Fifth Gate Silverfire Game 1

First game of Fifth Gate – Silverfire this past weekend! I hardly know where to start! Exclamation points!

The most important thing first: I had fun and was never bored.

I regrettably have no photos from the weekend itself, but here, have one of me as Ianthe on the way to fight practice the weekend before.
I regrettably have no photos from the weekend itself, but here, have one of me as Ianthe on the way to fight practice the weekend before.

The Site

I’m not sure how important this is, since we won’t be back to Zion’s Camp again for a while. But…

This was not the nicest site I’ve been to. It was about on par with East Boston Camps — the cabins were nastier than East Boston, but the main buildings were better overall.

The cabins — at least, ours, in the “Priesthood Pavilion” — had just been opened for the season, but had not been cleaned out, and were full of mouse nests and squirrel caches. (I greeted members of my group when they arrived with “Welcome to Camp Hantavirus!”) The bed I slept on might have been better used as a tetanus delivery device, and was in no state to have anyone on the top bunk. The bathhouse in Lower Staff was non-functional, since water hadn’t been turned on yet (This is a recurring theme this spring larp season). Walking to the main bathhouse, while not terrible, is no fun at 6:30am when it’s 38 degrees out.

Our campsite was also large — plenty of room for tenting, which is good, but so large that you would have to shout to be heard between cabins. Which, when you’re being attacked at 10am, is not so convenient.

The dining hall — our tavern — was fine, although it did have creepy things like photos of Mormon Elders (I assume? Three old white dudes, at least) next to a painting of Jesus, and signs on the bathroom that said “NO YOUNG WOMEN ALLOWED.” The bathhouse had low water pressure, which made flushing the toilet an exercise in frustration. (I never found them prone to clog, as the cutesy signs — with rhymes — warned, though). I never managed to check out the showers, since (see below) I was perpetually afraid of attack.

The site, in general, is just REALLY LARGE and spread out. The most distant place they did mods was the rifle and archery range, which was about as far as the walk from the parking lot at East Boston Camps. The site was also more hilly than East Boston and Frank A. Day, although I suspect it is nothing compared to Camp Stairmaster in Ashby.

But really, my major regret about the site is that I didn’t get housed in the cabins called Virtuous Women.

Our Warband

Our warband — actually technically two warbands, encompassing a group of sixteen or so members — is great. It is largely composed of theater-style larpers who also do boffer larp, and we seem to have common goals of having a high-roleplay experience. We also took the time to create a shared history, which means we always have something to chat about IC.

I bunked with Megan C, playing Namei Nu, a Disciple of the Tempest, as well as Matt, who is playing my brother Rolant. We decorated our cabin (dubbed Squirrelstown); Megan hung scarves over the rafters as her “lacy underthings” and put Japanese art on the walls, and Matt and I added electric candles and a big glowing, color-changing orb.

I know other games have de-emphasized the group aspect, but coming in with a group of people with shared goals and history has, I think, made a big difference in my enjoyment. It also seems crucial to be part of a warband for gamist reasons; there are many benefits that accrue only to one’s warband, including mitigating the consequences of death (more about that below).

Matt's Rolant shield, in progress
Matt’s Rolant shield, in progress

Bear is For Fite (and Death)

The game felt heavier on fights than I am used to. I wasn’t sure of my impression, but I asked some more experienced folks afterwards, and they confirmed that on a relative scale, this game is very fight-y.

There are amazing fighters on both sides, though, so I’m glad that they get the chance to strut their stuff. It also means organizations of fights is strong — the front line mostly stays together, people call out if they need someone to take their spot or if they need healing, people call out incomings and numbers, etc.

We had… maybe four large field fights? Three on Saturday, and one on Sunday; Friday was mostly just skirmishes. Speaking of which…

Part of the overall fightiness was constant roving pain, i.e. random NPCs harassing you on the roads or in your camps any time stuff is running. Cottington and Shadows only use it sparingly, so it was new for me to not know if I was safe traveling to the bathhouse. I didn’t mind so much; it added to the sense of danger.

Another aspect of the fightiness: seems like almost all the NPCs were deathstrike-active, and would readily kill PCs. This is odd to me, because I’m used to Shadows, where there’s a big sign on the wall of Monster Camp, saying, “You are not deathstrike active!”

Several of our warband were killed over the weekend as a result of all this. While death happens more readily in this game than in some, it is not meaningless or without cost. Several people who went through the gates of death came back with burdens of some sort. Then again, many had favors from their warband members to mitigate the effects, and several lucked out and ended up with the boon that allows you to ask Death a question.

Roleplay

Despite the Accelerant rule being “Always in character,” people seem to vary tremendously in how dedicated they are to this. Megan, who shared a cabin with us, was very committed, and we even chatted IC until we fell asleep on Friday night/Saturday morning. OTOH, on the walk to a mod at the firing range on Saturday night, two of the gentlemen walking beside me were discussing a wrestling gym(?) they were part of.

I try to stay IC at all times, but I trip up, too. For some reason I always want to insert pop culture references. I caught myself more than once saying “Bueller? Bueller?” when no one responded to my queries about who needed healing. Clearly someone needs to call me on it, so that I can respond that Bueller was a fellow student of mine at the Academy, in a class with a particularly droning teacher 😉

Matt and I had fun improvising our shared history as siblings — his reminding me of my abysmal table manners as a kid, my covering my ears and saying NAH NAH NAH I’M NOT LISTENING whenever he was flirting with Nu.

When things did slow down (rarely), I wrote in my journal, which quickly turned into my IC journal. Ianthe really likes to CAPITALIZE THINGS she finds IMPORTANT. And doodle interlocking circles and triangles.

Ianthe's Orb of Battle, her focus for her offensive powers. It lights up in different colors!
Ianthe’s Orb of Battle, her focus for her offensive powers. It lights up in different colors!

Arcane Circle

This is the Order I belong to, which determines what headers and skills I have access to. I’ve jokingly heard us called “mathletes,” since we are basically math mages. Members are called Scholars, the central focus of the Order is the Academy, and unsurprisingly, when we introduce ourselves to each other, it’s by our Exegesis projects (i.e. the thesis-like project we must do in order to be allowed to access Power)

Funnily enough, of the eleven members of this Order at the first game, eight were in sibling pairs! I think I bonded especially with Kein and Kallum Vyland, with whom I was defending the tavern and the Gate before the big field fight on Saturday night, and Nacera and Kaaelin Umber, another Halo of Deflection/Circle of Enlightened Invocation pair, like Ianthe and Rolant. The player of Nacera actually advised me on a bunch of stuff over emails before game, since she is an experienced Accelerant larper who was also playing a healer.

There were definitely mods aimed at each Order. The first Arcane Circle mod was a repeater involving solving puzzles (framed as “balancing counter-equations” of an explosive incantation that needed to be defused) while being attacked. As it turns out, the in-game mathletes were not at all OOC mathletes (and those who were, tended to be front-line fighters!) Also it is really hard to do math-based sudoku-type puzzles by the light of glowsticks.

As a final note on my Order, this exchange, from my warband:

“I’m glad to see we use decimal currency in the Silverfire Kingdom.”
“We must not have let the Arcane Circle design it. They wanted a base-pi currency.”

Crunchy Game-y Stuff

I wasn’t — I don’t think! — as incompetent as I feared. The fight practices really helped, both in terms of correcting weaknesses in my build, and in getting familiar with my incants and verbals. I still blanked on my incants occasionally, or mixed up similar ones, or did a few things incorrectly, but mostly it went smoothly and no one told me I was doin’ it wrong 😉

(Though if I was, please give me feedback!)

Skills I am so glad I took: Resist Fear. (So nice when they were calling out BMV Waste Vitality by Fear in Sunday’s field fight, even if it did cost Mind). I also used Endless Circle of Magic, my event/Power skill that allows me to rest inside my Circle for two minutes and refresh my attributes, as much as I could.

(Waste seems to be used differently in this game — it was just meant to be damage that bypassed armor, rather than lowering your total until rested off. Which is good for the healer with only two Vitality 😉 )

Skills I found less useful: my Cure Metabolic — everything I saw that was curable was Mental (Fear) or Elemental (Fire). I thought there would be a lot of Poison and Disease, but so far nothing. I also never used my Inscribed Circle (allows me to cure twice for the cost of one); there were plenty of field fights where it would have been safe to set it up, but I never really needed it.

Verbal I probably said the most over the weekend: “Diagnose Damage.” I always felt a little uncomfortable walking up behind line fighters and doing this, afraid I would distract them or they would back into me or kick me, but I was told this was okay? Most of the line fighters were good about getting off the field to repair their armor before their Vitality red-lined, too.

As I suggested above, if anyone has feedback on how I did as a healer, please let me know. I felt a little useless walking the back of the line just waiting for people to take damage, but that was what a lot of other healers seemed to be doing?

As predicted, even though I took the Melee Weapons skill, and carried a staff, it was continually set aside and forgotten 😉 I will probably keep it, though — it’s good if the line breaks, and I did manage to use it in the final field fight. But I will get The Rod and the Will so I can hold it while casting, which will at least make me less likely to leave it somewhere.

(Also, Matt assures me that Rolant kept reminding me about it for totally in-game reasons. Totally not because it’s the staff he uses as Johan in Cottington Woods ;))

Oh, and I suck at the “deathblossom” — holding multiple packets tucked between your fingers, with the tails held in your palm and the heads out. I can only do a three-packet blossom for any length of time, and that’s with ones with relatively long tails. But I have sore spots between my fingers on my left hand from trying 🙁

Related quote:
Me, when I dropped one of my packets: “My aura is more powerful than my hand is big.”
Kallum (I think?): “It’s good to have a powerful aura.”
Rolant: “No, it’s more that she just has a small hand.”

Plot

If you wish to remain “unspoiled” (not sure that is really a thing for boffer larps) for Silverfire, you can stop reading now. But I do want to say, first, that the heavy combat element of this game IN NO WAY interfered with the emotional intensity of the plot. In fact, it enhanced it.

Random photo interlude! Rolant's hair decoration.
Random photo interlude! Rolant’s hair decoration.

It was brilliant how expectations were subverted sixteen hours into game, in a way that was game-changing yet not entirely unexpected, and emotionally wrenching, to boot. At the gathering early Saturday afternoon, where we were supposed to greet the Silverfire King, my train of thought went something like, “Oh, huh, the king isn’t here, he sent this baron with a boring speech…. yay telling us how awesome we are… wait, what? You want us to do WHAT??

Then James, the game owner (playing the baron who was the King’s messenger) started confronting folks in the front of the crowd, demanding that they renounce their Order, their warbands, and Power. They refused, one by one, all the while trying to talk him down, convince him that the Ebon Order was still a threat. But it was to no avail; the baron named us outlaws, and ordered his warriors to kill us all. In that moment, Rolant yanked me behind him, always the protective older brother. I spent the first few minutes of the fight wandering around in a haze, being unsure if I should attack these Champions I had revered my whole life.

Later, there was the nightmare where we saw the Silverfire King rip off Jarlath’s horns and sever him from Power. That was… intense. It helped that Jarlath was painted so well as a character, both before and during game — in the Silverfire Sunday blurbs, and in James’ portrayal of him as this light-hearted Horned One who tells goofy stories about his lack of pants.

Oh god, and the Horned Ones singing Jarlath to his death, after he returned as evil!Jarlath for Sunday’s field fight….

And Selaine (sp?), the representative of the Ivory Gate, trying to cleanse Ianthe’s nightmares, and finding something unexpected…

Andand doing the ritual to replenish the land the Harvesters had claimed, with Teph/Heddie on Sunday…

And, and, and everything. Seriously, I wanted to hug James (the game owner, who I suspect writes much of the plot, and who played Jarlath, Selaine, and the Silverfire baron, to name just a few). If you see this, James ::virtual hugs:: And to Robin, and the staff and NPCs, and alllll the many Wrathborn players who showed up to NPC for us. I’ll return the favor in a few weeks.

I will, needless to say, be back!

Fifth Gate is nigh

I finished pretty much everything I spelled out in this earlier post, but there’s more to do for Fifth Gate!

  • Finish overdress (I’m on like step 7 out of 42)
  • Finish cloak/invocation circle (see: featured image for this post)
    • Fix the gnarly hand-sewing bits
    • Attach hood
    • Cut lining fabric
    • Apply lining
    • Hem
    • Apply closure
    • Scotchguard it (since it’s going to be on the ground and I’m going to be standing on it, I’ll need something to protect the intricate embroidery and painting)
  • Acquire some sort of belt
  • Acquire/make some sort of pouch to hold packets (could use the leather purse I use for NPCing, but it’s pretty small. Then again, I don’t have that many packet attacks)
  • Finish Orb of Battle (Matt is helping with this)
    • paint the remaining symbols
    • second layer of paint on all symbols
    • attach chain to orb and to belt
  • Figure out what I’m wearing on my legs (black fleece leggings? buy leggings to match brown overdress? Wear brown costume pants over thermal underlayer?)
  • Try on full outfit
  • Memorize my incants! Or, more generally, my abilities (how many Heal by Magics do I have? What costs Spirit, how much Spirit do I have, and how much do I have left? If I’m casting, what the heck do I do with my staff, since I didn’t buy the ability that allows me to cast with a staff in one hand?)
  • Acquire some appropriate-looking note-taking supplies. This could just be the notebook I use for the same thing while NPCing, I suppose.

Other things I’d like long-term, which I won’t get to for game 1:

  • additional outfits
  • a full-length cloak to go with the small one that doubles as my invocation circle
  • better belt and pouches, to match my costume
  • fancy hangings to go around my bunk? The “old sheets” method is less than attractive.
  • incorporate an Orb of Battle into a staff (can’t use the current one, alas, as it’s not boffer-safe)

Our warband, the Eyrie — the “team” I belong to in 5G Silverfire — had a fight practice on Sunday, organized by the lovely Fair Escape. Some Wrathborn players also showed up, as well as a bunch of random Festival of the LARPs congoers who wanted to learn about Accelerant. Together, they provided convenient mooks for us to fight.

The two Wrathborn players, who are very experienced larpers, even created fake mods for us to do, like “fight your way to the top of the hill, where you will find the artifact called the Jade Bedroll (i.e. someone’s sleeping bag).” Once there, we each needed to rest for one minute on the Jade Bedroll to be successful. Despite the silliness of it, I would play that mod again!

The biggest thing I learned, flexing Ianthe on the battlefield the first time? PCing is nothing like NPCing.

NPCing has taught me enough about Accelerant that I recognize the calls and know the etiquette. On the other hand, it’s taught me almost nothing about keeping track of economy — Vitality, Spirit, other attributes; number of heals, number of packet attacks, etc. Most NPCs, after all, are written to have abilities that are limited by number of uses (i.e. “3 x Grant 1 Protection by Magic”) or by how often you can use them (“an uncalled packet every 10 seconds”).

And most NPCs don’t have incantations (“incants”) — those flavorful phrases you need to say before an effect verbal. I thought I had my incants memorized, but it’s one thing to remember them while sitting in your room, and another when someone is charging you. I have literally made myself flash cards to remember them, because as a heavy healer, I have no less than seven, each of them eight syllables or more.

Looking at this, and analyzing the amount of flailing around pointlessly I did, it’s tempting to say I haven’t learned anything from my Two Years of NPCing Dangerously. But there are folks on my team who are even less experienced than I am, and that reminds me of what it was like starting from zero.

When they talk about how hard it is to even notice they are being hit, I remember having that problem at my first fight practice back in 2013. Now, I have a lot more situational awareness. (Still not enough, I feel — but some!)

At my first game NPCing for Shadows, I didn’t know how to answer if someone used “Diagnose Stable” on me. Now, I can reliably recall if I took uncalled or called damage.

Nowadays, too, I know why it’s important to have enough armor and Vitality to take a three-point uncalled flurry!

So, NPCing has been valuable, but it’s only part of the equation. I would definitely recommend it before PCing, especially to folks who feel a lot of anxiety about “doin’ it wrong,” as I did. (I’m one of those people who HATES that whole “incompetence” phase of learning). I would just caution that it won’t teach you everything you need, and there’s going to be another learning curve when you start PCing.

Let’s hope it’s not too steep.

The Tarantiniest Birthday of All

Monday was my (35th) birthday. Hooray?

In any case, I found myself watching Django Unchained (2012) this weekend, and followed it up with a chaser of Inglourious Basterds (2009). It started just as “let’s put on a movie to watch with my dad” (who was visiting this weekend) but I liked the first enough that I decided I wanted to see the second.

I’m not… excessively a Tarantino fan? I liked his stuff a lot when I was younger, and I still own a DVD of True Romance and a VHS (!) of Pulp Fiction. I appreciate what he does with theme and symbolism and absurdism, but as get older I find I have less and less tolerance for the old ultra-violence. I also see very few movies in theaters these days, and both Django and Basterds came out in a time period when I saw almost no new movies.

Let’s be honest: Django Unchained is a brutal movie, full of violence and virulent, slavery-era racism. It is hard to watch, even cut down significantly from what it was originally. In most places, though, it feels genuine and not gratuitous — although, on the other hand, gratuitous violence is genuine to how Tarantino tells stories.

I remember reading that Will Smith turned down the role of Django because he felt he wasn’t the main character, which is how Jamie Foxx ended up in the role. I can see that, and it’s a real problem — the protagonist doesn’t get to protag. Foxx does have some wonderful moments of characterization despite that — a subtly shaking hand as he puts his smoked glasses back on, for example, betraying he’s not so cool as he seems.

I feel like the movie is more about King Schultz, Christoph Waltz’s German bounty hunter character, and in a lot of ways when he wasn’t onscreen I stopped being interested in the story. (Which becomes another “rescue another damsel in distress” story when those details are stripped away).

That said, Christoph Waltz is amazing. He will always be the Cardinal Richelieu of my heart. I was moved by how his mercenary and his conscientious sides were on display. He’s both the guy gunning down bounties in the street as well the one offering $500 to keep a slave from being torn apart by dogs. And, in that final moment where he shoots someone, and turns back to Django with a look on his face of mischief, saying, “I couldn’t help myself”… gah. That got me.

DiCaprio was amazing, too, as insanowitz plantation owner Calvin Candie — apparently the scene with the skull, where he cuts his hand? He actually smashed his hand down on a glass, and just kept on going, while bleeding.

(Also entertained by the speech Schultz gave to Candie about Alexandre Dumas, considering Waltz played Richelieu in the 2011 Musketeers, and diCaprio played Louis XIV and Philippe in The Man in the Iron Mask. And pleased that they remembered that Dumas was mixed-race).

Also, a word about Samuel L. Jackson: !!!! I was entertained to read that at one point in shooting, when diCaprio wanted to break because all the racial slurs he was throwing around were troubling him, Jackson said something to him like, “Motherfucker, this is Tuesday for us!”

Moment of Tarantinian absurdism: the ten-minute interlude of racists arguing about the quality of the bags on their heads.

Overall, there’s something not-good to be said for the fact that a white guy makes a movie all about slavery and makes it largely about the actions of white guys >.< And I can't excuse that. But despite that all I still enjoyed large chunks of the movie, in part due to the fantastic acting. Inglourious Basterds I was less sold on. After watching Django, I really just wanted a fix of Christoph Waltz, but as it turned out, Hans Landa, the SS colonel he plays in this movie, is just not a very interesting villain. He knows everything and everyone, speaks flawless French*, English, and Italian, and maintains a cool and polite facade while being an utter villain. And it’s just… boring, to be honest. I don’t know what he wants, really, and it’s implied he goes through this huge change as a character, to do what he does at the end, but it’s not on-screen.

I kind of felt that way about all the characters, especially the titular Basterds. Like… we only get brief snippets about some of them (Stiglitz, Donowitz), and not even all of them. I wanted more scenes of them doin’ their thing, basically… we only get one, really, which is when they’re interrogating the German soldiers near the bridge. And no, I don’t want to see people get beat to death with bats, but there was more characterization in that scene than in the rest of the movie combined.

And don’t even get me started on Brad Pitt. Next to other more talented folks, it becomes evident he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. His portrayal of Raine seems to be mostly composed of squinting.

I wish they had done more with the character of Zoller — he could have had an interesting redemption arc — although I thought it appropriate that when he’s rejected, he turns into a raging asshole who can’t take no for an answer.

I felt similarly blandly about Shoshanna as I did the other characters. Like most of them, her characterization boils down to “hating Nazis.” Which, while we can all get behind, is just not very interesting in the final analysis.

Moment of Tarantinian symbolism: all the rat symbolism in chapter one, post Landa’s speech.

The best part of the movie overall was the standoff in the bar. It kind of felt like the film was made just for that moment of awesome. Hard to buy that Fassbender’s character would be that culturally ignorant if he learned all his German from movies, tho…

* Christoph Waltz does speak a beautiful French, though *swoon* It’s kind of hilarious to hear him say, in the opening scene, that he’s “just about exhausted his French,” when he speaks it as well as English. I assume his German is flawless, too, as he’s German-born, but I have less of a scale on which to judge that.

Creative people say no; women aren’t supposed to

I read “Creative People Say No” the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I think of myself as a creative person. This blog is evidence of that, as are the millions of words I’ve written in my life.

I also have recently struggled with several friends, all at once, airing their grievances about my availability and level of connection as a friend. Talking about it with another friend of mine, he pointed out:

“Right, you’re an introvert. As are a lot of people, but I think on some level it’s seen as less acceptable for women. I think [your husband] is more of an introvert than you, but does he get this kind of static?”

Mulling these two things over, it occurred to me that there are several habits of effective writers which are contrary to feminine socialization. These exist as additional challenges to overcome as a woman who writes.

(I’m going to talk about authors here, because that’s what I know the best, but I’m willing to bet this is true for other creative professions, as well).

So, the first one, brought up by my pal’s comment:

Creative people say no. Women aren’t supposed to.

There is so much written about how women get into states of overwork or burnout because they aren’t able to say no to invitations, requests, favors and other flotsam on the inevitable tidal wave of expectations that comes from interacting in the world.

I know this is true of me — even as I get shit for not spending enough time with my friends, I also know I too easily get sucked into things I don’t want to do. Ask me about how I can’t answer the phone when Vassar or Mass Audubon or the Huntington Theatre calls, because I’ll give them even more of my hard-earned money. Ask me about how I was convinced to serve as usher coordinator at the church I barely even attend.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, she said:

“Maybe you look like someone who can’t say no.”

Entertaining how I can be simultaneously “someone who can’t say no” and a bad friend, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, I love you all, but I also love my writing, and to succeed at it, I need to spend a lot of time polishing my craft. Time which isn’t afforded me in my day-to-day life, because, hey, I also need to earn a living, like a real human being. So please, allow me to love you from the comfort of my own home, from behind a computer screen.

Speaking of which…

Perfecting an art or craft takes thousands of hours of deliberate practice. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and women still do most domestic work.

I am just about the luckiest girl on the planet — I have a husband who’s a great cook, and does all of the cooking for us. He also primarily takes care of the laundry. We also don’t have kids, and don’t intend to.

And yet at 9pm every weeknight, I say to myself, “Well, I could wash the dishes, I could go to bed, or I could try to write a few words.” (I usually choose to wash the dishes). Washing the dishes is only fair; it’s my toll of love to the husband who cooks all the food. Also, living in a clean, organized house contributes tremendously to my well-being, and one of the biggest sources of disorder is the kitchen.

Not everyone is so lucky. Most women, I’d wager, have to make harder choices than this. Make dinner, or write. Do laundry, or write. Drive the kids to soccer practice, or write. I’m willing to bet that across the world, thousands of creative women are making those choices in favor of their family and home. And why shouldn’t they?

Publication is a numbers game–you need to keep submitting, keep believing in yourself when no one else does, improving all the while. And yet, women are more likely to self-reject.

I don’t have any clever statistics to prove the last point, just my personal experience. Submitting, and facing rejection, is the hardest thing I do every day. Many days, I don’t do it at all. I’ve been querying Gods & Fathers for a year, and I’ve only sent it to twenty agents. Those are terrible odds.

“When we ship, we’re exposed,” says Steven Pressfield in Do the Work, and it’s a phrase that sticks with me. Why would I want to be more vulnerable, when I’m already marginal? I get to fight to have my voice heard, and when I do, I face a greater likelihood of having it savaged. Seems like a mug’s game, some days.

I’ve seen — and I’ve been — the woman endlessly rewriting and polishing and dithering over a manuscript, wondering if it’s good enough to send. I’ve sat in front of my computer and thought, “With the thirty minutes I have to work on my writing, do I want to put new words down on paper, with their endless possibility, or do I want to send more queries out into a void?”

Meanwhile, across the world, some dude is probably scribbling a novel on a brown paper bag with a red crayon and sending it to an agent.

To be more concrete: women are socialized to not impose, to not take up space, to not matter. Submitting — shipping — is the opposite of that. We need to believe our words matter, even when no one else does. We need to believe we’re ready, even when we may not be.

Anyway. I write all this not to complain, and not to make excuses for not writing, but simply for my own awareness.

In which I remind myself why I do this crazy thing (larping)

I have not been posting much lately! It’s not that stuff hasn’t been going on; it’s more that I’ve lacked the capacity to write about it.

I feel very much like I want to curl up and go to sleep for a thousand years. It’s not that I’m physically tired, so much as I look at the stuff I have to get done in the next couple of months and it feels exhausting. I let myself believe that this means I can’t have any fun, even though I am doing all of this for the sake of fun, i.e., my hobbies.

Why so much to do? Well, the first thing to understand is that here in the Frozen Wasteland of New England, if you want to play boffer (live-combat) larps, you really only have a small window in which to do it. Two, actually — one in the spring, and one in the fall. The spring window is April-May (with occasional forays into late March or early June), and the second is September-October (with forays into late August/early November). The reason for this is primarily weather-related, but it is also a consequent of the fact that most campaign live-combat games take place at children’s summer camps, which are unsurprisingly in use during the summer months.

This spring, I am going to be PCing My Vewwy First Boffer LARP, Fifth Gate (Silverfire). The first game is the weekend of May 15th May 1st. I am also going to continue to NPC Shadows of Amun and Cottington Woods, both of which have two spring events. Finally, I’ve signed up to NPC on the Wrathborn side of things for Fifth Gate, which gives me one more event.

These are all weekend-long events, going from Friday night to late Sunday afternoon. They can also be very physically demanding — a lot of running around the woods hitting people (or being hit by people) with foam swords. They’re demanding in other ways, too. Boffer larp in this region is big on immersion, and playing a character 24/7 can be tiring. Even as an NPC, you need to more or less always “on.” There’s a sign by the door in Shadows NPC base camp which reads “Beyond this point you are always in character.” It’s not literally true — how many times have I stood on the porch and bullshitted with my fellow mooks! — but it is pretty close to it.

Also, one of the Shadows events is the weekend of the Festival of the LARPs, and I am going to be spending one Saturday driving back and forth between Westford and Waltham, MA, as I head out to play Phoebe’s new larp Woodplum House, a silly Wodehousian parody game. This is especially fun for Shadows, where leaving the site involves, no lie, a one mile walk out to your car (or from your car back to the campsite). Because immersion means no cars on site, logically enough.

If you guessed this means I have almost no free weekends in April and May, you’d be right! What free weekends I have will be full of prep for future games.

Speaking of prep… that can be tiring and stressful, too, especially for PCing games. The organization or disorganization of the game in question can make it more or less stressful for me as an NPC, too. But let’s focus on the PC side of things, here — I have a LOT of costuming I am trying to get done before May 15th May 1st. Probably more than I realistically have time to finish — I’m not sure yet.

So… larp is clearly my most exhausting hobby. I’m pretty sure I’ve stood at this point before and made the decision to throw in the towel. Hell, it was probably about this time in 2013 that I decided not to play Cottington Woods, after writing a character history, plotting with a team, having a boffer weapon made, and ordering a realistic plush chicken. (Checking — yup, that’s about right).

I’m not going to wimp out this time. The difference between two years ago is multifold. One, I’m a lot more familiar with the Accelerant system, and that helps to allay my fear of the unknown. Two… it’s easy to forget off-season, but some of my peak moments have come from these sorts of games.

I remember crying from the intense emotions my (throwaway, one-shot!) NPC was experiencing in my very first Shadows game.

I have fond memories of emotional conversations in the rain, sheltered under a dripping eave; of jasmine tea in a leaking tent.

I remember the sheer fun of covering myself in fake blood and lying in wait for the PCs. Or the same thing, minus the fake blood but plus a mirror mask.

I recall the excitement of landing an exceptionally well-timed attack.

I remember standing in a field, covered in LED wires, shouting out calls at the top of my lungs to keep my teammates up.

And all of this is just NPCing. How much better can it be, I wonder, when I get to play the same character, game after game, for a few years, when staff is writing plot just for me?

This is why I do this — and remembering that helps get through the work.

Since a post isn’t complete without a to-do list around here, here’s what I’m trying to get done before Fifth Gate starts, for my character, Ianthe Florizel. (Unless otherwise noted, due date is game start on May 15th May 1st).

  • Finish writing character history (due date: April 2nd)
  • Add character events to warband timeline (also April 2nd)
  • Finalize character build (due date unknown; builds aren’t being accepted yet, and I don’t know my CP total)
  • Finish the epic amount of applique and hand-sewing for my invocation circle — at least enough so that it’s recognizably an invocation circle!
  • Finish the mockup of the underdress of my outfit (due date: Real Soon Now, so that I can make the real thing)
  • Complete the mockup of the overdress (due date: Slightly Less Soon Now)
  • Make the real underdress(es)
  • Make the real overdress
  • Check with Plot to make sure my Orb of Battle won’t be too big (pictured in the cover photo, above)
  • If acceptably-sized, decorate my Orb of Battle with runes
  • Make (or otherwise procure) something to carry my Orb of Battle (chain, mesh bag, handle, dunno)
  • Do a more extensive try-on/break-in of my new boots, and decide if I’m happy with the sizing
  • Lock-tite the buttons on my new boots, if so

I’ll see you in June? I just hope my writing doesn’t take a permanent sabbatical…

Guess which genius thought the first event was May 15th up until yesterday? Yeah, this girl. (Y)(Y).

Two exciting things too long for Twitter

You may have heard me talking about these on Twitter, but I realized I had more to say. Because don’t I always?

Thing the First

This tweet is kind of full of lies, though I suspect mostly of omission. Brief investigation reveals that a massive engineering project (between 2005 and 2014) replaced the causeway from the mainland with a bridge, and dammed the river Couesnon, allowing tides to encircle the island and wash away accumulated silt.

So it isn’t so much a record-high tide, and it’s only “since 1879” because that was when the original causeway was constructed. This begs the question — where’s the new bridge? Either behind the island or Photoshopped out, I’d guess. Or this pic was taken when it was under construction?

… of course, all of that doesn’t fit easily in 140 characters, does it?

EITHER WAY. When I saw it (RTed by @KellanSparver, because HE KNOWS), my first reaction was “My beloved Petrochon!” Which is, of course, one of the cities in Lioness, home of the eccentric Lord-Mayor Bizel.

Despite the connection to my own writing, this makes me a little sad, because one of my fondest memories of France was walking back to the mainland across that causeway in the middle of the night. And that place is now no more…

Instead of the possibly-doctored, blurry pic, have this lovely pic from Wikipedia of the new bridge curving elegantly toward the island:

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Mont St Michel + Jetée par Marée haute” by Mathias NevelingOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thing the Second

The Thorn of Emberlain, the next book in the Gentleman Bastards sequence (which I was just talking about t’other day!) has a cover reveal!

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I like to imagine Locke in one of those suits of armor, saying to Jean, “What, by Perelandro’s hairy asshole, did I do to deserve being incarcerated in this thing? And how the hell do I hold this sword?”

I have to admit, I’m personally not a huge fan of the art–it just doesn’t feel series-appropriate to me? Regardless of that, I am dying to read the book.

Why speeling maters

Warning: I’m going to write about spelling and grammar, which virtually guarantees that I’m going to mangle some word or another. Aside from the title, naturally, which is purposefully mangled.

On my work computer, IT has installed Symantec Endpoint Protection as antivirus software. Fair enough; I don’t want to think too much about this stuff when I’m trying to do my job. I avoid most risky, malware-tempting behaviors on my work computer, anyway.

I’ve largely ignored SEP’s presence — except for this scheduled scan message that kept appearing every Monday morning:

SEP-spelling-error

Is this not the shadiest looking message you’ve ever seen? The misspelling of “temporarily,” the odd word spacing, etc? No wonder I put it off, again and again, thinking, “There’s something hinky about this. I should ask IT.”

(Of course, I figured that if this was some sort of fake AV message, I was probably already infected).

After several months of continually dismissing this message without scanning, I finally took a screenshot and forwarded it to one of the IT guys at my company, asking “Is this legit?” He assured me it was, but that our SEP administrator probably had entered that message manually, not Symantec.

Relieved, I finally did a scan (no viruses found, yay). A couple of hours later, I had an email from the sysadmin who manages SEP, informing me that the misspelling came direct from the manufacturer.

*blinkblink*

At this point you’re probably saying, why does this matter? It’s just a spelling error.

To which I counter, things like spelling, grammar, and typesetting all contribute to having a professional appearance. These are things that inspire trust — misplaced or not.

If I were to receive an email full of execrable grammar, ostensibly from Zenimax, claiming my ESO account had been compromised, I would know it was a scam. This is because I have a mental heuristic that says, “a reputable company should at least have decent grammar.”

If I received a message with barely-comprehensible English, supposedly from a friend, claiming they were stuck in another country without money, I’d also know it was a scam. I know (how much) to trust my friend’s command of English.

It’s even worse in this case, because Symantec is a company that deals explicitly in trust. When you install their software (or your IT department installs it, in my case), you are trusting that their software works and that their definitions address the right malware. You believe your computer won’t be compromised despite (or because of) their product.

Little errors like this undermine that trust, as you begin to wonder what else might lack attention to detail.

It’s elitist of me, but I apply this standard to a lesser degree to any text that comes into my life. I give a lot of leeway for non-native English speakers, dyslexia, or other mitigating circumstances, but I can’t get away from the fact that how you present yourself in text affects me on a gut level.

(Spoken language is not held to the same standard, for the most part. And my husband has often pointed out that I am more language-oriented than most people, so this may be an artifact of that. Maybe this isn’t the same for everyone).

One of the big questions in cognitive linguistics has always been, “why is language more complex than is strictly necessary for communication?” I wonder if trust is part of that? Maybe a language with a greater capacity for error gives us a larger number of bits from which to disentangle signal and noise?

(Woah. Apparently if you gaze long into your own navel, your navel also gazes into you).

In any case! I complained on Twitter, and Symantec is going to be fixing this:

One more victory for orthography.

In Which I Contemplate a Gentleman Bastards Pirate LARP

So, Intercon P’s theme is Pirates.

I do like me some pirates, and have at times considered writing a pirate-themed media (or historical) mashup game. I think playing Devil to Pay sated my urge for this, but I was thinking… I could use pirates in a fantasy setting.

And then, since I apparently only write fan larps, it dawned on me: there are pirates in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards sequence. They play quite a significant role in the plot of Red Seas Under Red Skies, in fact, rescuing our heroes when they get in over their heads. There’s a pirate brotherhood (the Council of Pirate Captains), made up of the members of five different pirate crews, which meets in Port Prodigal, which is basically the wretched hive of scum and villainy for pirates on the Sea of Brass. And Port Prodigal is itself pretty dang spooky…

Of course, as soon as I start thinking of this idea, in the car on the way to work (boo going back to work), the song I think of as being a Locke and Sabetha song (Imagine Dragons’ “I Bet My Life”) came on the radio.

SIGNS AND PORTENTS.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Despite the portentous song, I don’t think any of the main characters would be in the game.
  • The crew of the Poison Orchid, who are supporting characters in RSURS, probably would be, however.
  • I imagine the basic setup being something like “meeting of the Council of Pirate Captains in Port Prodigal to discuss Things,” but I don’t have much more than that at this point.
  • Yes, I realize this runs the risk of casting apps which call for this to be The Other Other All Zamira Drakasha game. I’m willing to take that chance.
  • I suspect this would take place pre-RSURS, maybe during the time of Lies. It has to be late enough that most of the Ghostwind Isles pirates have been wiped out, but given characters I want to include, not post-RSURS.
  • I really loved the adventure mechanic in Ex Ignorantia (which is basically a choose-your-own-adventure story, sometimes with abilities), and I think it would be neat to do something with that, maybe as “away missions” from the main meeting. Would it be too much to start the game with “you need to get to Port Prodigal — do you choose the Trade Door or the Parlor?”
  • The Camorr Wiki is not nearly so complete as other fan wikis, so much re-reading would have to happen. (This is both a plus and a minus — the books are great, but I have so little reading time…) For example, I can’t even get a list of the crew members of the Poison Orchid.
  • For as much as Zamira’s characterization is based on her being a mother, I doubt anybody wants to play the mini-game of “babysit Paolo and Cossetta.”
  • Naturally, there would be plots involving a Serious Lack of Cats.

Will I actually write this game? Dunno. I suspect a lot will depend on how soon I finish the first draft of Lioness

Intercon Overscheduled

It was an exhausting and exhilarating and strange weekend at Intercon O, and I am feeling some serious con crash now 🙁

For posterity, what I did:

I spent much of Thursday daytime having a panic attack, because this is how I greet Intercon, apparently. Maybe one day this won’t be so, but this year, at least, I was freaking out about preparing my panels and getting up to speed with all the characters I’d be playing.

Pre-con: I participated in a bunch of panels — so many that I was basically incoherent at the end of Thursday, having talked and thought too much that day. These panels were:

  • Turning a Work of Fiction Into a LARP (moderator), with Quinn D and Lisa P.
  • Film Noir Fashion: Dress of the 1940s (a presentation I did all by my lonesome). Three people showed up, counting Matt, and one of them left halfway through 🙁
  • Why We LARP (moderator, again), with Tony M and… I don’t even remember who else.
  • Useful Handsewing Techniques for LARPs. No one showed up, except Steve K, who had no interest in learning about hand-sewing. It ended up being “social hour with Lise.”
  • So You Want to Run a Game: Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself, with Steve K and Chad B.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of interest in the stuff I put together. I think this is the last year I’m going to do presentations/workshops on costuming topics, at least by myself.

Friday afternoon I played in run A of Shadow Over Mars, a first in a series of one-shot larps set in the Space 1889 setting. I was Chloe Monteil, an angry Frenchwoman, gunner on the ship The Moon of Shastapsh.

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Imagine I’m saying, “Zese British bastards!”

It’s amazing how much mileage I can get out of being French and angry — four hours worth, at least. I got to shoot things, and swear in French a lot, and I ended the game by dying(?) dramatically — I was stabbed and pulled off the ship, yelling “MEEEEEEEERRRRRDDDDDEEEE!” on the way down.

Quote from the game: “Ze only people I trust right now are zese two,” (points to A.J. and Jeff D’s characters, two ex-naval officers), “because zhey are trying to sleep with me.”

Bingley, A.J’s character, nodded and said, “I admit there may be some truth in that observation.”

Also, I got to play off Steve B, Consequences con chair, who was returning to Intercon for the first time since G. That was delightful 🙂 I’m looking forward to seeing him and all my Consequences crew again in November!

Finally, the game was responsible for this sign, which entertained me greatly:
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Friday evening I ran Midsummer Mischief, that delightful Wodehousian game which I like so much that I keep running it for Americans. The game ran very smoothly, many people got engaged (and un-engaged, and re-engaged, and re-un-engaged), pigs were loosed, and Nuance wore a fabulous hat as Lady Constance. She also was part of one of the best exchanges in game:

“Was that before or after you started blackmailing my brother?”
“Before! I mean, after! I mean…”

Warren T, who played Lord Emsworth (and who was one of the writers/GMs for my Saturday game), also showed up wearing a bathrobe and carrying a book about pigs, which I think says everything you need to know about that dreamy peer, Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth.

Most of Saturday I was in Ex Ignorantia, an eight-hour game of Lovecraft in academia. I played Briony Travis, socially clueless grad student in the physics department. It will surprise no one to learn that there was, in fact, some Mythos stuff going on in my plots 😉

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Nothing says “srs bzns grad student” like a Rowsdower MST3K t-shirt, a suit jacket (with bonus cat hair), red shoes, red button earrings, and a Nyankochan sakuramochi purse.

I think what I liked so much about this game was the fact that… it’s a lot like a game I would write! By which I mean, it has fairly detailed mechanics, but it also has great writing, and characters that are much, much more than cardboard cutouts.

Like seriously, the writing. From what I understand, most of what I interacted with was done by Kristen H, as she was primarily the writer for my faction’s plot. Everything from my character I identified a leetle too much with, to the adventures in the sacred groves, to our trip to Carcosa to stop the summoning of Hastur, was beautifully evocative.

The upshot of the game was that Dagon/Cthulhu got control of the earth, minus a few patches carved out by lesser summonings. Briony ended up in one of those with Geoffrey, Will F’s character, after losing most of her faction to the trip to Carcosa.

(Also, as far as HPL knowledge goes, these people knew their stuff <3)

Alsoalso, I got snubbed by Nyarlathotep, so there’s that.

Alsoalsoalso, the fact that the game was mostly run by people who had been in MM the night before makes me wish there were such thing as a Lovecraftian Wodehouse game. Of course, it would have to be named after that chapter in LoEG Black Dossier: “Wot Ho, Gods of the Abyss.”

Saturday night, I played in A Song of Mergers and Acquisitions, which promised Game of Thrones-style politics in a corporate setting. I was Helen Zakarian, assistant to the president of the Congress, with no particular house affiliation. (There is a GoT character who is my analog, but it would be spoilery to say who).

I wanted to like this game — I very much like the type of character I was cast as — but in many ways it didn’t work for me. On the whole, it was a rare game that would have benefited from more mechanics.

For one thing, it’s the sort of game which needs an information economy, and there just… isn’t one. Plus, my character sheet gave me very little sense of my character and what I wanted, and so bargaining couldn’t really happen. I had so many conversations that were, “I can tell you incriminating things about Stark! In return could you… oh. I see you’re already going to vote the way I want you to.”

There was also the fact that no one apparently knew until the end of game that all the votes required a two-thirds majority. Which, despite the fact that almost everybody agreed on everything (another problem: not enough conflict for a GoT game), meant that nothing passed. (In part this was my own oversight: I said to Baratheon — played by Kevin R — something like “Everyone agrees on reducing tariffs!” and he conveniently decided not to correct me).

On the whole, I think this game has a lot of potential, but the writers might not want to shy away from mechanics so much, as it would do a great deal to make the game feel like a GoT game.

And that was basically my con, game-wise. I sadly did not have wakefulness for any parties, which was to my detriment 🙁

Sunday was Packing the Car: the LARP, which I always have to play alone because Matt is in Sunday games 🙁 There was also the “chatting in con suite” part of the day, in which I discovered that Alex P’s first Intercon game was also my own (A Question of Faith, at Intercon F). I also received a bag full of real British Cadbury from Suey, listened to Mike Young talk about the terrible games he has been in, and went to the now-traditional Chicago/Brit-contingent dead dog at Priya, an Indian restaurant in Lowell. I spent most of that chatting with Laurie and Ian, first-time Interconners who turned out to have a ton in common with us.

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This is what a fuckton (metric) of Cadbury Dairy Milk looks like.

Oh, and I went to closing ceremonies long enough to learn that a) Sharp & Sensibility is running in Delaware in October, and b) it’s the same weekend as the final event of Cottington Woods 🙁 🙁 🙁 I may decide to go without Matt. We’ll see.

I also learned that there will be another Whateley’s game in the fall, and Matt insists that this year is the year we finally get out to Chicago to play.

And now… Intercon P is Pirates, and I’m cogitating ideas for new games. Oh no…

The Intercalm before the Interstorm (also, Barbara Stanwyck love)

Intercon O is coming up this weekend! It’s like LARPer Christmas!… wait, no, that’s the day after Halloween.

Nevertheless, it’s big, and I have a lot of prep to get done, for games I’m running, games I’m playing, and stuff I’m doing at pre-con.

Here, have a to-do list:

  • Finish Film Noir fashion presentation
  • Review/update hand-sewing handouts
  • Put together kits for hand-sewing workshop
  • Put questions together for panels I’m moderating
  • Do pin curls and 1940s makeup for presentation on Thursday night? Maybe? But that’s probably too ambitious. Pin curls are hard, yo.
  • Finish packing Midsummer Mischief (we’re 90% there — but we still have romance contingencies, room envelopes, etc)
  • Review Midsummer Mischief GM materials
  • (Re)Read Shadow Over Mars materials
  • Find pants for Shadow Over Mars costume (Savers?)
  • (Re)Read Ex Ig materials — make notes, if necessary
  • Assemble Ex Ig costume(s) — I’m imagining my costume evolving over the conference sessions
  • Re(Read) Song of Mergers & Acquisitions materials
  • Assemble Song of M&A costume
  • Gather stuff I’m loaning
  • Pack!

Probably my biggest task is putting together the presentation for my Film Noir Fashion (fashion of the 1940s) presentation. All of the history of costume presentations I’ve done in the past have been about eras that have significantly less documentation. But now I’m getting into the “we have photographic evidence of this period, and LOTS of it,” and it’s a little like trying to drink from a firehose.

For comfort, I look at pictures of Barbara Stanwyck, who, as we all know, is my spirit animal. Pinterest offers me much in this vein, from pictures of her as a 15-year-old Ziegfield girl who still went by Ruby Stevens, to her iconic blond-bewigged Double Indemnity femme fatale, to an elderly matron in The Big Valley. I have some definite favorites:

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This one from 1940 will probably be in my presentation, since it’s a good example of a very popular color of the period (copen blue) and a very popular dress style. But man. That sultry look! That perfect cat-eye! The touch of animal print!

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I don’t care who says she wasn’t “starlet beautiful,” I think she was gorgeous.

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And she liked beagles!

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Here she is with Clark Gable, flipping off the camera. I cackled when I came across this.

And a quote from her:

“My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.”

Relevant for Intercon, too, I think 😉