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Hands off Cox! - John C. Kirk

Sep. 8th, 2013

05:44 am - Hands off Cox!

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Two weeks ago I was back at Curious Pastimes for the final big LARP event of the year: the Renewal of Magic. My first character (Cedric) died in the July event, and my second character (Groat) felt too similar so I retired him between events. For the August event, I introduced my third character: Private Cox. As with my previous characters, he's a member of the Arcane Tempest; the main difference is that he's a Mage rather than a Corporealist, so it's all about blammo rather than healing. I spent the month between events memorising the new set of spells, and I also learnt several of our group's songs. Basically, I tried to model this character on the stereotypical marine: "Sir, yes, sir! Best of the best, sir!" (I don't know how much truth is in that stereotype, but it doesn't matter for my purposes, since I'm just using it for inspiration.)

Renewal is the biggest event of the year, mainly because everyone who survives gets a veteran pick (an extra skill) for next year, i.e. their character becomes a bit more powerful. (Ok, technically not everyone gets this, because some people have maxed out their vet picks, but this is true for the vast majority.) If your character dies, you can effectively generate a new character just before the end of the event, and then this new character gets a vet pick, although you'd lose any vet picks that your old character had. So, as a new character with no vet picks, I was pretty much guaranteed to finish the event better than I started. However, a couple of experienced players have hinted that if Cox died then I should do something different for my next character rather than just "respawning" with the Arcane Tempest again. I like the AT, so this raises the stakes a bit: even though I (as a player) aren't in any real danger, I have something to lose if I die.

By the way, this is another long post. The BBC recently published a shorter article (The rise of live action role-playing), although that's from a different system so you won't see me in the photos/video.

Thursday



This event took place at Paccar, like the May event, so it was interesting to contrast the two. Both events officially started (time in) at 19:00 on Friday, but they allowed people to arrive a day early, so I turned up on Thursday. This gave me plenty of time to sort everything out before the game started, and it also meant that I could chat to people out of character. After I'd sorted out my tent, I went to the tavern in the evening; back in May, I didn't know anyone there, so I wound up standing in the middle and calling out for anyone from my faction. In August, I went along there with three other people from my group (Arcane Tempest and the affiliated crew of the Santia Maria), and we had a table to ourselves for a while.

Later on I chatted to other people around the campfire, e.g. discussing Doctor Who, although there was a slightly odd incident when someone walked over and slapped me in the face. As I recall, his explanation went like this: "You need to bridge the gap! You're supposed to pass the shit on, but some people don't like the shit, so they're not passing it on because they don't want to get it back." While that's a Smurftastic explanation, I'd have appreciated one or two extra nouns...

A bit of extra context may be useful here. One of the groups within our faction is the Lance of Deira: they're all heavy knights who act as our shield wall, and they're very effective. (I've certainly spent a lot of time hiding behind them.)

The Lance of Deira
(Photo © Nikki Flynn)

As I mentioned in May, the rules say that we have to pull our blows during combat; even though our weapons are LARP safe, we still don't want to hurt anyone. However, people are allowed to get a bit more physical within camps, as long as everyone involved agrees to it. The Lance are well known for playing a particular game where they all stand in a circle and then try to hit each other in the groin with their swords: last man standing wins. I've now learnt to recognise the sound of a pod shot from across the campsite with my back turned; the wince of pain is quite distinctive!

Coming back to the campfire, I wondered whether the other people were playing a similar game. Was I now supposed to go and slap someone else? Had some people opted out of the game so that they wouldn't get slapped? ("Don't dish it out if you're not willing to take it" and all that.) It transpired that I'd misunderstood, and the other guy was actually talking about the bottles of booze that people were passing around the fire. There was a gap on my left, and he was concerned that bottles were getting as far as me and then going back in the opposite direction rather than getting to him. He apologised afterwards, particularly when he realised that I'm fairly new to LARP, and that's fine. It didn't really hurt, and I wasn't offended, I was just a bit baffled.

Anyway, I'm grateful to everyone in the faction who's made me feel so welcome there.

Friday



After time in, I started playing my new character. We had an attack on the gate: this happens quite frequently, and as Cedric I'd fall back to let other people deal with it, then go in afterwards to heal the wounded. As Cox I had more offensive spells, and I also had a sword rather than a dagger, so I wanted to get more actively involved. I saw someone standing outside our gate who I didn't recognise: he was facing towards us, and he'd just knocked someone else to the ground. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to try out the Magic Missile spell, and it worked remarkably well. I remembered the words, I spoke clearly and slowly, I made it obvious who I was targetting, and I didn't duplicate effort by targetting the same person as another mage. For his part, he didn't counter the spell, so he dropped to the ground. Excellent!

My sense of achievement lasted for about a second, then the Merlin spoke up and said "I think that was one of the Jhereg." In other words, he was one of our allies, who was doing us a favour by defending our camp against the hostile monsters, and I'd just blasted him with a fireball. Oops. Merlin healed him up, so there was no permanent harm done, and I apologised profusely, but he still seemed a bit miffed about the whole thing.

Later on we had an outbreak of plague in our camp (Capricious Rot), so that kept our healers busy: we had to quarantine our camp, and nobody was allowed to come in or out unless they'd been examined. If I'd still been playing Cedric then I'd have been involved with that, but as Cox I had a different task: two of us were sent off to visit all the other factions and warn them about this.

Once we'd got that sorted out, several of our faction went off to the ritual circle. Cox has six points of contribute, and it's opened up a whole new part of the game for me: all of a sudden, I'm highly in demand. Each lead ritualist has a different style, so some rituals are carefully rehearsed while others are more spontaneous, but either way I've had more of a say in what I do.

This particular ritual was a wedding, and the lead (Fiver) went around the outside of the circle asking people where their loyalties lay: most people named the god who they worshipped, and one person said that she served the people of Albion. After each person answered, Fiver invited them to the middle of the circle. There were three of us from the Tempest standing together, and Fiver spoke to me first. When she asked me: "Who do you serve?" I called out "Santia is mother, Gunn is father!" That's a motto I've heard from other characters; Santia is the island where the AT train, and Lord General Gunn founded the organisation. I could have added "I love the Corps!" but I thought that was implicit. Fiver didn't invite me into the middle of the circle. Instead, she spoke to the Tempest guy on the other side of our little group and he referred to one of the gods. Fiver then asked the Cadet who was standing between us, who also named one of the gods, and Fiver then said "Come join me in the centre." I wasn't sure whether that invitation applied to all three of us or just the Cadet, so I stayed put, although the other two Tempest people both went into the centre. I spoke to my Captain afterwards (who was watching from outside the circle) and he said that the invitation was probably intended for all of us, but it also suited my character to stay put, so that worked out ok. The rest of the ritual had some other complications, but that's another story...

Back in camp, the Tempest took another shift on gate guard duty. While we were there, someone dropped in for a visit from another faction and told us about the "King of the Gate" tradition. The basic idea is to see who can do the most press-ups, but only people on gate duty are eligible to compete. Apparently the Wolves only got up to nine press-ups, so he wanted to see whether we could do better. Outside LARP, this is normally part of my exercise routine, but I've let it slide recently; I came off my bike a month ago and injured my knee, so I didn't want to put pressure on it while it was healing (and therefore painful). Still, it was mostly back to normal by the time I went off to this LARP event, and the honour of my faction was at stake, so I figured that it would be in character for me to give it a go. Since I was out of practice, I wasn't optimistic that I could do ten, but I did the first few as quickly as possible before my strength ran out. After eight, my arms were really wobbling, but the other people at the gate called out encouragement, e.g. "Go on, you can do it!" That really did help, partly because I didn't want to let them down and partly because they outvoted my arms so they convinced me that I could keep going. I managed nine, and got about halfway up on number ten, but then I had to collapse. So, at least I equalled the Wolves. Hopefully I'll be in better shape next May, then I can try that again!

Saturday



Time in was at 10:00 as usual, but the campsite was fairly quiet; some people were either still in bed, or they were off getting breakfast, or "praying to the gods" (GOD = General Organisation Desk where you collect spell cards each day). In particular, this meant that our gate was unguarded. I spotted Merlin, and walked over to pass on a message from the previous evening. However, as I was heading over, the High King called out to me from the Round Table and asked whether I was going that way to guard the gate. That wasn't my plan, but I asked whether he'd like me to: he said yes, so I did (after relaying the message). I'm happy to help out, and I didn't have anything else to do.

A little bit later, Merlin gathered a group for a mission: some scouts had discovered a fort on top of a hill, but it had some kind of automated defences which blasted anyone who approached with magic spells. So, he needed a group of fighters (including the aforementioned Lance), but he also needed some magic users to counter those spells. I volunteered for that, along with two of the other Tempest; in fact, we were the same trio who went into the ritual circle on Friday evening (two Privates, one Cadet).

The fort
(Photo © Slender Pictures)

When we got to the fort, Merlin sent someone forward to open the side door, and the Tempest took it in turns to counter the spells. I burnt through a sizeable chunk of my magic doing that, but we got the job done: our runner was able to get inside without being harmed, then the rest of us followed. Once we got through the door, we discovered that the fort was inhabited (i.e. there were monsters inside). We had a look around, but several people were blasted by spells, so we pulled back with our wounded.

There were more monsters outside, so Merlin sent us back to the road and told me to lead everyone out. As we went along, I counted the tricorns and realised that the other Private wasn't with us. I hoped that he was further back in the column, but I couldn't go back to look for him without disobeying Merlin's order. I could have asked the person next to me to keep going while I went back, but then I'd be leaving the Cadet on her own, which I didn't want to do. When we reached the main road, we saw that the column had stopped behind us, and was now reversing direction, i.e. heading back towards the fort. So, we followed, and I kept the Cadet near me while I looked for our missing man. Unfortunately, it turned out that he'd been killed, and then the Fir Cruthen had decapitated him to stop him from "turning".

When we got back to camp, I had to break the news to the Captain and Sergeant Major, and they weren't best pleased with me. This is similar to the way that Cedric died, i.e. a couple of us went off on our own without an officer/NCO to keep an eye on us. The Cadet left the Warhost soon after this (i.e. the player swapped to a different character), so three of us went off on that mission and I was the only person left. After that, I was given strict orders not to leave camp without permission; we all had standing orders not to go out alone, but this was more specific to me. They wouldn't necessarily come with me, but they wanted to make the decision about whether they were needed rather than relying on my judgement.

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining about any of this. OC, nobody really got hurt/killed, so I'm not in any trouble. IC, that's a reasonable action for them to take, and it helps my character to develop as someone who's impulsive and needs to be reined in. Joe Haynes recently wrote a blog post about character death in LARP (Firefly grief), particularly the idea that you won't necessarily mourn everyone equally. In this case, I mainly feel bad that I don't feel bad: everyone was really kind when Cedric died, but I didn't know the dead character very well, so I don't really miss him. Based on that, the only emotional reaction I've got is guilt.

We had a monster slot scheduled soon after this, but then it tipped down with rain so the game team kindly let us wait until that stopped before we went out. As a side note, the Tempest tricorn is remarkably effective at diverting rain away from my head! When we did go out, my deaths were a bit less vigorous than usual: I just went down on one knee with a finger in the air rather than sprawling in the mud. (I don't mind getting muddy, but I knew I'd need to wear the same clothes again afterwards.)

After the monster slot, I went for lunch at the burger van before I got changed. During time in, if I want to head out of camp for food or toilet facilities then I risk being attacked on the path, so it's safer to travel with at least one other person. In theory I could put my finger in the air (making me "invisible") but that's frowned on unless it's a real emergency. However, if I'm already timed out for a monster slot then I don't mind extending that a little bit to attend to bodily functions before I time back in. I chatted to a couple of people there, and I may have horrified them when I dropped my burger on the ground and applied the three second rule; still, I seem to have survived that ok without any lurgy effects.

Someone from the Lions then spotted me at the van, and said that people had been calling for me in camp, so I hurried back. It turned out that the High King had announced me as one of the "chosen of Excalibur": he picks three people for this at each event. It's genuinely an honour to be chosen, and it also has some tangible benefits (e.g. being able to take more hits without dying). Unfortunately, I missed my chance because I wasn't there. I know that other people have been playing for years without being chosen, so I doubt that I'll get another shot at this any time soon; it would be unfair to them. I'm not quite sure why I was chosen, especially since this character is so new. I can only think of two situations where the High King would actually have noticed me:


Anyway, I think this demonstrates something about the game: you get out of it what you put into it. In theory, I could turn up to each event and spend the whole weekend in the tavern, so I'd be almost guaranteed to survive, and then I'd collect a vet pick each year. However, there's not much point in having a powerful character who's lived a long time if nobody has any idea who I am. That reminds me of a quote from Jingo (regarding Ossie Brunt):

"Friends would have called him a quiet sort who kept himself to himself, but they didn't because he didn't have any friends. There was a group of men who went to practise at the archery butts on Tuesday nights, and he sometimes went to a pub with them afterwards and sat and listened to them talk, and he'd saved once and bought a round of drinks, although they probably wouldn't remember or maybe they'd say 'Oh ... yeah ... Ossie.' People said that. People tended to put him out of their minds, in the same way that you didn't pay much attention to empty space."


Alternately, if you throw yourself into events then people will notice. This doesn't have to mean a big reward like Excalibur; it may simply mean that people are more willing to heal me up if I'm mortally wounded. So, I think there's another metaphor for real life here: I don't want my character to die, but if the fear of dying stops me from living then I've already lost.

I'm also thinking about the timing involved here: if I'd been out of camp because I was busy in the ritual circle then that would just be an unfortunate coincidence. However, I could have got back to camp earlier if I'd wanted to, e.g. if I'd brought my food back from the burger van rather than hanging around there. So, at the risk of stating the obvious, if you're not in the game (i.e. you're timed out) then you will miss out on what other people are doing. There would be a similar principle if I was walking back to camp (with my finger in the air) and then saw one of my friends in trouble; it would be cheating to time in at that point, effectively appearing out of thin air, so I'd have to walk on past and ignore them.

I'm also sorry that I was out of camp because I apparently missed hearing the High King shout: "Cox! I want Cox! Bring me Cox!" (The LARP equivalent of Bart Simpson's prank phone calls.) My character name did provoke a certain amount of sniggering over the weekend, particularly when it was said without my rank, and I must admit that this was deliberate. However, I got the name from the same website as before (a list of medieval names), so it is authentic for the time period. When I introduced myself, I sometimes said "Cox, like the apple" and there is precedent for this being a plausible name (e.g. Dr Cox in Scrubs), so I can justify it. According to Monstrous Regiment (a bit of an influence on the Tempest), there's a military phrase: "Hands off cocks and on with socks." In my case, "Hands off Cox" has a different meaning, e.g. it may be more of a rallying cry if I need to be rescued.

Later in the afternoon, our whole faction went off on a skirmish mission. I mentioned that our Sergeant Major was kidnapped in June and July by a particular enemy, and our mission here was to get rid of him for good. We succeeded, although I didn't contribute much to the fight. I think I mainly helped out at the end, when we were getting ready to teleport, i.e. everyone had to be touching. I lunged out to grab someone at arm's length to stop him from being left behind; two of the other Tempest were also stretching out to hold onto me, which gave me the extra reach I needed, so this was a team effort.

In the evening, we had a coronation. Basically, there are ten kingdoms (counties) within Albion, and each kingdom has its own King or Queen. One of those rulers is also the High King or Queen, in charge of all of Albion. In this case, the throne of Essex had been vacant for a while, and Lady Esme had been chosen to fill it. She's one of the first people I met in May, and I think she'll do a good job. This also shows that the LARP world is a land of opportunity. I've mentioned before that the same skills are open to everyone (e.g. there are female knights) and people can start out as peasants but then get granted noble rank, so in theory any player could end up as a monarch.

Anyway, the coronation was fun, and it gave us a brief reprieve from the fighting. We all made an effort to dress up a bit more smartly than usual, and lined up for the royal party to pass:

Lining up for the coronation
(Photo © Slender Pictures)

That's two of the Tempest on my left (in tricorns), and two of the Santia Maria crew on my right.

The rest of the Tempest mages cast a volley of Flare spells; this is the magical equivalent of a 21-gun salute. I didn't have enough magic left for that, so my task was to present the new Queen's crown. I'm holding it in that photo, balanced on a bundle of cloth inside an upside-down tricorn hat, and I was quite focussed on not dropping it. (I had to limbo underneath the bunting, which made this slightly more of a challenge.) I could imagine other people coming to me afterwards and saying "You had one job!" Fortunately that worked out ok, and I took it up to the throne at more-or-less the right time.

Later in the evening, I went over to visit the Steppe Alliance: they were signing a new treaty, and they'd invited all their allies to attend. I have to say, they were very hospitable, handing out free food and drink to everyone who turned up. At one point I spoke to their leader, who asked me about some shields that were resting against their tent. One of them had a lion on it, so it presumably came from my faction, but I wasn't sure about the shield next to it. I then saw a bigger object behind both shields with a symbol that looked like a tree, and I said "I think that's from Algaia." He corrected me, saying that this was actually the Steppe symbol, which is why he wanted to move the shields which were blocking it. So, another day, another diplomatic incident... I honestly wasn't trying to cause trouble with the other factions! Fortunately, he didn't take offence at this.

After that, it was back to the ritual circle. This involved a different lead ritualist (Cerisse) and a smaller team. We actually had three rituals planned for Saturday, but we had to skip one and postpone another due to outside events. The third ritual was to renew the Glove of True Death: that's not as evil as it sounds, because it's designed to vanquish the undead. This ritual had a bit more advance planning; we didn't do a full rehearsal in advance, but we all had a rough idea of what was going to happen.

After the "admin" (cleansing the circle and raising the wards) we took it in turns to describe a particular form of undead. I went first, and my specialist subject was zombies. A ritual is effectively a short play, and it's not really the place for subtlety; it's more about chewing the scenery, to make everything obvious. So, I did my best to convey a sense of utter contempt and disgust, with phrases like "A shambling mockery of life!" I'm aware that our Teutonian allies have different views on this subject, so I might have been a bit more tactful if they'd been around, but since it was just Lions I let rip.

The other contributors then described other undead creatures, of increasing threat levels. After that, one person took on the role of a monster while our faction's necromancer put on the glove to deal with him. However, the other contributors then intervened (as planned): he's powerful enough to banish the monster on his own, so they persuaded him to give the glove to me instead. I put the glove on, stepped forward, and made a dramatic gesture with my hand outstretched, then the "monster" collapsed on the floor.

Outside the ritual circle, I don't think I'd actually be able to use that glove. Necromancy is the combination of Corporeal and Shaman magic, but as Cox I don't have access to either of those spheres. However, inside the ritual circle I'm allowed to fake it. Basically, there are nested layers of characters: I'm playing Cox, who in turn is playing Necromancer X.

Anyway, the good news is that this ritual succeeded. However, the watcher gave us some feedback: he said that the ritual was a bit short, and we should have done a bit more talking. Similarly, when I spoke to our necromancer later, he said that I should have said something to banish the undead creature rather than just striking a pose. That's all fair enough, and I'm happy to learn.

Back in camp, I joined in on a few songs with the Sergeant Major. I've been practising these at home (and while cycling!), so I remembered most of the words, but it turned out that I'd been using a slightly different tune. This involved a bit of adjustment on the fly, so we sang the verses individually and then joined in together for the chorus. The main snag is that I was aware of my voice hitting the wrong notes. I used to be a choirboy (until my voice broke), and I think I still have a decent sense of rhythm so I can follow a tune ok. When I practiced the songs, I just sang quietly (almost under my breath), so it was less obvious, but when I sang louder I could hear it coming out wrong. Ah well, at least people could understand the words, and I enjoyed it. I think I need to do some more practice at home with my piano, i.e. hitting a key and then trying to match that note; this should also give me an idea of my octave range.

Sunday



This was a busy day for rituals: I did three more with Cerisse's team. We've had a few "guest stars" who only join us for a single ritual, but there's been a core group of five of us, and I think we're getting better at working together with practice. The first ritual of the day involved wedges. I mentioned this concept in May (everyone standing in a triangle to channel energy), and normally everyone has to be from the same sphere of magic. In this case, we wanted to be able to combine Corporeal and Shaman magic in the same wedge, so we took it in turns to act as the focus of the wedge: one that was Corporeal only, one that was Shaman only, and one that used both. (So, three of the contributors were swapping places in the triangle, the fourth contributor acted as the monster we wanted to banish, and the fifth person was leading the ritual.)

I handled the Shaman version of the wedge: I can't cast those spells normally, but as I mentioned the rules are different inside the circle. Similarly, there's no requirement to use the actual words of the spell, but in this case I thought they actually sounded pretty impressive: "By the Spirits at my command let the spirit that burns within thee be driven from thy form. Undead creature, I break the bond between this world and thy soul, so be gone!" I remembered the comments from Saturday evening, so I knew that I needed to say something, and the more words the better (to make the ritual last longer). When I cast spells in combat, there's a lot going on, so a lot of people only pay attention to the last few words (to identify the spell) and even then only if they're the target. Similarly, the caster generally wants to get the spell out as quickly as possible, while still being intelligible. However, in this case I could take my time and really savour the words.

(Digressing slightly, one of the Mage spells includes the words: "Let the air burn with fire!" I may be drifting into super-villain territory with that one, but I still like it.)

Anyway, that ritual went well, and we achieved what we set out to do. However, the watcher commented that we really need to bring in a bit more power; I think he said that we wouldn't have succeeded with a weaker (cheaper) ritual circle. The plan is for Cerisse to get an extra three points as a vet pick, which will then allow the rest of us to contribute an extra six points between us (our maximum is double her points), so we could potentially bring an extra nine points into the circle (51 rather than 42).

After that, our faction was on monster duty for a big battle. (There's one battle on Sunday and one on Monday, so half the factions fight IC each day while the other half fight as monsters.) The organisers asked us all to bring tartan along, to fit in with the Celtic theme (liberating Manx), but I think they quietly abandoned that plan later. Still, since I'd brought the material along with me, I had a bash at a kilt:

Lining up for the coronation
(Photo © Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell)

I deliberately went for a "great kilt" rather than a modern tailored kilt, because I thought that would be more historically authentic. My character was supposed to be feral, so he shouldn't be neatly dressed. Admittedly it looks a bit like a toga, but at least it makes my monster character look different to my IC character, so that people know who I'm supposed to be. I found some instructions online, and I ordered 4 metres of tartan (150 cm wide) from UK Fabrics Online (£4/metre). When people talk about a "6 yard" or "8 yard" kilt, they're talking about single-width fabric (30 inches ~= 75 cm), so the original idea was to chop it in half and sew it back together along the other side: you'd then get 3-4 yards of kilt-width fabric (c. 150 cm). 3 yards ~= 2.75 m, and 4 yards ~= 3.65 m. So, maybe I should have gone for 3 m rather than 4 m, but I can always trim it later if necessary. This fabric is polyviscose, which is lighter and cheaper than wool. It turned out to be quite a hot day, and I was sweating a lot (hence the water canteen around my neck) so I'm glad that I wasn't wearing anything thicker than this.

The basic principle is to wrap it around yourself (armpit to knee), then tie a belt around your waist and let the top half flop down. Then grab the outer layer in two places (in front of right knee and behind left knee), bring those up to meet at the left shoulder, and pin them together. I bought a plaid brooch from Tartanista (the £17 thistle pin); that's the cheapest I could find online, but it's still more fancy than it needs to be. I'm not sure whether a big safety pin would quite look right, but I'm sure there is a more basic option. Anyway, the point is that you can put together a costume like this pretty cheaply, particularly if you don't bother with a shirt. I have to say, I was surprised at how much freedom of movement this allowed; it wasn't that different from wearing trousers.

As for the battle itself, I had a chance to try out my spear. CP have just changed their rules (as of Renewal) to allow "stab safe" spears, so we can poke forward rather than swinging them. I'm not sure whether I actually managed to stab anyone that way, but at least I kept people busy blocking me. These battles involve a lot of respawning: I'd rush against the enemy, die, then run back to the gathering point and wait for the referee to send us out again. That got a bit tiring, since I often spent more time going back and forth than I did fighting, but I tried to treat it as a learning experience. In Only You Can Save Mankind, one of the aliens in the computer game refers to Johnny Maxwell as "the hero with a thousand extra lives", the idea being that he can have another go each time he loses. In my case, each time I died I looked at how it happened and what I could have done differently to prevent it. Hopefully these lessons will help me when I'm IC as my "real" character. For instance, in one case I was standing a short distance from the enemy shield wall, and we were staring at each other, feinting a few blows. Then an arrow hit me in the chest, which means I'd stayed still for too long. Another time I was hit from the side because I didn't see someone sneaking around the tree. So, I need to stay alert, and not just focus on the people in front of me. Even as a monster, I was still a "one point squishie", so I couldn't go toe-to-toe with people for long, but I think I'm getting better at dodging.

After the battle, I grabbed something to eat and then went back to the ritual circle. This time we were working on the Armour of Heroes, so we went for a martial theme. When we cleansed and warded the circle, I led another contributor through a set of Tempest commands: standing at attention, presenting arms, and standing at ease. The watcher said afterwards that he really liked them, so thank you Sarge for teaching me those! We then acted out two versions of a battle, where a lone hero (outnumbered by the enemy) would either succeed or fail. I acted out the failing battle, but the watcher said afterwards that I was being too easy on the attacking monsters, i.e. I should have been hitting them a bit harder with my sword. So, I may still be overcompensating a bit when it comes to pulling my blows. At the end of the ritual, we all recited The Lions Prayer; when we got to the final line, I heard a couple of other people joining in from outside the circle. I couldn't see them anywhere nearby, so I don't know where they were: probably either in the tavern or walking past on the path. Similarly, they wouldn't have been able to see us, so they didn't know what we were doing. However, they knew that we were Lions, and jumped in to give us a bit of moral support with whatever it is that we were up to. That was a nice reminder that we were part of a larger group, even though there were only a few of us there. This ritual succeeded too, so we were on a winning streak.

We got back to camp just in time for our next monster slot. Literally, we'd just walked in through the gate when someone said "We're moving out now!" (We certainly packed a lot of activity into each day.) I didn't have time to change my shirt, so I just took off my Tempest coat/hat. The organiser told me to put on some armour, and at this point I was still carrying the chainmail shirt that we'd used in the ritual: the phys-rep (physical representation) for the Armour of Heroes. Without the lammie (laminated card) there's nothing special about it, so I borrowed that for the monster slot. It's the first time I've worn chain, and I liked it. This was made of aluminium, so it did leave a residue on my hands and shirt, but it washed off ok; on the plus side, it's a lot lighter than steel.

Part of this monster slot involved a skirmish for another faction, i.e. we sat out in the woods waiting for them to arrive and attack us. Since I was in armour, I formed a line with the Lance, although I didn't have a shield. The plan was for us all to stay together, but when someone else stepped forward (out of the line) I followed him. I wound up fighting three people at once, and I thought I was doing pretty well (i.e. surviving) until a referee pointed at me and said "Shatter that sword!" I died soon after that, and then waited for a while at the respawn point for everyone else to turn up. So, another important lesson there: stay in formation. I was a bit confused by the referee's action. Was he taking on a dual role as part of the enemy force? Was he punishing me, e.g. because he didn't think I'd been taking my hits? Ah well, no matter.

In the evening, there was a big ritual: the actual Renewal of Magic. I assume that this happens every year, hence the name of this event. The Fir Cruthen were running the ritual, since they were hosting this event (i.e. we were in their lands) but they'd asked for contributors from all the other factions, and I was picked to represent the Lions. The leaders of all the factions were there too, so I spent a bit of time with the High King while we were waiting for the ritual to start. He then asked me to go back to camp and deliver a message for him. Well, I say "asked": it wasn't exactly a request or an order, he just said what he wanted to happen, either assuming or trusting that I would oblige. This meant that I'd have to travel the path on my own after dark, which the Tempest officers had ordered me not to do. On the other hand, he was the High King. I compromised by running the whole way: that was hopefully a bit safer, and it meant that technically I wasn't walking the path alone. (My character may be illiterate, but I can still be a barracks room lawyer!) Anyway, I delivered that message, then ran back to the ritual circle. As it turned out, I wasn't needed inside after all (due to a last minute change of plan), but at least I was there to watch.

That ritual succeeded, so we returned to camp. However, we then had to head back out to the ritual circle in force after someone else's ritual went wrong. There was a fight on the path, where a couple of people were injured, but we had healers to treat them. The High King then ordered all the Lions to escort the Algaia back to their camp. There were a couple of Tempest treating one of the casualties, and I wanted to stay with them, but this really was a direct order and I assumed that they'd follow on behind me. When we reached the Algaia camp, I waited by the side of the path for everyone else to go inside, but the other Tempest didn't turn up. When we all got back to our camp, the Tempest weren't there either. Damn it! Fortunately, it later turned out that they were ok (they'd gone off on a rescue mission), but the Captain did tell me that if they'd been killed then he would have blamed me for it. So, between the High King and the Merlin, there had now been three situations where I had to deal with conflicting orders/loyalties that put lives in danger. OC, I quite like that: I had similar concerns with Cedric, but he died before I could explore them, so this gave me another opportunity.

After that, all the Tempest went off to visit the Teutonians and collect a prisoner. We were bringing him back to our camp when we heard a referee shout "Time out" i.e. it was now 02:00. Immediately after that, someone stood up: he'd been crouching about 50 cm away from me, by the side of the path, and he'd been just about to attack us. I hadn't seen him at all, although a couple of the others had, which is why they're better scouts than me. I'd like to have a go at scouting, but I don't want to get the rest of my group killed while I'm learning how to do it. There are provisional plans for a faction banquet/mini-event later in the year, and I'm hoping that we can use that opportunity to do some training in a non-lethal environment (e.g. playing hide and seek in the dark, or something with blindfolds like the games at Nine Worlds).

Monday



My first job for the day was another ritual. (You may notice a theme developing here!) This time we were renewing the Ring of Strong Soul, so our theme was to have people representing various emotions that would help them to resist death. I picked anger, and at one point I was down on one knee after I'd been attacked. The conversation then went like this.
Me: "No, I refuse to die, not like this!"
Cerisse: "Who dares to kill you?"
Me: "No-one! Nobody dares! They do not have the right! I WILL LIVE!"
As I said that last bit I clambered to my feet and thrust my sword up into the air (He-Man style). Sadly this isn't an effective battle tactic outside the ritual circle, but I enjoyed hamming it up in there. This ritual succeeded too, which was good news.

After that, we had to get ready for battle. Some of our allies from the Jhereg came to visit and they gave me a Regenerate spell. This is the equivalent of a "Get out of jail free" card in Monopoly: the idea is that if I'm wounded then I can cast that spell to instantly heal the wound. This includes wounds which would otherwise be mortal, e.g. a blow to the head or torso. I gave out a few of those spells at previous events (as Cedric) but this was the first time I'd been on the receiving end.

Once we were out on the battlefield, I took a few hits, including one to my chest, so I fell down to start my death count. About ten seconds later I remembered about my Regen spell, but it was now too late to cast it because IC I was unconscious. So, that was stupid. I could hear the battle moving around me, and I realised that none of my friends were nearby. A couple of women did walk past and look down on me, but they were only interested in robbing my corpse; since I didn't have any money on me, they moved on. I didn't recognise them, so I'm hoping that this was a bit of bonus roleplay from monsters rather than a lack of support from an allied faction! By the time my deathcount reached 80 seconds, I was getting worried, but that's when a few other Lions turned up to heal me and drag me back to our lines. I'm obviously grateful to them, but I'm also glad that I was wearing the Tempest uniform because I think that made me identifiable.

Our main goal was to attack the fort (the same one I went to on Saturday morning), but it had magical defenses which were being powered by a nearby ritual circle. So, that meant that we needed a ritual team to go in and take control of that circle. Guess who? (It wasn't just our core team, but all of us were involved.) I think this photo was taken while we were cleansing the circle:

Cleansing the ritual circle
(Photo © Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell)

Despite how it looks, I wasn't deliberately pretending to balance on a surfboard! Anyway, it took us a while to get things under control, and at one point the watcher threatened to drop the wards and blast us all himself if we didn't get our act together! We got there in the end, but this was nowhere near as coherent as the other rituals we did over the weekend, and I think that's mainly because we (or at least I) weren't clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we were going to do it.

Moving on to the fort, there were loads of monsters inside. The walls were only waist-high, so we could see over them and cast spells (or fire arrows) but we weren't allowed to climb over. There was a door open on one side, but this created a similar situation to the battle of Thermopylae (with the 300 Spartans): if you have a narrow space then you can fight on equal terms with a much larger force. I'm no good in that kind of fight, so I tried to help out by casting spells at the people inside; I wanted to clear a space for our knights to get through. So, I called out the spell and ripped my spell card, but it had no effect. The target didn't counter it, and they weren't cheating, they simply couldn't hear me over all the other noise so (OC) they didn't realise that they'd been hit by a spell. I tried again, reusing the same spell card, and shouted as loud as I could, but still no effect. This was a bit disheartening, and after my third attempt I gave up. One of the referees then spoke to me and asked (OC) how I was getting on. I explained the problem, and he was very helpful: he said that as long as I stood near a referee to cast the spell, they'd relay it for me. I tried again, and he then pointed at a person, who fell down. So, that really helped, and got me back into the fight. This may also explain my shattered sword on Sunday: I now think that the referee was relaying a spell effect which I didn't hear.

Once I started zapping people inside the fort, this attracted attention, so I got knocked down again. This time I was ready to use my Regen, but the Sergeant Major jumped in first and healed me up: she told me to hang onto that until I really need it (e.g. when I'm on my own).

Meanwhile, our allies were working on a new strategy. I saw four people jog past, carrying a battering ram! They then used this to smash open the big doors on the front of the fort, and I heard the wood splinter when the ram hit the doors. That was really impressive, and it definitely helped my immersion.

So, we got inside the fort, and I wound up in a rough line facing off against a line of monsters. One of them cast a spell and shattered the sword of the lady standing next to me. She still had a shield, but she was now unarmed, so I moved forward in the hope that I could defend her if necessary. After a couple of minutes, I thought "Hang on, I'm a Mage, I can mend stuff!" So, I cast the Mend spell, which fixed her sword. Much later, it occured to me that I could have simply countered the original Shatter spell; it would have cost me a lesser Mage spell either way, but prevention is better than cure. I know how to counter spells: as I mentioned above, I was doing that on Saturday morning. I suppose the difference there is that the Merlin explicitly told us "Get ready to cast Counterspell". It's similar to the Regen issue: I need to remember what options are available to me.

Eventually we won, and I survived the battle. However, this came at a cost: several other Lions died, including the High King and one of the Santia Maria crew. We brought the bodies back to camp, and we all had an opportunity to pay our respects. So, there will be some changes in the faction next year, with a new High King or High Queen in charge.

Aftermath



I enjoyed the event, and as soon as bookings open for next year I'll register for all four events. I'm new to LARP, but it's become a big part of my life, and it will be odd not to see all those people for several months instead of spending the weekend together. Still, the internet makes it easier to stay in touch between events.

More specifically I enjoyed playing Cox: aside from the skillset, I think I've been able to emphasise different personality traits to make him distinct from Cedric. I'm going to choose Mage 1 as my vet pick, so I'll have Mage 1 and Mage 2. That won't exactly count as a new skill, but it will mean that I can cast more of the existing spells. We also have some artefacts (e.g. Merlin's wand) which can store any unused spells overnight, so that would be a way for me to share my magic with other people. The faction seems to be fairly well supplied with healers at the moment, so I'm happy to specialise in blammo. This will also mean that I get a promotion within the Tempest: my military rank will stay as Private, but my mage rank will go from Mage Adept to Magus Prime. Next year I'd like to spend some time at the College, so that I can do some academic study and learn more about how magic works in this world.

I've also just bought 10,000 aluminium rings from Armchair Armoury, and my project for the next few months is to make a chainmail shirt. This will be child sized, partly because that will (hopefully) make a good Christmas present and partly because that will be quicker than making an adult sized shirt. If this goes well, I'll see about making a shirt for myself, possibly out of steel. I won't be able to wear it IC, but it would be useful for monstering.

Maybe the biggest lesson to take away from LARP is how much I can pack into a weekend when I really try. I don't think I'd have the stamina to do that every weekend, but when I'm at home I sometimes realise that I've been up for hours and have nothing to show for it. So, this has re-invigorated me to get things done.