Why your permission to cry isn’t enough.

  • I talk about mental health, especially mine because talking about it normalises it for folk too scared to talk and it’s better than me picking up a baseball bat.

    A while back the Catholic church redefined hell. It’s not fire any more; apparently it is a cold empty void alone forever. I have a horrible feeling the Pope may have read the nihilism wiki entry or visited Slough.

    So I get to write about this stuff occasionally, me and my mental. My mental is sat in the corner staring at the moment; it’s got a satisfied smug look and is well fed, it’s got to eat really well recently, so I get five minutes off before I get it gnawing on my bones again.

    So why bring up hell? Well partly because it amuses that scaring people back into church is always ‘helpful’ and worth pointing out publicly for the shit it is, but because that analogy isn’t far off, that and I believe that the church takes a dim view of suicides.

    See that link? I could be local radio host with those skills….or present Top Gear…

    Thing is when it comes to suicide it’s a ball ache. Trust me, there’s too much logistics and maths. Working out CO levels, exchange rates for the more popular drug (it’s expensive) or trying to work out how to deal with your body and the note, it’s too much like hard work. You ever tried working out CO levels when you have depression? I can’t hold a conversation some days let alone work out
    parts per million.

    Why is this still a thing? I mean we all know about depression, there are cool memes and famous folk telling us its ok.  It’s mainly because contrary to popular opinion, it’s still not ok to cry. No it isn’t shut up, you are wrong, because it’s not about an external permission to cry.

    See if it was ok to cry, to say what you think, to be able to articulate how you feel without feeling judged, without feeling like a burden, without feeling like you are alienating people, without feeling that everyone else’s problems are more important, without feeling you are a weight dragging the world down you wouldn’t have depression. I mean you’d be quite dull, duller than a Brexiter complaining that British courts in are undemocratic, but at least you wouldn’t be depressed anymore.

    OK that’s flippent, a tad unhelpful and a little tabloid sensational, but when I cry I tend to do it in private. Why? It’s not because as a man I am unmanly, nope it’s because I’m conditioned to not want to hurt people. That sharing that pain just spreads it. There is an assumption that masculinity and the need to be a bloke stops men from crying, but often talking to friends it’s because they don’t want to be inconvenient, that they will just drag others in or that in their experience when they have opened up they have just been abandoned because it was too difficult to face for someone else.

    We are just being really damned British about it.

    In my echo chamber very few men don’t cry because they are manly men, most of the people I call friends have put that bullshit to bed (and in fact one of the joys of being a teacher is being able to challenge toxic masculinity at the coal face.).

  • Talking about mental health I have found myself alienated, probably by myself. I have been told I’m too negative (Yes depression does that….), been asked what helps and then ignored when I actually opened up and said ‘this helps’, told I shouldn’t talk about mental health as it’s not appropriate, been told that as a man I don’t understand what it’s like to be really depressed (cause mental health has a
    gender….arrggghhh), you are attention seeking (fuck you with bells on), told that it’s in my head (yes…yes it is….brain chemistry is in the head….), told ‘have you tried cheering up’ (no I was going for that whole miserable fuck vibe that chicks dig.) and my personal favorite. The joy of someone trying to push me into killing myself.

    Seriously if you have ever used suicide to amuse yourself, to bully or manipulate I pity you, you are a pathetic, abusive little sad excuse of a human. (It may have come up again at the weekend so forgive my poking of it, that and occasionally mentioning it amuses that the person involved probably flinches a bit.)

    So you learn not to cry, not to be a bother and you get metal robot suit to slap on. You get used to nodding and smiling for others because you can’t say help or I need you or just be here while I melt down because you ‘want to upset someone else.

    14956374_10153793369166076_5245848066838418032_n

    So how do you get to suicide from that?

    Well being dead is less of a bother for people around you, it’s a clean break rather than dragging it out hurting people and the feeling that you have no one to turn to because you don’t want to be a bother. That last one feels very British, doesn’t it? and weirdly passive aggressive too.

    And you are a bother because you have learned that depression hurts the people around you. You have learned you ‘should cheer up’, that ‘you are just being negative’, that you are ‘needy’, that some folk believe you would be better off dead. The fault is with you.

    What you have learned is that opening up is inconvenient, that its easier to shut up and not talk about it, that crying isn’t something you can give yourself permission to do.

    That’s the thing, crying, talking about it is with you. Being told you have permission isn’t enough, you need to give yourself permission and get past what you have learned and have faith that the people who give a shit will be there for you when you need them. Huh? Faith, back to the bloody church again.

    Hmmm, My mental is hungry again, and the suit needs sticking back on in case I offend or am too negative. I best get back to smiling, nodding and being understanding.

    Often opening up is a small steps thing, next time a mate opens with an ‘I’m a bit down’ maybe there is a chance that there is an iceberg behind that. Maybe if you stop and just listen they may be able to give themselves permission to cry.
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Hades

Self congratulatory ego blogs should be a thing, fortunately I haven’t got the ego or the smugness for that sort of thing. I’d rather talk about a thing from a technical point of view.

So Hades ran. And from what I have been told it ran well. So I’d like to talk about the things that guided me on it. Some bits will be vague because of the nature of a game based partly on mystery, but I will try my best.

The players had a hell of a punt with the event brief of ‘You have died, welcome to the underworld’ and I’m damned thankful they did. I knew it was a hard ask, and i knew it was going to lose me players (That and folk who want crunch, i’m not sad about that though). But it was a choice that was required to run the game, it was that or an insanely large wiki and i’m not as talented as Lrp dad.

Player first:

What do I mean by that? Well at its core it was about making sure the players acts mattered and no one ended up on ‘gate guard duty’ or was ‘Third shield bearer on the right’, that they were important, the things they cared about would be the focus (and allow me to beat them with those things) and that they could change the plot and world as it was written. Trust me rewriting on the fly is hard, but was damned worth it. Central to this was player backgrounds and how they interacted with the underworld, that no npc’s that would steal focus and the plot was not treated with any immutable reverence. Of course some of those backgrounds read like Mythic legends, some like Le Carre, some like political dramas, others like tragic love stories.

It was also about giving them firing artillery pieces and burying crew alive whilst making people cry.

If it was a rule it had to be hidden and if it was in the game area it had to be there in game:

I believe in rules light systems, no one wants to play Mass Effect and watch the calculations the engine is running in the back ground. Now if I was running a pvp heavy gankfest I’d be all over rules, rules that I’d get about twenty people from different systems to rip to pieces for me so I knew they actually worked, but Hades isn’t that game. For Hades to work it needed no calls, but I also wanted supernatural elements for the players to play with.
How we got round this was to make any rules part of the world, all easy enough to be explain in game and in character. The interaction of emotion and memory creating cool stuff, which we tried to use show rather than tell at the start with NPC’s who were there to explain things in character. There are no rules beyond ‘React to everything, don’t expect a reaction.’
Using weird powers in this works, this is partly down to an amazing crew who just want to enable the players (Trust me Enable is the right word) and the intentional small size. You will not have to do maths while being hit in the head here…..
The flipside was when players came into their powers…..wow. The powers that the players created on the fly (I only ever said yes or riffed with them IC on building them and made it really clear they didn’t need my approval unless it was something really odd.) were tremendous, tied to the characters in personal ways and in one case was mythic and has altered the underworld utterly by its existence. However not one of them effects game balance, is ‘a gamy item’ and doesn’t add to the world in a meaningful way.

Having one player rewriting the game through augary, another sending people blind with magic, another binding two factions to peace (or else) through mythic symbology and having players influencing the living all though rp, no dots were spent in ‘talk to person with pulse and influence their actions through role playing at them’ or ‘Manufacture pistol that fires the flames of hell’. Just cool ideas, I have a feeling red smoke is now shorthand for flamethrowers now………

The players were creating powers and items that were mythic, interesting and characterful.

And on items, we banned cameras from parts of the game. There were moments I wanted players and crew to just have little private moments that no one would ever see but them. I sort of torn by that as their was a beautiful vignette that would have made a beautiful painting that is only in the head of three people now, there is something awesome and a bit sad about that. I’m very pro photos at events, so the other thing I wanted was cameras embedded. So they had to either be hidden and no one saw them or part of the game…..Cameras have a huge mythos about them and the soul. Our two NPC photographers (Oliver and Oscar) not only got good shots, but as npc’s delivered amazing performances and helped one character unlock the powers a camera has over the soul. This was the sort of thing I was very keen on, everything being embedded in the game so there was nothing to break immersion. Hell without those two in character with their cameras the game would have lost a lot of its atmosphere.

On cooking I made a choice to make cooking IC and no food wagon. Other than the loos, there was no reason to leave the game area, which meant you didn’t have to have the jarring moment of going in and out.

Run the game I wanted to run and be damned:

I wanted to run something that was mine, and what I believe to be good and would enjoy playing. Lots of roleplay, combat that looks cool, trusting players with abilities that they could take the piss and break the game with, take risks, giving players the power rather than holding onto it, have an emotional core to the game and treat that as important as stabbing. Say ‘yes’ or ‘yes, but’ never no and every crew member gets a crack at a starring role npc. (We had an Airsofter with almost no lrp experience as part of the poker game for fetters as an British solider who had died in Afghanistan. He was great.)

I got lucky, I got a bunch of players and crew who bought in. To be clear, I still believe players make games work or not. The best writers or crew in the world can’t do anything if the players aren’t up for what they are running, but a bunch of players can have fun in a locked container full of rabid rats if they are the right players. When people make comments like ‘bloody players’ what they are forgetting the players are the core of any game.

All of that said, I wanted to run something I believed in with no compromise or I’d end up seeing it as a chore. So I did.

Another thing I got asked early on, why cap numbers? Well I don’t want to write for 40 people, I want to write for 20. If I want to write for 40 I can write for a mates game, I want to enjoy writing for 20 for me. Realistically if I could get away with it financially I’d run for 7 people, but to put on what I want that’s £160 pound tickets self catering isn’t going to work (Magnificent seven in the underworld should be a thing.)

Everyone had to be safe and respected in an unpleasant world:

It was an active choice to make the world of Hades gender neutral and that sexual violence as a topic was off the table, my politics and beliefs and my game. However when I got the players backgrounds in I soon realised we would have to deal with racism, suicide, domestic, violence and homophobia in this game. One of the two panic attacks I had going into this was ‘oh shit how do I do this?’ and then it dawned that racism would be a topic due to having so many different people from the past in the game and it I doubled down on that panic.

I just went with it and trusted my adult players.

To be really clear, my player base is amazing and we have systems in the game that allow players to explore themes in a way that means it won’t impact others, and going forwards I think I will have discussions about comfort zones. The one thing we ran out that was close to the bone, misfired (although not noticeably) in a way that I think meant it was better and less in your face.
The other thing was having a crew that was inclusive of each other and respectful. Even on Saturday night in torrential rain in the crew room and caravan everyone kept each other going and we’re supportive.

Yes I have drunk the PD cool aid, but that’s ok. ‘Cause you know, when did not being a dick become uncool?

Combat and coolthentic:

I wanted historically coolthentic rather than actually authentic. This is because not everyone has the budget and skills to do accurate and sometimes looking cool is more important than right. Everyone looked amazing. When the photo’s hit you can judge for yourself.

I wanted combat to look epic, and it did. When I turned round to see what could only be described as a ‘princess bride’ style sword fest going on between a Nazi officer and a Papist I was happier than I have been in a long time. People bought into cool fights, hell the musket on musket fighting looked like those desperate fights in Sharpe.

Which brings me onto guns. I knew I didn’t want airsoft as eyepro would look shit and I’ve seen airsoft vs hand to hand, it’s not fun for the hand to hand person. Nerf would look silly alongside the effort everyone had put into kit so it boiled down to shouting bang or going bang.

I went with blank firers, popper muskets and cap guns. In a small game they can work and mainly did (I may have developed a man crush when one player took a silent mimed shot to the shoulder and then explained the meta physics of why it had happened.). It also meant by being up front with ‘we are using blank firers’, we could also simulate artillery strikes in coming with flash bangs, flamethrowers with smoke, get players loading arty with bangs and smoke everywhere. Next time a field gun rather than a Neblewerfer.

Josh, do we have a tank?

So yeah that was my thinking behind Hades, that and all the stuff I rant and scream about as what I like in games. It definitely wont be for everyone and that’s ok. The idea that we have to go to events, that we have to like a thing or that there is a ‘right game’ or right way to run one is absurd, but this worked for me, the crew and the players at that time so i’m kinda happy with that.

Apparently it worked.

So Hades: Dancing Macabre and Hades: Odins fall are next allegedly……suppose i should write something……

I know some torch singers, a jazz band and can actually resurrect BB king from the dead? Right? Right?

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Hades fic.

So I’m running a game at the weekend, yes i’m terrified, yes i’m excited. It’s a good feeling.

I thought i’d share some of the fiction from it, intentionally vague, but gives a feel for what it’s like and about.

Hope

The women stood before the howling storm.

That consuming thing, of darkness entropy and despair. It rolled and pressed against the island like some sentient thing creature prowling, looking for a way in, a way to consume.

‘It wont be so bad, I mean you can catch up with old friends’ the man chuckled. ‘Lets be honest, there are worse things in life’

He laughed again at that. ‘Well in death, I suppose. Hope for one, I do so detest that.’

She turned and looked at him, his eyes twinkled under the dead stars above.

‘Why do you so hate hope?’ she asked quietly.

‘Because it’s a virus, it infests everything. It’s false and hollow, it’s not real.’ he smiled. ‘and you are the Typhoid Mary of it.’

‘But why hate it? It does you no harm.’ her voice was still calm and quiet.

‘But it does,’ he snarled. ‘Every last drop of it. Bitter to the taste, will you tell lovers there is a happy ever after? That the sick will get better? Lies, there is no happy ever after, no better, just this’ He gestured theatricly around him arms wide, his smile returning.

‘No there is no hope, just the cold hard truth of the grave. Everything dies, love, people, even your precious hope in the face of this.’

The women turned. Her floral dress, that was so at odds with the heavy combat boots she was wearing, fluttered in the face of the storm. She pressed her hand against his face.

‘Who hurt you that you became this? What…’

He cut her off, ‘No, you do not get to poison me with this, I wont play your little games. Remember what I am missy P, I’m not one of your strays. We have a deal.’

She stepped back, her hand hovering for a moment before dropping to her side.

‘Step into the storm, it hurts less if you don’t look back and you get what you want, you get…’ his smile did not reach his eyes as he chuckled again.

‘You get hope’

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Sharing

So today a fb thing about mental health popped past me, read it and yeah, normalising, talking about it was one of the things we need to do. So as I’m in a good place, let’s do this.

I’m pretty lucky, I can fake confidence when i don’t have to be around people and stuff like that really well, which gives me a platform to shout into the shit storm that is the internet from. Sometimes it’s reasoned and sometimes it’s a need to vent now before I go off the rails.

Writing about mental health, creating art about things that are somewhat darker than a bowl of fruit (Every time someone paints a still life, Jesus cuts someone.) is a bit of a privilege, and not in a tumblr sense of the word.

One of the things the article talked about was the stigma attached and that only through talking about these things we normalise it, and by that I mean the discussion of it as there is nothing ‘normal’ about going through this.

Occasionally I get messages about things I write about to say thank you, and that’s weird. Not because saying thank you is bad. It’s weird because one of the things I get to hear a lot is ‘I can’t talk about it with anyone.’

And that’s scary.

Because there is nothing more isolating than not being able to talk and the last thing someone needs with a head full of demons is isolation, even if we do it to ourselves. And not talking this time nearly cost me.

And I get it, actually sitting down and saying ‘help me’ or ‘This is bad’ is difficult. Everyone I have ever spoken to about this stuff has said the same, they felt alone, that it was only them, that they wished that they had someone who they could share with, but they felt they couldn’t.

Yeah you can post on fb (I tend to when I’ve hit a certain point, mainly as it’s a damned fine safety valve.) But actually sitting down and talking about it for real is hard.

So I’m going to talk about it, because if one person goes ‘Hey I’m gonna talk about this to someone.’ It’s a win in my books. If you don’t want to read it, feel free to move along.

Personally I’ve just come out of a bad one. Notes written, plan made, bad one.

It took a while to get to the point where I said help or in this case ‘I’m suicidal, don’t worry I won’t’, because my assumptions were that I could manage it myself (I’m very used to dealing with this on a weekly basis at times), no one wanted to hear it, no one actually liked me (yes, depression does warp your sense of reality, the reality is at least one person tolerates me.) and let’s face it suicide is not a word you just chuck about, well not if you mean it. Not if you actually comprehend the damage it can cause or have seen that damage up close and personal.

Now i’ve been through this before, its not my first rodeo by any sense, I know the theory, i know that talking matters, thing is when you get to that point rationality falls away.

How close? Well does it matter? (Put it this way, there’s no teletubby porn on my hard drive anymore.) Coming out the other side is what matters. Some folk read me right, picked me up and gave me the strength I needed to actually fight back.

So why didn’t I talk about it? I mean it would be actually much easier to say ‘hey i’m depressed and suicidal, here is why, help!’ wouldn’t it?

Well one of the reasons is you don’t always see it coming. Seriously it’s not like a sign pops up and goes ‘Hey buckle up fucko, this is gonna be a bit shit.’

You don’t notice till you are in it, I have warning signs that I and a few people know.

For me the biggy is ‘planning’ at that point I know something is up, at that point I need to do something. I can pin point the exact moment this bout got serious, but this time the warning sign slipped past me.

I can tell you now what the antecedents were and are, but at the time that kind of self analysis is pretty much outside of most people’s reach. The problem with catastrophic thinking is that it’s not logical and in fact often masks logic.

All the CBT, Mindfulness etc in the world won’t help if you aren’t able to access them.

It’s hard to talk about a thing that you can’t actually see.

But I digress, talking.

At the best of times I’m pretty quiet (seriously, spend some time with me, unless it’s a subject I know, I feel incredibly safe around you or I have got to know you pretty well, I don’t talk much. I am an archetypal nerd). Depression drives yourself into you pretty damned hard and often leaves you there once it clears up I wrote a whole thing about how it makes you feel a while back, but take it from me you don’t want to talk to people.

Especially to the people you need to help. Why? One is that you feel guilty for leaning on them, another is you don’t want to be judged by them and the third?

Well this genuine conversation

I’m suicidal, I need help’

Oh, is it my fault? Did I do something?’

Some comforting of person convinced that time they were slightly rude has led to your need to open up a vein, while in my head a different commentary is running.

No I suffer from an imbalance in my brain chemistry, a pile of unresolved horrors and can you take your fucking ego and stuff it up your arse this isn’t about you?’

No really, that happened, that is a thing. We spend a lot of time saying it’s not other peoples fault and it’s tiring, and can lead to a little bit of grumpiness. I’m getting cards made up for next time. ‘Its not you, it’s me.’

So what got me out the other side? Three things.

  1. The adorable present someone posted me…… (It was a London post mark for those interested.). Nothing like being told to kill yourself to stubbornly make you change your mind. I think that’s the last time I will mention that till I have a name to attach it to.

2. A promise.

3. But the main part was the people who were around me. The ones who didn’t let me push them away and gave me the biggest fuck you when I disappeared into myself.

Who made me talk about it, realised what I needed and got me there.

And it was that simple. Talking about it. Say how I felt to people who wouldn’t judge, would listen, didn’t care how bad it was and weren’t scared of the S word.

Obviously in a couple of weeks clear I will have the piss mercilessly taken out of me.

And at its core that’s  it, being able to say this is me, i need help. I mean there were some awesome drunken head rubs too, but it was mainly the talking.

Thing is, for a lot of people the perceived stigma attached to mental health issues opening up is hard, talking about it is hard, finding a voice is hard.

Maybe if we talk about this more, maybe if we share those experiences we might actually save a few more people, get a little more help. Be able to say ‘Hey i get it, I know how you feel cause, that was me.’

Me? Well this is with me for the rest of my life, i have a chemical imbalance (and a head full of crazy). I’m used to it, i get blips and always will. I live with that self destructive bit of me every day and most of the time he’s fuel for cool things, it’s just when he gets a bit uppity there is a problem.

What do I need to do? Well channel it as usual. Art and writing. Spend more time with the people who make me smile and try to be a bit more open about my head.

 

 

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PACT

So PACT that was a thing.

I haven’t gone to a new LRP in ages, mainly because of time, money and stress. Then out of the blue a mate suggested we go along and see how it is. Obviously this involves meeting new people and socialising which is ghastly, ghastly business to be sure however at thirty quid (twenty pre-booked) on a weekend I was going planning on spending starring over windswept moors in lashing rain I thought why not. That and it’s in Winchester so doesn’t involve cannibals or whippets.

Obviously my mate dropped out……

PACT is set in a world where four nations aligned to the four elements decide that the best way to stop killing each other over dwindling territory is to create a brand new continent with magic.

The players come in as members of the PACT exploring this new continent and creating magical stabilisers so that people can live on it.

With me? Pretty simple premise? Of course it’s never that easy. Between cranky elementals, bandits who shouldn’t be there, some strange creature that erases people, odd things with the flow of time, weird fauna and politics it’s not an easy ride. And that’s before players who understand PvP can just be arguing and no one has to die.

It’s a fun setting that I hope goes in just the right direction of odd and mysterious. There is plenty of scope for a world building like Lost (I liked it, shut up), Mysterious Island and other strange fiction style things. I was also reminded of Numaria and other stuff down those lines. OH and at least one charcter looked like they had stepped out of a Pathfinder illustration.

Other things I like about the setting is the lack of deities. It stops the pulling of focus from the elementals and the metaphysics of the world, but also means uber monsters that can’t be stopped won’t be delivering exposition to me like a soggy cold shit encrusted pizza.

To be clear it’s not The Last Airbender the Larp. It is it’s own very cool IP. The comparisons are easy to make if you are hard of thinking, but where (and I’m assuming here as I only saw the movie, NO you’re a Hollywood enabling monster.) the Last Airbender is the hero’s story and Jesus, this has more in common with Deadwood meets Indy Jones, via Lost. Also any comparisons to it being Green Cloaks fantasy are wrong, it’s its own beast and world. The rule set is similar (with my similar niggle with the through call, however interestingly there is a way of addressing this at PACT) and although its running a third gen rules set, the background feels fresh and focused.

So the system? Played Green Cloaks? Been to CP? Cool you got it, but without the niggles (by niggles, it’s the only system I have played regularly this year and my niggles are very much in hand). Now I’m not sure how PACT would scale, but I will get to that.

Character creation is pick a race, decide if you are attuned to an element, decide if you have some/no/or lots of mp vs hp and then pick skill points. In a moment of comfortable nostalgia, there are skill trees! This is a moment of bliss that my inner nerd grinned at.

Straight out the bat you will be able to do ‘cool things tm’ and this made me smile. The ability to be good at combat from word go, or be a good crafter or a good mage or a adequate at lots of stuff was joy making. It felt like the ref’s were saying ‘Go be a big godamn hero/villain, just don’t be dull.’ There was a real vibe of you are actually the best of the best, rather than supporting characters for NPC’s.

Also kicking a few systems up the arse and reminding them that not everyone wants to be a mage. Want to research? Well guess what you can learn to do interesting things with a sword without being a wizard. I’m yet to see if this is a thing that requires NPC stroking, but the very fact that you can be a fighter who can personalise (within a very specific frame work of named things) proof that the team are invested in giving every character a chance to shine. Obviously as the game grows this could lead to queues, but I think that actually the team will address it.

There is a bit of me that goes ‘OMG power creep’, but at the scale its at at the moment it isnt an issue, and remember its at its second game and hasn’t been exposed to power gamer’s yet. I have no doubt that they will try and make sure this is balanced before Cunto the magnificent turns up throwing out thirty knockdowns in every encounter

Personally I built a pure non magical paladin-lite fighter to see if a game that has so much invested in its metaphysics and magical background could give me stuff to do other than punching things. (That and prove I can play something other than morally ambiguous trauma gowning knife merchants.)

And it did, I had fun. The fighting was fun, the role-play was great and the players where really nice. I don’t say that lightly either. The people there are positive and non toxic, which is a thing I’m looking for in systems these days. If they ran next week I’d go again. Now that could be down to it being new and shinny or because the other players were so much fun to be around, but I think it was mainly down to it just being fun.

From Dante (Think Burke from aliens, if Burke was representing a mages guild and was a ninja.) to THE BEST DWARF EVER every character was role-played rather than being a pile of stats. Not only that but when time out rolled round everyone was still welcoming and not twats. There was no elitism or cliquishness. Hell I’ve actually made a couple of friends, and i hate people.

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‘I’m Dante, I work for the guild, but don’t let that fool you, I’m a really ok guy’

 

So it was welcoming, the system doesn’t offend, its background is interesting and I want to see what mysteries await, what are the negatives?

The current site is a little small, that said it was used creatively and with panache, and the need for a stabiliser when you left camp meant that foraging parties stayed together and didn’t go too far.

Crew size. Actually it worked well at this ratio, however I can see that as more and more players go there will be a need for more and more crew. This was their first weekend event I believe and only their second ever. Down the line they will need more crew, this is me hinting that a genuine grass roots game might need crew and support. From the right sort of people.

More players…….There is a horrible moment when you go to a great small game and know that if you say something positive people will come to it. And some of those people will be toxic twatmonkies that need to be on fire. There are people I could name that would spoil a small system like this that is just starting and I genuinely hope they don’t turn up. I’m a elitist prick some of the time (Yes only some.), but the reality is that this game actually looks balanced (long term play will obviously give a few bumps.) and its actually fun. You know fun, before the advent of facebook and meta gaming. So I hope that the collective horror show that is the worst of our community don’t turn up.

It was a game with wonder, mystery, adventure, romance, rivalries and Pilates.

Other than obviously being the center of attention and head massages, The things that stood out more than anything was the flexibility of the crew.

When players wanted to do a thing, nine times out of ten they said yes. Obviously not yes to ‘You can have this because you are a whinny/bribing/ bullying little toxic twat who won’t shut up till you get it’, but yes to things that developed characters, messed up their finely crafted plots or things like us just straight up making Saturday afternoon about players chasing players (Why that Guild, I oughta!). I genuinely hope that I can say ‘yes’ with as much good grace when I get that choice.

But this bit sums up how I felt about the game. Dawn playing an NPC. We had caught her up to no good and she gave us a good five minutes to make sure she couldn’t get away before she made a break for it, and even then she didn’t blink out of existence until she put some decent distance between her and her pursuers. An important NPC that could have died there and then.

The appearance is that the NPC gave the players all the time into the world to catch the baddie, but we screwed up. This is good. I screwed up rather than having my agency as a player stripped from me by flange, but more importantly that story arc continues not because ‘It had to so we have to flange’, but in the grand scheme of failing up. We cocked up, we get the reward of more plot and an attack by a giant metal construct.

If they keep that sort of thing up, it’s going to be an amazing system.

Oh and as a little aside, the caterers. Conspiracy Catering. Was a little bit impressed. Apparently they stepped in at the last minute and you would not have guessed. Also three quid for tea all weekend is pretty much a win in my book.

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Consequences

There are consequences for actions in life, often crappy ones that can’t be avoided. Why should we tolerate them in a game? I mean its escapism right?

Because it, especially when its their actions that caused it. Sure fighting the big bad is fine and all that, I’ll get right on collecting that rod of many flanges in a minute, but facing up to the action you have made makes for a better experience.

My favourite moments in Larp, have always been down to my characters actions, or inactions, coming home to roost. Now don’t get me wrong it took a while to get used to this, but ultimately it makes for a more satisfying game. I have lived a year under a death sentence for my actions as a space wizard, Lost loved ones I have never told I cared, I have had loved ones threatened at Empire, been talked out of death and playing the spying game elsewhere has had to many close calls to mention.

In life the world and other people push back at the things we do, we do not exist in a closed system. Every social interaction, every mistake we make drives who we are and shapes us. Often it is adversity and how we deal with it that defines us. If I punch my boss on Monday I will pay for that, in spades. Not ideal so I don’t. If I punch my boss in a game, well I should expect similar consequences.

And that’s the thing, if you don’t want your character to pay for their sins, don’t do it. Step away from the two year old mindset of ‘Its not fair, just because I beat Bobs pet shrew to death, why is he picking on me?’ or ‘How do I make sure I don’t have to pay for this?’ The old adage of if you can’t do the time etc springs to mind. Ultimately you have control of what your character does, personal responsibility goes a long way.

Don’t murder if you don’t want to pay for it if you get caught, don’t steal if you wont pay the piper and don’t be a dick if you cant handle the social fall out of what you have done.

The thing is our minds are hard wired into the game part of winning, but if we step back and take a look at the stuff we like in stories our protagonists often do things and have to deal with the consequences of their actions and how much cooler the narrative of our experience is we will have more fun.

How much cooler is it to stand up in front of a judge for that shrew killing and either die unrepentant, weasel out of it or plead for your life? That’s an experience you wont have and a moment that will be remembered if you try and hide from it. Also think about the other players, its a shared experience. Your victim gets to see you go down, all the people involved either get to grieve or be victorious. You get to be the hero or villain in scene just for you and you get to provide a bucket of game for those around you.

Its not just the big stuff though, screwed up? Embrace it, role-play the crap out of it, something as simple as a silly joke can lead to an entire story arc that dosn’t need a plot writer or reffing that you have to play with during the dead time while the crew are gorging on chocolate amphibians. Oh and trust me something that comes out of an interaction between players will be twenty time better than an npc turning up and demanding shrew bones for a peace treaty.

I guess what I’m saying is let go and enjoy the things that you cannot help, it might make sitting around for the next plot drop more fun, or more importantly make the next plot drop irrelevant because you have your own personal apocalypse to deal with.

In embracing those moments you get to be remembered, no one remembers the person who kills mooks all day, no one remembers the murderers who never get caught, no one mourns mary sue and who really cares about the Larp love affair that runs smoothly?

In real life the consequences of our actions can be horrible and unfair, but in Lrp they are epic stories that in many ways are cathartic. I can honestly say my best moments in Larp have come from not running from the things I have done and trust my taking your hits, in whatever context, have made me smile wider than a chocolate frog that has escaped the crew room unmolested.

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Crewing Gulag.

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…..

tins

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…..

backpack

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