Cowboys vs Wendigo

Okay so I’ve just (well okay like two days ago) gotten back from helping out at the epic Legend of Lullaby Pass so I thought I’d write my quick summary blog as is traditional from returning from events :)  So to summarise my involvement: I was a member of crew and not a ref, and was sadly double booked for a number of crew meetings although I made a couple as well as a few relaxed propping sessions, then the week in the run up to the event was just … really horrific and all kinds of busy, so I packed Thursday, rolled up Friday and then got stuck in as best I could.  Sadly I missed all the awesome pre-game prep that I hear was going on up there before hand.  So in many ways I was only peripherally involved compared to the previous few events where I’ve been writing characters and doing all sorts of more involved things, this was kind of my light holiday event :) I sort of came up at the last minute, threw myself into it as much as I could, then came back and immediately dove back into regular life and in many ways I wish I’d had a chance to dive more into it as it really was rather a good one.

So part of the pitch for this one was “a pulpy, grim survival horror in which being bold will be actively encouraged and rewarded. It’ll also probably get you shot, but there’s no accounting for some” and well yeah I think we manage to achieve that :)  Sadly the weather was following the met office predictions and hence while atmospheric was kind of against us, glorious sun the week before turned to fantastically atmospheric mist and fog on the Friday, followed by rain that just kept going basically from Friday night through Sunday evening with a few short breaks. Anyway – so the venue! It was epic, one large rambling farm building that had many interlocking rooms and ways in and out, and while it was cold at night with enough prep it was manageable (thermals, sleeping bag liner, blankets under and over) so that was okay, it did however sometimes mean that you could lose refs and end up running in circles looking for them and they could always be one step away :)

Outside the main building the barn was pretty awesome as a crew space (although I kind of want to use it as a large temple space at some point) although its thin floors and stone walls ate heat. Outside the buildings however the venue was just … beautiful.  The house lead onto gently falling away sheep fields, that turned into light woods, hills, mountains, a river and some deeper darker woods – just awesome stuff, especially Friday with the mist rolling in over the hills and down into the trees in the valley.  It made me want to run a whole Shub-Niggurath inbreeding cult game, if only because I’ve always wanted to put some cult leaders on a hilly outcrop overlooking the epic landscape of the Lake District and have them shouting barbarous words of invocation :)

So yeah, in short the venue itself was inspirational in many ways, it gave a sense of wilderness and isolation, and despite the event not being directly Lovecraftian it inspired me to want to go back and re-read his works, that whole sense of the mysterious old and forgotten things, old things from outside of our understanding of time, out in the wild places, worshipped by those who had once been men. Mmmm sexy mythos, yet at the same time the aspects of pulp heroism were awesome.  The characters a mix of badasses of various kinds, hustlers, travellers, con men, old soldiers, those who lived as part of society and held it together, and those who lived on its outskirts, but they all had a kind of grit to them – which really helped when we threw carefully judged waves of scuttling, clawed Wendigo at them :)  Our protagonists quickly realised they couldn’t secure the whole building, and didn’t even bother going out to repair the barricades after the first couple of times they got broken through, and they fell back to the place with warmth, toilets and thick stone walls – 2 doors in both of which gave nice thin corridors to create kill zones for shooting, it was an impressive sight to see the Wendigo pushing through a blockage only to go down in a hail of gun fire before they could pull back fast enough to regenerate, and the times we coordinated attacks on both doors at once, drawing the defenders back and forth were a wonderful balancing act in how far we could push them to generate fear and terror without just exhausting them. The last attack featured this two way tactic, front door went in, then back door got shoved to pull them away from it and generate inter-party stress of who was going to defend which door, our goal as far as I understood it wasn’t to push in and slaughter the players, but wear them down – that careful balancing act of making the threat credible and making the situation risky without just making it a dull wipe where there’s no chance of salvation.  The secondary door attack team actually had pulled back into hiding positions upstairs in peoples rooms, waiting for them to come out of their hidey holes so we could pounce on them when they weren’t expecting it, but this plan was called off before the players ever saw it – so why am I talking about it?

I actually like that about the backstage management of horror games, you’re goal is creating atmosphere, usually of fear and dread for players, and part of that is you try stuff, you speculate as it were, you look to your players and ask yourself how are they doing?  Do they have nervous laughter?  Are they busy playing out internal plot?  Are they overly exhausted/hungry and unable to maintain a fear response?  Have we hit them pretty recently with an adrenaline shock?

And you speculate, you set something up and if it doesn’t feel right you call it off or delay it.  It doesn’t matter how many false starts you do (well as long as you’re spending your peoples energy wisely) what matters is that the things that are played out in front of the players, there’s only one narrative from an IC point of view and its the events as they unfold, all the possible other versions of the events, the almost happened didn’t, and if players see props being spirited about under cover or monsters shifting between locations with purple on or a finger in the air its not a total disaster.  It’s going totally appear on my list of things I really enjoyed about this event, working with refs and crew with more experience at big scale LARPs than me so I could crib useful wisdom by being as handy as I could.

Anyway without further babbling here’s the lists of things I really thought worked out well in this event:

  • That venue – Holy shit it was epic, the woods, the deep woods, the streams the paths, the hills and the mist on Friday were all fantastic and really gave the whole thing an awesome big scale vibe
  • Both sides of the event – The players were awesome, they really got their teeth into the gun toting, plupy, cowboying, 1800s, yankie accenting hardcoreness of the thing, it was wonderful, the costumes alone deserve a rant about how well done they were :)  On the flip side the refs and crew were epic, particular shout outs go to those I was interacting with most frequently (in no order) go to prop master Dom for keeping the bunker useful and so we could find all the things, Alex and Kitty for being my ninjas on several occasions, Lucie for letting me help out herding her precious monsters and teaching me more skills, Lee and Georgia for being scary keen on being Teletubbies.  While the crew seemed big I think we really needed all of us to help make things (which I sadly missed) and be in all places at once on a scale this big, as well as cycling in and out for sleep and food between being useful.
  • The Hate Cock – I first heard Jonno scheming about it and saw the models a few weeks back and was all fuck yeah, I’ve wanted a strange angled monolith in a game since reading … something (shit what was it?) by Arthur Machen featuring a weird angled ancient standing stone out in Eastern Europe or somewhere.  I’ve pondered building them in all kinds of ways (balsa wood?  Ply board?) but his structure was beautiful in its light weight, yet robust construction.
  • The little things – I’ve always liked lots of little things being used to help set dress whole areas, I liked it in Nam, Haunted Hotel, and Ties That Bind – the sheer quantity of small props generally requires a distributed prop creation team and I quite like how that works out :)  In this event the offerings around the stone as well as the shrine in the house were epic, but all the little signs, and drinks, and tokens for coins (dog collar tags, neat idea) just helped transform the whole place, you could hardly look somewhere without seeing one little touch or another that helped anchor the atmosphere.
  • The “Rebirth by Po” mechanic – I liked the idea that the players knew these people should really be pretty far dead and yet they were walking about, so that added to the unnaturalness to the characters, yet made them and the players uneasy on a meta level as something was not quite right…

Things I thought had room for movement or didn’t work so well for me

  • That Water Supply – I’m pretty sure that was a contributing factor to knackering me with IBS on the Friday night, however could have been long ride up and event prep stress, or just the stars were right, honestly I’m not sure but I’m glad it subsided and enabled me to be useful by Saturday.
  • That Weather – yeah … just … fuck all that rain and those cold cold nights sleeping in like 4 layers, and the barn was pretty fucking cold, luckily I think we were prepared for it, if we hadn’t been it would have really been foul as opposed to just an environmental hazard.
  • Crew Side Pacing – I think a lot of us needed more sleep to make it through, not really on anyones head as we had a sleep schedule, just a note that sleep is good, especially in the cold and wet.
  • Er… honestly I’ll think of something else sooner or later, I only saw a subset of things (a lot of which revolved around monster teams) so I’m not sure how smooth a lot of the props, info and other stuff went over, I’m guessing pretty smooth as the players seemed to be on the ball about the plan.

So yeah, comments and criticism from the other participants are welcome, did I miss stuff in this summary?  Any wrong bits?  Any agreed with bits?  Anything I done fucked up on that I should improve of for next time I’m helping out with an event?

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