Empire 2 seems to have rolled around pretty quickly after Empire 1. I managed to do a rescue job on the robes of disintegration, and even got enough enthusiasm to manufacture a new sleeveless long robe just in case the weather allowed for shirtsleeves. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), my keen was on a downward swing as we approached the event, and I was concerned that the first event would prove to have been anomalously enjoyable. I’d poured more time and effort into this than the first, and so there was a niggling concern that this might have been wasted effort.
I’m pleased to say that it was not and that the Spring Solstice event proved to be even more enjoyable than the Winter one.
I am fortunate in the extreme to have been invited to join a group of such high quality, and it tells. Every single one of the group is excellent, and they make my game so much better. They are considerate, clever and hilarious. I truly believe that you could put me in a field with just them for a weekend, and I’d still be scared, challenged and amused without relent. The nation of Varushka is also incredible. It’s almost as if someone has laid an idiot trap somewhere, leaving the idiots stranded and the nation devoid of them. Obviously, I’ve not met everyone, but none of the Varushkan’s that I’ve met have made me want to gouge my brain out with a spoon; and I account that a near miracle in a game of this size. The feel of the nation is consistent and well realised, and will only get more so as traditions and inter-group dynamics develop. A large part of the credit for this must go to Mr Brind, whose Egregore has shown the way, and encouraged us to follow. Well played, sir.
The downside to this, is that I am still left with internal doubts about my capability to keep up. Juha is a character that is still developing and consistency is a bit ropey. My characterisation is wobbly at best, and I occasionally worry that I’m letting those interacting with me down. It’s been a long time since the beginning of the break from LRP and 3 events is not yet enough to get back to being comfortable. Keeping pace with my group is a massive challenge, given that they are so good. And I keep picking up annoying bits of accent from the other Varushkans, which means a wobbly wandering accent. Still, given time and some more events it’ll come back, I’m sure.
The movers and shakers with the Empire are starting to emerge. It’s interesting and intriguing to see a dynamic begin to develop, and I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on it as it goes.
So, on the event itself, it was almost universally good. The site certainly benefitted from not being knee deep in mud, or frozen. The wind and rain on Thursday was sub-optimal, and meant some really hard work to keep the IC tents from blowing away as we were getting them up. But elements conquered, it was into character, and from there exploration of the site. I was sceptical at first about our new location, and especially when we discovered that Wintermark had annexed the portion of camp across the path from us, but once everyone had squeezed in, the camp felt brilliant. A decent number of paths through the tents, a really cool communal area, and a good balance of public and private IC areas.
The catering was much improved in terms of choice. It was a shame that there was no Caterporium, as they had been a highlight of event 1 (in part for seeing Pete, but also for Meg’s excellent cooking). But a wider range of caterers was good, and the food that I had was all tasty. The satay chicken noodles from the Noodle man were very tasty, but the queue was too big, mainly due to the girl serving seeming to want to chat more than serve. I like friendly catering staff, but when there’s a queue of a dozen waiting, please don’t keep stopping what you are doing in favour of talking. When Noodle Guy himself took over, the queue shrank at a rate of knots, and he still offered good service. Appleby’s coffee was very tasty, and there was no 90 minute queue this time. The chap working there looked as if he’d had more than 30 minutes sleep, too. But the winner of the John award for favourite caterer of the weekend has to go to Tykes. I love sitting down in an IC area to eat IC food and talk tosh. And Tykes looked brilliant, and served tasty food. Only once was I disappointed, and that was when I opted for the onions with my morning sausage baguette and it came with gravy. Onion gravy with a sausage is nice, but not for my breakfast, thanks. Still, 1st world problems… and any caterer that offers a cheeseboard at an event gets a big thumbs up. Honourable mention should go to Curry Knights. I didn’t eat there at all, but every other person I spoke to was exceptionally complimentary.
The look and feel of the central market area is a real highlight of this game. The OOC traders have made a real effort to look great, and for them to have IC goods to trade too, is inspired. The working forge was awesome and really added to the ambience. The tavern is a work of art; the more that you explore it the more that you find interesting and clever little details. I could happily spend almost my entire event in there, enjoying the music and the tasty beer. The senate is cool, and I like the way that you can see the senate towers from pretty much anywhere on site.
Unfortunately, the awesome central area throws sharp relief onto the somewhat less awesome Hall of Worlds. I appreciate that there is limited time and finance. It was definitely better than last event. But… it still felt, to me, as if rather than walk into the strange and eldritch nexus of magical power at an intersection of the realms, that I’d wandered into a slightly strange commercial laundry. The washing line dividers do not work, imo. The whole thing feels thrown together and a bit lazy. A garden rose arch with some plastic skulls hanging from it felt a little too similar to budget LRP games from the 80s. It is a testament to the brilliance of PD, of course, that this falls short of expectations, and I don’t doubt that they will get to it when they can. And it did provide many many giggles around the fire late Sunday night with Harry and Tansy.
The feel of the game is what makes Empire special for me. The activity in camps, whether it be weaving or smithing, drinking or singing, really makes it feel like a living breathing place. And a major part of that is the children. I was a little bemused when I heard that there would be a part for kids to play in the game, but they were a real highlight. Whether it was in the tavern trying to sell me jewellery, collecting for musicians or in the Academy learning their lessons, the kids were universally brilliant. Helping (in a very small way) with the Wintermark “sorcery” lesson was a highlight of my weekend. The children are an absolute credit to their parents and I salute the hard work of the academy staff who look after and entertain them. Brilliant work. If no one has given them a lesson in Autumn magic before E4, then I may well look to do so.
The magic game is developing nicely. The conclave are annoying enough to be able to moan about them, but interesting enough to want to go to the meetings. Ritual research and invention has started properly and creating my own ritual was enormous fun. I’m really proud of the reaction that it got, and hope that it might make the cut to be codified. I have, however, come away from the event with a real desire to up my ritual game. Whilst my rituals are adequate, I’d like to put more effort into them ahead of time, and try to make them more enjoyable. Dramaturgy is really cool (OOC – IC we’ve started to refer to it as Turdgy), but not really nation appropriate; however I have some ideas to make my rituals a bit less formulaic and a bit more iconic. I have one idea that I am so enthused by that I am disappointed that I’m not going to be at E3 to enact it, even though it will be more seasonally appropriate for E4. Still, a lot of work to be done.
I don’t take the battlefield, so am not in a position to comment on the quality of the battles, but the overwhelming feedback that I’ve heard has been positive. I understand that there is some confusion about the nature of gates, and that it led to a bit of a bad time on one occasion, but hopefully PD can fix that. I love that the field is safe. I mean I really love it. It makes the game so much better that people feel happy to wander around from place to place without fear of the Dunny Assassins. Please let that never change.
The national identities carry over into the differing hospitality. Varushka is clearly the most hospitable camp, with a place at the fire for everyone and anyone (just don’t break guest role); and I found Highguard came a close second. All the other camps did well, except Navarr (who were hilariously rude) and Urizen (who were cooly disinterested) and both of those are nation appropriate.
It’s a testament to the crew that I am struggling to come up with any real criticisms. The refs are just amazing. Taking the time to sit and chat about ideas around my ritual, to understand exactly what I was looking to achieve, and making the whole experience a pleasure. It constantly felt as if they wanted to help me, rather than to prevent me. The civil service were more communicative, and the tent that they had at this event was a great improvement on the small antechamber in the Senate building. The bar staff were friendly and efficient. GOD staff were so helpful too! Customer service at this event was amongst the best that I have encountered in any situation, including Conde Nast Gold List hotels! I really have no higher praise to offer.
Some personal highlights include magical theory conversations with many people; being helpful Juha, even when it wasn’t wanted; religious theory discussions (full marks (OOC) to the gatekeeper of vigilance and his thoughts on the lineaged, you made much game for me!); Varushka (yeah, all of it); receiving nice words about my kit and costume; and getting to catch up, both IC and OOC, with a bunch of old friends.
I’m regretting that I will miss the next event, but am really looking forward to September. Brilliant stuff.