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ConQuest 2016

World's largest larp event. There's really no other like it. This was my third ConQuest - I've been there in 2012 and 2013, and every time I've been humbled by the sheer size and massiveness of the experience. It's impossible to review an event like this as a single person, since so many things are going on that you don't get to see or know the vast majority of it. Perhaps that's what makes it so special. The sheer scale makes it a world of its' own, and makes things possible which are simply not possible on small larps. The one thing that is possible is writing one's own experiences about it.

I arrived to the terrain on Monday morning, 2 days before larp started, after traveling from Hungary where I've been on Warcraft Live event (another story for an upcoming article). Early setup made it possible for me to get everything sorted out, set up my probably smallest tent at the event, help others put up their tents, wash and dry my laundry from previous event, check out the trade district in detail, spend some quality time with friends both old and new, and rest and relax for a while.

A lot has changed in those three years. You might have noticed that my last 2 reviews have been titled "ConQuest of Mythodea", but this one is simply "ConQuest". This is because it is no longer played in the in-character land of Mythodea since the first chapter of the story ended in 2013. The land of Mythodea is not lost - player characters still arrive from it, and there's a new big larp Chronicles of Mythodea in late April, as well as already existing JDS ("Beyond the Seals") in late May, as well as several player-made but organizer-supported Mythodea larps. All of them are still played in the in-character land of Mythodea, however none of them approach the scale of ConQuest. The world ConQuest is now played in is Kelriothar, the Mirrorworld - an artificially created world bereft of resources. This story change also put additional pressure on player characters, both in role-play and the larp mechanics which were more merciless for players this time around.

Once again I joined the NPCs of Swarm 1 of the Black Ice. I met plenty of my old friends there. Some couldn't make it this year, but there were several new faces to make friends with. Being a part of Swarm 1 made me feel like my combat experience is gonna be much like in the previous two times I went to ConQuest, but I was wrong. It was much better. Even though I was impressed with the level of organization 3 and 4 years ago, this year it was brought to another level. Costuming was better overall, as there was much less skin exposed in effort to make us look unique. My own level of costume, which was decent enough few years ago, was barely adequate this year. Our in-character feel was much improved by using the special in-character commands for combat manuevers (which existed before, but our swarm hadn't used it to such level). And there were plenty of new manuevers, and our swarm had greatly improved its' effectiveness in manuevering individual fists (squads, basically), but in a manner which is coordinated by the swarm.

Our duty roster was also exceptionally well done this year - pairing us in the same shift as Swarm 2 and Lairdom 2, Flowerfield. Evenly spaced, with sometimes long shifts but always enough time to rest, eat and get cleaned up. However, fights themselves were neither as big nor as epic as in the first two times I've been there. Part of it was due to the nature of the setting, which was more punishing for players this time around - getting wounded was a much more serious issue, and players couldn't get healed back to the same levels as before. This made them less inclined to fight. And for this reason, there were also no camp sieges this year - it would make it even more punishing for the players, and many of them were also (reportedly) already pushed to the brink of demoralization.

Almost all combat happened on one of the two fields, holding important plot points. Sieges were sadly nonexistent this year (which everyone commented on - perhaps they make a comeback in the future). The majority of massive combat resembled a large and complex game of point control, as one side would gain control of the point, push the other side back, and possibly make a ritual which would do something in the plot. I took part in two such rituals myself - one of them was a big ritual which culminated in a major NPC appearing (and the rest of us falling down like dominoes). The other time was in a small ritual, in which I got sacrificed near the end. It was quite cool seeing that side of the game, something different from usual marching and combat that I do (and which I love, so don't take it as a criticism).

NPC armies on ConQuest changed a bit compared to 3 years ago. There was still the Undead, and the Black Ice. The new army was Ratio - which we got a preview of at the 2013 debriefing, and it's been regular since 2014. The Pestilence was not present (although they still exist on other events which take place in Mythodea), and what was left of the Void army went together with Ratio... Main NPCs were largely new, especially on player side. Gone were the Avatars, and most of the large-shouldered major NPCs of old. The new main NPCs were especially well done, with masks and everything. I've heard several players who were really fans of major NPCs - I guess it's only on the big larps such as this one that the significant players and NPCs can get something approaching the rock-star fame...

What I didn't like here was our level of plot involvement. Although we were involved in many of the major plots, we simply didn't know what they were. We went, we fought, and did as we were told to. The Black Ice manual contains some rather good descriptions of the general plot and story so far, but on the field I'd have liked if there was some more communication. In previous years I've been to, there was an Undead newspaper which was published every day, and even though it was only in German, it helped - but it was missing this year. And there was a language barrier too. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the organizers posted somewhere (like, on their tent) daily report of the main things that happened. Purely to help NPCs (the ones who are interested at least) better understand the story that we're trying to create.

Us fighting against the KidsTown

The weather on ConQuest was rather OK. It was rainy and wet, but not really stormy and the rain was not that bad. It wasn't overly hot and oppressive either, so fighting in full gear was quite tolerable. Partly beacuse of that - and partly because I've actually been in better shape this time around than the first two times I've been to ConQuest - I wasn't dead tired after my shifts ended, so I volunteered at the GM's tent for more stuff to do. I won't publicly disclose what I had to do (that might include some unwanted spoilers), but let's just say it was covert and what I managed to do was very fun.

All the camps this year were connected in one larp mega-city with thousands of tents. It would take about 40 minutes by foot to reach from one edge to another north to south - all of it a vast network of major streets and shady alleys. The heart of the city was the "Tross" camp - out-of-character camp with traders, food stalls, stage, taverns, supermarket, guilds and much more. Surrounding it were player districts - I've only stepped my foot in half of them, that's how big they were. The NPC camp was on south and out-of-character, divided from the player section by the Fantastica Festival, a separate medieval/fantasy fair which was open for non-player tourists who couldn't get to the game site, but they could observe it from a camouflaged watchtower.

And yes, this means that partying on ConQuest is incredible. On Tuesday there was the opening party, with bands and other artist groups taking place on a central stage. Although it was true that you could find anything every night - plenty of taverns of every style, with their own sorts of crowd, bands, drummers, bards, fire breathers, belly dancers, irish step dancers, and much more - at that day most of it was at one place. That doesn't include hundreds of private parties - after that party I ended up on the glowstick party at one of the undead camps... The game started on Wednesday at 18:00, and during that time atmosphere in the city was far more in-character, although less so in the Tross part than in the other areas of the city. Last night - Saturday - was also a party night, not only because it was the last night, but because the largest tavern this year - Black Pearl - was closing for good. Our swarm went partying on Friday, we took a few cases of beer (and few bottles of mead), and enjoyed some good time in the city. We went as random settlers, of course, not as the enemy army. But the party was full of laughter, singing, and internal jokes. A very memorable night.

That doesn't mean the city was safe otherwise. Walking (with some company) down the dark road next to the walls of one of the camps, we noticed some hooded figures. One of them started following us, and I saw a flash of the sword. I was the only one armed (although only with a dagger), so while continuing to walk I warned about the upcoming figure and drew my dagger from my belt. This seemed to discourage the hooded figure following us, and it left - as it couldn't get us by surprise, an injury was probably not worth taking a risk...

Apart from assassins / robbers / whatever these guys were, the city was full of gangs, "families", and other entities who took an interest in it. Some guys who were a part of Swarm 1 in previous years were playing a fire brigade in the city this year (in-character one, as there were actually real firemen there as well). From what I've heard, playing in the city is quite a political minefield...

There was some off-game danger as well. Some players seemingly tend to think of NPCs as someone they can hit hard with no reprecussions. The above pic was from one of my Swarm-mates, Mario - the armor dented by latex swords (which should probably be re-inspected for safety), and the hand injury he suffered when he slipped. Another Swarm-mate was pummeled very hard several times after she was surrounded alone by a group of 5 players. Myself, I got a hard strike in my temple which left my vision wobbly for about half an hour, and then the strike in the same place with a gauntlet. Not cool, at least not for a family-friendly larp. Watch your strikes, people - or say in advance if you want to fight hard, I can roll with that...

With all the good and bad on ConQuest, it was still amazing. When it all ended, I was sad. I'm still having larp blues, despite the fact that over 2 weeks have already passed. ConQuest is still an experience of its' own - mind-blowing and larger than life... Add to that the fact that the setting of ConQuest is constantly expanding - now also in a novel form, though sadly only in German - it can get really overwhelming... And perhaps I should finally learn to speak German well. ConQuest is a big incentive for that.

Ticket sales for ConQuest 2017 start tomorrow at noon.

Bis nächstes Jahr...

(many of these photos were pulled from ConQuest photo stick, and they're owned by their respective photographers)

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