Recently, the boffer campaign Fifth Gate held its final weekend event of its three year run. The Survivors of the Wrathborn world and the Champions of the Silverfire world came together one last time to determine whose world might be saved, whose world would be destroyed, and what the future for the people of both worlds might look like.
To summarize the premise of the campaign for those unfamiliar: Fifth Gate is a boffer (live combat) campaign that uses the Accelerant system. It is actually two campaigns in one: one campaign takes place on the high fantasy Silverfire world, and the other on the post-apocalyptic steampunk/steam fantasy Wrathborn world. Each of the two worlds has one spring event and one fall event, then the two worlds come together for a crossover event each winter. (We’ve been trying to call them the “capstone events” to avoid confusion with another boffer campaign called Crossover.)
In the final event of Fifth Gate, the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn met at the threshold of the Fifth Gate (some of us are trying really hard not to call this the Threshold event because there’s also a campaign called Threshold). We’d known for sometime that we had an impossible decision waiting for us as soon as we arrived. Both the Silverfire King, the great enemy of the Champions, and the Wrathborn Emperor, the great enemy of the Survivors, were on the brink of Ascension to immortality, which would destroy their respective worlds in their wake. We had the collective power to prevent only one ascension, which meant moving the entire civilian population of one world to the other for their survival, then siding with either the King or the Emperor in a battle against the other.
In the year or so leading up to this final event, we’ve been gathering information about the two worlds and various other cosmological factors (including Ruin, the opposing force to Power, Power being the force wielded by the Champions, Survivors, Silverfire King, and Wrathborn Emperor).
For me, barring any cosmological factors that would involve the safety of multiple other inhabited worlds (which there were, but I’m not going to go too deep into them here) the biggest factor was the size of the refugee populations and the state of the world that would be receiving them. Silverfire’s population was listed at 243 million, Wrathborn’s at 37 thousand. Beyond that, as a post-apocalyptic world, much of narrative from Wrathborn was around struggling to provide for its population — it barely had any resources or infrastructure. The refugee crisis we would be creating defied imagination.
An NPC had given us some kind of estimation that an equal number of people would die from hunger on the Wrathborn world as would die in the wars on the Silverfire world. To be honest, this was the point that interfered with my suspension of disbelief, and though I suspect this information was intended to be taken as reliable, I found myself primarily arguing about how illogical this seemed to me during the hour long discussion leading up to the vote on Friday evening.
I had also heard a fellow Champion confidently predict the Survivors would vote to save their own world, and the Survivors outnumbered the Champions. I suppose I might have spent the hour trying to talk people out of it, but this seemed hopeless for someone who had missed the last year of events, so instead I spent it fuming and making dire predictions about how long it would take before people began resorting to cannibalism (I’ve done some morbid wiki-binging on the subject). I made several of my fellow Champions promise to burn my body should I die on the Wrathborn world.
When I wasn’t fuming and speculating about cannibalism, I was chasing down NPCs and trying to convince them to enable me to commit an atrocity; unsurprisingly for out-of-game reasons, none were willing. I will probably save the details a future post summing up my thoughts on my character.
At on point, an emissary of Ruin arrived to offer us a third option — let Ruin win on both of our worlds, which would save both worlds but permanently cut us off from Power. I do think, both in- and out-of-character, this was the right choice (though it would have spelled the end for all of the undead Champions from the Order of the Veiled Ones), though Cricket was selfishly relieved it wasn’t chosen. I suspect this option might have stood more of a chance if it had been introduced earlier, but it very few selected it, though a number more might have if they thought it stood a chance. (Cricket would have, but by the time she cast her vote, it was mathematically impossible for Ruin to win.)
I was shocked and relieved when they announced the Silverfire world won the vote and then was immediately flooded with guilt for having doubted the Survivors and having expected them to vote to create hundreds of millions of refugees. But in actuality, we hadn’t voted to save the Silverfire world — we had voted to try to save the Silverfire world, and there was still a battle to fight.
Between the vote and the big battle, I went on three modules, and spent time solving puzzles to open some boxes that would reveal information on how we could influence the nature of the Wrathborn Emperor as an immortal in the moments leading up to his ascension, a brief window during which he was vulnerable to suggestion.
The big battle itself was something like a four hour ordeal, during which we held off the forces of the Silverfire King while trying to earn the ability to influence the Wrathborn Emperor. (This involved denouncing the Silverfire King dramatically after defeating one of his lieutenants — it was often lost in the din of combat, but it was a rather satisfying mechanic nonetheless.)
Occasionally, the emissary of Ruin would try to break free and corrupt one of our Gates to gain access to our worlds, and groups of Champions and Survivors would split off to stop him… In retrospect, some of us wished we had tried to help him succeed, as that is essentially what we might have voted for, had we taken the third option. This was almost guaranteed not to succeed, but… I think it would have been a really nice role-playing moment to try.
When it was my turn to join the group trying to influence the Wrathborn Emperor by instilling him with Compassion, I went into a building on the side of the field where the battle was being fought. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what methods we were expected to use to instill him with compassion. Inside, we found the ghosts of his mother and father… and a little boy wearing the Wrathborn Emperor’s crown, sitting alone at the far end of the room.
This moment was among the highlights of the weekend for me — one of the most impactful and emotional, where my character’s feelings washed over me. Many LARPers call this experience “bleed”. (The other two highlights were the moments where the results of the vote were announced and then later, when the Wrathborn Emperor ascended.) I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the child was played by an actual child, rather than an adult who either needed some sort of verbal roleplay cues from the other NPCs and/or other visual cues (I don’t know, maybe a teddy bear and a lollipop?) to indicate that this was a child, one who would one day be the Wrathborn Emperor.
The sensation of shock upon seeing the very young NPC reminded me quite a bit of a moment in another LARP, Unheroes, in which someone unexpectedly showed up to NPC a role that I had only imagined moments before. My character assumed that NPC was still trapped in the body of a cat, and I, the player, assumed no one could possibly have had time to coordinate that NPC role. My character and I experienced shock from two different (though related) sources, and the surprise I felt specifically came from me thinking I knew the parameters of what was possible in this LARP, only to have them violated. The effect was sort of a positive feedback on bleed.
I’ve had extremely little experience LARPing with kids — I can probably count the number of instances on one hand. Certainly I’ve never done it during a boffer LARP event (for plenty of extremely valid logistical reasons), though I’ve seen adults play child characters tons of times. (I played one myself at the last Madrigal event.) Having a child that young (I want to say… eleven years old?) at a boffer LARP seemed outside of the parameters of what I thought was plausible (not impossible, but extremely unlikely)… and the resulting shock was a very immersive moment.
I didn’t want to crowd the NPC, so I hung back while the others talked to him and his parents (he had killed them), laughing and shaking my head. It was absurd to think that the undead monstrosity that had slaughtered over a billion people, rendered uninhabitable the vast majority of an entire planet, and raised an undead army in order to ascend to immortality… had once been a small child, with loving parents no less. And it was equally absurd to realize the notion that he had once been a child had never occurred to me. It had never been relevant, but on some unconscious level, it had always seemed… incongruous. So inappropriately for the moment, I laughed at the absurdity of it, and the absurdity that Cricket wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it, and then I laughed at the contradiction of those absurdities.
After a long, grueling fight, we slew the Silverfire King, and the Wrathborn Emperor slew the emissary of Ruin. And then we watched the Wrathborn Emperor cross through the Fifth Gate. In that moment, the Wrathborn world was destroyed, and the Survivors became untethered, homeless.
At previous capstone events, we had gathered in the Crossroads, and occasionally met people wandering through who were Remnants — people with access to Power who had made it off their worlds before their own worlds were destroyed through Ascension. They all seemed to be fading, somehow. Some sought ways to anchor themselves to new worlds, others accepted that they would fade away entirely at some point.
When the Wrathborn Emperor crossed the Fifth Gate, he called, “By My Voice Inflict Trait Remnant to Survivor by Power. By My Voice Remove Trait Survivor by Power.”
All of the campaign closers I’ve been involved with as a PC or NPC thus far, (and all of the ones I’ve heard about) are primarily about evoking a sense of victory. Lots of them are tinged with loss and mourning as the victory comes at a price, but still, the prevailing emotions are positive ones, things like triumph and relief. I think the final weekend event of Fifth Gate was unique in that, while we did achieve a victory over the Silverfire King, the prevailing emotions seemed to be loss, grief, frustration, anger, and doubt, without creating an unsatisfying ending, which I consider a unique and difficult accomplishment by the Fifth Gate staff.
For me, the overwhelming emotion was guilt. I felt it both in and out of character (hence the moment being another highlight brought about by bleed.) I felt horribly guilty that we’d sacrificed their world to save our own, I felt guilty that I’d been vocally angry and frustrated with the Survivors when I thought they might have saved their home, that I’d doubted they’d make the right decision (well, the right decision according to Cricket after Ruin failed to gain the vote). And moreover, by saving our world, we’d sided with the monstrosity who had slaughtered most of their population and laid waste to their world, whom they’d been struggling against most of their lives… The Survivors had allowed themselves to be forced into a position where they had to help the source of all their suffering achieve his deepest desire and ultimate victory… The moment when the Emperor walked through the Gate and achieved immortality was so devoid of justice, Cricket couldn’t bear to look any of the Survivors, no Remnants, in the eyes.
Cricket might have tried to offer condolences or reassurances, but instead she covered her face in shame and ran off the field.
There was one more emotional kick to the gut that night. I spotted a member of the Eyrie, my Warband, headed out of the main building that night, one whose history involved sleeping for years beneath the earth and then awakening just before the Silverfire King turned on us and the Ebon Order resurfaced. I asked him if he was on his way to bed. He said yes and wished me good night. When I sat down with the other members of the Eyrie, the mother of his children explained to me that he was returning to sleep beneath the earth again… not to awake until her time as general of Xo’lal was up, at which point he would awake again to take her place. If the Angels were good, he would wake a few days early. There was a lot of (in-character) drinking that night.
The next morning we built a small bonfire and offered toasts to the fallen, before enacting a short ritual to welcome the Remnants who wanted to create new lives on the world of the Champions (it probably needs a new name besides Silverfire — it was always interesting to me that we called our worlds after the most dangerous and evil people on it). The trait Champion was Granted to those who wanted it; a few chose to join those who wander the paths between the worlds.
And so concludes the Fifth Gate campaign. We have a final dinner at the end of this month, a sort of an epilogue… after which I’ll probably share some thoughts about Cricket as a character, the process of creating her and what it was like playing her.
It was Fifth Gate‘s innovative concept of two worlds, with two separate PC bases, coming together that drew me to the campaign; I liked the idea of playing around with the standard structure of the boffer campaign. Lots of LARPs feature multiple worlds, but I think it was really the separate PC groups from wildly different backgrounds with limited time together that really made Fifth Gate special. I think the concept proved very successful and it afforded some wonderful roleplay opportunities that I haven’t had in any other campaign I’ve PCed or NPCed. My one major regret from this campaign is never having PCed any of the Wrathborn events. I meant to, but it didn’t work out for scheduling reasons. I NPCed one of their events, but I wish I had gotten to roleplay being a Champion on the Survivor’s home turf. I think this multi-worlds concept still has even more untapped potential, and I would love to see more LARPs build on this in the future.