Five Years in the Apocalypse

It’s been five years.

It’s been five years of plans, five years of work, five years of writing and challenges and successes. It’s been five years of events and five years of charity. It’s been five years of connections and memories and dreams.

It’s been five years and now, we’re taking a look back at how far Dystopia Rising LARP has come. Believe us when we say that it’s come a long, long way—and we hope to take it further still. But how did Dystopia Rising begin, you ask? That’s a good question.

It all started at a music festival (admittedly a strange place for a post-apocalyptic world to be born). Thousands of people gathered together, pitching tents and forming a community as they listened to music for five days. Men sold grilled food off of hibachis. Others plied hand blown glass trinkets as entertainers performed across the site.

Then, a storm rolled in. High winds and heavy rains lashed the tent city. Men and women scrambled to find shelter as chaos erupted. In the morning, there were only ruins. Metal frameworks and ripped homes were strewn around the area; people huddled together in small groups, taking shelter under folded-over portable gazebos. The community was, in effect, shattered.

And that’s when inspiration struck. In the midst of the carnage and chaos, a man walked with hot dogs and popcorn in tow. As the survivors gathered together, he sold his wares—for five dollars a pop.

“It became concrete in my mind, right then,” said Michael Pucci, co-founder of Dystopia Rising LARP. “No matter what happens in the world, we will always have people trying to better themselves at the expense of others while clusters of others would latch together. That sort of human nature, and the way people clung to one another, was the basis of what would later be my envisioning of post-apocalypse culture.”

It wasn’t until later that Dystopia Rising LARP finally turned into something more, though. Pucci had been running games with Ashley Zdeb, co-director and co-founder of Dystopia Rising LARP, for a few years—mainly Changeling and Vampire. Finally, they decided that they wanted to run something of their own.

“We were sitting in our living room one day,” said Zdeb. “Michael turned to me and said ‘I want to run a game for a living.’ I responded ‘Alright, let’s do that.’ The rest is history.”

Dystopia Rising LARP has obviously come quite a ways since its initial conception.  But Pucci and Zdeb weren’t alone when it came to creating the game; a host of others helped conceptualize the post-apocalyptic world that we play in today.

“My first taste of the world was sitting around Michael’s living room with beers and pizza, brainstorming game direction, execution, and polishing off the rules set,” said Matt Wallace, a long-time player and former Story Teller at the Dystopia Rising: New Jersey branch. “Michael pitched a ST role to me out of the blue, and hooked me on the idea of helping start a contact LARP with strong depth of role-playing from the ground up.”

The first game had only 32 people, and it was more of a test than anything else. There was also a bit of a learning curve when it came to actually attending these events. What was one of the first things that the players learned? Take care of yourself.

“Our third game, Michael, Joshua Demers and I all camped down in our (continually) abandoned faith center,” said Wallace. “We’d all just come off of shift or face NPCing for a long stretch. I’m pretty sure none of us had eaten for most of the day. We ended up eating raw mushrooms and onions that were supposed to be for omelet plot (yes, that happened) on Sunday, then passed out.”

But as Pucci, Zdeb and others began to hammer down the concept, the game started to become more successful. It also began to grow, and grow, and grow.

“That small little group ballooned and suddenly there wasn’t enough space anymore,” said Joshua Demers, one of the very first players of Dystopia Rising. “You were running into people on Sunday that you didn’t even know made the game. We had to make a lot of changes to survive.”

And survive it did (seriously—it’s impressive). These days, there are 10 networked games stretching across the U.S. and Canada with a dozen applications this year alone. There are even inquiries to open up new chapters in Europe.  Tabletop materials and books continue to be released, revealing more about the world of Dystopia Rising. Today, there are thousands of people who play this game across the country.

“This game has attracted a diverse and amazing group of people from all over the world,” said Demers. “Coming together the way we do was always a goal for this game.”

Zdeb agrees. She admits that she’s stunned by how far that the game has come in the past five years.

“I sometimes still see the game as what it was—eight of us hiding in a barricaded bar hoping against hope that the 10 shamblers outside wouldn’t be able to get in,” said Zdeb. “And sometimes, I manage to wrap my head around the idea that there are thousands of people out in the world who spend their weekends and evenings (and stolen work hours) talking about game, thinking about costuming, or just talking with friends they made over the survival of the fittest.”

Dystopia Rising LARP isn’t done by a long shot, either. More branches will open, two to three books will be released each year, and more people will play the game. New Advanced Professions are being play-tested, new Strains are being released, and charities are continuing to benefit from Dystopia Rising LARP’s efforts.

“Seeing the community growing to be so inclusive, and so inviting and understanding, is so damned important to me,” said Pucci. “It was the spirit behind the original game, and in expanded implementation, it’s our hope to make it the spirit of the entire network.”

It’s been five years and, with any luck, it’s going to be a hell of a five more years—and then some. So happy birthday, Dystopia Rising. We’re looking forward to more terror, more tears and more screams.

We’ll see you soon.