Once again I have come home from Poland, another LARP under my belt.
In a change of pace, I didn’t play a witcher, but instead I joined the new viking LARP HØST as a member of the Red Sails clan.
Now, I’m not going to do one of my huge walkthroughs of the game like I usually do for my Witcher School posts. This was rather more of a sandbox LARP, and unlike that time at Krigslive I didn’t manage to get into so much trouble that the sandbox provided enough fodder for that kind of post.
In fact, I didn’t manage to get into trouble at all. It got so bad that I even volunteered to be sacrificed to the gods, but I couldn’t even pull that off!
A bit about the LARP:
HØST was the first episode of a new LARP held in Wioska Fantasy Village near Przemysl, Poland. It was viking-themed, with the concept being the gathering of 4 clans – the Silver Wolves, the Oakenshields, the Blue Whales, and the Red Sails. I’m not sure any of us really knew what kind of LARP we were going into when we started, because most of the game seemed like a low-fantasy political setting, and then suddenly – in the last scene – we were surrounded by gods and valkyries.
Which is all fine by me, really, because I like high fantasy LARPs. I just don’t think many of us knew we were playing in one.
I know this description must be confusing (because I’m still confused), so let me sum the experience up with this piece of advice:
Always bring back your empty mugs, because you never know if the kindly innkeeper is going to turn out to be Odin in disguise.
In general, though the game overall might have been a bit too sandbox-y for my taste, I think HØST as a LARP showed a lot of potential. The story and execution thereof left something to be desired, but as this was the organizers’ first such event, I think they did really well.
Also, kudos to them for spending an entire day building a hut in-game, just so they could set it on fire while the rest of us were out in the forest during a ritual for Freya. That’s dedication.
They also chose to hire Percival Schuttenbach – the band who made the amazing game music for the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – and having them play during various scenes in the game, which created a fantastic atmosphere.
It also gave me this strange desire to challenge someone to a game of Gwent, but I pushed through it.
I don’t have much to say about the character I chose to play, Inga Thorvaldsdottir. I had wanted to play a friendly character (for once), but I think I made a mistake in also making her mild-mannered. Since she wasn’t the type to show strong emotions or display a lot of passion, it made me unable to really instigate scenes of my own when I found myself without anything to do.
Inga was a freed woman, who outwardly was just a merchant working for the man – FéaR-Unn – who had freed her from being a thrall, but in reality was working as a spy, gathering information that FéaR-Unn could use against his competitors and enemies. Unfortunately, the game didn’t give me much chance to play on that part, so I ended up being rather boring as compared to my more impressive fellow clan members from the Red Sails.
At least the other Red Sails got into their fair share of trouble, but in their defense: who could have known that woman we had captured as a false prophet of Freya was actually Freya?
(Stella of Nilfgaard or Sergeant Adler would have felt right at home in the clan.)
I will end this post with something that only bothered me, as the sole off-game Scandinavian at the game:
If you name your game “Høst” and make the story revolve around a gathering of the same name, BE SURE TO USE THE WORD CORRECTLY!
I think the organizers simply saw it as a cool stylization of the English “host”, but it is the actual Danish word for ‘Harvest’. So, a gathering at “høst” would be a harvest festival, which is an actual thing and not the kind of gathering seen in the game. And now it is out of my system, and I promise everyone who fell victim to my rant after the game that I will stop now.
Mostly. I mean, I will try to dial it back.
But also, it is just mean to name the game and the gathering something none of the poor Polish people playing the NPCs could pronounce.
That’s it, that was the last one. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Note: I started writing this post right after the episode back in October… and then I got busy. And then I sort of forgot about it. And then I couldn’t be arsed to proof-read it. My point is, please pretend this was published nearly a year ago, so I don’t have to rewrite my introduction.
It’s that time of year: Time for another Witcher School write-up! And guess what? You’re getting two this autumn, because I will soon be leaving for Poland again. Hopefully I will have recovered both physically and mentally before then. Especially mentally, because I’m going to be playing a different character and I’ll need to let go of all of Stella’s issues, otherwise Eydis will end up stabbing bards for no reason whatsoever.
I’m telling you, you can’t trust the bastards.
This post is about Season 4 Episode 3. If you want to read my account of Episode 2, you can find it here.
Before I start the main post, I got a little bit of backstory you’ll need to understand my character’s issues in this episode:
Because of a deal with a certain mirror merchant, Stella is now terrified of bards. Stella herself was not aware of this fact at the beginning of the episode.
Another player has been sending me letters from his character to Stella. They’re signed, but Stella didn’t recognize the name.
Once again, I was playing Stella of Nilfgaard, senior adept of the School of the Cat.
Stella spent most of her 7 years as a witcher suffering from failing mutagens, which almost led to her death in Episode 2. Due to the reveal of Meinard’s pet mutants, she began to wonder whether the mutagenist was really the best solution to her troubles. In the end, she found her ‘salvation’ in the form of the mirror merchant Gaunter O’Dimm. After making a deal with him, her mutations turned perfect, and while she knows there must be a price for her to pay – the brand on her face reminds her – she has chosen to enjoy her new life for now.
Be aware that she was desperate, not stupid.
Now that she is fully in control of her abilities, she has become more ambitious and intends to rise through the ranks of the witchers. Unfornately for her, that means she needs the support of her fellow witchers, and she has never before cared to form relationships with the witchers of the Wolf School (most of whom distrusts her intensely).
After the events of Episode 2, Stella received orders from Grand Master Astrid and went with a group of Cats to Brokilon to retrieve the mysterious elf Maeveen, the first elf she had ever known to wear a witcher’s medallion.
This was Season 4 Episode 3, and took place from 30th September to 3rd October 2021.
Once again I’ll skip over the workshops and setting, but if this is your first time reading about Witcher School, you can read my very first WS post to get a lot more details about the practical side of the game.
This time around, the utter beauty of Moszna Castle was marred by construction work, and I won’t claim it didn’t hurt the immersion, but we made it work. The scaffolding might have been hard to explain away, but we can always just blame the state of the fountain on Master Algir setting off bombs every five minutes…
Let’s talk about the game, shall we?
Invasion of the Cats
Kaer Tiele, once again the setting for our game, is the home of the Witcher School of the Wolf. As a Cat, I had gotten used to being an outsider, with only a few witchers from my own school around.
This was all about to change. The Wolves wouldn’t even know what hit them.
As I had left Kaer Tiele to go on Cat business between episodes, I was returning with the delegation from Kaer Marter, led by the infamous Grand Master Astrid, undisputed matriarch of the Cat School. With her, she brought several Cat masters, the elf Maeveen, the steward Hugo, and all the pre-Trial adepts from Kaer Marter.
There were a lot of Cats. I hesitate to say this, but I think there might have been too many Cats.
I fell in with Adrian, my fellow senior Cat adept and favorite murder buddy, as we walked from the forest towards Kaer Tiele. The rest of the original Cat delegation to Kaer Tiele – Halvar and Einar – had stayed behind at the Wolves’ castle and were waiting when we arrived at the courtyard. Grand Master Astrid greeted Lile, the Grand Master of Kaer Tiele, and they explained that their two schools were doing an exchange to learn from each other.
(This would have shown great spirit of cooperation, if Astrid hadn’t told the Cats out in the forest that she expected us all to see how much better the Cats did things after staying a short while at the Wolf School…)
Part of the exchange involved that every pre-Trial adept was free to choose which of the two schools they would join in the end. This seemed to me like a bad deal, since the Wolf School hadn’t managed to acquire a single new adept, ultimately meaning that they were the only ones to gain from this. But Stella trusts completely in Astrid’s judgment, so she wasn’t about to say this aloud.
For one thing, she wasn’t stupid enough to do so.
With all the Cats now lined up, it was time to bring out… the owls.
Yes, even when I travel halfway across Europe, I can’t escape them. And there were two of them! However, only one of them came close to being as crazy as the one in my home, since that owl was the sorcereress Philippa Eilhart trapped in her owl form. The other one was merely a lovely barn owl that had been rescued along with Lady Philippa. From my interaction with it a few days later, I would say it wasn’t evil at all.
What a novel experience.
Friendly Blue Stripes and Elves with Grudges
Owlified sorceresses aside, the return to Kaer Tiele went surprisingly peacefully. Halvar came up to Stella to ask her about her trip, then soon started talking about spoons and got punched. Nothing much had changed there. Our group, the Ashes, looked vastly different from the last time we were together, though. For one thing, our beloved tea-drinking tutor, the grumpy old Skelliger Master Gunhild, had dropped off the map while out on the Path, so instead we got put under the charge of the cheerful Master Dagna. Personally, I suspect Master Gunhild was able to divine the future from those tea leaves of hers, and got out while she could, because the tutor was not the only thing to change in our group. We had also gained so many new pre-Trial adepts that the Cats far outnumbered the Wolves, and considering Gunhild’s feelings towards Stella, this could very well be her own personal nightmare.
(Danai, Gunhild’s real life counterpart, had written a message to our group before the game when she realized she couldn’t make it, and the post script was just “NO CAT SHENANIGANS!” I must remember to send her this post.)
But in spite of her tutor’s strong distrust, Stella quickly began to miss old Master Gunhild dearly. Because while Master Dagna is very likable and has a lot of great stories to share, Master Gunhild would never have allowed Halvar to keep going on about spoons during a team meeting. And she would most definitely not have encouraged him. It is my belief that Gunhild would have had him gagged and left in the corner after the second spoon comment, and that’s why Stella will always be a little fond of the Skelliger, even if the tutor accuses her of plotting murder every time she hasn’t seen her in five minutes.
Now… Let’s move on to the part where Stella is plotting murder.
It started quite innocently, with me hanging out in the tavern with Elze – member of the Ashes and convert to the Cat School – when a Blue Stripe we hadn’t seen before approached us. This was Leo, an older Blue Stripe lieutenant that had just arrived, and clearly he had yet to be told a few facts about the older Cats.
Leo said, “Hello. Can I ask you a question?”
Stella went, “I didn’t do it.”
Elze loyally added, “That’s right, she didn’t do it.”
Leo, at this point already very confused, asked what exactly it was I didn’t do, and Stella took some time to wrap her head around the fact that a Blue Stripe was talking to her without accusing her of anything. As it turns out, this was the beginning of a beautiful, fake friendship.
After the initial confusion had died down, Leo started asking a long line of polite questions, at first inquiring mostly about witchers and how they differed from normal humans. He was being very friendly and a pleasure to talk with.
Obviously, Stella knew he was up to something. She just wasn’t sure what.
He went on to ask about the ‘woman that had arrived with the Cats’ and pointed towards Maeveen, who was standing a bit away from us in the tavern. Stella said, “Oh, the elf? I actually don’t know much about her myself”, to which Leo said he hadn’t realized she was an elf. Stella – who has a lot of bad personality traits, but racism most definitely not being one of them – immediately went on the offensive, knowing how Blue Stripes usually feel about elves (and what they do with them). She asked Leo, rather pointedly, if Maeveen being an elf was a problem, and Leo said that he hoped not, but that all the elves he had met were bandits. Stella pointed out that all the bandits she had met had been human, and Cat and Blue Stripe proceeded to have a longer conversation where Leo politely listened to Stella’s arguments in favor of everyone having the capacity to be homicidal maniacs, not just the ones with pointed ears.
It was also at this point that another Blue Stripe came up to us and Leo introduced him to Stella. The Stripe claimed to already know her, but Stella did not remember ever having talked with this ‘Olli’. After he had left, Leo let slip that Olli also went by the nickname ‘Butcher’, almost making Stella choke on her drink, considering that was the name signed on a couple of incredibly creepy letters she had received over the past months. However, this was a problem for later.
After Leo excused himself with the promise to think about what she had said, Stella was pulled aside by one of the new pre-Trial Cat School adepts – Yngvar – who had seen her talking to the Blue Stripe. He told her he had been talking to the elf Maeveen, and since Stella was a Cat, he felt he could share the details of what she told him with her. You see, Maeveen and Leo had a history, that history mainly revolving around Leo hunting down and killing Maeveen’s brother, then cutting Maeveen’s ear off before she was able to get away.
Didn’t know she was an elf, my ass…
I told the adept that I would take care of it, and smiled at Leo as I passed him on my way through the tavern. I requested a word with Maeveen after she finished the conversation she was engaged in, then led the elf into the privacy of a dark corridor where I told her the details of my conversation with Leo, how he had clearly been trying to manipulate me, and if Maeveen wanted him ‘dealt with’.
The elf graciously told Stella that all she truly wanted was an elven necklace Leo had taken from her as he was cutting her ear off, but she also said that as long as she didn’t have to be involved, she wouldn’t care if anything happened to the Stripe in the process of receiving the necklace. I believe her words were “Accidents happen”, and this was when Stella realized that she and the elf would get on like a house on fire.
There might be no survivors.
Murder Plots and Unfortunate Bards
Likely sensing that his expertise was needed, Adrian happened to walk by just as I finished my conversation with Maeveen. All I needed to do was tap him on the shoulder and tell him we had something we needed to discuss, and he knew Stella well enough to show up a short while later with Yorick – another senior Cat that had returned to Kaer Tiele after a year’s absence – and whisk us both off to a more private location for a little chat.
After we had locked ourselves in a darkly lit room, Stella quickly summarized her conversation with Leo, her promise to Maeveen, and her own problems with this Butcher person. I will skip quickly over the rest of the conversation, since it was mainly just half an hour or more of us discussing various ways to kill and/or frame or blackmail Blue Stripes.
That’s pretty much all we older Cats talk about when we’re by ourselves.
Before we closed the meeting, with the intent of taking the night to think over possible murder plans, I handed Adrian the letters from Butcher, so he could read them later. He had already readily agreed to help Stella kill the man, but I’d like him to know exactly why I felt I needed to do something about my newfound stalker.
I’m not going to add the text of the letters to this post, but I think this scene the next day where Dagna heard about the letters and asked Adrian about them summarizes them nicely:
Dagna: “Are they love letters or death threats?”*1
Adrian: “I’m honestly not sure.”
Back to the night in question, the three of us left to return to the tavern. Since three Cats sneaking off alone would be seen as rather suspicious, Adrian decided that the official story was that we were just having sex. That’s pretty much the most innocent thing people will believe we’re involved in.
Stella and Adrian settled down at a table in the tavern, and spent the next few hours being entertained by Adrian’s bad attempts at doing Tarot readings. It was all nice and peaceful for a while.
Then Severin the Bard walked past.
It had already happened once earlier that day, when Stella passed him in the corridor. Back then, she merely sneered at him to back off, to which the confused bard yelled after her that he hadn’t done anything.
This time around, Stella was sitting in a chair with her sword in her lap, with escape not being the easiest option. So when the bard passed her chair, most likely just to go get something to drink, she stood up with her sword in hand and told him to get away from her. Adrian put an arm around Stella and waved the confused and outraged bard away, and eventually Stella settled back in her chair tensely.
The second time Severin passed by the table, Stella’s sword was pointed at his throat, and who knows what would have happened if Adrian hadn’t kept her back, while saying to Severin, “Back away, mate. She will eat you.”
It’s a good thing Adrian just rolls with these things, because nobody – not even Stella – knew in-game what the hell was going on here. But things were about spiral rather out of control. So stay tuned!
(No, that was not a bard pun. Leave me alone.)
Stupid Injuries and Bizarre Punishments
A new day dawned. Due to me traveling from Denmark to Poland on the same day the game began, I had been up for 25 hours straight when I went to bed the previous night, and had then spent the night in that weird stage between sleep and wakefulness. Safe to say that I was NOT feeling too great in the morning, so I decided to partake in the time-honored Witcher School tradition of skipping morning warm-up and sneaking into breakfast later.
After forcing down some eggs and bacon I was feeling slightly more human, but I was glad my first lesson of the day was Archery with Master Aaron, so that I would get to stand still and just shoot stuff for an hour or so. Nothing particularly interesting happened during that lesson, so let’s skip ahead to Fencing with Master Edwin.
Now, I don’t have a good track record with fencing classes. Not only do I really suck at fighting with a sword, but I also always manage to injure myself.
Good news! This time someone else injured me.
And it was marginally less embarrassing than the Acorn Incident. But that’s not to say that Stella’s pride didn’t get even more bruised than her injured leg, because it was still a truly stupid and strange way to get put out of commission. The story goes that after we had gone through all the fencing training Master Edwin had planned for us, he brought us to the archery range and volunteered us to help the archery class with some target practice. Basically, we were given a LARP sword and then we just had to try to deflect as we were being shot with safety arrows.
Now, you’re not actually supposed to be able to get injured by non-defective safety arrows… but I guess I’m just that good at what I do.
You see, the very first arrow hit me on the upper part of my inner thigh. That’s not the most sensitive area, but for some reason, it caused a burst of pain that had me limping off the range and needing Master Edwin’s help to sit down in the grass. Edwin’s theory is that I made some kind of moment that stretched out the muscle in my thigh at the exact moment it was hit, causing the impact to cause far more pain than it should have.
Despite my reassurances that the pain was already fading, Master Edwin ordered me to stay put and made the guy who shot me – who kept apologizing profusely for something that was in no way his fault – get me something to drink even though I wasn’t feeling sick or anything.
As the pain had faded into numbness by the time the lesson was over, I was allowed to stand up again, but Edwin told me to go see the medic. At the time, I thought this was rather unnecessary, since I was just dealing with a bit of inflammation, but I did as I was told and Elze helped me down to the basement to get my leg looked at. The medic examined me, put some anti-inflammatory gel on my leg and told me to take it easy and come back to see her in a few hours. So I went back upstairs (there are waaay too many stairs in order to get to the medic room) and joined the pre-lunch gathering in the courtyard.
I wasn’t in any pain at this moment, but I quickly found out that standing still made my leg stiffen up rapidly, so after the first couple of announcements, I was left with only one functional leg. And, of course, this was when Severin the Bard stood up in front of the assembled witchers and adressed Grand Master Astrid to tell her that one of her adepts had held a sword to his throat, completely unprovoked.
It could have been such a marvelous scene. Because Stella, who’s utterly loyal to the Grand Master who won her in a card game and saved her from bandits, would have walked forward with her head held high when Astrid began shouting for the guilty party to show themselves, and accepted her punishment with stoic dignity.
There was nothing dignified about me limping slowly through the crowd and grabbing on to the stone lion by the steps to steady myself, while Edwin and Dagna – the only ones that knew I wasn’t roleplaying my injury – leaped forward to whisper to Astrid, who then coldly told me I didn’t have to ascend the steps.
The Grand Master asked for no explanations – not that Stella could have given any – and said that if Stella couldn’t handle having a sword, then she would now lose the right to carry one. She then told me to hand Severin my sword, which – due to Stella still being terrified of the bard – was done by me almost throwing the sword at his face while I stumbled away and told him to keep away from me.
Astrid then told Severin that he could choose whatever punishment Stella had to undergo in order to earn back her sword and Severin said that she would do good to put herself in his shoes. He wanted Stella to learn how to perform and sing in front of everyone, and then he would decide if she had done well enough.
I don’t remember my exact thoughts at that moment, but I’m guessing they were something along the lines of:
“I’m going to punch O’Dimm in the face when I see him again…”
Being an Invalid for an Afternoon
I would like to reiterate that I was not in pain at this time. I was just trying to rest my leg as per the medic’s order, but I didn’t have the heart to refuse when Jade offered me her walking stick, even though it made me appear far more injured than I actually was, because I didn’t know how to use the damn thing, which made my limping even more pronounced.
I pulled Master Dagna aside for an off-game chat, not so much because of my injury, but because I felt I needed to explain the whole “bard situation” to her and maybe get some help coming up with ideas for doing Severin’s challenge. I’ll admit to having a fear of singing in front of others, but I have overwon many of my small phobias at Witcher School, so I wasn’t too concerned about this. It was, however, a very tricky thing to do when my character couldn’t stand to be near Severin at all, so in my mind the situation called for a slight bit of meta-gaming.
Master Dagna promised to think of ways I could do it, and then walked with me to the dining hall for lunch, where I had a person on each side of me insisting on helping me down the stairs – there’s literally three steps down to the dining hall… – and I had to resist the urge to whack them with my borrowed walking stick because of their overwhelming niceness and consideration.
Jokes aside, I just want to say that everyone were being so super nice and helpful to me. And even though most of it really wasn’t necessary, I was so touched that I couldn’t get back into character as proud and aloof Stella all day, because I just wanted to thank people.
After lunch, I went upstairs – fortunately, my room was only one floor up – to rest a bit before Monster Knowledge class with Master Ylia. However, I had mistaken the time for the class – thinking it started at 15.00, and not at 14.30 – so I was already late for meeting up with the master when I limped downstairs at 14.50. At this point, my leg had started to actually hurt, because my short rest had made it stiffen up so much that every step made the muscle twang. I couldn’t locate my class with a quick look at the grounds outside, so I decided to look in the tavern in the hopes that they had started the class inside and hadn’t left for the forest yet.
That’s when I ran into Astrid.
Now, after watching Edwin and Dagna rush to tell her about my injury in the courtyard, I was convinced that Astrid’s off-game counterpart knew I wasn’t just roleplaying my bad leg. I had fully expected her to yell at me – it’s Astrid, after all – but when she shouted at me to go outside and look for my class – meaning I would have to walk all the way to the forest and then search aimlessly on a leg that was now rather painful – it all became a bit much for me. Because in that moment, I thought that even the NPCs who knew about my injury weren’t going to take it into consideration and play in a way that wouldn’t force me to opt out of the game completely for a while – like if Astrid had shouted at me to go clean all the cesspits, or something else which is a really sucky punishment in-game, but which I wouldn’t physically have to do – so I just went outside to the off-game side of the castle, sat down on the pavement and was just totally miserable for a while.
(Note: I later found out that Astrid really did think my injury was only in-game, so she absolutely wasn’t being inconsiderate on purpose.)
I managed to stumble upstairs to my room, where apparently a whole host of people had been looking for me, since I quickly had Halvar, Master Dagna and the medic there to check up on me. Regretfully, I had to admit to myself that it was probably for the best if I skipped the last part of Monster Knowledge, as well as Signs with Master Dirk. Especially if I wanted to partake in the hunts that night.
So I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening resting in my room, with the occasional walk up and down the corridor to prevent my leg from stiffening up. Luckily, this technique did wonders, because I was so friggin bored. Daniel AKA Halvar was incredibly nice and brought dinner to my room, so I wouldn’t have to walk up and down the stairs, as well as stand around in the courtyard waiting for our group to be called inside.
I always feel bad for all the times I punched him – before and after – in-game.
De-Owlification and Night Hunt
All of this meant that I was feeling well enough to join the hunts later in the evening, although I asked to be the torch bearer (meaning I wouldn’t be involved in any of the fighting) just to be on the safe side, because even though I could walk, I didn’t want to risk accidentally doing a wrong twist and making everything worse again.
Just to prove to everyone that I really was doing alright, I went with the group escorting the sorceress Lady Coral when she went to do the ritual to turn Philippa Eilhart from an owl back into a human.
There were lights, there was strange-colored smoke, there were hallucinating sorceresses, and then finally, there was Philippa Eilhart, human, but with feathers still covering her face.
There was no screaming this time around, so I assume everything went according to plan.
The night hunt was fairly straightforward as well. I carried my torch – and did my best to not light any trees or people on fire – and watched my fellow Ashes get attacked by monsters. We met an Alghoul, my old friend Pebbles the Earth Elemental, and… some Nekkers? Drowners? I actually don’t remember. But I think it was Nekkers.
All in all, it was probably the most peaceful night hunt I’ve been on. No important plot scenes, and hardly any injuries. I didn’t even get a chance to push the Blue Stripe who had gone with us in front of any monsters!
A Signs Master and a Godling with a Crossbow
I did the responsible thing and went to bed right after getting back from the hunt, so there isn’t really much more to say about that night. The next morning I once again skipped morning warm-up – my leg was doing a lot better, but push-ups and squats at 7.30 in morning is not worth risking anything over – got breakfast and got ready for classes. At the sound of the horn, we all gathered in the courtyard.
I don’t really recall any important announcements, but I think Grand Master Astrid was yelling at people who weren’t me. Then Master Dirk stumbled backwards out the castle door with a crossbow bolt in his chest and dropped dead.
You know, the usual.
I don’t believe I mentioned the Godling, but there had been a Godling around the castle for the last couple of days. Lovely gal, really, but it seems nobody ever told her about crossbow safety. The poor thing was horrified at what she had done, but claimed it was an accident. The masters took her away and we were all told to go to our classes, as if our Signs master hadn’t just died in front of us.
Life goes on.
Well, not for Dirk, I suppose…
Leshens and Water Bearers
On that depressing note, we started the day’s lessons. The Ashes’ first class was Hunting with Master Justus, a wandering master from the School of the Griffin. He told us there was a Leshen in the forest, one which other adepts thought they had killed the day before. But as it turned out, this was no ordinary Leshen, but an Ancient one, meaning that it would keep returning every time it was killed.
It had likely marked someone in the castle and Justus sent us off to talk to people in order to find out who it was.
We approached Hugo, steward of Kaer Marter and acting steward of Kaer Tiele, since that’s a job that requires you to know about everything going on in the castle. All the Cats knew Hugo was a vain man and the Ashes made sure to flatter his ego while we asked him questions about the people at the school. Obviously, Hugo knew what we were doing – and loved every second of it – and decided to push it as far as he could by telling us he had always wanted his portrait drawn. This is how this hunting lesson ended up with us gathered around a Hugo posing with his nose in the air, while Elze did her very best to draw him in a way that would ensure the serving staff wouldn’t get instructed to leave nasty things in our dinner.
But it must have done the trick, because Hugo casually remarked that we might want to pay attention to the people bringing us water. We all turned around to see a smiling servant woman holding up a jug and asking us if we required any water.
Leaving Hugo to enjoy his new portrait, we began questioning the lovely little woman – if I remember correctly, her name was Lily – about the strange mark on her hand, making sure to pretend we didn’t know what it was. Lily herself told us that it had just appeared, but that it didn’t hurt, so she hadn’t thought too much about it. We all thanked her for the water and headed back to Master Justus, who was waiting for us at the edge of the forest. We told him what we had learned and he said we would deal with it later. For now, he wanted to show us what we were dealing with.
Justus took us into the forest, and I had to tell him that I was not allowed to carry a sword, which he told me he already knew. When we got closer to the place the Leshen was staying, he offered me a sword anyway, and I stared at him for a while before finally saying firmly that I would follow Astrid’s orders. Justus took back the sword, told me I had passed the test, then commented to Master Elinor, who had joined us, that she could tell the Grand Master that she had a loyal witcher.
And Stella did refuse the sword out of loyalty, sure… but even if she had hated Astrid passionately, she would still have been too terrified of her to disobey her.
Facing an Ancient Leshen without a sword was a far less scary prospect. Justus sent us up against the monster in groups of 4, not to kill it, but simply to learn about fighting a Leshen. Without a sword, all I could do was to cast a few Aard signs to distract it while my group tried to hit it, but at least I didn’t end up with an enchanted tree vine to the face.
In the end, we picked up our wounded, and Justus and Elinor followed us back to the edge of the forest where Justus told us a few more things about hunting monsters.
Then he, Elinor, and I believe Master Aaron, suddenly attacked all of us. Of course, none of us were prepared for it, and that turned out to be the final lesson of the hunting class:
Don’t let down your guard, just because the monster is dealt with.
Potions and Punishments
Our next class was Alchemy, and I was rather disappointed to see that it would be taught by Master Meinard. Not that Master Meinard doesn’t teach interesting things, but Master Algir is the one who specializes in bombs… and I wanted to blow shit up.
Alas, fate would not have it so.
Alchemy went with some potion theory and brewing, in which I made a rather pale-colored Swallow potion together with a couple of our pre-Trial adepts, before Master Meinard took us down into the crypt below the alchemy lab. There, he made us meditate before taking a Cat potion – it’s as dark as Meinard’s soul down there – so we could see just enough to dissect some weird-looking pieces of monster meat. Why that had to be done in complete darkness, I will never know, but I have never seen Meinard happier than while watching us cut things open.
It was very disconcerting.
It was also during the alchemy lesson that Meinard took us outside and lined us up to watch as the Godling was brought forward. Even Stella, callous as she can be, thought the following display was rather barbaric. It was made even more barbaric because the Wolf masters claimed they were being civilized.
Accident or not, the Godling had killed a master of the school, and Stella would have agreed it needed to be killed. However, the decision had instead been to cut away the creature’s connection with magic. I’m not entirely sure how that’s supposed to prevent her from shooting people with crossbows, but I’m not about to argue with people who believe themselves to be righteous.
We all had to watch as one of the masters picked up a branding iron from a fire and burned a witcher sign into the crying Godling’s back.
Oh, so civilized.
Deciding that Adrian was Replaced by a Doppler
Surprisingly, lunch went by without anyone dying. However, later I met Leo down in the make-up room where he had to get a giant bruise done, because sweet and compassionate Master Ylia had punched him in the face for talking shit about Dirk.
It was glorious, and I wish I had seen it.
Reluctantly, I decided to skip my next class, which was Fencing with Master Fineas. My leg was feeling alright, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I spent the time walking around aimlessly and stopping by the class occasionally to observe. At one point, I was sitting innocently on a bench, doing some cloak repairs, when a couple of Blue Stripes settled down on the bench a couple meters away. They were talking among themselves when Adrian showed up and approached them. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard the following words leave Adrian’s mouth:
“I have a non-violent solution for you.”
This is where I finally looked up in shock and had to get involved in the conversation. “What did you just say…?”
Even the Blue Stripes agreed that we were clearly dealing with a Doppler and not the real Adrian. It didn’t make things better when he proudly showed what rune Maeveen had decided he had the strongest affinity with, because telling Adrian that he is closely connected with a rune symbolizing ‘fertility’ is bound to go wrong. As proven by the following conversation where Stella pointed out that Adrian was sterile, to which Adrian cheerfully argued that this was not the case and that he might just father countless children.
He even suggested that he could start his own “School of Adrian’s Offspring”. Fortunately, even Doppler Adrian agreed that this was unlikely to end well.
I made my escape and went back to see how the Ashes’ fencing lesson was progressing. Spotting the Godling sitting in the grass nearby, I went over and sat down next to her, then proceeded to have a rather awkward conversation with the creature that had thrice been branded with witcher signs and cut off from everything that made her who she was. And since Stella isn’t exactly great at comforting people, all she had to say was,
“Yeah, I agree. They should have just killed you.”
If Season 6 comes around, I swear I’ll play a sympathetic character, because all I wanted was to give the poor thing a hug (and then maybe maim the people who thought that magical lobotomy was better than a quick execution).
Depressed Godling is depressing, so I’m just going to add a happy photo of her braiding Master Fineas’s hair before the whole ‘crossbow’-affair.
As our last lesson of the game, we had a new subject: Ancient Runes. This was taught by my new favorite elf, Maeveen. The Ashes went to the courtyard to wait for her, and she soon arrived in a furious huff. She stormed past us, barking something along the lines of “Move it!” and then headed towards the lawn without looking back. The rest of the group hesitated, wondering if we should give the angry elf some space, but Stella had no such concerns and went after her, plopping down next to her on the lawn with the words,
“Do you want me to kill someone for you? I still don’t have a sword, but I’m sure I can figure something out.”
Maeveen declined the offer, with a few comments that made me think I knew what had caused her anger.
Astrid had forbidden her from undergoing the Trial of the Grasses, something the elf desperately wanted to do.
Maeveen looked around and asked where the rest of my group was (only two of us were there). I pointed towards the people huddled by the edge of the lawn, telling her they were scared.
It was rather nice being the only one not getting punished for once.
Once Maeveen had taken her anger out on her tardy students, she told us about the various powerful runes, what human mages said they meant, and what they actually meant. After that, she helped each of us divine our heart rune (I think that was what she called it, but I’ve taken too long to write this post to remember half of these things). Stella’s rune turned out to be Dagaz, symbolizing balance. Since Stella had discussed her strange problem with bards with the elf, Maeveen mused that a bit of balance would indeed do her good.
It would probably also have done some good for the bard that stormed up to Master Edwin – who was teaching the fencing class across the lawn – and cut her own throat in front of him, while the stalkerish Blue Stripe Butcher desperately tried to stop her, and then got attacked by Edwin for his troubles.
Maeveen just rolled her eyes and finished going over her rune theory. This elf had no time for human drama.
As if we hadn’t just finished watching a highly dramatic suicide, our teacher took the Ashes into the forest to gather ingredients for making a runestone. Mine ended up being a rather horrible lump of clay, so when she dismissed us and told us to put our rune somewhere safe, I discreetly deposited it under a bush near the courtyard.
That bush is still keeping it safe, I’m sure.
The Part Where I’m a Horrible Person
I know fellow players who read this will protest that Stella is a horrible person all the time… but that’s all conjecture.
There were a lot of witnesses to this scene. And she almost felt a little bad about it.
It’s time to deal with the leshen.
I fell into step with Master Elinor as she led the volunteers towards the forest. Leo saw us and approached to ask if he could tag along. Stella inwardly cheered at the Blue Stripe setting himself up so perfectly for an accident, but Elinor inadvertently foiled her murder plans as she barked at Leo that this was “witcher business”.
You’re no fun after you went back to being a Wolf, Elinor…
Soon we passed by Lily the water fetcher standing nearby, and Elinor nodded towards her and told us this was our chance. Stella was the one to stride forward and put a friendly arm around Lily’s shoulders, telling her how we were heading into the forest to deal with some things, and how we could really use some water while we were doing so. Lily, still absolutely lovely, agreed readily, pleased to be of assistance. And so we headed into the forest.
Even when Elinor stopped the group and started telling us about the person the leshen had marked and how we couldn’t kill it until that person was dealt with, Lily never suspected a thing. And by the time Elinor addressed her directly and told her she was the problem, Stella was already standing ready to grab her when realization dawned.
You feel like a real heel when you’re holding an innocent, crying woman to keep her from escaping while she’s being told how she either needs to die or abandon her home and her family to live out her life far, far away, never to return. But Stella really isn’t the kind of person to let compassion get in the way of dealing with a dangerous monster, so her only display of kindness was to tell the woman struggling in her arms that she could always choose the option of leaving Kaer Tiele. She even promised her that no one would do anything to her if she left of her volition, even if she personally wasn’t entirely sure Elinor wouldn’t have her killed before she was out of range.
Adrian’s act of kindness was to give her a purse of gold and then telling her to fuck off.
Cat diplomacy, people.
In the end, Lily chose to run. And Elinor let her, watching her disappear down the trail, before finally scoffing. “A defenseless woman with a lot of gold travelling alone. That’s a brilliant plan,” she said, before leading us to the leshen. As I was still without a weapon, I stood back while a group went forward to kill the damn thing for good.
Singing, Drinking and Fisstech
You will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my punishment from Severin since he set the terms earlier in the episode, but I assure you it hadn’t been forgotten, least of all by the Ashes, who had all decided to get involved. In fact, while I had been laid up with my bad leg, they had been busy turning our group of witchers into a makeshift band. With surprising enthusiasm, I might add. One of our newbies, Lennart, had borrowed Severin’s lute and had been practicing, and – of course – Halvar had decided he would be doing spoon percussion. Some were even trying to write a song for the occasion, but since no one could come up with a rhyme for “Severin”, I suggested we just do “The Drunken Witcher” instead.
Nobody said this had to be elegant.
And this leads us to the last night. Since Stella wasn’t actually able to approach Severin to agree on a time for the performance, we had no idea when we were going to be singing, but since we were all just waiting around for the Trial of the Grasses to start, we did a bit of practicing in the courtyard. I actually overcame my phobia of singing in front of people enough to teach the lyrics of The Drunken Witcher to those who had not yet spent countless evenings in Kaer Tiele’s tavern, and I would end up singing it for the rest of the time spent waiting outside. Eventually, however, it became time for the new adepts to leave for the Trials. As the responsible masters got their groups ready, I somehow ended up standing with Gedymin and a few of the older Ashes. Gedymin, who had been uncommonly cheery all episode, offered to share his everlasting stash of Fisstech, and Stella readily agreed, thinking it couldn’t possibly make her upcoming performance any worse. After the white powder had been consumed, she even got Gedymin to agree to sing with the Ashes later, which would have been an absolutely glorious sight.
With little else to do while we waited for the adepts to either return alive or their corpses getting carried out of the lab, we adjourned to the tavern. And for some reason, I found it incredibly easy to roleplay being absolutely off my rocker on drugs, and it was quite fun getting to play a Stella who was less aloof towards the Wolves, just because she was high as fuck. I ended up sitting with Jade and Ortho from the Ashes for most of the evening. Elze also joined us eventually, and she and Stella went off for a private “conversation” at one point, but they had both had a couple of rough days, so who can blame them?
Later, Elze went off to talk with other people, and her empty chair was filled by Master Elinor. Somehow we ended up talking about my problem with Butcher, and both Ortho and Elinor expressed concern for Stella’s wellbeing, considering the track record of the women Butcher had been obsessed with.
(See the part about the bard slitting her own throat. And she was just the latest in a line of unfortunate women.)
It’s kind of sweet that they were worried about Stella, even though they knew she was 100% going to gut Butcher and leave him in a drowner nest before ever considering taking her own life. And I’m fairly sure she told them something of the kind.
I’m not sure, but it might also have been somewhere around this time that Stella was told about Maeveen’s death. According to the rumors, she had gotten some adepts to perform the Trial on her and she had – obviously – died during the attempt. It was outrageously stupid, but Stella took solace in the fact that the elf died while trying to take control of her own life.
If she hadn’t been both high and drunk, she might have questioned the story a bit more…
The night went on. Elinor was making a lot of jokes on Grand Master Astrid’s behalf, but Stella let them slide, because even when you’re utterly loyal to your Grandmaster, you feel like people she once had stabbed to death have the right to talk a bit of smack about her.
Plus, it gave the beautiful interaction when Ortho told Elinor that Astrid was right behind her, to which Elinor scoffed and said she didn’t give a shit, only to look behind her and going, “Oh, she’s actually right behind me.”
The Kaer Tiele Massacre
Another fitting heading for this part would be “‘ARE YOU F@$!ING KIDDING ME?!'”
Once all the surviving adepts had returned from the Trials, we were called outside where our grand masters had some announcements to make. What were those announcements about? I absolutely do not remember, because of what happened next.
Flashing lights interrupted Astrid or Lile or whoever was speaking at the time, and a booming voice sounded from the balcony of the tower overlooking the courtyard. The man on the balcony introduced himself as Gildarts Pran, a man we had only heard mentioned in passing as the new sorcerer advisor to the king. He then went on to speak about how we witchers needed to be eradicated. You know, your typical villain monologue.
I’ll be honest with you: In the moment, I didn’t actually recognize the voice. If I had, Stella would probably have yelled a few choice words before the sorcerer cast a spell and all hell broke loose as every single witcher master suddenly started attacking the adepts assembled in the yard.
Some of the more collected adepts managed to fight back. The unprepared were cut down. Stella, still unarmed and high on fisstech, took a blow to the stomach from Master Eckhardt, and decided the best cause of action was to drop to the ground and let the people with swords deal with this particular mess. Laying on the ground, holding on to a similarly downed Elze, we watched as the mind-controlled NPCs battled the player characters.
And then the call came that ended the game. Talk about cliffhangers, huh?
Before we venture on to the next section of the post, I’ll tell you what everyone but me noticed about Gildarts’ first appearance:
It wasn’t his first appearance at all. It was Severin the F@$!ING Bard.
The Afterparty (or: Everyone Blames Stella)
Despite my obliviousness during the battle itself, it was very quickly made clear to me that Gildarts’ true identity was very significant for my character. I have never had that many people approach me at a Witcher School afterparty to ask me questions and/or blame me for not murdering the bard everyone had blamed for trying to kill during the game. The first person who raised the issue asked me “How does it feel to know you could have ended the season four episodes early?”, referring to the fact that I almost killed the main villain of the game without even knowing who he was. Even the guy who played Severin/Gildarts came up to me and told me,
“You’re like the guy who held a loaded gun to Hitler’s head and didn’t pull the trigger.”
After the fourth or fifth time, I just started deflecting the blame on to Adrian, who had held Stella back. If I’m going down, I’m taking someone with me.
I also ran into the guy who played Leo, whom I gave a hug while I told him woefully about how I didn’t get to kill him. He looked at me and put on an astonished face.
“Why did you want to kill me?! I thought we were friends!”
All part of the game, dear Leo. All part of the game.
I eventually caught up with all the people I needed to, and after I had eradicated half of the snack table and began losing my voice from deflecting accusations, I eventually called it a night.
And I suppose that’s it. I’m now left with a character with a cartload-full of issues and more than a few personal vendettas against extremely powerful characters.
I dare say next episode will be interesting.
*1 Even after knowing Stella for only a day, Master Dagna realized those were probably the only kinds of letters Stella would receive.
Before any of you rush to the comment section to talk about how irresponsible it is to go ahead with a LARP event in these times, let me tell you this:
I felt far, far safer during the event than I would have on the street back in Denmark.
The organizers took our temperature before we even got on the bus to the castle, then again once we arrived, and then at least once every day during the event. We had to cover our faces at all times unless we were eating or outside with no one within 2 meters of us. We were all given a spray bottle of hand sanitizer we had to carry with us at all times, and there were organizers making sure we used it before going inside the castle or entering the dining hall. We were not allowed to touch each other’s drinks, and all weapons and the like would be disinfected immediately after use. We had designated spots in the dining hall, and our table was shared only by members of the group we spent the most time with during the day.
Before the game, we were also taught discrete hand signals to remind people if they forgot to put up their masks or disinfect their hands, and they worked great.
It also helps that witchers are used to being yelled at and made to do push-ups if they don’t follow orders. On the plane back home, I couldn’t help thinking that the Covid safety would have been vastly improved if we had had Master Harlav up in front of the aisle, yelling at every idiot who thought a mask didn’t have to cover the nose…
Now, on to the fun part!
This episode I was returning as Stella of Nilfgaard, one of the nine witchers from the School of the Cat who went to Kaer Tiele in Episode 1. Stella is a bit of a bitch and can be rather condescending, but beneath that – and her tendency to mess with people – she’s not a bad person. And that turned out to be her downfall this episode.
Like all the Cats, Stella’s Trial of the Grasses left her with a lot of side effects from the mutagens. Kaer Tiele’s mage, Cosimo Malaspina, was supposed to help, but, well… if you read about Episode 1, you know how that turned out. So, out of desperation, Stella went to Malaspina’s terrifying assistent, Master Meinard. He agreed to help her, but the first attempt only made her symptoms worse. However, Meinard had another idea, but for that he would need herbs that could only be found in Redania, so Stella went with Master Dirk and his group when they escorted Princess Liva back to her home. Making a detour away from the group, she found the very last herbs of the season, but as she journeyed back, she came by a group of crying villagers. Spurred by that tiny decent part inside of her, she asked them what was wrong and they told her all the village’s children were dying and that someone had taken the herbs they needed to cure them.
See where I’m going with this?
Stella gave them the herbs, got absolutely no thanks, and returned to a Master Meinard who berated her for her decision, telling her how it was much easier to make more children than to make a new witcher. He now considered Stella to be a waste of his time.
So, basically… Stella was screwed.
This was Season 4 Episode 2, and took place during 1.- 4. October.
I won’t go into too many details about the setting or the workshops this time, but if you want to read about the amazing job the organizers do to make the game immersive and safe at the same time, read the post I did after my very first Witcher School event.
Let’s just go straight to the game, alright?
The Game Begins
It should come as no surprise that our return to Kaer Tiele started with something exploding.
We were all gathered in the courtyard on Thursday evening when we heard a loud boom from the direction of the alchemy lab, and we all ran to see what was going on. A master told us to cover our faces in case of toxic fumes or whatever else could be waiting for us (see what they did there?), and a group went inside to locate Master Meinard, while the rest of us went inside the forest, because someone had seen something flee the lab just after the explosion.
At this point it was raining fairly badly, so it won’t go down in history as my favorite night hunt. But the things we found in the dark were wonderfully creepy.
They were wearing witcher medallions, but it looked like someone had cut up their faces and then melted their flesh like candlewax. They were yelling like madmen and screaming in pain, but I could make out phrases like “Look what he did to us!” and “Meinard must pay”, before they rushed forward and Master Dirk decided enough was enough and made us kill them.
So glad I wasn’t the NPC who had to lie in the mud and pretend to be dead until the rest of us went back to the castle to get dry…
A Familiar Face… Just Not to Stella
After getting back to the castle and hearing that Master Meinard was alive – but didn’t know what had happened – we all got in line to enter the dining hall for dinner. While waiting, Stella noticed Kaer Tiele’s steward (and unofficial Grandmaster, since no one knew where Grandmaster Gregor had disappeared off to), Bertram, talking to this odd bald man that she didn’t recognize.
But Michelle did.
He was dressed in the clothes of a simple merchant and holding a spoon, of all things, and everyone who’s played The Witcher 3: Heart of Stone knows things are about to get messed up when Gaunter O’Dimm shows up.
But alas, Stella lives in a world without video games and left Bertram to make bad decisions.
A Surprisingly Uneventful Evening
After dinner, Stella met up with her group, the Ashes, though it really lived up to its name this episode. Out of the original 16-17 members, only 3 were present for this episode, but there were a lot of newcomers for Stella to not bother learning the names of. Master Gunhild upheld her tradition of hosting a tea party for the Ashes, and this time she told us the tea was known for giving you the ability to see your future.
So, basically, she drugged us.
At some point during the evening, fellow Cat Adrian located the rest of the members of our school, telling us he had found another Cat master. This was a big deal, since Kaer Tiele’s only Cat master, Master Reinicke, had disappeared somewhere, and we were only 4 Cat adepts left. Considering our talent for pissing people off – and our frequent need to cover up murders – this didn’t leave us with great odds. So we were all thrilled to meet Master Fausto, the flashily dressed new fencing master, and we immediately told him about the Blue Stripes sergeant that had accidentally gotten himself killed the year before, in unfortunate events that Adrian in no way could have prevented, and about how Adrian definitely didn’t threaten to cut off the balls of an adept who witnessed the whole thing, but also about how it’s slightly problematic that this adept had now joined the Blue Stripes.
Master Fausto was very understanding.
I doubt Master Reinicke will be, once he finds out that we replaced him with an ACTUAL cat we named New Reinicke…
Classes Begin… For Some
As always, the following morning brought a witcher master yelling outside our doors for us to get our asses up for morning warm-up. Somehow I made it without being late, even though I had to do the hellish makeup I decided on to show Stella’s sickness. Master Aaron led the morning warm-up this time, and Stella quickly decided that morning people like him needs to be executed.
Morning announcements followed the warm-up. They were mostly about how Grandmaster Gregor had disappeared and how we would need a vote to choose his replacement, but I think most of us were more interested by the weirdly shaped burn mark on Bertram’s face. Once again, there are things that Stella doesn’t recognize, while Michelle does…
Slightly worried that our dear steward, whom Stella is rather fond of, might have sold his soul to the devil, I nonetheless went to check out the Ashes’ schedule for the day and was rather surprised to discover my first class of the morning to be Etiquette with Philippa Eilhart.
Stella was not so much surprised as she was horrified.
What kind of witcher school wastes their adepts’ time with etiquette? However, Stella has a healthy amount of respect for Philippa – or at least for her ability to reduce someone to real ashes – so she planned on attending long enough to learn which knife it was appropiate to kill yourself with.
However, her plans were spoiled when Adrian tracked her down and said he had gotten Master Meinard to agree to help him out with his mutagens, and that the alchemist only had time during the morning. Seeing as I didn’t want to have to do my messed-up-mutagens makeup forever, and as Stella would rather be strapped to a table and cut open than endure a lecture on etiquette, I had no choice but to follow Adrian to the alchemy lab.
The Doctor is In
As mentioned above, Stella and Meinard had a lot of story that went on between the episodes. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the guy who plays Meinard didn’t remember this. I can’t blame him, considering he was playing the most central character of the episode and had to be involved in countless small storylines, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I wasn’t able to play on that backstory. If he had remembered, he would have told Stella that she had already lost her chance, and I would have had to do something drastic to convince him to help her again. And it’s always fun when you have to do something drastic in a LARP.
As it was, he merely brought Stella, Adrian and three Wolf witchers that also had problems, down into the crypt that he had turned into his personal workshop. It was still dark, covered in giant spider webs, and creepy as hell, but – apart from the spider webs – that could also be a description of Meinard himself, so it felt fitting.
So did the trays with entrails on the table. And no, they weren’t props made of plastic.
When Stella explained her issues to Meinard, he told her he suspected the problem to be her liver and made a big deal out of grabbing a liver from a tray and showing her what he would have to do to hers if he were to help her. He told her it was quite possible that she was going to die in agony, but that if she was up for it, she should bring him a blood sample the next time she started coughing up blood.
On the way back to the castle, James (aka Adrian) discreetly slipped me the vial he kept blood capsules in, so I could make a show of it.
Searching for Fun
Since there was still some time left of the first classg, and since none of us wanted to stroll in late, Meinard’s five new test subjects decided to go into the forest to find something fun to do. We didn’t have a lot of success, but we did meet a Noonwraith, and Stella tried to convince Adrian to get a dress like that.
It got a little better once we were heading back to the castle. As we reached the edge of the forest, we saw three elves approach us. An older-looking man, franked by two scary looking women with swords. Honestly, we were all rather surprised when the man told us they came in peace and asked to talk to the steward of the castle. One of us quickly fetched Bertram, and the elf told us he was the original owner of the castle the Wolf witchers now called home. However, he was not there to make problems for us. He merely wanted to return to his childhood home, seeing as he was nearing the end of his life and wanted to perform the elven Ritual of Passing. Then he requested Bertram to bring him three items from the castle: A golden burial shroud, a painting he once made of his brother with a squirrel on his shoulder, and a doll of an elf with a sword.
Bertram, being the good guy that he is, agreed to try to find these things. Stella, being fond of Bertram and knowing the steward was awfully busy, offered to help.
Obviously, it had nothing to do with getting an excuse to skip Signs class…
She asked Bertram where to start looking for the painting, and he said he didn’t keep track of how many paintings in the castle contained squirrels. Stella pointed out that she didn’t know his hobbies, and actually managed to get a chuckle out of the overworked steward.
Raiding the Castle
Stella went on her search and quickly found a piece of golden cloth lying across a table in the library. Tracking down Bertram, she asked if that could be the shroud, or if she had just stolen a tablecloth. Bertram felt it was likely the right one, and Stella rushed off again. She ran into Adrian and they went to grab Halvar, who were talking with a new Cat master, Master Elinor. Elinor was curious about what they needed Halvar for, but since many people are hostile towards elves, Stella wasn’t going to just tell everyone there were elves walking around the forest. Instead she just told Elinor that she was looking for a painting of a boy with a squirrel, and Elinor, being a Cat, didn’t ask too many questions and instead just started telling everyone who passed to go look for a painting of a squirrel.
Stella quickly grabbed Halvar and Adrian before things got out of hand.
Going to the tavern next, Halvar located the most terrifying doll in history, and while Adrian went off to his next class, Stella and Halvar broke into the Grandmaster’s quarters where they found the squirrel painting. We showed Bertram, who told us to hide the items somewhere safe until we met up with the elves after lunch.
Gunhild cornered Stella after this and asked why she wasn’t in class. For once, Stella actually had a good excuse. But seeing as this excuse involved her voluntarily helping other people without getting anything in return… Gunhild didn’t believe her at all.
Going to a Funeral
After lunch, I went out into the courtyard to wait for the meeting with the elves. I had wrapped up the collected items in my cloak, in an effort to be discrete, but there’s nothing more interesting to people than someone carrying a bundle of concealed items.
Plus, since Stella is a Cat, everyone just assumed she was smuggling stuff.
I went off to the side to be out of the way, but this backfired as well. Master Gunhild marched up to me and told me to “stop skulking in the corner”.
I just don’t know why she doesn’t trust dear Stella…
But eventually a group of us, including Halvar, and accompanied by Master Ylia, Master Elinor and Robin the bard, went to meet the elves. The old one was very grateful and invited us to witness the ritual, so we went into the forest together.
I must say, it was the most lovely suicide/funeral I’ve ever been to. Master Ylia and Robin sang a beautiful song while the female elves covered our gracious host in the golden burial shroud – which Stella had neglected to mention had been used as a tablecloth when she found it – and the elf slid open the veins on his arms and bled all over the place.
And when asked by Master Gunhild why I missed her Monster Knowledge class, I could honestly say that the only one who died was the one who was supposed to.
Well, I guess that’s not strictly speaking true… On our way back, we met one of the mutants we had first become acquainted with on the first night. This one was just as out of his mind as the others, but we did manage to find out that his name was Hans and that he had gone through the Trial of the Grasses, performed by Master Meinard. Through all the rambling, we could also gather that Meinard had kept the failed witchers that survived and that someone had let them loose. Hans wanted to kill Meinard, and while Stella couldn’t really blame him, the others were not willing to let their only mutagenist get murdered. We offered to bring Hans back to the castle to try and help him, but that freaked him out, so kind-hearted Master Ylia ran back to the castle to fetch someone that could help. Master Elinor also wanted to help poor Hans, but her methods were a little more… Cat School. Surprisingly, it was the Wolf adepts that ended up killing the wretched thing, but not before being given a letter to bring back to their non-existant Grandmaster.
Somehow, two bodies turned up in the presence of three Cats within an hour, and the Cats were not to blame…
(Not directly, anyway. Elinor might have egged the Wolves on…)
Sabotaging Democracy and Getting Defeated by an Acorn
After getting back, I was informed by Adrian that Master Toriel had invited the Cats to a meeting before dinner. Seeing as Toriel was one of the candidates vying for the role of Grandmaster, we figured she wanted to buy our votes. And seeing as we were Cats, we were alright with that.
With that out of the way, I finally went to a lesson. It was Fencing with Master Fausto, and I needed to see what kind of witcher our newest Cat at Kaer Tiele was.
What I didn’t need was to lose all my dignity to an acorn.
We were training in the shade of a small group of trees. This meant two things: We spent more time swinging at demon mosquitoes – no mosquito should get as big as the ones at Moszna Castle this autumn – than at each other, and, the ground was covered in acorns.
I quickly learned that my beloved boots did not have the right soles for fencing on a layer of acorns. Halvar noticed my trouble – it would be hard not to, as I kept yelling “Fucking acorns!” – and told me not to fall on my ass. Which is why, when my foot slid from under me in the middle of a fencing move, I landed gracefully on my wrist.
Somehow I only bruised it and, though I did have to sit out the rest of the lesson, I was alright come the hunt later that night.
But my pride still hasn’t recovered.
After threatening Halvar with a slow and painful death if Master Reinicke were to ever hear about the incident, we returned to the castle to meet up with Master Toriel. Masters Elinor and Fausto, Adrian, Einar, Halvar and Stella all listened patiently as the small archery teacher explained how she wanted to help the Cats and create a friendship between our two schools. However, the other candidates might not feel the same way, and our place at Kaer Tiele could be in danger if a witcher like Master Arlana became Grand.aster.
Obviously we assured her that we would vote for whoever offered us the best deal.
Cats are simple creatures.
We were given time to discuss our terms in private, and we quickly agreed on the following:
We wanted the Grandmaster to promise us protection against Temeria and the Blue Stripes.
(Not that any of us had done anything that could possibly get us in trouble with the Blue Stripes…)
We would take on the Temerian contracts that Master Gedymin usually took care of.
(The ones that might not strictly speaking be legit witcher work…)
We would get to recruit up to 5 new adepts for the Cat School every year.
Master Toriel agreed readily.
She had probably expected a lot worse from us.
Spoons and Mirrors
After dinner that night, Stella was sitting in the tavern with Halvar and one of the new Ashes adepts, Jade. The tavern was mostly empty…
Save for a certain mirror merchant.
He came up to our table, this shady character that Bertram had described as ‘evil’. And Halvar… asked him about spoons.
What followed was the most surreal conversation I have ever been part of. Gaunter O’Dimm, heavily hinted to be the Devil himself in the Witcher games, happily started talking about his collection as he pulled a dozen spoons from his bag, overjoyed for someone to share his interest.
This must have gone on for at least twenty minutes. At one point, Stella mentions that no one can have use for that many spoons, to which O’Dimm replies:
“It’s not about using, but about having. I don’t use– well, sometimes, I use them…” And this is where it comes in handy wearing a mask, because no one noticed me choking and falling out of character as I recalled a certain scene from Heart of Stone.
O’Dimm finally departs, with a promise to Halvar of providing advice if he wants to start collecting spoons himself, and the second he’s gone Stella turns to her fellow Cat and tells him that he’s not going to start collecting spoons.
And this is where it all goes downhill, because Stella is in the same group as Halvar, and Michelle is sharing a room with his off-game counterpart.
And neither is letting go of the spoons.
After about ten minutes of Halvar and Jade rambling about spoons, Stella spots Adrian and runs for safety. Because while insanity might follow Adrian, it’s an insanity she knows how to deal with.
After ascertaining that Adrian also finds the idea of collecting spoons to be idiotic, Stella decides to pull out the big guns once Master Elinor enters the tavern. A quick explanation of the situation has Elinor marching up to Halvar’s table and yelling at him until he agrees that maybe he should start collecting coins instead.
If only it had ended there…
Night Hunts and Cat Diplomacy
I got a break from spoons once it became time for the nightly hunt. As there were no loose werewolves or the like, the masters had prepared some tests for the adepts out in the forest. I went with Master Gunhild and some of the other Ashes, and for some reason, a Blue Stripe tagged along, as if he didn’t know what happened to Stripes that went into forests with Cats…
Our first encounter was a demon who was fond of throwing boulders at people. It was guarding the magical sigils we needed to banish it. Stella, ever the diplomat, tried to communicate:
Demon: “Fuck off!”
Stella: “You fuck off!”
When they didn’t reach an agreement, Stella spent the rest of the time dodging boulders that ended up hitting her teammates instead. Somehow, we managed to banish the damn thing and went further into the forest where we ran into more of Meinard’s angry friends. They wanted Meinard, and we had to explain to them that we hadn’t thought to bring him with us. One of them asked where Hans was, which confused the rest of the group who told him they didn’t know who Hans was.
But unfortunately, Stella did.
They weren’t really happy to learn of Hans’s death – even if it totally wasn’t Stella’s fault this time! – and they didn’t listen when Stella very reasonably tried to explain to them that they wouldn’t win if they forced the witchers to fight. But no one’s ever happy when Stella tries to be a decent person, and soon we had three dead mutants on our hands.
By now, Stella was having serious doubts about getting help from Meinard. And it wasn’t like she had been all that thrilled about the idea to begin with…
But the hunt must go on. We were nearing the cemetery when we heard noises coming from the darkness. Judging from our location and the wordless snarls, ghouls were a pretty safe bet, but we couldn’t see them. It sounded like there were two of them, but Stella would rather try to draw them out than to rush into the darkness after them, so she tactfully tried to get their attention:
“Hey, fuckers! Come out and plaaaay!”
No takers. Master Gunhild was getting impatient with how long it took us to finish the various encounters, so another member of our group engaged the unknown assailants head-on…
And that was obviously when we were attacked from behind.
Good news is that we were right: Two of the monsters were ghouls, and they were just chilling with a grave hag. Too bad we didn’t have young Victor with us, because the old gal looked like she could use a hug.
That’s it for the night hunt, really. Wish I had something more exciting to offer you, but it was mostly just us running around like headless chickens and Stella yelling insults…
Bard-offs and Catfights
Later, back at the tavern and drinking a beer courtesy of Master Gunhild, we all got to warm up by the fire, safe and sound.
Well, except for Adrian, who was dying.
As a fellow Cat, Adrian also struggled with his failing mutagens, and one of his worst side effects was an inability to cast witcher signs. Turns out he tried to cast just one sign during the hunt, and that’s how he ended up dazed and covered in blood after he managed to stagger back to the tavern. Stella, being a good friend, told him to come tell her if he died and went back to the Ashes, just in time to get a front row seat to the Bard-off between bards Robin and Severin.
The audio is rough, but that’s what happens when the cameraman has to hide on the balcony and pretend nothing like him exists.
All in all, it was a good night. But what kind of Kaer Tiele evening would it be without a little drama…?
At one point, I went upstairs to use the litter box. Everything was well when I left, everyone drinking and laughing. I was gone maybe ten minutes, but when I got back down to the entrance hall, I was met by shouting. Rather puzzled by the sight of all the tavern-goers gathered in the hall, I watched as Master Elinor and Master Fausto – the Cat masters who had been joking together when I left – faced off against each other, Elinor yelling something about Fausto betraying her, while Fausto tried to calm her down.
Elinor was not about to calm down, and when the two Cats rushed outside to the courtyard, we all followed to watch the following duel, which ended with Fausto accidentally killing Elinor.
This is when the shady shit started.
After the other masters checked that Elinor was, indeed, dead, someone called for her body to be taken to Master Meinard. This caused a lot of protests, but the Cats had other concerns at that moment. Concerns mainly about getting the traumatized Fausto into a chair in the tavern and getting him a beer, while we tried to assure him that Elinor had left him no choice and that we didn’t blame him. When Bertram showed up (seriously, I don’t think that guy ever sleeps), we told him the Cats wanted to give Elinor a proper funeral instead of leaving her with Meinard, and he promised we would talk about it in the morning.
Eventually, Halvar and Stella went up to their room and Halvar nearly died as well when we went off-game and he exclaimed:
“Now Elinor’s dead, I get to collect spoons!”
Dying Cats and Deals with the Devil
I promised you some shady shit, but bear with me for a while.
Despite actually wanting to try out a class with Master Dagmar, I decided to skip Survival after the morning warm-up, since I needed to prepare for a scene and, honestly, I could use a break.
Besides, there’s only so many times you can be told you’re crap at making fires before Survival classes lose their charm…
So I spent half the class lying in my bed, listening to the sounds from the courtyard below. I thought I heard Master Elinor’s voice at one point… but of course that’s ridiculous. I finally got up, fixed my makeup so I looked extra sick, got partly dressed, and then I popped one of Adrian’s blood capsules in my mouth.
Why did they make these things taste like real blood…?
Anyway, I made sure to get the stuff all over my lips and chin, then smeared it on my throat and over this shirt I’ve never really been that fond of, put on the rest of my costume, and then waited just long enough to be late, before I staggered downstairs to go to Fencing with Master Edwin.
I had wanted to do this scene at the tavern where I could create more panic, but coughing and spitting up fake blood in close proximity to a lot of people seemed like a very bad idea, considering the whole Covid thing, so I had to improvise. I put the last blood capsule under my tongue and staggered toward the spot where the Ashes were already doing exercises, and once they noticed me, I fell to my knees, rambling and spitting up blood when they asked me if I was okay.
…And then they went back to fencing practice, and I realized I hadn’t thought further than this point.
So I was laying there in the grass, staring at my shaking, bloodied hands, rambling about how I didn’t get a blood sample for Master Meinard every time someone approached me, but it eventually became awkward how little concern people paid me once I told them not to fetch anyone. I guess I have to work on my acting skills, because I might need to be more convincing as a dying person in the future.
In the end, I shakily got to my feet and staggered back to the castle, looking for one specific person. Luckily, Gaunter O’Dimm is somehow always around and Stella cornered the mirror merchant inside the castle and told him to fix her. He brought her upstairs to a table in a shady corner and made her explain her situation, and in the end he promised to look into it and come find her later.
So while waiting, she found Halvar who told her Elinor was back and that he gave her the spoon he had planned to put by her funeral pyre.
At this point, Stella was reaching her limit for what she could deal with.
Fortunately, O’Dimm found her before the fucked-upness of that day got to her and she started stabbing everything out of pure frustration, and told her he could help her. He told her she would be strong and healthy, a proper witcher, and that there would only be one tiny downside. Stella didn’t care as long as she got fixed, broke the crappy, disposable spoon O’Dimm offered her in half, and then let him lead her down to the off-game area, so he could tell me about this tiny downside, before he brought me to get my new makeup done.
And this is how Stella ended up with a paralyzing fear of musicians.
Let’s hope she can renegotiate her deal in a future episode, because screaming every time she comes close to a bard is going to be problematic…
So, knowing my character was pretty screwed, but still excited to get rid of the veiny makeup I had stuck myself with, I went to the makeup room and let the experts replace it with O’Dimm’s brand. Since I was now going to be playing a vain and newly healthy Cat, I asked them to do my hair as well and while they were doing that, I made eye contact with the ‘person’ in the makeup chair next to me…
I suppose even Noonwraiths need someone to do their hair.
Noonwraiths and Cats with Nine Lives
Stella, now healthy and with great-looking hair, went full-on Cat and skipped Alchemy with Master Lile to prance around and bask in the sun. Lounging on a bench, she listened to the nearby explosions coming from the alchemy lab, watched Master Dirk lead Pebbles the Earth Elemental out of the forest – since no other explanation was forthcoming, she assumed it was just Dirk’s girlfriend – and eventually spotted Master Gunhild leading the rest of the Ashes to a secluded spot for one of her sit-down meetings (thankfully without the tea). Cheerfully, she joined them and asked if they were plotting without her, and received the glare she believes Master Gunhild reserves just for her.
This meeting was all about who we were going to vote for during the election for Grandmaster, so it was an easy one for Stella and Halvar, since the Cats had already made their arrangements.
(Telling Gunhild this earned them another glare.)
Now it was time for Archery with Master Aaron, and neither Stella nor Michelle want to miss the chance to shoot stuff, so for the second time that game they turned up to a class on time.
Now, Michelle does archery casually at home, but all her arrows have one feather in a different color to the others, so she can easily see how to turn it as she places it on the bow. Witcher School arrows are not as idiot-proof, meaning they’re like USBs – two ways to turn them, always take three tries to get it right. This earned Stella a stab in the ass with an arrow – though I do believe Master Aaron was probably aiming to hit her on the side of the hip and just missed – when she didn’t get into a proper archery stance before she started fumbling to nock her arrow.
A little while later, when Master Aaron was correcting her draw, he also very politely punched her in the face to kill a mosquito.
(Again, I do believe it’s likely because it’s safer – Covid-wise – to use knuckles instead of slapping someone, but let’s be honest: it was just a matter of time before someone punched Stella in the face.)
Her arrows didn’t seem to like Stella either. Judging from the red tint to the white feathers, she had gotten the ones that liked to slice open the hand of their archer. But what’s a little blood, as long as you get to shoot stuff…?
Unfortunately, she had to leave the lesson halfway through. Apparently there was a Noonwraith that needed banishing, and Stella didn’t want to miss it, just in case something went wrong and it turned out to be fun.
On the way into the forest, she passed by Master Elinor and had just enough time to ask her if she wasn’t supposed to be dead before she had to catch up with the group. Halvar helpfully told her that it was apparently the 7th time Meinard had resurrected Elinor, that she and Fausto had made up and were now friends, and that everything was just fine.
Halvar is a ‘go with the flow’-kind of guy.
We arrived near the Noonwraith’s haunting ground in the forest. Each of our groups were asked to come up with a wish for the Noonwraith, in order to empower the ritual to banish it. Stella informed the rest of the Ashes that had come along that someone else better come up with a suggestion, because her only idea was along the lines of “I wish you would fuck off”. Our more sensible members came up with “I wish you to find happiness in the afterlife” and off we went to join the ritual.
Turns out that a lot of rituals around Kaer Tiele involves singing. The masters had located the Noonwraith’s sister, who also turned out to be the one who killed her, so we had a lot of lovely family drama while the rest of us sat around, singing a lullaby. Then there was a lot of smoke. At one point, I got attacked by another acorn.
It was all pretty weird.
Someone Finally Stabs Meinard
We hadn’t been back long before we saw a dying Master Meinard being dragged from the forest and into the castle.
Or maybe we had… I can’t promise I’m remembering all this Wolf School drama in the right order.
Needless to say, it’s dangerous to be a mutagenist at Kaer Tiele. I had to pierce the story together over the evening, but apparently the mutants from the forest had kidnapped Master Lile, and Master Meinard, a couple other masters and some adepts, went to rescue her, killed all the mutants, and then somehow Meinard got stabbed. And despite my jumbled-up memory, I do recall that the stabbing happened AFTER all the mutants died.
As, I said: Draaaaama.
So, we had a dying mutagenist, upcoming Trial of Grasses, and several masters who wanted the post of Grandmaster.
The election wasn’t as dramatic as Svar’s trial in Episode 1, but for once the Cats took part in the voting. After all, they were getting paid for it. Or they would have been, if Master Lile hadn’t suddenly announced herself as a candidate and won by a landslide.
Guess the Kaer Marter delegation has some bribing to do next episode.
Sorcery and Totally Sensible Murder Plans
By now, it was almost time for the Trial of the Grasses for the new adepts. Stella joined a couple of the new Ashes members as they waited in the courtyard, assuring them that she would erect a tombstone for them if they died on Meinard’s table. She would, however, need to know their names.
Stella doesn’t bother with those things before she needs to.
One of the adepts (the one Stella had been referring to as ‘Chatty’ for days, but turned out to be named Coraline) said she didn’t want to end up like one of those mutants in the forest and asked Stella to make sure she was dead if she didn’t emerge from her Trials. And Stella promised she would come murder her if it was needed.
Of course, that was the moment Master Gunhild appeared out of nowhere, prompting Stella to quickly say “She asked me to murder her, I swear!”
Master Gunhild’s ‘What are you up to, you shady piece of shit?’-look got a lot of practice this episode. And about 10 minutes later when she returned and Stella had to explain why she was threatening to murder Halvar by shoving a spoon down his throat, she had to ask:
“Why is it that every time I pass you, you’re making excuses for murder…?”
Stella wisely didn’t respond with ‘Because you keep overhearing my murder plans’, and Jade and Coraline assured Gunhild that, spoons aside, Stella was actually just being helpful for once.
I do think the Ashes might be the reason why Master Gunhild has started spiking her tea…
Murder plans aside, she did request for Stella to be the one to go get the new Ashes witchers when (and if) they made it out of the Trials and bring them to the tavern safely. So either Gunhild is going senile, or she just really hated the new recruits. But seeing as Stella had nothing else planned for the evening, she agreed to help.
See how nice Stella the Cat is being in this episode, Gunhild? She’s being positively lovely.
Now, let’s get to the part where she hightails it at the first sign of trouble and leaves everyone too slow to catch up to die.
I still don’t know why, but the sorceresses Philippa Eilhart and Lytta Neyd wanted to do some kind of ritual out in the forest. I think it had something to do with what happened to Meinard, but Stella was like “Looks like fun, let’s go along for the heck of it” and she fell in with Halvar and Master Elinor, neither of whom had any idea what was going on either. But in best Cat fashion, we trailed after the group, hoping something interesting would happen.
This part is a little hazy. We were a LOT of people out there, and the Cats had fallen to the back, so I couldn’t actually see what happened, but someone started shouting and since Stella doesn’t mess with sorcery, she took off the second someone said ‘run’. No one seemed to know what happened, but Stella did notice that neither sorceress was with them when they returned to the castle…
So apparently we just left them there.
A bit harsh, even by Cat standards. But there wasn’t much time to dwell on it. A frazzled-looking and bandaged Master Meinard stomped out of the castle and into the courtyard and started shouting.
I have never heard Meinard shout before. And this time he totally lost it. He was calling all of the masters disgusting and yelling at all of us for abandoning the castle – with a wounded master inside – and leaving it unprotected. Then he stomped off to the alchemy lab and Stella couldn’t help commenting to the pre-Trial adepts that she was happy she wasn’t going to be lying on Meinard’s table later.
But the Trials were about to commence. And since it was such a lovely night, Stella found herself a spot in the shadows on top of a banister, and waited for the screaming to start.
The Game Comes to an End
Apart from all the people Stella scared the crap out of because they hadn’t seen her sitting on the banister in the dark before they passed her, the next few hours were rather uneventful. Eventually she went to wait together with the representatives from the other groups who had gotten the honor of escorting back their new witchers. Luckily, the one from Mindless was Adrian – why do these Wolf masters think it’s a good idea to ask Cats to calm down trauma victims? – so we had a lot of fun catching up. Mainly, we talked about how Adrian had been cleared of the murder he totally didn’t commit last episode – and obviously he didn’t lead the guy into a trap or anything, either (and that’s the story we’re sticking with) – until the first adepts began staggering out.
The first of the Ashes adepts was crying and shaking, so Stella assured her she was being escorted towards beer. She also made sure she had all her limbs and told her it was a good sign her head was still the right way around. Then she brought her to the tavern, found a witcher from the Ashes and told him to tell Master Gunhild that the adept was crying before she even got to Stella and that it wasn’t Stella’s fault.
In the end, all three new adepts from the Ashes survived and Stella brought them to the tavern, before hastily leaving, since a bard had sat down at their table, and for some inexplicable reason Stella had the overpowering urge to run away screaming…
Eventually, the Trials ended, everyone got together in the courtyard, Gaunter O’Dimm dragged off Bertram, Master Ian – who I hadn’t seen do much besides arguing with Dirk and working on armor – appeared to become possessed, and then… the game was over.
I’ll be honest here, I feel the ending was rather unsatisfactory this time. If it was discovered who stabbed Master Meinard, I certainly didn’t hear about it… and who let out the mutants from his lab? What happened to the sorceresses? And is no one going to save Bertram?!
I’m fine with the whole Ian-thing being left unanswered to make a mystery for the next episode, but I really felt like the Meinard-drama needed more of a conclusion.
But enough about that. It was time for the afterparty, which meant:
Not to mention seeing a smile on Master Gunhild’s face, since her off-game persona Danai gets along much better with Michelle than any of their respective characters ever do. And I got to find the guy who played Gaunter and ask him “Do you know what you did to me?! There are bards everywhere!” to which I received a joyful grin and the words “Oh, I know.”
But he made it up to me when he let me borrow his spoon, so I could go to the photobooth with Daniel (aka Halvar) and take a picture where I was about to beat the crap out of him with a spoon.
If it turns out good, it will be my screensaver forever.
As always, I will update this post once I get some pictures. I know this wasn’t the most exciting episode to read about, but I still had a good time, even if it was less intense than usual.
I got home from my second Witcher School LARP Sunday evening. At the time of writing this, it’s Tuesday and I finally feel like I can lift my arms for long enough to write this post.
If you want to read about my first time at Witcher School, you can find it here. That one might be more entertaining, because this time I got out with most of my dignity intact.
Before the LARP
This was my second time at Witcher School, but it was also another season, and that caused both fun and confusion. Each Witcher School season follows roughly the same storyline and has most of the same NPCs, but they also share many of the same actors playing said NPCs… just not necessarily the NPCs they play in other seasons.
This was quite funny, because when we received the NPC list, I realized there was a very real chance that my tutor would end up being one of the Temerians I had spent all my last game picking fights with. Also, the Master my personal character sheet told me I was supposed to stop from doing anything stupid was played by the guy playing Master Bastian in my other season, and “doing something stupid” is basically Bastian’s M.O.
Personally, I was playing a character quite different from the one in my other season.
Stella grew up in Nilfgaard where she couldn’t expect anything from life except being married off to some man her parents chose for her and start raising children. She was not interested in that, and she ran away from home, only to later be captured by bandits who intended to sell her to slavers.
She was saved from that fate when they encountered a group of Cat School witchers, and their Grandmaster, Astrid, offered to play a game of Gwent for Stella’s life. She won, and Stella went with her to Kaer Marter and underwent the Trial of the Grasses. The Trial, however, didn’t go quite as planned, and even though Stella survived, she and many of the other Cat adepts ended up suffering from far more after effects than they should have.
The base character in itself is honestly not that interesting: she doesn’t have a deeply tragic backstory, or any powerful conviction that drives her, but there’s a lot to work with with her. In the beginning, I thought I would play mostly on the fact that she was suffering strongly from the after effects of the Trial of the Grasses, but once the game started I ended up focusing a lot more on her identity as a Cat School witcher.
My Stella ended being a perfectly pleasant person (to people’s face, anyway), but she made it a point to tell the Wolf adepts that you should never trust a Cat.
This was season 4 episode 1, and took place during 10.-13. October.
I’m not sure if the wonder ever wears off, but as I turned around the corner to see Moszna Castle, I was once again stunned by how freaking beautiful this castle is.
It’s even easier to appreciate it when you know your way around and do not spend all your time being lost…
I’m not going to spent a lot of time describing all the work the organizers do to make the experience as immersive as possible, because I know most people reading this post will be my fellow witchers, and the rest of you can go read my more effusive post from the last game.
As usual, we had to go through a series of workshops to make sure that most of us would make it through the game without having to go to the hospital or becoming emotionally scarred. Once again, go read my other post if you want more details. It can be summed up by saying that we were taught safe words and told not to set ourselves, others, or the castle on fire.
Also: don’t kill Bertram.
Before the Game
Because I didn’t get lost 3 times every time I had to go somewhere, I actually had time to put on my makeup before the game started, and I got a lot of compliments on my veined face.
Just before the game was supposed to start, Konrad, who was playing Master Reinicke, the only Cat School Master at Kaer Tiele, took the 9 Cat School players aside for a briefing (he did this by going “here, kitty, kitty” and expecting us to follow him). He told us a bit of how the Cat School differed from the Wolf School, about how his own character would be with us (because most of our characters would know Reinicke from when he taught at the Cat School), and then he asked if anyone volunteered to be slapped in the face with a smoked mackerel.
The Game Begins
At the game’s beginning, the Cat School witchers were just arriving at Kaer Tiele, so we were herded around the castle to wait just before the game started. With us were three NPCs we had met on the road and who had hired us to escort them: a merchant, Marcus Ortenbeck, his bodyguard, the dwarf Sandor Gottlieb, and Robin the bard.
When the game started we walked back to the courtyard, the Cats immediately falling into character and making mildly condescending comments about the Wolves and their castle. We arrived at the courtyard to see Masters and adepts lined up in front of the castle, and we were eventually introduced as the Kaer Marter delegation. We got to approach their Grandmaster, Svar, with a message from our own Grandmaster.
We were soon forgotten, however, as another delegation arrived. This one was from Redania, led by the sorceress Philippa Eilhart.
Now… the timeline for Witcher School takes place around 200 years before the Witcher games, but everyone who’s played the games or read the books will still know Philippa Eilhart.
Trust me, she’s just as much of a bitch here.
Unlike the Cats, who had to wait for their chance to approach the Grandmaster, Philippa marched straight through the crowd, dragging a young girl behind her on a chain.
Already getting good, right?
Honestly, I had a hard time hearing everything that was said next, but we all got the picture. Soon we were told to go inside for dinner and as the adepts got in line, the Cats were approached by an elderly mage who introduced himself as Cosimo Malaspina. Obviously, we all knew about him, because one of the reasons we had gone to Kaer Tiele was to find him and ask him to fix our botched mutagens, seeing as he was the one who made the first witchers. He beat us to it, however, immediately asking if he could examine us later.
Sure, it was something we had intended to ask him to do anyway, but I still find it slightly worrying when someone asks me to get up on a dissection table within 5 minutes of meeting me…
We had only just finished our conversation and gotten in line behind the Wolf adepts when we had our next encounter with one of the charming residents of Kaer Tiele. The Cats were talking among themselves and one of them used the word “Master” in conversation.
Apparently, that’s dangerous, if Master Gedymin happens to pass by at that moment.
Gedymin is a great example of the kind of professionals the Wolf School employs to tutor their students. Scary, scarred, and totally off his rocker on Fisstech. The second he heard the word Master, he was all up in the face of my fellow Cat, saying he was a Master of None, and delivering what can only be described as undisguised threats.
We eventually got our dinner – and I somehow didn’t get beat up commenting on how the Wolves were so obediently lining up to get their dog food – and we went to meet up with our new tutors.
Joining the Ashes
Remember how I mentioned there was a good chance I could end up with a tutor played by someone I spent my last game insulting…?
You bet your ass I ended up with a tutor I kept insulting last game.
My tutor this time was the aging Skellige witcher, Master Gunhild. In a previous life, she played the Temerian officer Corinne Dennetz, a woman my own former incarnation, Eydis, pissed off to the point where she made it her personal mission to break me.
To get to know her group, she took us all into the forest. It was already dark at this point and she didn’t tell us where we were going, so most of us probably expected something quite horrible. Instead we ended up making a fire and she sat us all down around it, served us tea, and told us to tell the her about the life we left behind and what we sought to achieve as witchers.
It basically turned into a rehab therapy session.
Gunhild also told us a bit about herself, and how her own Trial of the Grasses had gone wrong, leaving her as the only witcher aging normally and having to deal with aching joints. Then, she told us to pick a name for our group.
And that’s where real-life Michelle began influencing Stella…
The very first suggestion was something along the lines of this: “What about that bird we heard earlier? An owl, wasn’t it?”
And Stella very vehemently protested: “We’re not naming ourselves after owls. Only sorcerers like owls.”
Because I am not, I repeat, I am not going all the way to Poland to pretend to be someone else and still be end up being known as the “owl girl”.
I also vetoed the next suggestions which were all bird-related. In the end Gunhild told us that if we didn’t make a decision, she would pick a name and it would be an embarrassing one. We eventually ended up on “the Phoenixes”, and I was willing to accept a bird name if it was at least a bird that was on fire. We ended up playing a bit with the phoenix analogy and in the end we decided on “Ashes” for our name.
And that’s how my character ended up hating birds in general, and owls in particular.
Plotting Murder and Other Crimes
I ran into my fellow Cats, Adrian and Marissa, after the Ashes got back from the forest.
I told them how my group basically went to have a tea party and talk about our feelings, and when asked about his group, Adrian went, “Oh, I stabbed an adept.”
Apparently, Adrian was assigned Gedymin as a tutor…
But Marissa had other worries. Earlier, she had run into someone from her past. Someone she had been sure she had killed, and as such, she was slightly miffed at seeing him alive and well in Kaer Tiele. She wasn’t willing to tell us a lot about why she had tried to kill him, but she did say that he had tried to kill her first.
And she was very determined to make another stab at killing him for good.
Now, Cats are not usually the kind to help others if they don’t get anything out of it. Unless we’re taking pranks or revenge. So Adrian and Stella pledged their help to Marissa, though we thought that straight up killing a man in the middle of the school we had been sent to as ambassadors might not be the best approach. We did a bit of brainstorming, agreeing that we wanted him discredited at least. I eventually suggested a plan:
“Let’s ask Master Reinicke what to do.”
Everyone who participated in season 4 will know this incarnation of Reinicke. You can not avoid noticing Reinicke. Because Reinicke knows how to cause trouble.
Because Reinicke was the only Cat Master at the Wolf School, having left Kaer Marter 6 months earlier, we as Cats had a certain connection with him. But that hadn’t prevented him from being dismissive with us every time one of us went to him with what the Wolves would probably call “reasonable” matters. But as soon as Marissa went to him for ideas for revenge, he was all too happy to help.
Reinicke’s suggestion was to get the guy in question, a sergeant of the Blue Stripes, kicked out of his unit. He also had an idea on how to do it and said we could try framing him for rape.
Once again, the teachers at Kaer Tiele are model citizens.
Marissa informed Adrian and Stella of the plan. We weren’t totally sold on it, but Marissa assured us that it was exactly what he deserved. Adrian did suggest to just spike the guy’s drink with enough Fisstech to send him on a rampage, but Marissa wanted to keep that as a backup plan. In the end, we assured her we would help with whatever she found necessary, and she went off to recruit some help for our plot.
Werewolf on the Loose
As it was getting a little cold, I went upstairs to my room to put on warmer clothes and when I got back down the first thing I heard was someone in the corridor saying, “The princess is a fucking werewolf!”
Remember the girl Philippa Eilhart was dragging around on a chain? Well, apparently she was an illegimate Redanian princess and a werewolf on top of that. She had also very much escaped from her guards and was at that moment wreaking havoc in the forest.
I didn’t get to join the groups going to the forest to hunt her down. Instead I was stuck patrolling the perimeter, in case the werewolf got close to the castle. That would all have been well and good, if we hadn’t been ordered not to harm her.
I tried to explain to the others that at Kaer Marter they told us how to kill werewolves, and that I had no idea how to contain one without hurting it. Not hurting monsters is just not something Cat School witchers have a habit of considering.
In the end, the patrol wasn’t needed, because we never saw the werewolf. We did, however, see the hunting parties carrying their wounded and dead back, and later them bringing back the princess in her human form, the poor girl weeping and hysterical.
Accepting that I wasn’t going to get to kill something, I eventually went to bed.
The next morning, after we were woken up by a Master with powerful lungs yelling outside our rooms, I spent enough time doing my stupid veiny makeup that I would have been late to morning workout. Knowing that he expected his Cats to take their physical training very seriously (he would be fine with us ditching Signs or Monster Knowledge, but Cats are expected to be expert fighters) I was a little afraid of what Reinicke would do to me if he saw me late to the morning workout. So I just skipped it altogether and decided to stay clear of him all day.
But I was so focused on what Reinicke would think that I had forgotten I had another tutor now, and I wasn’t prepared when Master Gunhild cornered me in the dining hall and confronted me about skipping the workout. It’s a good thing that Stella as a Cat isn’t one to feel shame, because Gunhild fought dirty and, instead of getting angry, she just showed disappointment.
Michelle wanted to hang her head in shame; Stella wanted breakfast.
She did, however, win back a bit of Gunhild’s approval when she was early to her first class. As Master Gunhild was a bit of a mother hen to her adepts, she wanted to sit in on many of our classes, and our first class was Monster Knowledge with Master Ylia.
It was a good thing she was there as well, because Master Ylia was epically late and we might all have left if we hadn’t been chatting with our new witcher mom.
When Ylia, a very pretty and cheery Wolf Master, finally did arrive, we started out the lesson by discussing what qualifies as a monster, and if a monster should always be killed, no matter the circumstances. Once again, Stella had a bit of a hard time figuring out the Wolves’ approach to witchering.
The Cats’ philosophy is a bit more like this: If someone will pay you for killing a monster, you kill the monster. End of story.
But Master Ylia is quite a lovely person, so I did my best to keep an open mind during her lesson. After the theoretical discussion, we went to the alchemy lab (which also happens to contain the entrance to the crypt) and Ylia went inside to see if “their guest was still angry”. While waiting outside for her to return, one member of the Ashes, Alastair (who, together with his pal Crowley, had quickly earned the nickname “the Idiots”) turned to Victor (a guy who had been kept as a personal plaything by a vampire until rescued by witchers) and went: “15 orens if you hug whatever’s in there.”
Victor agreed worryingly easily.
Ylia returned and let us down into the crypt to meet the lovely lady kept imprisoned by an Yrden sign down there.
And that’s when we got our lesson on grave hags.
Since I don’t have any pictures from the game yet, I urge anyone not familiar with the Witcher games to go google what Victor agreed to cuddle with.
After discussing grave hags and other necrophages, Ylia asked if anyone wanted to try and approach the grave hag, considering how she had been perfectly docile during the lesson. Victor, of course, had already volunteered, so he stepped into the circle of the Yrden and immediately had to be saved by the rest of us, but everyone, including Alastair, agreed that the brutal assault counted as a hug.
Promising us that we were now going to have some fun, Ylia took us into the forest. There we met another humanoid lady – though this one was slightly more pleasing to the eyes.
When you got a beautiful, lightly-dressed woman, you’re willing to overlook the horns and the hooves.
This was quite obviously a succubus, but unlike the grave hag, she had made a deal with the witchers at Kaer Tiele, and was helping out with our lessons voluntarily. She was very accomodating, answering all our questions, and she was also happy to help when Ylia suggested a demonstration.
Halvar, another Cat, was picked to try and resist the succubus’s charm and the Idiots were told to restrain him if he moved.
To be fair to Halvar, he did last almost 30 seconds before he had to be physically restrained, but he did have to be taken away from the class for a while after. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately, if you consider Halvar’s pride), Grandmaster Svar had come to supervise the class and took him aside, telling him to think about trees.
Of course, at a distance, half of us heard it as “Think about beef” and spent a lot of time being confused…
After we had another – very eager – female Ashes member trying and failing to withstand the succubus’s charm, we went back and moved on to our first Fencing class.
Now, I have been dealing with a mildly sprained wrist for some time now, so I had been fearing fencing class, but I figured I would be okay because it would just be LARP swords.
Guess who were given steel training swords this time…?
The teacher for this class was Master Edwin. My first impression was that he was a good and fair teacher, and I sort of stand by that statement even after I was certain he would send me to the hospital before class was over.
I enjoyed the class, even though I got a bit of performance anxiety. The first thing anyone says about the Cat School is that their witchers are experts at fencing (unless you’re Master Dirk, in which case the first thing he says is, “Cats are fucked up”), so I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
It’s always challenging when Stella is supposed to be good at something Michelle sucks at.
It was a lot different to the Fencing class I took in my last game. Not only were we just using LARP swords then, we also mostly did footwork. This time, using blunt steel swords, we were paired up and did a lot of parrying and attempts at disarming each other. We also learned how to jump a blade if someone went for our legs, and it’s always fun to be flashy as fuck when fighting with a sword.
So why was I afraid of being sent to the hospital, you might ask?
Well, I wasn’t angling my sword right when parrying, so Master Edwin took it upon himself to show me. It was all calm and slow at first… but then I started getting the hang of it, and Edwin just started raining attacks down on my head, forcing me to rapidly block each strike or get bashed in the skull with rod of steel.
I mean… I know the instructors are professionals, and I have to believe he would somehow be able to stop himself from hurting me if I fucked up a parry, but it was honestly hard to imagine how he would do so. Luckily, I didn’t fuck up my parries and avoided adding a concussion to my sprained wrist (which, at that point, was killing me).
During the lunch break, I did some light plotting with Marissa, and then it was off to Alchemy class.
To the Cats’ luck, we had the sorcerer, Cosimo Malaspina, as our teacher, though he insisted that he was not actually an Alchemy teacher and that his speciality was witcher mutagens. He did teach us to make a Swallow potion, and demonstrated the effects of the Cat potion (some pretty cool special effects going on there), but the most interesting part of the lesson was him telling us about the motivation behind creating witchers (or as he refered to us, ‘monsters’) in the first place. He called us his “favorite mistake”, because his intention had been to improve the human race, and, while he succeeded in making his subjects stronger and less prone to erratic emotions, they became sterile and as such he couldn’t give those gifts to all of mankind without wiping out their species.
…Cosimo is basically a mad eugenics scientist.
There was also the brief interlude when Master Dirk, the Signs teacher, visited the alchemy lab. I can’t quite remember what prompted the conversation, but it ended with Cosimo having to explain to Dirk why having sex with a werewolf is a bad idea. Not to mention bestiality.
Master Dirk appeared unconcerned (once again showcasing the high standards of the Kaer Tiele faculty).
As the lesson ended, the Cats asked Cosimo if he wanted to come to Kaer Marter to help them fix their mutagens and he said he would be more than happy to, and agreed to discuss it with us later. We agreed to meet up the next day.
But more on that later…
(The people reading who were there are cackling right now.)
The last class of the day was Archery for my group. Considering archery is something I actually know how to do, it’s the class I look forward to the most.
Less so with a sprained wrist, true, but I managed.
Our archery teacher was Master Toril, a small woman who manages to be rather terrifying if you’re late or messes around in her class. But she did let us shoot arrows at the dick of a Master who yells at us every single time we’re gathered in the courtyard, Harval (who in my other season plays Master Niall, the most good-natured guy ever) at the end of the lesson, so she did endear herself to me.
Time for Monster Hunting
After dinner, we returned to Marissa’s plotting which had hit a bit of a snag. The other Cats got involved at this point and, after a few of us pointed out that perhaps we shouldn’t be plotting murder in a large group in the middle of the tavern, we relocated to the courtyard where we got absolutely nowhere.
The Cats eventually dispersed and went to join the rest of the Wolf School witchers for the nightly monster hunt. Master Gunhild rounded up the Ashes and gave us a pep talk.
Which, for the Skelliger, apparently involved handing out dried fish to all of us…
After dutifully eating our smelly treat, the Ashes were split into two groups, one going with Gunhild, the other with Master Reinicke, and I was left holding a fish tail while we waited to be sent off (and mentally cursing Kaer Tiele’s lack of trash cans).
Master Gunhild’s group was one of the first to depart, so once I got rid of my fish tail and Gunhild acquired a torch, we were on our way.
Walking around in a dark forest when you know you can be attacked at any moment is always nerve-wracking, but we held it together pretty well. The first encounter involved three drowners and – despite our formation being pretty awful – we made it through without injuries to our team. Next, we came by a strange man sitting by a table in the middle of the forest. Because of the horns and the hooves our first thought was “incubus”, but the creature was severely insulted and made us apologize when someone voiced said thought. A closer look revealed furry legs as well, so we thought he must be a satyr, but apparently “satyrs are just losers always trying to steal his look”. He made us solve three riddles and eventually told us he was a sylvan. He also offered to play a game, consisting of removing a number of coins from a pile and winning by not being the last one to remove a coin, with one of us. One of the others had already sat down at the table before I felt the need to ask what the stakes were (something I really feel anyone should have asked before agreeing) and he told me we could ask him one question if we won.
I still didn’t trust him at all, but at least I wasn’t the one playing.
The one of us playing won the game, and none of us had any idea what to ask him. We settled on, “What’s the difference between a satyr and a sylvan?” Gunhild thought it was a bit silly to ask a wise, 200-year old creature something you could have asked in Monster Knowledge class. But as we would later find out that Alastair (who had gone with Reinicke) had asked, “Can chickens swim?”… I feel it could have been worse.
We returned to the castle and met Master Gregor outside the alchemy lab.
Now, I don’t know what Master Gregor’s deal is. He kinda looks and acts like the guide on a ghost walk, and I never once saw him show the slightest hint of emotion, but compared to many of the other Masters, he seems like a decent guy. He’s a bit scary, but only because you sort of expect to find him lurking in dark corners, whereas someone like Master Meinard is scary because he always looks like he’s planning to cut you open and figure out how your insides work.
Anyway, Master Gregor told us we were going to discover the true story of Kaer Tiele before leading us up into a part of the castle none of us had ever been to. He gave us a Cat potion before opening the door to a large room and ushering us inside, telling us to be ready.
And that’s when we were attacked by wraiths.
I can’t even begin to explain how much I hate fighting in dark rooms, so I made sure to stay back when the rest of my group went on the offensive. Unfortunately, that also meant that I was not really sure what was going on at that time, and only got the full story in bits and pieces during the following day. All I saw were my companions taking down the screaming wraiths, before we all heard a voice yell something about making sure to kill the baby.
Of course I would later find out that what we witnessed was the violent story of how Grandmaster Svar and the other original witchers of Kaer Tiele came to acquire the castle by murdering the original baron and his family. More on that later.
This time we didn’t make it out without injuries, but we did make it out. Outside in the courtyard, Victor, who had barely held it together, succumbed to his injuries, and we had to carry him to the tavern. When we got him into a chair we quickly discovered that his physical injuries weren’t the real problem. I guess it’s not really a surprise to discover that you get PTSD from being held captive by vampires for god knows how long, but the wraiths had brought forth some bad memories, and the poor guy was quickly losing his grip on reality.
And really, you had to admire the acting skills going on here. I was just about ready to admit him to the insane asylum.
Once we had gotten Victor to stop laughing hysterically and creeping everybody out, we all got settled in front of the fire in the tavern and Gunhild went to buy all of us drinks, simultaneously impressing us by carrying like eight beers in her hands at once.
Skellige skills, y’all.
(Also, later at the afterparty, I was told this was a crossover beer in my case, because I had tried so very hard to get Corinne Dennetz to buy me a beer in season 2. Success!)
While in the tavern, I ended up striking up a conversation with Philippa Eilhart, of all people. Considering Philippa is a cold-hearted bitch who likes to turn into an owl, you would think this was a recipe for disaster, but she seemed to take a shine to Stella, who shared many of her own views. And don’t get me wrong, Stella knew perfectly well that Philippa wasn’t to be trusted, but she also knew that you keep your enemies close (and preferably unaware of the fact that you know they’re up to no good).
Philippa was deeply frustrated at being sent off to play babysitter to some cursed princess, and she was pleased to hear that Stella, unlike so many of the Wolf School witchers, didn’t believe trying to help the princess instead of killing her was the best cause of action.
Eventually the Ashes found a more secluded corner, free of sorceresses, and I got to know my group a bit better. I was telling one of them, Sigi, more about the Cat School, and I went, “Never trust a Cat. Take it from me” and she straight up told me she didn’t believe me. I had to ask her if she was honestly saying she didn’t trust me when I was telling her not to trust me.
Wolves… Cue eyeroll
Morning Workout and Other Punishments
The next day, I was once again late to morning workout, but knowing that I had Master Reinicke for fencing later that day, I knew I couldn’t skip. While I was standing by the door to the courtyard, hesitating, the castle’s steward, Bertram, showed up and asked me if anything was wrong. I decided to go with honesty and saying that I was running late and I was slightly worried about what Master Reinicke would do to me. Bertram, being a generally nice guy, tried to reassure me:
“Oh, Reinicke won’t do a thing. It’s Dagna you need to worry about.”
Master Dagna wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but Master Toril swooped in as soon as I stepped through the door. Bertram, who had followed me outside, immediately stepped forward and, though I couldn’t hear exactly what he told her as I was busy hurrying to get into line and join the workout, it sounded very much like he told her that I had just been helping him with something in the kitchen. Either way, I, unlike all the late adepts that came after me, wasn’t yelled at or made to do extra pushups, and Bertram rose considerably in Stella’s estimation.
It might have been a small gesture, but anyone who’s willing to lie for you without having a reason to earns himself some of Stella’s rare Cat respect.
…Which really just made the scene after the workout so much worse.
I had heard rumors that Bertram was being blamed for the princess escaping the first night, but I hadn’t thought much more of it before Grandmaster Svar stepped in front of the assembled adepts and started talking about punishment. Then Bertram, Gedymin (who apparently had done some shit as well) and a row of adepts who (for some reason) had offered to share the punishment were called up in front of the crowd and told to take off their shirts.
Each of the adepts were lashed once, Gedymin five times and poor Bertram (who, unlike Gedymin, was neither a witcher nor probably numb from Fisstech) got six, as far as I could see.
I never had the chance to find out exactly what Bertram did that resulted in the werewolf escaping, but as far as I can tell it was an accident. And no matter what, I find it rather unfair that – in a castle filled with witchers, sorcerers and soldiers – you put the responsibility to keep a werewolf contained on the one person who doesn’t have the training to deal with such shit.
Seriously, Philippa, you can’t just drag a werewolf into someone else’s castle and dump it on the servants!
Morning Classes and Morning Murders
My first lesson of the day was Craft with Master Ian. Which was nice, because it seemed like a nice, chill thing to just sit inside in a warm room and make leather equipment. And it was…
We got seated in the Grandmaster’s suite, given all the materials we needed, and told we could make either a pouch or a potion holder. I went with the potion holder, and we all set to work, cutting leather and hammering in rivets, everything proceeding perfectly peacefully until the moment a servant stormed into the room, yelling “Where’s the Grandmaster?!”
I shrugged and said, “Well, not here”, and the servant yelled “Malaspina’s dead!”, then rushed out without another word.
And then we all kind of forgot our leatherwork for a moment.
A few of us rushed out on the balcony overlooking the courtyard together with Master Ian, trying to see if anything was going on down there, while the Idiots went after the frantic servant. They later came back, telling us about how Cosimo’s brain had been splattered all across the walls.
I might be a slightly terrible person, because I admit that my first thought was, “Fuck! Now I have to keep doing this stupid makeup…”
But hey, at least the Cats’ schedule cleared up a bit, right?
Not really knowing what else to do, we finished up our class, and then a large number of the post-Trial adepts met up with Grandmaster Svar, who asked for volunteers to help the Masters with the Trials later that night. After we agreed, we made him tell us a bit more about the Cosimo incident. Apparently, the mage had received a package and then left to go open it. Whatever was inside blew his head off.
Honestly, not a good day for the Kaer Tiele servants, if I do say so. At least a simple stabbing doesn’t take that long to clean up after.
Anyway, we sorted ourselves into groups, so we knew who would be going with Master Ylia, Master Dirk and Master Eckhard respectively during the Trials. I ended up in Master Dirk’s group, a man with whom my only experience at that moment was him talking about banging werewolves.
Good thing I had Master Bestiality for my Signs class that afternoon, right?
But first I had Survival with Master “Four Lines!” Harlav. I’m not sure I would call it a class, because he literally taught us nothing. He asked us to make a fire, and then a shelter. If we sucked at it, it was our problem.
After lunch, the Cats were hanging out in the courtyard. Reinicke had pretty much ignored us the moment he laid eyes on a cup of coffee, but we eyed him curiously when we saw him leaned over it, saying “Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off” over and over.
“Is Master Reinicke arguing with his coffee?”
It turned out that a bee had gotten into his mug, but it says something about Reinicke’s character that this wasn’t the first explanation that came to mind.
Next up was Signs, which was a class I had originally planned to skip. But since the mage I had a meeting with went and got himself blown up, I figured I might as well go, since I had nothing better to do.
Master Dirk (“Just call me Dirk”) led us out into the forest and gave the new adepts their witcher medallions.
Then we were attacked by ladybugs.
Seriously, they were everywhere. I didn’t even know ladybugs came in swarms.
Once we had gotten all the ladybugs out of our eyes and ears, we practiced the Quen sign, before Dirk led the new adepts away from the group one-by-one to practice Aard while the rest of us watched from afar. And, as always happens when you leave a group of people with nothing to do, we started talking among ourselves.
I lost count of how many conversations I had about bestiality during this game, but apparently Cosimo making it clear that a werewolf was likely to change by accident during intercourse would not deter these guys, and I can’t believe that “prepare arguments for why bestiality is not cool” is now on my to-do list for episode 2… but there it is.
Luckily, we got some entertainment when it was Alastair’s turn to practice Aard.
Apparently, his character is afraid of magic, so not only did he have to almost be dragged over to the target to practice, he also soon stormed away while, in his wonderfully thick Cockney accent, going “It’s not natural! It’s fucking witchcraft, it is!” and looking like he was about to burst into tears as he ran out of the class. I only just had time to shout after him, “That’s why we’re called WITCHERS” before he was gone and we didn’t see him again for a long time.
Dirk made us move on, so we could put what we learned into practice. At Witcher School, this means leading us to a captured ghoul, making us hand over all our weapons, telling us to trap the ghoul again, and then setting it loose on us.
Health and safety isn’t a big concern at Kaer Tiele.
When the ghoul was successfully forced back and restrained with Yrden, it was time for our very last class – Fencing with Master Reinicke.
This was something I knew would be interesting. Because while everyone who had been within a 50 meters radius of Reinicke knew he was someone who loved telling stories and doing pranks, the Cat School witchers, at least, knew that he got extremely serious about fencing.
As evidenced when Alastair, looking like he had sought refuge from the evil witchcraft inside the tavern, stumbled into class late and Reinicke beat the absolute shit out of him.
However, it was not long after that Bertram marched into the training field, very firmly informing Reinicke that he would appreciate it if he would keep his opinions about Grandmaster Svar to himself and that he was having his “wall art” removed.
Reinicke asked him how he could know it was him, and Bertram’s voice was nearly dripping with contempt when he told him that, as the steward of Kaer Tiele, he knew things, and that he, Reinicke, was now banned from coal. Bertram also informed him that he would post a guard with a crossbow.
Bertram was barely out of earshot before Reinicke started giggling like a child and told us that he drew a dick on the wall.
Before we proceeded with class, Reinicke also made a point out of telling the new adepts that he didn’t want to teach anyone how to be a Cat School witcher, so they better stop asking. He told them how his last words to Grandmaster Astrid before leaving had been, “I would rather suck Gedymin’s dick for free than return to Kaer Marter”.
We didn’t even have to ask for him to inform us that the price for sucking Gedymin’s dick would be 3000 orens.
Ahem… We did actually also do some fencing. This time we used LARP swords, which was a good thing, because Reinicke cared less about correct footwork and more about us managing to hit each other.
We had to take another short break when Gedymin approached the class (thankfully not having heard the previous conversation) with the succubus in tow. We patiently waited while our fencing master had a conversation with the succubus, while Gedymin stood there grinning like a hyena, until finally they left and Reinicke told us to wait for a moment while his blood returned to his head. Then Reinicke proceeded to tell us about a bet he made once back at Kaer Marter (which my character would obviously know about, but which was news to me) where they had encountered a succubus and Reinicke told one of the other Masters that he would bang her once for every adept she managed to seduce, fully believing that trained witchers would be able to withstand her.
But as etablished, Cat School witchers are arseholes, so the Master told all the adepts about the bet and they all willingly succumbed to the succubus’s charms, forcing Reinicke to sleep with her forty times and nearly dying as a result. And, apparently, that very same succubus was the one we were introduced to during Monster Knowledge, and someone had told Gedymin the story.
I love how these people are all such bastards.
Wolf School Drama
I mentioned how, apparently, Grandmaster Svar had been involved in killing the original owners of Kaer Tiele, right?
It seems that, while it had always been known that the witchers had killed the baron and his family, the excuse for doing it has not been… entirely truthful. The baron had been accused of necromancy, but this seems not to have been true.
This was all brought up after the surviving daughter of the baron had come to Kaer Tiele, disguised as a bard, and now wanted justice for her family.
It also appeared that Svar had killed the former Grandmaster, Raven, many years earlier (instead of it being an accident during a monster hunt). Not sure how this was revealed, but Svar suddenly had a lot of shady shit to explain.
Master Meinard, Cosimo’s apprentice, was also charged with being involved in the whole “slaughtering a family to take over their castle”-debacle.
Master Meinard is pretty damn terrifying, so I’m not sure anyone was all that surprised there.
All this was a bit much to take, even for witchers, so every witcher at Kaer Tiele was called to a Gathering to vote on the fate of Svar and Meinard. Only the Cat School witchers, being a delegation from another school, were allowed to withstand from voting if they so wished.
Every Master who wished to speak at the Gathering got the chance to do so. The baron’s daughter, Sorena, didn’t actually have the right to speak, as she wasn’t a witcher, but Master Dirk allowed her to speak in his stead. Several of the other Masters spoke either for or against exiling Svar and Meinard, while both of the accused got to speak as well, before the voting started.
Every witcher was told to stand in one of two lines, symbolizing either letting Svar remain Grandmaster, or exiling both him and Meinard from Kaer Tiele.
All but one of the Cat witchers stood steadfastly by Master Reinicke’s side, refusing to get involved in Wolf School business. Reinicke himself hadn’t wanted to vote, and had thought he might get out of it by claiming his status as a Cat, but as a Master at Kaer Tiele he was not actually allowed to refuse when Svar yelled at him to “make a choice, you bastard!”‘
(I might be paraphrasing a bit here, but even with my failing memory, I feel like I’m conveying the mood…)
There was even more drama when Dirk, who had supported Sorena’s right to speak, walked towards Svar’s line and, when someone yelled it was the wrong line, yelled back, “I know what I’m doing!”
It’s not often it’s quiet enough around the witchers to hear everyone gasp.
In the end, the supporters for Svar outnumbered the rest by only 7 votes.
(A bit funny, considering there were exactly 8 Cat witchers staying neutral.)
So Svar got to stay on as Grandmaster, Meinard got to keep performing shady medical procedures on adepts, and what do Svar do…?
He stands up in front of everyone and informs them that he has decided to leave Kaer Tiele on his own volition.
The Trials (or “When Dirk’s Group Just Started Fucking with Adepts”)
Now that all the drama was over with, the Gathering dissolved and everyone got ready for the Trials. I went with Dirk and the 5 other witchers who had volunteered to assist him. One of us had to borrow a sword from the guy who had two, but we were all more or less ready to go. The girl who borrowed the sword went to do something and was supposed to come back quickly, but by the time we were told to get going, we still hadn’t seen her, so we went out into the forest without her.
(After about an hour, we turned to the guy who had lent her a sword, and said, “I think she robbed you.”)
Dirk had been put in charge of the second of the Trials the new adepts had to go through before they were to undergo the Trial of the Grasses. Our station was at the bridge at the edge of the forest. The mood on the trip there was pretty somber, Dirk being rather gloomy about his actions during the Gathering, but it soon got better once we arrived at the bridge. Dirk found a great outlet for his angst in what I have dubbed his “Emo Svar” impression, which consisted mostly of putting on a deep, grave voice and going, “I am Grandmaster Svar. I must send myself into exile.”
He did it for at least 3 hours, and it somehow never stopped being funny.
The Trial we were going to pose to the adepts involved them playing the “Bridge game”. In theory, it’s quite simple:
You got two groups of equal size. All but one of them has a sword. They’re placed on either side of a bridge and in the middle of the bridge is a sack with a chain in it. The goal is to grab the chain and get it to the opposite side of the bridge. Only the one not carrying a sword is allowed to grab the chain. If any player is hit with a weapon by a player of the opposing team, they have to stop what they’re doing and do 10 pushups/squats/sit-ups etc.
We introduced another rule that said that we were going to be walking around the bridge as well and if we booped any player on the head with the flat of our sword, they also had to stop and do whatever we told them.
For the first couple of groups, we just made them do push-ups or sit-ups. Or, that means, I tried to get them to do sit-ups, but apparently every single adept thinks “sit-ups” means “squats”.
Jeez, what are they teaching people at this school…?
It didn’t take us long to get bored with this, however. While waiting for the next group, we looked at each other and went, “We should make them sing.”
And here’s why I’m glad I ended up in Dirk’s group, because I don’t think any other Master would have allowed the chaos we caused for the next few hours.
Sure, for the next group, we just made them sing. And I must say, I’m impressed that none of them hesitated, even though it would be fair to be confused when you’re booped on the head with a sword and someone demands that you sing. But they obeyed on the spot. There were several renditions of “What do you do with a drunken witcher?” and many going “La la la la la la”, but my favorites were the ones that went “I don’t know any songs, so I’m just going to do this…” and “I hate this stupid game…”, but still sang it flawlessly to a melody.
Of course, seeing how easily we got them to sing… we had to keep going, right?
Obviously we made the next group dance. And then that one left, I looked at the others and said, “They’re Wolf adepts… We should make them howl at the moon.”
It was a beautiful full moon as well, and it was far more beautiful when we got 9 adepts to howl at it all at the same time, and no one questioned their orders.
Oh, and one of my favorite moments of the whole game was when we later heard weird sounds from the direction of the third Trial and we looked at each other and went, “Wait… Are they still howling? They left here ages ago.”
That group now has a special place in my heart, because we were all laughing hysterically while I’m sure everyone up at the castle were so very confused.
When we started running out of ideas, we began asking the Masters accompanying each group what they wanted us to make them do.
Once we made them act like chickens.
Once we made them hiss like cats.
Once we told them to act like princesses, and one of them immediately went, “Servant, where is my horse?! I’m tired of this place!” and that girl got to join the howling group in my heart.
Once, when Master Gregor came around, our only instruction was, “Gregor likes manticores”, and the following confused conversation ensued:
“How do you act like a manticore?”
“I have no idea. Just tell the adepts to do it and let’s see what they come up with.”
None of the adepts imitated the same kind of animal, so I think we might need a talk with the Monster Knowledge teachers…
But really, whatever we told them to do, they just did it. Stella might have made a lot of dog jokes about the Wolf School witchers, but she did honestly not expect them to be this obedient.
(Honestly, we were at the 9th group before someone thought to ask what the point of the exercise was. We just told them not to ask questions…)
This all took place over maybe 3 or 4 hours, so we spent a lot of time between groups just waiting on a dark bridge… but I can’t remember when I last had this much fun. I’m not sure I can repeat most of the insane jokes we did there, because they were so completely inappropiate that if there had been any sensible people around, someone would have stopped us. Marissa (who was also part of this group) and I told Dirk the story of how we had tried to capture a Barghest on our way from Kaer Marter to Kaer Tiele, to give it as a “present” to the Wolf School witchers, but that it had gotten loose in a tavern and we had to put it down.
Master Dirk was sorely disappointed that he didn’t get a Barghest, and blamed us for making him sad.
A long line of Svar impressions cheered all of us up greatly, though, until we saw a silhouette in the dark approaching us.
“Oh shit… We summoned him.”
I’m still not quite sure why the Grandmaster decided to come out there himself to ask if we had everything we needed, but we managed to keep it together until he was halfway back to the castle before we started laughing again.
It was almost 1 in the morning before we made it back to the castle. I stayed around the tavern, singing along to the bards’ songs and congratulating each of the Ashes adepts as they made it out alive from the Trial of the Grasses. I admit I also once got together with someone from Dirk’s group and booped a random adept on the head to see if she would howl if we told her to (she did). At one point, the horn sounded, calling us into the courtyard for the final scene of the LARP. We all lined up before the Grandmaster and he started talking about the investigation into the death of Cosimo Malaspina, and accused Master Vester, the alchemy teacher with speciality in witcher bombs and a strained relationship with the mage, of being behind the explosion. Vester, understandably, demanded proof, at which point one of the tutors, Jodok, stepped forward and confessed to killing Cosimo.
There was a brief fight, then Jodok took an Igni to the chest, and died.
And that’s how the episode ended.
The Afterparty and the Day After
This time I was actually not so exhausted that I couldn’t take part in the afterparty, so I went around and hugged all the people who had only moments before been tough, unapproachable witchers. There were a few scuffles trying to beat the other groups to the photobooth, but I did manage to get a picture with both the Ashes and the Cat School witchers, so I have something to anxiously look forward to now that the post-LARP blues are starting to set in.
I ended up going to bed at 5 am, which is rather impressive for a person who usually gets testy if she gets past her 21.30 bedtime.
There’s not much to say about the following day, as it mostly consisted of everyone going home, but the conversation I had to Marissa and Adrian’s real life counterparts made my day. Adrian, the drug-using Cat I had spent 3 days planning murder and so many other horrible crimes with, were grieving the thought of having to go to work at 7 am the next day.
“What do you do for a living?”
“Oh, I’m a policeman.”
That’s it (she says, after writing a blog post a sixth of the length of her first book).
I really do hope I’ll get some pictures soon to add to this ridiculous wall of text, but I don’t dare get my hopes up.
Also, I’m not entirely sure why I’m still writing, because there’s no way anyone got to the end of this shit.
Oh, one more thing:
I forgot to add this part, and right now I can’t be assed to rewrite anything to make it fit, so I’ll just shove it in here: Victor agreed on a dare to use the pickup line “I have never been with a human before, and I don’t want to die without trying it” on Master Meinard.
He didn’t get the chance in episode 1, but Stella and Halvar are fucking holding him to it.
Well, I will be going back next week, so lots of preparations are underway.
To the fortunate ones who haven’t been forced to listen to me gush endlessly about this: Witcher School is a three-day LARP held in Poland with participants from all over the world. It’s held at Moszna Castle and, as the name might suggest, it’s based on the Witcher games and books. It’s also quite unlike anything I have ever experienced before, which is why I’m going back to hunt monsters in the forest in the middle of goddamn night and get yelled at by men with swords around dawn.
This is an entirely new storyline, meaning I will also be playing an entirely new character.
(Seriously, I kept trying to pick fights, but no grown man can bring himself to even yell at a petite 5’6″ baby-faced woman. They kept being all diplomatic and patient, and it was infuriating.)
Which is why I was thrilled when I received my new character.
This time I will be playing Stella, a Nilfgaardian woman who ran away from home, because all she could expect from life was to be married off to some man her parents chose for her. She was eventually kidnapped by bandits who were going to sell her as a slave, but ended up losing her in a game of Gwent to the Grand Master of the School of Cat.
Since I went through the whole adept-thing last time, I decided to play a full-fledged Witcher this time around, which means that my character has already gone through the Trial of the Grasses. And here’s where it gets good: My character survived the Trial, but is suffering from far more after effects than normal.
(Apparently, the School of the Cat isn’t too good at doing genetic experiments.)
Yes yes, I know it’s weird to be excited about playing a sick character, but I was no good as a Viking princess, so I’m totally embracing this. Which is also why I’m going to take things a bit further.
My character sheet doesn’t mention any visible signs of the after effects of the mutagens, but I thought it would be much more interesting if everyone immediately can see that Stella isn’t well. So I went makeup shopping (a horror in itself) and tried out a new look based on how Geralt looks in Witcher 3 when he overdoses on toxic potions.
The bonus is that if I perfect the look, I’ll be all set for Halloween as well!
Also, sorry: It's not the tasty kind of cookies. We're all out of those. Alrighty!