Naadam - John C. Kirk
Sep. 19th, 2014
04:39 am - Naadam
In July, I was back at Curious Pastimes for the next LARP event: Naadam. This is the annual "fayre" event, where the factions compete against each other in various contests (e.g. sword duels) rather than fighting against a real enemy, so it should be relatively safe. That said, the corresponding event last year was when Cedric died, so there are no guarantees! There were also some ongoing plot points, e.g. the next stage of the Black Knight's challenge.
As usual, we started with Parliament. High King Idris announced that we would have an open camp at this gathering, i.e. we wouldn't post anyone at the gate. However, we should still remain vigilant in case of unwelcome visitors. He also announced that there were some vacant positions, and invited anyone who was interested to step forward:
- Court seneschal
- Master of the hunt
- First wizard
Lady Eleyna was the previous seneschal, but she was killed in May. Similarly, High King Hazel appointed Arkwright as master of the hunt last year, but then they were both killed in the battle at Renewal. Father Grimas was first wizard, but then he was killed in June. So, even if you get a "job for life" in the warhost, that doesn't really guarantee that you'll be doing it for a long time...
Nobody volunteered for the seneschal role; in my case, that was partly because I had no idea what it meant! I later discovered that it involves hospitality: welcoming the High King's guests, and making sure that he and they have plenty to drink. (There may also be other subtleties that I'm not aware of.)
Master of the hunt is a slight misnomer: it really means "lead scout". Sgt Major Wood applied for that, which makes sense because she's the best scout we've got in the Lions. Sir Beaumont also applied, simply because he didn't want any position to go uncontested.
There were several applicants for first wizard, including Sgt Major Wood and Captain Philips from the Arcane Tempest, Anise from the Winding Chain, and Issa from Caer Culhaven. As I understand it, this isn't simply a question of who is the most powerful mage; the role is more about management, e.g. keeping track of the magical resources (people and items) within the faction.
Related to this, the High King asked for each applicant to supply three references (from different people):
- Someone to vouch for their general good character.
- Someone who's seen the applicant demonstrate the relevant skill (e.g. scouting).
- Someone who's seen the applicant demonstrate organisational abilities.
I later agreed to provide the organisational reference for both Sgt Major Wood and Captain Philips, and I believe that Queen Esme agreed to provide character references for both of them. This may not have helped the High King to choose between them, but he didn't object.
Speaking of positions that needed to be filled, the High King also called forward everyone who had taken part in the Black Knight's quest. Originally there were 15 of us, but 1 person was killed in the skirmish and 4 others couldn't attend this event, so that left 10 of us. In alphabetical order:
- Arcane Tempest: Private Cox (me)
- Caer Culhaven: Thane Rudraigh
- Lance of Deira: Sir Beaumont, Lady Teagan, Sir Will
- Order of Papilio: Sir Florence Simmerson
- Peasants of Deira: Brocc Briarthorn
- Monks of the Winding Chain: Sister Anise, Brother Cornelius, Brother Kale
We were each issued with a sash to identify us as "aspirants". Specifically, we all aspired to become the new Champion of Law. I had no idea that this is what I'd put myself forward for at the previous event, but at least I found out eventually! As I now understand it, the Black Knight's job was to select the next Champion of Law; since he's gone, the rest of us needed to complete the task that he began. If/when we eventually need another Champion, we may see a new incarnation of the Black Knight, but hopefully that will be many years away. The theology of Albion says that we have 9 gods: 7 gods of law, and 2 others. The aspirants had already taken 1 test (from Creed), and we would need to undergo more tests from each of the other 6 gods of law.
Finally, the High King announced that he would choose someone to bear Clarent. This is the sword of peace, which we recovered on the Western Continent in May. This sword confers some special abilities on the bearer (which we're still discovering), but it also has a cost: the bearer can't harm any living creature. Last year I missed out on the opportunity to bear Excalibur, which I regretted, but in this case I stood there thinking "Please don't pick me, I've got enough stuff going on already!" As it turned out, the High King selected Captain Philips, which I was happy with; I'm glad to see him do well, and I like to think that this reflects well on our group as a whole.
We then all departed en masse for the arena, so that we could do a good job of representing our faction at the opening ceremony. The event took place in the Steppe lands, and they organised the various contests, but they also asked each faction to provide a judge. Since Captain Philips couldn't take part in any of the martial contests now (i.e. Clarent would stop him from hitting his opponents), he volunteered to act as judge.
After that, I went to grab some food and register at GOD, since I didn't have time for that before the event officially started. Then it was time for my first contest: the Weaponless Contest. This involved teams of 6, with no weapons allowed, so it was implicitly for mages. The concept was "capture the flag", i.e. each team had a flag at their end of the field and the goal was to get past the opposing team to grab hold of their flag. The Lions were up against the Jhereg, and we decided that attack would be better than defense.
As I recall, our team included 3 of the Arcane Tempest (me, Cadet Katrex, and Sgt Major Wood). Captain Philips couldn't get involved because of Clarent. We recruited Bluebell (a youngster) to help us, and I think there were a couple of the Winding Chain monks there too. Since Bluebell was new, we did our best to coach her before the contest started, e.g. how to do a counterspell.
This may be a good time to recap the combat rules, for any non-CP folk who are reading this. Basically, the body is divided into 6 locations: 2 arms, 2 legs, head, and torso. By default, everyone is a "1 point squishy", so if you get hit once in a particular location then it drops to 0 points. If that's a limb then you can't use it (until you're healed), e.g. you can't hold a sword in that arm or walk on that leg. If that's your head or torso then you fall down unconscious, and if nobody heals you within 2 minutes then you die.
In my case, I now have "body development", so I can take 2 blows to each location. Also, Sgt Major Wood is a thaumaturge, so she's been researching a new type of magic for the last year or so; specifically, she's been trying to get normal clothing to act as armour. (Back in May, I hit her on the head as part of an experiment, and she wound up unconscious on the ground because her hat didn't protect her.) Anyway, during this contest my Tempest coat was able to act as armour, giving me a bit of extra help. However, there are some attacks (e.g. arrows) which penetrate armour and do damage directly to the body.
We split up into smaller groups, and I took the lead on my own. I saw an opponent who I recognised, and she cast Magic Missile against me. For some reason, I didn't counter it, so that knocked me to the ground. This should also have done 1 point of damage to each location, but I got confused: I thought that my coat absorbed the damage, but actually it should have come straight through to me.
When my opponent got closer, she grabbed my right arm and cast a Wound spell; again, I didn't counter it, so that did a point of damage to the specific location (i.e. just that arm). She then followed up with a Spirit Bolt; yet again, I didn't counter it, and that did another point of damage to every location. Following on from my previous mistake, I thought that this wasn't enough to mortally wound me, but it meant that my right arm was now useless. Meanwhile, I hadn't cast a single spell back at her.
While this was going on, someone else from the Jhereg team made it past the other Lions and grabbed the flag, so that ended the contest. My opponent then offered to heal me up (since we are still allies), and took care of my arm. It only occurred to me later that she must have mastered all 3 spheres of magic in order to cast those greater spells, which is impressive!
After the contest, I then realised that I'd messed up the Magic Missile spell effect, so the Spirit Bolt should actually have mortally wounded me. In fact, even if I'd been correct about my coat, that didn't protect my head, so I would still have taken 2 hits there. It didn't make any difference to the outcome of the contest, and I didn't cheat death because I'm sure that she would have healed me afterwards, but I am annoyed with myself for that. Once I realised, it didn't really make sense to suddenly fall over (from a delayed reaction), so I decided to continue the way I'd reacted and treated my coat as if it no longer offered any protection until someone repaired it; that way, I still took a penalty.
I'm not sure why I froze up like that: my brain just couldn't think quickly enough. I know how to counter spells, but by the time I'd figured out whether it was a lesser or greater it was too late to cast the appropriate counter. Similarly, I didn't figure out which offensive spell I should be casting, but anything would have been better than nothing!
I may be able to blame part of this on the journey: as I mentioned previously, I got to the campsite at 17:30 on Friday (cycling) and my heart rate monitor said that my recovery time would last until 21:00 on Saturday, but I ignored that advice. This may also be related to my reading habits. In the past, I've re-read the rules before each event to refresh my memory; in July, I felt confident that I'd got the hang of it, so I spent the train journey on Friday reading comics instead. I know other LARPers who play in multiple "systems", e.g. Curious Pastimes and Empire, but I don't intend to do that any time soon. Aside from the time commitment, I think that I'd struggle to keep track of 2 sets of rules in my head. Anyway, for whatever reason, I was seriously off my game.
A bit later, I tried another contest: nomad wrestling. This was basically a duel, so 2 people stood alongside each other facing in opposite directions (all 4 feet in a straight line), then put their right hands palm to palm. The goal was to make your opponent move their feet, so the simplest approach was to treat it as a test of strength (like arm wrestling): if you can push the other person back far enough, they'll take a step back to avoid falling over.
I was reasonably confident about this, because I have a certain amount of bulk. (Not necessarily muscle, but just mass will help.) However, the catch is that the competitors were self-selecting, so even if I was above average that wouldn't help if the people I could beat didn't take part and I was left facing really huge people.
Anyway, I beat my opponent in the first round, which I was happy with. A couple of other people won by default, when their opponents didn't show up. That surprised me at the time, but I later discovered that some of the faction monster slots clashed with contests. It was structured as a knock-out championship, so the winners from the first round competed in the second round, and so on until there was only 1 person left. In the second round, I was more evenly matched, so my opponent relied on strategy rather than brute force: while I was pushing, he let go, i.e. he pulled his hand back out of the way so that I tipped forward and moved my feet. I didn't realise that was allowed! Still, he wasn't breaking any rules, so it's fair enough. The final winner was Hawke (from the Teutonians); I recognised him from some previous visits between camps.
Meanwhile, every faction had a dream catcher (wind chime) set up near their gate. This was for the observation contest: the idea was to sneak in and remove a ribbon from someone else's dream catcher without them spotting you, then take it to the Steppe tent so that they could keep score. Back in camp, I was chatting to some people when Prudence (a new member of the Order of Papilio) noticed that our entire dream catcher was missing! We asked around to see whether anyone else had spotted anything, then it belatedly occurred to me that I should go to the Steppe to report the theft. I ran over there, and they said that I'd arrived 2 minutes after the "thief". So, with hindsight, if I'd set off as soon as we knew it was missing then I might have beaten them there; that would then mean that we'd get the ribbons back and the other faction wouldn't get any points. Ah well, live and learn.
When I got back to camp, I wandered over to the Round Table, just in time to hear the High King speaking out on the subject of our gods. Aside from the 7 gods of law, we also have Ranalf (basically the god of "sneaky") and Mithras (the god of balance). Going back to my first CP event (May 2013), I spoke to the Arcane Tempest and mentioned that someone had received a message from Ranalf; Sgt Major Wood commented that times had changed, because a few years earlier I would have been arrested just for speaking that name in public. When Queen Esme was crowned last year, representatives from each of the 7 gods of law came forward to offer their blessings, but then Esme spoke up and said that she wanted to hear from representatives of all 9 gods. So, Sgt Major Wood spoke on behalf of Ranalf and Brocc spoke on behalf of Mithras.
Idris is somewhat stricter than Hazel, and he has less tolerance for the other gods. As I walked up behind him at the Round Table, he was in full flow: "Saying a quick prayer to Ranalf before you try to sneak past an enemy is one thing, but ongoing worship is quite another. And then there's Mithras, the so-called god of neutrality, so he never bloody does anything!" I saw Brocc coming around the side of the command tent and hurried to intercept him. I wasn't sure whether this would be a very good time for him to arrive (so that he could speak on Mithras' behalf) or a very bad time (since he might be branded a heretic), but either way it seemed best to warn him of the High King's mood. Fortunately the rest of the nobles were able to talk Idris down from instituting a pogrom against these sects. Personally, I'm most loyal to Trask, so I get on quite well with Idris (who seems most loyal to Creed and Trask), but I'd prefer not to see my friends get put to the sword.
Captain Philips and I then spoke to Queen Esme; she was leaving camp the following day, so I wanted to seize the opportunity. Our "friendly" teleporter from the Western Continent (who'd offered to mentor me) wasn't around, but we discussed his offer in a bit more detail. I saw some interesting parallels between other people who'd been in a similar situation. As I mentioned before, Father Grimas died at the June event: he'd been offered extra power, but he turned his back on it because he saw it as tainted. If he'd embraced that power, maybe he would still be alive. On the other hand, there's Lord Hart, formerly the leader of the Algaia. I never spent much time with him, but as I understand it he was partly possessed by "The Hunter". At Renewal last year, the Hunter took over and he went rogue along with several of the Ael. I'd assumed that the rest of the Algaia killed him, so I was quite surprised when he turned up at the June event to enslave Sir Beaumont! Anyway, I wonder whether he thought that he could control the power when it was offered, then got corrupted and turned on his own faction? I can see the appeal of learning extra magic, but I don't want to betray my friends in the process. Still, I appreciate the trust that Queen Esme has shown in me, and I'll try to live up to it.
Just as we finished our conversation, someone else came seeking the Queen's aid. In this case, it involved a contest in the tavern: "Drink me under the table". The objective was to get as many people underneath a table as possible, but they had to be hidden by the tablecloth draped over it. Also, one person had to hold a full tankard without spilling any of the contents. This contest would favour people with a lighter build, unlike the nomad wrestling, but I went along to watch because it sounded entertaining. Queen Esme wasn't sure whether it would befit her royal station to take part in this, but we all persuaded her that it was her duty to Albion to uphold the honour of the faction.
Sir Will (Queen Esme's champion) literally shielded her as she crawled underneath the table, i.e. he held up a big shield so that nobody could see her from an unflattering angle. One of the Steppe was nearby, and asked what would happen if he saw her in this position, and Sir Will instantly replied: "I will fucking cut you." He then remembered that there was an ongoing Hospitality contest running throughout the whole weekend, and this might not have been the most diplomatic response... (We didn't win the hospitality contest, but to be fair this incident didn't really affect the result.)
The other Lions were able to get 7 people underneath, but unfortunately there were some visible bulges in the tablecloth so it didn't count. The Steppe said that we could try again, and Sgt Major Wood told me to get involved this time. That surprised me, but she said that the combination of shapes/sizes was more important than getting the smallest people. (OC, I think it's a bit like playing Tetris, when you sometimes need the long piece rather than the square.) Under the circumstances, she gave me permission to remove my tricorn; normally this is an indispensable part of our uniform. I also ditched my coat, swordbelt, and my boots, so I apologise to any of my teammates if they wound up with my feet near their face! I did a sort of 1-armed press-up with my feet resting on the table legs, but I tried not to put too much weight either on the table or my teammates. Anyway, this time we made it undercover, and our designated drinker was able to down a pint of cider before we all collapsed back out.
That score put us in joint first place, but the other team had included a child so the Steppe said that we were in the lead, and we were welcome to try again the following night. I have to say, this game was a lot of fun, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my weekend.
There were other tavern games going on, and I'd heard that there would be some other contests involving general entertainment, so I took my juggling balls along. I bought these last year after my previous set disintegrated: they match the Tempest colour scheme (black and gold), and I think that the concept matches the medieval environment. Admittedly, I'm not exactly an expert with them yet. I can reliably toss a single ball from one hand to the other, and I can mostly swap 2 balls if I lunge a bit (throw from right hand, throw from left hand, catch in left hand, catch in right hand), but I can't keep that going or use 3 balls. So, this may not be too impressive on its own, but I had a vague idea of enlisting a few other mages to do telekinesis spells so that I could appear to be better than I am. As it turned out, I didn't even touch the balls all weekend because there was so much else going on.
At 1am I went over to the ritual circle. My workload was a lot lighter at this event, partly because we have a new contributor: Marlowe. He's roughly equal to Wayland, so I've been bumped down from second place, which suits me fine. I still have enough power to make myself useful, but they don't need me to be there all the time so I can get on with other things.
In this case, the ritual was for Sgt Major Wood (renewing her as a greater mage), so I definitely wanted to be there. Captain Philips also took part; he can't contribute much raw power to the ritual, but there was a thematic link by having a strong Arcane Tempest presence there. Similarly, the ritual was designed around our group, e.g. we cleansed the circle by sweeping it with toothbrushes.
During the ritual, Wood took off her hat. As I mentioned earlier, this is unusual for the Tempest, so I think it was effective at showing humility. In any ritual, it helps to make a sacrifice, and this normally comes from the subject (i.e. the person who will get the benefit). In this case, though, Captain Philips also made a sacrifice: he gave up 2 lesser mage spells (i.e. he ripped the spell cards in half so that he couldn't use them later). Cerisse turned to me and asked whether I'd do the same; we hadn't planned that in advance, and I decided to do something slightly different. I'm a greater mage, and a common ritual goal is to convert 2 lesser spheres into 1 greater, so I sacrificed 1 of my greater mage spells.
Discussing it afterwards (while we waited for the watcher's verdict), Wood had some criticisms about the way it had gone. For instance, "Attend me" isn't a recognised military command, unlike "Stand to attention". However, it turned out the ritual was very successful, and Wood's magic was renewed for 2 years rather than the 1 year that she'd expected, so she admitted that she couldn't argue with results.
There were more duelling contests, named in terms of knots. I took part in "One Handed, One Knot" (dagger) and "One Handed, Two Knot" (sword). Some people felt that this terminology was confusing, but there was a logic to it. The organisers had a rope with knots tied in it at regular intervals, then they used that to measure the distance from my shoulder to the tip of my weapon. That means that the length of weapon you were allowed to wield would depend on the length of your arms; someone who was smaller than me might have been able to use a sword in the "One Knot" contest, so we would then be roughly equal in terms of reach.
I started with the "Two Knot" contest:
(Photo © Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell)
I like to think that I'm in a Zorro-esque pose there, with my coat flowing out. Unfortunately I lost in the first round, but I did hit my opponent at least once.
When it came to the One Knot contest, we all agreed to fight without armour. That gave a level playing field, and it also meant that we could shed layers on a hot day. Again, I lost in the first round, but in this case I chose to surrender rather than being beaten unconscious. I wouldn't normally do that, but after I'd lost the use of both arms I couldn't hold a weapon and it would have been cheating to start spellcasting. My opponent offered to shake hands, but I couldn't do that either until I'd been healed up, so he settled for patting me on the back as we left the arena.
Meanwhile, there was another contest running parallel to these: Triage. The idea was for healers to wait by the side of the arena, then whoever healed the most people during the whole event would win that contest. This wound up being a very emphatic victory for Brakk, a goblin from the Jhereg, assisted by Poke (another goblin); between them, they healed almost every competitor, so he earned his prize. As a fringe benefit, this means that a lot of people (from various factions) will now recognise them, so hopefully they'll survive a bit longer if they get into trouble on the battlefield.
On my way back to camp, I noticed a roll of twine lying on the ground. It had a sign on it that said "Get a ref". The ref hut was nearby, so I picked it up and took it over. The person I spoke to was surprised to see it all wrapped around the stick; I suspect that the original idea was to have it stretched out like a fence. Anyway, he said that touching it had zapped my arm; not fatal, but certainly inconvenient! I wouldn't have picked it up if it hadn't been for the sign, but in fairness the sign didn't say "Take this to a ref". So, this served as a cautionary tale: if I see something unusual, I shouldn't immediately grab hold of it.
In the afternoon, I took part in another ritual to renew Merlin's wand. Even though the Merlin has left the warhost (and taken his staff with him), he left his book and wand behind. The wand in particular is quite useful, because it allows people to share elemental magic: one person can store it in the wand (tie on their spell cards), then someone else can use it to cast spells (ripping the cards). However, there are some restrictions; in particular, we can only cast a specific list of spells. These are basically the defensive spells, e.g. we can use the wand to mend armour but not to shatter a sword.
The ritual went well: we re-enacted a scene with Merlin and his apprentice. Admittedly, we had to restrain the person playing the apprentice after he started gibbering, but these things happen, and the effect was only temporary. The end result was that we renewed the wand for 2 years, which is good. Unfortunately, there's a small catch: when the wand was first created, nobody knew about the Tuareg spells (because they hadn't been to the Western Continent), so they aren't on the approved list even though they would fit thematically. This ritual would have been a perfect opportunity to expand the list, but it didn't occur to any of us until afterwards, and now we'll have to wait 2 years to try again (unless we want to waste resources by doing the next ritual ahead of schedule).
Then it was time for a 20 man melee. This involved 3 teams in quite a big area: the Lions, the Fir Cruthen (with a few Jhereg), and the Wolves. The arena was divided into 3 sections, and the goal was to control the majority of it at the end of a certain period of time (about 10 minutes, I think). This contest was mainly aimed at our heavy fighters (sword and shield), but they wanted a few mages along as well, mainly just to counter any relevant spells from the opposing teams.
As soon as the contest began, Thane Rudraigh came up with a cunning plan: he strode towards the Fir Cruthen team and invoked the Pax Brittanica. One of their representatives also came forward (under an implicit flag of truce), and they agreed that the Lions and the Fir Cruthen would work together to eliminate the Wolves, then compete against each other to decide the final victor. This was quite effective, and the combined force made short work of the Wolves. (Healers were allowed to come in so that nobody died, but people couldn't return to the fight after they'd been healed.)
It then came down to Lions vs. Fir Cruthen, and we agreed that 3 people from each side would essentially withdraw from the fight and sit down in the area which the 3rd team used to control. When it was clear which team was going to win, the representatives of the losing team would withdraw from that area so that the winning team controlled all 3 areas. (There's a recurring theme of 3 here, along with its general cosmological significance, e.g. the 3 spheres of magic.)
So, Rudraigh asked for volunteers to go with him. Sir Dalton stepped forward, but other people called out "No, not you!" because he'd be more valuable fighting in the contest. The plan wouldn't work if we didn't have enough people, so I volunteered. As I've mentioned before, we don't try to imitate Shakespearean English or the King James Bible at events, e.g. we don't say "thee" or "thou". However, we generally try to avoid anachronistic references and some people adopt different speech patterns. Normally (OC), if someone asked for volunteers to help with a particular task, I might say: "Yeah, alright, I can do that." In this case, I called out: "Thane Rudraigh, I will stand with you." The rest of the contest was pretty easy for me; I just sat down and watched while the rest of the Lions defeated the Fir Cruthen, and we won overall.
After that, I went to the tavern and spent some time with the Lance. As I understand it, they never get new members joining their group, because they're all veterans/survivors of a particular battle, but some of them have taken longer than others to catch up with the warhost. In this case, there was someone who I hadn't met before: Lady Henrietta something something. ("Call me Harry.") She was highly amused that my name was Cox, and pointed it out repeatedly to everyone else within earshot.
While we were there, we watched another contest: various people stood up in turn to tell stories. Marlowe took part on behalf of the Lions, and I thought he did a good job. However, this contest didn't have any judges; instead, the winner was decided based on who got the most cheering/applause from the audience, so it really came down to "Who has the most friends nearby?" rather than being awarded on merit.
Soon after that, Prudence arrived: she'd come to fetch me and Teagan for the next Black Knight challenge. We hurried back to camp, and the High King informed us that there was a family of Albion in danger further down the path, so we needed to protect them. The rest of the aspirants had already left, so we had to catch up.
As we went along the path, I saw Marcus (a bard) up ahead with his young son. I recognised them both as Lions, so I assumed that they were the family who the High King had referred to, and they didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. However, I wondered where everyone else had gone. I then looked over to my right (off the path) and saw them fighting a big monster in a clearing! At this point I suspected that my original theory might not be entirely correct...
We went over to help: there were 3 people I didn't recognise (2 men, 1 woman) who were obviously in trouble, a huge beastie covered in fur with big claws on the end of each arm, and a few forest spirits who seemed to be more mischievous than anything else and kept teleporting between trees. As well as the other aspirants, there were also a few other members of the Lance there. They told us not to kill the forest spirits, so we just focussed on driving the beast away and then I helped to carry the older man back to our camp.
We sat him down in the Lance tent and spoke to him to find out what had happened while a healer treated his wounds. It gradually became clear that things were a lot more complicated than I'd originally thought.
The people we'd rescued were the Forsythe family. The older man was the father, the woman was his wife, and the younger man was their son. They wanted to help the warhost by gathering a particular item which is necessary for healing potions. (Non-magical: the type of thing that alchemists would use.) In order to get that, they planned a ritual; in the father's own words, they intended to "enslave a dryad" so that she would provide what they wanted.
When I say they, there were actually 4 people involved: the 3 who we met in the clearing and the daughter. As I mentioned earlier, a sacrifice is useful in a ritual, and the plan was that the son would step forward at the appropriate point. However, when it came to that moment in the ritual, he changed his mind and shoved his sister forward instead. This had the effect of turning her into a monstrous beast; specifically, the one we fought in the clearing. This was not good news.
The others brought in the wife and son, and we discovered that there was some disagreement about whose idea this whole thing was: they all blamed each other. Meanwhile, we also noticed that the father was struggling to lift up a tankard, even after he'd been healed. He mentioned that this had been happening all day; ever since they'd encountered the dryad, in fact. With that, things went from bad to worse: it implied that the family were diseased (fungal skin?), and may well have spread it to us, particularly the people who'd been closest.
So, we instituted quarantine procedures: anyone who'd been in contact with the Forsythe family came into the Lance tent (which got quite crowded) and nobody else was allowed near us. Lady Thal was also sitting in the corner of the tent to write down a record of what we discussed; she wasn't one of the aspirants, so I felt sorry that she'd probably been infected too. Anyway, our healers gradually cured people (moving them to a separate area in the process), so we got that under control without any permanent effects.
While all this was going on, I was dreading a particular question from the Forsythes: since they had done all this to aid us in our ongoing battle against evil, they might well enquire as to how we were faring. It would be a bit embarrassing for me to then say: "Well, actually we're taking a month off so that we can play games." Fortunately, that situation didn't arise.
When the quarantine was lifted, the aspirants gathered outside to confer. We'd solved the original problem by getting (most of) the family out of danger, but now that we knew their history should we take action against them?
OC, it reminded me of a scene from the film A Few Good Men, where a couple of military lawyers have just spoken to the men they'll be defending.
Kaffee: "You don't believe their story, do you? You think they ought to go to jail for the rest of their lives."
Weinberg: "I believe every word of their story and I think they ought to go to jail for the rest of their lives."
The father's comment about enslaving a dryad stuck in my mind: that seemed fundamentally wrong, aside from what had happened to the daughter. Teagan agreed with me, but some of the others disagreed; as I recall, Rudraigh said that dryads don't have any rights under Cornish law so that wouldn't be a crime. Similarly, Sir Florence felt that they were lower lifeforms, so they didn't have any rights; this echoed back to the conversation in June about whether trolls were akin to cattle.
Obviously we would like to reverse the process and restore the daughter to her original form. Apparently the dryad always appeared next to that particular tree at noon and midnight every day, so she would be easy to find, but she probably wouldn't be very cooperative after we'd fought her earlier.
The High King decided that we would put all 3 of them on trial, and they would be judged against The Lions Prayer. Specifically: "Only the avaricious seek to gain through evil deeds." It was our job to determine whether the Forsythes had sought to gain through evil deeds. We were divided into 2 groups: 5 of us would prosecute and 5 would defend, and each of us would be allowed to ask them 1 question.
I don't recall all the specific questions and answers, although there were some ladies of the court writing it all down. In brief, all 3 of them had more or less agreed to the plan in advance, and the son knew that he would need to do something but he then got a bad feeling about it at the last moment because he thought that he would need to sacrifice more than he was willing. It seems that the father's "enslaving" comment may have been figurative: they'd made a deal with the dryad, and she would willingly provide what they wanted in exchange for the sacrifice. So, the real issue was whether any of them had tried to exploit someone else within their family.
After we'd finished questioning them, the aspirants went outside. The High King would then call us back in, 1 at a time, and ask us what our verdict would be for each member of the family (innocent or guilty); if guilty, then what would our sentence be?
My initial reaction was that the son was definitely guilty, since he had actively pushed his sister into harm's way. The mother seemed to be the brains behind it all, and she'd been willing for one of her children to make a sacrifice (even if it wound up being a different one), so that made her guilty too. I said that I was leaning towards the father being guilty too, but I wasn't sure.
Rudraigh objected to this approach: it shouldn't be a case of "leaning towards", I needed to make a definite choice of innocent or guilty. I actually meant that I hadn't reached a decision yet, but I can see his point. He went on to say that in Cornwall, justice is swift, and each case would be settled within 2-3 minutes! His next words stuck in my mind: "The law is like a glass rod. Steel can be bent, but glass can only be broken." I'm not sure that I agree, but I admire the elegance of that phrasing.
We stood out there for a while, and some people spent more time with the High King than others. We were called in the same order that we asked our questions, so I was second to last. Rudraigh commented at one point that he'd expected me to be slowest, but I had the advantage that I could keep pondering while the other people were speaking, so it didn't take me long when I was called.
My advice was that all 3 of the Forsythes were guilty. For sentencing, I said that the son should be exiled. The mother should lose her house and all her goods, and the proceeds from that sale should go to the warchest: that fits in with the idea that she sought to gain, so it seems just for her to lose out instead. As for the father, I can't remember what I recommended, but I think it was relatively minor; maybe a month of voluntary service or something similar.
When we'd all finished, the High King said that he would consider our advice. However, at that point someone ran into camp to report a problem at the ritual circle, so he ordered that the Forsythes should be taken to the baggage train for verdict/sentencing later, while the rest of us went to investigate.
I missed out on a lot of the rituals at this event, and a few of them related to an ongoing plot with Jeremiah (a demon). Basically, they were constructing a bane weapon: the goal was to strike him with the sword, then he would be trapped inside the blade. That's not an easy thing to do, and I gather that there were several people supporting the ritual team from outside, e.g. Captain Philips gathered a lot of the information that they'd need.
As a side effect, these rituals had attracted a bit of attention on the demonic plane, so the disturbance was caused by a group of creatures who were looking for a different bane weapon (a dagger). We didn't know anything about it, and we were able to settle it peacefully: they continued their search and left us alone.
Speaking of demons, I mentioned Hawke earlier. I gather that he was caught up in another demonic plot, along with a few other people: they opened a chest on the path, and there were 4 goblets inside. Apparently those goblets had to filled with particular substances, otherwise a demon would turn up and kill them. In order to work out what substances were needed, they had to solve some riddles; these were written on scrolls, and distributed around the camps. Anyway, they managed to do that, and avoided any problems.
In fact, that led to an interesting situation in the Lions camp. Bryn (one of the Free Men of Rhull) was visiting us, and then suddenly a demon appeared at the Round Table. Most people were taken aback by this, but Bryn just stared at it and said: "You're late!" I have to admire his aplomb. Apparently this was the demon who would have killed them all if they hadn't figured out the riddles; I'm not sure whether it rewarded them for getting the riddles correct, or just said "Oh, ok then" and slunk away.
Anyway, once things had settled down, Cornelius and I went off to visit the Kesh camp, so that we could learn a new Tuareg spell: "Discern elemental nature of object" (greater mage). The idea here is that we could learn information about the history of an object, e.g. that the blade of a sword is made from Teutonian steel. Honestly, I can't think of any practical applications for this, but I'm always happy to learn new spells, just in case they do come in handy later. We watched it the requisite 6 times, then that left us with the task of practicing it 12 times each. We only get 3 greater mage spells per day, so this takes longer than a lesser spell.
Back at camp, I went over to the round table, just in time for a visit from Grunewald. She was the self-appointed protector of the Black Forest in Teutonia, which is where we were heading for our next gathering (i.e. the August event). She was concerned that we'd damage the plants in the forest if we went trampling through it or lit fires, and initially asked us not to go there at all. That wasn't really an option for us, because the Black Forest has the most powerful ritual circle around and we needed to make use of it. Lord Leofric said that he would give orders for us only to burn dead wood and not to chop down any trees while we were there, but he couldn't guarantee that we would keep to the paths if we were attacked.
Philippe was visiting from the Algaia, and asked whether she was concerned about animals doing similar damage to the forest. She said no, because they frolic whereas we have a much heavier tread. He asked whether it would be acceptable for us to frolic, and she said: "Go on then." This took him slightly aback, but she repeated her statement: she wanted him to demonstrate frolicking to her satisfaction. I thought that this was an excellent idea, and encouraged him to try it out. He gave it a go, but she said that he needed more practice.
Lord Leofric asked whether it would be acceptable for us to plant new seeds at the end of our stay, to replace any plants that we'd trampled. In return, she asked us a rhetorical question: if she killed our children, would we be happy if she gave us new babies to replace them? Lord Leofric apologised, and said that he hadn't realised that she valued the plants so highly.
Grunewald then asked about B'rakka. ("Where is my child with the glorious hair?") He's a beastman, and a member of the Santia Maria crew (affiliated to the Arcane Tempest), but he wasn't around for this event. As a compromise, she suggested that he could be responsible for telling the rest of us where it was acceptable for us to walk. Lord Leofric said that he couldn't make commitments on B'rakka's behalf, but she was sure that he'd agree. I asked who would be responsible if (for instance) I ignored his advice and trampled a plant; she said that she would blame me rather than B'rakka, which seemed reasonable. B'rakka wouldn't have anything to lose here, and apparently it would make her happy to know that he was advising us. Lord Leofric didn't seem to be particularly cooperative; he wasn't rude to her, but he seemed to be doing his best to get out of the conversation without committing to anything at all. Anyway, she left so that she could talk to people in other camps.
A little later, we had another visitor who was doing a similar tour around all the factions. I believe this was Nallo, acting on behalf of the Hag Queen. Thinking back to the June event, our main goal was to restore the ward stones and trap the Hag Queen's forces inside, so that they couldn't spread corruption to the rest of the world. Nallo now asked us to lower those wards and allow the Hag Queen to leave; in return, she would pledge her support to our ongoing war. Apparently she (the queen) could control the corruption and prevent it from spreading even when the wards were down. From their point of view, they were an innocent tribe who were trapped when the rest of the Steppe sealed them in, and they want freedom to travel. My concern was that we'd spent a lot of time and effort at the previous event raising those wards, so it would seem a bit counterproductive to lower them again now. However, she said that she was going to visit every faction (including the Steppe), so we didn't have to decide right away; apparently one of the other factions had already agreed to this. Anyway, she was polite, and left without hurting anyone.
Our third visitor of the evening was the Duchess of Anglia. As I mentioned in June, Lord Blackwell ordered the Duke's man to bring her out to the warhost so that our healers could examine her. She sat down at the Round Table, and didn't seem to have any obvious affliction, although she was fairly quiet. I was sitting next to Marlowe, and while the conversation went on I noticed that he was staring down at the table and muttering "Get her away from me, get her away from me now!"
Something was obviously wrong, so I got up and approached the Duchess, then politely asked her to move a bit further along the bench. However, Lord Leofric called out and asked her to stay still; he also ordered me to stay where I was (standing behind her). It turned out that I'd misconstrued the situation, and Lord Leofric was worried that she might be contagious, particularly if she'd already infected Marlowe. So, he wanted everyone else to stay exactly where they were until we could get a healer to examine us all. While he was talking, my hands started to shake (after an OC instruction from a referee); I didn't want to interrupt Lord Leofric, so I waited for a good time to break this news, but someone else at the Round Table spotted it and pointed it out.
While this was going on, the High King was in his throne room (adjacent to the command tent containing the Round Table). When he approached, several people called out a warning so that he could stay at a safe distance. So, I think that as a faction we're getting better at responding to disease outbreaks. It's a bit like fire drills: when you do them enough times, you follow the correct procedures (e.g. quarantine) by rote.
Then a small group of people attacked our camp. They were driven off, but Cornelius fell down on the ground near the Round Table, presumably mortally wounded. Montgomery (a new wizard in the warhost from the Order of St Eve) moved to help him, but Lord Leofric explicitly ordered him to stay still, to avoid spreading the infection. Personally, I think that Montgomery was right: even if we infected Cornelius, that would be better than dying immediately. However, I followed the order.
Fortunately, a healer from the Fir Cruthen came over and saw what was happening. He castigated us for doing nothing, but he also healed Cornelius; he then led the rest of us over to the Fir Cruthen camp so that we could be cured. He tried to diagnose the Duchess, but the spell didn't work, so there's something more serious going on there.
Lewis (the Duke's man) spoke to me: he said that this is exactly what he'd warned Lord Blackwell about, and it's why all the Anglia troops try to keep their distance from the Duchess. I assured him that I would pass this message on, and then he escorted the Duchess back to wherever she was staying. Speaking of Lord Blackwell, he left camp early that morning so he avoided this whole problem. Some people might think it a tad suspicious that he would order someone to be brought in, knowing that she was infected, then suddenly find an urgent reason to be elsewhere... (OC, I know that the player had a legitimate reason to leave, but it's amusing to ponder the IC implications.)
I don't spend a great deal of time at the Round Table, so it's a happy coincidence that I wound up following the same plot through 2 subsequent events, and I'll try to stay involved with this.
Cerisse then asked me to assist with another ritual. This was a bit different to the others, because it was for a contest: "The Goblet of ..." Basically, each team was given a goblet, then the goal was to achieve the most interesting enchantment. We did this in the arena rather than the ritual circle, so it wasn't a "real" ritual, but I thought it was quite fun. We had a small group for this: Cerisse, Wayland, Marlowe, and me. Our idea was that if people drank out of the goblet then they could swap spheres of magic; in this case, Marlowe would get my elemental magic and I'd get his corporeal magic.
At the start of the ritual, our concept was that we'd already been drinking quite a bit in advance. We each took a swig from the goblet, then I tested my newfound corporeal magic with the Fumble spell: that meant that Marlowe would drop the goblet, so I caught it and got another drink. After we restored our normal magic, I tested mine with the Flare spell; my idea was to blind Marlowe so that I could grab the goblet for another drink, but he kept clutching it with his eyes shut and foiled my plan. Sadly we didn't win the contest, but I enjoyed taking part.
After that, I went out on a scouting mission, gathering information for the following day's skirmish. This went far better than the June event, partly because it was actually after dark! We went out to an area of the woods, and our goal was to eavesdrop on the enemy troops who were patrolling the area. I paired up with Sgt Major Wood, while a couple of scouts from another faction went off in a different direction. Wood pointed me towards a tree, and I went first. This involved crawling through some brambles, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself (tolerating OC discomfort for IC reasons) until I saw Wood overtake me as she stood up and went around that patch. It wasn't exactly raining, but every so often there was a brief shower of water. I timed my movements to coincide with that, so that the spatter of rain on leaves would camouflage my own movements, i.e. the enemy wouldn't be able to distinguish any rustling sounds that I made.
Wood debriefed me afterwards and said that I need to move a lot faster in these situations so that I can keep up with her. I was focussed on stealth, but there's no point in that if I don't get close enough to hear anything. There were also some points that I hadn't considered: there were times when I thought that she was completely exposed, but that's because of where I was standing. Since the treeline was behind us, that meant that she wouldn't be silhouetted if the enemy glanced in our direction. Still, we (collectively) were able to gather some useful information, even if I didn't contribute much, and it's all good practice for me.
Right now, I'd say that scouting is my favourite part of CP, although that might be because it's rare; thinking about my experience with rituals, I might change my mind if I was doing it 5 times a day. I think this also demonstrates why Sgt Major Wood would be a good choice for Master of the Hunt. As well as keeping track of what she could see and how she would look to the enemy, she was also keeping track of how she would appear to me and therefore why I was making particular decisions. OC, I think it's a bit like being a driving instructor/assessor: they need to do the same things as a normal driver (i.e. being aware of all the traffic around them) while also checking to see whether the student driver is checking the mirrors etc.
Back at camp, I noticed that it was almost midnight. So, if we wanted to find the dryad again, this would probably be our last chance before we left the Steppe lands (assuming that we'd be busy at noon the following day). I approached the Round Table to ask about this, but the people who were there vetoed the idea. That disappointed me; I wasn't ready to give up on the Forsythe daughter, and I don't think it's enough to say that justice has been done. (As a side note, I'm not sure whether the High King ever announced his verdict for the rest of the family; I didn't hear it, but I may have missed it when I was out of camp.)
I then went to the Arcane Tempest tent, which was opposite our gate. As I mentioned, the plan was to have an open camp. However, the Fir Cruthen warned us that there were ninja assassins on the path, so I thought it would be prudent to loiter nearby. I could stand just outside our tent and watch the gate/path at the same time. I didn't see any of the alleged assassins, but while I was looking down the path to my left I heard a voice from my right (i.e. behind me) say: "Ah, a guard who's not paying attention!" They cast Spirit Bolt, but I was able to counter it, and a few of our knights (from the Lance) chased down the path to deal with them more permanently.
A bit later, I saw a few people standing together on the path. The next time I looked in that direction, most of them had gone, but there was 1 person lying on the ground. I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I assumed that he must be dead, otherwise the others wouldn't have left him there. Some other people (from another faction) then came along the path and asked me about him: I told them the same thing. However, when they checked him, it turned out that he was mortally wounded, and he would have died if they hadn't intervened. So, not my proudest moment there.
Later, someone else tried a more sneaky attack, by giving me a false memory: I now believed that the Elmari were our friends. I hadn't actually seen any of them at this point, but I'd heard them described as "fish people", apparently because they have gills on their necks. OC, I wondered how to handle this. Presumably they weren't expecting me to turn evangelist and start accosting random people in the Lions camp saying "Wow, are the Elmari great or what?" I assumed that this was simply meant to inform my future actions, so if any Elmari turned up in our camp then I'd welcome them in and tell them anything they wanted to know rather than raising the alarm.
Soon after that, someone else went past and zapped me with another false memory: the Lord General of my faction (i.e. High King Idris) had slept with my wife, then laughed miserly about it when I confronted him. Again, I had to consider how to react to this. At that point, Idris was at the Round Table, i.e. within sight but out of earshot for normal conversation. Based on that, I assumed that this wasn't something that had supposedly happened just now, but it had happened at some point in the recent past. (Aside from anything else, Idris only joined the warhost in May.) As with the Elmari memory, I treated this as a retcon to my personal history, a bit like a flashback in a TV episode that provides new information. So, I don't think I was expected to immediately storm over and confront Idris again, but this would affect how I acted the next time I spoke to him. In fact, it gave me a motivation to stay put on the gate rather than wandering over to the Round Table, i.e. nobody had told me to be there but I now wanted to avoid the High King.
I then tried to rationalise this; why would I continue to serve Idris after our confrontation? I.e. why would I still be standing on the gate in the modified timeline? There is a potential IC justification for this: the droit du seigneur. Supposedly this meant that the feudal lord was allowed to sleep with a bride on her wedding night. I first heard about that in the Elseworlds comic Superman: Kal (set in medieval England), where someone says: "No-no... I can't believe... surely even Luther wouldn't invoke the droit de seigneur". So, I don't think this was ever commonplace, but it's plausible that my character would accept it rather than committing an act of treason.
Having said that, it doesn't mean that I'd be happy about the situation. So, if Idris passed me on his way out of camp, I concluded that I would speak polite words with a hostile tone of voice, e.g. saying "Your majesty" (to acknowledge his presence) through gritted teeth, while scowling.
Assuming that he'd notice this, and enquire further, I would basically say: "With respect, we both know why I'm behaving this way. However, you are my High King, and I will serve you, regardless of my personal feelings on the matter." As I mentioned before, Cox mainly follows Trask (although he tries not to actively annoy any of the gods!), i.e. he's driven by duty, so I can see me/him being willing to respect the position even if I don't respect the person holding it. Back in May, when Idris became High King, he said that he'd be the King we needed, and not necessarily the King we would like. At this point, I certainly didn't like him!
Meanwhile, Idris would still have no idea what I was talking about. If he made that obvious ("Speak plainly or not at all!"), that would actually make it worse. There's a line from the film Street Fighter which gets quoted a lot on some websites:
"For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday."
In this context, I would infer that Idris behaved like this on a regular basis, so he couldn't keep track of all the individuals concerned. Either that, or he remembered the incident but it didn't even occur to him that I'd still be upset about it. (Obviously both of these theories were actually wrong, but they made sense given what I believed to be true.)
If I directly accused him of adultery, this would probably attract attention (if we hadn't already gathered an audience). It's then plausible that someone would comment "I didn't know you were married." And, in fact, I'm not (IC or OC). That would put me in an interesting position, since I'd suddenly have to reconcile two opposing memories: knowing that I've never married, but also knowing that I had (at one point) had a wife. There are ways to discern whether someone's telling the truth, but they're really lie detectors; I believed everything I was saying, so I'd pass those tests.
You may wonder why I've written this all hypothetically. As it turned out, Idris stayed at the Round Table for the rest of the night, and the magical effect wore off at sunrise, so the next time I spoke to him I knew that the memory was false. It's a pity that we didn't get to have that conversation/confrontation, but never mind. If nothing else, at least this demonstrates that being on the gate isn't dull! I wonder whether this is what it's like for the game team when they plan out a particular encounter and then the players decide to do something completely different.
The Lions camp was right next to the OC camping area (where I slept). I was running a bit late in the morning, so I heard the refs call "Time in!" while I was still getting dressed in my tent. I dashed over to our camp, before I'd been to GOD (to collect my allocation of spell cards for the day) or the burger van (for breakfast).
As soon as I arrived, I spoke to Captain Philips. I asked whether parliament had been called, but he said that I'd probably have to miss it because I was needed for a scouting mission. Drusus of the Teutonians was looking for scouts from other factions; Wood and I were the only 2 Lions scouts, and she was unavailable, so that just left me.
I also told the Captain about my false memories, and he said that I should inform the High King about them before I left. So, we spoke to Idris, and I told him about the non-existent adultery. As I said that, I held up my hands (somewhere between a warding off gesture and supplication), and emphasised that I wasn't accusing him of anything, "but last night I would have sworn to its verity." The Captain then interrupted me, because he felt that the Elmari memory was more strategically significant. Hmm, yes, I suppose I can see his point there. The obvious implication is that the Elmari were responsible for this, although it could also be a third party trying to incriminate them (especially since they didn't try to take advantage of the false memory before it wore off).
After that, I had enough time to visit GOD (I wouldn't want to go scouting without magic) but I had to skip breakfast. When I got to the Teutonian camp, I recognised Hawke, but no scouts from any other factions had arrived and Drusus was busy in the warleaders' meeting. Someone else (Drusus' second) arrived a bit later, and told me what they wanted to learn.
When I was out on Saturday night, we learnt that there would be 2 distinct groups in the upcoming skirmish:
- Ogres/trolls/goblins, led by a hobgoblin.
- Undead, led by a necromancer.
These 2 groups would go in opposite directions to avoid each other. The Teutonians now wanted to know how many troops would be in the enemy forces, and where each force was going (i.e. whether it was going to be a pincer movement).
I then set off with 3 Teutonian scouts. We went to the ref hut; at this point it was about 11am. However, the ref we spoke to said that she couldn't spare any resources for this, because they were busy preparing for the skirmish. So, we had to abandon that plan and go back to camp. Admittedly, I wasn't too keen on scouting in broad daylight anyway, and Captain Philips said that it was a successful mission (since I did everything I was asked to do and came back alive); at least I showed willing, so that may help to establish goodwill.
Back in camp, we went down to the arena for the closing ceremony. I think we were a bit shortchanged, e.g. the 5-man, 10-man, and 20-man melees were combined into a single category ("Warleader's Contest"), so the Jhereg won that. Similarly, although I think we retained the best score in the "under the table" game, the various tavern contests were also merged together. However, Taylor (from the Lance) won the "Last man standing" contest, so we didn't go away empty handed.
As soon as that finished, Idris ordered us all to return to camp, and we had a brief session that wasn't officially Parliament. In brief, he said that we'd be mustering soon (ready to go monstering). I mentioned my false memories; I didn't go into any detail, but I said that if anyone else had experienced something similar then I'd like to compare notes. Nobody else came forward, so I assume it was just me.
Sir Will also mentioned the person who almost died outside our camp, and reminded us all of the Lions Prayer: "Only the craven would not aid a child or helpless creature." He said that he didn't know whether any of the Lions were responsible, because other people had been standing at our gate; however, I knew that it was me. Anise mentioned the Duchess of Anglia's health problems, and asked for any suggestions from corporealists or surgeons.
I spoke to Anise briefly after the meeting; although I'm not a healer, perhaps a wedge could help, since it would be more powerful than an individual spell. Anise wasn't sure whether that would work but thought that it was worth investigating, and said that suggestions were welcome from anyone. After that, Anise and Sir Will hurried off with a small group, so I wasn't able to speak to him; I wanted to own up to my mistake from the night before.
I grabbed something to eat, then it was time for monstering. I don't have much to say about that, except that this skirmish didn't seem to have come from anywhere. It wasn't related to the theme of the event, so it seemed more like a gate attack on a larger scale, i.e. "Here come a bunch of monsters. They want to kill you and you want to kill them. Go hit each other!" I realise that some people would feel short-changed if they didn't get to fight in a large scale skirmish/battle, and arguably that's the unique selling point (TM) of a "fest LARP", but I think they work best when they follow naturally from the rest of the event. Having said that, at least the scouting mission acted as foreshadowing, so it wasn't completely out of the blue.
After manoeuvres, I organised a training session for the Tuareg spells so that people could use up any of their leftover magic before we broke camp. That went well, and a few other people mastered the "Cleanse Object" spell, so at least if I die then this knowledge won't die with me.
On a related theme, one of the other players has started an IC journal. Her character (Morwenna) joined the warhost at this event, and here is her first Musing on Albion.