“Astra” larp was a twelve day long pervasive live action roleplaying game which took place in Zagreb, Croatia, between the 15th and the 26th of October, 2014. It was designed and run by two game masters – Ivana Delač and Vesna Kurilić, both accomplished Croatian genre authors with day jobs in the culture and public education field. They have been involved in the European larping scene since 2011 and have so far participated in designing and running three local larps other than “Astra” – an intense chamber psychodramatic larp “The Cabin”, prison larp “Ćuza” and a single-day sequel of “Astra” in the city of Rijeka, called “Astra: Apokrifija”.
Larp “Astra” was a pervasive game with elements of espionage and research on literature, with a playable plot relying quite a bit on the supernatural side. It had a strong ARG (alternate reality game) aspect, which is not that common in Croatian larps. Most of the story had been kept secret until the game started (and well into the game), the characters were pre-written by the organizers, and the full number of participants – 28 active players, 2 GMs and a larger number of outsiders as supporting cast and crew – has been revealed after the game ended. The main storyline revolved around the lives and work of three famous Croatian authors of the 20th century – Marija Jurić Zagorka, Ivana Brlić Mažuranić and Antun Branko Šimić.
What was it all about?
All of the characters in “Astra” were regular folks applying for an internship at the “Astra” Agency, a discreet service which offers information – for the right price. The Agency had been monitoring information in the public domain and had selected a few potential candidates who seem right for the job. The only thing which remained was testing the candidates, which came in the form of daily tasks – some based on codes and cyphers, some requiring creative activity (writing, drawing, sculpting…) and some revolving around exploring, both online and in the real, physical world of Zagreb. There were also a couple of flashmob-based group assignments, i.e. public reading aloud from works of the three authors. The larp lasted for 12 days straight, in which 24 of the initial 28 players participated, in some way, until the very end. A ton of creative and informative material was produced – stories, poems, artwork, music, videos, research reports, statues, lanterns… All of those, as well as lovely ingame photos, can be seen here on the larp’s website, in the Documentation (Dokumentacija) page.
For every task completed successfully, players would receive a piece of information, often hidden in another puzzle, and the main goal was for them to put it all together in order to discover the story of the larp. And that story included the ancient, magical crown of Croatian kings that could bring a horrible death to those who desire eternal life, and immortality to those who fully accept that everyone must die. That crown subsequently, much to the joy of every fan of Marija Jurić Zagorka, made Zagorka immortal (and gave her enough time to continue her work and, eventually, create “Astra”).
Furthermore, a couple of characters were secretly working for Zagorka’s arch-nemesis, which brought on some interesting ingame situations and resulted in one character’s murder, which in return raised the tension and distrust among players. The highlight of the game was a treasure hunt in which players found the crown and discovered that Zagorka was actually immortal, and the Director of “Astra”. The game ended by Zagorka (played by the popular Croatian genre author Milena Benini) awarding the candidates with a job in “Astra” and leaving with the crown, supposedly to end her over-long existence.
Why so special?
Although this game was not the first Croatian larp based on the works of Croatian genre authors (that would be “Seekers of the dawn”, created by Ana Rajner and Božo Špoljarić in 2012 and based on Sanja Lovrenčić’s “Snakes of Nikonimor” fantasy trilogy), it was the first longer and pervasive one. It included quite a few elements that were previously unseen in Croatian larps – for instance, numerous ingame video materials, “hard copy” casefiles (given to every player at the beginning of the game) filled with mysterious documents and old photographs, ingame blogs and websites created months before the game and updated ever since, etc. This game was also, according to our knowledge, the first Croatian larp to include mainstream outside partners – Marija Jurić Zagorka Memorial Centre, Školska knjiga publishing house and book club Booksa.
The feedback provided by the players clearly shows that their opinion of the three authors improved significantly during the game, and that they learned a lot about the life and work of these writers who marked Croatian literature of the 20th century. This leads to conclusion that pervasive larp, as a transmedia form, is amazing, efficient and fun tool for promoting literature and educate about it
What’s next? “Astra: Apokrifija” and more…
It was one hell of a ride, and we could’ve hardly imagined anything better. The feedback was overarchingly positive – and we sure had the time of our lives! From the part of the organizers, we’d like to send special thanks to our players, supporting cast and crew and our outside partners – Marija Jurić Zagorka memorial centre, Školska knjiga publishing house (Arkadija bookstore) and Booksa book club.
A one-day treasure hunt event was held in Rijeka, Croatia, on March 14th. While “Astra” was written and organized around elements from genre literature, the one-day event, called “Astra: Apokrifija”, focused mainly on local history and art heritage of the coast city of Rijeka and its county (Primorsko goranska županija).
A short, one-shot chamber larp is planned to be held in the next 12 months, which will primarily explore the psychological aspects of working for a company that’s all about supernatural research, out-of-this-world crises on an everyday basis and which is run by an immortal Croatian writer.
We are happy and honoured to announce that “Astra” larp has recently been awarded the oldest Croatian genre award SFERA for a special genre accomplishment in 2014, and nominated for the Best Performance in European SF&F Awards, in the category Spirit of dedication!