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Black forest but no gateau (Friday) - John C. Kirk

Nov. 16th, 2014

07:22 am - Black forest but no gateau (Friday)

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In August, I was back at Curious Pastimes again for the final big event of the year: the Renewal of Magic. Everyone who survives this event gets a "vet[eran] pick", i.e. an extra skill, so it always attracts more people than the other events. This time we travelled to the Black Forest, within Teutonia.

Cox started out at Renewal last year, so at this point he'd outlived Cedric (my first character): 4 events rather than 2½. I got the Arcane Tempest logo engraved on my tankard, and I sewed a patch with that logo onto my uniform just before the event started, so I was risking the curse of new kit. Once you spend time/money on something that you can't transfer to a future character if you die, you're pretty much daring the game to kill you off immediately. So, did I survive, or was this Cox's last stand? Read on to find out...

Incidentally, I've been gradually changing the format of my LARP posts, particularly after reading the Musings on Albion blog. I'm trying to give an IC (in character) perspective on this as much as possible, as if my character was narrating a story. However, I will still offer OC (out of character) comments where I think they're relevant.

I've also had to break this post up into separate pieces, because I exceeded the maximum size for a single post! So, I'm doing one post per day.

I don't normally put trigger warnings on my blog, and you can generally assume that any of my LARP posts could involve (fictional) violence and/or death. However, this set of posts contains some descriptions which might be uncomfortable for people with a history of self-injury.


Soon after time in, I went off to the ritual circle to renew the Armour of Heroes. (I did the equivalent ritual last year.) We structured the ritual by dividing the armour into sections, then each of us spoke about a different hero who had worn the armour in the past. I took the left pauldron, which represented the shield arm, and spoke about defense. In particular, I referred to "the Blessed Grimas". I don't actually know whether he ever wore this armour, but thematically it fits in with his vow not to harm a living creature and hopefully this ritual will count towards the ongoing project to get him turned into a saint next year. We started out with the armour on the ground, then we each picked up a section to speak about it. At the end of the ritual, we replaced the sections in reverse order; I noticed that Brocc was about to (accidentally) queue-jump, so I cleared my throat. He stopped to let me put my piece down first, and hopefully it wasn't audible to the watcher. That's a benefit of working with the same team: you can pick up on subtler cues, rather than needing to explicitly state everything. Anyway, this ritual was a success.

Because we were busy in the ritual circle, we missed Parliament, but I heard some of the news afterwards. In particular, the High King promoted Sir Will from Deputy Castellan (and acting Castellan) up to Castellan. The previous Castellan was Captain Darcy, but he hasn't attended any of the events this year, so it made sense to reward Sir Will for doing the same job rather than waiting indefinitely for Darcy to return. (OC, think of Odo's role as Constable in Deep Space Nine; the Castellan is responsible for camp security.)

The High King also chose Anise (one of the Monks of the Winding Chain) as the new bearer of Clarent, and filled the positions which were offered at Naadam:

So, good luck to them all. The High King then said that the Lions would be hosting a tourney the following day; this would be similar to the martial contests at Naadam, e.g. people duelling with sword and shield. Apparently all the aspirants for the Champion of Law had to compete in this, although the reports I heard from other people weren't quite clear about whether we were expected to compete in every event or just those which we were qualified for. For instance, I don't know how to use a bow and arrow (IC), so I'd be at a bit of a disadvantage in the archery contest, and I'd probably wind up snapping myself in the face with the bowstring. Still, that was a problem for later.

Turning to the ongoing plot, we've been having a lot of problems with the forces of Terror. Basically, this comes down to an issue of balance. I may be missing some of the subtleties, but I believe that the avatar of Courage was confined somewhere, and that made people more vulnerable to fear. So, we were seeking out the Altar of Courage in order to release him. However, if Courage defeated Terror, that wouldn't be great news either; sometimes we need to be afraid to stop us from doing foolhardy things. Ideally, we wanted both forces to return to their respective planes.

Related to this, a crowd of peasants turned up at our gate, also looking for this altar so that they could pray at it. We told them that we didn't have it, and refused to let them come in and look, so they moved on. A while later, they came back, presumably because they'd been around all the other factions' campsites without any luck. Queen Cersei suspected that they were under a compulsion to do this, so we should try to release them so that they could return to their homes in safety. Her plan was to construct a false altar and then let them come in and pray at it. I borrowed some black cloth from the Tempest tent to drape over some benches, ready for the next time the crowd came past. Unfortunately, we then hit a snag: someone would need to lie to the crowd, telling them that this was the true altar. The Lions' Prayer is quite strict on this point: "Only the weak lie, cheat, and steal. We are not weak!" The Knights of the North (Queen Cersei's group) are particularly strict about sticking to the letter of the law; I mentioned this at the May event, when Sir Henri ruled out torture but was quite happy to burn a necromancer alive. So, she couldn't lie to the crowd. Normally I would have been willing, but as an aspirant for the Champion of Law position I thought that it might not look good.

I'm not sure whether she found anyone who was able to help, because the High King then had a task for me and Brocc: the Forsythe daughter was with the baggage train, and he wanted us to bring her back to the Lions camp. We encountered her in July: her family betrayed her in the ritual circle and she was turned into a monster. I was very happy to hear that we hadn't left her behind when we departed from the Steppe lands, because it bothered me that we'd seemingly abandoned her to her fate (rather than finding a way to restore her humanity).

Brocc needed to speak to someone before we left, so I waited by the gate for him. While I was there, Sir Will approached me. Now that he'd been promoted, he was looking for a new Deputy Castellan, and he repeated something he'd said before: whenever he went past the gate, I was almost always there. I could see where this was going, but I had some more guilt from the July event: I stood by while someone almost died on the path outside our camp. Sir Will knew about the incident, but he didn't know that I was the person involved, and I felt obliged to make him aware of that before he got too carried away with praise and rewards for my loyal duty. This was when Brocc got back, so we had to leave immediately: I thanked Sir Will, and said that I wanted to discuss it further but it would have to wait until later.

As we left camp, Sgt Major Wood joined us. When we arrived at the baggage train (OC, the ref hut) the people there told us that we should keep humming or singing to the Forsythe daughter so that she'd remain docile. So, we set off back along the path to the Lions camp, and started working through the (IC) songs we knew. The Tempest have a few, e.g. "Over the hills and far away" is a traditional folk song and we've tweaked the lyrics to fit in with CP (such as monarchs and place names). Last year I spent some time memorising them all, then I sung them with Sgt Major Wood at Renewal, but we haven't had an opportunity to do that at any of the events this year so I hadn't bothered practicing recently. This created a bit of a dilemma: if I just kept repeating the chorus then that's a bit boring; IC, I don't think the Forsythe daughter would mind, but OC I felt a bit sorry for the player inside the monster costume. On the other hand, it's hard to sing one set of lyrics while thinking about a different set (i.e. trying to remember the next verse in advance), and if we paused for too long between verses then she might become enraged and dismember us. So, no pressure!

Anyway, we set off along the path, and the journey back to camp went fairly smoothly. Wood discovered that we could keep up a conversation with each other, as long as we did it in a sing-song voice to keep her happy. That came in useful when we got back to camp, e.g. asking the people on gate duty to please clear a large space for us. We took her over to the throne room and laid her down on the ground in front of the High King, who asked Sgt Major Wood to gather the other aspirants. Sir Florence Simmerson was among the first to arrive, and the High King asked her to help summon the others. She took the most expedient approach by stepping to the side of the tent and shouting this message to the rest of the camp. Brocc and I both winced as the Forsythe daughter started to stir, and did our best to soothe her. Our next verse went something like this:

♫ Please don't shout very loudly like that,
♫ Because you might upset the creature.
♫ And then she might rend us all limb from limb,
♫ Fah lah lah lah lah, lah lah lah.

When we were all assembled, the High King informed us that the Forsythe daughter was dying. He asked us whether we would each be willing to take 1, 2, or 3 steps towards Melaphine (the goddess of death) on her behalf. Figuratively speaking:
1 step would be standing behind the Forsythe daughter.
2 steps would be standing beside her.
3 steps would be standing in front of her, between her and Melaphine.

Putting that in more literal terms, none of us were sure what the consequences would be.

Perhaps 3 steps would mean that you said to Melaphine: "Whatever you were going to drain from the daughter's life, take it from me instead." In this case, the effect would depend on how close to death the daughter was. If she was already on the brink, and sneezing on her would be enough to kill her, then any of us could easily withstand that. On the other hand, if she was still stronger than us (justifying our caution in keeping her calm) then it might require several of us to die in order to match what she would lose.

2 steps might mean that we would share her fate, i.e. if Melaphine was going to drain a certain amount of life from the daughter then she would divide that amount in half and then drain the smaller amount from each of us.

1 step sounded as if it was more like moral support, effectively saying "Good luck with this, but I'm staying out of it."

Thane Rudraigh advised against this, particularly for people like Sir Beaumont who were very valuable to the warhost: he said that others (including himself) could more easily be replaced. Simmerson was also sceptical about this, on the basis that we were risking the lives of 10 people in an attempt to save 1 (with no guarantee of success), so it was a poor use of resources. I understand their points, and if we were talking about a person who had fallen on the battlefield and was now trapped behind enemy lines then I would probably agree. However, I felt that we had let the Forsythe daughter down before, and now we were being offered a second chance to make amends.

I didn't take part in the discussion, partly because I was still busy singing to the daughter. However, Lady Teagan spoke to the High King while the others were still debating this, and said that she would take 2 steps. Idris told her to hold out her hand, then took Excalibur and drew the blade twice across her palm; she then put her hand against the Forsythe daughter's back.

This implied that we didn't need to reach any kind of concensus amongst ourselves: any of us could make an individual choice as soon as we were ready. So, I asked Brocc to take over the humming, and said to him: "If this doesn't work, please let the others know." I then told the High King that I wanted to take 3 steps. He asked whether I was sure; I just nodded and said "Yes, sire." I strongly suspected that I was about to die, so I was really asking Brocc to tell the rest of the Arcane Tempest what happened. I would have liked to be more eloquent with both of them, but I didn't trust my voice to remain steady. (I had a similar problem with Cedric's last words.)

As before, Idris drew Excalibur across my palm, although he did it 3 times for me. I put my bleeding hand on her armour, then he whispered in my ear (OC) that my death count was reduced to 1 minute for the rest of the weekend, rather than the normal 2 minutes. In other words, if I was mortally wounded, I'd need to be healed a lot quicker than usual, otherwise I'd die. This is a dangerous position to be in, but it's certainly preferable to instant death, so I was relieved to hear it.

After that, most of the other aspirants came forward in turn and said that they would take 3 steps too. The exception was Thane Rudraigh, who went last. He told the High King that he would make a greater sacrifice if it would spare the rest of us, but Idris said that this was beyond his power to guarantee. Rudraigh then took 5 stops forward, which increased my death count to 1m20s. I don't know what the effect was on him, but I would guess that his death count was extremely low afterwards.

The High King then offered the Forsythe daughter the hospitality of Albion. After she'd had something to eat and drink, she stood up and spoke the first words that I'd heard from her. It was clearly difficult for her to get them out in her new form, but they were recognisable as "Thank you". She then staggered slightly, and I asked whether she was weary: she nodded, so I recommended to the High King that we should escort her back to the baggage train to rest. He agreed, so Brocc, Cornelius, and I took care of that.

When I returned to camp, I spoke to Sir Will again, and he offered me the position of Deputy Castellan. I told him that I was flattered, but I confessed that I had been at the gate during the incident at Naadam, so I didn't want him to offer me the role under false pretences. He said that he appreciated my honesty, then he asked me whether I'd do the same thing again, and my answer was an emphatic "No". Similarly, he asked whether I'd let anyone else do it, and I said "No" again. Based on that, he said: "We all make mistakes, and the gods know that I've made my share." So, he repeated his offer, and I accepted it. I said that I would need to clear it with Captain Philips, but Sir Will said that he'd already spoken to the Captain and got his approval.

I then discovered that this position comes with noble rank. Aside from the status involved, being a noble has a couple of practical benefits: extra salary, and the ability to resist some Terror effects. Basically, the nobility is divided into levels; for instance, if you're a rank 2 noble then you get an extra 2 silver pieces at each event (on top of the 2 silver that everyone receives). The Terror effect is roughly equivalent to casting a Fear spell against everyone nearby, but people would announce it as "Terror rank n". If the noble rank is greater than or equal to the Terror rank, the noble can resist that effect. So, a rank 2 noble can resist "Terror rank 1" and "Terror rank 2", but they'd have to run away from "Terror rank 3" or above.

I'm being deliberately vague about my noble rank (FOIP), but I can see how it would come in useful, particularly if I'm guarding the gate. Of course, the slight snag is that I could be left facing the big scary monster on my own while everyone else flees into the distance, so I might still choose to make a tactical withdrawal. Well, to be more precise, that's what some other people have advised me I should do, although my normal tactic is to charge in anyway and then hope that the healers can get to me before I die!

If I'd had this conversation before the aspirants gathered, would it have made a difference to my choice? I.e. Would I still have been willing to take 3 steps towards Melaphine when I had responsibilities to the rest of the warhost? I might have paused longer to consider my choice, but I think I would have done the same thing. As with so many things, this goes back to the Lions' Prayer: "Only the craven would not aid a child or helpless creature."

(OC, there's a scene in either Stormwatch or The Authority, going back to Jenny Sparks' first attempt at joining a superhero team. One of her teammates chooses to let a civilian die rather than putting himself in danger, and she rages at him. Quoting from memory: "Don't you get it? They're more important than us!")

I then saw Thane Rudraigh sitting by the campfire and went over to thank him for what he'd done earlier. He shook his head and said that I had nothing at all to thank him for, but I said that I was grateful anyway, then left him to it.

After that, I went to the tavern with Brocc and "the pebbles" (Swithin, Bill, and Dan). Following up on Swithin's successful riddle in May, he was trying to expand his repertoire. E.g. "I am not a wasp, what am I? I'm the lying bee again!"

(OC, I continue to be impressed by the cheap prices in the tavern. It's easy to appear generous when I can buy a round of drinks for the same price as a single pint in some London pubs!)

I then went to pray to the gods with B'rakka. (OC, we needed to sort out some admin stuff at GOD. While I was there, I picked up a lammie (laminated card) to prove that I could cast the Tuareg "Cleanse Object" spell. Everyone at CP has a lanyard with their character card on it; this is partly because it includes medical info, which would be useful in case of emergency. I also have a set of spell cards, which has gradually grown, so at this event I took 2 lanyards along with me: 1 for my character card and 1 for spells. That way, I can take off the spell card lanyard when I'm monstering, to keep it safe, but still keep my character card with me. Now that I've acquired 2 extra lammies (for the Tuareg spell and my noble rank), it would be a struggle to fit everything onto 1 lanyard, so I'm glad I did that. Of course, I realise that this isn't a complaint which will elicit much sympathy; it's a bit like saying "Oh no, I have so many gold coins that I can't fit them all into my money pouch!" Still, I think it's a useful tip to consider.)

Meanwhile, I spoke to B'rakka about Grunewald's visit at Naadam, and her request for him to tell us where to tread. As I mentioned before, she was confident that he'd agree to this, and now I understand why. Basically, she can bend the minds of any beastkin to her will. It's not exactly possession (i.e. she's not treating them as puppets), but they are in thrall to her and her wishes become their top priority, overriding any previous loyalties. This was my first indication that I may have misjudged her when I met her.

By the time we got back to camp, we noticed that a few people were now wearing garlands around their heads or necks: Sir Hewitt and Sir Will from the Lance, Queen Esme, Sgt Major Wood, and Rowan from the Order of St Eve. Apparently Grunewald had been going around visiting the camps and bestowing these garlands as a "blessing" (a gift that they couldn't refuse). Sir Hewitt met her in another camp and volunteered to accept one, hoping that he could get back to the Lions camp before her and then tell her that we were already accounted for (so nobody else would need to take one). Unfortunately, he was too late. These garlands didn't seem to be doing any harm, but the people involved discovered that they couldn't remove them, which was slightly worrying. This seemed like a situation where one of the new Tuareg spells might help, but nobody in the Lions had learnt that one yet. So, Cadet Katrex and I went off to visit other camps trying to find someone who could help, but we were unsuccessful.

Back in camp, I sat down with Sir Will to work out the gate guard roster for the following day. I'm a bit hampered by my illiteracy, so he wrote it all down and then gave it to me; I'd need to find someone else to read it for me if I wanted to look anything up. It was his birthday the following day, so he was planning to celebrate with drinks in the evening, and that meant that I'd be acting Castellan in his absence (although I could still seek him out in case of emergency).

Captain Philips and I then had a couple of visitors. The first person was putting together a bestiary, and he said that he'd pay gold for any descriptions or drawings of various creatures that we've encountered. (I believe that the eventual goal is to produce multiple copies of the finished book, then sell them to get back the money they spent on research.) That's an interesting idea, although I don't really have any unique knowledge to contribute at the moment.

The second person asked to speak to our Master of the Hunt. The first time I heard that title (when Arkwright was appointed at Renewal last year), I assumed that it meant going after a stag or something similar. However, it really means "lead scout" and it's typically non-violent: if you have to fight then you've not been stealthy enough. Anyway, Sergeant Major Wood wasn't around, but we said that we could pass on a message for her.

In this case, the visitor said that he was looking for volunteers from various factions to help him track some creatures; this sounded similar to the first person's bestiary project. He couldn't predict exactly when he'd need us, but it wouldn't be right away. He intended to be out all night looking for a trail, and he'd probably come back to see us the following day, so he asked us to gather anyone else from the Lions who'd like to take part.

By now, it was getting late, so I decided to do some more practice with the Tuareg spells that I was studying; I didn't want my magic to go to waste if I hadn't used it by the end of the day. I sat down by the fire, then Marcus (our bard) started singing The Rattlin' Bog, so I joined in with that.

Just as he finished, the High King called the aspirants together again. Someone had abducted the Forsythe daughter from the baggage train, so our job was to find her and then punish the people who'd taken her. This would therefore be the test of Solkar, our god of righteous vengeance. I was suddenly very glad that I hadn't just spent all my magic, so thank you Marcus for that well-timed song! Hubert had come from the baggage train to report this, and he led us along the track to where the Forsythe daughter had last been seen. Princess Morwynn came with us, to assess how well we performed this task.

We found the Forsythe daughter lying on the ground, with someone (a necromancer?) standing over her and a couple of imps nearby. Sir Will diagnosed her, and she was unconscious but otherwise healthy, so we turned our attention to her captors. I cast 2 magic missiles, but neither of them had any effect. Anise did an excellent job of countering several of the spells that they cast at us, but it was difficult to keep track of the imps while they kept teleporting around and I was mortally wounded at one point; fortunately someone was able to heal me before my (reduced) death count ran out. We tried to negotiate with the captors, but they didn't want anything from us.

In the end, a few of us were able to grab the Forsythe daughter and carry her back down the path while the others guarded our retreat. Unfortunately, we were too late: she was dead. This didn't make sense, because none of us had seen anyone strike her while she was on the ground. However, Sir Will then had a rather unpleasant theory which would explain it. The captor may have been able to bind himself to her somehow, so that any blows we inflicted on him were passed on to her (a variant on the Retribution spell). That would explain why my spells had no apparent effect, because I was actually blasting the person who we'd gone there to rescue. I don't know whether this explanation was correct, but nobody else came up with anything better.

So, we all returned to camp in a rather sombre mood. We took her body with us, so that at least she could receive a decent burial. Back in camp, we told the High King what had happened. He said that he was glad we'd all returned alive, but we hadn't exacted vengeance on the people who took her, so under the circumstances he couldn't say that any of us had passed the test.

At the end of the evening, I retired to my tent. On my way there, I tried singing the Tempest songs quietly to myself, and I realised that I could now remember all the words! So, it certainly does make it easier when I have a moment of calm to concentrate rather than being under pressure.

Continued on Saturday.