The Everyday Extraordinaries, produced by Penny Blake with illustrations by Rae Smith, functions as a type of Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) guidebook for anyone looking to add a little adventure to their lives.
Anyone can join the ranks of the Extraordinaries, a group of dimension-hopping adventurers who travel from this real world into a fantastical Victorian steampunk realm full of evil wizards, aether-powered technology, and plenty of tea times. Not content to just be a game-book, Everyday Extraordinaries aspires to be “less of a LARP than a lifestyle,” and is indeed full of little tidbits about how to sneak into your life as much or as little adventure as you so desire.
Though you can find much of this content on the website, theeverydayextraordinaries.wordpress.com, you have to buy the book on amazon.co.uk (for about £11) if you want to play out the many story prompts or “Hooks” found only here, which resemble a LARP-style guided meditation crossed with a Choose Your Own Adventure series.
If you bring the imagination, Blake provides plenty of world to play in. After explaining how to “Accommodate Adventure” (as Blake describes her laissez-faire LARP philosophies), we’re introduced to the New World’s history, playable characters, and methods of resolving disputes. Trials by Tea, for example (or by Cake or Cucumber Sandwich), make up the only discernible rules. In this way, Blake tries to distinguish herself from more traditional LARPs by innovating free-form and participant led scenarios with little to no game master and definitely no hit points.
As much as she may want novices to feel safe here, it’s clear this model will produce the best results with a group of experienced, like-minded participants who can adapt to each other.
You can easily play some of these solo but if you can get anyone to join you, you’ll have a lot more fun.
Blake writes the book with a loose if not flamboyant sense of vocabulary, adapting and reworking words and parts of words to pleasurable effect. It’s clear she has a comfortable grasp on the Victorian lexicon and its modern, anachronistic-laden equivalents. Her wordplay dances a fine line between staying in character and acknowledging that this is all just for fun, but manages to keep the whole affair boisterous and lively.
Blake does her best to perform the heavy lifting for you, but struggles to find the right balance between simply guiding you through the story she’s already created or leaving you space to improvise.
Her tongue-in-cheek writing keeps the whole experience upbeat. You can almost read it cover to cover like a mixed-media kind of novel. Recurring in-jokes about Colin the Octopus, a missing cat, and needing a better name for the inter-dimensional-time-space-travelling-machine make the whole book feel very cohesive. Her obsessions with tea and cake border on the nonsensical, but I think her use of it as a platform for free-trade activism gives it a meaningful subtext while it also doubles as a form of Victorian lifestyle immersion.
The many various narrative elements struggle with consistency. The Cucumber Hierarchy or the Fruitcake Theory for example are portrayed in naked exposition like the appendix at the back of a Tolkien novel. All tell and no show. There is a transcript from an unfinished graphic novel, some correspondence letters, fake newspaper clippings and diary entries. At one point we are given instructions on how to produce a cipher or create our own Octopus companion. The middling quality and dubious relevance of these diversions makes this difficult to review. As fiction, they resemble fan-fiction short stories and excerpts. For role-playing, they succeed in developing a complex world, but don’t have much direct bearing on the Hooks you play out. I suspect Blake is cramming every facet of her personal LARP life into this almost like a scrap book.
Production value as a whole is okay, but I would’ve liked to see some better layout and design. Though the larger format is typical of a guidebook, Blake switches between single and double columns too freely (double looks much better) and needed more pictures, not just between chapters but embedded naturally within the text. Rae Smith provides the sepia bathed portraits of real-life LARPers which are used as chapter breaks. The obvious filters used to make them appear vintage can’t hide the artificiality of the props and the stiffness of the poses, but this is standard fare for cosplaying and many readers may find them quite endearing.
If you fashion yourself a stylish Victorian connoisseur with a good sense of humor and you’re looking for a fun new way to play out your steampunk adventures with friends of all ages, then you may very well enjoy The Everyday Extraordinaries. Lighthearted LARPers will find plenty of freedom to play out their steampunk fantasies.
For more of Penny Blake’s work online, visit pennyblake.wordpress.com
You can purchase the book on Amazon here: The Everyday Extraordinaries