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Drachenfest 2012

We stand ready behind our banners, waiting for the signal to sound. A priest is quickly marrying the soldier couple from 3rd banner, in what may be the last moments of their lives. He barely finishes when we kneel for one last prayer to affirm our faith in our living god, the Copper avatar who stands with us, leading us into the battle. With a thunderous roar, the sign is given. The end battle begins and we charge.

Our Imperator told us of our battle plans before we marched out of our fortress. We would go into the middle, to stand alone as the forces of order against all, against the chaos. We cheered - there couldn't be more glorious way to serve our avatar. Our small numbers - not even 200 - and the deep bass of orcish war drums in the distance don't distract us. We are the Order, and we will stand. A wide protective circle is formed around our avatar, two man deep. There is some unusual noise on our southern line, I turn my head to the right noticing them just when someone yelled about their presence...

Orcs. The smelly things charged and rammed our lines, trying to disrupt our discipline with their pure savagery. One of them manages to break through the line. I don't know if it was my sword or someone else's that dealt the killing blow. But it's good. We're pushing through orcs, beating them. The forces of order might yet win the day. But, there seems to be another threat forming in front of our southwestern line, just in front of me. The blue camp's army, and mercenaries. Something pushes through blue lines. A flesh golem! The way is clear now and it charges our lines, smashing through our soldiers. I manage to dodge the flying bodies, and swing a few cuts to the golem's back. I don't know if it noticed, but at some point it withdraws. The blue advance at us, but we - though shrunk - stand still. Our discipline prevails, and we push the blue back to attack red, an easier target - in the meanwhile, mercenaries advance against us, guarding blue's back. But they made an error - their line is shorter than ours, allowing our soldiers to go around and envelop them. Before we got to rout them, however, blue turns around and closes the trap at us.

We took heavy losses - with only a part of our army remaining, we withdraw to an even tighter circle around our avatar and imperator, resisting hits from blue and mercenary camps for a while. One of them falls under my sword, while I receive a few light cuts and some hits to my armor. We are now only a few, and it will be all over in a few seconds. Close to my avatar and with a scream "My blood for Copper", I charge the enemy lines...

Drachenfest. The second biggest LARP in Germany is certainly the most well-known in these parts. For years we've been watching trailers and photos, dreaming of going there one day, to experience the true high-budget, high-number larping. Nearly a year ago I started to plan the journey to Drachenfest and Mythodea to make it finally happen this year... And it did.

We started our trip on Monday, July 23rd at 6:45 AM. I went with my wife and son, and Petar whose car we were using for the trip - as it's bigger and more powerful, yet more frugal than ours. Despite that, we were loaded with gear. Our first stop was Ljubljana, where we'd meet with Martin and his family.

With a few stops and problems, we made it to the Drachenfest site nearly 14 hours since we started. Once we had shown our tickets, we got wristbands to show that we paid the entrance fee - blue NPC bands for me and Jasminka, and golden PC bands for Petar. We got on the ring road going around two large meadows that make Drachenfest, and we found the road going towards our camp.

It was a complete culture shock. Reading about Drachenfest's numbers is one thing - experiencing them is another matter. It was also way more crowded than we expected. A literal city of tents sprawled around the meadow, different camps being next to each other. we found one of our camp GMs, who gave us the location where we can put our tent. As we were having a modern tent, we were put in one of the locations which was to be surrounded by canvas tents so it doesn't show from the outside (though in the end it wasn't surrounded completely). The entire campground was divided by the marking tape in land plots where tents would be placed and roads and alleys which would define the camp layout.

We split up at that point - me and my family would be staying at Copper camp, while Petar, Martin and his family would be in Gold camp with The Grand Expedition. We set our tent with the last sunlight. Copper camp was throwing a huge party, with plenty of music and beer. It did feel a little awkward because we really didn't know anyone at the time. We also visited Petar and Martin in Grand Expedition and got to meet Rick, its leader, in person.

Grand Expedition was organized nicely, with rented tents, buying food as a group, etc. and Rick kindly offered us drinks. Actually, Rick introduced us to some folks from our camp too, as he's been here for two years already. We brought some medica from Croatia, and we passed it around. Tired, we went to sleep soon, and Tuesday morning we went to the store in Diemelstadt to stock up for the event. In the afternoon, training started and Copper camp was the first to enter the game ("go in-time" in the local LARP lingo).

Copper camp is rather different from other camps on Drachenfest. First and foremost, it is a NPC camp. But the experience isn't that much different from being in any other camp. However, Copper is very orderly. In fact it represents order - the darker kind of order, one very much like Empire from Star Wars or Warhammer but still very unique - and very religious.

The Copper society is divided along six castes: Soldiers, Paladins, Priests, Alchemists, Diplomats and Shadows. I played a soldier, which is the most numerous caste - Jasminka played a priest. Each caste has its own hierarchy, and camp itself has its own structure of who's above who in the hierarchy. It can get quite complex to remember - that's why there's the inquisition to correct any mistakes in protocol using whips, or (if you're lucky) to lead you into a kneeling-and-praying session to give you a chance to show your dedication to the Copper avatar.

It was very intensive and immersive roleplay. The role of Copper is quite demanding, but out-of-character (out-time in the local lingo) there was a stark contrast - people were really great and friendly, as if to compensate for all that in-character strictness. And of course, we could go to our tents to eat, or go out to the town, and it was no problem if we couldn't be everywhere and doing everything due to taking care of a child...

So, that Tuesday game-related stuff started with the character check-in. It was decentralized, every caste had its own check-in site where they'd fill character cards. "So, you got an extra hit point" told me the girl who was checking me in. Her next sentence was: "That's good, but really who's counting hit points these days?" and it really made me think a while about how different this gaming culture really is...

Afternoon continued with a training session. They sorted us soldiers in banners, after receiving some tips I ended up in fourth banner. It turned out to be a great choice, with good people and plenty of them spoke English and were willing to translate when I got stuck with German (which was very often during some speech). We were given the safety talk - fight nicely and slowly, drink plenty of water, "stop" is to hold a game due to injury etc, drink water, if you want to stop in-time use "halt", and never forget to drink enough water. If someone yells "down" crouch so the med-team can see the injured person. If offered water, never refuse it. In big battles they have to rely on people following these instructions to maximise safety for all participants.

The training was different than I expected. Way different than in Croatia. In Croatia it would probably have been a swordsmanship training, with practicing of some stands, poses and blocks... Not here. Here it was primarily a formation training. We were taught to march orderly and nicely, and afterwards we were taken to practice not hitting but instead getting hit by weapons... and roleplaying it. We had a practice battle, one line against another. I got a light injury that day on my left foot when a heavily armored guy fell on my big toe while I was wearing light shoes... But I continued the game (though I learned a lesson - I'll never again wear soft shoes in crowded fights like these).

Copper camp went in-time that evening (after we cleared out the terrain a bit from construction leftovers and marking tape), and we had groups people entering the camp... being welcomed by a priest. And other things. And in-time speech by our imperator, introducing heads of every caste. Besides that, the main area of the camp was quite busy, as some small thing would happen every now and then. For the majority of Drachenfest, game started Wednesday morning. As soldiers, we stood in front of our banners at 9 AM every morning. Some time later there was a ritual where they summoned the avatar, and it looked really great... Especially when it went wrong, there was some explosion and a chaos daemon appeared, killing all our caste leaders and priests... and taunting us. In a show of faith, we all commited mass suicide for our avatar. This act of faith banished the daemon away, and our avatar raised us all afterwards. Very very cool.

Dying in Copper was a very common occurance - "Unser Blut für Kupfer", "Our blood for Copper" is more than just a battleshout, it happens on the regular basis in the Copper camp. Luckily, death is not (usually) permanent on Drachenfest - souls pass through Limbus and get out on the other side. Limbus is quite a cool place - a dark maze with all the NPCs. It's hard to get out, as the way out is usually hidden (and not always in the same place) - NPCs can show it to you if you negotiate with them. In-game money, food, or doing tasks for them will usually see you through.

Getting healed is another fun experience. Healers in Copper camp had a hospital, with plenty of tools, bandages etc. Getting healed was very much influenced by the real-life trauma care in how it felt, and it was very detailed.

That Wednesday we had some practice fights, against Chaos and Landsknechte (colourful mercenary pikemen). It was quite interesting. True fights would start on Thursday - assaults to get banners, doing rituals and putting an effort elsewhere to get dragon eggs. Quick actions to capture opponents' dragon eggs. Since Copper is a camp of order, our main enemies were Chaos, Orcs and Blue camps, and they were our most common opponent. While Chaos and Orcs are small camps, Blue was quite big - and we lost our banner to them on Thursday, only to regain it that evening in a covert operation. Our attack against the Gold camp was foiled by Red, a 700-ish people camp. On another attack against them (on Friday) we captured their dragon egg, it was a nice attack which was one of the few opportunities I had to see Martin (who stood in front of entire Copper team) and Petar (who was throwing foam bricks at us from above the gate).

I did meet some other familiar people while over there. Slovenians went to Drachenfest again this year (in green camp), and we had a bit of time to say hello to each other. I also saw Daniel from Austria, whom I've met nearly two years ago on first Sunčev Potočić feast in Croatia - he was in silver camp but we didn't have that much time due to our separate in-game stuff. That's one of the things I regret about this Drachenfest... Not being able to spend more time just to chat with all the awesome people there.

Oh yeah... The bellydancers. We had bellydancers on Friday, and the band playing stuff for us, in the soldier tent in copper camp. Soldier tent functioned like a regular tavern, but they had water and sometimes coffee. We went a bit over-enthusiastic in cheering all the bellydancers, which got us into some trouble and earned us some kneeling time in the temple... And then it was practice time again, against silver camp.

That day I also went out to patrol the city. We arrested some orcs who were attacking people, and we stood guarding the courthouse until the trial was over. I also found myself escorting the priest to the red camp for some diplomacy and religious talks. Cool stuff, and such details were everywhere you'd go.

Anyways, we also received a mysterious note on Friday - by the in-character mail service, someone wanting to meet with me and Jasminka. But it was raining that night and our son was tired, so only I was able to go... but I didn't get to meet the contact. I wonder what would have happened there had the meeting occurred...

Battle is the key concept of Drachenfest. It is about the battle. It is the battle. That doesn't mean that everybody fights - in Copper it was Soldiers and Paladin castes who fought. Others were there for other, accompanying duties. Every camp was like a living, breathing thing with all the people and all the different tasks that they did. Places had a function. There was a huge gate in front of every camp, which was the only in-time entrance - the camps themselves were not really completely walled, but they counted as such. The town of Aldradach felt especially alive as there was pretty much everything there - taverns, food stands, market row, crafters' row, city guard, judge, prison, school, kindergarten, hostel, casino, temple, library, tea house, barbershop, and plenty other stuff. It was living, functional and amazing.

Saturday was a day for the big battle. It's the one described in the beginning of the article - it was the most epic LARP battle of my life. In the end, blue won it. We had more roleplay and some funerals, and afterwards it was time-out and the time for another party. This time we were more comfortable approaching people, and spending some quality time with them. Playing and fighting together creates a lot of camaraderie. With my battle-mates from fourth banner. With our tent-neighbors. With priests who played together with Jasminka. With Dark Lord Charlie, the paladins and pretty much everyone else. Awesome people.

We stayed there camping on Sunday as well, sorting out stuff, hanging out with people and packing, before we headed out to Mythodea (together with the Grand Expedition) on Monday morning... But that's a story for another article...


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