Books With Bite!

As you probably know by now if you’ve been following my reviews, I mark out of 10, then explain how this translates to stars on Amazon and Goodreads, who only allow 5. This is because I do not feel that 5 stars allows for enough differentiation.  So, that’s the boring bit done.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

This book nearly killed me! I was getting up in the morning feeling anxious.  I was worried during the day without knowing why, until I realised it was this bloody book!  I was anxious because the characters were anxious.  It is that insanely good.  Every feeling and emotion is so well painted I was actually living it, which meant I was immensely relieved when it was over, but also a little sad that I wasn’t able to immerse myself in it any further.

Everything is set up beautifully.  The characters are real, perfect in their imperfections.  Nothing is romanticised,  but every situation is intricately described, so you feel as though you were there with them.  You share in their excitement, love, heartbreak, guilt and anxiety.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a book quite so intensely.  I don’t want to retell the plot, as that would spoil it.  I went in with no idea what it was about and experienced it as though I was living it.  I would go as far as saying it is the best Sarah Waters novel I have read so far, but I have a few to go yet, so watch this space.

Obviously it gets 10/10 or 5/5

Jill, by Rose Montague

This was the final book in the trilogy, and it did not disappoint. This time, rather than one point of view, we jump between Jade, Jane and Jill. Usually I am not a fan of perspective switches like this, but here it worked.  I think because we already know the characters from the previous books we don’t need to spend as much time on development, so the switches aren’t so jarring.  I really liked the jumping between realms, and the world building involved in creating the new worlds.  This one almost had a sci fi twist in places, and I hope to see some of the worlds developed further in future books.

It felt a bit rushed in places, and I think I would have liked a bit more description, or maybe conversation to break through the non-stop action, but this is a personal preference and not a criticism of the style.  My only real criticism is that there were more typos in this one that the others, and in places they were quite distracting, but it didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the book, and it was a good way to wrap up the series.

Over all, fun read. 8/10 or 4/5

Darkly Dreaming, by Chloe Hammond

This is not your usual vampire novel.  It deals with female relationships, and is as much about friendship in the face of adversity as it is about vampires.  It was so compelling that I wasn’t able to put it down, and whilst it spent a lot of time on back story, I found I didn’t mind that, as I wanted to know what happened in the lives of these characters. Their friendship was so warm and real that I wanted to be a part of it, and the back story allowed me to do so.

Chloe Hammond has managed to create a novel that is tense, exciting, emotional, scary and funny.  She deals with issues like divorce, and child abuse, which might make some readers uncomfortable, but it is clearly well researched, and it makes the situations more real for the attention to detail.  In this book, the humans are the monsters, and the vampires are the most human people.  I would highly recommend it, whether you’re into vampires or not.

10/10 or 5/5

Voopyre, by N C Stow

This beautiful little short story is inspired on Russian Folklore. I’ll admit that not having any knowledge of the subject, or area, I felt a bit lost at the start, as the short story jumps right in with no time for scene setting or character introductions.  That said, I was soon swept up in the beautiful imagery and the stylistic writing which absolutely screamed “fairy tale”.

If you are interested in learning more about Russian Folklore, I would say give N C Stow’s short stories a chance.  In her own words she “use[s] elements of it in a fictional Slavic setting to make something new.”  It was a quick enjoyable read, and a good introduction to Stow’s other works.

9/10 or 4/5

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Book Reviews, Ala Badger

Well, I’ve made it through four more books, and as I’m posting on Amazon and Goodreads, I figured I may as well share it with you lot too. I reckon some of you can read at any rate.  So, for those of you who missed the first book review post I did, I grade up to ten stars, because I don’t think five is enough.  However, we know that ‘reads and the ‘zon only have the option for five, so I will post my rating, then explain how that transfers across.  Enjoy.

Fandri’s Adventures: Hunters of Reloria series prequel, by Kasper Beaumont

The book started promisingly, as a fantasy tale, somewhat reminiscent of The Hobbit.  However, the characters lacked motivation, just meeting and deciding to go on a journey, for example, or later breaking away from the group, all for no apparent reason.  I was also made to feel rather uncomfortable by the amount of kissing and naked women who felt the need to kiss our protagonists, who were only supposed to be 13/14 years old.

I liked the pictures, however felt that they implied I was reading a children’s story, which the amount of semi naked ladies and deep kissing seemed unsuitable for.  Equally, I felt that the female characters on the whole were just there for this purpose.  I would have liked more motivation with all of the characters, even the minor ones.

I felt the story concept of an adventure was good, and the book was very well edited and formatted, but it really needs to work on character development, and decide who the desired audience is and focus the content to them.

As you can tell, the book wasn’t really for me, and so, on my scale I would give it four out of ten.  This translates as two on Amazon.  Unfortunately five being the limit makes it difficult, and I have given books I felt were better and enjoyed more three stars, so this is only fair.  Of course reviews are just opinion, so why not check out the sample below and see what you think for yourselves?

Jane, by Rose Montague

I really enjoyed Jade by Rose Montague, and as this was the sequel it simply had to be done.  It was just as exciting and fun as the first, as we followed Jade and Jane in pursuit of the devil himself.  The issue for me was that I didn’t like Jane as a narrator.  I didn’t feel she cared about much of anything, so when she was telling us what was happening, it felt that she was distant and not involved.  It is for that reason that I couldn’t understand why she was doing things, it was as though she was going through the motions, there was none of the intensity of emotion that there was in Jade.  This perhaps comes from being a vampire, once you’ve been alive for a certain number of years maybe you’re able to emotionally distance yourself from even events that are closest to you, and remain objective in even the most difficult circumstances.  But her objectivity and lack of passion made it difficult for me to be on her team the way I was with Jade.  Let’s be clear, this is my only criticism, and perhaps that’s why I felt the need to focus on it, because it’s dropped stars for me because of it.  However, in the most part it was funny, exciting and I read it over a few days.  Of course I will be buying Jill to find out how the series ends, and will let you know what I think.

So, this one was seven out of ten for me, or four out of five.

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

I had this one in audio, narrated by Tony Robbins and I felt that he did beautiful justice to the humour that was the awesome Sir Terry.  It’s funny how through satire, truths can be told, and I felt a lot of the things that happened were a bit to close to the mark.  In these days of fake news and demonising minorities, a lot of the humour was too close for comfort.  I listened to it whilst doing some decorating, and found myself snorting alone with my roller on occasion.  I would say it was worth getting, just to hear the funny voices given to the characters.  As a general rule I don’t like my favourite books being turned into audio or film because once you’ve imagined the characters a certain way, this can be ruined by someone else’s imagining of them, but on this occasion I rather enjoyed it.  I had read the book years ago, and whilst bits of it started to come back to me, I found myself able to enjoy it for what it was, and it made a boring task a little more enjoyable.

I won’t bother star rating this one, it’s Pratchett, you know it’s good.

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

I read Affinity by Sarah Waters and found it so compelling that I couldn’t put it down.  Obviously I wanted to see what else she had in her collection, and went with The Night Watch.  This is a non-linear tale that spans through and just past World War Two.  What I liked most about it, as with all of her books (I am now on The Paying Guests) is that your are firmly given a sense of period, and you are fully immersed in whatever period in which the book is set.  I had a real sense of the oppressive nature of the blitz, the feeling of living for the day, the excitement and tension between the characters.  What is brilliant is that nothing is glamourised, we see all of the characters in real settings including toilets!  Whilst I didn’t find any of the characters in this terribly likeable (perhaps they were too real), I did find them all empathetic, and found myself forced to read on to find out what happened with them.  The story goes backwards, so you know how it ends at the start (although of course it’s not really an ending) and you find yourself reading to learn how they arrived at this point, rather than what was going to happen next.  I loved being immersed in the lives of these people.  Sarah Waters writes characters that history has forgotten, and creates them with such realism and clarity as to compel you to want to know more.

Earlier this month I wrote about the importance of diversity in literature, and she achieves this so elegantly that it is hard to find fault anywhere within her writing.  It is for this reason that The Night Watch gets ten out of ten, or five out of five.

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Holiday Reading to Sink Your Teeth Into!

OK, so only one of my reads had actual teeth sinking, (OK, two if you count monsters taking a chunk out of someone’s shoulder, or three if you include demons from Hades, OK, so actually only one didn’t…) but it was a cool headline, nonetheless.

I love reading, and have not had much chance lately, with annoying life stuff getting in the way, so feels great to have devoured 4 books in a week!  I will obviously be posting my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads too, because that’s what you do to help authors out.  As these sites require a star rating I will also be including it here, but ideally I would like to be able to star out of 10, because I don’t think 5 stars is enough to reflect the difference in feeling you can have for different books.  So, I’ll tell you my mark out of ten, then let you know how I translated this to Amazon and Goodreads.  Now, without further a do, the reviews!

Jade by Rose Montague

I bought this book because I saw it advertised on Twitter and thought it looked quite good, and it did not disappoint.  If you like Lost Girl then you’ll like this.  Jade mixes run of the mill US cop fiction with urban fantasy.

It is set in a world where “supes” are integrated with humans, but obviously face discrimination, as humans discriminate against anything that’s different, don’t they?  Jade is living proof that you don’t need to conform to anyone’s expectations of what you should be, and with a kickass team by her side she battles to thwart a conspiracy and save her friends.

I could not put this book down, and read it in a day and a half.  It is non-stop action, with just the right amount of comedy and romance to balance it out.  The characters are deftly drawn and you feel by the end that you kinda want to be their friend, only the whole constantly running from danger would put me off, I’d probably need a nap or something.

So, to the scores.  Out of 10, I’d give it 9.  This is because there were a few typos, and whilst this did not affect my enjoyment, and we all have typos (I am certainly not immune), in my way of thinking, 10 means perfection, so I doubt any book will ever get a full 10 from me.  That said, the Amazon score is 5/5, because it’s really good.  Really!

Read a sample below.

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters makes me want to be a better writer.  Reading this swept me straight into Victorian England, and a story of intrigue and ghosts.  What I think I liked most was that it was written in the style of canonical Victorian literature, but from a perspective you would not get to read in traditional Victorian literature, and actually rarely in modern literature.  It is so superbly done that you forget you are reading a modern novel, or even reading at all, it’s like you’re there.  Although I predicted the ending quite early on (my brain has that annoying knack of spotting twists) I still spent the entire book hoping I was wrong, willing all the way to the last page that it would turn back around on itself and somehow find its way to a happy ending.  Of course, it couldn’t do that, there was no other way it could have ended.  It was utterly compelling and I found myself a little bit sad and at a loss when it was over, so of course I bought The Night Watch, review will follow!

So, this is another 9/10 job for me.  Again, it wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn close.  The only reason it dropped a mark was because I was so disappointed by the ending (even though I predicted it!) that I felt quite sad and empty when it was finished, as though I’d just lost a friend.  That said, it made me want to read it all over again, almost immediately, and that’s why the ‘zon score is an impeccable  5/5.

Read a sample below:

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson

This is a graphic novel (I’ve read quite a few, it’s just a different media as far as I’m concerned), and it is one take on the origin of Wonder Woman, and focuses on her story before she became Wonder Woman.  The concept is good, focusing on Diana as a spoiled, over indulged child and teenager, whose selfish actions cause harm to her friends, and send her down the path to becoming the hero we all know.

The concept is good, and as one would expect from Jill Thompson, so is the artwork.  However, there was a bit too much tell, and not enough show for me.  I would not have thought that possible in a graphic novel, but I would have liked more conversation, more interaction between the characters, getting to know them and develop them, rather than captions and image montages.

It is for this reason that for me it gets 6/10.  Good artwork and a solid story, but too much tell and not enough show. On the ‘zon this equates to 3/5.

Unfortunately I can’t embed a sample, so if you want to read one you’ll have to click here.

Aeon Infinitum: Run for Your Life by E. Rachael Hardcastle

I enjoyed this book as a sort of Hunger Games meets Blade Runner. Hardcastle paints a dark and gloomy post apocalyptic Earth, and throughout the story the sense of hopelessness from the characters is quite palpable.
I found the present tense quite jarring to read, and whilst I kept hoping I’d get used to it, I never quite did. The first person narrative which switched between characters also made it quite difficult to care strongly about any of them, and I feel I would rather have had one person’s perspective, or have the story told in third person, but this is just my preference.
If you like gritty scifi that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, with strong, well developed characters, then give this one a go.

As for star rating, I think it has to be another 6/10 for me.  There were grammar issues, and some typos, and whilst I appreciate it is first person, I feel quite strongly that grammar is something we need to maintain, or the world will fall about around us and books will start being written in text speak!  Because of the switching between character perspectives so frequently I didn’t really care about any of the characters enough to even particularly want to finish the book. (I did finish it, I hasten to add!).  It was very exciting, and the world was incredibly well developed, and it is for this reason that on the ‘zon it gets a solid 3/5.

Read a sample below:

 

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Stop LARPing About!

Review by Samuel Z Jones

We said it, we warned you, if you don’t suggest a headline, we’ll continue to make them up.  So, just to change it up a bit, in character blue, out of character dull grey, editorial comments pink. We like pink.

Fourth Event, a year of LARP, and the n00b shine is starting to fade. This

Photo credit Robert Leigh

Photo credit Robert Leigh

time, we arrive with game already in progress, people to talk to and schemes to unfold. We arrived Thursday to set up, and spent most of Friday watching the tent-city of Anvil appear, one canvas pavilion after another going up all over the field. The main part of our team arrived in the morning, with our team leader rolling up around noon. We pitched our tents on the League Plaza, that quarter of the field given over to our nation, the League, a rather Machiavellian mob. Next to us was the Dawnish quarter, the opposite side of the field occupied by the other nations of Wintermark, Urizen, Varushka, the Highguard and the Brass Coast, each nation with their own distinct fashions and culture. In the woods, off one side, camped the Nevar and the Imperial Orc legion. Gradually, cars vanished from the field and modern attire was replaced with period costume. We became again the Crimson Reaper Cartel; Prince Drogon, his bodyguard Nathrach McNebb, Nathrach’s wife Akora, and our colleagues Hermes, Echodin Dran, Aurora, Talia DeTemeschwar, and the mysterious loner Lucky Flint.

The first task for Nathrach McNebb was to seek out the Shaman and reclaim the Wolf Mask, won in combat at last season’s Event. As the reigning Wolf, Nathrach was required to accept challenges to duel, from any bravo who presented the Shaman’s token.

The Mask now sported dreadlocks.

As the sun set, Nathrach and his wife Akora found Caith Di Tassitos and his friend Primoverde, drinking by an open fire outside the Meadery. Caith’s wife Illiana was not in Anvil this season, and the Meadery doors remained closed to general trade. Nathrach and Akora bought a large quantity of mead, and renewed acquaintances with visitors to Caith’s door. Discussions with Prince Drogon brought the Crimson Reaper Cartel up to speed. A red star still hung in the sky, presaging disaster. Nathrach had discovered a number of major heists in Anvil; besides the recent theft of a vast sum from the Butcher’s Bank, the Ashen Tower and the Temeschbar had both been robbed. An attempt had also been made to steal the very shield of the Empress herself, but the thief had bungled and escaped only with his life.

Photo credit Tom Garnett

Photo credit Tom Garnett

Dawn brought rain. A thin, constant drizzle that rendered the very air soggy. Nonetheless, I love camping. It’s one of few occasions where I’m confident at a stove. Campfire cooking is incredibly easy; chop it all up and fry it. Well-padded with campfire fry-up, we made our way down to the orcmuster point for the morning battle. How can one summarise this to the uninitiated? LARP is like… a game of hockey, in the woods, with no ball. Upwards of two hundred people take the field in bright armour, divided into two teams, to beat the living hell out of each other with variously-shaped padded cudgels. One side “monsters”, wearing orc-masks and other costume provided by Profound Decisions, while the other side take the field as their ongoing characters, risking their lives and progress in the game against the wager of battle. So far, I’ve had my preference and monstered on the first day. It’s a good warmup, a chance to cut loose as a succession of nameless orcs, compared to the far higher stakes of taking one’s own character into battle. Our orc commander on this occasion was Evil. Allegedly, that’s just a nickname. Demurring to volunteer for the call for sergeants, I joined the berserker squad which Commander Evil meant to hold in reserve. The mission was a little different to past monstering battles. This time, rather than simply trying to prevent the heroes of the Empire from their goals, we were tasked to escape with as many units of orcs intact as possible. The role of the berserkers would be to hold in reserve until the time came to die heroically while the rest of our column escaped. The forest, we were told, was infested with Velorn. These are tree-men, by any other name. As we masked-up and marched out, Evil warned us to be sure and die fighting humans, rather than being devoured by angry brambles. The rain barely reached us beneath the trees. We spent the first hour marching, describing a large arc of the woods that took us almost back to our start point. Re-orienting the column, Evil spotted yellow smoke through the trees, and led us that way. Avoiding the poisonous smoke, we manoeuvred to join the fight, looking for an opportunity to break through. Human forces blocked the exit from the woods, and Evil ordered the berserkers forward to lead the charge. Before the order could be given, curious Velorn emerged from the trees, forcing both human and orcish lines to back up. While the Velorn wandered through, orc reinforcements arrived. A second column formed up on our left and a little ahead, interdicting our intended charge. We reformed, narrowing our front to make a rush upon the human lines, engaging the brightly-clad warriors of the Brass Coast. The lines clashed and parted repeatedly, neither side able to make headway. Falling back from one clash, I was shot in the gut with an arrow. I dropped, and was dragged back from the fighting by an orc healer. Propped against a tree, he counted out thirty seconds beneath his breath while we mimed tearing out the arrow and stitching up the wound. Pitching back into battle, I almost immediately caught an arrow with my face. Dragged back to safety again, I slumped against a different tree while a female orc healer repeated the 30-second countdown and stitching of the wound. A final push ensued. In the front of the human lines, I saw a rare thing; a truly proficient dualwielder, lightly battering one orc after another, his paired swords a blur. Inspired, I forged towards him in the melee, eager to test my two-handed swordsmanship against his dual-wielding skill. I never got to him; others on the orc line pushed forward too, the front ranks of both forces grinding across each other. Orc berzerkers advanced, driving the human line back until we broke through on their right flank. Out of the forest at our backs, the Velorn appeared again, howling this time. The main part of our force had escaped; with the arrival of the Velorn, human die-hards and orcish rearguard fell back. The Velorn were on our heels clear to the edge of the woodland. Here, we expected a stiff fight from the human forces still in our path. When we emerged, however, we found the human Highguard already engaged by an orc column. I had lost sight of Commander Evil, but found my immediate unit led by the Orc General himself. A few Highguard skirmishers harassed us from the flanks, but we marched grimly for the exit on the far side of the field. In all, over a hundred orcs escaped, the Highguard ultimately resorting to jeering from the battlefield while we jeered back in victory. Marching back to the orc muster-point, we returned our masks and washed off our facepaint, the army dispersing again. The rain had been barely noticeable during the battle. Our tent had fared less well, water infiltrating to dampen much of our gear. After two hours running about in the woods, I was too tired to react strongly. We sat out half the afternoon under canvas, waiting for the rain to withdraw. When the sun eventually appeared, we set up the shoppe, Akora’s Artefacts, outside our tent, and traded through the afternoon. There’s always someone who needs a tankard, or is on the lookout for pieces of kit, and we had taken out adverts in The Pledge and Thrifty Squid newspapers to draw custom to our stall.

While Nathrach sat at the shop door, he saw the towering figure of Balthazar,

Photo Credit Tom Garnett

Photo Credit Tom Garnett

battlemage of the Ashen Tower, ambling down the road. “I hear you’re a great swordsman,” Balthazar said, and Nathrach shrugged. “There is such a rumour,” he replied. “I could use a lesson.” Nathrach rose, and put aside his greatsword in favour of the shorter arming sword, the better to discuss swordplay. After a few minutes in discussion of guard and stance, the pair squared off to spar. Balthazar was noted as a great fighter with stave and polearm, but he knew little of the sword. It was only after he had departed that Nathrach considered whether the looming battlemage had been sounding him out, testing in preparation of a challenge to fight for the Wolf Mask. With this thought in mind, Nathrach donned the Wolf Mask and returned to his seat. Not long after, a warrior approached, and shaking hands palmed him one of the Shaman’s tokens. Nathrach studied the man, as asked him his name. “Arden of Cantiarch’s Hold,” was the reply. Nathrach doffed the Wolf Mask, and the pair squared off to fight. Arden proved highly skilled with sword and shield, and at length triumphed by five hits to four. Nathrach gave him the Wolf Mask, and directed him to seek the Shaman in Wintermark to learn the full gaes he had earned. I was, to say the least, rather deflated to lose the Mask here. My opponent was the first sword-and shield user to present any problem, effectively closing down my attack lines and giving no openings for my preferred tricks. He in turn complimented my skill with the two-handed sword, averring it a difficult weapon to wield well.

From further up the street came a terrifying sound, which raised a smile from Nathrach and his wife Akora; the voice of Bessie the Bard, famed far and wide, singing as she approach. Pausing outside the Butcher’s Bank, Bessie struck a bizarre pose, strummed her ukulele with fury, and sang in the voice of a banshee, “You’re shit! Everybody hates you and you’re shit! And they wanted you to know!” A few minutes later, Bessie passed by the shoppe, pausing to smile and pass a few words of greeting with her friends, Nathrach and Akora.

Running a shopfront is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it makes your group easy to find and ensures that messages can be readily received. On the other, at least one person is required to be there at all times, keeping shop, leaving them minimal time to explore Anvil. Almost every location is player-operated, most of them also player-inspired.

Closing up shop in the late afternoon, Nathrach and Akora wandered the streets of Anvil, looking up acquaintances and trading from a large bag of wares. On their way, they sought out storytellers and bards, passing on word of the Crimson Reaper Cartel’s desire to publish an anthology of true adventures by heroes of the Empire. In the League quarter, Nathrach and Akora learned of a fund-raising effort to re-inter the bones of a past Empress, whose remains had been taken from the city of Sarvos ahead of besieging Grendel orcs. They were told that the Senate had refused to fund not only this, but a great many other proposals lately put before them. In Highguard, at the sign of the White Raven, they met again with the armourer Azazel, and bought from him a leather scabbard-loop for Nathrach’s sword, and a fine pair of leather greaves. In the Brass Coast quarter, they learned that it was a festival night, when the people of that nation were required to lie and play pranks. In Wintermark, seeking the Shaman, they found Arden of Cantiarch’s hold, himself still waiting for an audience with the master of the Masks. Here, any unsporting thought I might have harboured evaporated; the new Wolf had been waiting at least an hour, entertained by the Crocodile who camped near the Shaman’s hut.

Photo credit, possibly Sally?

Photo credit, possibly Sally?

That night, Prince Drogon held council with the Cartel, laying out the dangers posed by the red star overhead. Through rituals, visions and communing with mighty beings, Prince Drogon had learned that the star was composed of ilium, a rare and precious metal. Whichever region it landed upon would be devastated, but left rich with vast quantities of the rare ore. Plans had been mooted in Senate to draw the star down magically, and choose its impact site. Offers had been made to take the hit on one region or another, or to direct it in a cataclysmic attack upon orc-held territory. Meanwhile, the orc nation of Thule had offered to take the impact, and hand over fully half of the ilium yield to the Empire. Prince Drogon, however, had extra intelligence; the heart of the star was of some yet rarer stuff, ilium refined and transmuted into an artefact of unknown power and great importance to the Thule. Analysing the information, Nathrach concluded that a Thule invasion was inevitable; if the star fell on the Empire, the Thule would move to seize it while the human nations squabbled over the bounty. If it fell in orc territory, the Thule would move against the devastated Jotun and Grendel orcs already harrying the Empire. If given to the Thule, they would inevitably use it in war.

Later that night, I attended the Captain’s Meeting, to hear the plans for tomorrow’s battle. Nominally, each fighting unit has a Captain entitled to attend these meetings, but in practise only a handful generally do. Here General Gabriel laid out our part in the fight. The plan was to see a group of non-combatants safely through to a gorge in the forest, and then return to Anvil. The forest, however, was a playground of the Wild Hunt. Reports claimed some sixty of these creatures, lurking in the trees. The nation of Dawn had offered to send fifty men to fight a way through, while the rest of the Empire nations fighting that day held the open field against the Jotun orcs who would waylay us in the plan. Although not openly stated at the meeting, the assault on the woods was considered a suicide mission; Dawn were expected to suffer massive casualties. Sunrise brought a dense fog. I cooked another camp fry-up and buckled on my armour. It’s an odd thing, but after years of martial arts, this was the first time I’d ever donned heavy armour. At previous events, I’ve worn a padded lorica-style jacket. This time, the lorica was complemented by a suit of steel half-plate; breastplate, vambraces and rerebraces, with leather greaves.

The Crimson Reaper Cartel battle squad assembled; Prince Drogon, Captain McNebb, with Talia as our healer and Echodin laden with magical firepower. Forming up with their allies, the Torn Banners of the Temeschbar, the Reapers marched to the general muster of the Empire’s army. League mercenaries, their task was to screen the advance of Dawn, allowing the forlorn hope to gain the woods without depleting their numbers against the Jotun orcs.

The Empress herself led the army into battle, her sword a gift from the Jotun orc-queen. The Jotun respected such gestures, the Empress’ hope being that her personal courage in taking the field would weigh heavily in the war. With her went the Throne Guard of the Ashen Tower, led by Captain Lupo. In the ranks of the Torn Banners, Nathrach set himself the task of guarding Talia, reasoning that their only dedicated healer putting the wounded heroes back into action was more important than one more sword taking orcs out of it.

crc-battlesquad

Photo Credit: could well be Sally again.

Frankly, I prefer to skirmish than fight in the shieldwall. The two-handed sword only comes into its own when the ranks open up; in the shieldwall, it’s a case of letting the polearms on both sides trade blows, withholding the long sword to bop any enemy who over-extends, exposing his head and shoulders. In the wider-spaced skirmish, the two-hander becomes a whirling, slashing thing, capable of taking on two opponents and holding off three or more. Historically, its use by bodyguards for this very purpose is well attested.

We spent most of the battle manoeuvring, keeping with the bearer of the Torn Banner and providing a mobile medical station to patch up the wounded. Orc columns attacked from one side and then another, marching from opposite ends of the field and the forest at our backs to crash into our shieldwalls and halberd-blocks. The lines of battle contracted, the main melee drawing nearer. Talia knelt beside a wounded man, patching him up quickly. But there were two more soldiers awaiting her help, and the fighting was barely ten feet off. Nathrach stood guard, warning Talia to hurry. She was still treating the second soldier when the Empire line buckled. The melee swept over them, six orcish spearmen suddenly breaking through. Talia was cut down almost at once, the handful of skirmishers standing guard either dispatched or driven off in an instant. Nathrach set his sword to work, but six to one and they with spears, his stand barely slowed their advance. A prodigious blow knocked him flat, and he retreated to the reforming Empire line. He could see Talia wounded on the field, and swiftly sought out Drogon and Echodin to attempt a rescue while there was still time. Even as they started forward from the line, another skirmish unit in retreat picked Talia up and treated her wounds. Heavily beset on all sides, the Empire army deployed a secret weapon; sorcery out of Wintermark.

From the ranks of the Children of Winter emanated a deathly wind, sapping the strength of every orc to feel it. A sudden charge in the wake of the icy gale overthrew an entire orcish column in a moment, shattering their advance and buying a few minutes’ reprieve for the warriors of the Empire. Far as I can tell, the orc plan on this occasion hinged on making us run up and down the field from end to end. With the choice of exhausting ourselves versus dividing our forces to cover both ends, the major achievement of the human side was in holding the middle ground, keeping all units within a brisk march to support one another, and so conserving our energy for a protracted fight. The only warning was a roar; an ogre charged out of nowhere and struck Talia down. Nathrach whirled to hew it down in turn, but the brute sprinted away; Nathrach’s vengeful strike cleft only the cloth of the ogre’s shirt as it fled.

Seeing Echodin nearby, Nathrach called for aid, intending to carry their wounded healer to safety. Fortunately, Echodin still had a healing potion, and revived Talia enough for the Crimson Reaper squad to rejoin Prince Drogon in the ranks of the Torn Banners. With orc columns closing in from all sides, the Empress gave order to her bodyguards, relieving Captain Lupo of his command. It was to no fault of his, but rather the Empress’ esteem of his valour; despising her own protection, the Empress unleashed Lupo upon the foe. Hewing a path through the Jotun skirmishers, Lupo joined the melee in fury. His heroics were seen by all upon the field, fighting on despite a grievous wound that almost cost him an eye. The lines of battle seemed to rotate around the field, orcish columns crashing into the Empire’s lines from one side and then another. From the woods came the tramp of marching boots, then shields were glimpsed through the trees. Blue shields; the warriors of Dawn returning. All had expected them to face slaughter in the forest and only a few to return alive, but it was a mighty host that marched from the forest eaves. A resounding cheer arose from the embattled ranks on the open field; the return of Dawn signalled not only reinforcements, but victory overall.

Photo credit: most likely still Sally.

Photo credit: most likely still Sally.

The army of the Empire advanced, sweeping their flanks clear of orcs and withdrawing in good order. At the height of the final minutes, the Imperial Orcs formed a square to withhold the wider battle from overtaking an honour-duel against a champion of the Wild Hunt, who had defended the forest against Dawn’s incursion. For the valour of the Imperial Orc champion, the remaining forces of the Wild Hunt demurred from further battle, and were then seen flitting about the field, exhorting warriors of both sides on to greater heroism. A final force of ogres were roundly defeated; two rose up from their wounds to flee, but were swiftly set upon. Nathrach and Drogon tried to intervene, meaning to take at least one ogre alive for certain questions that the prince would ask, but the brute was slain even as they arrived. Hearing our intentions, the slain ogre gave us the merry finger as he quit the field.

In the vanguard of the final push, the warriors of Wintermark and the Imperial Orc legion crushed all resistance. The main force of the Empire marched off the field to the music of the Wintermark and the orc legionnaires beating out victory on their shields.

Returning from battle, we all collapsed for an hour. I ditched my heavy armour and broke open the last stores of canned caffeine hoarded for the occasion. Across anvil, exhausted warriors sat or lay on the grass outside their tents, gathering their energy for the final few hours of play.

Prince Drogon had learned that, even as they discussed the ilium star and its fall the previous night, a piece had broken off from it and struck down in Empire territory. A force had been dispatched to retrieve it, and the fragment was even now in the hands of a League cartel. Rumour had it that the fragment of enriched ilium blazed with intense heat, such that it could not be touched. The force that retrieved it had carried it back on a shield, all involved suffering burns from mere proximity to the artefact. To Akora’s Artefacts in the afternoon came the Wintermark priest, River, assisting the Shaman in the game of the Masks. River apologised that he had not brought many challengers, only to express surprise to learn that the Wolf Mask had been lost. River hurried off to find Arden, and initiate him into the rules attending the Mask’s wearer. Not long after, River and the Shaman returned together to Akora’s shoppe. Nathrach accepted the Shaman’s congratulations and commiserations, and expressed his wish to help further in the games of the Masks. The Shaman agreed, and set Nathrach the task of finding three challengers for the Wolf, when next they met in Anvil. The Shaman spoke also of new masks he was crafting, and new challenges appending. “I will write to you, Shaman,” Nathrach said, “and we will speak again.” River and the Shaman departed, and thus ended another season for the Crimson Reaper Cartel in Anvil.

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Digital effects on some shots are by Nick Young.

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What a LARP – Review by Samuel Z Jones

Yes, we are running out of witty LARP related headlines, please feel free to post your suggestions in the comments box.  So, a brief note: Editorial notes/comments will be in this splendid shade of blue, in character narration will be pink, and the rest of the text will be the standard dull grey.  Enjoy.

Lucky Flint

Photo of Lucky is by Oliver Facey.

With a heavy heart, Prince Drogon left the Ashen Tower. Deposed, the Prince departed with his throne and other possessions stacked upon a wagon. Long weeks on the road, and many other adventures, at length found the good prince on the threshold of a bridge. Barring Drogon’s way stood a wolfish rogue, leaning upon a sword level with his shoulder.

“Good day, yer highness.”
Though courteous, the man spoke in a gruff commoner’s drawl. Roused from dejection by the incongruous address, Drogon quirked an eyebrow.
“Do I know you?” He asked.
“We have not met, nonetheless I deduce you to be a merchant prince, fallen on such hard times as to be travelling alone.”
“And what business might it be of yours?” Drogon asked, bitterly.
“I am by trade a bodyguard, of sorts, and a man of honour. For across this bridge, you will meet my twin brother, who is a rogue and a highwayman. But he will harm none that I accompany.”
“Hilarious.” Drogon was in no mood to be amused. Dismounting the wagon at a bound he drew his sword. Nathrach laughed and brought the greatsword on guard. With the first pass, Drogon’s temper was cooled; the highwayman fought with uncommon skill. By the third pass, Drogon began to be impressed; he could not easily void his opponent’s guard. Time and again the greatsword came within an  inch of his throat, only to be suddenly withheld.
“A moment,” Drogon held up a hand, and his opponent waited civilly while the prince caught his breath. “For curiosity,” Drogon asked, “what price attends your company across the bridge?”
“A mere gratuity; your highness has already bought his life.” Nathrach saluted him sardonically with the greatsword, and the prince flicked a crown piece down between them.
“And what price to follow me further, to Anvil and beyond? I have need of a bodyguard.”

Almost a year has passed since that first meeting. Now, Nathrach MacNebb and his wife Akora return to Anvil once more, to guard Prince Drogon’s life and aid in his machinations…

Battle squad

Battle Squad, photograph by Nicholas Young

Where possible, these events fall on Bank Holidays, to afford everyone a full weekend in character, the Friday and the Monday given to setting up and packing away. This occasion not being so fortuitous, well over half the participants arrived on the Thursday afternoon, to at least get an extra night under canvas.

Our tent was in the same spot as at the previous event. Besides the ease of finding our plot and the sense of familiarity lending itself to our weekend home, this also put us again directly on the  League Plaza. From this vantage, we not only had our shopfront neighbouring three popular bars, but also enjoyed a front-row seat of the theatre and incident in that quarter of the camp.

Our first port of call was the Meadery, to order a copious quantity of mead. (No surprise there). We spent the rest of the evening on the quest for interim booze until the delivery arrived, the good owners of the Meadery themselves awaiting the full arrival of their team. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to bring a hipflask of brandy. Always bring a hipflask camping. (This could explain why so many of his characters carry a hip flask).

Most of Friday was spent in setup, out of character (OC); the tent-city of Anvil appeared, and modern attire began to disappear as the afternoon set in. Before evening set in, all cars had vanished from the field and the game began. We had our shoppe, Akora’s Artefacts, directly across from The Pledge newspaper and neighbouring the Orphan’s Bar, the Temeschbar, and Lady Illianna’s Holberg Meadery. One up from us the other way was the tent of Il Vulpe, The Fox, the League’s base of military operations.

Our team, the Crimson Reaper Cartel, numbered our team-captain, Prince Drogon, Nathrach MacNebb, Akora McNebb, Aurora, Hermes Illuisious S. Dietrich, Echodin Dran and Natalia Di Neveschwar. We were later joined again by Drogon’s old comrade, Lucky Flint.

Akora and Nathrach had the pleasure of hosting Prince Drogon in their tent. In the second tent, set back from the main Plaza, were Natalia, Hermes, Echodin and Aurora. Where Lucky might have slept, and even if he does at all, are deep mysteries.

The first morning in Anvil, Nathrach MacNebb blinked awake to learn that his wife Akora had been handed a note by a passing customer at their Shoppe. It proved to be a coded message; Nathrach puzzled over it while he drank his morning tea, and resolved to investigate.

At the Meadery, he met again with his old comrade Caith De Tassitos, and was introduced to one Primoverde. This learned man had also received a coded message, and gone some way to unravelling the key. The code remained elusive, however, until they located a third cipher, written in a different code. Primoverde realised that the messages must be the same, and with this larger sample of code, the cipher began to unravel.

There then ensued an interval of “strawberry picking”. Every morning, combatant players take the field in two teams; one in their own character roles, risking their lives for the glory of the Empire, and the others masked as orcs to oppose them. It being bad form to mention one’s orcing exploits IC, those heroes who were not at the fight are implied to have been elsewhere at the time…

This time, my fourth outing as an orc, I focussed less on displays of berserk swordsmanship, and more on surviving the whole battle. Slain orcs return to the field, representing the outnumbering of the heroes. It’s fairly easy, therefore, to take a break as an orc; just rush wildly into the human line, hewing maniacally until you’re cut down, then it’s off to the respawn point to get your breath back. Staying alive as the same orc the entire time takes considerably more doing.

On this occasion, we were Grendel Waveriders, orc elites tasked to hit-and-run, dashing about the woods to pin and lure one human unit after another, blocking their advances and confounding their retreats. Paying attention to the tactics employed, staying alive and with the same squad, took precedence over personal heroics, good practice for the following battle when I would be risking Nathrach’s life, rather than some nameless orc corsair.

The only occasion of note occurred at the end, when a die-hard band of heroes remained to negotiate with the Grendel for the return of the wounded and the bodies of the slain. Standing over a wounded human hero, a man in leather armour propped against a tree mere yards from the safety of his own lines, I watched the human commanders attempt negotiations. The left flank of the human troops, however, jeered, spat, and offered challenges to the orc warriors still holding their friends hostage.

Ultimately, the handover began when the wounded man in my custody called out a final message to his wife, who stood in the human lines. The Grendel warriors were moved to mercy, and brought the man forth alive without ransom. Barely had this noble gesture been made, than the left flank of alleged heroes replied with a volley of arrows.

Snake Shaman

Snake Shaman photographed by Amanda McDonald.

Returned from picking strawberries, Nathrach spotted the lean figure of the Harlequin, bright in his black-and-red diamond pattern, strolling through the crowd. Nathrach greeted him warmly; their first encounter had been strained, Prince Drogon suspicious of the montebank who had appeared so suddenly among the powers of the League. The Harlequin had been amused by the grim manner of the Prince’s bodyguard, and with all suspicions settled, Nathrach chatted amiably with the new Egregor of the League.

An “Egregor”, it should be noted, is an NPC, a Non-Player Character, an actor, in other words. Equipped with an earpiece, an Egregor is the eyes of Profound Decisions, the organisers of Empire events. Thus are story-lines and game incentive fed down to players, and players’ own games and storylines passed up. Besides your own group of friends and the social life of your in-game nation, the Egregors are a new player’s access to the otherworld of Empire.

While Nathrach was about his investigations, his wife Akora too had a meeting with the Egregor. The Harlequin, unwitting of whose wife he asked it, required help to secure his codpiece. Nathrach was much amused when she told him.

For the afternoon, we were joined again by Bessie the Bard, and felt it something of an honour to host the Empire’s greatest entertainer at our pavilion. While there, Bessie gifted us with a sign proclaiming the Crimson Cartel as “Friends of Bessie”, and picked my brains for suitable verbal abuse to throw at a farmer’s wedding.

Later, a small crowd gathered in the League Plaza, directly at the Shoppe doorstep, for the Fox Sword duelling contest. Nathrach contended, and defeated a number of opponents, but was undone more than once by skilled adversaries.

At one point, Scevola di Niente enjoined Bessie the Bard to take to the field. A call went out for another bard to face her, and one Niccolo appeared in answer. Accepting the challenge to a musical contest, Niccolo returned presently armed with his violin. He played a beautiful piece, lilting classical strains that drifted across the field and drew a round of applause. Then, a hush fell as Bessie readied her response, half the crowd in expectant ignorance and the rest knowing full well what was to come.

Besie The Bard 1

Esmee Galea as Bessie The Bard

Settling her guitar beneath her chin, Bessie assumed a wide fighting stance. A few minute adjustments of her posture created a truly daunting prospect for her opponent. Then she struck a ferocious chord, and screamed, “Aromnomnomnom! Aromnomnomnom! Karakao! Aromnomnom!” Advancing implacably until Niccolo took a backward pace, gaping, shaking his head, stunned.

Bessie withdrew to wild applause, leaving the violinist Niccolo to recover and marshal himself to fight back. This time he played a jaunty piece, toe-tapping fiddle music, subtle and skilled. When he had done, the crowd applauded. Bessie assumed a fighting crouch, her guitar braced like a cannon. Someone in the crowd remarked that she was digging deep.

Advancing crabwise, the indefatigable bard assaulted her guitar with violence and sang in a voice to instil terror in the staunchest heart, “You’re shit! Get off the bridge! Get off the bridge! You’re shit! Get off the bridge, because you’re shiiiiiiit!” At her final scream, Niccolo was defeated, and withdrew. (Is it just us, or does it sound a bit like the way the Brexit campaign was run?)

A team fight followed, two-on-two, confined to a narrow field so that all must fight in single-file. Seeing the first contest, Nathrach stepped forward for the second, and for his comrade summoned Bessie the Bard, deeming her the most fearsome champion present. With Nathrach’s long sword to hold their opponents at bay, Bessie assailed them over his shoulders with her ukelele, until both men yielded the contest in defeat.

Other contests followed, the Harlequin himself joining in the “cavalry” duels, each combatant carried on the shoulders of an ally. The Fox Sword was ultimately won, however, by Ideolo of the Orphan’s Bar, in a contest of wit against Gant Archama of the Torn Banners. Gant, being accounted the champion crafter of insults known to the League, was utterly destroyed by his opponent Ideolo. Left unable to respond but for choking on his tongue, Gant withdrew. At the counting of battle-honours, Ideolo was found to have doubled every other man’s score, and accepted the Fox’s Sword in victory.

Not long after, the new Empress’ procession passed by, on her way to the coronation, conducted by the Harlequin. The Empress paused, and Nathrach found the Harlequin suddenly standing beside him, demanding recommendations for a good pub nearby. The question was interrupted by the Empress reconvening her advance; caught directly in the path of her entourage, Nathrach had no option but to call out, “Make way for the Empress!” if only that he himself should have room to let her pass.

Besides the major battle each day, every nation participates in smaller-scale skirmishes throughout the afternoon and evening. On this occasion, two skirmishes were planned.

Nathrach demurred from further battle, and remained with Akora at their Shoppe until nightfall. Periodically, he puzzled over the partially-solved cipher and its cryptic message. With the return of Empire warriors from the evening expedition, dire news arrived: General Andrea had been captured by Grendel orcs. A second expedition was planned in haste, but before it could set out, Echodin brought yet worse: General Andrea had been murdered by the orcs. Prince Drogon walked abruptly away, taking a moment to ascertain his self-control; the slain warrior had been his blood-sister.

It was rumoured in the Temeschbar that the first expedition had been ambushed, their intentions foreknown by the enemy. This speculation strengthened the fear that the orcs had murdered General Andrea from some forewarning of the rescue mission. Further, ill omens abounded of a red star seen in the sky above the Empire, and a plot to depose the newly-crowned Empress. Many of the Draugir lineage, including Aurora of the Crimson Cartel, were afflicted by a terrible foreboding of doom. Some spoke of an Eternal, angered to betray the Empire’s battleplans to all enemies. Others whispered of a plot against the League, from whose ranks the new Empress herself arose.

Barely had Prince Drogon relayed this news, than he was summoned to the Torn Banners to give account of his absence at the preceding battle, on charges that his presence alone might have changed the outcome. Nathrach, as the prince’s bodyguard, offered to accompany him to the meeting. The good prince swore softly, as if realising only then that his life might be in danger. He resolved to go alone, reasoning that to go armed and escorted would only make danger more certain. As it transpired, the Prince survived his interview.

The next morning, it had been determined (by machinations of Prince Drogon), that the Crimson Cartel should fight as mercenaries in the pay of the Marches, to help reclaim territory lost to the Grendel orc invasion. The mission: To destroy the entrances of the mines through the mountains, which the orcs might use to sneak reinforcements onto the Empire’s flanks.

Water-carriers and potion-sellers patrolled the warriors waiting to set out. Among the crowd, Nathrach saw the Harlequin, passing what might be final words to steady the courage of the fighters making ready. The Harlequin gave Nathrach only a smile and a mock salute; the Prince’s bodyguard returned the gesture, and went on to join Drogon and the Crimson Reapers’ squad.

The Marches and their League mercenaries set out in collumn, through the portal to the battlefield. The Crimson Reapers (Prince Drogon, Captain Nathrach, Lucky, Hermes, Echodin, and Talia) marched with the Torn Banners, supported by the Drunken Mercenaries. The forces of the Brass Coast had preceded them, and had already engaged the orcs by the time the Marches and League arrived. The orders were not to engage; the League skirted the melee and made double-time to the woodland. Here the difficulties began; the Jotun orcs met the League with fierce resistance. The arrival of ogres in the fight drove the attacking League clear back to the open ground, the orcs jeering on the threshold of the woods.

The Torn Banners reformed to hold their position, staving off orc skirmishers from all sides until the captains decided to turn about, and aid the Brass Coast warriors still fighting it out with the enemy in the open field. Despite misgiving about the change of plan, the Crimson Reapers joined the redirected march. They were halfway to the fight there when orders were changed again, and the column turned to make a second attempt at the woods.

The orcs closed in at once from both sides, pinning the League and Marches force in the narrow way between the woodland and the open ground. Until then, Nathrach had been in sight of the rest of the Crimson Reaper squad; now, all were lost save Talia and Lucky, the rest having been separated in the confused march. Nathrach could only hope that Prince Drogon’s valour would see them through, and set himself to see that his remaining comrades survived the day.

The orcs attacked in waves, initially from the open field while skirmishers in the woods barred any retreat. Nathrach lost sight of Talia; she had been behind him, in the last rank, to treat the wounded as they withdrew. Suddenly, the Reaper’s physick was gone. Three more waves of orcs assailed them before Nathrach saw her again: When the Torn Banners managed to drive the orcs back somewhat from the woodland threshold, Nathrach spotted Talia fallen on the field behind the orcish line.

Thus far, Nathrach had restrained heroics and fought in the second rank, supporting the more heavily armoured halberdiers. Now, unknowing if Talia had already bled out from her wounds, Nathrach plunged into the orc line and battled a way through to her aid. Finding Talia still alive, he hauled the wounded healer back, fighting a path through the orcs again until both were safely behind their own line. Barely had Talia been treated, than a column of orcs arrived from the woods.

The Torn Banners were caught, pinned in the narrow way with orcish shieldwalls closing to crush them from either side. The orcs charged, their two lines coming within a spear’s reach of one another. Trapped between them, the warriors of the League leaped back-to-back and fought for their lives. In the ferocious melee, they broke through and drove one flank of the orc pincer-movement back into the woods.

The orcs behind them pursued, sending ogres again to the fore, but the League made a fighting retreat and gained their objective; the entrance to the mines. Here, engineers were already at work to collapse the tunnels.

The League formed up and held the line, doggedly defending the mines against repeated onslaughts. Exhausted, their line closing into an ever tighter knot, the wounded piling up behind them, they knew a moment of despair when yet another orcish column marched out of the trees. The warriors of the League braced themselves and made ready to die, backs to the mines and swords to the foe.

The orcish reinforcements charged with a roar, crashing not into the League, but into the flank of the orcs assailing them. Then were seen the banners of the 1st and 2nd Legions, under generals Irontide Scar and Bloodcrow Morg-ur; these new orcs were not Jotun, but Imperial Orc Legionnaires, arrived in the final hour to turn the tide of battle. The Torn Banners and those with them were afforded a moment’s rest, the Imperial Orcs fighting with ferocious courage until a blast and gout of smoke signalled the collapse of the mines. The Imperial Orcs redoubled their valour, and opened a path through the enemy for all to escape, themselves fighting on in the rearguard to bring the miners out safely as well.

Ahead now lay the open field, where the Brass Coast had been reinforced by Dawnish warriors to hold back the last of the Jotun legion. All that remained was to punch through the melee and make the final retreat to the portal.

Back in the open, Nathrach was joyed to see Prince Drogon, then Echo and Hermes, all three bloodied but still alive. Barely had the Crimson Reapers been reunited, than a lone orc scout sprang suddenly, knifing first Talia and then Prince Drogon brutally from behind. Hermes, Echodin and Nathrach rushed to their aid, but the orcish assassin had already fled.

By all luck, the alchemist Hermes still had a healing potion, and was able to save both Drogon’s and Talia’s  lives. With the Prince wounded, the captain of the Torn Banners ordered Nathrach to see to the Reaper’s safe escape, and they joined the lines of halberdiers in a back-pacing retreat towards the portal.

These final minutes were for me a high point of the battle: One issue of LARP battles is that the demands of fun mitigate against drilling group combat manoeuvres. Complex tactics are generally limited to an understanding of three basic formations (Column, Line and Skirmish), and the minimum necessary terms (flanking and the difference between the left and the right, forward and back).

On this occasion, none of that held true: The retreat was a feat of military formation dancing, our forces arraying in wide-spaced interlocking lines like a ladder down the battlefield. The front line then back-paced, face to the foe and weapons ready, until they passed through the defensive line behind them. By my estimate amid the fighting, a dozen largely undrilled units performed a text-book leap-frog fighting retreat in good order. I for one was very impressed.

The Wolf Art

The Wolf Art, by Nicholas Young

Returning from battle, the first person Nathrach happened upon was Bessie the Bard. Nathrach greeted her with good cheer, and joked that her presence on the battlefield might have thrown back the Jotun far sooner.

The League Plaza was all but deserted when a man in a wolf-faced mask, accompanied by a priest of the Wintermark, put out an open challenge. Nathrach accepted, ever ready to test his swordarm and unwitting then of the mysterious quest he was about to undertake.

The Wolf was a fencer, armed with a rapier. He raised an eyebrow at Nathrach’s greatsword, but accepted nonetheless. Swift and skilful was The Wolf, but even to the eyes of the priest standing referee, there was no telling which combatant struck first, their blows falling simultaneously time and again. At the last, Nathrach took the match by a hair, and The Wolf yielded up his mask as a trophy, bidding him all good fortune.

Only then did the Wintermark priest approach, and explain to Nathrach the gaes now binding him; to become himself The Wolf, until such time as a greater swordsman could defeat him for the enchanted mask. The Wintermark priest brought him to the Shaman, a nameless Naga wizard, the master of the masks, and received his blessing. According to the gaes of the mask, Nathrach then donned his armour and took up his two-handed sword, and walked with his wife through the nations of the Empire, wearing the mask openly.

It was the Wintermark priest, however, who found a challenger to face the new Wolf; a self-styled nobleman of the Dawn nation. Nathrach returned to the Crimson Cartel’s pavilion, and soon after was met by a burly youth in full armour, who challenged him to combat.

Wolf Mask rune

Wolf Mask rune, by Tony Porteous

What then ensued was a duel so ferocious and literally bloody that it cannot be told IC: My opponent bull-rushed me at once, using the weight of his armour to drive me back into a neighbouring tent. As I tripped over the guy-ropes, I caught him a solid blow about the head. Before I could regain my feat, he crashed into the tent as well, continuing the fight until the Wintermark priest intervened.

With the rules sternly clarified, we squared off again. At first, I thought the red stain on my opponent’s face was makeup. Only as we engaged again did I realise it was real blood, from a cut on his scalp. My opponent insisted on continuing, and asked for eight hits as the end-point; with the score 4/0 in my favour, he withdrew. I, in all sportsmanship, offered to accompany him to the First Aid tent.

Wiping the blood from his sword, Nathrach accompanied the priest in seeking the Shaman, the master of the masks, to tell him of the duel. Nathrach hailed him as he approached; “Shaman! The Wolf abides.”

This was my third event, and the developing nature of the game become clear. Every event, one has more to do; more story and game to pursue, more appreciation of the wider stage on which all players’ adventures occur.

And you can find more from Samuel Z Jones…

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Another Day, Another LARP – Review by Samuel Z Jones

Disclaimer

A few people have suggested, following my first LARP review, that I should write entirely In-Character from beginning to end. Kindly permit me to explain: There are countless IC accounts of every Event, I am sure many of them are excellent and have avid fans. This is a review. My switching in and out of character here reflects my experience at the event itself. To assist clarity, passages hereafter in italics reflect moments in character.

Additional Note from the Editor

We quite enjoyed the switching in and out of character and it’s our website, so nah.  Also, we quite like pink, so in addition to italics we will make the “IC” stuff pink, because we can. Editorial notes and thoughts, general sarcasm will be blue, so you can tell it apart.

Day 1

Arrival

We arrived at the event on the back of a week-long road trip covering half of England. My partner and I work in publishing; we came fresh from a book launch in Bristol to celebrate with a long weekend of Fantasy immersion at Empire 2 2016. Finding our team-mates, we set up camp, our base situated conveniently beside the Temeschbar, close to the Orphan’s bar, and nigh to Illiannia’s Meadery. Other significant locations were also near.

In character, we became Prince Drogon, his bodyguards Lucky Flint and Nathrach MacNebb, and Nathrach’s wife, Akora.

The Harlequin I

The good prince bought a newspaper, from the Pledge Press directly opposite our Crimson Cartel tent. Here we learned one of the major ongoing storylines of the weekend: The three Egregores of the League, which is to say the three chiefs of the League, had vanished; the headline read “Egregone!” (Isn’t that a book/film?!) In their place now was The Harlequin, a jolly, rotund chap dressed in a red and black diamond pattern befitting his name. Prince Drogon returned from his first foray, incensed that this mountebank had so transparently seized power in the League. The Prince and his bodyguards resolved to investigate.

The Virtue of Ambition

That first night, there was much drinking. In the Temeschbar, Nathrach was drawn into a theological debate with a pair of drunk Inquisitors. The question was Nathrach’s remark that the Virtue of Ambition, or any other, was necessarily served by the appreciation of its antithesis. The case in point began with the notion that an Ambitious man should measure his reach with humility, and proceeded to the observation that Pride in one’s skill at debate should yield, on occasion, to Pride in one’s skill at arms. At this point, the priests withdrew. Aware that he had been deliberately entrapped into the discussion by an erstwhile ally, Nathrach refrained from drinking more that night, and readied himself for further trouble with the theocracy.

Day 2

Nathrach rose early, while most others were still taking council of their hangovers. The proof of his philosophical persuasions would be seen in whether or not the Inquisition arrived to press the matter further. Nathrach sat upon the bench outside the Crimson Cartel’s tent, a cigarette upon his lip, a flagon of tea by his side, and a great sword in his lap.

I love camping. Having a huge canvas bell-tent strewn with weapons and armour inevitably added to the experience. Outside, a literal tent city of the same sprang up, resplendent with banners and flags, people in bright costumes wandering the streets, and a panoply of weapons and armour on display. The evil weatherman had predicted rain; a brooding thunder head wore a speculative expression, in an otherwise clear sky.

The camp stirred. We stuffed ourselves with fried potato and vegetarian sausages, finished our tea,

and joined the general movement towards the muster point for the main battle of the day.

1st Battle: Orcing

As I understood it, the objective of the human Heroes was to retrieve some holy and/or magical artefacts from the forest near the city of Sarvos. The territory had been recently seized by orcs of the Grendal nation. Our objective, on the orc team, was to intercept the expedition to retrieve said artefacts.

At the muster point, there was much joy to discover that besides the fearsome orc-masks and surprisingly realistic breastplates, our kit now included suitably orcy helms. Armed, face-painted and masked, we formed up in our designated units and made a passable show of marching to the battlefield.

There’s an ancient maxim that applies in these situations: “Hurry up and wait.” This we duly did, rolling our orc masks up onto our brows to smoke in the final minutes before battle. Then the order came down to mask up, and we assembled for a good shouting at by the commander of the orcish horde. His oratory was interrupted by a referee, with the message that the human side had already taken the field. The orc commander then shouted at the ref instead.

What then ensued was not, overall, a great day for the orcs. The lines of battle went back and forth, not to mention around and all directions in between. We fought half a dozen engagements from as many angles around the same network of paths. The orcs were driven back, and the humans assembled en mass in the centre ground. The orcish line became strung out, unable to effectively form except in the narrow paths through undergrowth.

At these passes, moments of heroism ensued. Orcish skirmishers fought rearguard actions while the shield-walls reformed. Falling back with a small squad, I found myself momentarily alone against a swordsman all in black. Even his face was black; painted so that only the whites of his eyes showed. We exchanged blows, but the reach of a two-handed sword gave me the edge, and the fight ended with a frankly beautiful slash across his throat with the very tip of the blade. His eyes bulged and his tongue poked; he reeled back with one hand to his neck, only half acting. Then he grinned and sold it with a nod, clutching one hand to his throat as he stumbled back to the human lines.

Though mostly dry, the forest still contained muddy channels and streams. Generally, we avoided fighting near them. The frequent reforming of the orc lines, however, forced us to occasionally retreat at speed through these muddy hazards. At one point, while I was leaping with enviable agility across dry islands in the mud, some cheap git shot me in the back with an arrow. I completed my final leap to dry land, and dutifully crumpled to the ground. Laying dead for awhile, I was witness to the human advance, and found myself behind the lines. I wandered to the respawn point, a circuitous route that led eventually back to the same tangle of paths through the woods.

The humans had entirely formed now. With a squad of skirmishers, I tracked along the entire length or their line, seeking anywhere to engage other than at the by now familiar tangle of woodland paths. A solid mass of packed troops confronted us, with no sign of any orcish column to join in breaking through. Our squad returned to the woody paths, where we found a band of humans heavily beset by our orcish brethren. We joined the fight, outpacing human reinforcements. One human warrior still on his feet was cut down, and a woman trying to aid a fallen comrade chopped in the neck. The humans pushed forward en mass, and our line began to fall back.

An orc warchief attempted to rally us, settling on yelling abuse at me as the only orc apparently listening. On his orders, I took up yelling abuse at the retreating orcs too. The shieldwall reformed, and there ensued a ferocious fight. The humans crashed into us. I was caught in the frontline, without a shield. I’d been doing a lot of shouting all day, and now the adrenaline fully kicked in. My habitual kiai-shout in combat became a continuous roar. I joined a berserk assault that scattered the human shield-wall. My last blow was an overhead chop, neatly crowning the unfortunate chap directly in front of me. He staggered back, comically stunned, and we all paused. Then he shook his head clear, raised a hand to signal he was okay, and the fight resumed. The ref’s hand landed on my shoulder, and I voluntarily withdrew to catch my breath. About ten seconds later, the adrenaline crashed and last night’s drinking hit me in the gut. I withdrew to the respawn point, and rested out the remainder of the battle until word arrived to head home.

Opening Shoppe

I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon stretched out in our tent, exhausted. We had set up a stall out front, but trade had been poor. I suggested changing the sign to simply say “Shoppe.” Almost immediately, we sold our first tankard. Trade proceeded well throughout the rest of the day, and my partner began to settle into her role as Akora MacNebb. From trading tankards, runestones and marzipan at our little stall, she progressed to attending Prince Drogon’s haggling over the more exotic resources and items of the Empire.

Not for the first time nor the last, my partner remarked at the incredible cleanliness of the site. Even Green Gatherings have more litter. Disposable containers and packaging are not period and people just don’t use them; across the entire site, there was barely a single scrap of litter to be seen.

The Harlequin II

Later, in the Temeschbar, Nathrach was approached by The Harlequin. The rumour in camp was that this man claimed to be a legitimate Egregor, who had escaped from some mysterious imprisonment just in time to step up and replace the missing usual three. It was also rumoured that The Harlequin had on his person three items, each belonging to one of the missing Egregors. Through careful questioning, Nathrach extracted the confession that the Harlequin himself held the Egregores hostage, and might release them for a price.

Captain’s Meeting

That evening, Nathrach MacNebb attended the captain’s meeting of the League. Here he met General Gabriel and the Highguard’s General, the latter designated Field Marshal for the morrow’s expedition. The mission would be to intercept a party of orc engineers, on their way to destroy a bridge. Close behind these would be bands of orc wizards, set to curse the river and flood the region, denying us any hope of reclaiming it from the orc invaders.

The battleplan was simple; while the Highguard and the Field Marshal occupied the centre of the field, the League and other forces would scour the woods for the enemy.

Day 3

2nd Battle: Heroing

Setting out for battle for the first time as Nathrach MacNebb, I hoped to acquit myself reasonably well. Our small squad numbering Nathrach, Drogon and Lucky was joined by Caith De Tassitos, and we four of the Crimson Cartel’s battle-squad marched initially with the much larger contingent of the Torn Banners, our allies who ran the Temeschbar.

Our first objective was to break through an orcish shield-wall on open ground, before proceeding into the woods. We had barely engaged when the enemy unleashed a drake from the woods on our left flank. This monstrous flail-wielding thing crashed into our lines directly behind me. A smoke bomb went off and I spun about to find the thing bearing down directly upon me. Seeing that the beast was armed with a pair of +3 Morning-Stars of Nope, I got the hell out of its way sharpish.

The orcs charged, and the human shield-wall bowed inward. Half of us were flung into the gorse bushes, where a vicious female orc hacked me brutally on the arm. I staggered from the fight, to where an archer of our own side was seeking pot-shots into the mob. This good-hearted chap administered first-aid, a few moments roleplaying yanking my dislocated arm back into place.

Fortunately, the right flank of our army had done far better than we on the left: Even as the orcs pressed us hard, our right flank closed upon them from the other side. Our forces eventually broke through, and we began the advance into the woods.

Again the right flank advanced strongly, and the most part of the left merged in with them, forming a powerful two-pronged column. The orcs flanked the unguarded left, and the Crimson Reaper Cartel broke off from the Torn Banners to reinforce that side. Here ensued a truly awesome swordfight, and I have witnesses.

Lucky and Nathrach advanced left, spacing out between a line of trees that formed a natural defence on the edge of a wide clearing. The orcs broke cover on the clearing’s far side, a shieldwall beginning to form even as a trio of skirmishers advanced to flank the human line. Nathrach knew Lucky was on his left, and saw a small squad of men on the right mustering a firmer defensive line. His attention flicked to the orc directly ahead, armed likewise with a two-handed sword. Nathrach twitched his own blade in salute and attacked, driving the orc back with a flurry of blows. A second orc lunged in from the left and Nathrach parried, twitching his sword back and forth between them, holding both at bay. Trusting Lucky to despatch the third orc unaided and guard his back, Nathrach herded the pair of orcs back. The orcish swordsman lunged suddenly, the axeman at his side swift to follow. Nathrach parried and cut, ducked a blow of the axe, parried and cut again. Both orcs fell. Lucky grabbed him by both shoulders, spun him about, and head-butted him, grinning maniacally.

Photo Credit: Kate Hickson

Photo Credit: Kate Hickson

I saw that! And I thought, does he need help? Then I thought, no, he doesn’t; he needs a headbutt! Fire in yer eyes, man! Rarrgh!

 – Lucky Flint

Not long after, we were attacked by another drake. This one was armed with a pair of cleavers, and I joined the general mob in hacking and jabbing at the thing as it rampaged through our lines. Lucky pursued it relentlessly, and ultimately struck the killing blow.

Prince Drogon had last been seen dashing into the fray. Nathrach spotted him through the melee, and started towards him. Even as he arrived, Drogon fell, wounded in the side. Nathrach pitched into the line to rescue him, hauling the Prince back from the fighting. The orcish shield-walls crumbled, and the Imperial forces broke through to their camp at the back of the woods. Here, we found the engineers. These were human traitors who had joined the invading orc army. At a previous battle, many brave heroes had been killed trying to rescue these presumed enslaved captives of the orcs. The thankless wretches had then taken up arms on the orc side, mounting a cowardly ambush on their intended rescuers. This time, there was no mercy; the traitors were butchered without quarter, and the soldiers of the League withdrew to rejoin their Highguard allies waiting in reserve.

The plan, to secure the centre ground so that the Highguard could cover the League’s retreat, worked well enough until the League forces actually passed through the Highguard lines. The Highguard, in close order and holding off an orcish advance, were forced to open ranks to let the retreating League through. Disordered, they were unable to reform in time to prevent an orcish flanking action that came near to encircling the human line.

Nathrach joined a skirmish unit on the flanks, clearing a unit of orc archers and swordsmen from the sparse trees on the edge of the field. Looking back, he saw that the human lines had reformed, and took a breather. There, he discovered Caith De Tassitos beside him again, and the pair took a moment to loot the fallen orcs in the vicinity. They found one orc still alive, whining piteously in a fashion that put the general courage and ferocity of the breed to shame. Caith was so disgusted with the creature’s wheedling for mercy that he felt moved to bosh it in the balls with his mace. The pitiful thing only wailed harder, protesting that this did not help at all. Nathrach silenced the wretch forever by slashing out its throat.

Seeing the flag of the Torn Banners still upon the field, Nathrach and Caith hastened to join what both feared might be a last stand. The fight was fierce, human columns closing up into shieldwalls to stave off the orc pincer-movement. Nathrach found himself by chance directly at the Field Marshal’s side when she gave the order to retreat. Pausing only to hack down an over-bold orc skirmisher, Nathrach ran to find the captain of the Torn Banners, and relay the Field Marshal’s orders. Then he sought the captain of the Ashen Tower, and finally Prince Drogon himself. The human forces withdrew in good order, before the orcs were able to cut off their retreat. The traitor engineers had been slain, but the orcish wizards had escaped; the battle could at best be called a partial success.

Nathrach returned to camp, pausing to inform Lady Illiana at the Holberg Meadery that her husband Caith was alive and well, and that they had walked together from the battlefield. Then he presented himself to his wife Akora, much to her relief, and awaited the return of Drogon and Lucky from the field.

Bessie The Bard, Artiste

Later, Akora engaged the services of Bessie The Bard to paint a portrait. The experience was so funny, Nathrach sought out Prince Drogon to get a royal picture done. The good Prince was sufficiently amused as to hire Bessie to attend the Crimson Cartel at the party planned later that night.

The Honest Armourer

Numerous traders visited our little shoppe. My partner began negotiating deals in earnest, and acquired for me not only a suitably heroic belt, but also the services of a leather-worker to make loops and fixings, solving much of the carriage problem that afflicts period costume. Modern day clothing, see, is equipped with pockets. A top tip for anyone coming into LARPing; decent belts hung with sufficient pouches are top of the kit list.

Not long after our visit to the armourer, he knocked again at our tent door. During the adjustments to my belt, a magic-item ribbon had fallen off. The nature of the game, beginning with the detail that combat revolves on all parties being honest about their Hit Points, puts the rules inherently on the honour system. Personal weapons, armour and camping equipment are out-of-bounds for theft, but In-Character items such as coinage, magic effect cards and enchanted item ribbons are considered fair game to keep if found or even outright stolen. Yet the armourer brought back a rather valuable magic item, and bade us attest that the White Raven are honest traders.

3rd Battle: Orcing

An opportunity arose to go orcing again, one of numerous minor battles that took place over the weekend. We layered on orcish tabards, masks and helms, and marched out again in a passable column, this time to the open field. From here, we advanced upon the humans emerging from the trees. The line of our march missed them completely; they moved to flank us at once, our column dissolving into a loose skirmish line to head them off. A unit of Imperial orcs arrived, fighting on the human side, and the humans we had almost trapped scampered back to safety. A number of brave Imperial orcs fell and an Imperial orc commander was captured that the humans might escape. Two of the humans were cut off from their friends, about a hundred yards behind the orc line. An orc warchief yelled at me, “Kill that one!”

There’s something about being yelled at by an orc warchief. I grunted an affirmative and ran, chasing down the nearest human straggler, roaring at him to fight me. He ran away instead, but two Imperial orcs dashed out to save him, and obliged me in a brief exchange of blows before themselves turning tail. I chased the trio to the edge of the woods, roaring wordlessly until the snarling of my own breath in my lungs alerted me to another near-berzerk rush. Anticipating the adrenaline crash to follow, I signalled the nearest ref and volunteered to help a fellow player who had sprained her ankle from the field.

The Harlequin III

Bright spring reigned that afternoon, and a full festival air ensued. We traded and interacted, gossiped and rumoured, and joined in the multitudes of unfolding stories as opportunities arose. Our tent was situated centrally in the League camp, and most of the drama of the League faction played out at our door.

The Harlequin appeared, accompanied by a band of mummers, and put on a play. It rapidly became clear that their purpose was to publicly question the self-proclaimed Egregor. In the discussion, he presented the ring of the missing Duke, confirming the rumour that he at least possessed items belonging to the missing three. The questioning seeming to lead nowhere, Nathrach MacNebb broached certain details to the Fool overseeing the performance. His questions were relayed, but the Harlequin boldly claimed that he had been lying at the time, only further muddying the truth.

A Friendly Duel

A dueling circle formed, a skilled bravo with sword and buckler putting on a highly entertaining show against a string of opponents. Watching, I found myself in discussion with a fellow zwei-hander, and we squared off for a friendly bout. This was a real high point, the chance to cross swords one-on-one with an exponent of the two-handed sword. We proved roughly evenly matched, though I concede my opponent was impeccably sporting.

Bessie The Bard Sings

With twilight drawing in, there was a party in the woods. Dancers capered and a fire-show held most of the audience captivated. Throughout, we were entertained by the musical styling of Bessie The Bard. Perching on one leg, her guitar braced at a bizarre angle, occasionally laying on her back with her guitar upside down, amid a range of other bizarre poses, she strummed ferociously and sang such classics as ‘Aromnomnomnomnom’, ‘Kakakao! Kakao!’, ‘Oh Please Help Me I Am Being Threatened By Angry Armed Men’, and the unforgettable, ‘Who Is This Idiot who Hired Me For This Party, I Am Very Afraid Now And It Is All His Fault’.

Day 4

The final morning saw a few last character developments, even as people began packing down to go home. Following his natural actions in the latter half of the battle, Natrach MacNebb volunteered as a battle-runner for the League. Later, he was stopped by the Harlequin, who enquired whether all was settled since the public denouncement.

“If you would understand my manner, sir,” Nathrach said, gruffly, “I am the Prince’s bodyguard, my chief concern is his safety. While the disappearance of the other Egregors was a mystery, and your own legitimacy unproved, it was my duty to be suspicious.”

“Very wise.” the Harlequin’s eyes twinkled. “And humble.”

“In the service of Ambition, sir.”

“Will you be joining us at Sarvos?”

“To retake the city? Of course, my lord Egregor.”

 

And you can find more from Samuel Z Jones…

on Facebook

…and on Smashwords

LARP organiser: Profound Decisions

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Feathers and Toast: Saving the World, One Sandwich at a Time

When Ready Steady Cook was cancelled in 2010 my life lost all meaning.  I was left with nothing to do in the afternoon but job hunt whilst eating slightly mouldy cereal bars and trying to find a way to enter into the adult world.  Let’s face it, no-one wants to watch stupid people attempt to answer questions that they could answer at home with the help of Google, and lose every week to a bunch of smug gits who read the encyclopaedia before bed. At least with a cooking show there is a chance of a serious injury to keep you on the edge of your seat, potato peelers can be sharp, proper training must be given.

But fear not, my life has found new meaning with the discovery of Feathers and Toasta new brand of cookery show for the new millennium.  Tallulah Grace is so much more than a chef.  Her moves in the kitchen rival Ainsley’s Strictly story, and she clearly has classical training in the field of mime.  Whilst it is never stated within the show itself, it is clear from the way that she handles a baguette that she received most of her professional training in France, probably in a Michelin starred establishment.  Despite this, Tallulah has the great skill to make cooking accessible to all, taking on such challenges as the great ham sandwich, or poached eggs, and making them seem easy.

Her time spent in France has also imbued her with the most fabulous sense of style, and her outfit choices are just as much of a reason to watch as her prowess in the kitchen.  The occasional slips into French throughout the show make me, as an audience member, feel really sophisticated.  It’s like watching a French film, only without the pesky subtitles, or the overly drawn out sex scenes…

What makes Feathers and Toast most perfect is that it is designed for the Twitter generation.  You know who I mean, those people (of varying ages) with the short attention span, those that have to get up three times in the cinema because they haven’t conditioned their bladder to hold it for an entire hour and a half, and there might be something terribly important happening on the internet.  The shows are approximately five minutes each, just perfect for anyone with five minutes to spare.   Being on Youtube you are also not conditioned to a specific time, you can check in and out, or if you are a binge watcher like me then you can watch both series in the space of an afternoon.

Watching Tallulah is not just entertaining, but good for the soul.  She is a great humanitarian, and her show has literally saved a life.  The life in question is Marge, who now occasionally guest hosts and I’m sure has her own fan base, as her hip moves are just awesome.

It’s been a long time since anything has impressed me enough to actually write a review unprompted (mostly stuff is submitted here, cos we is totes amazeballs, and I is hip and down with the kids) or I have a minion, erm, member of the team do it… but Feathers and Toast has inspired me.  Tallulah has inspired me, and I hope she inspires you.  Check out the trailer below, and don’t forget to subscribe, darling…

Update, we are currently in negotiation with Tallulah’s people about the possibility of doing an interview with her.  If you would like to send your cooking questions in, you can. The address, as always is newsdesk@newsnibbles.co.uk

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LARPing – A Report by Samuel Z Jones

This week, Profound Decisions bravely hosted a game of Empire LARPing. I say bravely, because it takes courage to arrange a three day pitched battle in a field in March, with a hurricane allegedly sweeping in across the Atlantic.

Enough LARPing enthusiasts gathered to create a tent city, divided into two quarters by a literal river of mud. Like the very River Styx, a moat eight feet deep, half full of water and walled with thorned hedges, separated two worlds: On one side, the OC, or “Out of Character” quarter of bright nylon tents, cars and camper vans; on the other, thoroughly hedged-off, the IC, or “In Character” quarter, a medieval tent city fit to besiege a castle. Lacking a castle in the vicinity, the most enthusiastic assembled to besiege the local woodland instead. More on this anon.

“In the IC” or “in the OC” became immediate jargon to explain where any one of our brave squad might be heading or soon to be found. The O/C Squad numbered Maddy, Len, Tash, Sam (your brave reporter himself), and our brave leader, Nick. In I/C, we were the Crimson Reaper Cartel; Aurora, Tolliver, Talia, Nathrach, and Prince Drogon: One undead sociopath, one self-avowed “Master Delusionist”/professional liar, one apparently naïve elven noblewoman, one sword-wielding maniac, and an undead prince recently resigned from leadership of a powerful faction to start a cutthroat band.

IC and OC, the politics of the Empire largely eluded us. Almost immediately, Prince Drogon departed to visit his old faction , the Ashen Tower, to negotiate his release from the death-vow of their brotherhood and pass on his royal titles to a new successor.

OC, all we really knew in advance was that the good Prince’s new Crimson Cartel were, on balance, not nice people at all. IC, the allegedly good Prince showed his comrades a map, and revealed that the empire was besieged on three fronts. He explained that failure to control piracy at sea had provoked an invasion on a fourth front: A fleet of Grendel warships had disgorged a ravening legion of orcs upon Imperial shores. Said orcish invasion was the occasion of the battles planned for the second and third days of the event. No more we knew.

By hindsight, warm and dry again at home, with tea on tap and pizza near to hand, Prince Drogon and his Cartel were akin to Blackadder assembling the Seven Most Evil Men In The Land… Early in our misadventures, the Prince recruited another conspirator, which still left us one one Evil Man short. Not long thereafter, the first gruesome murder was done. But not by us. While the evil Cartel were at their evil work, a band even more evil snuck into the woodland camp of the Nevar Nation, and brutally stabbed up the wife of the Nevari high chief. Nathrach and “#6” hurried to the scene of the crime, and came upon the Nevari conducting a séance to learn the assassins’ identities from the murdered queen’s ghost. Seriously, her character was dead. They caught her alone in camp and ganked her six to one with foam daggers. She had to lie there being dead until someone found her, then lie there some more while they figured out she was dead IC, keep lying there while they found a wizard, then do the whole “woo, I’m a ghost, they murdered me!” (she did it way better than that), then go down to the admin tents to get a new character… Her IC husband had to do the whole grieving thing, they’re not allowed to be married IC anymore, the whole Nevari tribe are on the warpath…

Sam is the one with the sword.

Sam is the one with the sword.

We never heard any more about it, frankly. The Nevari live in the woods and they don’t have any money; the Crimson Cartel turned out to have no business with them, and our bold scouting mission among the fierce Nevari, even into their mourning rituals, booted no further adventures for Nathrach and Evil Man #6. OC, I thought it was rather cool. This intrepid reporter snuck in and out of a forest séance by moonlight, toting a greatsword and accompanied by an armoured mercenary I’d met about ten minutes previously.

Back at Crimson Cartel HQ (a bell-tent we had rented for the weekend), intense discussion of money ensued. The Cartel was not short of IC cash, and we immediately pooled our resources. The Prince required certain funds, but Tolliver, the Master Delusionist, attempted to convince the band to elect him treasurer. At length, the Pirate Rule was applied, the Prince departing with half their shared wealth in gold, while his evil crew divided the silver between them.

Within five minutes, the Master Delusionist attempted to give his entire wallet to the first tavernier they met. Fortunately, Nathrach was there to intervene and the barman an honest fellow: Tolliver volunteered his purse to Nathrach’s keeping, and the evening proceeded. Proclaiming himself a master alchemist, the great Tolliver demonstrated his incredible Potion of All Purposes.

This mystic brew, he averred, granted any man who drank of it confidence, courage, superhuman strength, silver-tongued wit and even invisibility. Shortly thereafter, he vanished beneath the table, and was seen no more that night.

The next morning, an almost football match element of LARPing was revealed to me: The gathered warriors split into two teams. One side continued to play in their characters, risking their IC lives on the field, while the other side donned latex masks and battered plastic armour to play the orcish legion of Grendel. Tomorrow, the sides would switch, like teams changing ends at half time, and the heroes of yesterday would mask-up and go orcing.

On day one, I and the squad added orc-masks to our costumes, and joined the greenskinned invaders. Those playing heroes IC took a real risk with their characters; while they each had many Hit Points and healing magic, dead was dead. As orcs, death in battle earned only a time-out and redeployment. For slain heroes, there was only the sad wait in line to see G.O.D, the Games Operation Desk and roll up new protagonists.

Yours truly is, quite frankly, well schooled in the way of the two-handed sword and strode out confidently to prove it upon the muddy field against all who dared my reach.

The orcs assembled and were divided into units. Orc chiefs divided us into mobs, bellowed out half a dozen basic commands for simple formation fighting, and picked out the bravest self-proclaimed berzorcers to form into commando squads. By happy fortune, I found myself volunteered along with my comrade of last night, the mysterious #6, for what became The O-Team: Murdorc, Cannibal, Human-Face, and your brave reporter, BA Berzorkus. Seriously, I could not make this up.

We set out into the woods, half a dozen trudging columns of orcs spacing out to “camp” among the trees. The military verisimilitude truly began with a period of “Hurry up and Wait”. The O-Team and those near us, in true orc style, staged a Circle of Treachery, standing in a loose ring and hewing merrily at one another by surprise. Berzorkus stood back, leaning upon his sword, not wishing to dishearten his fellow braves by lathering the lot of them. No, really.

Then one orc, armed with sword and buckler, set upon him. Berzorkus swept his sword on guard, holding his foe at the full length of the blade. Confronted with five foot of greatsword at his throat, the brave orc hesitated; the criss-cross circling of sword and buckler ceased, and he went crosseyed within his mask. Berzorkus slashed out his throat, stuck sword and shield aside and smote him again in the kidneys, then turned to face another foe who came immediately on.

Dropping to a low stance, Berzorkus twitched his sword behind him, this time hiding the length of his blade. The second foe plunged in from the high guard, sword and axe in either hand. Berzorkus’ blade flashed up, parried twice and struck twice again in a flurry, laying open his opponent’s ribs and throat. Two more followed, no less swiftly struck down.

Then the mighty Murdorc challenged him, and they exchanged blows, hewing two-handed with greatsword and cleaver. Petty wounds were dealt and received in turn, but Berzorkus fell back apace before Murdorc’s onset: His foot struck upon a tree-root, and Murdorc dealt him a decisive blow to the side.

In the remaining minutes, we sat under a tree OC, peeled off our masks, smoked cigarettes and passed around a water bottle. Then smoke was seen through the trees, and a horn heard in the distance. Masks went back on and the orcs assembled; the humans were advancing. Within sight of Berzorkus formed three shieldwalls, lines of orcish pikemen defended by shield-bearers. The O-Team moved out to skirmish in the gaps between the nearest two lines of shields, using the woodland as cover from enemy archers.

The humans advanced in columns, led by fully-armoured knights with sword and shield, pikemen in the second rank, men with maces and hammers following and archers skirmishing on their flanks.

Both sides manoeuvred, the lines shifting about approaches through the trees. At the first clash, the humans came through a narrow way, a causeway edged with deep mud and heavily wooded on either side. The orcish shieldwall closed to meet them, the humans led by a long-haired knight in pure white armour. Advancing from the human shieldwall, he stood against four pikemen and almost succeeded in breaking through the orcish line. But Berzorkus was in the second rank; as the shieldwall parted, his greatsword smote upon the knight’s shield, halting his advance. Another swordblow blow fell and the knight slipped in the mud, falling to one knee. Pikes and halberds rained upon him, the greatsword joined by axes and cleavers as the orcish line rallied. The knight made good use of his shield in his retreat; the orcs let him go, jeering in victory.

The lines of battle fell back and reformed on either hand, the human advance halted on every front and the orcs manoeuvring to maintain their advantage. Berzorkus and Murdorc took position again on the flanks, advancing under cover of the trees until they crouched within ten feet of the enemy. The humans had formed a loose redoubt, shield-bearers strung out in open order across the widest approaches and archers guarding the narrow ways. As Berzorkus and Murdorc crept closer, the main orcish forces began their advance. Spotting a human archer distracted, Berzorkus roared and charged. Alerted too late, the archer sought to flee; Berzorkus hewed her down with repeated blows. Roaring again, he turned to face another archer. This man at least managed to draw his sword; Berzorkus cut him down in turn, the red mist descending. He was through the enemy line now, behind their shieldwall, the archers scattering from his path. Then the white knight came against him again, striding suddenly from the human mob. Berzorkus attacked him without pause, forcing the knight at once to his own defence. But the human archers rallied, two of them falling on Berzorkus from either hand with their shortswords…

Fortunately, orcs are effectively immortal. Heroically cut down, I lay in the mud for the obligatory three minutes, then trudged off to the re-spawn point. Miraculously recovered, Berzorkus joined the orcish reinforcements marching to cut off the human retreat. Following the same tactic as before, Berzorkus joined the skirmishers on the orcish flanks. A human knight was attempting to co-ordinate the retreat, rather bravely risking his life to see their archers safely back behind a hastily re-forming shieldwall. Berzorkus sadly missed a chance at the knightly hero’s back, being delayed by sneaking through the undergrowth in the attempt. An archer presented the next best target in charging range: Berzorkus roared and set upon him.

This time, he roared too soon and saw too late that the archer wielded a crossbow: The lad (who wasn’t more than fifteen, poor kid), jumped in terror, whirled and shot me in the fricking face at close range. Bam, straight in the eyeball. Berzorkus swore like an enraged b@~*#& and advanced three more steps, raising his sword to do murder, before it registered, both IC and OC, that I’d just taken an arrow straight through the eye. In all good sportsmanship, I toppled and died, offering the brave young archer a thumbs-up from the floor while he was still apologising.

While I lay dead upon the field, two churlish knaves stood over my corpse and debated whether to loot my mighty greatsword. Fortunately, and by no chance whatsoever, I had it firmly trapped beneath me, and neither of them was inclined to risk rolling the demented Berzorkus over to steal his sword.

Respawned, I joined the orcs again for the final phase of battle. Orc chiefs marched among us, extolling us all to really get our orc on for a final effort. The humans, we were snarlingly assured, had been soundly battered six ways from Sunday, and all that remained was to choke their final retreat and crush them entirely. We duly rallied, the human shieldwalls crumbling before us; orders came to hold back. Gathering a mob to hold the final escape route, we sang orcish warsongs, bayed like mad puppies (edited) and beat the heck out of each other in orcy enthusiasm.

Scattered groups of humans began to flee, trying to sneak past us in the woodland. We hunted them down, six of us closing in upon a rather nicely armoured valkyrie and her excellently bearded Viking companion. Menaced on all sides by upraised orcish weapons, they surrendered and cowered together, the valkyrie bitterly complaining of their imminent murder and looting, and the aforesaid long march of shame to the mystic Tent Of Character Rolling. Just as our chief drew steel to murder them both, orders came down that the battle was won; we had made total slaughter of the foe, and they quit the field in bitter defeat.

I had barely seen my teammates during the battle; we caught up on the march back, grinning and recounting our deeds of butchery. Ditching our orcish wargear, we returned to the where the IC tent had once stood. What was there now was a pile of canvas. The darn (edited) thing had collapsed. We hadn’t set the blooming thing (edited again, honestly) up, and spent the next ten minutes hauling the pesky (really Mr Jones) thing back upright and pegging it down. Frick’s sake (OK, you can use Frick). Mutter, grumble, complain, cuss, etcetera. With the soon to be utterly hated tent temporarily secured, we set out upon a tour. Strolling around the tent-city, we visited bars and tradehouses, fought a friendly duel, and immersed ourselves in the game.

Then the rain began, and we retreated to the OC in the face of rising wind. Halfway along the dangerous mud-track between worlds, the heavens darkened. Night seemed to fall early and a wind arose. The deluge began, and we fled for the car, picking up a stray LARPer not of our company along the way. Six of us piled into car, our driver sitting in the boot. For two hours, the rain beat down without mercy. Fortunately, we had booze and food. As good a time as possible was had by all, until the rain stopped and we all dried off enough to venture forth.

That night, we attended a feast, of sorts, and more drink was had by all. The tent miraculously did not fall down, and we three lads slept in the IC while the girls withdrew to the relative safety of the OC tent near the car. Only Nathrach had the foresight to bring a sleeping bag. Prince Drogon and Tolliver the Delusionist were better friends by dawn, for want of warmth.

With dawn, the bold Prince bounded forth to further politicking while his gallant band fought a rearguard action against the Evil Tent Curse invoked by the unholy storm. Many other tents were struck down, the rain having temporarily abated only for the wind to redouble, the soggy archers in the clouds falling back to allow the gale to beset us like unseen cavalry. Storm! Storm, I tell you! Rain and gale and a gathering darkness as of the wrath of the gods! Mighty Thor, forgive us the brutal orcing of that valkyrie and her beardy Viking, it wasn’t me, I didn’t stab either of them… Alright, I did chop the Viking a bit, but then they surrendered and I thought it was all rather sweet, I swear…

Our prayers went unheeded; the evil wind cursed the OC tent too and we were forced to retreat again. The bold Prince found his heroic band huddled together in a half-collapsed nylon shelter, passing around cups of tea and cigarettes. Morale was fraying. Mutiny had been discussed. Pirate democracy was again invoked, and the team voted that a brilliant time was being had by all, but that we should stop now, while it was still fun. The prince bounded off to battle, while the rest of us packed up. Many other far more veteran and far better equipped LARPers were pulling out. In deference to the die-hards who joined arms in the field for the second round, the angry gods witheld their full fury to watch the day’s battle. The IC tent collapsed twice more anyway. We put it back up only to clear out our gear. Packed, we wandered the vanishing tent-village, admiring the full-time hard-corps orcs (who apparently take it really seriously) and the remaining best stalls. The Prince returned with glorious news; victory! Our side, this time the bold human heroes, had triumphed again. As orcs, we had inflicted horrific casualties; we had anticipated embittered reprisals and savage orcery, now their turn had come. Nonetheless, we gave them another thrashing, which cheered our spirits immensely.

The car failed to start. A likewise stranded blacksmith gave us cake. We waited an hour for the mechanic, but nonetheless managed to escape ahead of the returning fury of the storm.

For my first experience of LARPing… I’m already a vocal fan of camping and archaic melee combat. Both? Awesome. I fully intend on doing it again soon. But it’s jolly (edited) tiring. This weekend, I’ve marched through miles of mud, slept rough, drunk myself stupid, waded through melee, and been battered as if by the fury of a rainy demon-god. Everyone should do this regularly.

And if you think you’d like to LARP, here is the website.

Samuel Z Jones is a prolific Fantasy author

Click on the unicorn to be transported to a magical fantasy world...

Click on the unicorn to be transported to a magical fantasy world…

with over fifteen novels and numerous other works to his name. He espouses a complex theory of worldbuilding, and maintains that fiction is an exercise in psychological portraiture of people who do not exist.

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Book Review: A Tweet Day

A Tweet Day

Eileen Wilson

It never ceases to amaze me how many good writers are totally unknown, but maybe that’s because the best of us are absolutely rubbish at marketing!  This was marketed to me with “can you have a look, I’m not sure if it’s even funny”. Well, it is.

A Tweet Day is set out in a series on one minute bursts (give or take) and follows the author’s random thoughts (some of which should never be spoken aloud) as we experience an average day in her head.

Flanked by her son “mini-Vadar”, a husband who starts the day with quite the bruise and an omnipotent stuffed frog, we follow her as she meets bus users, dogs and parents with discipline issues, and you can rest assured she has an opinion on every one.

The humour is self deprecating and very British, and I can’t help but think that this would work incredibly well as a comic book, with witty illustrations to accompany each time stamped thought.

This is a quick read, and perfect for a commute, or coffee break.  It is easy to put down and pick up, and a bit like following a series of tweets (thus the name perhaps).

Packed full of literary, film and pop culture references, you will find yourself nodding with a knowing smile.  With inserts of sage wisdom such as “You are a potato, be rooted,” you may feel the urge to form a cult of Wilsonians, and follow her Tweets of wisdom to help you with your everyday life.  Alternatively you might just laugh out loud on the bus.

Why not check out the free samples that are available on Lulu, and form your own opinion of A Tweet Day?

I thought it was rather amusing.

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Cos Sometimes I read stuff

As most serious nibblers will be aware, we have recently acquired a new contributor; fantasy author and reviewer of things, Samuel Z Jones.  As Badger co-hosted his online book launch party, he sent her a copy of his most recent book The Baron Moruna to read, presumably so she’d know what she was talking about.  Here’s what happened next.

So, it’s been a while since I have written a samfeature, in fact I haven’t put my feature writing hat on since Rockonnection ceased to be, and that was several years ago now, so it was time to kidnap another minor celeb, chain them to a radiator in the basement and seriously get to the bottom of their creative intentions.  As Sam now works with us here in the Newsnibbles office, he was surprisingly easy to abduct, and just followed the trail of vegetarian antipasti down to the basement, where I was able to tether him to a chair.

Whilst I was waiting for him to come to, I was able to glance at the copy of The Baron Moruna, which I always carry in my back pocket, because long books make me look clever.  The first thing that struck me was ‘he doesn’t write at all like he talks,’ and I was impressed.  It was like reading an epic fantasy novel, it could have been from any era, with classical tones and stylings that set the scene right off and tell you this is fantasy.

Some years ago, when we first met on a writing website that is no more (I was pretending to be human then, I have since realised that badgers sell more books) I read his first novel in the Akurite Empire series, and was impressed by the fact that a male writer was confidently able to write strong female characters, without stereotyping.  This is set in the same world, but years later, and the characters in the first book I read are now characters from history, which reading it makes me feel like I am part of  the world too, I know their history, I understand more what’s going on, he has created an entire world with history and future and real people.  It was at this point that he started to come to, so I decided to ask him: How do you go about building a world?

That’s a big question. And the subject of my dissertation. Short version: Begin by creating the space for the world to exist in. Sense it, learn to touch and hear it, hanging in that liminal non-space between your inner self and the external world. Find or imagine or create a crack in reality, and peer through. On the other side will be someone, somewhere. Speak to them. Widen the gap between worlds and make a space where you can sit and talk. Make it a place in that world, furnish it, get comfortable. This first person you’ve met here will be your chief narrator, your guide in this otherworld; talk to them, let them tell you stories, and introduce you to their friends. Ask them about their world, and write down what they tell you. When you know a few people there and have heard of a few places, start walking, and write about everything you find and everyone you meet there.

Well that seemed fair enough to me, but I wanted more specifics, so I jabbed him with a pointy stick and persisted; but how did the world of Akurite Empire come about?

Pretty much exactly like that. I was making little bubble-worlds, mini-excursions across the ether, until I ran into a character there who offered to be my guide and tell me his adventures. Eventually, he introduced me to one friend and then another, and they told me stories too. I still make a point of visiting that first friend in that otherworld, but he’s retired now and doesn’t mind others taking centre stage.

In this new work there is a character called Ailen (not our fashion correspondent, that’s Aline) who speaks in such a good Scottish accent you can hear it even when reading in your head, so I had to interrupt Sam’s escape attempt to ask: Where did you learn to speak Scottish?

From Robbie Burns. I’m literate in Scottish; I read it, barely speak a word of it. When writing a character’s words, I listen to their accent, their intonation.

Hmm, interesting.  With such a vast collection of titles to his name he must have tens of fans, so I found myself wondering who his stories were aimed at.  Well, there’s no point in wondering when he’s right there, tied to a chair in front of me, and I’m not shy, so I asked: Who is your main audience?

I write for the grown-up Fantasy fan, the people who grew up on it and never grew out of it, who love the old stories and want new ones from the same wellspring of human abstraction. I write about reality through the lens, so I write for people who want to not merely to escape this reality, but to bring something real back from that otherworld.

It was at that point he seemed to be on the verge of escape, and I knew the only way to keep him there would be to distract him with my brilliant intellect, so I struck another question, like the brain ninja that I am: If you could take 3 books, with their authors to a desert island, who and why?

i: Me, and only one book, the one I’d be working on. When I have finished the epic Fantasy, I look forward to writing about a desert island. Nice, calm, peaceful.

ii: Stephanie Myer. Because she must be stopped.

iii: Hugh Cook. Because he’s dead, and he shouldn’t be, and I only found out the man had a website a few months after he died, and now even his website’s gone, and I feel oddly cheated of speaking to an obscure author who very strong influenced my work.

It was no good, whilst he was dazzling me with he quick witted responses to what I thought were really tough questions he had broken free his bonds, and I found my mind drawn back to the amazing fight scenes that are scattered throughout The Baron Moruna so asked, with some trepidation: Do you know Kung Fu?

“Yes. I do know Kung Fu,” he responded, raising an ominous eyebrow.

Whilst this amazing story has a kickass army of women, ghosts, zombies and adventures on an airship, it leaves one question completely unanswered, a question that it is really essential to know any member of the Newsnibbles’ teams’ position on as a matter of course: Pet Couture, would you?

No. I think it’s cruel. No animal wants bows and bunches in its fur, dayglo anything is not a colour any dog wants to be. Cats do not like being shaved (remember that, kids).

Oh dear, divorce may be on the cards… Well at that point he was free and I was distracted by something shiny, so we left it at that, and will probably never speak of it again, but you can find out more about his worlds by going here.

If you think you would like to be featured in a feature, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.

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