Dreaming of the Woods

The new season of Cottington Woods has begun. I was back in the Woods this past weekend, with a somewhat reduced number of PCs, and, temporarily, at a new site.

And this is what greeted me when I first walked into the cabin to put my stuff down.

Oksana the Chicken

I had forgotten that one other player, who often shows up early to the campsite, often brings this cute prop with him. When I first opened the door, I confused it for a real chicken. Startled the hell out of me.

Since the last season, we have lost a significant number of players, and gained a few new ones I don’t mind the reduced number of PCs — actually, while I know it causes some problems with budgeting for the staff, it does make the game feel more personal, like the cast of PCs is a more tight knit group.

The weather was not ideal — it rained during the day and froze over at night, so the ground was quite icy; I saw a large number of LARPers slip and fall, not just during combat, but often just walking around (myself included.) Luckily, I think we avoided any major injuries.

The site, a YMCA camp in Connecticut, was actually quite nice, despite several significant drawbacks. The biggest problem was that the large bathroom near the PC cabins had not been de-winterized, so we had to make longer trips to the single bathroom in the tavern at night, or else head over to monster camp. While the long trips  in the dark and the bitter cold (over the icy ground) weren’t ideal, the real problem, for me anyway, was the inconvenience it added to getting in and out of costume (particularly the make up and contacts.) I hope the YMCA’s staff for the campsite got an earful over this, but I doubt it’s a problem that is likely to be repeated.

The campsite was also double-booked — some of the cabins were occupied by a sorority. I never actually saw them, but it is something for LARP staffs to keep in mind if they’d really rather avoid any chance of non-LARPers hanging about.

But the larger buildings were nice and well heated, our cabin was roomy, and there was some interesting structures to use (like stages and balconies and narrow hallways and stairs) for the modules, which was pretty neat. I wouldn’t mind if we used this campsite again.

The largest plots for this weekend were focused around two warring races we have seen and heard very little of thus far — the elves and the goblins. Each was faced with its own major threat — the capital of the goblins was completely devoid of living goblins and taken over by shadows, and the elves were facing a fungal plague that was quickly spreading and driving animals and people alike mad. And both threats were starting to spill over into the Cottington Woods.

Quill

This past weekend I…

…fought ants, wolves, shadows, infected bees, werewolves, dragonlings, and a demon

…explored Mount OverMarsh, the lost capital of the goblins

…translated Goblin texts

…explored a Robber Baron’s tomb

…purged the corruption from the Anathema Stone

…entered a dream and observed the memories of a mad golem-maker and his dying wife

…helped heal the Burnt Tree

…met with Grandmother, the icon of witchcraft, who offered help on how to help a corrupted fairy

…made a very ill-advised bargain with a sinister fae to break my character’s holy vows

…rescued a PC from her own nightmare

…dedicated my Holy Sword and gave it a name

The Holy Sword Ceremony

The two plots that really ensnared me the most over the weekend were the plot of the mad golem-maker, Medigo, and his wife, Bethany, and the plot involving the corrupted fairy, whose corruption has been spreading to other fae and even several PCs.

Unsurprisingly, both plots have personal ties to my character. For context, golems are artificially constructed beings, like Pinocchio, who all come to life under unique circumstances, and my character is a golem (a wind-up doll who came to life.) Medigo the mad golem-maker is an NPC who has been researching how to create golems, using highly unethical research methods. In a desperate attempt to save his dying wife, he put her soul in the body of a golem (another doll), with some very undesirable results.

There were two factors that made this plot particularly engaging for me. One, we explored some of the plot through witnessing memories in a dream, which other characters have done before, but  it was still fairly new to me, and the dreams were quite interesting.

Two, it’s clear that the staff involved with this plot have been paying careful attention to our characters, and crafting the plot in response to how we have been interacting with their NPCs. Obviously, this is a feature of most forms of personal plot, but here it’s done unusually well.

In particular, golem-maker wrote a letter which included descriptions of several golem PCs and how our histories have influenced his research, and reading it was quite an experience for us. His description of how he was able to capture and torture a golem for study because golems are often lonely and therefore are eager to please was a bit shocking to read– it really hit home. It’s quite true of several golem PCs, including my own.

The corrupted fairy plot involves a fairy who has lost her heart, which represents her Purpose. This loss is the source of her corruption, and she has taken to drawing power from other fae and PCs to make up for her loss. This is a bit harder to go into for spoiler reasons, but Grandmother, the icon of witchcraft in the setting, has suggested we take bits and pieces of other fairy purposes (through bargains and pacts with other fairies — always a bad idea in fairy tales, and exactly the sort of bad idea I was hoping to experience when I signed up for a dark fairy tale themed LARP.) If this takes too long or proves unsuccessful, it could go very badly for several of the PCs, which has put a subtle undercurrent of tension among the PCs involved that is quite fun to roleplay.

As I mentioned last week, I had a few last minute projects for this event, centered around the dedication of my character’s Holy Sword. I decided a formal religious ceremony required formal robes, so I bought some red and parchment-colored linen and sewed something together, making it up as I went. Unfortunately, I ran out of time before being able to add the gold and black details I had in mind, but I suppose I can add that for next time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any shots of the new piece from the front, but here is a shot of the back with its alternating colored panels.

With a giant hole along the seam for the wind-up key

I also decided to create a personal coat-of-arms for my character and paint it on my massive shield. Here is the result.

Quill’s coat-of-arms

I named the sword Sweet Rhyme and the shield Pure Reason, which is a reference to The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I figure it’s alright to be referential — this LARP is littered with literary references.

Trying to use this shield in the Mount OverMarsh module, with it’s narrow hallways, narrow staircases, and smaller rooms, proved difficult. I feel as though I was in the way far more than I was helping. I think I will have to produce a smaller, second shield for indoor modules in tight spaces. I hate to think of how frustrated my fellow PCs probably were trying to maneuver around me. And I rather think the large shield played a role in a scary moment where one other PC and I got trapped on the wrong side of a door and overwhelmed by shadows.

The other small projects, besides the ceremonial robes and the shield, included a third attempt to embroider a TRUTH scarf.

TRUTH

I think third time was the charm. I just need to hem the top edge and add some velcro now.

And last, I put together a very simple banner on Friday (out of a curtain I picked up at a bargain basement when I was making banners for Cracks in the Orb). The staff had sent out a last minute request to borrow tapestries and such to decorate the tavern and make it look more appropriate to the setting. As one may have guessed from previous posts, I really like making banners.

a last minute banner

One interesting experience from the weekend that I wanted to share involved translating some texts we picked up while exploring Mount OverMarsh. It was a simple substitution cypher, with 26 symbols for the letters, and once we figured out which letter was which, it was largely left to me and one other PC to copy over the various texts into English. By the end of it, I had the Goblin alphabet and found the translation becoming faster and easier as we worked. I’d go so far as to say that Quill is now semi-fluent in written Goblin, and when several other players were looking for the solution key, I said “don’t worry, I can help you without it.” Obviously I haven’t actually learned a new language, but learning to translate the cypher was probably the closest experience I’ve ever had to having a character in a LARP learn a new skill.

Much to my delight, one of the other PCs, a Woman of Science type who is also interested in the creation of golems, brought in some styrofoam model heads for other PCs to decorate during a sort of lecture and workshop on golems. I’m always happy to see art projects incorporated into LARP.

Oddly, despite the engaging plots and enthusiastic PCs, I felt as though I was frequently out-of-character this weekend. I often felt as though I was behaving and speaking far more like myself than I was behaving and speaking like Quill. I had used all of my various methods for getting into character — listening to music I associate with the LARP in the few days leading up to the event, incorporating Quill’s unique personal scent and French manicured nails into my costume, and mentally reminding myself of various events in the Woods, and trying to go over how my character might describe them and react to various potential updates in my mind. But somehow, I think I slipped and often sounded much too human and much to coarse for this character, and that’s something I will be specifically focusing on at future events.

I’ve already registered for the next event at the end of May.

A few more shots to end on:

 

archery practice

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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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17 Responses to Dreaming of the Woods

  1. Tara Halwes says:

    The shield came out lovely! That’s great! I’m sorry it was too big but it’s very pretty. Also the lettering is reminding me of a mask currently staring down at me from the wall. Spooky.

    I wonder why you weren’t able to get in character as consistently as you wanted. Maybe just too long since the last game?

    • Fair Escape says:

      Thanks! I still plan to use it in big field fights (and honestly, it has a huge advantage — sometimes, when people go down in the dark behind enemy lines, you risk bleeding out just because no one can see you, or they think you’re an NPC. But if I get dropped, people always know it’s me.)

      I think you might be right — I think this was the largest gap in time between events, and that was probably a factor.

  2. Rick says:

    I’ve been playing Madrigal on that camp site for many years. It’s a really good site in many regards, but they have little regard for some of the issues of a LARP and telling them about these issues has done little good.

    It’s not uncommon for them to book the far side of the camp and randomly tell us right before the event that parts of the site will be unusable during certain hours. This is most troublesome for the cube, the mod building just up beyond the barn.

    It’s also not unheard of to find ourselves sharing space with some of the mundanes, especially in Madrigal where food service is provided and the two groups might be in the cafeteria building at the same time. It’s really only distracting when the mundanes walk through “our” spaces. It can be a little game breaking, but I’ve never found it to be a problem.

    Much more troublesome is when they’ll pick that weekend to reseed the field across from the tavern and put bright yellow ‘keep off’ tape around it. That’s jarring and removes one of the best battle sites.

    I’m betting the bathroom building was still winterized not because of failure to dewinterize it according to schedule but because of the long, unseasonable cold weather. I think the camp is probably not directly at fault on this one.

    All that said, I consider it a pretty decent LARP site. In my opinion it’s the best monster camp out there and I’ve seen a lot. Having a happy group of staff/NPCs can make a huge difference in the game.

    The cabins are pretty awesome, well built, well insulated (for keeping at least partially heated in cold weather) and the beds are comfortable for camp beds. The barn is a fantastic mod building and the tavern is pretty decent as a large, semi-IG-ish-looking building large enough to hold the whole player base comfortably.

    An extra perk for me is the cabin right on the water, down below the ring of cabins. It has a back porch, only accessible through the building, that is literally over the lake. I’ll happily sit out there when nothing else is going on (usually early morning) and play my flute out over the water. It’s so idyllic and it sounds awesome. I love that! 🙂

    • Fair Escape says:

      Booking two groups at once doesn’t really surprise or bother me — so long as they make it clear that that is a possibility (and don’t purposefully mislead LARP staffs) then it’s just a potential feature of the site. I don’t think I saw a single sorority person over the weekend (I did see a few people on Sunday during clean-up), and I don’t personally mind non-LARPers watching.

      (I also saw a guy walking a horse down the road on Sunday and shouted “Queen Equline’s curse is broken!)

      The notion that they regularly fail to either plan around weekends where the camp is being rented out or fail to warn LARP staff far enough in advance about things like reseeding fields. If a LARP has paid for the use of a field and wasn’t properly warned that the field would not be part of the deal (and I wasn’t worried about all LARPs getting banned from the site) I’d be inclined to ignore the yellow tape. (Then again, I can be unusually bitter and spiteful in these circumstances.) Same goes for any buildings that a LARP had every expectation of being allowed to use. (At the very least, I think they owe the LARP significant refund, but I doubt that happened.)

      I’m confused about the de-winterizing the bathroom thing. I was under the impression that the large bathroom near the sorority’s cabins was de-winterized. Am I incorrect about this? And if the weather is at fault, I’d be interested to know if the LARP staff was warned this was a risk, and if so, how far in advance they’d been warned.

      That all said — I agree, the buildings are fairly nice (roomy, well heated or able to be heated), the mod buildings are pretty cool and monster camp was fairly nice. And it lacks any major negative properties, like Camp F-That-Hill. (I feel I must disagree about the camp beds being comfortable — they felt like any other camp mattresses to me.) I can see why, despite the some of the inconveniences, LARP staffs would pick it.

      • Rick says:

        The sorority people were in Roskin Hall. It’s a big, multi-room building on the far side of the lake, about the size of monster camp. It has two large bathrooms in it, just like monster camp. It’s open year round and is in fact where the PCs stay for the winter revels, so it didn’t need de-winterizing.

        Camp F-That-Hill or Camp Stairmaster. Yup, nothing but hate for that one.

        I like the beds at this camp because they’re longer and wider than many and they’re sturdy and don’t bend when someone is on a bunk over you. They’re not 5 star hotel quality, but as camp beds go, they’re pretty good. When it comes to LARPing it’s all relative. 🙂

      • Gaylord says:

        From the NPC side, the sorority folks seemed pretty nice (based off the three contacts I’d heard about or was there for). They seemed to know what LARPing was, gave some folks a drive up to the NPC cabin from the far parking lot, and deferred the cube over to us for the Burning Tree mod (they were hoping to do a late night game of something there then).

        • Fair Escape says:

          That’s really nice to hear. (Though it does worry me that which buildings were available for whom and when wasn’t specified — what happens when the next group isn’t as understanding?)

  3. Terrified by Oksana. I feel like I must take credit for that one…

  4. JJ says:

    Yay decoding! You hit upon one of the parts of it that’s most fun for me, the moment when suddenly something clicks in your head and you’re just reading it, rather than going letter-search-find-write-down repeat.

    Also, liked Quill’s new robes.

    • Fair Escape says:

      This is the first time I’ve noticed it. It’s pretty cool. (Though of limited use unless the staff uses the same alphabet over and over… seems unlikely.)

      Thanks! It was kind of a last minute thing.

      • JJ says:

        Actually, in the other game where I play a writing based character, I habitually store all codes I’ve broken in my notebook in case they come up again. At least twice, plot has deliberately re-introduced a code later on, once as a clue as to who the bad guys were working with, and once a year on in a plotline because we were still fighting the same bad guy and they figured no one would remember it. Given that that appears to be the goblin ‘language’, I wouldn’t bet on it not showing up again.

        • Fair Escape says:

          In that case, I hope it does come up agani! Not gonna lie, I felt pretty cool when I was able to say “hey, no problem, I can decode that…” (…Although, I’m not terribly clear — is Goblin coded English? Or is this an abstract way of saying, “Goblin is related to English, and if you sit and work on it for awhile, you can figure it out.”)

          • JJ says:

            Yeah, I wasn’t super clear on that, honestly. Someone told me, “It’s goblin,” and I had a long moment of wondering whether I was allowed to work on decoding it since I don’t have the skill to read goblin, but eventually settled on doing it very visibly and mentioning it loudly in the presence of a staff member or two and hoping that if I was cheating they’d let me know.

            • Fair Escape says:

              Word from staff was that they forgot about the “Read Language” skill… so I think there’s some wires crossed in how some (or all) languages are treated. Hopefully in future events that will get cleared up. (Or… maybe I should ask in my PEL.)

  5. The shield and sword dedication was a pleasure to behold. Removing the white shield cover felt like magic. I was unaware that you had painted the shield. This event seemed to have a lot more Player driven fun on purpose. It was clever that way. The major Saturday night ritual was PC-written, with staff assistance only, which probably spared staff some time, and gave players something urgent to do.

    In terms of using the shield in tight spaces, I did not feel it was obstructive, but I get it. There are time when I head off without my staff in order to focus on casting (and avoid being frenzied). Having a mix of shields and weapons might be useful. I continue to have fun with the team non-human dynamics and look forward to more of that with the goblin-elf story line.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I’m really glad you like the dedication — I’d been looking forward to pulling off the covers for awhile. Waiting until the ceremony was hard.

      I’m also really glad to hear that not every single person felt the shield was in the way. There were a bunch of times I had to carefully maneuver it to torn it sideways just to be able to move. The shield is definitely useful in many forms of combat, but during the OverMarsh module, I felt distinctly as though I was annoying people, PCs and NPCs alike.

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