Fifth Gate recently held the capstone event for its first year.
For those unfamiliar, Fifth Gate is a new boffer campaign in New England, comprised of two separate halves. One half, Wrathborn, is set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world, overrun by hordes of undead, and the PCs play survivors. The other half, Silverfire, is set in a high fantasy world ruled by the Silverfire King, who five years prior to game start lead an army defeat the evil Ebon Order, and the PCs play champions who fought in that war. Each half has one event per season in the spring and fall, and both halves come together for one massive event in the winter, when the two worlds collide.
It was this unusual structure that compelled me to sign up; in every other campaign I’ve had the opportunity to play, the intended cast of PCs for every event is more or less the same. So I signed up to play an archer in Silverfire and tried, with varying degrees of success, to avoid learning spoilers about the Wrathborn world (and similarly, tried my best to avoid the Wrathborn players on our world.) The first event in the spring and the second event in the fall were a lot of fun, and I’ve been looking forward to this winter combined event all year.
(Sidenote: most people, staff and players alike, have been referring to this event as the “crossover” event, but I’ve been trying to avoid that term because there is a new campaign starting in 2016 called Crossover, and it can get somewhat confusing.)
I knew this event was likely to be pretty cold, so I spent the month or so leading up to it working on a new winter coat out of gray shearling, white fur trim, and lace for my character. It turned out to be quite warm and cozy.
At the close of the fall Silverfire and Wrathborn events, both Champions and Survivors found themselves on the paths between the worlds. At the beginning of the combined winter event, we entered into a previously unknown world, and promptly got attacked by the hostile Wayward Legion. The Champions and Survivors discovered one another while fighting this common enemy, and this kicked off a weekend of getting to know one another and learning about one another’s worlds, as well as working together to untangle the paths so that we could each get safely home. (Though I don’t think all Survivors want to return home…)
It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing — one major roadblock to peace and cooperation was the Survivors discovering that one of the six Orders of the Champions are undead; every undead they had encountered thus far was their enemy. And one group of Survivors gain power through angelblood, which upset the Champion Order that venerates angels. But over the weekend, we worked through it, learned a great deal from one another, discovered some surprising connections between our worlds, and uncovered much of the cosmology of the worlds.
I was rather impressed with how well the staff handled unusually low ratio of NPCs to PCs. A number of modules emphasized cooperation — for example, the PCs had to perform a ritual that involved a complex manner of arranging themselves while monsters harassed them. Other modules involved friendly PvP — an NPC came by to run a lesson in leadership, which involved the PCs dividing into groups based on their leadership styles and fighting one another. Other modules emphasized avoiding monsters, rather than confronting them head on — for example, I joined a group searching for small purple flowers in the woods while avoiding the poisonous bite of a pair of beasts. Of course, lots of more standard boffer weekends include modules and challenges like these, but Fifth Gate put a special emphasis on them and more effort into making them unique. It made me think of something a friend of mine said to me — somewhat ironically, events with the higher shortages of NPCs are often his favorite, because it forces the staff to think outside the box when designing plots and challenges for PCs.
Additionally, the staff created two spaces with ongoing content– a casino for gambling, and the Sanctum, which was like a library and a temple in one. I hear players could win information in the casino as a prize there, but I never made it into the casino, myself, a testament to how well the staff kept us busy over the weekend.
The Sanctum had a lot of texts to read, puzzles to solve, and instructions for a variety of rituals to perform. The rituals were all designed to enable Survivors and Champions to get to know one another better through roleplay. The puzzles were presented to us on the sides of boxes — solving all five of the puzzles of one box (one side contained instructions) allowed the PCs to open the boxes. (Sadly, we solved many puzzles but never managed to solve all five of any given cube, so the contents remain a mystery.) Again, this kind of thing does pop up in other LARPs, but Fifth Gate took special care to develop it and ensure there was always something for everyone to do, despite how much the PCs outnumbered the staff and NPCs.
But it wasn’t just the crafted content designed to keep us busy that filled the weekend. As I said to a few other LARPers when the weekend drew to a close, often as PCs settle into a campaign, they form cliques and largely stick to them when hanging out during downtime in the tavern. I’ve joined campaigns in the middle of their runs, and felt like I was very much behind on current events and uncovered information on the world, but it was difficult to find people willing to patiently explain everything from the beginning. Having the Survivors, a whole group of PCs new to my character, around meant there were always plenty of new people around, well developed characters eager to talk and share information and learn from one another. And that was a lot of fun.
Highlights of my weekend include a battle against cultists from the Wrathborn world, during which I had an angelblood alchemist Survivor as a bodyguard and a battle in an arena to help a trapped thunder dragon (storm sound effects were used to great effect.)
We had two final battles on Sunday — first the Survivors had to fight Silverfire knights from the Silverfire world, then the Champions had to fight undead minions of the Wrathborn Emperor from the Wrathborn world. These two fights were particularly brutal and resulted in a number of PC deaths. Sunday morning usually doesn’t have the most challenging battles, but I think this was a particularly good way to close the event, as it impressed upon both the Champions and Survivors the enormous difficulties the other group faced in their home worlds. I know I came away from the fight with my respect for the Survivors considerably increased, and I was not the only one.
I couldn’t mention highlights of this weekend without mentioning the campsite — it was a bit smaller than I’m used to, but the buildings were really quite nice, especially the cabins the PCs slept in. I like to think I’m perfectly happy to rough it for a LARP (I usually opt for a tent over a cabin if I can), but the cabins at this campsite felt particularly luxurious compared to the accommodations at other campsites, and it really enhanced the weekend. Our cabins were solidly built, free from wildlife infestations, relatively roomy, and, best of all, were heated and had bathrooms. No ten minute walks in the middle of a freezing night to reach a bathroom; we had two bathrooms — with showers! — right in our cabins. My warband, the Eyrie, hung up lots of fabric and string lights for ambience, and created a cozy atmosphere. (I hope the three Survivors sharing a cabin with us found it welcoming.)
I’m really glad I got to play in Fifth Gate — it’s really cool to see people experimenting with the underlying assumptions of how a campaign is usually structured. I hope this will create inspiration for more experimentations. We have one more event with Survivors and Champions together — a one day event in January, before we split back into our separate events, and I can’t wait!