Hell on Wheels larp is a dramatic structured game for 55 players, originally aimed at players from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, regardless of their age. After the success that the game had with Czech and Slovak players, the organizers decided to have one run of it in English, aiming primarily at players from foreign countries. However, the way of playing larps and customs connected with it can differ between countries. We would therefore like to use this text to explain some of the things which are usual in the Czech Republic larp scene, which could come as a surprise to you.
WHAT IS THE GAME ABOUT?
Hell on Wheels is a larp set to the environment surrounding the construction of the transcontinental railway at the Wild West (to be precise, the game takes place in 1866 in Nebraska, in a fictional town called Durantown). But have no fear, you will not be made to build a railway during the game. Instead you will have four chapters of the game (almost 20 hours altogether) to shoot, scheme, brawl, fight, flirt, uncover mysteries, love or save people.
HOW SHOULD I PLAY THE GAME?
Hell on Wheels is a dramatic game. It emphasizes roleplaying and creating interesting scenes. While the game does deal with immersion in emotional experience and solving mysteries and plots, and these elements are very important, the goal of the game is to use them in order to create emotionally strong and interesting scenes. The rules of the game are very limited, and most physical conflicts are played out in a dramatic way.
Example: The players will be using gas guns with blank rounds, which do not shoot any projectile. That means that all the players participating in a gunfight decide by their own will when and where they were hit.
A majority of the props in the game are real, or simulated by replicas that are as accurate as possible. Players will be playing in their own costumes (the organizers do not provide the costumes). The costumes must suit the given character and correspond to the period and setting.
If you only enjoy D&D style rules, gaining experience points, having the opportunity to use different abilities, and the chance to level up during the game, this is not a game for you. On the other hand, if you want a strong story, emotional scenes, and a feeling that you’re part of a western film, this larp is for you.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE CHARACTERS?
All interested players will choose five characters they’d like to play when registering, and will be assigned one of them by the organizers. The characters have clearly specified gender, all of them are either distinctly male or female. This means players should choose characters according to the gender they identify themselves with; women should choose female characters and men male (it is therefore not possible for a woman to play Cullen Bohannon).
All the women roles are strong characters, with many of them transgressing the usual boundaries of the contemporary society (being gunslingers, politicians, lawyers, Indians, prostitutes). We made the decision to recreate some of the stereotypes of the Wild West because we believe, that the strong point of our game is an accurate re-enactment of the atmosphere of a certain period, as inspired by the TV show Hell on Wheels. Both the identification with the series and the efforts to maintain the feeling of the setting are reasons why we choose to use gender-based character selection.
We are aware that for many non-Czech communities this is a point of controversy, and that especially considering our use of western archetypes it can come off as a problematic point to many non-Czech players (e.g. women will get less interesting roles, only the guys will get to have fun). However, while it is quite common in the Czech larp scene to have gender-specified roles, there has been a lot of ongoing discussion in the past years, regarding the issue of creating interesting, strong, and fulfilling female roles while not compromising the simulation of a specific setting, and it has become the standard for Czech organizers to create such roles, dealing with more than the typical female role stereotypes of romantic plots and relationships. We have put much thought into writing the female characters in order to make them just as interesting and challenging as the male characters, and we hope (and the reviews by Czech female players from the previous runs indicate) that we have managed to achieve that.
We have approached all the characters in the same way and see them all as equally interesting, so please do not fear that the game of an Indian will be shallow, or that playing a black man will be boring. Quite the other way around – the freedmen group is one of the busiest one in the game, and though it faces a very difficult situation the individual members of the group have very strong stories. The same can be said for prostitutes and in one form or another for all the characters in the game.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
HoW is a historical game, however, it is not a re-enactment, but a larp. The historical facts and behaviour are less important than the game and the experience from it. Still we would like to strive for historical accuracy and creating a faithful atmosphere of the Wild West, and we ask the same from our players. However, considering the period of the game, this also includes roleplaying behaviour which would be unacceptable in the present time – such as racism in the society and racial hatred towards African-Americans and Indians by the majority of the society. In the pre-game workshop, we will deal with this topic thoroughly, and try to teach you how to be mean to each other – and we will ask you to play out these issues in the game. We believe that this experience can be interesting, challenging, and thought-provoking for the players, and inspire them to think on the issues of racism and xenophobia that are still relevant even in our time. When in character, please forget about racial and political correctness – the game is supposed to get under your skin, and hopefully help you think about the society of today and yourselves.
RACISM AT HELL ON WHEELS
We decided to use this text to try and explain how we address the sensitive issue of xenophobia and racism in our game.
To begin with, we think it important to state that racism (or more precisely roleplaying racism in the way it worked in the 19th century) really is one of the important themes in our game. Since we strive to provide as accurate depiction of the Wild West and its atmosphere in our game, we must naturally include racism as a part of the everyday life in Durantown, and we ask the players to act as their more or less racist characters. We base this not only on the historical reality, but also on our closeness to the TV series, which also substantially accentuates this topic.
OUR GOAL? EXPERIENCE IT, DISCUSS IT.
We are aware of the controversy of this topic, and we approach it responsibly, but we deliberately do not adhere, and will not adhere to voices proclaiming that this issue is a taboo, which should not be depicted in larp. On the contrary. One of our goals is to contribute to the discussion on this negative phenomenon. The reviews of the Czech players show that living through the game in a role of a racist character, or on the other hand a character who is discriminated and humiliated can not only bring a strong inner experience, but also help the players obtain a closer understanding of the workings if racism and the way its victims feel.
We therefore think, that not only does our game not promote racist tendencies, which are still current even in the present, but that it shows the players (through their own experience) the danger and threat it poses, forcing them to think on the way it works in present society. If you choose to register for our game, it is very probable that you will be confronted with this topic.
YES, WE ARE NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT
Racism and prejudice in 1866 wasn’t seen as racism as prejudice, but as natural behaviour towards certain parts of the society (black people, Indians, prostitutes etc.). Most of the society was racist, and only few white people saw African-Americans as an equal race. Our game features characters that are profoundly racist and show it, as well as characters who try to help the oppressed. In order to maintain the atmosphere and period authenticity, the words “nigger” and “injun” will be used during the game. We are aware that these words are extremely derogatory and completely unacceptable in the present; however, in 1866, it was an inherent part of the position that the African-Americans and Native Americans occupied in the society.
During the game, the freedmen will be marked by black scarves and will be painted with symbolic black lines under one eye. The goal is not to mask the players to look completely real, but rather to show their different ethnicity through symbolism for game purposes. We are aware that our approach is tied to a certain degree of political incorrectness, but we strongly believe, that it contributes to the depth of immersion and understanding of this topic at the Hell on Wheels larp.
WE ARE OPEN TO ALL
Although the rules for playing male and female roles are clearly given (male players should play men and vice versa), our game is completely open to all, without any regard to gender, age, race, nationality or religion. Every player is also free to choose any character, without any regard to race or age (e.g. non-white player can choose a white character or the opposite). We are a young and dynamic team of organizers and we are willing to be flexible and hear out different opinions, so please, if anything in this text is not clear to you, you have any doubts about if the game is right for you, or you have any individual needs or questions, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your problems with you.