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Darkness falls? - John C. Kirk

Sep. 7th, 2014

01:12 am - Darkness falls?

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Resuming my LARP blogging, the June event at CP was called "Darkness". This followed up on some of the plot developments from the May event: basically, we all went off to the Steppe lands to repair their circle of ward stones, before the corruption inside could spread.

Friday



We began with Parliament, so that the people in charge could brief us on the situation. In particular, we were warned about hags who would poison people and drag them off to the "breeding bogs". Apparently they could only be killed by silver weapons, and these are in quite short supply. Greater mages can transmute a metal weapon into silver, but this effect only lasts for 30 seconds before the weapon reverts back to its normal form. Anyway, that meant that the Arcane Tempest would be well placed to deal with any hags.

While Parliament was in progress, a couple of unfamiliar women entered our camp and joined the circle; they didn't appear hostile, so someone went over to speak to them, presumably to ask them to wait outside until Parliament had finished or come back later. I didn't hear what that person said, but everyone heard the loud response: "How dare you ask us to leave? We are Lions, here to join the warhost!" So, that was our introduction to the Order of Papilio.

The Deputy Castellan is responsible for working out the rota for gate guard duty, and the High King announced that he would personally take the first shift until that rota was ready. I respect that: it's good to see a leader who's willing to share the load rather than just delegating the boring jobs. Something similar happened at the May event, just after Idris became High King. He took his turn on the gate, then some war leaders (from other factions) arrived for a meeting, and he held that meeting at the gate rather than going elsewhere. From a religious point of view, this is one way to show devotion to Trask (the god of duty).

Brocc then presented the High King with a new throne, carved by the peasants of Deira. When Idris approached it, he ran his hand over the back and then said something quietly. I was standing close enough to hear it, but I'm guessing that most people were too far away. For now, I think I'll keep that comment to myself, because I'd like to follow it up IC and I don't want to give spoilers to any other players who are reading this; suffice it to say that it struck me as unusual, and I'll hopefully follow up on this in a future blog post.

After Parliament, it was time for my first ritual of the event. This was for Sir Alfred Thatcher of the Lance, renewing his greater Corporeal magic. We structured this as a mock trial, so that the conflict would create drama and make the ritual more interesting. In particular, Wayland (the most powerful contributor) acted as prosecutor, while I acted as defence, and Cerisse (the lead ritualist) was the judge.

(Digressing a bit, my ambition at school was to become a barrister, mainly because I enjoyed debating. This plan went awry when I applied to various universities to study Law and they all rejected me without even an interview. Anyway, I'm happy with my new career path in IT, but it's nice to be able to dip back into law in a fictional context.)

As a ritual group, we rely on improvisation quite a bit: we work out a rough plan in advance, but we don't rehearse it. However, it's important for each person to take an active role in the ritual, and that should be proportional to the amount of power that you're contributing. I had six points (the same as Brocc), so we were both tied for second place after Wayland (with eleven points). That meant that I could let him "set the pace" but I still needed to jump in at appropriate points. I also needed to make sure that I actually won the trial, in order for the ritual to succeed!

Wayland's main argument was that Sir Alfred didn't deserve the greater Corporeal magic because he wasn't putting it to proper use, either on its own or as part of Thaumaturgy: he was just treating it as another weapon. In order to demonstrate that, Wayland called on Lady Skye (the Physician Royal and also part of the ritual team) and asked her whether she had seen Sir Alfred using his magic for peaceful purposes; she said no. Aha! I saw this as my chance to jump in. "Your honour, I object! Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!" I can't claim credit for inventing that phrase (I've heard it a few times in scientific discussions), but it seemed appropriate here. I then questioned Lady Skye further, asking whether she was with Sir Alfred all the time, or whether he had any opportunities to use his magic when she wasn't around. I also reassured her that this wasn't a criticism of her at all, because nobody expected her to be monitoring his activities. I think that all worked out well, because it supported my point (and the goal of the ritual) while also keeping her involved as a contributor (rather than me just standing there and speechifying).

At the end, Wayland branded Sir Alfred with some hot coals, in order to make him prove his dedication. The ritual succeeded, so we were off to a good start.

After we'd finished, the Algaia (another faction) had a ritual lined up: this was for a special ruler which would allow illiterate people to read. They were a bit low on contributors, so I agreed to help out. Since my character is illiterate, I peered at their book initially and looked confused at all the squiggles, then I started to make out individual words when I used the ruler. The ritual succeeded, but honestly I don't think I did a great job; I needed to "crank it up to 11" rather than just standing around saying "Hmm". Still, it was good to establish friendly links with another faction and see how different ritualists/teams approach the circle. They invited me to come to their camp later for a drink, which I would have liked to do, but unfortunately I didn't find time for it during the rest of the event.

Back in the Lions camp, I went to the Round Table, in time for a visit from Lewis H... (I've forgotten his surname) who was acting on behalf of the Duke of Anglia. I met the Duke at Renewal last year: he arrived with a group of soldiers in order to take part in an honour battle, so that he could settle a dispute with Lady Adora (one of our alchemists). Unfortunately this coincided with an outbreak of disease, so we'd quarantined the camp, and nobody could enter or leave until they'd been examined by a healer. I was on gate guard duty, so I told them that they'd need to wait outside, which he didn't like because he felt that it was disrespectful. I said that if it was any consolation, we were treating him the same way as visiting monarchs, but he said that he expected to be treated better than them.

Anyway, it seems that there's a larger dispute here. The Duchess of Anglia is apparently very ill (and none of the local healers can help), so nobody has seen her for a long time, and the Duke has been taking questionable actions. For instance, he's been killing trolls, and Lord Blackwell knew several families who had lost their lands. The implicit concern here is that the Duke may have nobbled her in order to seize power for himself. This led into a bit of a civil rights discussion: some people (e.g. Lewis and one of the Papilio knights) argued that trolls are more like cattle than humans, so there's nothing immoral or illegal about killing them. We don't have any trolls in the warhost at the moment, but there was one with us last year; I can't remember whether I met him as Cox or as a previous character, but I agree with Lord Blackwell that they're sentient creatures so they count as people of Albion. We also wound up discussing charades, the idea being that even if the Duchess can't speak, she could still communicate. Queen Esme suggested that all Lions should be proficient in this skill, and I can see the benefits in other situations, e.g. a scouting mission where you don't want to reveal your position. The end result was that Lord Blackwell instructed Lewis to give a message to the Duke: he wanted to have the Duchess brought out to the warhost so that our healers could examine her.

After that, I went back to the ritual circle again: we needed to perform two rituals for the Monks of the Winding Chain (Anise and Cornelius). Anise's ritual was the same goal as Sir Alfred's, i.e. renewing greater Corporeal magic. Actually, this follows on from the May event; our first attempt at upgrading to greater Corporeal magic (on the Friday night) was only a partial success, so the effect only lasted for two events rather than a full year. We struggled a bit, but Wayland came up with the interesting idea of demanding a vow of chastity as an extra sacrifice. Afterwards, we were told that this was a partial success too (only valid for another two events), although the referees later reconsidered and upgraded it to a full success (valid for a year).

Following straight on from that, Cornelius' ritual was to upgrade him from a lesser to a greater Shaman. We used the adversarial approach again (like Sir Alfred's ritual), summoning the spirits of dead Lions to condemn him and force him to justify why he deserved the extra power. As part of that, I (as Cox) channelled Cedric (my first character). In theory, this should have been a really good ritual, but it didn't really work. According to the watcher (referee), part of the problem is that we wore hooded cloaks with white masks, so our voices were muffled and we couldn't show any emotion on our faces.

Also, while I liked the idea of playing Cedric again, I felt that it should have been more of a big deal rather than the equivalent of a phonecall to the afterlife. Thinking about The Aeneid, book VI involves Aeneas travelling to the underworld. If we did a LARP equivalent of that, e.g. a group of living people entering Melaphine's Halls, I think that bringing back dead characters would work a lot better. Alternately (and jumping ahead a bit), I saw another group performing a ritual at Renewal this year where they had one of the team taking on the role of a demon; afterwards, the lead ritualist said "The vision is ended." So, that implied that they hadn't actually summoned a demon to possess someone: always a prudent choice! In our case, I think it would have worked better if we'd said that Cornelius saw a vision of dead Lions, rather than those spirits actually coming into the ritual circle. To be fair, maybe that was the implication, but if so then I think we ought to make it more explicit.

Anyway, this ritual failed. I think it's the first time I've had an outright failure rather than a partial success, but at least there didn't seem to be any major consequences (e.g. the ritual team spontaneously combusting); it was mainly just frustrating because Cornelius had paid money for the attempt. I felt a bit guilty about this afterwards, and wondered whether I should contribute some money towards his next attempt. The basic salary in the warhost is two silver pieces per person per event (although nobles get a bit more). It cost four gold pieces to pre-book the mundane ritual circle at this event: that's equivalent to 16 silver pieces, or two years' basic salary. I discussed this with the rest of the Arcane Tempest later; the Captain's advice was that I should refund the money that Cornelius paid me personally, i.e. nothing. Sometimes people do get paid money for performing rituals, typically if the request comes from outside your faction: this is in addition to the cost of hiring the circle itself.

Returning to camp, we heard some more bad news: Father Grimas had died. Apparently he was separated from the rest of the Lions in the dark, and nobody found him in time to heal him. I've mentioned him a few times in this blog, although not always by name. (Is this the text equivalent of a clip show?)

* In May 2013 (my first event), I took part in a big ritual, as a substitute for a wedge. The goal was to cure Father Grimas; he'd been cursed by a vampire to have all of its weaknesses and none of its strengths. We succeeded, although I had to be dragged out afterwards.

* In June 2013, he was talking to the Arcane Tempest just before Sergeant Major Wood got kidnapped. I didn't go into detail at the time, but the conversation involved something that had happened earlier in the day. Basically, everyone with Corporeal magic got a bit less than usual, because something was draining it. Most people took part in a big attack against the creature responsible, while a few of us faced in the opposite direction to watch out for any other enemies. The attack was successful, and when the creature was destroyed it released all the excess magic. (OC, the refs threw all the extra spell cards into the air for people to catch.) I thought "Aha, I want some of that!" so I lunged in to grab a card, but that meant that I wasn't doing my job. When we spoke in the evening, Grimas said that it was a disgrace to see people acting like children in a sweet shop and showing such a lack of discipline. He said that he wasn't accusing any of us, he was just commenting in general. However, I knew what I'd done, and I took his words to heart. In fact, part of the reason that I didn't see the kidnappers approach (aside from the dark) is that I was looking down at the ground in shame, which then added to my guilt later.

* In July 2013, Cedric (my first character) died. Grimas was the shaman who cast "Speak with dead" on my corpse afterwards, so that I could say my last words.

* In August 2013, I started playing my current character (Cox). I took part in several rituals at that event, including one to renew the Glove of True Death; Grimas was the necromancer I mentioned (although he preferred the term "banisher"), who initially wore the glove and gave me some advice afterwards.

* In May 2014, I took part in another ritual with Grimas to renew his abilities. Although he was the weakest contributor on paper (based on his power levels), he had a lot of experience and a well-developed character history to draw on; that helped the rest of us, and I think he gave a better performance than I did. During the battle on Monday, he proclaimed that he was the Dread Lord Grimas, so I had to keep hitting him on the head to keep him unconscious until we could find someone to cast Succour on him and heal his spirit.

I actually remember looking at him near the start of the event and thinking that he was a "long term" character who would be around indefinitely. I hope I didn't inadvertently jinx him!

At least other people were able to recover his body: they laid it down beside the fire in the centre of camp, then Father Godric (from Caer Culhaven) led his eulogy. I spoke, although I don't remember what I said. Oak (from the Algaia) took Grimas' last breath, by pressing down on his chest. Thane Rudraigh (prounced "Rory", also from Caer Culhaven) cut off Grimas' little finger as a relic, and said that he would commission B'rakka to put inside a hollow sword pommel. Father Godric then said that Father Grimas would now be known as "the Blessed Grimas", and asked us all to invoke his name if we did anything particularly significant; in a year's time, he will try to get Grimas to become "Saint Grimas".

Saturday



Aside from the first evening of each event, time in is at 10:00 every day. That said, it tends to be a slow start, with not much happening in the first half hour; this means that you can usually drift in a few minutes late, or arrive in camp and then go off to "pray to the gods" (i.e. visit GOD to pick up spell cards) and get breakfast without really missing much. However, in this case the Arcane Tempest were assigned to the first shift on the gate, so we had to be there at 10:00 fully prepared, and I made sure that I got up early.

Here's a photo I took of our campsite (while most people were still asleep):
Lions camp

You may notice that the ground is mostly grassy, except for a muddy area in the gap between the red flags: that's our "gate". We had quite a bit of rain over the weekend, and the areas were lots of people walked gradually got more squelchy. We tried to offset this by moving the gate each day (after this photo was taken), i.e. moving the red flags so that the gap was in a different place. This helped a bit, although the main effect was to have a larger muddy area.

There's a Shaman spell called "Command", where you can give someone a single word command and then they have to follow it to the best of their ability for 30 seconds (unless they can counter it or get out of range in time). While I was on gate duty, a few of us speculated about the worst command you could give someone who was standing in the muddy area. A few suggestions were "kneel", "crawl", "wallow", and "swim". We didn't actually cast any of those spells, but it passed the time while we were standing there. For that matter, senior officers in the Arcane Tempest could theoretically give the same orders without needing magic (based on their military rank), but I think they would only do that as a punishment rather than to amuse themselves.

Once we'd finished on the gate, it was time for my first ritual of the day: renewing "The Shield of the Steadfast" for the Knights of the North. Since this was a martial goal, my main contribution was to lead the group in some drill manoeuvres (e.g. standing to attention). That all went well, and the ritual succeeded.

The next ritual was the first part of a set: blessing an armband. I must admit, I don't actually remember the details of this; the key point is that it would take three rituals to achieve our goal. The watcher then gave us some interesting advice. Up until now, each ritual has been a success or failure in its own right, and we find out the result as soon as its over. However, another option is to link several rituals together and then get a combined result at the end. The advantage is that if you have a couple of really good rituals and then another that's a bit dodgy, they should average out to an overall success. The disadvantage is that if you have an atrocious failure right at the start then you're wasting your time (and money) with all the subsequent rituals in that set. As I recall, we did the blessing rituals in the traditional way, but this was useful to know about.

We then had an hour's gap before the second instalment, so we returned to camp. While I was there, I noticed that nobody was guarding the gate, so I drifted over to it. A little bit later, the knights of Papilio joined me, but we established that none of us were actually supposed to be there. In a situation like this, I'm happy to help out, but I was conscious that I needed to get back to the ritual circle so I couldn't stay there indefinitely. I wanted to find Anise (who was acting as Deputy Castellan) so that I could find out who was supposed to be on the gate, but I didn't want to leave it unguarded in my absence; similarly, the Papilio knights may have had other things to do, so I thought that it would be unfair for me to simply leave and transfer the quandary to them. This led to an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Me: "I need to talk to Anise, but I don't want to force you to stay here."
Papilio #1: "You could not force me to do anything!"
Me: "Well, I would not attempt to force you."
Papilio #2: "To force either of us."
Me: "... Yes, quite. So, if you are willing to stay here then I will leave. If you are not willing then I will remain here."
Papilio #1: "Yes, go, we will not stand in the way of your duty."
Me: "Thank you."


Technically, it wasn't actually my duty, but I wasn't really inclined to quibble over details. I found out who was supposed to be there, and they relieved us.

Back at the ritual circle, we had the second instalment of the blessing ritual. This all went according to plan until the end, when the watcher gave us a riddle: we had to solve it (figure out someone's name), then say that name three times in the final ritual, otherwise we'd fail. This didn't simply involve wordplay ("what can fly without wings?"), it relied on us knowing about the cosmology of the CP world, and I had no idea about the answer. Fortunately, other people were able to figure it out. I gather that there's a team of people who spend a lot of time sitting around the Round Table dealing with puzzles like this.

After a short break, our next ritual was the start of another set: the Spears of the Sentinels. This was fairly straightforward, and my role was to be a generic bad guy attacking the heroes, then being driven off with the spears.

There was another ritual immediately after that, but it involved people from another faction, so most of the Lions team weren't needed. We returned to camp, and I thought that this would be a good time to go and get lunch, but then we noticed several Lions forming up in a column. That surprised me, because as far as I knew we weren't due for a monstering slot or a battle. I asked whether they were mustering, and they said yes. I then asked whether I should be mustering too, and Sir Beaumont said that I could if I wanted to: they were about to undertake a challenge from Creed (our god of war). Far be it from me to shirk a challenge, so I joined them.

The Black Knight was also there; as I understood it, he had a similar role to the Lady of the Lake, acting as the Champion of Law. He led us out to a nearby field, where Verlaine (aka the Carnage Witch) was up to no good. We confronted her, and she killed the Black Knight (or at least disembodied him), just leaving his helmet behind. We engaged her followers, but she had an annoying habit of using tree teleport to blip around. Someone else then came up with a cunning plan: we'd get two Corporealists to cast the "Fumble" spell in a bracketing attack, i.e. they'd both cast the same spell at the same time, so that she could only counter one of them and then the other would get through. Specifically, they shouted "Fumble that tree!" That meant that she couldn't hold onto it to escape, so we captured her and brought her back to camp.

The High King then decreed that she should be put on trial. Rudraigh said that she had the right to choose her own defender (rather than having one appointed for her), so she chose Rudraigh. He wasn't particularly enthusiastic about this, but he is very rigid when it comes to the law and that outweighed his personal feelings towards her. The High King allowed them an hour to confer together before the trial, but also ordered that she must be "solidly watched" and guarded until then.

Three of us held her as we walked across to the Caer Culhaven tent, so that she couldn't break free, but she complained about this. She asked whether we could just act as adults, since she wasn't resisting. When we got to the tent, Rudraigh asked whether she would give her word not to attempt escape, which she did, so I released her, although I kept my sword pointed at her.

Verlaine asked whether she could speak freely to Rudraigh, and he said that as her advocate he was bound to keep it confidential. She then gestured to me and the High King's Hound (her real name is a secret), asking "What about them?" I pondered it, then said "I am not your advocate, but I won't repeat anything that you say here unless you give me permission to do so." She said "Which I won't", and I nodded. Hound on the other hand said that she would report everything she heard, and Verlaine made some dismissive comments about her running back to the High King to tell tales and make up lies. I suggested that if Verlaine expected Hound to lie then she might as well speak freely, because she wouldn't be any worse off. (In other words, if Verlaine stayed silent, Hound could still claim that she confessed to crimes.)

Based on that, I probably shouldn't go into details here. I will mention that Verlaine worked with us at Renewal last year to bring down Uath (the druid who kept kidnapping Sgt Major Wood), and she said that he was an idiot: apparently she could have handled the whole situation a lot better. Aside from that, there wasn't much doubt about her past actions, so the court case hinged on whether they counted as the specific crimes that she was accused of. For instance, if I killed High King Idris then that would be treason (since I'm a Lion); if one of the Jhereg did it, that wouldn't be treason, although it would probably cause a diplomatic incident.

When we were ready for the trial, I escorted her to the throne room. Before she stood up, she asked again: "Can we behave like adults?" I said "You gave Thane Rudraigh your word that you won't try to escape and that's good enough for me. I have to walk behind you, but I won't hold onto you." In fairness to her, she kept to her word.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay to watch the trial, because I had to go back to the ritual circle, to finish imbuing the Spears of the Sentinels. We had a similar theme to the previous ritual, with people using spears to defend themselves, except that now they'd progressed from a village to a city. Honestly, the way we portrayed the town square (with apple sellers etc.) felt like "Albion by way of Mary Poppins": those weren't the most authentic accents I've ever heard! Anyway, as the ritual came to a close, Cerisse continued the narrative, saying "Now Albion is at peace, so you can put down your spears. There is no more need for violence." As she said that, the watcher looked over towards our camp (visible from the ritual circle), and commented that our fellow Lions had just stabbed an unarmed woman in the back while she was running away. Great, thanks guys, wonderful timing there... Fortunately the ritual still succeeded; it turned out that the woman was Verlaine, who fled when the High King convicted her and sentenced her to death. Since the other Lions recaptured her, this sentence was then carried out, by pouring holy water into her veins.

After that, I grabbed a late lunch/dinner, then the Arcane Tempest were due on the gate again. This coincided with quite a heavy shower of rain, and after a few minutes we were ordered to come into the command tent (within sight of the gate) rather than standing out there. When the rain eased off, we went back out, and when it got heavier again we stayed put. Our tricorns are remarkably effective in this weather, since the water gets diverted away from our faces; it's a bit like having drainpipes attached to our hats. Beyond that, there's a certain demented joy that comes from just embracing the bad weather. "Is that all you've got? Bring it on!" At one stage we had thunder and lightning overhead, and hailstones were bouncing off our uniforms. As a couple of the others put it:
"After all, we are not the 'Arcane Summer Breeze'."
"No, we are the heart of the storm!"
"We are the Tempest ... AND WE SHALL NOT FALTER!"

More generally, I simply enjoyed having a chance to spend time with the rest of the Tempest while we were all in the same place at the same time. As you may have gathered, this was a very busy weekend for rituals: I did four on Friday, six on Saturday, and one on Sunday (so eleven in total). Cox can contribute more power to rituals than Cedric could, and I said last year that this has opened up a whole new area of the game for me. I stand by that, but I don't really want to be a full-time ritualist. I like spending time with the rest of the ritual team, and we've definitely got better at working together with all the extra practice, but I saw more of them than my own group at this event, so I told Cerisse that I wanted to cut back a bit in future.

When the rain eased off, Queen Esme introduced me to a visitor from the Western Continent. When we travelled there in May, he teleported us to another area in search of Clarion (the sword of peace). However, he refused to teleport us back unless we brought him back to the Eastern Continent with us. Apparently he was now interested in taking on an apprentice: ideally a greater shaman, but he'd settle for a lesser shaman. Since I've recently become a lesser shaman, I'd be eligible for that, and I might be able to progress further. The trade-off is that he might be up to something, since he hasn't been entirely reliable in the past; there's also the risk that I'd be "seduced by the dark side" (putting it in Star Wars terms).

I was keen to meet him so that we could discuss this further, but it was tricky to fit it into my schedule. I was still on gate guard duty at that point: Captain Philips said that they could handle it without me for a little while, but then the High King called Parliament and asked for the people who'd taken part in the Black Knight's challenge to step forward, so I was needed there. He said that those who hadn't taken part in the challenge (including him) would pick up where the Black Knight left off by devising more challenges for us. I must admit, I hadn't realised that this was going to be an ongoing thing, but I'll finish what I started.

After Parliament, the Tempest who weren't around in the afternoon went off to a meeting to discuss the future challenges for us, so Private Meth and I had to remain on the gate. I'd also volunteered to go on a scouting mission later, so as soon as the other Tempest got back I would need to attend a briefing, telling me what to look for. Looking ahead, the whole faction was due to go "on manoeuvres" (monstering) for two hours; however, I was already double booked, because I wanted to go to the College to finish learning a new Tuareg spell and then go to an inter-faction scouting meeting. After that, I was due in the ritual circle again. So, I spoke briefly to the visitor and said "I really do want to talk to you, but I can't right now. Can you come back at, um, 1am?" He didn't make any promises, but he said that he'd seen me standing out in the rain so I'd impressed him with my devotion to duty there.

Sadly, the scouting mission didn't go very well. We went out to spy on a secret meeting in the woods, but this was at about 21:00, so it was pretty much broad daylight. After all the rain, the ground was quite muddy, so it was difficult to sneak around without making squelching noises. Also, the people we wanted to spy on were standing out in the open, so we didn't have any convenient cover to lurk behind. In fairness, that's quite a prudent way to do your plotting; it may even deserve a slot on the Evil Overlord list! However, it was a bit frustrating for me. I was never in any real danger, but I didn't achieve anything either. We just went out, saw some small figures in the distance, then came back.

Back in camp, I volunteered for gate duty, and I was actually hoping that some random monsters would attack so that I'd have an excuse to hit them (while still pulling my blows, of course). On a related note, Sir Will (acting Castellan) commented a couple of times over the weekend that I'm always on the gate, even when it's not my shift. That's a bit of an exaggeration; for instance, I spent a lot of time at the ritual circle at this event! However, that's still a nice thing to hear.

Then it was time for our monster slot. I spoke to a couple of our command team, and asked whether I could skip that to deal with the other commitments. If they'd said no then I'd have accepted that; I felt bad about skiving off, and I'd be quite willing to go rolling around in the mud, but I also wanted to be in the other places at the same time. They said it was fine, so I went off to the College.

To learn a new Tuareg spell, you have to watch it six times and then practice it twelve times. I was there to learn a specific lesser mage spell ("Cleanse Object"); I saw someone demonstrate that a couple of times at the previous event, so I needed to watch it a few more times, then start practicing. Other people (from various factions) were there to learn a corporeal spell to revive people who were unconscious. I volunteered to be the test subject for that: I can't cast those spells, so I don't need to see it, and I wouldn't miss anything by being knocked out. The simplest method would be to hit me on the head with a sword, but some people went for a bit more variety, including headbutting me! (Again, this was purely IC, so I wasn't really being hurt.)

After that, I watched the Cleanse Object spell, and asked a couple of nearby referees to watch me practice it. Since I'm a greater and a lesser mage, I can cast nine lesser mage spells per day; I used eight of them for this, then I could do the other four on Sunday morning.

Next, I went over to the Wolves camp for the scouting meeting. I didn't have much to report, but I could tell them what happened and hopefully learn something while I was there. Just after I'd arrived, their camp was attacked by monsters. They said that I was welcome to stay back rather than getting involved; it was getting dark by this point, and I was conscious that if I went down then the other Wolves might not recognise me as an ally in time to heal me. However, I also felt that I should return the favour of their hospitality, so I compromised on a support role.

One of the monsters cast a fear spell on the Wolf standing next to me, so I countered it:
"By the power of life, spirit, and elements, I defy that spell. Countermagic!"
I overlapped the original spell, so the Wolf was already starting to run away when he heard me finish, then he came back and thanked me. Then the monsters tried again, casting a spell at another Wolf, so I jumped in again:
"By the power of life, spirit, and elements, I defy that spell! Countermagic!"

(Although I'd used up a lot of my lesser mage spells at the Academy, I still had my lesser shaman magic available.)

I have to say, this was very satisfying. I didn't say this out loud, but my attitude towards the monsters was "Hah, do your worst! You've met your match." That was when I felt someone grip my wrist from behind: a hag had sneaked up on me, and she paralysed me. Ah well, my moment of triumph was nice while it lasted. The rest of the Wolves dealt with the monsters, then my paralysis wore off after 30 seconds, so I was ok.

(I later discovered that the attacking monsters were actually from the Lions, i.e. my own faction. I didn't recognise them, but they recognised me, and apparently they were considering a bracketing attack to stop me countering all their spells; that turned out to be unnecessary once the hag took me out of the fight.)

We then had the scouting meeting. I learnt a bit of news from the others, but it was mainly useful as a proof of concept, just to establish links between the relevant people in each faction. So, I'm grateful to the Wolves scouts for setting it up, and hopefully we can continue that at future events.

Back at camp, we had a visitor from the Steppe. Although we were in their lands (to deal with their ward stone problem), I hadn't actually spent much time with them up until this point. They said that they had two people in their camp who claimed to be Lions, but I didn't recognise the names. Lord Blackwell asked me and Thane Torin (from Caer Culhaven) to go and investigate.

When we arrived, we met Bob Willoughby and Holly Willoughby ("no relation"), who introduced themselves as the guards from the baggage train. I didn't recognise them, but they said that this is because they never come into the main camp and I never go to the baggage train. The baggage train is something that we refer to IC but it doesn't actually exist; it's more of a concept, e.g. if we're attacked by monsters and we take prisoners then we can send them to the baggage train so that the players aren't stuck in our camp all night when their monster slot is over. This meant that we couldn't actually disprove what the alleged guards were saying, but equally they could be lying. We asked them some general knowledge questions about Albion, which they got mostly right, but then again there are people from other factions who could name our High King or our gods, so it still didn't prove whether these people were really from Albion.

We asked the Steppe what had happened: as I recall (my notes are a bit sparse here!), the Willoughby duo were brought in unconscious after they had allegedly attacked the Fir Cruthen. However, Holly Willoughby was quite adamant that the people who claimed to be Fir Cruthen had actually attacked them, and now they (Lions) wanted to get back to their duty at the baggage train. Complicating things, the Fir Cruthen who'd contacted the Steppe had now disappeared back into the forest.

By this point, the Steppe had also fetched another person from the Fir Cruthen: by a coincidence, he was the same person who was head-butting me earlier at the College! So, at least we recognised each other as allies. He invoked the Pax Brittanica (a peace treaty between the Lions and the Fir Cruthen) and we went back out together to call anyone in who was hiding in the forest. Nobody came forward or called out to identify themselves. He then told me that the Fir Cruthen are currently in the middle of a civil war, and this was probably an attempt by one side to get the Lions involved. Holly said that she and Bob would happily let the whole matter drop if we'd just let them go rather than holding them captive. The Steppe didn't want to take sides at all, which is why they'd sent runners to fetch us. So, acting as representatives for our factions, we all agreed that we had no quarrel with each other, and that we would all go our separate ways in peace.

So, that was a happy ending. I must admit, when the Steppe messenger arrived, my first reaction was to say "I've never heard of those people, they're clearly lying, feel free to kill them if you want to." As it turned out, I'm glad that we took the time to talk to them!

Back in camp, Torin and I told Lord Blackwell that the situation was resolved. He wanted to know the details, but I had to go back to the ritual circle (for the final stage of blessing the armband) and Lord Blackwell came along too so that he could observe. He made it clear that he appreciated all the work we (the ritual team) were doing, and wasn't just taking us for granted, so that was nice to hear. I don't actually remember any details from that final ritual, but it succeeded so we must have done something right! In particular, we (someone else) provided the solution to the riddle at the key moment.

Returning to camp, there was more excitement. Lord Hart (the former leader of the Algaia) had enslaved Sir Beaumont. Beaumont returned to camp acting normally, then attacked Sgt Major Wood. Without going into details, the nature of his attack proved that he had access to his normal memories, which isn't the case with "normal" possession. I didn't witness the attack, but I heard him afterwards shouting "Nobody enslaves me!" Fortunately healers got to Wood in time, so this attack didn't do any permanent harm.

I asked Lord Blackwell whether he still wanted to know about the Steppe issue. He asked "Is this something that will cause any future problems for us?" I said "No, I don't believe so", and he concluded that in that case he didn't need to know the details. Captain Philips commented that this is an important leadership skill, knowing what you don't need to know.

By the end of the day (time out), I'd used all of my magic except for the regenerate spell that someone gave me before the scouting mission, so I think that was productive.

Sunday



As I mentioned before, the overall plot for this event was that the Steppe had a big circle of ward stones around part of their land. Three of those ward stones had broken: two of them were irreparable, but the middle one could be repaired and then bridge the gap on either side. The Fae who watched the circle had stepped in to replace the middle stone, but our combined forces now needed to find a more permanent solution, to stop corruption from spreading out.

The Steppe Alliance were due to take the field in the afternoon. As of Saturday night, I'd heard that they were going to be alone; I've never been to any of the war leaders' meetings, but I assume this means that they couldn't agree on what to do.

OC, this implied that all the other factions would be monstering against them! However, there was a last minute change, and a few other factions joined forces with them. This included the Lions, and we might not have stayed up quite so late drinking if we'd known about it in advance (I went to bed at 05:00), but never mind.

In Parliament, the High King announced our new strategy: we (the combined factions) would form a wedge with as many greater Corporealists as possible. The Fae who had stood in for the middle stone was going to be the focus of the wedge, using a new spell. The main snag here is that if they were all busy with that, there would be a lot less healing magic available to help anyone else who got injured.

After Parliament, I asked one of our faction refs to watch me practice the Cleanse Object spell another four times. He asked whether I was sure about this, since I was burning up a lot of magic that would then be unavailable to me during the skirmish later on. I did consider that, but I kept thinking about the situation with Father Grimas during the May battle: it took a long time to find someone who could cast Succour (a new Tuareg spell) to get him back to normal. None of the other Lions knew this particular spell, so I wanted to make sure that it was available to us, just in case we needed it urgently.

I then noticed the Papilio knights nearby, and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to smooth things over after the misunderstanding the previous day. They'd mentioned before that they joined the warhost to take part in glorious battle, so that seemed like a safe topic to discuss; I could prompt them to talk enthusiastically about something they like. I approached them, and asked: "So, are you both looking forward to the upcoming skirmish?" One of them replied: "Yes, of course, obviously we are. You should not address us with such inappropriate questions." Ah. Operation Diplomacy: failed. Oh well, this is the benefit of having a Captain; he can handle the social niceties while I blow stuff up.

I then left other people to prepare for the battle, because I had to take part in one final ritual: the cleansing and renewal of a stylus. This is something that Uath used last year (possibly to compel people to do things), and we wanted to repurpose it for noble ends. When we had Verlaine prisoner (awaiting trial), she allowed us to take a vial of her blood, and we used that in the ritual. We called on the power of the gods to help us, and when we came to Trask I said that we do our duty, "even if that means standing on the gate in the pouring rain"; I think it's good to get a bit of humour into our rituals, to entertain the circle. I also mentioned "the Blessed Grimas", since this seemed like a suitable opportunity, and it fits in with what Father Godric asked us to do. This ritual was a "spectacular success", so I'm happy with that!

We then returned to camp and mustered for the skirmish. When we reached the battlefield, we formed a line while we waited for the enemy to appear. Specifically, Sir Beaumont ordered us all to line up behind him. He had a wonderful look on his face when he turned around and discovered that he was at the front of a long queue. His new order was to "Mill around behind me." Thank you to the ladies of the court for suggesting that.

Someone then called out that they'd spotted a hag. I asked who they were pointing at (I didn't see the hag who paralysed me the night before), and they said "The one with the crazy hair." I saw a group of four people in armour, including a woman in a chainmail vest with loose curly hair. So, I needed a silver weapon.

The Transmute spell is a bit of a mouthful. In this particular context, the standard wording is: "By my power and the power of the Elements I blend Air with Fire for change and Earth with Water for creation. Let this sword of steel undergo transmutation and become a sword of silver." According to the rules, you don't have to say those exact words, but any variation should contain the key points and take the same amount of time.

I cast the transmute spell on my sword, although I stumbled over the words a bit. I then only had 30 seconds before it would wear off, so I couldn't hold my position in the line and wait for her to come to me; instead, I had to go to her. So, I ran towards her: she ran away, so I chased her around and shouted "Silver" (an OC mechanic) each time I hit her armour with my sword. Meanwhile, the rest of her group attacked me, and I wound up on the ground, mortally wounded.

At this point I had to wonder: "Is this it?" I was on my own, and I didn't know whether any of the other Lions would be able to reach me before my death count ran out. Cadet Katrex (from the Arcane Tempest) ran up to me, and crouched down to start healing me, but then one of the monsters cast Repel on him, forcing him 10 feet backwards, so that still left me dying. Fortunately, the High King came to my aid. He didn't have time to bring me back to full health, so I just became a "1 point squishy" rather than regaining the benefits of my body dev, but I'm very grateful for his help.

Once I was back on my feet, I saw the skirmish progressing. I also then realised that I hadn't been attacking a hag after all! They basically looked like the stereotypical witch from old Bugs Bunny cartoons:

Hag
(Photo © Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell)

So, the person I attacked was probably a bit baffled when I decided to single her out. Since she didn't have any special vulnerability to silver, I'm not even sure whether I did enough damage to get past her armour. (Chainmail counts as "extra heavy", so it can take four hits before the person wearing it gets injured.)

The fight continued, and I was wounded again, but this time I actually remembered that I had a regenerate spell in time to use it. (You have to cast that spell immediately after the injury; by the time you hit the ground, it's too late.) Mind you, even if I had remembered it when I went after the "hag", I don't think it would have made much difference, because I would almost certainly have received another mortal wound soon afterwards.

On another occasion, a few of us were pinned against the bushes behind us. In hindsight (and if a similar situation occurs again), I should cast Repel or Fear on the nearest monster, creating a gap in their line, then run through it. I'll take a couple of hits, but hopefully my coat (enchanted as armour) and/or body dev can handle that. I'll then be mobile, and I'll have a better chance of fighting that way. Also, if the monsters have to split their attention, it will give the others nearby (on my side) a better chance of survival. I wouldn't do that if we were specifically holding a line to defend something behind us, but in this case the bushes didn't have any strategic value.

As it turned out, I wound up on the ground again, mortally wounded:
Cox on the ground
(Photo © Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell)

That's me in the black. Sister Odeel (from the Winding Chain) is on the far right of that photo, wearing a headscarf and white sleeves. Somehow she was able to sneak past all the fighting and heal me before my death count ran out, which I'm very grateful for.

I saw a couple more hags, and on my third attempt I actually got the whole of the (suggested) spell vocals correct to transmute my sword into silver. I'm not convinced that it made a huge difference, i.e. I didn't kill any of them, but at the very least I provided a distraction.

Meanwhile, the wedge plan was abandoned. I'm not actually sure what happened to the ward stone in the end, but the fight ended when some mysterious creature was brought in to drain the hag queen's magic.

The Steppe took heavy losses, but only one of the Lions died; specifically, one of the Papilio knights. Normally I would go along to pay my respects afterwards, but her companion said that we should celebrate her glorious death rather than mourning it, and after our previous conversations I felt that the less I said the better. This probably isn't how they would describe themselves, but OC I think of the Papilio knights as a cross between Klingons and the "jolly hockey sticks" girls from an Enid Blyton story.

I think it's interesting to compare characters. Verlaine had done some bad stuff in the past, showed no remorse, and fully intended to do it again given the opportunity; however, I found her friendly and charming. On the other hand, I'd say that the knights of Papilio are doing their best to follow the ideals of Albion, so I would willingly fight by their side, but it's a struggle for us to maintain a civil conversation.

Just to be clear, I'm only talking about characters here, not the players. Although my character is basically "me in a nifty hat", I've noticed that other people are more creative about coming up with different personalities; that's particularly evident when they swap to a different character (e.g. after their previous character dies). So, I'm not here to whine about those nasty people who wouldn't be friends with me; arguably it's more of a compliment, since they made an impression and stood out from the crowd.

Back at camp, we had a bit of time before we left, so I used my spare magic to demonstrate the Tuareg spell (Cleanse Object) to a few other people. The purpose of this spell is to remove any poison from an object (e.g. a sword blade or a goblet), although it won't tell you whether there was poison beforehand: all you know is that it's clean afterwards. Someone else (who shall remain nameless) then suggested that this is really the "Conceal evidence" spell. That's an interesting interpretation!

After that, we broke camp, but we would remain in Steppe lands for our next gathering: Naadam.

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