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Visiting Valdyrhamr - John C. Kirk

Jun. 20th, 2013

04:08 am - Visiting Valdyrhamr

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Last month, I wrote about Curious Pastimes. This weekend I was off LARPing again, this time at Wigan for Valdyrhamr. (I'm reliably informed that this is pronounced "Val-dir-hammer", i.e. it rhymes with "MC Hammer" rather than "Bananarama".) Anyway, since I covered all the basic concepts last time, I can jump to the specifics this time.

At the first event, everything was new to me. This time, I saw lots of familiar faces, both IC and OC, so I felt more connected to the world around me. Similarly, I belonged to a group (the Arcane Tempest) right from the start, so I had a place where I belonged rather than floating around the faction. That said, a lot of the game is still new to me, and I was glad of the opportunity to explore it more. For instance, I visited the Teutonian camp (a different faction) and learnt a bit more about their customs/philosophies, particularly regarding the undead.

There was also one particular incident that has made me do a bit of self-reflection. After dark on Saturday night, a group of us were sitting in the camp, chatting. Then some people lunged out of the darkness and attacked us. They were on the opposite side of the circle to me, so I had enough time to scramble backwards out of the way, and someone (possibly me) called for help. Once we (they) had dealt with the attackers, I turned to the wounded. I called out for the Sergeant Major: we're both healers, so if she was wounded then I'd need to heal her first, then we could work together to heal everyone else. However, she didn't answer. I healed someone else, then kept calling/searching. We soon discovered that she was missing, so we raised the alarm and searched the whole of our faction's campsite, but we couldn't find her (alive or dead). My initial concern was that if she'd been mortally wounded in the attack then we had to find her before her 2 minute death count ran out. However, after a while I had to accept that it was too late for that: she was either dead (and therefore beyond our help) or alive and held prisoner somewhere else.

Soon after that, we had to deal with another attack at our main gate, so I was busy there. A bit later, the Sergeant Major arrived back at camp. It turned out that during the first attack a few people had grabbed her and then dragged her away to do a "tree teleport" out of the camp. Fortunately she'd managed to escape (using up all her magic spells in the process); she was mortally wounded in the process, but a few other Lions found her on the path, healed her up, and helped her get back.

If this event was turned into a film, it would be her story rather than mine: she was captured and taken away, alone, unarmed, and outnumbered, while I stayed back in camp. So, it would be the height of narcissism to ask "What about me? What about my pain?" However, I'm going to do it anyway.

Since this happened, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I could have done differently. For instance, the tree teleport system works like a daisy chain: one person touches the tree, then another person touches them, etc. So, if I'd been able to touch anyone in that chain, I'd have been pulled along too.

Digressing for a moment, think about Back to the Future. George McFly spends most of the film avoiding conflict, but when it really counts he lays out Biff Tannen with a single punch. It would be nice to think that I could do something similar, dropping the assailants with a combination of magic spells and dagger blows. Unfortunately, I suspect that it would actually be more similar to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Harry and Cedric (my character's namesake) got teleported together, then Voldemort took one look at Cedric and said "Kill the spare", which was the end of his story. So far at CP, every time I've got into a fight (either as my character or a monster) I've wound up lying on the ground, mortally wounded. So, leaping into the fray in an attempt at heroism just makes me more of a liability, because I'm diverting resources (e.g. healing spells) from other people rather than actually helping anyone. On the other hand, falling back in each attack makes me look like "Brave Sir Robin" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

That doesn't mean that I'm completely useless. For instance, I healed a few people who were mortally wounded in camp attacks. I don't think that those casualties would necessarily have died if I hadn't been there (i.e. other healers may have been able to help out), but at least I was able to share the workload with the other healers (since we each have a limited number of spells to cast each day). In theory I could also cast counter-spells, e.g. to stop someone else being injured by magic in the first place, but I've not done that in practice yet.

This also ties into the idea of hard skills vs. soft skills. In this context, hard skills are things that I can do in the real world, e.g. running fast enough to catch up with someone. Soft skills are things that I can't really do, e.g. magic spells. My soft skills are equal to anyone else's with the same character design, e.g. if I point my finger at someone and say "I strike thee mute!" then I don't have to worry about accuracy: I won't miss, and they can't dodge. (They might be immune, or be able to counter it, but if so then that would apply to anyone else casting the same spell.) There's still a certain amount of skill involved in choosing the correct spell/target, but it's a fairly level playing field. By contrast, if I swing a sword at someone then there's no guarantee that I'll hit them, e.g. they might parry it with a shield.

Using a sword rather than a dagger should help, and there are a couple of options for achieving that. However, I borrowed 2 swords (1 in each hand) when I went monstering and I still kept dying. Maybe this just comes down to a lack of experience, and I'll get better with practice. I also got some useful advice from another player when he watched me doing some practice sparring: he said that I was looking at the place I wanted to hit, which telegraphed my intention. So, I'll try to stop doing that.

Speaking of monstering, someone suggested that our group of 8 should split in half, based on who was fast/slow. They put me into the fast group, which was quite flattering. (At school I was normally the last person to get picked for any sports teams.) So, that's a hard skill which I ought to make use of. Thinking back to the abduction again, we could have fanned out to search the surrounding area. IC, it's dangerous to be out on the paths at night, but if I can outrun any attackers then I'll have an advantage. That means that I'll benefit from doing more cardiovascular exercise (e.g. cycling) between events.

My night vision isn't great (I think it deteriorated a little bit after I had laser surgery) but I can still get around. I didn't see the attackers dragging her away, partly because there were so many dark shapes moving around. However, I knew where the nearest trees were (inside our camp), so I could have run over there to make sure that nobody was coming in or out that way, then come back into the fray from another direction. It's difficult to practice that skill between events, when I have the "perma-noon" effect of streetlights in London, but I'll see what I can do.

More generally, I've been thinking about loyalty. A common phrase in the Tempest is "Count the tricorns", the idea being that after any kind of large battle we want to make sure that all of our group are accounted for. That's more about pragmatism than favouritism: if we have 50-100 people in the faction, it's difficult to notice if someone disappears, but it's easier to keep track of 5-10 people in a small group.

It gets more complicated when I have to choose where I'm most needed. In this case, I stayed to help protect the camp when it was attacked, and left the Sergeant Major to fend for herself. I'm sure that I could have got past the attackers (e.g. if I'd started searching in the opposite direction), but then I'd be deserting the rest of my faction. This is really an IC choice; OC, there's no rule that says I have to help anyone, so I wouldn't be cheating even if I just said "Screw you guys, I'm going home" and hid inside my tent. IC, I can't imagine the Sergeant Major leaving me (or any of her other "little lads") out there in the dark, but this event proves that the faction command team have to take a wider view; if they left her, they'd probably leave me too. That's completely understandable, and I wouldn't resent them for it, but I'm leaning towards the view that my first loyalty should be to the Tempest rather than the Lions.

That still leaves the problem that I may not be competent to actually do anything useful on a rescue mission. However, I think I'd rather try and fail than have the guilt of not trying at all. After all, if I wanted to live to a ripe old age then I shouldn't have joined the warhost.

Comments:

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From:shuripentu
Date:June 20th, 2013 09:42 am (UTC)
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I've never LARPed – all my remotely relevant experience comes from one MUD, a bit of tabletop RPG, and quite a lot of one online multiplayer cooperative shooter - so take the following with salt.

I don't think what specifically you do is as important as doing something that benefits the team, that makes the most of the abilities you happen to have, and crucially that you enjoy. Damage output is usually the most prestigious activity, and in many systems it's what gets you the most points/pie/etc., but I really don't think it's the most important. (Debate on the utility of damage-per-second or DPS continues to rage, however. I just think all the people on the other side of the debate are wrong. I may however be biased. :P)

I don't know if I'm any good at DPS, because I find it so dull that I've never stuck around long enough to find out. What I enjoy is either being useful in the background (so generally healer-type roles) or going off to deal with specific problems on the periphery while the rest of the team deal with the main force (so striker-type roles), and I reckon I've become vaguely good at these things, so I've continued to do them. Neither results in lots of kills or lots of points, but think they're important nevertheless. My teammates who are handling the DPS cannot do any DPS if they are dead; they also suffer in their ability to do DPS if they're being harassed by annoying enemy types that only make up a small fraction of the enemy force but are very hard to kill via conventional means and really get in your way. I may not be getting the glamorous roles, but I do take a lot of pride in what I do because I try hard to do it well and I genuinely think it's important.

Then there's the question of heroic rescues or not. Despite specialising in healer roles a lot of the time, I actually frequently decide not to help someone. Helping others always puts me at risk – if something was nasty enough to take my teammate down, they're probably nasty enough to take me down, and they're probably still in the same area – so while I'm usually happy to take risks, sometimes the risk is too high and it's simply not sensible anymore.

If it's fairly likely I'll die while trying to rescue someone else, then the team will be down two members instead of one, and that is definitely worse than if I'd just abandoned the dying person to their fate. It's cold, but I've been on the other side of a failed heroic rescue (i.e. I'm the last person standing because one teammate died and then the others all took stupid risks trying to heroically save them and now I've got to deal with everything on my own, thanks guys) enough times that I no longer feel guilt over abandoning people when necessary.

Also, if my team is trying to complete an objective or deal with a pressing problem, and one of the members gets into trouble far away from the rest of the team, if I leave the main group to rescue the lone wanderer, even if I'm ultimately successful, I've still deprived the main group of the help I could have given them in the time it's taken me to help the stray. Sometimes the help the stray could provide on their safe return justifies the risk, but sometimes the objective is time-critical or the pressing problem could really do with an extra pair of hands, and I can't justify helping one person if that'll significantly hurt the team overall. Again, I've been on the other side of this situation enough times that I don't feel guilt over this anymore either.

Similarly, I will sometimes end up far from the team (particularly when I'm taking care of peripheral problems – that pretty much requires you to go off and do your own thing) and I fully understand that I'm taking my life in my own hands at that point. If I get into trouble, I will of course appreciate a revive but I never expect it, and in some situations I will tell my teammates to leave me to it because what they're doing is too critical for any of them to abandon it just to help me.
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[User Picture]
From:shuripentu
Date:June 20th, 2013 09:43 am (UTC)
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(Ooh, look at me hitting the character limit. Maybe I am some kind of gamer after all... I certainly can opine like one it seems.)

Then there's the fun aspect. Games are things you play because they let you have fun. It's easy to lose sight of that when you're up to your eyeballs in skills trees, equipment manifests, combat tactics, and team strategies. Sometimes I'll break my own rules and take out a class that I'm terrible at playing just because I want to experiment. Sometimes I'll take a class that I am good at playing and play it "wrong" just because it amuses me. I do try and limit how much this inconveniences the people I'm playing with, but I do it anyway because it's fun, and while I enjoy doing things well and doing the best I can for my team (and I hope my team appreciates it), I also enjoy doing silly things and it would be a shame never to do that at all because I'm overly concerned with Being My Best All the Time.
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From:johnckirk
Date:June 21st, 2013 01:53 am (UTC)
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Thanks for your comments. Some of it sounds a bit like Spock's logic: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." I think that makes sense if you treat everyone else equally (and interchangeably?) but it gets more complicated if you value some people more than others.

I haven't played any of the online shooters; the nearest I've come to that was playing Starcraft with my old flatmates across a LAN. However, I suspect that the main difference is the roleplay aspect. If I've been off to the tavern with someone (IC) where they bought me a drink and we sang together, it's going to bother me a bit more if they disappear, whereas I might be less concerned about Sir Fred of Bloggs.

I've discussed this with a few of my faction, and the general concensus seems to be that I should treat this as a good opportunity for character development. I.e. Cedric (my character) should have all the same concerns that I wrote about in the post, and the way he deals with them will help him to diverge from me. That may involve taking stupid risks out of a sense of guilt, or making an effort not to get too attached to people who are likely to die.

I agree with you that games are supposed to be fun, but in a strange way this is fun. Thinking back to the previous event, I took part in a scouting mission with people from a few factions. One of the scouts was discovered, so the rest of us legged it (following our plan), but then we had to go to his faction's campsite and tell them what happened; that was partly to share the information we'd learned, and partly to tell them that their scout was missing. That debrief felt genuinely uncomfortable, because I basically had to tell the general that I'd been hiding in a bush when their scout was captured and I'd done nothing to help him. Also, all the scouts from 2 factions made it out safely, and it was just the scout from this particular faction who went missing, which looked a bit incriminating. I wouldn't exactly say that I enjoyed that at the time, but it was a memorable experience. Maybe it's similar to my cold water swimming: I feel a lot better when it's over.

Mind you, the nice thing about monstering is that I can do things in a different way. At this event, one of the monster slots involved playing a half-rat thing, and we were basically the world's most useless monsters. We were "1 point squishies", and our mission brief was that we'd be more interested in finding something to eat than attacking the enemy (player characters). When they turned up in the field to fight us, we were all lying on the ground because we'd dozed off in the sun for a nap. As you'd expect, we didn't survive for long, but I enjoyed that role while it lasted.

Edited at 2013-06-21 01:54 am (UTC)
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