Im blundering through the woods, we heard another bunch of people run into the others. There was a flash of white light and whistles. They have probably been caught. They are close friends of the guy who found us out in the wild, but he’s not going back for them. They are a good distraction to get across this road, hopefully there wont be a truck loaded with Others while that’s going on. We run across the road and one of our number puts his foot in some standing water. We know what that means, we’ve got maybe three hours to get him onto a drip at the Gulag or he’s dead.
Then we see the white light of others torches and my hearts in my mouth.
The thing is I’m crew, a bunch of members of the Gulag have gone out looking for survivors and a couple of crew have been put in with the new players to bulk out numbers and to make sure the new players understand how horrific post ‘event’ Georgia is. My character is an NPC, it dosn’t matter if I die, but I don’t want to be caught by the Others. I’m lost in a forest, hunted by an unknown foe and at any moment I could stand in contaminated water or brush against a biological contaminate painted on a surface in poster paint. If it starts raining…well that’s a death sentence without medicine.
I’m crew, I shouldn’t care, but I do.
24 hours later I’m dancing to the Prodigy with a rictus grin on my face dressed in an orange boiler suite. The players have dubbed us Smilers. If we catch you we are going to eat you, all the time constantly dancing to the thump of Braintrees finest. The smoke and torches flung round as we dance reminds me of my teens, the rictus grins of my fellow crew members remind me of some choice horror movies. The night before, when we got to the Gulag the players had warned me about the smilers, that they were terrifying, that you could only hide from them. Their faces in permanent screams of terror.
The players need to sneak in to get yeast to make beer from, its a way of making sure they have something safe to drink. They only care about survival.
Gulag is based on eastern European scifi like ‘Roadside Picnic’, ‘Metro’ or the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Where western post apocalypse is all cars, shotguns and Tina Turner (yes I’m ignoring the Survivors.) Eastern European stuff tends to be more about just trying to stay alive and the grim reality of that situation. Gulag has that in spades. Set in a 2020’s Georgia, its the story of a bunch of people trying to stay alive in their Gulag, hunting for water, fuel and food. And that hunt is real. One of my highlights was sharing a biscuit with six people and savoring it.
All your food is provided for, in the form of tins without labels or scavenged MRI packs. However be warned that the food could be tainted (food colouring) or even radioactive (yes they have rigged cans to go off with a giger counter!). This brings me on to medicine. NBC is a thing and various things from radiation to chemicals are colour coded. Found blue food colouring in your apple? Well you are going to need a blue drip to live, good luck finding one…..
Even standing water is deadly, during our cat and mouse chase we checked each other over with ultraviolet light to make sure no one got splashed, just getting damp is a potential death sentence.
This is a game about survival, the players camp is bivies and plastic sheet. They aren’t camping in tents. The first event had four people who didn’t make it to the Gulag, they slept rough on the Friday night in bin bags hoping that the daylight would send the others to bed. This may not be the game for everyone.
However , much like every Eyelarp event, this is about community. The Gulag itself is made up of a tight knit bunch of people, they have come together as a community. They have had too. Food and water is scarce, its a society based on sharing and its bred a close group of people. My time in the camp with the players was a strange combination of generosity and paranoia towards me as a new arrival.
There was a very strange moment when I got into the camp talking to the players, I realised everyone had bought into this, everyone was happy to eat cold spaghetti and peaches, everyone was terrified of white light and everyone believed that it was better to hide than fight.
Gulag is an experience, an experience that isn’t for everybody. However if you don’t mind going a little hungry, sleeping rough and hiding in a bush in the middle of the night with only a red light for company, then Gulag might be the game for you.
Right of course with the whole Eyelarp thing I best get on with writing about ghosts and learn Roy Batties death speech…..for reasons…..