John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Curious Pastimes

Last weekend I went off on a LARP event, organised by Curious Pastimes. LARP (or LRP) is "Live Action Roleplaying". Basically, it involved running around in the woods for a few days, pretending to be knights, wizards, etc. I really enjoyed it, and I've signed up for the rest of their events this year.

This blog post is partly "What I did on my holiday" and partly a way to document various things that I wanted to know before I went along. I'm certainly not an expert, so some of my impressions may be inaccurate. I apologise for the length; that's partly why it's taken me a week to write this post! For a shorter (and better written) report, I recommend The Curious Pastimes of LARP.


When I was at primary school, we'd play games in the playground, e.g. pretending to be soldiers so that we could run around shooting at each other. (For instance, a machine gun involved putting one fist under the opposing elbow, then swinging the arm around while making an "ah-ah-ah-ah-ah" sound.) However, by the time I went to secondary school, everyone had stopped doing this. The nearest we came to it was an exercise in drama class, and a couple of us did wonder out loud "Why don't we do this anymore?"

When I went off to university, the student union gave everyone a handbook at the start of Freshers' Week. This contained a list of every club/society, typically involving a photo and about a page of text. The standard trap in those days was that people would pay the joining fee for several societies, then realise that they didn't have enough time for all of them, and abandon some/most of them. I did that too, e.g. I joined the gliding club in my first year but I never went up in the air (my scheduled slot was cancelled due to bad weather) and I didn't renew in the second year. However, there were also a couple of societies which I considered joining and then decided against, based on advice from the second years I was sharing a house with.

One of these was Treasure Trap, a LARP group. The blurb described running around in the woods, hitting each other with foam swords (technology has moved on a bit since then). This sounded like fun, mainly because it would fit in with all the fantasy novels I read as a teenager. However, the guys in the house basically said: "Oh no, you don't want to do that, it's really sad and pathetic." (Paraphrasing from memory.) Another was DUCK (the Durham equivalent of RAG). They talked about various fundraising events, e.g. sponsored abseiling, but the line that particularly caught my attention was: "Push custard pies in people's faces and get away with it." Again, my housemates put me off the idea, and I'm sure that their advice was well intentioned. However, I wound up joining the DUCK Hit Squad in my third year, and in hindsight I regret not starting that in my first year. So, maybe I would also have enjoyed Treasure Trap if I'd given it a go?

A few years later, I read a Quantum Leap novel (Knights of the Morningstar) where Sam leaps into a knight in armour. It then turns out that he hasn't actually leapt outside his own lifetime; rather, he's at a medieval reenactment event. That's a bit different to LARP, e.g. it involves (blunt) metal weapons, but it still sounded interesting. Similarly, I've heard about Americans going to Renaissance Faires (e.g. in Sandman) but I don't think those exist in England. In 2004, PvP did a LARP storyline (running from 16th August to 6th September) and they currently have another one going (which started on 9th April). In 2011, the "Channel Awesome" reviewers made Suburban Knights, and the story includes elements of LARP.

So, I've been aware of this for a while, but until recently I'd never actually tried it out. The nearest I got was tabletop card games, specifically Magic the Gathering and Munchkin. That said, I've also done a few activities which have elements of LARP to them. For instance, I've played a couple of "murder mystery" games, where each person is given a specific character to play and then everyone has to figure out who the murderer is. At Easter I went up to Reading for a zombie event; that was immersive, but there was no real roleplay involved, i.e. I was just acting as myself if the world had changed around me.

There are various LARP "systems" around (i.e. different organisations/rules), and there are also different types of events (e.g. LARP vs re-enactment). There was an interesting post in the Rule7 forums last year; that link is currently broken because the domain registration has expired, but I'm leaving it here in case it becomes active again. Basically, someone compared re-enactment to a cargo cult: the re-enactors are doing their best to accurately reproduce all the elements of medieval battles except that they aren't trying to kill each other (which was historically the whole point of the exercise). I'm not suggesting that people should use lethal weapons, but if you're going to make changes then why not just go for the fun version?

As I understand it, some LARP systems are weighted towards diplomacy and roleplaying while others are based around combat. Based on past experience, I enjoyed the zombie experience more than the murder mystery games (and found it easier to get "into character"), so I decided that I'd do best with a "boffer" system, and Curious Pastimes fit the bill. They run 4 big events a year, and each event runs for several days over a weekend. These events all involve camping, which also means that they're outside the big cities; that means that it may take a lot of travelling time to get there, so it makes sense to spend long enough there to justify the trip.

Aside from the first/last day, "time in" is at 10:00 and "time out" is at 02:00, i.e. the event runs pretty much continuously for 16 hours a day. By contrast, the zombie experience was about 4 hours long, which included a briefing at the start and a break in the middle. I was a bit concerned that this might be a bit too intense for me. However, I've been to some sci-fi conventions with very full programmes. If you attend every session (panel discussion, interview, workshop, etc.) then you might struggle to find time to eat; alternately, there are other people who spend all day in the bar chatting to friends and may not attend a single scheduled session. Most people find a middle ground somewhere in between, so I assumed that it would be similar here. The reality turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.

Character design

When I booked a place at the first event, I needed to enter the details of my character. I chose human as my species, mainly for simplicity: this means that I don't have to fiddle around with elf ears or whatever, and I don't need to do any extra roleplay to convincingly portray someone with a different worldview. For my name, I chose "Cedric of Stonegate", based on this list of medieval names. I took the format from "Robin of Loxley", the idea being that my village would act as a surname.

As a side note, I caught a train towards Hastings yesterday, and I heard that it was stopping at Stonegate; I didn't realise that this was still a real place! I don't know what it was like historically, but for game purposes I've decided that it's a tiny village in the arse end of nowhere, which gives me an excuse for not knowing all of the in-game history (e.g. the king's name). Beyond that, I kept my backstory very simple, rather than working out anything elaborate; I get the general impression that people frown on "snowflake" characters. Thinking about some of the bad Harry Potter fanfic I've read, there are some new characters where each of their eyes is a different colour and their Patronus is a flying unicorn Pegasus, etc. They all really belong in House Sparklypoo.

Veteran skills don't apply to me yet (I only get one of those if my character survives the final event of the year), so I just needed to "spend" 20 points on the various skills available. Looking at the rules, I decided to go with "surgeon" as the core of my character concept. This meant that I would be able to heal a dying character after 2 minutes of roleplay, and I figured that I've got enough first aid experience to be able to do that convincingly (e.g. wrapping bandages around limbs); it would also let me do some of the fun stuff that I've heard about, e.g. sawing through someone's skull to relieve pressure on the brain.

Mind you, the rules for surgery reminded me of an old Maths joke:

Q: "How do you boil a kettle of water, starting with an empty kettle?"
A: "Fill the kettle with water, plug it in, press the button, wait for it to boil."

Q: "How do you boil a kettle of water, starting with a full kettle?"
A: "Empty the water down the sink. You have now reduced it to a previously solved problem."

If someone is mortally wounded and they have a broken leg, I can use surgery to repair all the damage. If someone just has a broken leg, the only way I can heal that with surgery is to stab them in the chest: once they're mortally wounded, I can then proceed as before. I think the justification is that people wouldn't lie still for crude medieval medicine unless they were on the brink of death already. So, sometimes you've just got to be cruel to be kind...

Aside from the surgery skill, I went with "Corporeal 1" (a bunch of magic spells related to healing), 1-handed weapon (e.g. a sword), shield, numeracy, literacy, and "contribute to ritual". By this point I'd joined the CP Facebook group, and one of the referees gave me some advice: basically, it's better to be really good at one thing than to be ok at a bunch of things. I was worried that I'd be vulnerable if I only had a dagger (free skill) to defend myself, but I got rid of the sword/shield and upgraded Corporeal 1 to Corporeal 2: that gives more spells, but also some better spells, and allows me to join a wedge (more on that later). I kept "contribute to ritual" (2 points), just because I'd heard on Facebook that this could be a useful way to join in with extra activities. I wasn't sure about literacy: the rules only mentioned it as a prerequisite for other skills that I didn't have, but it turned out to be useful from a roleplaying perspective. I.e. if there are several other players and none of their characters can read or write, that gives my character a chance to get involved.

Speaking of magic, there are 3 "spheres" in CP: corporeal, shaman, and mage. I think that these roughly correspond to the colours in Magic the Gathering:
* Corporeal ~= green/white (healing, enhancement, a few temporary offensive spells like mute/deaf/blind).
* Mage ~= red (whammo kablammo, fireball to the face).
* Shaman ~= white/blue (affecting spirit/soul).
There isn't an equivalent to a black deck, because we don't cast those sort of spells.

Finally, I had to specify a faction and a group. It took me a little while to understand the idea of factions: basically, all the players are on the same side, i.e. this game is "player vs. monster" rather than "player vs. player". So, the choice of faction is really just to fit in with your type of character, e.g. a knight of the round table or a Viking warrior. I went for the Lions of Albion, which is effectively Arthurian England, so it fits in nicely with a lot of the stories I read as a youngster; they also have a strong sense of honour. As a related issue, it occurred to me later (after I'd chosen Albion) that this is similar to the Narnia stories: when Peter and Edmund got their armour, they had shields with a lion emblem (representing Aslan), so it fits in nicely with those stories too. Also, in the Robin of Sherwood TV series, Robin's sword was called Albion! If you're new to the game, you can also pick "Mercenaries" as a faction, which means that you're free to wander around all the other faction camps and see which one suits you best.

Group was a bit more tricky, mainly because I didn't realise that it was optional! So, if you're new to the game and you don't know anyone else, I strongly recommend leaving that box blank. Each faction will have its own groups; the "CP Lions" website (for this specific faction) has a list, although that's out of date now. So, I originally chose "Hospitalliers - An order of warrior monks dedicated to Damacest, Goddess of Healing", but that group no longer exists. Someone else on Facebook mentioned that their group had a surgeon, so I thought "Right, that'll do", and changed my character to be there. However, I now realise that people in groups normally know each other before they join, i.e. it's polite to ask permission rather than just inviting yourself in. So, for the purposes of my first event, I was "Looking For Group" (LFG).

Meanwhile, I was already thinking about what my second character should be; my first character might get killed, or I might retire him. My basic plan was to play a knight, which would fit in nicely with my boyhood fantasies. It's also a very easy character to specify:
* Shield = 3 points.
* 1-handed weapon = 2 points.
* Extra-heavy armour = 6 points.
* Body development = 8 points.
That's 19 points in total, and it would allow 6 points of damage to each location (e.g. you could take 5 blows to the head and/or chest without dying). If your character dies mid-event, you get 1 less point to spend on your next character, i.e. you get 20 points for your first character, 19 points for your second, 18 points for your third, etc. So, if Cedric died, that would fit nicely; alternately, if I retired him and started a new character at a later event (with 20 points), I could spend an extra point on numeracy (being able to count higher than 10).

The main reason I didn't go with this for my first character is that I wanted to get a look at the stuff I'd need to buy before I made an expensive mistake. For instance, if you use extra-heavy armour then chain (aka chainmail) has to be made out of metal rather than plastic. Some people use aluminium: this is light, but it leaves a mark on skin/clothing. Steel is authentic, but it's heavy, and may rust. I picked up a bag of someone's steel chain, and I could lift it but I wouldn't want to run around wearing it, and I think I'd struggle to go up some of the hills in that. Other options are titanium and duraluminium (some kind of alloy), so that's something to ponder.

Similarly, although I bought some stuff online before I went to the event (e.g. clothing), I didn't buy a LARP dagger until I got there. I'd normally think of a dagger as being about the size of a table knife, but under CP rules it can be up to 46 cm (18 inches) long, which is more like a short sword. Here's the one I went for:
Bollock dagger
Apparently that design is known as a "bollock dagger", due to the decoration around the crosspiece of the hilt. (I didn't discover that until after I'd bought it!) I tried a couple of other daggers before I chose that one: I don't know enough to comment on the balance, but the hilt is slightly longer on this one which meant that my hand could fit around it properly. That's something that I wouldn't have known if I'd bought it online, so I'm glad that I waited.

The same character choices are available to all players. There are some restrictions on what children can do (until they're 18), but there are no gender restrictions, so it's fine for a woman to play as a knight in armour. That makes a nice contrast to the current controversy about shops marketing toys separately to boys and girls.

Campsite, immersion

This event was based at Paccar Scout Camp in Chalfont (just outside the M25). I arrived there on Thursday, travelling by bike/train, and I was (just about) able to cram everything onto my bike:
Fully loaded touring bike
I haven't quite got the hang of that "travel light, move fast" thing yet...

It was lovely weather, so as I pitched my tent I figured that even if the LARPing didn't work out it would still be a pleasant way to spend the bank holiday weekend. Mind you, I certainly recommend taking a mallet: on previous camping trips I've been able to use my hands/feet to put tent pegs in, but the ground here was too hard for that.

I normally have trouble with my hours sliding around, i.e. I'll gradually go to sleep later, then get up later, etc. That wasn't an issue over the weekend at all: each night I slept more soundly than the night before, and I woke up each morning without setting my alarm. This is mainly because the sun shone through my tent to wake me up (I now know that dawn is at about 5am in early May) and then the tent would gradually heat up until I had to get out!

The campsite was roughly split in half, so all the modern tents were on one side and all the factions were on the other side, with each faction in its own area. Some people camp in the faction area, but you need a suitable tent for that, otherwise it spoils the immersive effect; this normally seems to work by groups sharing a bell tent.

Here's a picture of the Albion gate:
Albion gate
(Photo copyright Steve 'Flasher' Mitchell; please contact him about commercial use.)

That really helped to set the scene, and all the clothing worked well too. I haven't found any recognisable photos of myself yet, but I wore my green tracksuit trousers and boots (like I did at the zombie event) along with a white shirt and green tunic that I got from a LARP supplier. The tunic was long enough to cover up the college logo on my trousers, and I think the green theme fitted in nicely with the colour coding for medics. I also had a cloak that I wore in the evenings; I don't know why people stopped wearing them, I think they look great.

I didn't wear a watch or carry a phone with me, and I didn't go online for the entire weekend; I checked my text messages before I went to bed each day, but no Facebook etc. Since I work in IT, it was nice to get away from it all with a much more low-tech activity. Similarly, we heard a few planes and helicopters overhead (handwaved away as dragons) but I didn't hear a single car or motorbike engine between time in on Friday and time out on Monday, so that's a benefit of getting into a more secluded location. Also, I saw the stars at night, which is always something I enjoy about leaving London.

Getting to know people

The main event ("time in") didn't start until Friday, but the campsite opened on Thursday so that people could get everything set up in advance and chat to their friends OC. ("OC" = "Out of Character", i.e. real life stuff. "IC" = "In Character", i.e. game stuff.) Since I was new, this seemed like a good opportunity to get to know people, so I arrived on Thursday.

After I'd set up my tent, I wandered over to the tavern. This was the Crimson Moon, a tent which acted as an IC pub for the duration of the event. They sold mead there, which I've been curious about for a while, and I actually quite like it. Mind you, it's more like wine than cider, so it's something to sip rather than quaff. They also let people run up bar tabs in exchange for BACS details, so that we could pay for everything at the end (and not have to carry cash around in costume) which was a good idea. However, be careful to avoid the credit card trap where you think "Hey, free beer!" and then get an unpleasant surprise when your bill arrives...

Once I'd bought a drink, I saw that there were a few groups of people sitting around. So, I stood in the middle and called out "Are there any Lions here? please?" One person said that he was a Lion, and he was happy for me to join him. Several of his friends turned up later (from a different faction), so I got to know them. I noticed that a couple of groups wore OC clothing (T-shirts/hoodies) with their IC group on it, a bit like students wearing a T-shirt for their club. They said that I was quite brave to turn up on my own, which was kind of them, but really it's more pragmatic than anything else. It's similar to my London bucket list: if none of my friends are interested in a particular activity then I either do it on my own or I don't do it at all.

Later I met some people from my faction who I recognised from Facebook discussions. They introduced me to "the Aftershock challenge": this involves taking a swig of a foul-tasting drink, but then holding it in your mouth and gargling rather than swallowing it. I didn't do very well with that, partly because I'm not very good at gargling, but it acted as a good ice-breaker. Later on, one of the bar staff came around with his guitar to perform the Sir Cadawyr song:

The lyrics were simple enough that it was easy to join in, so I enjoyed that. I also had an opportunity to chat to them (and some other Lions who turned up later) about LARP stuff in general. We didn't go into too much specific information, partly because it's often more fun to "Find Out In Play" (FOIP), i.e. let your character get the info by talking to people. However, it was useful to talk in general terms. In particular, I mentioned my Durham (in)experience, and one of them said: "Nobody will judge you here..." That's actually a very nice thing to hear. More generally, I think that most of the people at the event shared a common frame of reference, e.g. watching Firefly or reading comics.

On Friday morning, I hung around the faction's camp. I had to do a bit of sewing (attaching clasps to my cloak) and I was able to make myself useful by helping out with a few other tasks (e.g. filling the paraffin lamps, pitching tents, collecting firewood). I also chatted to a few of the groups within the faction.

After time in, I went back round again, introducing myself in character. This was mainly just to be sociable, but I later discovered a practical purpose: gate duty. Basically, we always tried to have someone on duty at the gate, to warn of anyone attacking our camp. However, that means that the guards need to know who actually belongs inside the camp and who doesn't. During one attack, I saw someone walk around the outside of the gate: he looked familiar, but I couldn't name him. I asked him to identify himself, then he lunged forward and stabbed me. D'oh! After that, whenever I saw someone approaching the gate who I didn't recognise, I'd ask the other guards whether they knew the people approaching; if so, I'd ask them to introduce us. It can be a bit tricky to keep track of lots of new people, particularly when each person has multiple names (player/character), but it's worth the effort. Also, suppose that you get into trouble later and go running back to camp for help; it will go a lot more smoothly if the gate guards recognise you rather than treating you as an attacker!

Each evening, we lit a fire in the middle of our campsite and then people sat around it for warmth and company. I mentioned the idea of spending the whole event in the pub, but I wouldn't recommend that. I saw a couple of people who did that, and they didn't enjoy the event much. It's fine to visit the tavern, and some people spent most of their time in camp (e.g. doing alchemy rather than fighting), but I think you'd be better off sitting by the fire. At least that way you'll get to know people as they come and go, and you'll have some awareness of what's going on.

Anyway, the main point I want to make is that everyone made me feel very welcome. I turned up there on my own, but there were always people who were happy to spend time with me.


On Friday afternoon, I went to the newbie briefing, followed by some combat training: this was mainly about teaching us how to use the LARP weapons safely, and the briefing emphasised that we should pull our blows. For instance, my dagger has a fibreglass core, then it's surrounded by latex, so it's fairly light/soft, but it still might hurt if someone swung it with full strength. I was paired up with an experienced player for the combat section, so when it was my turn to attack I swung my arm, stopped just before I reached her, then tapped her on the arm. As it turns out, I may have been overcompensating a bit: she said that I needed to hit harder than that. I tried again, but she said I still wasn't doing it hard enough. (I think this was partly because of all the rules about pulling blows and partly because I have a mental block about hitting women.) So, this led to a rather bizarre situation where she kept saying: "Come on, hit me harder! You're not going to hurt me, I promise, so hit me again!" She hit me on the arm with her sword to demonstrate what she meant, then I hit myself with the dagger until I could "calibrate" how hard I needed to do it. Eventually I got to a level that she was satisfied with. So, this was a useful session, although one of the things I learnt was that I'm pretty rubbish at hand to hand combat, so it's a good thing my character can use magic.

This is the main drawback to my character: I'm a "1 point squishy". In contrast to the knights, I have no armour, no shield, and a single hit to the head or torso will leave me mortally wounded. In practical terms, that means that I have to fall on the ground and start a death count: if I reach 120 (2 minutes), I'm dead. I have a dagger, but other weapons have a much longer reach, so I really need to save that as a last resort and stay out of the front line whenever possible.

On Saturday I was at the gate when we were attacked by a group of Elementals. I didn't want to abandon the others, so I did my best to join in the fight. I think I lasted about 10 seconds before I got knocked down, then went into my death count. When I reached 100, I was getting a bit worried, but then someone healed me. I opened my eyes, and saw the High King crouching over me. I'm grateful, but I also felt a bit humble/embarrassed: I'm sure that he has plenty of other calls on his time and resources, without coming to bail me out. Anyway, we (i.e. the others) fought off that attack, but later we had to deal with 2 more waves of them, and a group of zombies. In the subsequent attacks, I just legged it. That's not very brave, but it does fit in with the "Check for danger" part of the primary survey (in first aid training): if I get knocked down then I'm just making things worse, whereas if I hang back then I can heal other people. I was able to save one of the other guards from dying, which is good.


When the referees called time in on Friday, the command team for our faction called a Parliament meeting. This worked very well at helping me get into character, particularly when everyone spoke The Lions' Prayer at the end of the meeting. What impressed me about it was the sincerity; I know that's an odd word to use when the whole event is make-believe, but people really spoke with conviction, so it felt as if they meant what they said. I have to say, this contrasts favourably with a few real church services I've been to, where you get dialogue like this:
Vicar: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God."
Congregation: "It is right to give him thanks and praise."

and it's all said in a dull monotone. I didn't know the Lions' Prayer by heart, but I was able to join in on the refrains, and then everyone shouted the final line together. From that point onwards, I never felt at all self-conscious about the way I was dressed or the way I acted.

Some other people there are much better at roleplaying than me, e.g. they have a different tone of voice (or accent) and separate mannerisms for their character. That was the bit I was most dubious about, and I wasn't sure whether I needed to come up with a whole fictional biography and an alternate personality. Other people advised me to keep my background simple, because it's better to refer to "real" (in game) events than stuff that I just made up. That got easier as time went on. For instance, after the High King saved Cedric's life, it makes sense that (IC) I will be much more loyal to him. On the other hand, there was another character who put me in a dangerous position; OC I have no quarrel with the player (I think it was an interesting experience) but IC I'll be much more wary about trusting him again.

I mentioned introducing myself to everyone, so that they'd know my name. The related issue there is reputation, i.e. how people perceive my character. That's not just about personality, it's also about skills. For instance, can I move around quietly in the dark or am I going to be tripping over things? Reliability probably fits somewhere in between; I may not be amazingly competent at something, but I will make an effort, and I think people gradually notice that.

On Saturday night, our faction had a rather disastrous scouting mission: 7 people went out, but only 2 of them made it back. I wasn't directly involved; I volunteered to go along, but the leader didn't think I was ready, which was probably for the best as it turned out. We also had an attack on the camp, where one of the attackers used "tree teleport" to get past our front gate. Our castellan then told me to keep an eye on the back of the camp, in case anyone tried coming through the wall or trees there. I'm not sure how long I was there (since I didn't have a watch) but it must have been at least an hour. Someone else encouraged me to leave and get something to drink by the fire (since nothing was happening), and I was tempted. However, IC I was aware that we'd already lost a lot of people and I didn't want to be responsible for us losing any more; related to that, the survivors were mourning their friends, so I didn't want to pester them by asking them to relieve me. So, I stayed put. A while later, the castellan came past again, and was surprised to see that I was still there; he told me that we should be safe from any more attacks, so I could stand down. OC, I suspect that he may have forgotten I was there, but IC he may now think "Ah, if you ask Cedric to do something then he'll do it."

I mentioned earlier that I was "looking for group". When I was chatting to people OC (before the event started), I met the members of the Arcane Tempest. They said that my character would be a good match for their group, and that they'd be happy for me to join. That sounded good to me, so OC it was all pretty much agreed within a couple of minutes. IC, it took 3 days to achieve the same result! I gradually spent more time with them, but I tried to have an IC reason for it. For instance, when the castellan handed out the rota for front gate duty, he assigned a slot to the Tempest. They weren't around at the time, so he asked me to relay the message. When I did, I then offered to help out; as I didn't have a group, I wasn't on the rota, but I was willing to do my fair share. They lost one of their members in the scouting mission of doom, so I dropped by the following morning to express my sympathy. However, I thought it would be a bit crass to say: "I'm very sorry for your loss. So, does this mean you have a job vacancy open?"

I finally broached the subject IC on Monday afternoon, shortly before time out. Assuming that they were still happy with the idea OC, I could see 2 ways to do it IC:
1) I'd join with my existing character.
2) I'd retire this character, then start a new 20 point character at the beginning of the next event who would be a member of the Tempest.
IC, the Arcane Tempest is supposed to be a big organisation with hundreds (?) of members, so everyone else had the same background before they joined the warhost. I didn't want to be too "snowflakey" by doing it a different way, but I thought it might give some interesting roleplay opportunities. Also, it would mean that I could preserve Cedric's reputation, rather than having to introduce myself to everyone again. Anyway, the Sergeant-Major considered it for a while, then she agreed to enlist me as a cadet; I'll only make it to Private if I can learn to fight. So, we had a brief ceremony in the tavern where they issued me with the Queen's Shilling and a coat, which was fun. The rest of them wear tricorn hats, but I'll have to wait for that.

So, I started the game on Friday as "Cedric of Stonegate, man of Albion". I ended the game on Monday as "Cadet Cedric, member of the Arcane Tempest". I think that's progress. It's possible that Cedric will die before he gets the new skills; if so, my provisional plan is to introduce Private Godfrey. I think that's a plausible medieval name, and of course there's a Dad's Army reference; that seems particularly apt since I'm both the oldest and most junior member. Thinking back to boarding school, we all paraded into lunch every day (with a marching band); 7 years of that should help with the roleplaying, e.g. when we all want to stand to attention in unison.

Group magic

On Friday, people were talking about organising a wedge. The basic idea is to get a group of magic users (in this case anyone with Corporeal 2) and form them up into a triangle. Everyone feeds their power forward, then the person at the front focusses it and targets it. I'd read about this in the rules, and it reminded me of something from the start of Kurt Busiek's Avengers run. Specifically, this scene from issue #3 (1998):


Just to emphasise the similarities, that story took place in an alternate reality where Morgan le Fay ruled a medieval world. Maybe that's where CP got the idea? (Also, it's not really relevant here, but if you look closely Giant Man is positioned so that they're actually standing in a giant "A" shape. Nice touch!)

As it turned out, we didn't have enough people for that, so we performed a ritual on Saturday instead. Since I have contribute points, I was still able to get involved, so I'm glad I kept them. At one point, several of us wound up in a line with each person putting a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. So, this was a similar concept to a wedge, and I did my best to make it convincing, e.g. gritting my teeth and letting my knees buckle a bit. While I was doing that, the lead ritualist came down the line, held out his hand to me, and said "Give your all to the ritual!" I grasped his hand, then he whispered (OC) "Fall over" so I did. At this point, I wasn't quite sure about my status; had I just fainted, or was I dying? I went into my deathcount just in case, but 120 came and went long before the ritual finished.

At the end, someone called out "Retrieve our fallen brother!" and the Tempest dragged me out of the circle (where we performed the ritual). The Sergeant-Major tried to heal me, but when she whispered "What can I see?" (an OC mechanic so that she'd know which spell to cast) I had to whisper back "I don't know, he just said fall over, so I did." She then asked the referees for clarification, but rather than asking "Is he dead or stunned?" she made it more of a statement: "He's just stunned, right? He's not dead." After a few repetitions of that, nobody objected, so I woke up.

I think this is on the border of IC and OC. IC, I was either unconscious or dead, so I couldn't get involved in the discussion. OC, I'm new to the game, so I don't know enough about the rules to argue with anyone else. So, whichever way you look at it, I'm grateful that there was someone else to stand up for me and get me out in one piece. This reminds me of the Pinocchio pantomime that I've mentioned before. In that situation, I tried to change the story and failed. However, LARP isn't so tightly scripted: there are people writing plot, but nobody knows exactly what's going to happen, so one person in the right place at the right time can make a difference. (Force of will can also help.)

Since then, I've spoken to the player who was acting as lead ritualist. He said that I wasn't supposed to be dying there; as a rule of thumb, I should assume that I'm only stunned unless I've taken "real" damage or a referee has told me that I'm dying. Still, I didn't know that at the time, so everything I said above is still true. It also fits in with what I said about IC loyalty.


"Some are born with Plot.
Some achieve Plot.
And some have Plot thrust upon them."

Aside from the fighting, there were various other things going on in the game, e.g. some mysterious rocks that turned up. I wound up relaying a few messages between other characters, and I spotted a possible connection between two puzzles that separate groups were working on.

I was also called into the Throne Room to act as a witness when a couple of other characters were being questioned. I didn't have to do anything, so they were almost performing a play for my benefit.


As I mentioned near the start, CP is basically "player vs. monster". This is similar to the zombie event, where they had paid staff working as zombies. The problem here is that you ideally want an equal number of monsters and players, but it would be ludicrously expensive to hire that many paid staff. The solution is for the factions to take turns, so the people who attacked the Albion camp as undead were actually players from another faction who'd swapped to a different character for a while. Quantifying this, it cost £139 for half a day at Zed Events and it cost £70 for 4 days at Curious Pastimes (including accommodation, i.e. pitching my tent).

I did a bit of stage acting at school, and the only part of the process which I didn't like was having to wear make-up. Similarly with monstering, we had to put on face-paint to play non-human characters; I don't like it, but I accept it as a necessary evil, since it does make the experience better for the people who are facing us.

Aside from that, monstering is great! The characters weren't necessarily monsters, e.g. for one of the sessions we were a group of Viking beserkers who were annoyed that the Wolves faction had rejected Odin, Thor, etc. in favour of false gods. I borrowed an axe for that session, and I liked that a lot more than my dagger. Since these are throwaway characters, I don't have any fear of dying; from a roleplay point of view, there's normally a valid IC reason too, e.g. "these are zombies with no sense of self-preservation". One of the other players described me as fearless, after I charged the enemy line on my own rather than waiting for the other monsters to catch up with me! I didn't last very long, but I didn't expect to. When I died, I did my best to be enthusiastic about that too, so that the other players would get a sense of achievement; in the Viking attack, someone mentioned that I had grass stains on my face afterwards, presumably from where I'd slid along the ground.


When I got home on Monday evening, I felt fine, aside from a few minor cuts and bruises. When I got up on Tuesday morning, I was sneezing a bit, so I wondered whether this was hayfever; it's odd that I'd get symptoms in a city when I'd been fine all weekend in the countryside, but apparently pollution can have more of an effect than pollen count. By the end of the day, it felt a lot more like "man flu" (alternately shivering and sweating, feeling a lot slower and weaker than usual). So, I took the day off work on Wednesday and spent most of the day in bed. I'm mostly back to normal now, and I think this was the infamous "LARP lurgy". Basically, my body just gave up and said "enough!" after a few days of running around with insufficient sleep and irregular meals. A few other people from the event have reported similar symptoms, so this is probably similar to "Freshers' Flu", i.e. if one person has a bug then it will spread to everyone else.

Still, it was worth it. I had a really good time, so I've signed up for the remaining CP events this year, and I've booked an extra day of annual leave after the final event (another long one) to allow for recovery time. If anyone else would like to try it out, I highly recommend it, and I'll be happy to introduce you around. It's never too late to try new things.

Edit: There's a good set of photos from the event on Flickr, including a couple of me.
Tags: camping, durham, harry potter, larp

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