Fairweather Manor was set in early 1914, and the larp was run at Moszna Castle, a period-appropriate residence. An international crowd of roughly 150 players participated. The premise was that Sir Edward Fairweather, Duke of Somerset, was celebrating his 60th birthday and had invited many of the disparate branches of the family together to celebrate.
I was playing Richard Wayward-Fairweather, the patriarch of the American branch of the family. The American branch was represented by myself and my in-game family consisting of my wife, my daughter, my sister-in-law and my niece. Our background was that the American plantation — we named it Wayward Hall — was mismanaged horribly by my elder brother, who had died two years before. It was starting to recover, but still suffered under an extreme amount of debt. My primary goal in the larp was to find investors to restore the manor, possibly by finding a rich suitor for my daughter.
The characters were well-written, but there needed to be more information shared across characters. As an example, my wife had information about our dead son which didn’t make it into my packet. Also, my character had invited someone else to the manor, but I was unaware of it until I was approached by them at the larp.
It would have been very helpful to have a “family background” packet that shared all the relevant common information about the family, then allowing the individual packets to fill out the private information on a character-by-character basis.
The game ran from Thursday to Saturday. Thursday we arrived, had about 90 minutes to get to our rooms, change into costume, and play a brief in-character scene. This included picking up our costumes if we chose to rent them. I was staying in a room with the other members of the American branch; noble families were housed together, and this was a great idea, as the rooms were large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone and it provided a way for families to communicate.
After arrival, after everyone had unpacked and arranged their costumes, players broke into small groups for workshops and dinner. The first scene, which was filmed for the documentary, was all the guests arriving at the manor at night, greeting the family, and heading into the great hall for a brief address by the Duke.
Friday and Saturday began with everyone waking up in game. There was generally a servant available in the morning to help us get dressed, which was extremely helpful, as a number of women in my room were wearing corsets. Then breakfast, followed by a brief homily in the chapel. Following that, there were various activities around the manor; examples include a poetry reading, a political discussion, and a scene from a play. This was followed by lunch, another round of activities, some speeches, and an hour to dress formally for dinner. The evening started with dinner, then men and women separated into two groups for discussions. Finally, each night ended with a formal ball: a Servant’s Ball on Friday and a Grand Ball on Saturday.
Meals, with the exception of breakfast, were served for all the nobles at once; servants ate at different times. There was assigned seating and the servants would serve each course to the table in order. Some people complained about the pace of the meals — they ended up taking a significantly longer time than predicted — although to some extent, this was an artifact of the period.
What Worked Well
By far the biggest reason the larp worked as well as it did is the setting, followed closely by the care and effort the players put into their characters and costumes. Moszna Castle is stunning, and filled with servants and nobles, it’s very easy to imagine you’ve been transported back in time.
Another strength for me was the “brute force” design. Some of the hallmarks of brute force design are having many subgroups with different agendas, having members within each subgroup disagree with one another, and seeding power imbalances and secrets through the character writeups. Rather than have specific plots or events woven through the weekend, characters were free to play out their stories naturally, and players were given the agency to create their own game. This allowed a number of different play styles and themes to coexist. Some players lived out a gothic tragedy, others a Belle Époque romance, still others a Remains of the Day-style elegy. This was obviously more work for players, but it accommodated a wide range of approaches.
What Needed Work
There’s only one thing that requires serious attention: the servant/noble mechanics. They are sufficiently complex that I discuss them in more detail below. Otherwise, there were some fairly minor issues to address.
When we arrived Thursday, we were rushed to get dressed for the workshops and the opening scene. I felt like the day could have been structured better. I was hoping to start playing on Thursday rather than just having one short scene, and some of the workshops could have been more focused on specifics like etiquette, rather than the more general information. As an example, a number of nobles found it difficult to get out of the habit of thanking servants when they did something, which struck many people as jarring and out-of-character. Some explanation and practice beforehand could have alleviated those problems.
In casting and plotlines, it seemed like there were a lot of women looking for eligible bachelors, but not very many young men looking for women. This created some frustrating play for some people.
Meals were assigned seating, which I thought was a great idea as it provided an opportunity to interact with people whose characters wouldn’t normally interact. Unfortunately, there could have been more thought put into the rotation; I found myself frequently at the same table with many of the people I had sat with for different meals. Others commented on the same thing.
Servants and Masters
The biggest challenge for the larp, though, was the relationship between the nobles and the servants. While most of the nobles really enjoyed the game, the players to whom I talked who played servants had much more varied opinions. They certainly had a lot more demands placed on them: their day started several hours earlier than the nobles, they were constantly pulled away from their stories to serve the whims of upstairs, and they often had no opportunity to sit down or relax at all.
There were also times — like the servant’s mealtimes, or when they were preparing for their ball Friday night — when it wasn’t possible for nobles to find servants.
I think it comes down the fact that there are essentially two separate and fundamentally different larps running simultaneously, with only a few points of connection between them. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it does require being up front about the experience you should expect as a player. One suggestion, which may or may not be feasible, is to raise the price for nobles, while dropping the price for servants; that makes it more clear what the expectations of each role should be. Increasing the number of servants, as well, would reduce the burden on each individual player while increasing their availability.
In short, this was a largely successful iteration of the “blockbuster” formula, and a particularly interesting one, proving that it works even for genres which don’t rely on action or adventure to drive their plot mechanics. These games are ambitious and difficult to pull off, owing to their expense, logistics, and reliance on a fully engaged player base to generate play. But when they work, they provide an impressive amount of latitude in the play they can generate, and can be uniquely engaging to their participants.
- Fairweather Manor (2015). Agata Swistak, Agnieszka Linka Hawryluk-Boruta, Akinomaja Borysiewicz, Alexander Tukaj, Beata Ploch, Charles Bo Nielsen, Claus Raasted, Dracan Dembinski, Ida Pawłowicz, Janina Wicher, Krzysztof “Ciastek” Szczęch, Krzysztof “Iryt” Kraus, Maciek Nitka, Mikołaj Wicher, Nadina Wiórkiewicz, Szymon Boruta. Rollespilsfabrikken and Liveform. Moszna, Poland. http://www.fmlarp.com/
All photos are exclusively licensed for use by John-Paul Bichard. Contact him for use of these and other photos from Fairweather Manor.