It’s been at least two full weeks since I last talked about Witcher, so it’s a good thing that I’m now reading Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski!
Seeing as ‘contempt’ is in the title, it’s obviously the lovely Yennefer adorning the cover. Meaning Artemis really had to up his game so as not to have his arrogance outshined in today’s picture. Philippa Eilhart might be the Witcher-verse’s resident Crazy Owl Lady, but I have no doubt that Artemis would get along just fine as Yennefer’s familiar.
I probably lost all the non-Witcher fans now, but that’s alright. I know you’re only here for the grumpy owl!
Time of Contempt
by Andrzej Sapkowski
Geralt the Witcher has fought monsters and demons across the land, but even he may not be prepared for what is happening to his world. The kings and armies are maneuvering for position, each fearing invasion from across the river, each fearing their neighbours more. Intrigue, dissent and rebellion are on all sides.
The Elves and other non-humans are still suffering under decades of repression, and growing numbers join the commando units hidden deep in the forest, striking at will and then dissolving into the trees. The Magicians are fighting amongst themselves, some in the pay of the kings, some sympathetic to the elves.
And against this backdrop of fear and contempt Geralt and his lover Yennefer must protect Ciri, orphaned heir and sought by all sides. For the prophecy rests on her, and whether she lives or dies she has the power to save the world – or perhaps end it.
I have always been a very cheap person. The only thing I ever voluntarily spend a lot of money are PCs, and even then, I’m currently keeping the lid on my laptop together with laundry clamps because it goes against everything I believe in to replace a fully-functioning laptop, just because it happens to be falling apart.
So when I decided to sign up for Witcher School and go to Poland, I spent a lot of time telling myself that it was worth the expense because it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As you will no doubt know if you have been following my blog posts, I just got home from this once-in-a-lifetime experience less than a month ago.
And less than an hour ago Witcher School released the tickets for another LARP event in October. I already bought mine.
Once-in-a-lifetime, my ass…
It’s not even the follow-up to the event I went to in April, but instead the first episode in a brand new season. Apparently, the individual events are part of seasons where each episode continues the story from the last one. And these seasons have 6-7 episodes, roughly one a year.
The event I went to in April was episode 5 of a season. Meaning that I have 2 episodes left of that one, then 7 of the season I just signed up for.
I might as well move to Poland.
Not to mention I had planned to dedicate 2019 to working on my books, so I could get both my new book and the new editions of the old ones released. I was so certain I would have them all done with lots of time to spare before the summer convention season.
But I’m not even close to being done. From January to April, my sole focus was preparing for Witcher School (but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it was okay, right?), which, for one thing, meant I spend a lot of time exercising. It’s no wonder so many writers take up drinking instead. Being healthy does not leave you a lot of time to get work done.
If I end up going to Witcher School twice a year from now on, I will never get anything else done.
I’m just going to put all the blame on Andrzej Sapkowski and CD Projekt Red and call it a day.
I think I dodged the Post-Game Depression I know to be common among Witcher School graduates, but that might just be because I haven’t fully let go of being a witcher just yet.
I had expected the constant thoughts analyzing the stories and characters I encountered at Moszna Castle. I even expected insisting on wearing my Wolf School medallion to work every day, even though it stands out in a consultant office and constantly knocks stuff over on my desk whenever I reach for something, like a small canine-shaped wrecking ball.
But I didn’t expect to be unconsciously practicing fencing pirouettes in the office bathroom. Or sitting at my desk at 7:30 in the morning, going through emails and suddenly thinking, “I should be at morning workout.”
I’m a lazy person. I like doing nothing and not moving all day.
So why am I itching to swing a sword? I wasn’t even good at it!
I even miss all the yelling.
I hate people raising their voice. Usually, nothing makes me angrier than someone thinking they need, or even have the right, to yell at me.
Now I can’t get used to how softly everyone are speaking when addressing me.
The other day, I found myself reaching for one of the beers I bought for a party more than a year ago and which is still standing in my fridge.
I had to remind myself that I had only been drinking a lot of beer in Poland because my character liked it. If I had liked it, it wouldn’t still be in the damn fridge.
Witcher School lasted 3 days. I’m convinced you shouldn’t be acting like this unless you got used to something over several months, at least…
If I start missing Pebbles the Earth Elemental, promise you’ll all stage an intervention for me.
I got home from Poland Sunday night. When I woke the next day, it wasn’t fully light out and I was like “Wow, I managed to wake up before noon?”
…Nope. I slept through 3 alarms and woke at 7:30 in the evening.
If you have been following my posts, you of course know that I went to Moszna Castle in Poland to attend Witcher School for three days. It was my first time going to this LARP and I’m honestly not sure I can cram all the amazing stuff that happened into one blog post.
But damn it if I ain’t gonna try!
Disclaimer: This post is going to have stronger language than usual, because it would feel a little silly staying all PG when talking about an event where we were woken up in the morning by someone yelling “Rise and fucking shine!”…
Let me start by introducing my character. I already talked a bit about Eydis of Clan Tordarroch, the daughter of a Skellige jarl, in an earlier blog post.
Eydis is a total badass, who grew up disappointed in her father, who she viewed as weak, because he, unlike most Skelliger, didn’t care for invasion and conquest and didn’t stand up to the ones who mocked their family name. As she refused to sit back quietly and spent her life as someone’s wife or mother, she got involved in Skellige politics in an attempt to prove herself and regain respect for her clan.
Her father did not approve and sent her off with a witcher to teach her a lesson.
Eydis was a difficult character for me to play, as her confidence and arrogance comes from being a good fighter, and Michelle is… not a good fighter. I will probably be playing her one more time, as it seems like next episode will be the final one in the season and it would be silly to create a new character for one episode, but I will definitely work towards getting a character more suited to me the next time around.
The event ran from the afternoon on Thursday 4th of April to 3-fucking-am on Sunday 7th.
I got to Poland on Thursday and met up with the other players at around noon at Wroclaw Airport to catch a bus to Moszna Castle where we were going to live for the next three days. After signing a bunch of papers, basically saying “If you die, it’s not our fault” or something, I was standing around awkwardly, because everyone else were traveling with friends or knew people from earlier episodes.
Luckily, some guy from Bulgaria took pity on me and approached me, so I didn’t have to be a total wallflower. We talked about everything from previous LARP experience to murder, and the only time there seemed to be a language barrier was when I mentioned living with an owl and he said he wasn’t sure he was understanding me correctly. I’m pretty sure he was.
After a 1½ hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere, we finally arrived at Moszna Zamek, and as we approached the castle, my first thought was “Oh my god… I’m at Hogwarts.”
Guys, I can’t even begin to describe how utterly beautiful this castle is when you see it in person, knowing that you’re going to live there for the next three days.
The organizers had rented out the entire castle for the event and decorated the inside, so all modern things were covered up. The only areas that were off-game during the event was the parking lot, the basement where the crew areas were, the bathrooms and the player rooms if we chose to make them so.
Meaning that, except from when nature called, you could be in-game non-stop unless you chose to take a break.
This had both advantages and disadvantages. It was much, much easier to roleplay when you never had to break character, but my room was on the third floor and you very quickly get tired of navigating stairs at night with only the light of the tiny LED candles placed around the castle.
Luckily, “for fuck’s sake!” is perfectly in-character Witcher language, so skipping a step didn’t make me break character.
Also, no matter how beautiful Moszna Zamek is, after the third time I got lost trying to find my room, I did find myself thinking, “Authencity is all well and good, but would it kill them to put up some signs?!”
Organizers Making Sure We Don’t Kill Each Other (and Ideally Don’t Even Have to go to the Hospital)
After finding our rooms and receiving our costumes, we had to go to the introductory workshops.
This was basically a lot of different workshops where we were told how we all got through this LARP without:
Sending ourselves to the hospital
Sending the crew to the hospital
Setting fire to the woods
Setting fire to each other
Setting fire to ourselves
Wreaking havoc in general
We also sat through a workshop where we got a sex talk, and a combat safety workshop, which was by far my favorite because it included the advice, “Be careful in the woods. It’s full of trees and shit.”
We were herded around to 6 or 7 workshops, and half of them had at least one segment dedicated to telling us not to use lit torches as weapons, so I can only assume that, at some point in the past, someone got set on fire…
The Game Begins
After the workshops, we were finally ready to begin.
A bit of backstory:
The story took place about a hundred years before the Witcher books/video games and was centered at Kaer Marter, the Witcher School of Cat.
As a new player, you weren’t told anything about what happened in earlier episodes (this was episode 5), but we soon learned that the King of Temeria was trying to get the Witcher Guild to give up their independence, sign a treaty and bend the knee to Temeria. The Grandmaster of Kaer Marter had refused, and as a response the Temerian army had laid siege to the castle.
From our character sheets, the new players knew they had been captured by Temerian soldiers, but the returning players didn’t know how we would be introduced before the game started.
This brings me back to the game. Just before game start, I was marched into the darkening forest together with the other new players and the Temerian NPCs, and when the game started for real, we were all ushered into two lines and frogmarched back to the castle by the soldiers.
We got to the courtyard where everyone were waiting for us, and the witcher masters confronted the Temerians about what was going on. Unfortunately, I was at the back, so I couldn’t see what was happening, but it was clear that a fight was breaking out and someone was screaming. After that, the Temerians left, leaving behind the captured adepts in the care of the witchers.
After that, we all met up with our respective groups. Mine were the Blue Birds, and after meeting with them I found out that the master of our unit, Master Vester, had been killed in combat when he defied the Temerians after we arrived. We were assigned a new master, Master Jaeger, but Jaeger made it clear to us that he was not interested in replacing Vester and that he wasn’t going to order us around, but would be there to give us advice if we wanted it. Instead he entrusted the senior member of our group, Falk, with leading us.
Drinking and Gambling at the Tavern
We didn’t have classes that first night, so eventually I ended up at the tavern with a fellow Blue Bird (I believe his name was Yorrick). We joined a Zerrikanian witcher who taught us a couple of dice games and then proceeded to beat our asses at them all night. There was also a fair bit of drinking, and even though Michelle doesn’t like beer, Eydis is a true Skellige girl and would never refuse an ale, so I ended up drinking more beer than I ever have in my life. Seeing as the bar only accepted Temerian currency (or, as it was called off-game, Zloty) and I only had Skellige coins (Euro), I ended up either getting others to buy me beer or, failing that, simply “confiscating” it from others.
It’s not stealing when I inform you I’m doing it.
It was at the tavern that I first met Baron Vulko Stenger, the Temerian commissioner. He explained to me and a few other adepts about how we should all sign the treaty, and that all this bloodshed was completely unnecessary. All the while Eydis was slinging insults at him, getting slightly miffed at how he kept up his diplomatic facade while she was obviously trying to pick a fight with him.
Rather unconvinced by the baron’s talk about how forcing the treaty on the witchers was completely reasonable and how it wouldn’t change anything for us, I went for a walk with the others and caught a bit of conversation suggesting the other witchers were going out to hunt a werewolf.
We all decided that we didn’t feel like being torn to pieces that night and went back to drinking.
At some point, me and another female adept was asked by some guy with a beer mug in each hand to come with him for a minute. I told him that was an awful lot of beer for a minute, but we went with him anyway. I’m still not sure exactly why we needed to go to the courtyard with him to meet some big Master with a beer of his own, but I have a feeling the Master simply had made a bet that he couldn’t fetch a couple of girls. Eydis didn’t really care. But she did confiscate the first guy’s beer.
It turned out that the big guy was Master Njall, and in Eydis’ character sheet, it said that the witcher she had been sent away with was a Skelliger named Njall, who had tried to defend her when the Temerian soldiers arrested her. So once we etablished our shared history, we caught up on the “good old times”, mainly by exchanging off-hand comments about how it was nice to see the other hadn’t been killed off.
When I got back to the tavern, we had been joined by a couple of bards, so I got back to gambling with Yorrick and the others. As I couldn’t buy anyone drinks and didn’t own anything of value, I started betting favors instead. By the end of the night, Yorrick owed me two, while everyone else had lost everything they owned to the Zerrikanian witcher, Aynye. But the beer was still flowing, so soon Yorrick was arm-in-arm with another adept, singing along to the rather raucy songs one of the bards were playing.
This went on until far into the night, and at 2 am I decided that everyone had lost enough of their dignity and went to bed.
The next morning, at exactly 7 am, the whole castle shook with some guy yelling, “WAKEY, WAKEY!” at the top of his lungs. He started two floor below us and we still heard him clear as day in my room. He kept on yelling, until we all dragged ourselves out of bed and got down to the courtyard for morning workout.
After a grueling workout, we were lined up in the courtyard, waiting to be told breakfast was ready.
What we were told instead was that we would have to prove ourselves deserving of breakfast.
We were only allowed into the dining hall in groups, and if we wanted to be the next to go, someone from our group could challenge someone else and defeat them in a sword fight.
This little charade would turn out to occur at every damn meal, and the Blue Bird challengers weren’t having a lot of success, so soon the rest of us cheered them on with truly inspiring battle cries like, “Go, Blue Birds! We’re hungry!”
Luckily we got to eat in the end, and afterwards we waited for the horn to blow, signaling our first class.
We met up with Master Bastian, who was going to teach us how to throw and fight with axes.
Real axes. We were actually throwing around sharp metal weapons.
We were all getting ready, axes in hand, when Baron Vulko marched up and went to Yorrick, telling him he did a good job and that he could change into proper clothes. And that’s when the bastard I had spent all night drinking with removed his witcher adept gambeson to reveal a blue insignia with three white lilies on it.
The fucking Temerian Coat of Arms.
The one friend I made in my group and he turned out to be a Temerian spy. Eydis was not amused. But Michelle really should have seen it coming – his moustache was way too perfect for him not to be an evil NPC…
Surprisingly, no one axed him and brought the Temerian army outside the castle down on us, and we went on with the lesson. The great thing about the class was that Master Bastian could turn absolutely anything into an innuendo, and axe-throwing is a rich subject in that area. We were taught how to block and attack with the tomahawks, and Master Bastian went through all the useful body areas you could aim for. His most notable advice was “going FOR THE PLUMS!”
I tried that when he had me help with a demonstration, and I have never seen a man so pleased that I tried to hit him in the balls with an axe.
I turned out to be kind of shit at throwing the axes. But at least no one died.
Our next class was Alchemy. We were led down in the rather creepy alchemy lab with Master Killian, the rather creepy Alchemy teacher, and I spent the next half hour paying about as much attention as I used to do in High School Chemistry.
Meaning, not at all.
After the theory, we went into the forest to pick flowers. Then we were attacked by a ghoul. Then Master Killian went, “screw the flowers”. Then we dissected the ghoul.
Good times were had by all. Except the ghoul.
After that, I went to sit in the courtyard in the beautiful sunshine. There, I was approached by Yorrick the Temerian Whoreson, who apologized for the deceit and tried to tell me how he wanted to help us out. Unfortunately, he was called away before I could tell him to go fuck himself (I searched for him for the rest of the game in order to tell him just that, but I think he had to go play other characters, because I was unsuccesful).
For lunch we once again had to fight for our food, and after that, it was time for Hunting with Master Jaeger. Jaeger wanted ghoul blood, but since Master Killian got there first, we were all out of luck while hunting for something to provide it. Instead we went off to get spinal fluid from a fiend.
Fiends are these guys:
Fiends are fucking terrifying.
Did I mention that I was unarmed?
I was unarmed.
To sedate the fiend (we weren’t going to kill it, as it’s always good to have a supply of spinal fluid nearby), we made a toxic smoke. And obviously, anything that would stun a fiend was strong enough to cause a horrible and painful death for the rest of us, so we were adviced to stay up-wind during our ambush.
We found the fiend, and while I know it was just an actor in a costume, it was a damn impressive costume and I was totally prepared to believe I was closing in on a monster capable of tearing me apart.
We spread out and surrounded it, approaching carefully… and then the people with smoke and swords charged it, while the rest of us stayed back and were generally rather useless.
We got our spinal fluid, Jaeger decided that he could just steal some ghoul blood from the alchemy lab, and everyone was happy. Possibly except the fiend (and maybe later Master Killian).
Last up was Signs. This was also the class where we got our witcher medallions. Out of the 6 different witcher schools, we got to choose whether we wanted to join the School of the Cat or the School of the Wolf. I went with the last one, and got an awesome metal medallion shaped like a snarling wolf (the same one that appears on the logos for the various Witcher games).
Then we were ready to go to the woods to practice signs.
To the ones unfamiliar with the Witcher universe, a Sign is a sort of spell witchers use. The ones you’re introduced to in the video games are Aard, Axi, Igni, Quen and Yrden.
We were taught Quen, Aard and Igni.
Quen is a defensive spell, basically a magical shield, and the way we illustrated that in the LARP was to cross our arms in front of us and yell “Quen!” If we weren’t any good at it, Master Dirk hit us very hard in the ribs with a latex sword. Don’t be fooled: A latex sword might not break anything, but it can certainly still hurt like hell!
Next up was Aard, which is used for blasting an opponent, a locked door, or anything else that’s in your way. For that, we had to assume a combat stance, draw the sign in the air before us, then thrust out our arm and yell, you guessed it, “Aard!”
We practiced this on a training dummy named Bob, and some hidden strings made sure that our spell was able to knock over both Bob and nearby foliage, depending on how succesful we were.
Last, but so very definitely not last: Igni.
Anyone who’s into Witcher knows why I’m excited for that one.
It sets stuff on fire.
The casting technique was just like with Aard, but instead of strings, the special effects crew has prepared pyrotechnics. It is so very satisfying to yell “Igni!” and have something burst into flames 5 meters in front of you.
I went to dinner that night, very pleased with myself, and it only got better when a Temerian officer joined the Blue Birds at their table and tried to recruit us. Eydis’ teammates were carefully choosing their words, while Eydis jumped on the chance to insult another Temerian official, since she hadn’t been able to find Yorrick, and the baron had been boring. This woman, Corinne, on the other hand, was not having any of Eydis’ shit and gave as good as she got.
I’m sorry to say I probably lost this Bitch Off.
She asked me if death was really better than bending the knee, and one of my fellow Blue Birds told her I was from Skellige and fighting was what we did. After commenting on how I clearly wasn’t one of the more impressive of my countrymen, the Temerian went, “Do you also drink like a Skelliger?”
And I went, “Oh, I do. Are you buying?”
…I was so close to getting someone to buy me lots of beer just because I was a bitch and she wanted the chance to break me, and I missed it by not having time to lurk around the tavern later that night. I was having no luck finding my Temerians when I needed them.
After dinner, I went up to my room to take a break. Me and my roommate (her character being Agnise) had decided to keep our room off-game, so I was sprawled on my bed, reading a book when Arina/Agnise came in, slightly out of breath. I asked her if anything interesting were going on down there, and as our room overlooked the courtyard, she took a look and went, “Oh, they’re hanging the bard.”
Remember the bard singing raucy songs at the tavern the first night? Oh yeah, he ended up dangling in the courtyard, executed by the Temerian baron. Apparently he was a Redanian spy.
All my drinking buddies were goddamn spies.
Monster Hunt by Torchlight
After dark, I found the Blue Birds, along with a large percentage of the other witchers and adepts, assembled in the courtyard, waiting for something. I asked Falk what was going on and he told me we were going hunting. I decided to join them (after all, I was almost out of drinking buddies) and the Blue Birds split into two groups, one being led by Master Jaeger, the other by Master Hakon, this incredibly terrifying Skelliger with an eyepatch, a permanent grim expression, and a heavy Eastern European accent to go with his whole ‘Russian murderer’-vibe.
Of course my group went with the Master who looked like he was ready to murder us all if the monsters didn’t do it themselves.
We were one of the last groups to leave. We went into the forest with 8 people, one of them being a Master not prone to providing reassurances, and just a single torch. It was pitch black in the forest and we could hardly see anything outside the circle of light cast by the torch.
That’s not terrifying at all when you know there’s monsters out there, right?
We were all on edge, going through the silent forest, and it didn’t take long before our first adversary rushed past us, nearly making all of us scream like little girls.
…It turned out to be a cat.
Master Hakon scoffed and said, “It’s a cat school. What did you expect?” and walked on, radiating indifference, while the rest of us struggled to regain our composure.
The next encounter turned out to be far more difficult.
We saw the fuses before we saw the monsters and as soon as we realized it was a distraction, we formed a circle, protecting the torchbearer. Soon, the entire area was filled with thick fog and we all knew that could only mean one thing:
Foglets are horrible, not because they are all that powerful, but because they work in groups and only attack in fog that won’t hinder their own sight, but will effectively blind the enemy. As soon as we were surrounded and disoriented by the fog, they came out at us from all sides. Only the fact that we kept up our formation and didn’t panic meant that we all got out of the fight alive and defeated the foglets.
When the smoke cleared, we stepped over our fallen foes and went deeper into the forest. It wasn’t long before we glimpsed something glowing in the distance and someone quietly told us there would be an earth elemental ahead. The more experienced members of our group told us that we might as well put away our swords, because they wouldn’t have any effect, and not to bother with the Quen sign, because while that might defend you from an arrow, it wasn’t going to do much good against a creature that shattered your bones when it hit you.
The way to defeat it was to collect the magical stones that would be lying in the forest close by (the ones emitting the light we saw) and make a circle around the elemental to trap it. While a few of us collected the stones, the rest would distract the elemental.
I have absolutely no idea how well the rest of my team did, because we weren’t very far into the fight before Pebbles (which is apparently what this monstrocity was called) knocked me over and started pummeling with stone fists, each one roughly the size of my whole body, while I laid helplessly on the ground.
My teammates managed to distract it, while one of them grabbed me under the arms and dragged me off to the side, frantically pouring a Swallow potion (a powerful, but rather toxic, healing potion) down my throat and deposited me on a nearby bench (but for the sake of roleplaying reasons, I was otherwise pretending there wasn’t a nice park bench in the monster-riddled forest) before going back to the fight.
So I was sitting there, watching my teammates entrap the elemental and everything seemed to be going well. Then, suddenly, light flared to my right (opposite of the elemental and my team, meaning I was trapped between) and a loud, obviously evil voice started mocking us. Before I knew it, I heard someone from my team scream, “Run, run!” just before the mage released Pebbles from his prison. I sat there frozen in the dark, staring wide-eyed at the mage’s silhouette, and then turned back to see my team fleeing in wild panic, Pebbles chasing after them…
…leaving me alone in the dark.
It took me a bit too long to realize that, broken bones or not, I would have to get away before Pebbles came back. I started limping through the undergrowth, the only light source being the illuminated mage behind me and the torch that was disappearing into the distance together with my team. The forest floor was absolutely covered in leaves, so every step I took made a lot of noise.
And then Pebbles came back.
Of course that meant my fellow Blue Birds had gotten away safely, but it also meant that I now stood paralyzed in the dark, about 10 meters from the raging monster that would hear me and kill me (with no one around to save me) as soon as I made another step.
Let me tell you: Even if the logical part of your brain knows it’s just a person in a costume, the more primal part is totally panicking at being abandoned in a dark forest with a monster about to kill you if you breathe too loudly.
Luckily, my team was organized enough to do a count off after a flight, so after a while I could hear them panic in the distance as they realized they had left me behind. I’ll be honest with you, I’m glad Falk was the unofficial leader of the Blue Birds, because I’m not entirely sure Master Hakon would have made the decision to come back for me.
But they did. I saw the torch come closer and heard my team agree to distract the elemental, while someone called for me. As soon as Pebbles was distracted, I called back and when Pebbles charged, Falk pushed me ahead and yelled “Run, run, RUN!!!”
Technically, my bones should still have been too shattered for me to run, but at that moment I decided to say screw roleplaying. I fucking RAN.
This endeavor had resulted in two grievously injured Blue Birds, but Master Hakon still had one more task for us. He led us back to the castle and down in a small basement room behind the alchemy lab. There he told us the witchers kept a striga, a cursed creature created from the body of a stillborn baby or a dead child, and that we had go get her back in her coffin.
Yep, this school is more unsafe than fucking Hogwarts.
We went in, me at the back because of my injuries, and that was fortunate (for me) because the first guy who went in were tackled by a wraith.
No one told us there would be wraiths.
Once again, I’m not quite sure how we managed to defeat the wraiths and push the striga back in her coffin. I just know that I was in a small, dark tomb, and screaming ghost women were coming at me from all sides. I was totally useless down there, but my teammates got the job done.
After that, we staggered back to the courtyard and I stumbled back to my room. I nearly shat myself when I turned a corner in the dark halls and saw a big guy walking towards me in the opposite direction, for a second thinking I was about to be charged by Pebbles again, before I got my shit together.
Apparently, LARP PTSD is a thing.
Another Day Dawns
When the wake-up guy announced his presence at 7 am the next morning by yelling “RISE AND FUCKING SHINE!” downstairs, I woke up feeling nauseous and running a mild fever.
All in all, not in the shape for morning workout.
I reasoned with myself that since they had given me a toxic healing potion last night, and I hadn’t yet undergone the rituals to become a proper witcher (and as such immune to toxins), I had a good excuse for being too sick for workout, both in-game and off-game. Of course this didn’t mean that I didn’t do my very best to sneak past all the Masters when I went for breakfast after skipping it, though…
The fever and nausea had eased somewhat after breakfast, allowing me to enjoy my lesson in archery with Master Niklas – the one subject I was actually skilled at – but after that we had Fencing with Master Diarmind and I quickly realized that I was in no shape to be training pirouette movements.
By the time we finally got to take a break, my head just kept on spinning even though my feet had stopped.
Luckily, I managed not to throw up on someone’s boots and I was feeling alright for the Monster Knowledge lesson with Master Rodrick after lunch.
Good thing, too, because that was the most fucking insane class I have ever taken.
It started out alright. We sat with Master Rodrick in the tavern and he taught us the importance of knowing what kind of creature you were dealing with before engaging it in combat. He told us a bit about curses, but in my humble opinion, not enough for what he put us through right afterwards.
He took us back to the room with the striga.
At first, he rounded up the whole class and took us into the tomb, explaining a bit about the striga and why she was there.
Then the lunatic let her out of her coffin.
Again, it’s hard to imagine a normal person being inside the costume when they shoot out of a coffin with the speed of a cheetah on acid, snarling and clawing at you. Luckily, she was chained, so she couldn’t get at us as we all, very quickly, backed up when Rodrick went to the coffin.
Master Rodrick must have had a rather sick sense of humor, because when it seemed like the striga had calmed down, he promised a beer to anyone who touched her. One of the Blue Birds slowly approached her with his arm out and the striga sat there watching him, growling softly, but not aggressively.
That is, until he came within the reach of her chain, and she charged at him before he could even blink. The entire class had to rush in to save him as she dragged him back and tried to tear him apart.
After that, we left the basement and went back out into the sunlight. We were all relieved to be out in more or less one piece.
Then Rodrick told us we had to go back in.
Separating us into groups of 3, he told us that we had to get past the striga and get an item from her coffin. I nearly told him to go fuck himself.
My group got together and discussed our battle plan. One said that he would run to the coffin if we distracted her, so we decided that I would bait her and another would be behind me, ready to stun her with the Aard sign as soon as the last one ran.
Of course, that all went out the window when we actually got down there and the striga wasn’t letting herself be distracted at all. At some point, one of the others kept screaming at me, “Why aren’t you running?!” and I kept screaming back, “Since when was THAT the plan?!” and in the end I just had to take the chance once I thought there was an opening.
I was tackled immediately and then the striga had me in a deathgrip from behind as she clawed at my throat. Once again, my teammates had to get me free and we fled from the room. Once we were outside again, I staggered up to our self-appointed group leader and very pointedly told him,
“If you decide to change the plan, YOU TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT!”
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. The crew had a professional makeup team in the off-game area, so when I got the chance, I went down there and told them I took a striga to the throat and they made me a little souvenir:
The last lesson we had was Survival with Master Ansgar and Master Rewald. Compared to our last class, this was pretty dull, but Master Ansgar insisted we proceed into the forest, even when we started hearing explosions coming from the castle. Apparently, it was “just some sorcerer teleporting” and it could just as well be our own sorceress, Francesca Findabair, as an enemy one attacking. Eventually, we stopped arguing, but we did exchange glances when the explosions kept happening and our Masters kept ignoring the fact that Findabair wouldn’t need to teleport that many times in a row.
The class was very similar to a boy scout lesson. We learned how to make a fire with knife and flint, and how to make a water filter. Quite unexpectedly, nothing burst out of the lake to attack us.
When we came back, the castle was still standing (though I did notice how there always seemed to be more bloodstains every time I returned to the stairs by the courtyard…) and if Gildart (Pebbles’ lovely master) had attacked and engaged Francesca in some epic mage duel, no one told me about it.
There was only one last thing on the agenda after dinner:
The Trial of Grasses.
Again, to everyone not familiar with Witcher lore, the Trial of Grasses is the horrifying process adepts have to go through to become true witchers. They had to undergo a series of mutations and most don’t survive.
Of course, the adepts knew that there would be a bit more to it, but no one would tell us anything. I passed the Blue Birds’ leader on the way out to the courtyard and he just said, “Don’t die”.
I took the time to yell back at him, “Oh thanks, that strategy didn’t even occur to me!”
Now, the Trial of Grasses is a witcher secret, and I’m not going to tell you about what happened. Let’s just say that it was fairly terrifying.
But I survived. I became a witcher.
…Just in time to be rushed out of the castle right after my trial and being told that we were abandoning Kaer Marter and breaking through the Temerian siege.
No one gave me a sword, so I just had to stay out of the way while we rushed through the forest, fought our way through Temerian soldiers and then ended up at a standstill at a Temerian camp.
By this time, it was far after midnight, my blood sugar was dangerously low and I hadn’t had time to grab a drink before leaving the castle, so I was feeling quite horrible and was, unfortunately, unable to enjoy the end of the game. It didn’t help that the final showdown started by Pebbles charging out of the dark, meaning I had to flee the spot where I had collapsed in the grass.
I’m not ashamed to say I hid in the cover of darkness while everyone else went to fight Gildart and I was immensely relieved by the time the organizers announced the end of the game.
It was 3 am by the time we got back to the castle to take a group photo and start the afterparty. I did feel better after raiding the snack buffet, but after a quick search to see if I could find anyone I knew, I went upstairs, thankful that I finally got to navigate the stairs with overhead lighting, and then collapsed into my bed.
The Startling Return to Normalcy
The next morning, I went down to breakfast, slightly confused at having to judge elderly tourists on the way. When I got to the dining hall, I had to stop for a moment and take it all in, because seeing the people I had gotten to know only as Witcher characters over the last 3 days in normal clothes was so. Fucking. Weird.
After a bit, Falk (who I still didn’t know the real name of) joined me and eventually some of the other Blue Birds showed up as well.
I left them to go outside and take in the castle one last time. It was beautiful out, just at it had been all the time we had been there, and I must admit I almost got a bit emotional at the thought that I would no longer be waking up to this place. Having finally received my phone, I took a few pictures, then went to join the others taking the bus back to the airport.
I had almost 7 hours to kill at Wroclaw Airport, so I spent as much time as I could chatting with the other players before they left. One of them looked at me and burst out laughing, telling me I might want to wash my face before going through security.
Yep, I still had the striga scar.
Also, when you’re removing a fake scar in an airport bathroom, in the same way you would peel the scab off of a barely-healed real wound, and accidentally makes eyecontact with someone in the mirror… it gets a little awkward.
Today I was back at work as a web designer, having to go through a mountain of emails, and feeling the crushing boredom of everyday life. Usually, I would be immensely relieved to be home after something even a tenth as strenous as this trip, but right now I’m just feeling a little lost at the thought that it’s all over.
I’m taking comfort in the fact that the dress code at my office is very lax, so I haven’t had to give up my witcher medallion yet.
I do miss my scar, though.
I’m sad that there’s so few pictures in this post, but obviously I couldn’t take any photos while we were in-game. Hopefully the official pictures will be up soon!
Here’s a few of the castle after the game (and the one I snapped from my window of the morning workout I skipped):
By the time this post goes live, I will have arrived at Moszna Castle in Poland after having been reading Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski on the plane (when not doing Sudokus…). But I didn’t want you to miss out on your grumpy owl photo, so I cheated and took this one yesterday!
Blood of Elves is, of course, the next book in the Witcher series, seeing as the sole reason I’m in Poland is to attend a Witcher-inspired LARP event.
As I’m writing this a little ahead of time, I haven’t started the book yet, so there’s not much more I can tell you about the story, but judging from the title…
It won’t end well for elves.
Anyway, I’ll be back home Sunday night, so I’ll see all of you once I emerge from my exhaustion-induced coma.
Hopefully this will be some time around Tuesday.
(Disclaimer to anyone who’s new to my blog and is not yet familiar with Artemis: The owl is fine, just weird as hell. Yesterday, apparently, he thought he was a hen.)
Also, sorry: It's not the tasty kind of cookies. We're all out of those. Alrighty!