Myself and Rob Denney went down to Dead Legends (hereafter "DL"), a "Weird West" LARP, essentially Cowboys and Zombies. Combat is done with Nerf guns and boffers, with the boffers being "lightest touch" and no stabbing. Archery requires golf tube arrows (and was non-existent at the game). Combat is non-locational, meaning if someone hits you repeatedly in the hand you just die. Two gunshots kills most characters, but it takes eight touches with a weapon to do the same. There are no garb requirements.
We had a good time, overall. Based on the expense, the travel distance, and general gameplay, this is not a game I'd return to, however. It's not so much that I think they're doing it wrong (although there are several instances of that), it's just that they're doing it differently than I'd prefer to play. That, paired with the fact that they're almost five hours away, made this a one-shot for me. My general pessimism aside, please don't read any of this as a condemnation of Dead Legends, it's got a bunch of fantastic people at it and if you're looking for something different to try, it's worth an initial trip.
Pre-arrival stuff was good. Their website's pretty easy to get around, the world background is interesting and engaging for anyone with an interest in Civil War-era American history, and staff and players are friendly and engaging on their social media. We submitted character backgrounds and skill sheets for approval, and paid our pre-reg fees with no problems (or so we thought - more later). They have a code for new players to get $25 off your first event, which brings the normal price of $55 down to $30.
Upon arrival, the first challenge was figuring out where to go. They had no signs out on the main road, or anywhere, actually (although GPS brought us there with no issues). The YMCA complex on that mountain is huge. We guessed, and took the most appealing road (it had flags on it), and guessed right. We drove up the mountain and into the camp, parked near some other cars, and eventually found the main building the LARP was running out of. We arrived around 6 PM, and virtually nothing was ready to go; they were not prepared to check us in at all. No problem, we thought, we'll go get some beds.
We asked a person in the area of Logistics where to go to get beds. They gestured vaguely into the woods (we could see some cabins right below us) and told us any of those would be fine. We asked about heated cabins, and were told they were all heated. I asked where everyone else camped, and got the same vague gesture. I asked a second person, and was told the same thing. Turns out, this was not at all the case. The cabins we could see were unoccupied and unheated (not really an issue for us, we're pretty hardy), and the heated cabins everyone actually stayed in (the "town" area) were up the road a hundred yards. We had no idea, and no one told us. The cabin we ended up in had a heater, but the gas was off. There was a bathhouse, but it was locked. On the plus side, it was real quiet.
We drove down to the cabins, chose one, and moved our stuff in. We got into garb, returned to the main building, and checked in, now that their check-in table was up and running. "Check in" was them handing us an empty envelope with our name and player number on it, a blank waiver, and a blank character sheet (wut?).
Turns out, they don't print your character sheet for you after all. We were now faced with the difficult task of recreating our characters on-site. We looked around for a rulebook, but they only had a couple of them for the entire 100+ players to use. Fortunately, I was able to pull it up on my phone, and got to work. This is harder than you might think, because one of the nice things about DL is that they give you a lot of skill points in the beginning. However, their skill system is pretty complicated, with multiple skills offering free or discounted other skills, all cascading together. Also, their character sheet is simply blank lines for you to fill in, rather than nested checkboxes like our KoN sheet. Suffice it to say that this got my evening off on the wrong foot.
While we were taking a half-hour to recreate our character sheets that we'd already done online, the line at the weapons check table was building up. All the Nerf guns needed to be chronographed. All the boffer weapons were checked with a metal detector. Everything got a big ugly wristband, like at a concert. Two people, one chrono, one metal detector, and 100 players needing to be checked and have their item cards written out.
What's that, Dave? Item cards? What are those?
Yes, dear reader, this game uses item cards instead of physical props for all their in-game items. These are business card-sized cards with a DL logo on the back, and a bunch of sections and checkboxes to fill out on the reverse. If you have, say, a bottle of high-quality whiskey, you don't actually need a bottle - you just need a card that says you have it. Imagine if Micah and Ivan sat down in the Jenny to do some serious business, but instead of seeing a table covered with potion bottles and jewelry and scrolls and alchemical reagents and magic items, instead you just saw us with piles of cards in front of us, like we were playing Yu-Gi-Oh.
That's what a "master merchant" looks like in DL. The ridiculousness even extends to each of these cards having a listed "weight", and your character's strength determines your encumbrance, just like a 2nd Edition D&D game, so you can only carry so many cards.
But every single one of them needs to be written out and signed by staff. By hand. Even stock items, like the "low quality pistol" that every new character starts with, has to be hand-written. They're not pre-generated.
Needless to say, this took FOREVER. Around 11 PM, they were finally ready to start the game. There was a short player meeting, and then the new players were corralled in one corner, where we got a welcome speech, some people clarified some rules stuff, and we were split into two groups (there were about 30 of us, too much for the pre-scripted encounter to handle, so they doubled it). We broke up into, more or less, Northerners, and Southerners. We were walked out into the woods on a trail, with the story that we were all arriving by stagecoach, but the horses wouldn't come any closer to the town (our first clue that something was wrong in this place). As we walked in, we got attacked by some humanoid things with glowing eyes, simple combat to get us into things, and then we were set loose in the town.
From there, the game was essentially a big sandbox. I could be as involved, or as uninvolved, as I wished. No one went out of their way to include us as new folks, but no one was anything other than welcoming, either. We very much were expected to make our own fun, which is fine. I turned in around 1 AM, but the game runs throughout the night (although there are no NPC shifts between 4 AM and 10 AM, so things slow down).
I had an NPC shift at 10 AM, so I got up for that, put on some generic garb (grey pants, a longsleeve pullover shirt with some collar buttons, a Mexican serape and my Cooper's Lake Juan hat) and headed up to Logistics. I was a few minutes late, so I'd missed their version of "Orc O'Clock", and got sent upstairs to the Saloon (Logistics is below their Inn) to sell some booze. The GM started to write out a stack of item cards, and I went over to their props table (they have one table) and found a basket and some bottles. The GM was confused about what I was doing - apparently vendors just literally go sell the cards - but when I put the cards in the basket with the bottles, it was like I could literally see the lightbulb going off above her head. "Oh yeah, that looks great!" I laughed a little, and headed upstairs to sell my stuff. Second NPC role was more of the same, a vendor (this time with bodyguards) selling expensive "chemist" items like cocaine eyedrops and tea that restores Focus (their mana). Around 2 PM I was released from NPC duty and changed back in to PC garb.
Played out the rest of the day as my PC, Father Seamus O'Leary, a retired Army doctor and Boston Irish Jesuit. I got worked into a few encounters, did some healing, sang with a pianist in the Saloon and a guitar player in town, and spent a lot of time sipping a drink and pretending to read my bible in the Saloon building, just watching what was going on and taking it all in. We crashed around midnight, and got up early and cleared out with minimal fuss. DL does a check-out, but as neither of us believes we'll be returning, we simply cleaned out our cabin well, policed the area, packed out our trash with us, loaded up and took off, not needing the XP. The game continues to happen until (I believe) noon Sunday, but we felt we'd seen enough and had a five hour drive ahead.
I'll conclude this AAR with our standard Good, Bad, Ugly list, but I'm going to add in a "The Different" section, too, lest I list all those things as Bad and seem to unfairly malign the game.
++ Website and online presence are responsive, useful, and slick
++ Campsite is large, and lovely
++ The world setting is interesting and engaging
++ Nerf guns are fun
++ Lots of skill points for a newb means you're not useless
++ Robust economy
++ Interesting mechanics, like Overwhelming and Addiction
++ The "Weird West" setting is fun and unique
++ Staff were super-friendly, if not always super-helpful
++ Players were very friendly and inclusive, if you put forth the effort to play with them
++ You can curse like Deadwood
++ No locational damage. Makes combat faster, but dropping over dead from being shot in the arm twice is meh.
++ Late start, but overnight play
++ Much more "theatrical" combat. The fight is just another opportunity for roleplaying, not the point of the encounter.
++ They have unarmed melee damage, like, you can "punch" someone. Because you can't actually punch, you have to use these super-short white boffers - so everyone has one or two of these in their back pocket, or hanging from straps on their belt. It looks absolutely awful and ridiculous at first, but I imagine it's one of those things you just get used to, like how ridiculous Dagorhir weapons look when you've been using latex ones.
++ Very slow pace of action. They have mandatory NPC shifts, but they're only four hours, and only once. The GMs usually had about 15 NPCs to entertain about 80 players.
++ More expensive than KoN, but not terribly expensive when compared to other Northeast LARPs.
++ Item cards
++ Garb is real hit-or-miss. Much like the SCA, the top 10% looked fabulous, the middle 80% was adequate, and the bottom 10% was atrocious.
++ No food provided. Nothing nearby to go to, either. Bring a cooler and cooking stuff.
++ Check in takes F O R E V E R
++ LOTS of timesinks. Like, part of their crafting system is gathering skills. You literally have to go out into the woods and pretend to gather shit for half an hour, then wait in line at the "Trading Post" for staff to adjudicate your efforts. Healing takes one minute per hit point healed (I healed a dude with 15 HP). Regaining Focus takes time. It's all a little too "MMOish" for me. I really prefer that stuff to be done off-camera.
++ Lightest touch combat
++ A number of skills that do things like insta-hit call for damage, "if you can hear the sound of my voice" effects, and similar stuff that compensate for lack of skill. Why learn to quick-draw your pistol and fan the hammer, when you can just touch your gun and say, "Quickdraw, crit 12" and you auto-hit and auto-kill someone?
++ Care and feeding of new players leaves much to be desired. No signs on the road or buildings, no welcome wagon to help you do simple shit like figure out where to sleep or park, character sheets and backgrounds were apparently just fired into the void to disappear forever.
++ Monster garb was atrocious. A "wolf" was simply a person in a small gray tabard and a wolf head hat. Might as well just have them in black with t-shirts that say WOLF or GHOUL.
++ Lots of SJW-type preaching at the intro, seemingly to the detriment of other things. Like, we were cautioned to use people's chosen pronouns three times during check-in, but couldn't find a single staff person who would tell us where to find a bunk in town. I'm not opposed to inclusiveness, just the opposite, but I felt like it got made a priority over things I'd think are more important - like putting a sign on Logistics. This is probably just me being old and out of touch with the kids these days, but I feel like their priorities are off here, and as an adult I'd like less lectures on my behavior and more assistance with actually playing the game. Publish your code of conduct, remind people once to follow it, and move on.
++ The GMs managed to wipe out the entire town Saturday evening, and had to do a quick dance to roll some shit back.