The Geekery hosts Dungeons & Dragons escape room

Poker chips and disposable cards determine the player's options in The Geekery's live-action escape room.

Flagstaff’s home for everything geeky is expanding to include live-action roleplay events. The Geekery shop hosted its first live-action Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) escape room on Oct. 23, a ticketed event that will recur in late January. 

The Geekery is a Magic: The Gathering game shop located just off campus in the Green Tree Mini Mall. Owner Steven Brently opened the shop in 2010 to give fans of the card game Magic: The Gathering a place to meet, play together and purchase all their gaming necessities. 

Since The Geekery’s opening, Brently said the shop has hosted many gaming events for Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer and D&D. However, the live-action escape room event hosted by Peppercorn Games is the first of its kind at The Geekery. 

Flickering Neon event coordinator John Compton said the event is not a typical live-action roleplaying (LARP) experience. 

“It’s a combination of live-action roleplay, escape room and interactive theater,” Compton said. 

The players act as a private investigative (PI) team in a cyberpunk fantasy world, where the entire city is enclosed in a sprawling building the size of Las Vegas. The team investigates the disappearance of a young girl in the central tower, a hot spot of tourism, technology and vice. 

As a PI unit, the players are tasked with finding clues to piece together the story of the mysterious disappearance. 

“We wanted to do something that was a bit of an escape room, but then there’s that adversary component that you would get from a LARP or tabletop,” Compton said.

The adversaries are actors in costumes who engage in turn-based combat techniques with the players, using foam ball blasters and foam swords. Each player is also allowed to pick 10 skills out of the list of 75 to enhance play. These options include typical D&D skills and spells, such as charm, sneak, strength and intimidate. Other investigative options include autopsy, code decryption, linguistics and weapon specializations. 

An actor in the session named Colleen Walls said the roleplaying event was like nothing she has done before and challenged her improvisation skills. 

“I love how literally anything can happen in the game,” Walls said. “Everything that happens to my character depends entirely on what the players say and do.”

Walls said what makes this escape room unique is actor involvement. Players try to defeat an unknown enemy portrayed by live actors. If you play your cards right, Walls said, you get to shoot at enemies with Nerf guns. However, if Nerf guns aren’t the player’s preference, the cyberpunk element comes into play with hacker specializations.

A player is allowed to specialize as a hacker who composes ciphers to break electronic defenses and weapons. These hacking skills range from creating firewalls on devices to forcing reload on enemy weapons. Compton’s favorite hack is called Oceanfront, which plays the song Caribbean Queen” over enemy communication devices to disrupt adversary teamwork. 

Whether hacking a device or using a foam sword, Compton said the safety of the players and actors are important to Flickering Neon, so the masked actors and players do not engage in any physical combat. 

Rather than swing a foam sword at an actor, the player will attempt to hit a small target with the foam sword within a three-second span. The same rules apply to the toy foam blasters. 

“We’re really going above and beyond to make sure the players and the actors are safe,” Compton said. 

This safety is enforced in both gameplay and COVID-19 regulations. The event was originally inspired by the isolated nature of COVID-19, which prevented tabletop games and D&D that usually involve close contact and possibly dice-sharing. 

Compton said the event is a good way to connect during the pandemic because masked actors and players can easily be incorporated into costumes. 

Masks are mandatory, Compton said, but costumes are not. However, in-game incentives are provided if a player comes in costume, and additional incentives are provided if the player incorporates their mask into the costume. 

A mask and a purchased ticket are the only things a player must have prepared before the session. Characters and skills are established at The Geekery before the game starts, as well as an introduction to the rules of the cyberpunk world. 

When choosing skills and playing the game, Walls encourages players to get involved in the process and think outside the box.

The more fun the players have in the game, the more fun I have as a character,” Walls said. 

A handbook and skill sheet are provided at the start of the character build, but they are also available for purchase if a player would like to look over the world beforehand and discover hidden clues within the text. The handbook can be purchased for $2 at The Geekery. 

Walls said she hopes the Flickering Neon event can bring a safe new experience to Flagstaff and introduce more people to the world of roleplaying games. 

“The LARP community is very inclusive,” Walls said.  “I would like to see the geeky or nerdy stigma surrounding these types of games disappear or not be portrayed in such a degrading fashion.” 

Walls said the event is a fun way to get started in the world of LARP and to learn more about this community. 

Compton said his hope for the event is simple: to bring happiness during a pandemic. 

“I’d just be happy if people left happy,” Compton said. “I want to bring a little bit of joy.”

Flickering Neon’s first episode, which will maintain the same storyline as the October event, will recur from Jan. 28 to 31, with a second episode coming in late February.