This article is about two experiences I had during NERE. These experiences I'd actually rate high on my "moments that remind me why I fucking do this" list. I figured I would share them with you all.
I should preface, Combined the Accord is a game set in an Alternate World of Darkness, the New World, not Classic World of Darkness...though the Vampires from Masquerade exist here because they jumped ship when their universe got et by the big nasty. The Big Nasty is called The Truth, a Reality Scorching Eldritch Abomination that upon the moment of learning and witnessing it's existance, you are immediately infected by it. When you die, you will not pass go, you will not collect 200 dollars. Your soul is eaten by the Truth and makes it stronger. The parts of the World of Darkness that have been exposed to this infection and all it's monsters and mortals have banded together in a silent war against the Truth and those that serve it.
It's not my favorite game, and I originally started playing it because I was storytelling for Mage and couldn't actually play my favorite type of character in the World of Darkness. So the Accord was where I could play my Mage, Rhys. Rhys is an Acanthus, a wielder of Fate and Time magic, also part of a subsect of Mages whose magic revolves around the City, all Cities, and they can speak and learn things from the collective history and fate bound together in the city, making him an adept investigator and overall common sense man. He serves the Cell (the local organization of Accord members) as their Curator, the keeper of their histories and records. He rarely leaves New York, being intimately attached to the City on an emotional and spiritual level.
In April, Rhys (and I) went to Boston for their game. He interacted and learned a lot more about what was going on outside of the New York, and more about a major operation in May. During that time, Rhys proved to be influential in the research of some of the problems plaguing Boston. Not bad for a die hard New Yorker, right?
So the game at NERE was an operation called "Old Peculiar", it seems the Truth and it's Servants, most of whom serve a Church who worship said Eldritch Abomination, have been tainting the water the feeds into most of the Northeast Region. Multiple cells came together for this, including a large swath of people from New York and Boston. This is a recounting of that game from both Rhys' perspective and my own. To differentiate, anything out of character will be in parentheses and everything in character will remain normal.
Thursday night began with moving all of our stuff into a ski lodge in Connecticut (In truth, we were in one of the convention rooms in a Ramada Hotel in Albany New York, standard set up with tables and chairs for gatherings). Rhys was already agitated as the operation was in or near the backwaters of the NorthEast, effectively cutting him off from his first line of magical tools. That was fine, for the most part. Eventually, Rhys wanted to get moving on the operation and offered to use his magic to scry and see into the future...he did, and the Enemy-Rhys doesn't ever call it the Truth-was waiting, and what he saw infected him with the distinct feeling his life was in immediate danger.
This was the first hour of a three night game.
Unhinged, cut off from his connection to New York or any other City for that matter, the second hour was spent trying to ground himself in non-insanity. He was a New Yorker, he walked the streets at night, rode the subways when only those without homes or no good reason to be out that late would be awake. It was around that time that he reconnected with Twice Spun, a Boston Changeling who he had gone out with while up there. Twice Spun, and Rhys' friends, helped keep him stable. Then Rhys did something dumb again and looked for safe places for the away teams to hunker down...and his paranoia became worse.
By the end of the night, Rhys had vowed not to use his magic again, which just left his abilities in the Occult. To cleanse the area, a major ritual had to be performed. Rhys, heavily vetted by members of his team, volunteered to be the head of the ritual.
Tired, and needing to sleep, Rhys took to just relaxing and trying to shore up his mental reserves. It's around this time that John Harkin arrived. Harkin and Rhys have a very odd friendship. Rhys sees the history of a City. Harkin, who is the offspring of a mortal woman and Lucifer, is over a century old. Rhys came into contact with the Truth when he kept following Harkin's history, watching all of the good and bad and necessary taking place. Harkin, in turn, abducted Rhys and read him the rules of the Reality War and what it meant to be infected by the Truth. Since then, Rhys has acted as sort of a Jiminy Cricket to John, as he's one of the few people who objectively knows what Harkin has done in his life. More often than not, Rhys is just shaking his head at all of John's dalliances and trying to be a sounding board for his emotional life.
So it's at this point where John tells Rhys he just came back from Miami, and at that point Rhys stops the conversation. In Miami is a body with a Demon Possessing it, that Demon and John have been lovers and have had one son (now an adult and a member of the Accord himself) together. Rhys has never met her, but he knows exactly that she represents a vicious cycle of self destruction for John and is usually where Rhys draws the line for his friend. The rules changed the moment John tells him that Roux, the demon, is pregnant. Rhys, paranoid and exhausted, knows that this is not going to end well somehow and someway, and because he's friends with John, he swears to help raise that child.
The night ended when a member of the High Council, the ruling body for the entire Accord, teleported in and transported everyone to a wooded area inside a quarantine zone. A quarantine zone is put in place when the metaphysical footprint of the truth becomes too much for an area. The High Council can take that space and remove it from Time and Space, effectively striking it from memory as never having existed and reality causing ripples to accommodate itself. This was a simple message: we either succeed, or this place will never exist.
The Accord members immediately struck camp. Rhys, exhausted and afraid, finishes his wardings of the area and goes to sleep next to Twice Spun.
(A lot of the set up is written in my previous posts. The entire convention space was darkly lit, with woodland camo tarp and tents and boxes with the operation stamp on them, giving the feel that we were in the woods in an encampment)
The next night saw Rhys helping with the ongoing operations. Part of the problem in the area were the presence of Reality Crystals, each one was corrupted and needed to be attuned. The ritual called for 32 crystals, and we needed to get them fast. So teams went out to multiple sites and started doing them, from smash and grab, to dance and baking contests, to poker contests. Rhys stayed at base camp, doing whatever needed doing. He would often buff the skills of others (one of the purviews of Fate magic is increasing or decreasing the effectiveness of items, people and places) and more or less prepare for the ritual itself. More often than not, he was interacting with the rest of the base team. He also spent time checking in on Twice Spun, whose own magic put him in the same position Rhys was in the night before.
As the night went on, and more crystals kept coming in, someone mentioned how these crystals were attuned, and why there were so many babies being brought into the camp. It seems that the only way the crystals could be attuned was to sacrifice the soul of an innocent. This doesn't sit well with Rhys, at all. Mages magics have everything to do with the soul. Their souls are connected to the very fabric of creation, spanning realms of existence and being both physical and metaphysical. The core belief of almost every Mage is 'thou shalt not disfigure the soul'.
And there they were, infusing the souls of infants into these crystals. He began to realize that his friends were mentioning how many they've attuned, 4 crystals here, 4 crystals there. His own friends. And there were 32 of them, and he was expected to perform a ritual with these things. What was worse was that Rhys, who doesn't interact with the national email list for the Accord on account of he'd rather not have any more reasons to drink, had not been told this was a thing for expressly this reason.
As all of this went on, attacks by the Truth on the camp were well underway, including on the tech center where Twice Spun was working. Rhys used vulgar magic to remove the incoming Abomination (creatures created by the Truth, this one in the form of mailbox-sized sea urchin that exploded in poisonous gas and spines) for a short while, allowing Twice to get back and other to diffuse it. Frayed emotional, mentally and spiritually, and with the operations concluded, Twice and Rhys went to sleep in the tech center.
(after a full day of gaming, I purposefully did not rest between games. This was the long stretch and I wanted to portray it accurately.)
Rhys woke up and started prepping for the ritual, a member of the High Council, Son of Wolf (played by Jerry Spaulding, the national storyteller and creator of the Accord) taught Rhys how to do the ritual. Rhys and his team performed the ritual again and again (There was an actual, physical action we had to take, some of us multiple times.) whilst the rest of the operation took on the Abominations and Servants of the Truth around the area. During that time, Harkin began to act weird, and then everything began to go straight to hell. It became clear that the Truth had infected Harkin, and he began to attack the ritual as a 20 foot tall demon. Son of Wolf transformed and joined in size while the rest of us held off to keep the ritual going.
Eventually, the ritual was done, and the crystals were fused into one large crystal. The others took the crystal to the major battlefield and Harkin and Son continued their fight...
It was at this point where my friend Alain, who was playing in the Changeling game across the way. Asked if I could roleplay as Jin for the game for a few minutes. Needing the break, and noticing a massive combat rush going on, I ran out.
Jin is one of those characters I have a hard time playing, in that I've realized is that he doesn't do anything small. When he moves, it should have clarity of intent and a definitive impact. It gets really hard to roleplay that character and sometimes I plan to sacrifice him for something spectacular.
The day before, I had played Jin during in Changeling, and we'd discovered the Changelings who had lost their sanity to quell the force of a thing required us to traverse into the Underworld in a bid to quell. Unfortunately, I was given the ritualist job for Accord, and the two conventions conflicted, so I gave the storytellers of Changeling Jin's sheet, with the direction that he would be willing to sacrifice himself if it meant the difference between victory and defeat.
Well, Alain had asked me to come and resolve that. It seems that the force that needed quelling was a Tree, grown from the seeds of a pomegranate that had fallen there eons ago by Persephone. For those of you who know your Greek Mythology, you know that this tree symbolizes Persephone's yearly cycle of marriage with Hades as well as the Seasons (a major motif for the Changeling). To get rid of it, we had to sacrifice a major portion of our lives to it. The Storyteller's were allowing us to play that out cinematically. Alain plays Tinder, a member of the very rare Dusk Court, whose core emotion is Fatalism. Jin and Tinder are both warriors, they've both, in their own ways, accepted the fact that they will die and have developed an odd relationship built on that understanding.
So in order to accomplish their sacrifices, Tinder let Jin shoot him in the chest with arrows. In return, Tinder took out his sword, an old and blood stained relic. Jin removed a flask of sake and doused the blade in it, took a swig and spat it out upon the blood. He took a deeper swig and knelt of both knees, his right arm extended. An audible groan could be heard as he did this and it was clear what was about to happen. With a massive swipe, Tinder struck off Jin's arm. The tree died from the collective sacrifice of those present and Jin and Tinder were restored back to health.
Aside from one other night, this was the closest to what I'd always imagined for Jin. His story is about full committal to his actions and taking it to their ultimate resolution with open acceptance. That's something hard to do every month and for downtime scenes, but when it works, dammit, it works.
I returned to Accord and witnessed the ending. The members of the Operation engaged in brutal and bitter war while the Pope of the Church that worships the Truth births some unspeakable Abomination. The Pope was killed by Michael, an friend of Rhys' and the Abomination destroyed by VIRGIL, the Promethean High Councilor.
Meanwhile, Harkin and Son of Wolf continued their war, but soon Harkin was overcome. Though it was clear that he was corrupted and now a Servant of the Truth. His body was lying before Rhys, his back towards him. There were special conditions, and only one person could be the one to do it (it was one in an ooc auction, but no one knew this at the time), Rhys didn't know he wasn't the one and took out his gun and placed it to the back of Harkin's head. He'd known Harkin, and known this was what he'd have wanted. But the person who was destined to kill did shoot him. As soon as that happened, people swarmed to Harkin's body, in an attempt to save him. But no, his body was healed, but his soul was gone.
Hearing that, and after all of what had gone on in those three days. Rhys broke down, he (and I) sat at Harkin's body, sobbing. He wasn't alone, and there were many others that night who shared in. The next hour was spent in a haze of emotions as Rhys both grieved and spoke with those who grieved.
It's amazing when you, as a player, are so invested in the character's moment that you let their emotions take over. There was an odd sense of Rhys' emotions and my control. It gave me a better appreciation for actors who are able to go to that level so easily. There was a lot of good and raw roleplay that night, and I count it as my best experience larping. It's amazing how some moments just click together. It sets a rather high bar for future experiences and I hope to be able to reach that level again at some point.
I'm going to end with a massive shout out to Chris, Kat, Abby, Ilan, Alain, Steven, Kevin (especially you, you bastard) and a ton of others for being fantastic sports. It's great working with you guys there and back in New York. Thanks Guys.