Rachel going over and over the spreadsheets sanding all the edges off, and making what were essentially shooting schedules and their IC counterpart.
Because that’s what made it all work.
You see, of course, people like Tom Butterworth do this for a living. He and Woody had the linear track. I knew they’d be fine. Woody Grimsby spent 6 years working the Odyssey arena which only ran late once, when it was raining so hard it actually flooded. (OK, only a bit, but there was standing water…)
Chris Puttock, Robin Gould and Keira Gould-Thomas had the tavern brawl scenes and the siege scenes to lead. One run per cadre. They are professionals at this kind of thing. Their shoots have to hit time, and they do.
It also helped that the timetable was IC, so we could refer to it IC, and get servants and d’Artagnan to drive it through. Thanks to Rob Hopper. The “what” we did morphed all over the place. The “when” ran like clockwork.
The lessons were led by Simon English with the politics and warfare teaching, Roz teaching etiquette and spycraft, Robin and Kiera again, on fighting, and Panda on dancing. All these folk run workshops in their daily work. They know how to start and end on time.
All the rest of our NPCs showed *so much* willingness to make it all work, and keep the event rhythm going like a metronome even though the actual notes were not necessarily anything like what we imagined they’d be before the event.
And then Damo and Dan have been running events since the last millenium. We had old hands and old heads to keep it together.
I thought it’d be OK. I’m glad it was. Thanks to Rachel Thomas and her amazing sheaf of spreadsheets which made it be.
Cultural nods mostly carried off…
So many references hanging together. So many films to watch.
The one we subverted.
*Nearly* half our cadet-musketeers weren’t blokes, and nobody cared or even mentioned it as far as I know. I really wanted to see that. If only male players had dropped out, we’d have managed it.
The ones we’d seen in the films, and got to see live.
The episodic secret conversations as the great dance cycled.
The tavern brawl. Folk stealing their dinner on Friday night as their mates brawled to cover the Shameless Theft. Straight out of the film. Eve are fun to be part of than to watch.
The siege gags. Spiking a carp-safe mortar with a larp-safe spike and the character with the hammer *missing the spike and hammering the hand of the one holding the spike. You *could* script a moment like that, but you’d have to be on top of your game, whereas with enough leaning in to the Cinedrama concept, that kind of thing Just Demands To Happen.
Duelling. We had a duel mechanic that we thought players would use for sword-vs-sword duels. I don’t think I saw one all weekend, but I did see drinking bouts, slanging matches and how-long-can-we-hold-a-grenade “fights” using the mechanic. Fabulous stuff.
The ones we dreamed of, and our props team made happen.
The man in the iron mask.
The theft of the Stone of Scone.
The theft of the fake Stone of Scone.
The entrance of the Spanish ambassador demanding the Holy Relic.
(Actually, everyone expected that. But no-one expected the fake Spanish Ambassador to have made off with the holy relic beforehand…)
The tavern brawl props. The sheer glee on folk’s faces when they realised that everything that wasn’t actually cable-tied to the set could be eaten, used to hit someone with, or both. The budget the kitchen spent on throwing-camemberts. The bench, the chairs, the stool, the frying pan, the fish… Bill Bloody Thomas. Thank you so much.
Oh, and the painting of the Fallen Madonna With the Big Melons. And the fake painting of the Fallen Madonna With the Big Melons. Thanks, Kiera.
So many moments… These are simply ones I actually experienced. Which one to single one out?
…hearing the Italian dancing instructor dropping a harpsichord cover of Viva La Vida into the dance music at the ball?
…watching a cadre of musketeers disguised as nuns dropping their disguises to Universal Astonishment?
…seeing a musketeer prove the evil Comte De Brie was guilty by pouring a liquid into a glass containing a broach gifted him by the king left at the scene of his crime, and another into a glass containing a fake he’d had made to disguise the fact he’d left it behind?
…revealing that the relic the “Defiance of san Michel” was a single upraised finger to the musketeers who brought the Stone of Scone to Roslyn Chapel in Scotland?
…eating “ortolan” as the fourth course of a tasting menu served to the Society Gastonomique?
…watching a musketeer initiated into the “Mystics Society”, then unmasked to realise not only were they surrounded by cloaked and masked Templars, but that they were also wearing a Templar cloak?
…playing the Second in a duel between a musketeer and a cardinal’s guard to see which of them could hold a grenade longer – with grenades which actually exploded (a bit)?
…having a sugar glass bottle smashed over my head. Twice?
….throwing the Iron Mask at someone at watching them brace to catch it, it looked that good?
…noticing someone literally pull a stack of one of the each of the stash of masks out of their sleeve at the ball, where the Cinedrama conceit was that you literally couldn’t tell someone apart from anyone wearing the same mask?
Imperfections I can deal with. They’re a consequence of the medium. All LARP is regret.
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Didn’t.
It is the price we pay for the highs when something you’ve dreamed of happens just because, or better yet something that hadn’t even occurred to you.
We had 11 possible plot consequences for Sunday, 14 missions pencilled out, but nothing inked in. Deliberately, because we wanted player agency to tell us what to do.
Reader, we ran none of them.
I can think of no higher praise for the event. Player agency trumped our pre-event imaginings.
(Even though “Sunday” is one of the bits of the event with the most to teach us. More on that in the learning post later…)
I’ve spent best part of twenty years saying “cross-country panto” is a lousy descriptor of larp and even if it was true it’d be awful, because funny is really hard to do well.
It turns out I was wrong. It turns out you can pull it off if you put the work in
Pull it off. snarf.
“This was the moment, mid-Friday morning, when I realised that all the stops were not merely going to be pulled out, but they were going to be blasted to the moon and the pipe organ itself was going to be on fire as it was played down a black run on the Matterhorn.”Jules Fattorini
“It was so. good. Such a hugely ambitious project with so many elements so wonderfully realised, the best fun I’ve had in years and I am struggling to think of a better game I’ve played. Thanks so much to you and everyone involved! Well done!”Simon Manby
“clever, funny, thoughtful, moving and utterly ridiculous”Aaron Johnston