So this weekend I went and got myself trapped in an exclusive location on the Isle of Manhattan alongside a dozen or so undercover International Agents.
Also in attendance were an untold number of Criminal Operatives looking to blow us all to kingdom come.
Luckily, the Agents prevailed.
That was the premise of ‘Aces & Operatives’- A James Bond stylized Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) event that happened this past Saturday in midtown Manhattan, location : TOP SECRET. Inside the cramped room, drinks flowed just as freely as the poker chips did and by my estimates some three dozen or so City dwellers came out for a night of fantasy, intrigue and cos-play. At the conclusion of the event, the world kept spinning, another Saturday night came to a close and we all went home, safe and sound.
It was an interesting experience, not my first Live-Action event, but certainly my first modern-day one. For those not in the know, a LARP is a chance for folks to dress up and act out specific characters in a setting where everyone else present takes on similar roles. Its a form of immersive theater, a collaborative and participatory event as opposed to your typical spectators’ sport that stresses interaction with your fellow ‘characters’, much like table-top role-playing, where its roots come from.
This particular event, organized by ‘Julien Viceroy‘ (Real Name: Evan Michaels) was the first in the line that incorporated actual game-play rules. Formed over this past Summer, Michaels describes his budding venture as :
“One-third James Bond ‘Live Action Role Play’ adventure, one-third casino gaming, and one-third cocktails with a dash of pageantry… all shaken not stirred. We are the only 007 themed live action role play (LARP) group operating in the world.”
There was certainly a good mix of all these elements going on at the affair. The venue itself was a small upstairs one-room dimly lit bar that gave the entire five-hour event an incredibly intimate feel. A rickety poker table took up a good quarter of the space, while the other three quarters were occupied by sofas and a mini-bar. Moving throughout the tightly packed room were a host of dashingly dressed gentlemen and glitterized ladies who exchanged small-talk with one another using their assumed persona’s as either Aces and Operatives.
Based, or apparently and therefore not derivatively liable, ‘heavily influenced’, on the world of Ian Flemming’s Bond franchise the organizer gave participatory players at the event the option to not only assume roles as typically inhabit the films such as business-men, government bureaucrats and movie-stars, Michaels also gave folks the choice of coming to the event as either an Ace and hence a Bond-esque hero, or showing up, unknown to anyone else, as an Operative and criminal villain. The goal of the night, like any good Bond film: information.
Switching between their characters and their ‘real-world’ speech, players moved about the bar, dealing in small-talk and brokering deals for secret information provided to them at the start of the event. The clues given had the ultimate goal of uncovering who amongst the group were Operatives. Also in attendance besides the Aces and Ops were casual Non-Player Characters (NPCs), folks such as myself and my companion for the night who, for the price of a rather hefty admission (supposedly but not unsurprisingly not including drinks or food) got to interact and play their persona’s minus the benefits of clues and any effect on the overall story for the night.
It was a night punctuated by more than idle chit-chat and nefarious going-ons, as there were performances in addition to the mingling, drinking and poker playing. A magician, displaying skills with ropes and a banana performed halfway through the event and was followed by an exotic dancer who disrobed to quite near her birthday suit before revealing herself as an Operative, giving the entire room a foreboding announcement; the bar was booby-trapped, and no one was allowed to leave!
Following this news the attendees descended into accusations as to the identity of who the Operatives could be and teams of potential Aces were formed to go on missions and attempt to breach the devices that trapped us all within…
Needless to say, the Aces prevailed…for now.
Now, from a Gamer standpoint, I would have to say that the overall mechanics of this part of the night were a little puzzling and how they worked seemed almost invented on the spot. Granted, this was much more of a social gathering, the event was billed as a LARP and hence, I was expecting a bit more structure, incorporation and guidance. Aided by his companion ‘Shamus McClue’ (Real name: Chris Batarlis), Michaels employed a system of pass-fail for each of the eight ‘missions’ the Aces were sent on throughout the course of the night.
Teams of Aces were chosen for these missions by player Captains. The Captains were appointed before each mission by Michaels and Batarlis, and they in turn chose their individual teams. The remaining players then got to decide if these teams were acceptable or not. If accepted, the members on the missions got to secretly decide if their part of the mission succeeded and, once totaled, the overall result was then revealed. Once a certain number of missions succeeded, the story was advanced.
So it was that through socializing a game of essentially bluffing, deduction and negotiation played itself out over the course of the night, with the information players received and uncovered determining how the particular teams were chosen. Batarlis, a recent gaming company organizer himself (Everything Epic Games) who appears to be working to develop the Aces & Ops rule-book gave the attendees the run-down of the rules, giving slightly better descriptions as the missions and the night wore on.
Overall it was interesting experience. I attended the event with my companion, as General Admission spots. As welcoming as the atmosphere felt there was a certain fish-out-of water vibe I felt throughout the night, at one point being asked if we had simply walked in off the street. To be fair, there were several other General attendees and we exchanged some exasperated uncertainties with them as to our roles as NPCs, and it was a bit confusing the level of involvement we were expected to take part comparable to full-fledged characters.
There were also more than a few individuals, clearly not of the cos-play mentality who took to heart the spectator-side of LARPing, and seemed content to gauge the entire event from the sofas. The affair itself was engaging, if rudderless, something that as a Gamer who is used to often-times an overabundance of rules contributed to the feeling of grasping at straws the entire night, in a room where everyone else seemed to be wielding steak-knives. I did however get to run into a role-playing buddy of mine which greatly added to the enjoyment.
It was definitely a memorable Saturday night, spent with some great company. So when you get a chance, and if you’re not too cool for school, why not head out and try a LARP for yourself, maybe even a James Bond ‘inspired’ one, and