The House That Cotting Built – Part II

Quill, the wind-up doll turned priest

Cottington Woods opened with the characters all gathered around a caravan that was making its way to Cotting House (the inn at the center of the enchanted Cottington Woods). We shuffled around, introducing ourselves and waiting to be lead by guides through the woods in groups. Before the LARP, I had this vague concern about my character concept- I didn’t have much figured out for a personality, and I was worried she was going to be a cliche. Like a poor copy of Star Trek‘s Data, monotone, with little to no agency.

Kind of strange and amazing how you can sometimes realize stuff about LARP characters without making a conscious decision, isn’t it? I didn’t decide Quill was feeling lost and maybe a little overwhelmed when the game started, I just sort of realized it. I stared around at the colorful assortment of strange people, not speaking until spoken to. I tried very hard to move the way a living wind-up doll might, with very slow motions and some quick, jerking motions. (I was inspired by the first 15 seconds or so of this video.) It was difficult to maintain the entire day, but I think it helped keep me in character.

Being introduced to my fellow golems felt a lot like being a dog introduced to other dogs. Imagine a big eager puppy (played by the lovable scarecrow golem, Hay) being intoduced to a slightly shy, somewhat wary, well-trained little show dog and you pretty much have the feel of it from my point of view. (I don’t mean that negatively at all.) No one hesitated to ask how we were made and how we woke… I suspect all of us golems have “figure out how we came to be and why” as personal plots.

The path to Cotting House through the woods was well done by the staff, I thought. The path was surrounded by wolves prowling and skulking through the trees on the slopes above us, and some came close snarl at us. It was very tense, though there was no violence on our run. (I heard one or two of the other groups did get into a skirmish.) We also encountered some moving trees and plants, who seemed very curious and concerned about us and threw leaves at us as though to try and make is into something that made sense to them. I particularly enjoyed how they seemed especially puzzled by the unnaturalness of the wind up key on my back. Some of the tree costumes were huge foam things propped up on the shoulders of the NPCs, with mournful faces carved into them. I was very impressed, and I loved how expressive their movements were when they leaned down close to inspect us.

Some of the shorter costumes were ones I made and donated- it was really cool to see them in action, and I’m looking forward to making more for this LARP.

The sandmen, the characters who interact with dreams, moved through the dreamland in their own group and dealt with a nightmare along the way, which I thought was a cool little bit of plot for them.

Any worries I had prior to the event that it would be very lightly plotted with a lot of downtime proved completely false for me. Once at Cotting House, we started meeting all the really cool NPCs, including the Spirit of the Forest, and an adorable gingerbread man. Some PCs went into the nightmare of a woken tree. An NPC shared a puzzle her great aunt had left her. A reporter came around looking for stories and spread some rumors of his own. I gave him a few. We fought more wolves, who demanded to face our “alpha”. (One of the PCs, impressively, fought and beat their alpha wolf  one on one.) Some PCs went off to deal with a runaway train with a princess on board. A shepherd named Blue (bearing a horn, naturally) needed help herding his sheep. A ghost wandered the Cotting House, confused and trying to act out his previous duties. A bull brer came looking for someone to help him get a special anvil for a forge. The remains of a caravan were found with a single survivor and a strange herb in a locked chest. Some NPCs came by wanting to teach us a sport called “Sticks and Stones” (though it was too dark.) The Spirit of the Forest came by multiple times to bring people on quests for flowers needed for a ritual to integrate the Cotting House with the forest. I went on one such, and a PC cleverly tricked some goblins into trading a stick for the flower we wanted.

One of my favorite bits (as a player… this was probably the worst bit for the character) was the death of the gingerbread man. Sometime after the baker wandered off with him in tow, we found a giant baked gingerbread foot by the kitchen, with tons of crumbs and some gumdrop buttons and frosting (pom-poms and rickrack.) There was some doubt as to whether he was actually dead or this was only a staged death (the rickrack might have been a different color from the costume.) It was a very powerful use of the sense of smell for a LARP- as I moved closer to the crowd that had gathered by the kitchen, I could smell fresh baked gingerbread. I went running to one of the PCs who had been the most vocal in terms of treating golems as humans, who was right on the case.

Another favorite bit was meeting a Man of Science (actually a woman PC) who seemed fascinated by my character and very impressed by the “craftsmanship” that went into making me.  She roleplayed out being impressed by all of my articulated joints. It was rather gratifying to see someone react so strongly to my character concept.

Another favorite bit was a short module where I went along with the sharply dressed, somewhat goth family who was fascinated with death to a graveyard where the dead where restless. We met a raven, dressed in black with a big hat on, who said his name was Nevermore and that he liked to watch the graveyard, but wasn’t its keeper. He had a wonderfully scratchy voice and cheeky attitude. We put the dead to rest, returned them to their graves, and then the lady of the goth family sang a dirge for them.

Speaking of songs, a bard bird brer (say that three times fast) sang a funny song about a man trying to give the king the bird, and then later during dinner, someone performed three songs that had the whole room singing and clapping along. (One was The Scotsman, one was No, Nay, Never. Didn’t know the third, but it was quite good.) Gotta love it when music enhances a LARP.

At one point, two NPCs- the son and daughter of farmers- came running up, excited and a bit frantic, looking for someone to marry them. Being a priest, I volunteered and ad-libbed a ceremony. I mostly used the standard one (“…do you take this man, in sickness and in health…”) but I tried to toss in a line or two referencing the religion of the setting Written Word. “We are here today to write the story of the marriage of this man and this woman…” I suspect (and hope) that future events will have the family members that drove them to elope will come looking for information.

The event culminated in a battle to defend the ritual with the flowers that would make the Cotting House be able to coincide with the forest- we fought off trees that objected, and then struck a bargain with the angry tree who’d been leading the arboreal forces against us. At the end, an NPC came out and read a passage from a book, written to sound like the end of a story describing the events of the day. I guess it was meant to make us feel like we really were characters in a fairy tale.

A few things I learned about my character… I’d been worried that her blank-slate sort of persona would mean I couldn’t justify in character why I would be following any and all plot hooks and going on as many modules as I could. But once the event began, I realized there was something in my backstory that not only justified it, but pretty much compels my character to go wherever someone might be in danger.  (Won’t go into detail here, in case fellow PCs are reading this.) I also realized her origins as a little girl’s toy means it makes sense for her to like things like song and dance and petting soft sheep. Also, I thought I might tire of never showing emotion, but now I realize that while it doesn’t come naturally to Quill, when faced with very emotional situations, she’ll react pretty strongly. (Such as seeing the body of the gingerbread man, both because she liked him and because knowing he was eaten has certain implications about how the personhood of golems is viewed.) And various questions were raised… do golems have blood? (Maybe some do?) Do golems have souls? Suddenly Quill needs to find out.

I’m still figuring out her mannerisms- as I’ve said, it’s hard to keep up the combination of slow and jerky motions. I’ve also been staring a lot, especially when I catch people looking at me. I keep my eyes open when I get knocked out. (Dolls with movable eyelids don’t close their eyes unless they’re actually prone.) I’m really looking forward to working on this some more.

Few more costuming thoughts- I think the priestly aspect of my character came across, the dolly aspect less so. The creepy, soulless eyes were very effective, but the make-up could have been more distinctive. I think next time I will draw the lashes on much longer and darker, and pick a lipstick for the middle of my lips (to create a pout- you can see an exaggerated version here.) Maybe add little bows to my hair, I dunno. I’m planning to invest in (or make) some kind of travel bag for all of the make-up stuff, since I’d like to be able to apply it as quickly as possible- no more digging through plastic bags filled with toothbrushes and contact solution. The wind-up key needs to be completely redone- it looked cute but flopped too much and eventually fell off. I’m looking into other materials. (Suggestions welcome! I need something soft enough not to hurt anyone I bump into, but stiff enough to stand out off my back on its own.) The scarf served its purpose well enough, but it needs to be redone so that the lettering is over my mouth and it will stay up and cover my nose in the cold. And of course, I need to finish the benediction.

Plus, you know, I still really want to make some silly lacy bloomers.

I’ll end this post with a note on my journal. The priests of the Word are tasked with recording things, so a number of characters are keeping in character journals. I have a nice little brown leather-bound journal that I got at Barnes and Noble, and I kept three pens- black, gold, and silver, in my pockets to write things down. I tried to use the silver and gold to decorate the pages a bit in the manner of illuminated manuscripts. So far, it doesn’t look great because I’m trying to force a fake handwriting as fast as I can without planning out the composition of the page in advance, but it’s still fun to do, it makes total sense in character (surely a religion that venerates the Written Word would have illumination!) and it’s going to make remembering things for my PELs (post event letters) much much easier. And I think it’s going to make a neat memento of the whole LARP once its through.

All in all, a magical day.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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4 Responses to The House That Cotting Built – Part II

  1. JakeG says:

    Maybe one of those blue foam camping pads would work for cutting out a wind-up key? Not sure what the best means of giving it a brass color would be, though.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Joann Fabrics has a few options I never noticed for foam… I’ll probably try a couple, and see how they like spray paint. But if those don’t work, I now have your idea to try, too! I think the biggest issue is figuring out how to get it to stand up off my back- I’m gonna need a more complex rigging than just velcro, I think.

  2. John Mangio says:

    Once upon a time Michelle and I played in a different fairy tale LARP. Michelle played a fairy and had these awesome, really pretty wings that folded down and were virtually unnoticeable unless she drew the string and raised them. (I say they were awesome because, well, I built them. 🙂 In any case, I would suggest that you make the wind up key removable, but carry it around on your back like an archer would a bow. You’d still have the interesting effect of having to have someone wind you up, but at the same time you wouldn’t have to worry about bumping it into things. You could make it rigid so it wouldn’t flop around.

    just a thought.

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