Dark Tempus 3

Once again, it’s been a dog’s age since I posted anything. I’m going to blame it being the off season and me being in a bit of a funk with things. Life has been busy and I’ve had a lot to think about so writing about LARPing has kind of fallen by the wayside (I should just save these opening paragraphs and copy/paste them into each article…)

Anyway.

This past weekend I went to Dark Tempus, a post apocalyptic LARP that my little sister and her fiance (amongst others) went to last year and raved about. It was one I’d had my eye on attending but Christina didn’t fancy it so I went to other events instead. Luckily this year it clashed with the IoD national so I could slope off without feeling bad. And I’m very glad I did…

The system is pretty rules light with no mechanical progression between events. You play a survivor from one of the five factions (from Judge Dread style Peacekeepers to the tribal Faulket and the shifty Free Trade Union) who has skills from one of a number of fairly standard classes (enforcers, medics, mechanics, traders etc.) The character creation is quick and dirty but works really well.

Where the game really shines is by selling itself as an unapologetic survival horror game set in a broken future with zombies. Most of the real action seemed to take place at night meaning the days could feel a little empty (though to fair to the organisers I actually slept through most the Saturday afternoon – it might have been super action packed) but when night falls… bloody hell is comes alive! There are different kinds of zombies from your basic shambling corpse kind, to the thinking attracted to sound kind to your intelligent attracted to light kind all of which need to be dealt with in a different fashion. So the ones that are attracted to light call other zombies to them if they are killed and make zombies around them more intelligent – when they are spotted the cry to “kill the lights” goes up and the site is pitch black moments later (more than once this happened in the middle of surgery which certainly complicates things). The ones attracted to sound are played by a guy in a morph suit crawling around like a lizard and repeating any voices it hears in a low, sinister whisper. They don’t seem to actually attack anyone but having one follow me under the table I was taking cover under will go down as one of the scariest moments in my LARPing career…

The system seems to have an element of FOIP to it (which I like) so I don’t actually know very much about what was going on – this added to the sense of mystery and isolation, especially combined with the steady turnover of characters meaning the camp felt very much like a haven for survivors and refugees rather than an impregnable fortress from the horrors of the wastes.

I initially went and played a trader with a Bag of Stuff. While the character stuff with the group was an awful lot of fun (Lucy and Phil are amazing players) I found the trading game a little slow – perhaps this is something that will develop in future when resources start to be used up, at the moment it felt like everyone had what they needed, perhaps because components are quite cheap at creation and there were lots of new PCs at this one? Either way Som’er Meridian got killed after some Ill-Advised Science let to me trying to eat the blight corpse that had attacked me (don’t ask).

I’ve died at a lot of LARP events and you’d think I’d have gotten better at putting together a new PC on the fly wouldn’t you? Sadly not… So after a brief spell as a zombie I came back as a seer with some guy who’d died at a similar time. This was fun for about as long as it took me to walk back to site and dispense a prophecy of doom to a terrified mechanic so I took myself off for a shower and a nap before returning several hours later as Dr Sam Meridean, vet turned surgeon and perhaps the last Nice Person left alive. Surgery is absolutely brutal due to the way the bead pull system works at Dark Tempus – several time I was trying to heal up a flesh wound only for the person to pass out and start to die before I brought them around. I’m no doctor but I felt this nicely simulated the potential problems of performing trauma surgery in these situations and several time left me physically exhausted after 20/30 minute surgery sessions. Luckily nobody died one me (well, no permanently – I did kill Phil 3 times through bad luck but we kept shocking him back to life).

So will I go back? Yes, almost certainly. Sam was a lot of fun to play and the game does what it says on the tin. It was also only £40 for the game and camping making it fantastic value.

This event was my first real attempt to put into action something that Tim Baker said when I spoke to him at Insurrection last year – we were talking about making your own fun and getting involved and he said that he’d always worshipped every demon, taken every idol and tried to follow every quest because other wise LARP is dull. Coming from a World of Darkness background I find this hard – Vampire (especially with a monthly game) is about slow, considered actions and not rushing in. Fest LARPs are about seizing the moment and getting stuck in – I find this really hard but I’m learning. I still don’t think I’m a very good Fest LARPer but there are a lot of people out there I’m going to try and learn from…

Next weekend is the final Insurrection event (Boo! Hiss!) and also my first shot at crewing something. I’m really rather excited about this…

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Insurrection Event 10

So, this was a few weeks ago now but I’ve been really busy with… stuff. I meant to write this the day after the event when I had a day off work, given the odd mood I came back in it’s probably best that I waited. Not that it was a bad mood, just a bit weird. Anyway, onto the event itself.

Insurrection is a mid-fantasy game of elves, dwarves, orcs, humans and half-breeds set against a wonderful dystopian world of dark, dirty politics. It’s one of those lovely grey setting where you can never quite decide if you are the good guy or not… actually, that’s a lie. You are *never* the good guy. Nobody is. Everyone is a bastard.Especially if they are a player. The background is rich, detailed and seems to have evolved an awful lot during play however unlike a lot of systems the ref team update the setting document between events so you don’t get that interesting feeling of timing into a game based on information that is 5 years old and now bares now relation to the actual game (Yes Maelstrom – I’m looking at you…). An interesting thing that the setting actually – between events I always sort of forget that it’s a fantasy setting. In my head it’s the cold war with elves and magic. Sort of like a 1980’s Shadowrun… (I’m copywriting that setting right now).

The event was held in Drakelow Tunnels  which as a venue has to be seen to be believed. The tunnels were used to test land rovers or something during World War 2 and are now used by LARPers and airsofters for events. A good few people pulled out due to claustrophobia and similar issues (including my usual LARP partner in crime) so this was the first event I’d attended on my own for many years. I had my reservation abouts whether I’d be able to hack a weekend underground without natural light or any idea of the time but it wasn’t all that bad. Yes it is very dark at night, yes the air is a bit damp and yes you are in an enclosed network of tunnels but really it was alright. There was plenty of time to trips outside to remind yourself that the sky did exist and that you weren’t really stuck, they also had Applebys down there so we had access to good coffee and food – which lets face it makes everything bearable. I had a slight freak out Saturday night but nothing that half an hour sitting outside and some deep breaths couldn’t solve. In short, if you get the chance to go, and you aren’t affiliated with crippling claustrophobia, it’s well worth a visit.

This being the penultimate event the plot has reached its endgame. The gist of the event was that the players were travelling into Limbo (the Land of the Dead) and then onto Pandemonium (the Realm of Hellish Demons) using an artifice crafted device that allowed them to move between realms. I know that sounds a touch silly but it worked really well in the flesh. This only being my second event I was a little hazy on the actual end goal, I think it involved killing or trapping or talking to a Duke of Hell. To be honest the end goal depends on your faction so it’s tricky to say. An awesome part of Insurrection is that all the factions have competing goals and you earn XP based on how many of them you achieve. One of my factions goals involved performing a ritual to make High Elf magic work more effectively by performing empowering one of our ancestor spirits, at the same time another group were trying to direct the same power to one of their ancestors – this led to us almost getting murdered by them because we tried to use our powers to distract them while we snuck off to do the ritual. All very cool, even if the Velvet Glove do seem to fail at achieving their conflicting objectives…

Actually, to give us our dues we achieved our other goal of rescuing a powerful elven noble because we are bad ass Elven superspies – even if we were saved mostly by somebody treading on his own cloak. You know how I mentioned in the first paragraph that there weren’t actually any good guys in this? Well allow me to illustrate the point. The Velvet Glove are the High Elf faction of elven supremacists. They let normal elves and half-elves join too but that is mostly so they have people to do the heavy lifting. So one of our elders was leaving to go to the Undying Lands across the water (as you do) and we had to find her and escort her to the boat. Once we’d found her and smuggled her past some guards we led her to the docks and she went to leave. I piped up and asked if she was taking the slave, only we’d gone to a lot of trouble to rescue her and I wanted something to show for it. Me and the elder glared at each other for a second before she shoved the slave towards me and grabbed the bag she was carrying (which apparently contained Phat Loot) telling me I was welcome to her. Our merry band set off back to the exit arguing about who was going to keep the slave. At one point one of the elves (the normal elves) suggested asking the slave who she wanted to go with, this led to the High Elves raising an eyebrow at her, ruling her out of ever owning slaves or making decisions before going back to bickering. In the end I got to keep her and had her teleported home with orders to clean herself and await my return… Sadly I died a hour or so later so I’ll always wonder what became of my potential new body slave… It was at that point it hit me: we definitely aren’t good guys. Later on ,during a conversation about politics (the one where I was eaten by a random wandering monster due to lack of healers) we were discussing how, essentially, the world would be a better place if the High Elves just ruled everything – not too dissimilar to the views of the arch-villain of the system. Special mad props need to go to Jacki at this point for making my death such a wonderfully poignant moment. When she realised I was dying, and neither her nor the guy we’d been talking to could save me, I had the pleasure of listening to her agonise about what to tell my wife,  how we’d planned to dance later at a ball  and how to stop the goblins looting my corpse. Not long after this the teleporter announced we were moving to the next realm and they had to leave me there. I had my eyes closed but it sound as though to decision to leave my corpse behind hadn’t been made lightly. That is the first LARP death I’ve had that I felt like an actual bereavement – very human and very involved.

Insurrection 10 is legitimately my favourite LARP event of this year.  The site was top notch, the plot was incredibly involving and I have never cried so many genuine tears of emotion at an event. I’ll give you an example of one of the tear jerking moments (My elf was dead my this point so I’d timed in a half-orc from the faction of half-breed rights activists). We reached a section of Pandemonium called the Barrier of Grief and  Tears (or something similar) where a guardian told us that in order to pass through we needed to share, out-loud, a secret that we didn’t want anyone else alive to know. This doesn’t sound like much but it led to a steady parade of wonderful character based roleplay where people shared their darkest confessions – some people has been brought into the Association as spies, some had committed acts of  genocide during the war, some people confessed secret loves or deep loathings. It was all amazing and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to discover that the air was very dusty in that section of tunnel and find their eyes watering…

The plot and site were great but the thing that makes an event are its players and its crew. Insurrection has wonderfully dedicated crew and refs who go above and beyond to make each event special for all the players – I stumbled across plenty of crumbs left specifically for my PC and I was gutted to discover that the ghost of my son was wandering around and I’d missed him. The legions of NPCs all felt like living, breathing characters and never monsters thrown out there to kill time. The counterpart to this is the player base. Insurrection is a PVP game that is driven by conflict. In some games this gets nasty and people either get upset or end up pulling punches to avoid drama. Insurrection has none of this. It’s players are genuinely the friendliest bunch I’ve ever come across (I had no problem rocking up and joining a new faction, in fact I was sought out and invited) and when PVP kills do happen people take it in good spirit. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I’m a little sad that I only took the plunge and came to an event at the start of this year (event 9) as it really is the sort of game I love. The team are currently working on a new game that will run in 2015  called Promised Land I’m not too sure what it’s about but given the team behind it I’m sure it will rock. I’ll definitely be at event 11 to see the system off into the sunset and shed a tear at its passing but Joe and the refs seem to understand when it’s time to call it a day and leave their players wanting one last encoure…

We’ve now at the start of the Long Dark Winter where I only have Vampire games to tide me over until March. Next year I plan to attend Empire, Dark Tempus, Insurrection 11, Odyssey and hopefully Mythlore New Lands. Until then, I’ve got Masquerade and Requiem, neither of which are ringing my bell at the minute – but as Doc Holiday said “When it’s the only game in town you’ve got no choice, even if the House is crooked”.

I’ll try to keep writing this over Winter. Perhaps I’ll put some kit photos up or discuss some character concepts. I might even go back to theorising about parts of game design and playing… Why don’t you leave me an idea in the comments section and I’ll see what takes my fancy!

Mythlore 2013 event review

As promised this is my review of the Mythlore event I attended this weekend. It might get a little long and a little ranty but it is quite different to the other systems I’ve played so needs some explanation. Oh, it probably also rambles about reiki in the middle but you can skip that part if that sort of thing upsets you.

So – the basics. Mythlore New Lands is a relaunch or a reimagining or a tribute to the original Mythlore campaign and is based at Candlestone LARP Site somewhere in the wilds of the Welsh countryside. It is set in a pseudo Middle Eastern kingdom with nations based on different Eastern/African countries (Morac is Morocco, Xianbei is China, Perasia is Persia etc.)  coming together to the great souq of Balsora to speak with the Scholar Prince following his father’s death. So far so typical. What made Mythlore appealing is that it is has an incredibly rules lite system, even more so that most fest LARPs when I compare it to the World of Darkness LARPs I started with. It was quite a small event – the player list says 26 but I think it was probably closer to 40 and maybe a dozen crew.

First off I’d like to get my gripes out of the way. Now in the grand scheme of things these weren’t massive and only slightly damaged my experience of the event once I’d gotten into it but some of them very nearly killed my enthusiasm for going in the first place.

Like everything that is anything, Mythlore New Lands has a Facebook group where players can go to froth, keep upto date with announcements and all the rest of it. I joined this group after Christina found an advert for it on another group and we thought it sounded interesting. Over the course of the next few months we asked a few questions about the game – did it have currency, was there any background material, what sort of game was it. While all of them were eventually answered (though sometime with a “we aren’t sure – it depends what happens”) it never actually felt as though questions were welcomed. It felt very much like we shouldn’t be asking these things, that the answers were obvious from what they had published and that by asking we were only marking ourselves out as “not their sort of people”. I was pleased to see that in person it was all much friendlier (infact one of the most friendly events I’ve ever been to) but I imagine it would have put some people I know off attending.

Now the elephant in the room. It’s rules lite and the setting is player defined. These two problematic pachyderms should be discussed separately though they had the same effect.

The rules lite tag comes from the fact that the game doesn’t really have many rules – it has skills and professions but most of them boil down to “if it seems reasonable, you can do it. Especially if you make it look good”. So it doesn’t have spell lists for casters, potion lists for alchemists or (most interestingly) hit points for different classes. It all boils does to whether you, as a player, think that what you are doing is reasonable. Now obviously everyone’s view of reasonable is different. I come from fest systems where most people have 3 hit points as a rough base but in WoD you have a minimum of 6 (usually around 8). I gather some system have you with as many as 15 as your base. So when it says that a rogue or a reeve can take “a few hits” with a warrior taking “a few more” and a mage taking “a few less” it becomes difficult to know whether you are right. Now to give them credit they did later issue an amended set of rules saying that a rogue or a reeve had “about 2 hits” this would have been nice earlier. It’s also not very helpful when some skills don’t seem to do anything (or perhaps I just didn’t know how to use them!) – blag and evaluate allow you to be more persuasive and get better prices when selling things but I’ve no idea how you indicate this to a player when you use them. Dropping out of character around crew seemed to be a flogging offense…

Player defined setting either works really well or really badly. Essentially the idea is that players are more invested in a world where they can carve out their own piece of it and define exactly what they want to play without any constraints. That last part is the blessing and the curse so I’ll say it again – without any constraints. When you don’t have much of a world setting (or nation settings beyond  name) it’s incredibly hard to create your group from scratch. We turned out to be the only Morac present (I think…) and ended up defining a tribal culture in contrast to the decadent city dwellers who has previously been imagined. But in doing so we wrote a lot about the social and political history of the nation and how it interacted with some of the others. Had anyone else written this for Morac (or anywhere else for that matter)? God knows – I couldn’t find any details! In the end it didn’t really matter – the nation setting is largely for your own amusement. Nobody cares where you are from so long as you turned up the souq and want to help.

Now you could be forgiven for reading the later 880 words and assumed that I’d hated Mythlore New Lands. You’d also be 100% wrong. It is very, very good but I found an awful lot of it very frustrating up until the Saturday of the event.  Now the good stuff.

First off the site is absolutely amazing. It really is the most atmospheric and engaging place I’ve ever LARPed. It contains (in no particular order) a pirate ship, a wooden fort, some yurts, a mead hall, 2 square miles of natural sand dunes, wood land and a sort of fighting pit thing. Quite possibly other stuff that I didn’t see too. All of this was wonderfully dressed and utilized in textbook examples of how to make best use of the terrain available (you’d almost think one of the organisers worked in TV or something…).

The crew were amazing, blended well into the player base and backed up by wonderful special effects. You could argue that some of the pyro was used because it looked cool rather than because it was strictly necessary and there was one encounter where I really wished I’d being have as much fun as those NPCs were but whatever, YMMV. The kit was great, the named NPCs had character and flavour and the linear missions never felt forced, padded or contrived.  We also got to talk to this guy who gets my nomination as the best NPC I’ve ever seen. The Scourge is a pirate king who is on the run from the law for pretty much every crime under the sun. The operator (who incidentally used to operate the dragon from Knightmare!) was really good and it was very easy to forget you were speaking to a puppet. A puppet that was ordering his crew to castrate themselves has that sort of effect… I was also chased across a sand dune by a floating jellyfish monster spraying acid (a water pistol) at me as I ran behind the mages. I absolutely refuse the put that in context as it would only spoil the effect.

Earlier on I ragged on the flimsy setting in the background material so I feel honour bound to mention that this actually had no effect on the uptime in the slightest. While we were there I never felt that I didn’t understand what was happening or why we were doing things. I was never asked to just accept the authority of the Scholar Prince nor did I ever feel that the villains were generic or faceless. The uptime setting, as is so often the case, bears little resemble to the downtime setting. In Mythlore’s case that is a very good thing so it gets pass it’s wafer-thin background pack.

+++Rambling about alternative therapies+++

During the run up to the event there had been an advert on the Facebook group by a lady who does reiki massage offering them out for a very reasonable fee (about £10 for 30 minutes I think). I don’t claim to understand reiki (nor am I all that interested in picking though it’s spiritual pseudo-science) but I do like to give things a bash when they are cheap (buy me a drink and ask me about Prague sometime…). A few years back I had acupuncture on a strained shoulder and found it helped the pain, I also saw a chiropractor about a bad back -he didn’t help my back in the slightest but did leave me feeling like I’d downed a bottle of rum as I walked to the train. So am no stranger to trying alternative medicine and consider myself pretty open minded about the possible benefits even if I (or anyone else) can’t explain them. Now if you’ve never had a reiki session the process will sound strange (and trust me, it’s even stranger in person) but the woman placed a stone over my heart, banged a gong and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes poking me, holding her hands a few centimetres over me and every now and then, exhaling over my muscles. At the end of the session I felt very relaxed and she was able to correctly identify that I’ve hurt my right shoulder and have a long standing lower back pain. I don’t know how (I had my eyes closed) but I certainly didn’t tell her and she pinpointed them exactly. I wouldn’t say either of the injuries are better but I was a lot more chilled for the rest of the day. I’ve also not slept for the past two nights but I think that has more to do with me being over excited than the reiki. If she is there next time I’ll probably go again if it is equally cheap but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to find one in Manchester.

+++ End of rambling about alternative therapies +++

Special mention must to go to the food! The event cost an eye watering £130 each but it was fully catered and included a huge feast on the Saturday night. We both ate very well from a fine selection of well made food over the three days.

I had a lot of fun with the characters Christina and I played. As mentioned before we were playing tribal raiders who were trying to reclaim their lands from the city dwellers. Christina was playing the rogue/bard daughter of our tribal chieftain while I played her half-Ifrit rogue/guide. The write up we produced talked about how the Ifrit were the spirits of the desert (we wanted to call them Djinn but they are an evil NPC race…) who watched over the tribes and guided their souls back to the realm of the living when they died. Empowered by stories of great heroes they are obsessed with music and dance to the point where some of them will give up immortality to be born into a human body and live close to the current incarnation of great bards. As the Ifrit are a genderless race they take all their gender cues from mortals so display a mixture of male and female characteristics. This led to a six foot tall man with a goatee beard wearing gold eye make up and speaking in a higher voice than usual. Oh and sometimes letting out a screeching warcry and charging into the battle. I hope I stayed on the right side of the androgynous/drag queen line, I certainly intended to. All in all, a lot of fun even if they weren’t the most developed characters we’ve ever played.

So the final question: Did I enjoy it and would I go back? The first part is definitely yes, by the end of the event I was very sure I’d had £130 worth of fun and have decided that I want to go to a lot more of those sort of events – I’ve never really done any LARP fighting and would like to start. As for whether I’d go back… It depends. Partly on whether they actually run another event (it seemed to be in doubt though that could be the long week talking), partly it depends on where I can do the bits in downtime I want to do or whether I just have to decide whether it works myself. It also depends if it clashes with anything else. So consider that a tentative yes. If you want tight rules, well defined background and crew that can answer your questions consistently – play Empire. If you want a system where you can write your own background, have the freedom to do whatever you think is reasonable and a passionate crew, you could do far worse than giving Mythlore New Lands a shot.

Next month is Insurrection event 10 and then we enter the long dark LARPing winter where I only have IoD games to keep me going. I’ll write an event review of Insurrection when I get back and I’ll probably also put down some thoughts on the upcoming IoD reset (spoiler alert: I really like the idea).

Looking forward to 2014 I’m hoping to give Odyssey a go as well as keep playing Empire, the final Insurrection event is early next year, there might be another Mythlore (or two) and I want to give Fools and Heroes a go. I’ll try to write about as much of it as I can – hopefully somebody might even read it 😀

For the Empire!

So, two posts in a month – you’d almost think I was unemployed again…

As mentioned in my last blog post I’m going to start writing event reviews on here, It’s a bit of a shame that I only decided to do this at the end of the UK LARP season but hey, I’ve got two more booked before the end of the year!

This weekend I attended Profound Decisions Empire LARP held at Tournament Stud near Brackley. This will be the third Empire event I’ve been this year (having decided that I was just too knackered from my new job to go to the second one in June). Prior to attending I’d been pretty down on Empire – infact my previous stance had been that Empire felt like a wonder film based on an amazing book. Very pretty to look at, full of rich exciting background but not actually all that interactive.

See we’d been a bit unlucky with our group concept. Christian and I had been watching HBO’s Borgias TV show and decided that we wanted to play something a bit like that in Empire (before we’d seen anything other than the flyer handed out at the end of Maelstrom). Then when we went along to the first Empire concept tent we’d seen The League (who are the Borgias in all but name…) and jumped on that. Personally I think we got a little too invested in a concept before we’d got all the rules and setting information (though I’d be quick to point out that if we’d waited until it was all available we’d have been writing the group on the drive to event one!).

The problem with this is that if you have a set idea of what you want then you end up disappointed when it doesn’t survive play. This combined with a liberal approach to other PCs in the group (essentially “play what you like so long as it can fit into a League Guild”) meant that we ended up spread a little thin without any real cohesion. But this event we managed to finally make it all click and found the reason to get up and pound the field.

I’m used to smaller systems so being in a field of 1500 people is a little intimidating, it’s also very easy to miss things. But PD manage to get around this using the Civil Service and the over arching Imperial structure. One of the things PD seemed very keen to do was ensure that there was plenty of things to do and that everyone could contribute to the larger workings of the Empire. I’m still not 100% sure they’ve gotten this entirely correct but it has definitely gotten better and I can now see the niche we are aiming to carve for ourselves. One of the things I really like is that there are posters pinned up at the Senate house and the bar advertising lost items or missing people or wanted criminals offering rewards for “solving” the problem. And you know what – I can’t spot the one that are placed by NPCs from the one placed by players – that really is the best kind of plot seeding.

The really big selling point of Empire is the sheer mind bending scale of it all. As I mentioned earlier conservative figures had 1500 players (so not counting several hundred crew) at event 3, though I think event 1 was bigger despite the snow. This is split into 8 nations of varying sizes – the League is pretty big and has several hundred players, the Highguard and the Imperial Orcs seem smaller (or maybe they just have fewer IC tents). I keep marvelling at the feeling of community in some Nations. The Marchers are based on Wars of the Roses England and are made of up the yeomen who didn’t like the pomp and ceremony of the Dawnish Lords and Ladies so left to set up their own nation. Walking through their camp is like being transported to a medieval village full of traders and peasants. It is absolutely wonderful and it really feels like a close knit community (though some of the Yorkshire accents need some work..). They were having a harvest festival type celebration this event and almost all of the tents had a scarecrow outside them and drinks/fruit/snacks to share with visitors as well as a large wooden ram to burn at the end of the celebration. Mindblowing, just mindblowing.

So, Empire as a game. In all honesty I struggle to sum it up. It has big battles if you like that sort of thing (I’ll be trying one next year when I have a set of armour), it has politics if you make an effort to get involved (and you don’t actually have to try too hard to find it in the League!) and a very detailed trading game if you do a bit of digging. But more than that, it offers a chance to be part of something huge. The camp feels like a small city if distinct districts. Unlike Maelstrom you are never left wondering which camp you are in – it’s always possible to tell the Nations apart. The same goes for kit, even though some nations look similar you can almost always tell who somebody is with.

One thing I would say is that Empire is not a game offering quick, easy wins. Crafters will struggle to find materials to make something every event, ritualists will struggle to have enough mana to perform rituals without outside help and fighters might be disappointed that the battles only happen twice a weekend per nation and that “random” combat is very rare. It also seems impossible without being part of a group. Part of this is by design – one of the stated goals was to make it very hard to be self-sufficient (a step outside the comfort zone for a lot of LARPers) and also to make the city “safe” (so no toilet gankings here)

Empire is a game that takes a lot of front – you need to be able to put yourself forward to get noticed (something it’s taken me a year to fully appreciate).  But if you like long term games with rich, deep backgrounds it is well worth the price.

This coming weekend Christina and I are heading to Mythlore which at £130 a ticket is the most expensive event I’ve ever heard of (let alone attended). I’ll make sure I post a review of that on my return. After that I have Insurrection in October before the long, dark Winter begins!

The IoD National – A trip down memory lane

So I didn’t manage to post in this very often did I? The last post was October 2012 according to my admin page (though to be fairer to me I have two posts half written that I’ve never published!)

Anyway, I went to the 2013 Isles of Darkness  All Venue National this weekend and had a pretty good time. As people who know me well will be aware I joined the society in 2003 and have played fairly consistently since. After me and The Ex broke up I took about nine months off while I sorted out Real Life Stuff ™ then came back, then recently I had six months away from it all. My considered view is that The Isles of Darkness is one of those things that you really need a break for every now and again if you are to enjoy it. The IoD is a huge, sprawling bureaucratic mess of a society that happy chews people up and spits them out due to it’s scale and frequency – running a dozen linked games every month is a massive achievement but it is very easy to get sucked in and lose track of life outside of the game. So yes, to avoid going mad I took some time out and am now pleased to be back – I’ve accepted the societies failings, love it’s positives again and am relaxed enough to be able to accept both without one spoiling the other.

Sadly due to some frankly arse about tit planning Requiem was to run on Thursday and Friday evening. Screw that thought I. So Christina and I drove down on Friday afternoon with time to catch Requiem Pt II, Wakefield Masquerade and Lost Pt I.

Requiem Pt II

This kicked off with the Covenant meetings – as a veteran player I was dreading my first OD meeting but the aNST (the ever lovely Mr Sanderson) assured me it would be fine and I would enjoy it really. Not 100% convinced I went along for an OOC discussion about the number of coils in the game and the frequency with which they can be purchased.

Okay – the first thing I’d forgotten about the IoD is how painful its OOC discussions are… When you have room full of LARPers simple mathematics suggests that you’ll end up with a  couple of Those Players. You know the ones, the ones who need a Code of Conduct to tell them how to behave at a social gathering and can’t really get their head around the “One Person Speaks, Other People Reply, Debate Happens” form of meeting. Luckily this exercise in dentistry (it really was like pulling teeth…) only lasted 15 minutes or so. Much respect to Ben for doing it and I hope it was useful for him, but it felt to me like certain people would never let us finish a point (unless it was hers).

After this we got into the meeting proper which was a largely informal affair. We had a round of introductions which was interrupted by about the biggest Bombshell you can throw at an Ordo gathering. Turns out Dracula was in the area with one of his Brides and he nipped in for tea…

This. Was. Awesome.

You can say what you like about M. J. Keymer (and believe me I have) but he plays an NPC very well. His Vlad Tepes was about as close to perfect as I can imagine. Lisette (the Founder of the Sworn of Mysteries) was played by Emma from Nottingham who was also very good, I spent quite a bit of time talking to her and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve always thought the best NPCs are the ones that don’t really appear to have much plot but are simply here for a chat rather than the ones with shiny yellow exclamation marks over their heads. Post-meeting I found it very interesting to watch which Ordo came to speak to her and which had lost interest when she didn’t have a quest to give out right away. The rest of the meeting was a discussion of the Risen Dead thing and the current big plotlines. It was nice to be informed but other people seemed to have all that business sewn up nicely meaning I could nod, smile and move on (not that I would have known how to get involved even if I’d have wanted to…).

After the meeting I returned to the gathering proper and mingled – it was very nice to get the chance to speak to some of the Ordo that I didn’t know and sort some politics out. I spoke to a few people outside the Covenant but not very many. Later in the evening Tim Edwards ran an auction for some things – I bought a sitting with a noted painter and a dagger. Later on, after witnessing what I hope was a consensual groping, I was told that the PC who I’d bought the sitting from is actually an art dealer not a painter – I look forward to seeing what I actually end up with!

All in all a very fun game and a welcome reminder of what I love about Requiem and large events.

Masquerade

After Requiem I had a quick costume change (I removed my tie and waistcoat) in order to play Mick’s Masquerade game. There have been some fairly nasty OOC politics about the future of Masquerade in the IoD but I was glad to see Jason playing this without any bad blood evident on either side.

The game itself was a little slow (possibly due to timing it at midnight) and didn’t seem to have nearly as many players as Requiem. I spoke to a few of the Manchester players, one or two other people and a Justicar. It was a nice introduction game I suppose, a chance to speak to the people in Nottingham who are kicking off their game soon and it was good to touch bases with some of the Manchester locals for the first time. All in all nothing very special and I’d wandered off to catch-up with people before timeout.

Post-Game

After the Masquerade game I nattered with Fran for a while and caught up with some other people I hadn’t seen in an ungodly length of time. Sadly being knackered we went back to the B&B after an hour or so. I’d meant to speak to far more people and just didn’t get around to it. Sorry to anyone I missed.

Day 2

During the day Christina, Rik Sowden and I visited a National Trust house nearby to have a wander round. This was good fun and I strongly suspect more fun than an AGM. A special note needs to be made about the B&B Christina and I were in – I’ve never seen such a reaction to being asked for some black pudding with my breakfast. I think I’d have gotten a better reaction if I’d asked to murder her son… Mark Spinks suggested a bought one and wiggled it suggestively at her until she “gave it a go to see if she liked it” but I couldn’t find a butcher. The AWFUL breakfast aside the room was nice and comfortable, even if the owners were far more friendly than I appreciate first thing in the morning. All in all the day passed pleasantly until it was time for Lost.

Lost

Lost is a funny old game…

When I first read the core book I was really impressed with the tone and the themes – to me it has always been the atmospheric, tormented game of madness and angst that Requiem was trying to be. I always felt that Requiem feels dark despite the setting material not because of it – Lost never pretends to be happy so surely it should feel more authentic?

The game got off to a promising start – the opening announcements described a creepy atmospheric old house owned by a sinister religious cult belonging to the Autumn Court. After time in, robed supplicants handed out pamphlets explaining the tenets of the order and ushered us into a moonlit courtyard. There was some initial milling before we explored a little into the darkened building with it’s atmospherically lit grounds – a murdered cultist was discovered prompting a plea from the other brothers to help them find the killer – surely it must be one of their number, however unthinkable this was…

Then man in dog makeup ran through the house chasing a stick accompanied by a cat-girl and a chap in hat with ears on, every excitable footstep and high-pitched squeal putting another crack into a wonderfully set-up game until none of the initial mystery and horror remained….

“Fuck this” thought I as I settled down to pass the time talking to Christina, Fran Dale, Matt Keymer and James Holloway. Despite the initial setting being screwed into a tinker’s cap I actually quite enjoyed the conversations about being a member of the Lost and hearing about the different (none-Seasonal) courts. A crippling headaches led to Christina and I going to bed about 11 but I’m not sure that really changed much.

While I love the Lost setting dearly I just don’t get it as a game. Any world where excitable furries yiffing everywhere can be as valid a part of the setting as a tortured PTSD sufferer who is trying to piece his life back together isn’t really one I’m ever going to get on with. I like my WoD games darker than treacle and grittier than the M1. Chances are I will play Lost if I ever go to one of these events again but I don’t expect very much anymore.

Looking over this again it sounds like a moan but it isn’t really. I thought the ST team did a great job and all the NPCs were wonderful. I think the issue is that I, like all old York lot, seem to play a different version of Lost to the IoD. Maybe it’s because we never played Dreaming, I honestly don’t know. And while I’m being grumpy about things, maybe it’s playing all those fest-LARPs that have spoiled me, but people not phys-repping (or at least trying to phys-rep) their meins makes me a sad. Sure I know you can’t float in on a cloud or project rain from your fingers, but you can at least paint your skin the right colour or draw on some veins. Some people make an awful lot of effort and look amazing, some people didn’t seem to try at all. I know that is a fairly nasty thing to say but for me Lost is a fantasy game with fantastic elements and not seeing them really spoils it.

Post-Lost The perils of an Early Bedtime

Prior to the deployment of The Headache from Hell we’d planned to stay and drink after Lost. I’d bumped into Alyson and wanted to catch-up with her, I’d also wanted to see more of Keymer, Pav and Cherry than I got to. But sometimes you just have to accept that you need to sleep. Maybe next time I’ll be able to take all of the Friday off and won’t be tired when I arrive. I certainly want to try again though, there are far too many people I didn’t see enough of not to. And the next one is in Manchester too leaving me with absolutely no excuse for not being there…

Summary

I hadn’t planned on going and had several conversations to the effect that there was no force on Earth that could compel me to go so it’s probably fair to say my expectations weren’t high. Requiem greatly exceeded them (though I avoided the Mass Combat Ritual thing like the plague), Masquerade was about what I’d expected (in a good way) where as Lost was what I’d expected (in a sad way). I will probably be back, if only to play Requiem and see more people. One thing I was really happy to see was that there are loads of people who have joined since I was last at a National – proof that new members are coming in and staying!

Oh, I should also mention that Christina won Manchester Domain Member of the Year. I don’t know anything about these awards but it’s a lovely recognition of all the hard work she puts in as Co-Ordinator (we would definitely have a less wonderful game without her calming influence) and as a player (her PCs are really great to play with and always have an effect on the games).

So there we go. I went to a National and it didn’t suck. In a few weeks I’m going to Empire event 4 then Mythlore where I’m playing a genderless desert dwelling genie. I’ll try to write some reviews of those but don’t hold you breath!

It’s been a while…

So my loyal readers (all 3 of you) will have noticed it’s been a while since I posted anything on here. I’d like to say this is because I’ve been off having glamorous and sexy adventures rather than LARPing – sadly we all know this isn’t the case…

No, I’ve mostly been in a funk with it all. Maelstrom has ended, Requiem was sapping my very will to live and Dark Ages was strange and confusing. Oh and Empire’s Facebook groups were full of the sort of people who read/write/comment on LARPing blogs. In short, I wasn’t a happy camper.

I’m not really sure what has changed. Probably having a good day out in Wakefield last weekend (Masquerade and Dark Ages! In one day! With Wakefield players! I almost had a heart attack with joy!) and finding some game in the IoD Requiem chronicle. Oh, I should also mention that we ran an awesome featured game in Manchester last month – I did the STing but, as is my style, very little of the writing (just some sound boarding of ideas and organising of thoughts, I didn’t write any of it). That was a lot of fun and *almost* convinced me that STing the IoD might not be more traumatic than that childhood day out with Jimmy Saville…

LARPing is a funny old business and defiantly a hobby best approached in a positive state of mind. I’ve been around a lot of people with… less than positive outlooks and have seen the damage they have done. It took me a while to recognise that behavior in myself but I finally have. I’m aware that when I don’t want to go to a game I really shouldn’t – LARP is a collective affair and if you have one player who doesn’t want to join in then it does a massive amount of damage. Anyway people who do that are selfish buggers and deserve to be told so (in a friendly, supportive, “We’re all in this together”, “All for one, one for All” sort of way of course).

There are a lot of things I’m excited about at the moment and these are the things that are reigniting my love of the rest of it.

1) Empire.

I’m unhealthily excited about this! I’m part of a group of awesome players with some wonderful ideas and big plans for setting and costume. I can honestly say that I’ve put more effort into Empire than any other game I’ve ever played (worryingly including the ones I’ve run…) and both PD and other players seem to have the same goal – to play well thought out characters in a highly immersive game world with a rich background using awesome kit and props. Sadly I’ve not managed to display even the faintest hint of sewing talent yet so I’m left to watch Christina slave away at her sewing machine so we’ll both look awesome… but we really will.

If you haven’t seen the wiki PD have produced for this you really should.

2) Masquerade.

I’m also a bit of a Masquerade fan-boy. Not so much that I won’t play Requiem or that I don’t like Requiem because I like Masquerade – both have different awesome parts and terrible bits. Masquerade was the first roleplaying game I ever ran – I was 14 and playing in an RE classroom during lunch breaks (I found the notes during a house move a few years back and they were laughably bad). It was also the first LARP I ever heard about when I was playing at the old card club in Barnsley – the stories of the Jenningses made it sound like the most amazing thing in the world. When I was 15 or so I went to GenCon with them and played a demo game there.  Gen Con has lots of sci-fi actors wandering around signing things so this game featured Michael Sheard as a Ventrue Prince oddly enough.  My fondest LARP memory is Mr Sheard yelling “YOUUUU THERE BOYYYY!” in the style of Mr Bronson at my Malkavian for trying to steal his walking cane – it was awesome (how many LARPers can claim to have been verbally abused for attempting to steal from a pop culture icon?).  All this aside, Christina and I are playing a pair of Giovanni – its early days but we are enjoying the characters and the game has a lot of potential.

3) Dark Ages.

I don’t really know much about Dark Ages Masquerade and I understand even less about the Wakefield game. But I’m having a lot of fun trying to work in out. AndyR is my favourite ST in the IoD and the chance to have a PC in one of his games was too much to resist. The DA game has a lot of detailed plot (fiendishly so) and some very interesting characters. The less said about the rules the better… They even managed to avoid Fish Malks – I detect the hand of Richardson in that one though.

4) The Manchester Domain.

I might not be in love with your games at the moment but that will pass (it always does). The thing I am excited about is how big the domain is! Our featured game had 32 players (including 8 or so visitors) and we must have almost 30 players on the books.  New people are arriving every few months and a lot of them are bringing friends with them in future. Take that shrinking society! In your face Withering of the North! Now if only we could work out how we’ve done this and tell other domains…

So there we are. A blog article written on a quiet Friday afternoon to remind me that everything is well with the world. I’ll write a more serious update soon I’m sure.

Have a good weekend people!

Fail Wemics – is there a pussy-tive way to respond to them?

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing a second post but I haven’t forgotten about this blog. Thank you to everyone who read the first article and took the time to comment – I’ll try not to leave it so long next time! DaveM raised an interesting point about the last article – what about players who have ill judged concepts? How should STs and other players respond to them? Interestingly enough a thread on just this subject appeared on ‘Maelstrom Rocks’ the other day and got me thinking about cat people…
Fail Wemics. I hate the word but am intrigued by the idea. For those of you who aren’t Maelstrom players I should probably explain what this means. Maelstrom is a fantasy game run by Profound Decisions, it currently in it’s 8th and final year (infact the last event is mid-September). The system contains a number of non-human races, one of the least popular ones is the wemic. Wemic are a feline race who appear in two distinct cultures – the Tritoni (a female led society of Amazonian hunters who keep male slaves) and the Amun-Sar (an Egyptian style patriarchy). Some players in the earlier years seem to have gotten a little excited about the idea of playing a cat person and turned up to play anthropomorphic house cats complete with milk bowls, balls of yarn and Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. This, understandably, was a little jarring for players used to the slightly gritty atmosphere of the PD world and the Fail Wemics were largely hunted to extinction by other wemics and a band of their friends. Maybe threads were started on Rule 7 which ranged from the bemused to the downright cruel, I gather from a little digging that several players decided they didn’t want to return to the system after the abuse they received from their fellow LARPers. I’ve only been playing Maelstrom for two or three years and have never seen an example of the Lesser Spotted Fail Wemic in the flesh though tales of their exploits are popular around camp fires…
That’s a specific example but I’m sure anyone who has LARPed for any length of time has come across similar examples in whatever system they play – Be it the ghoul who came to Court or the 3 day old ’embrace and drop’ neonate, the Kiddie Vamp or the half-orc lap dancer (I wish I was making those up…).  The interesting question is what the heck do you do about them both as a player and an ST? It’s a really tricky question. 
Partly it depends on the player because in some circumstances they could actually be really good characters in the flesh. As has been mentioned before sometimes players just struggle to articulate what their creation is about before it has been played for a while – I know I’ve driven group mates to distraction on more than one occasion by failing to describe a new PC in terms more descriptive than ‘Oh he’s a trader who does some alchemy’ or ‘He’s a Ventrue who follows Jupiter’. In these instances it’s debateable whether anything more serious than some probing questions from the ST to check the PC is a considered choice is required. But sometimes, when it’s a newer or weaker player, this approach isn’t going to help. 
One of the unwritten rules of LARPer behaviour is that you can’t tell somebody else when they are doing it wrong – it’s smacks of elitism and, given the huge of bag of Issues most LARPers seem to come with these days, doesn’t seem to achieve much apart from a hissy fit. You also have the difficulty of defining who exactly is doing it “Right” – in systems like Maelstrom where the game was produced by the people running it you don’t have the same issues as the Camarilla where the people running it are interpreting the same source material as the players (and change so frequently). But sometimes, players really are Doing It Wrong. Just as Maelstrom was never meant to have Fail Wemics Requiem wasn’t meant to be a game full of pirates, ninjas or children. 
The solution to this is easy to write but much harder to actually implement – just like in a tabletop game players need to remember that the ST (not them) has final say over whether they can play their new PC. It doesn’t matter if you spent £50 on a new shirt or that you’ve written a 100,000 word background – if it’s face don’t fit it aint coming in. Clearly the ST needs to work with the player to see if the core of the idea can be salvaged as so often people get it into their head that they want to play ‘a pirate’ or ‘a wacky thief’ without actually working out what they will do in uptime (Concept vs. Character anyone?). A good ST will be able to drill down and find the belief of that PC and help the player craft it into something that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps I’m naive but I don’t assume anyone turns up to a game intending to play something that doesn’t fit – just sometimes they need help seeing why it doesn’t fit.
The harder part comes when players write an awesome brief and then play it differently – ‘Not playing what was pitched’ as I call it. Here the ST should take the player aside and gently ask if the character has under gone any changes since the background was written. If this conversation can tease out the reasons for the changes they can be discussed as above and corrected. Or if they have legitimate reasons they can either be allowed (if they don’t affect the game too much) or a conversation about reigning them in can be had. 
The real problem is when players don’t take these suggestions on board… hard as it is the main job of the ST is to ensure the game is fun for the player base and sometimes this requires difficult steps be taken. Sometimes players just aren’t right for the game and when all attempts to help have been exhausted the only solution is to ask them not to come back until such time they can fit into the game. It’s harsh but it’s better than the rest of your game failing because of such inactivity. I’ve ST’ed LARPs on two separate occasions over several years and have come across several situations where I probably should have had this sort of conversations but chose to try education (whether it was enough or not is open to interpretation I suppose).
In summary, players can (and do) Get It Wrong but it is very much the job of the ST to ensure that they are given all the help in the world to Do It Right. If players can’t, or won’t, play in a manner that fits in with the tone of the game then they need to be removed. I think the important thing is that this should be led by the STs rather than the players. In the Maelstrom example above PD accept they sat on their hands in the face of a problem and allowed one group of players to bully another group out of the game. Any society, especially the smaller ones, simply cannot survive if players are putting this kind of OOC pressure of players. Providing a good example and trying to persuade people IC is good, campaigns of harrassment OOC are very, very bad and those sorts of players cause more damage than the problem they are trying to solve. Any decisions that remove players or characters from the game need a sensitive, mature approach where everyone understands what is happening and why. 
I think my next article will be about the differences in game structure, direction and pace that come from indoor LARPs (such as Requiem) and out door fest LARPs (like Maelstrom or Fools and Heroes).