Monday, 5 September 2016

Curious Pastimes - Renewal 2016

In these lands of Siberian, these hot and humid lands.....

So as I mentioned before, there has been a short delay in writing on the blog because I was going to be away at Curious Pastimes for the entirity of the weekend.  Well, after recovery on Wednesday (down in Thetford with the guys from the Battlehammer) and going back to work yesterday, I finally think I can get thoughts on to the paper... fine, down onto the screen... and actually give people a bit of a fallout/review of what went on.

Except for one small issue, I pretty much managed to by pass all of the plot for the entire weekend.  I have absolutely no idea how I managed it, but not once did I get involved in the World Plot or any of the my groups (the A'Kesh) faction plot.  I must have been in the middle of some sort of plot void for all 4 days of the event.  Now partially this is down to what I do as part of this fantastic game world, but before I get into the specifics of Renewal itself, I think I should impart some general background in terms of what I know about CP and what this LARP is actually like.  I've been there for 8 years now (CP is 20 years old so I've not even got half of a full understanding of what is going on), and I've sampled the game as both a player, and for the last 3 years as a volunteer faction ref within the Mercenaries.  So, lets basically tackle this in a bit of detail.


So, the real basics for people who don't know.  LARP stands for Live Action Roleplaying, and basically if you take the idea of almost any fantasy book, get real people to play the characters, then get them to wear the correct costume and actually got and have all the fights and conversations in real life out in a field somewhere... well you won't really be close at all to what it is all about but you'll get close to the idea.  Common jokes in the community are things like calling it "Cross Country Am-Dram" or "Full contact Cowboys and Indians".  The simple thing is it is really hard to explain, but there are aspects of standard RPGs, Cosplay, Medieval Reenactment and camp fire story telling mixed together.  Frankly, there isn't really anything better than LARP for allowing you to abandon real life for a bit and go and do/be something else for a while.

And there in lies the key.  LARP isn't about ignoring real life, LARPers in general are from massively dirverse backgrounds and have massively different approaches and outlooks on life.  It's about putting it down somewhere safe, that you know you will be back to later and it'll be exactly how you left it, but in the time you are away from it you can just let loose and not have to worry for a while.

Curious Pastimes

So in terms of LARPs there are quite a few varieties; local club, national system and fest spring to mind, but there are more.  CP falls into the Fest variety, and basically to fulfil that mark, most fest systems meet up may be 3 or 4 times a year, but support a site of at least a few hundred people all involved in the game, and a cast and crew dedicated to rolling out NPC charatcers and delivering the story and the plot to as many people as possible over the weekend.  In addition to this, most fest systems tend to pull out some immense battles (with half the player base getting into more generic kit and being the bad guys for the day, and then swapping over for the second battle later on).  In addition, every now and then a Faction will "go on manuevers" and do a couple of encounters during the day for people to play around with.  At least a few systems discard some or all of this in order to include Player vs Player combat (normally the battles are then faction vs faction), or allow the players to generate their own plot rather than supporting an ongoing story from within the crew.

CP goes with the Crew system, with player vs monster battles, and monster slots.  It also has some of the riches plot going in any system I have had a chance to be involved with.  The Game Team (the "reffed" members of the crew), as well as the faction commands for each faction, work heavily to write, check and the supply plotlines to the players with the vague hope that everyone will engage with the plot and not try to stear it off a cliff, into a river and through a volcano... invariably adjustments need to be made regularly.

I've been fortunate enough to play in 3 factions since I joined in 2008, starting with what was then known simply as the Vipers, moving over to the Lions and then being one of the original hangers on to the A'Kesh when they started in 2012.  I've not changed character since, which also includes keeping the poor sap alive somehow, and its been one hell of a ride.  The "World" plot has moved through from a war against Terror itself (the physical manifestation of it, plus all his mates), and we are now looking at a return to war with the Fae families having fallen out with each other over whether mortals should be allowed to live, and if they really should have a single king or not.  Fae are, for want of a better term, Bel.. sorry.

Renewal 2016

Every year, Renewal runs out as the flagship event for CP.  Help near Gerrards Cross, around 800+ people decend on to the site, beginning Thursday (for those that want a social night before the event).. now some people are there before this time to do the work of making a scout campsite look like some part of a fantasy world, but the vast majority start appearing on the Thursday.  By 7pm Friday night we are all in, and off we go.  Time in called.  I enter the mind of Sul, a disgruntled former warrior, a man who has tried to lead his people in war for 3 years, struggled and failed, and due to injury has been forced to change his skills to those of a Ritualist to try and help people that way.  Of course, all characters are based on what you think you can play and what you think you can do.  Sul started out as a warrior character and then my back started going into spasms last year and it was over to being the ritualist.  His personality has always been that he has been a bit of a "nearly man" back home, but now in the world of the factions, he has had the chance to take what he desires and prove how good he is (having fluffed the warrior bit a little as I'm not a good figther, being a ritualist has kind of given me the chance to achieve both parts of Sul's plan).

So the first thing I did when time in was called.. well it was straight up to the ritual circle to do a ritual 1 hour in.. and thus a lot of running around, getting the necessarily people to help me (leads need contributers), and then telling them what to do in my first ritual for the weekend.

Rituals are, for the most part, a condensed roleplay dramatisation, put on the for the masses (or lack there of in a lot of cases.. something which is a bit of a shame to be honest).  Rituals are performed in a circle (sometimes called the "Circle of Look at Me" - one of the Game Ref's used to do a lot of rituals as a player and is known as look at me!), marked by a ref, and allow you do do a miraid of "mostly permenant" effects on items, other people, or in the world in general.  Used mostly as a method of empowering (read this as recharging) magic items, most Factions have dedicated individuals who use a lot of their time getting the rituals right.  The Mercs have had it harder, as Mercs don't tend to work together.  The idea of a ritual team that works together constantly and doesn't have other things to do all the time.. thats a novelty.  Hence the running around before rituals.

Either way we managed our Friday ritual and then 20 minutes later, with more cat herding we hit our second ritual as well.  Both our Friday rituals done, and a bit of dealing to get some other things done more easily the next day.  I broke for the night feeling pretty good with myself (after all rituals can and do fail, so 2/2 completed it a nice feeling).  It was at this point that I could now roll down my sleves and get into the plot.  Except, now the Mercs were on Monster duty.  Wrangling up food, and then up to the Ref hut to be confronted with 100 Merc players all ready to give a good showing of themselves.  I do love reffing with the Mercs when we gather up these numbers for Monstering.  We got to mess around with the ritual circle (its like I can't leave, and Saturday will prove that).  Monster slots are 2 hours long, and post the ritual I completely forget what I then went an did.  I can not remember a damn thing about the rest of the night (and there was no alcohol involved).

Saturday, up at 9 and off I went into the Merc camp.  In a strange way it was quite a nice morning.  I had little to do til midday, where there was an hour long ritual lesson being set.  This is something I love about CP, the Game Team put a massive amount of effort into helping the players develop and learn how the game works and what they can do.  The Academy of War is a player lead (Game supported) organisation that can let players learn new skills and abilities (something that you are normally capped to one of per year with a maximum of 7 (10 with bonuses)).  The college is more of a magical debating and research group, run by both Game and Players in tandem.  There are Blacksmith guilds, Surgeon Guild etc etc, all there to help progress fields within the game, and Ritual School is a new one started this year, support by the lovely Zara (special mention here, because Zara has kept pushing my Ritual game since I started last year).  We hit the hour long ritual school, and decided to play about with a special ritual to get us all thinking, and immediately afterwards my props and contributers arrived to do our ritual.. which had 2 more items in it than I expected.  I was meant to just be renewing 1.. I had a play for 1.. fine.  a rewrite of a ritual in 10 minutes and bosh 3/3.

Right, lunch, because I've been playing now for 3 hours and not had anything to eat yet.  Mhorish are my current choice for sustenance.  They supply 3 meals every day, and supply a ticket based system where you can buy in to the whole weekend if you so desire.  The price is massively discounted, so unless you are just topping up a self catered menu or want to shop around for food then getting the tickets is so worthwhile.

I've still not encountered a single item of World or Kesh plot.  I'm so busy thinking about the ritual I have coming up that I basically spend the next hour or so with a ref radio on and not listening to anyone else.  This one is the biggy, the one I've been dreading and looking forward to all weekend.  I'm going to make a banner, a really good banner, for a Mercanary group called the Black company.  To be honest I've messed them about a bit.  I was supposed to start this at event 1, but as people know I flaked out of the event.  Event 2 was no better, and at the Event 3 (I actually made it this time) I had no experience of the group of contributers nor they of me, that I cut the ritual down and only did the first part of what was needed (normally parts 1 and 2 can be done together, to then tackle the big part 3 on its own).  So.. for my next trick I'll do part 2, and part 3, at the same time.

I don't really remember the next 10 minutes plus of ritualing.  I remember we had to fight our way back to the ritual circle because it got monstered again right before we started.  Damn monsters.  I remember carrying the banner around while we fought and ran around from fear effect (which amused me a the time seeing as the banner was going to be able to let the Black Company resist that kind of stuff).  I remember getting back and demanding the circle let me enter so that I could clean up the mess the monsters had left behind.  After that.. its a bit of a blur.  I know my directions weren't completely followed from the original plan, but it was close enough that it didn't matter and I could wing it.  I know that it went well.  I know the Black Compnay that weren't pulled into the circle with me were singing.  There was a lot of screaming going on.  It was fun.  There was an honour guard for me (well probably the banner) when I finished and left the circle.  I know we got a complete success.  I was pretty happy and 4/4 was good.

For the life of me, what the hell did we actually do?  I mean, yes I still have the bullet point idea in my head, but I'm in that damn circle and I never get to see what we do, how it looks.  Slender Pictures if you happened to record this ritual (or any of my rituals) please can I watch them, just send me the clips privately because I actually want to watch one for a change!

Anyway, banner made.. its a good banner.  There is a level up from Complete success which I've not hit yet, but the actual ability of the banner might have made it hard enough as it is.  So a complete will do me.

Saturday rattled through, I'm pretty sure I slept, ate, and somehow missed all interaction with plot.  I very very rarely miss interaction with plot.  Hell at event 3 I was actively trying to avoid it as I had helped out a little by writing some of the local flavour plot and I somehow managed to get all the way through to the last day when two ladies managed to bump into me and verbatum my plot sheet back at me (well done by the way). The big thing that caught me on the Saturday was the end of the Moredhel.

Curious Pastimes has had some really long running groups, and the Moredhel were one of the longest.  It is such a shame that this group has now seen its time end, especially as one of my close friends was one of the people that had been with them for such a long time.  The Moredhel existed when I started in 2008, and some characters haven't changed in that time.  Sul has been involved with one of these characters since we joined the factions (she liked my shiny scale armour!) and so seeing her leave was going to be difficult.  The Kesh (thankfully) aren't prone to greiving, so instead I got to play angry and grumpy at how the Gods need to be put into their place (because their leaving plot was that their gods insisted they leave).  This is not, necessarily, the best way to then have to handle more rituals.

We managed to be more work on our spear (and I even used one of those cliche endings for my rituals.. "thats a story for another time").  5/5 and just one more to do for the whole weekend.  What I wasn't expecting was to see 3 ritual markers come down for this one.. thats not normal.  I actually don't fully know why everyone was there, but I didn't mind.  We had a plot ritual to do, something that needed to be sorted out for the Kesh story to keep moving onwards.  Its rituals like this where you get to play a little bit.  They can still go wrong, the plot changing drastically in one direction or another because of what happens, but plot rituals are more roleplay orientated, its about trying to cast your hand over a story, move the pieces slightly and see where they end up.  Its not like renewals where people can have a physical item stop working, there is more of an expectation when people want you to renew things.  Plot rituals, they are a lot more fun.

One of the nicest things about working with the group of people I did over the weekend was how much I trust people to just go to town.  I don't like my rituals being completely free reign, there is always a set of bullet points for each ritual that I will mentally rattle down and let people know about.  What people say in each section is completely up to them, and its amazing how well the Kesh ritualists and those of the Teutonians that I have worked with pick up on que and run with it.  The same happened in the last ritual.  It just worked, flowed correctly and had everything we needed.  I'm going to try and build more effects and props into my rituals, but knowing that the people I game with can just roll with it is also exceptionally helpful.

6/6 done... and after that?  Well as it happens nothing.  I was done for the weekend.

Ritual running is one of those things that dominates the weekend.  May people that do it call it Cat Herding on an epic level, and it really can be.  Do you have your plan? Are all the contributers there? Do you have any props or items you might need? What about the actual item or person you are working on? Right time to head off?  Oh, and by any chance does anyone have the money... damn it.  Once you have done all of the rituals for the weekend you then collapse a little, its all over, and then the nagging happens, the circle of "look at me" starts calling, you want to just jump in and to a few more, some that don't really matter (well not to you anyway).

I spend Sunday going for food, sleeping, watching a few rituals, and completely missing plot.. again.  There was a bit of fall out from the Moredhel leaving, and CP's first big battle of the weekend.  As the Akesh were playing and I'm a flaky ritualist with no combat skills or magic at all, the general rule of the Akesh is I don't go near the battle field.  That actually came about, In Real Life, because of my back pain.  Sadly, even though that is clearer than it has been, its not a limitation on the character due to being paper thin and without enough power to make him worthwhile on the field (I have plans next year).  There is something helpful about being able to grab lunch and sleep in this time, but the rest of the day kind of dispersed in a blur.  One of my characters original family members, one of the people who helped build the original family idea (something that two of us had kind of stumbled upon due to a single LARP weapon we picked up at an open day at DarkBlade) was gone.  To make matters worse he was the last of the original two handed hammer weilders (2 died, 2 left, and me... no longer able to use them).  Officially the original Tyanites are now all gone.. its a very odd feeling and I kind of struggled to register it for the rest of the day.

The long weekend comes to a close with Monday, a mad dash early morning for me so that I can get myself ready to Battle Ref.  This is where, as a volunteer, I really get to see the hard work that goes on.  The level of planning, the attempts that the Game team take to make sure everything is going to be safe, fun and at the same time seem chaotic and terrifying for the playing factions.  In addition, I also have the somewhat entertaining idea of dealing with a faction of players that I normally don't deal with.  Now, I'll admit right now, I am not confident with battle reffing.. yet!  That is a key thing, even after a couple of years those battles are something you can only learn to handle by being there and doing it (you don't buddy up very often with big battles because they need everyone available to do a job), you will only ever see everything that can happen on a battle field once every now and then.  Crushes don't always happen, not near you anyway, so to know what one looks like and how to handle it can be a steep learning curve.  Knowing when to stand back and observe or get in to the line and watch.. each thing adds a layer of complixity.  However, that is what you are there to do, so the only option is get stuck in.  There are plenty more people who know more than me, so if they say something I try to do it, add it to the list in my head as something to watch for and then get going.  Being a volunteer is an interesting job.

There are moments in big battles where you realise how epic these games can become.  A huge number of players (not all 800, but a lot of them), storming across the battlefield.  A prime example of this was the start.  The Monsters had a plan to skirmish and hold the entrace way to the battlefield, once a breach had been made.  Instead, the Black Company as a whole charged through the breach, no slow advance, this was a headways sprint at the enemy, and the Monsters scattered, there was no way they would have been able to hold and they reacted, no like automatons set up to be smashed aside, but as real living, breathing, scared troups.  Watching the Lions weep over their dead at the end of the fight was possibly the best, brief, outline of how a collective of people can form and care for one another regardless of the fact that it is not real life, isn't serious in any way shape or form, and yet the loss and heartbreak of such things can be well played and heartfelt all at the same time.

That personal touch

In trying to stop this being a trumped up display of my own ritualing successes and nothing else, what is important to point out is just how well Curious Pastimes gets the idea of trying to get everyone to stop and believe in the world in which they play in.  I've lost count of how many different people some of the crew play, how many different characters they have to have a handle on.  The organisation of the crew, both overall and their individual control, is amazing and it is what allows people to get so emersed.  On top of that, a plethora of event crew make sure the players have everything they need, are cared for in cases of injury, and are safe on the site.  Everything which has to work in a real life sense is handled seamlessly, and this means that the game world can just keep going without concern.  On top of that, the volunteer refs that I have the  pleasure of working with work their socks (IC and OC) off.  It is a joy to be part of this team, and while there is always a balancing act between the reffing and the still being a player, there is nothing better than seeing refs get caught out by something they weren't expecting a player to do, or that random comment on the radio which they have to keep straight face for.

As noted before, then there is plot.  So much plot.  I don't know for certain, but this is something that seems to be unique in CP.  Certainly the explanation I have had from people who play other systems, is that CP the plot is there to find or to have "forced" on you, while other systems its up to the players to make the plot or hunt down the small number of things which are affecting the whole world.  To write all of this plot, there is only a small dedicated team (or set of teams, a faction will have their own little team of writers and then the world has its own little one as well).  To keep things going with just small groups of people is quite amazing.  The number of people I have seen who are saying the first thing they have done since getting home is starting to write or having meetings over next years plot.  It is seriously impressive that there are people in this system that are determined to make sure the players have fun and have something to do at every gathering.  To each of these people I raise my digital hat.

I can't deny that I was on the brink of stopping LARP recently.  Some of you may have already read my post on social anxiety and what it did to my first event this year.  I also know that personal life got in the way of quite a lot of my friends, and people who are important to me, from enjoying this event as well.  However, I think there has been enough for me to want to come back and experience the world of Curious Pastimes again next year.  Heck I've got a Banquet coming up soon which I really will have a lot of fun with.  The winter can feel like a very long and drawn out period of time before the next major event, but with hope I can make a few of the faction events and monster to my hearts content.

If you are interested, then have a look for Curious Pastimes on Facebook, there are a lot of different groups (the Unofficial page being a good start point) and have a look at all the things that go on there.  Hopefully I will have some photos on here soon too from some of the photographers that prowl the battlefield and the camps over the weekend (I just have to ask them nicely).