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Originally published in the Winter 2004 Issue of the LARPer

 

Siege of Troy
by Steve Hatherley

Siege of Troy is a 60 player, weekend-long freeform (or theatre-style larp - I use the term freeform as that's what we use here in the UK) written by Nickey Barnard, Nathan Richards, Richard Salmon and Richard Perry. It was first run in November 2004, in Retford, England.

Siege of Troy takes place during the 10th year of the Greek siege of the city of Troy. A truce has broken out as Achilles has been slain by Hector, and funeral games are to be held in Achilles' honour. On top of that, add all the Greek myths you can think of - Jason and the Argonauts, Theseus and the Minotaur, Hercules, the gods, Hades, the titans and so on and so on.

Characters include the Greeks and the Trojans, various neutral powers (kings and queens), a motley selection of Heroes (Heracles, Perseus, Jason, etc), various priests, and of course the gods (Zeus, Hera, Hermes, etc).

I played King Midas, he of the golden curse. Midas is a neutral, aiming to be on the winning side between Greece and Troy. He was also trying to get rid of his curse and achieve the usual number of impossible goals. (It's a freeform after all...)

During the game (a game-year compressed into a weekend) there were prophecies, skirmishes, the wooden horse was built and Troy... Troy survived and the Greeks were repelled.

Siege of Troy was held at the West Retford Hotel, which now almost feels like an old friend. We've been holding freeforms at the West Retford for nearly 10 years now, and although it's not England's greatest hotel by a long way, it is comfortable, they do put up with us and it is (for England), relatively affordable.

Game Locations

The main locations for Siege of Troy were the Plains of Troy, the neutral ground between the city of Troy and the Greek Stockade. Everyone was free to wander the plains in (relative) safety. The Greek Stockade and the city of Troy were the home of the Greeks and the Trojans respectively. If you weren't in either of those factions, you could only enter with permission. These areas were all on the ground floor, close to the hotel bar and where the games and other events were held.

At the top of the hotel were, appropriately enough, Mount Olympus and the gods. I have absolutely no idea what went on up there - the gods were playing their own game. (One of the things I like about Siege of Troy is that I feel there were several aspects that I didn't really touch upon - and that's one of them. I'd have no problem playing it again.)

The first floor contained the wilderness area (more of which below), plus a couple of extra rooms that we had available that were very useful for conducting secret meetings and the like.

Mechanics

As with most weekend long freeforms, Siege of Troy had it's fair share of game mechanics. Here are just a few of them...

Personal combat was carried out using rock-paper-scissors and a raft of abilities, but that's pretty much all I can remember. I was a king, I had people to do my fighting for me - if you want personal combat, remember to sign up to be a Hero. Massed combat was simpler - rulers and leaders had armies with a military rating. The sides added up their military ratings, added hero points and priest points and the side with the most points trashes the other.

Heroes won their hero points by doing heroic things - going on quests in the wilderness, competing in the games, that sort of thing.

The wilderness was laid out in the form of a series of locations taped to the floor with various routes (sea, land, mountainous) laid down in tape between them. (When Arabian Nights was run over here, it had a similar, if rather more confusing, mechanic.) Most of the locations and routes had envelopes on them and when you met an envelope you had to open it. The envelopes contained encounters that sometimes were to your advantage, but more often were not... It was generally unwise to venture into the wilderness without a Hero to help you fight the lions and Cyclopes and gorgons and other foes lurking in every other envelope.

Strictly, Siege of Troy didn't include money. However, there was a currency in the form of bullocks. Bullocks were important to the priests and priestesses as they were sacrificed to their god. At certain points in the game these sacrifices were totaled so that everyone knew the standings of the various gods. I gather that the gods thought that the sacrifices were important - and if the gods think they're important, everyone thinks they're important.

At the time of the sacrifices, the priests would call upon their gods to bestow a blessing or a curse upon individuals. (Generally, the more bullocks you sacrificed, the more likely you'd be blessed.)

Which brings me to curses, in which I had lots of experience as King Midas starts the game with two curses, and I picked up more as the game progressed...

Frankly, the curses handed out by individual gods and the time of sacrifices were trivial compared to being "cursed by the gods" generally. Being cursed by the gods meant that you had been really bad - you had broken a truce or an oath, that sort of thing. An individual god's curse merely lasted one game period - but you really had to work to remove being cursed by the gods.

Here's what you had to do:

#1 - Find a priest and admit that you're sorry. (For some reason, I had real difficulty with that one. Having lots of bullocks helped as many priests were open to bribery.)
#2 - Once they've agreed that you're really sorry, they open their "atonement" envelope, which sets a little task - inevitably finding a couple of hard-to-find items and then a trip into the wilderness.
#3 - Find those hard-to-find items. Some of them were very hard to find.
#4 - Find someone willing to accompany you into the wilderness.
#5 - Go into the wilderness, fully aware that at any moment you will encounter something that will steal an item at random and potentially set you back hours...
#6 - Succeed in task and leave Wilderness as fast as possible.
#7 - Try not to get re-cursed.

Phew! From a role-playing point of view, those cursed were supposed to be spurned and ignored (a bit like the "scandalized" mechanic in other games), but frankly only a little of that occurred.

Other mechanics in Siege of Troy included prophecies, the funeral games, romance and more - which I'm not going to describe here and if you want to learn more you'll just have to sign up for the next time Siege of Troy is held.

So that's the basic game concept out of the way, now what did I actually like about Siege of Troy?

Good points

Home grown: Siege of Troy is the first weekend-long freeform LARP (in the style of games like Cafe Casablanca - there are other weekend LARPs) that has been completely written in the UK. Hurrah for Nathan, Richard, Richard and Nickey.

Lots to do: The game contained an impressive amount of stuff to do. At one point on Saturday afternoon I thought that apart from getting rid of my curse and a secret meeting of the worshippers of Dionysus (not that secret in the end, which is why I mention it here), I could retire to the bar. As if! In end it was pedal to the metal and I wasn't done until after midnight.

Costumes: Three cheers to everyone with a great costume - and that was almost everyone. There had been some concerns voiced over potential costume disasters before the game. (If you've seen Troy the movie you'll know what I mean. I mean, Brad Pitt and Sean Bean might look mighty fine in sarongs and kilts, but the average male free-former isn't so, er, pretty. Or well lit.) But the costumes were great - and special thanks to Sue Lee who ran "instant toga" lessons beforehand for the costume-impaired.

Venue: I know the West Retford Hotel gets quite a lot of criticism from the UK free-formers, but I quite like it. I know the food isn't anything special, and it can be harder to reach if you're in the wrong part of the country, but they do put up with us and we do have the hotel more-or-less to ourselves, which counts for a lot.

Areas for Improvement

But it wasn't all roses. As with any game, there were areas that could do with a bit of improvement.

Tape Wilderness: There were a couple of problems with the tape wilderness. The first was that on the Friday night it was so popular that at one point almost everyone in the game was on the map. That resulted in some GM headaches, so for the rest of the game there was a limit on the number of people travelling the wilderness. However, that also caused problems as that meant there was invariably a queue. (For the next run of Siege of Troy, I believe the GMs are refining the wilderness.)

Character: A slightly more rounded character would have been nice. Most of my background was a list of events that had happened - I wasn't really sure what role the GMs thought that King Midas should play. Of course that means I could play Midas any way I wanted, but personally I prefer a little more guidance and character.

More GMs: During the funeral games, the various activities took all the GMs and lasted 90 minutes. As I wasn't participating, and didn't have much interest with the outcome, I would have much rather gone into the Wilderness and sorted out my curse. However, I couldn't as there were no GMs available. Another GM would have been good.

(In fact, there were only four GMs so they did an excellent job considering that I wouldn't want to run a game that size with fewer than six GMs.)

Player Cooperation: Siege of Troy suffered from the eternal problem that players are too friendly. By Saturday evening, the Greeks and the Trojans seemed to have settled their differences without bloodshed. And although we did have a mighty battle at the end, it did take some effort by the GMs to make sure we didn't scupper their climax. I'd be interested to know if anyone has solutions to this problem as it seems to be endemic (as witness the relatively bloodless revolutions in Torch of Freedom). Perhaps we're all just too considerate!

So overall then, I thoroughly enjoyed Siege of Troy. If I can get there, I will definitely sign up for it again (as a god this time, I hope), and if I can't play then I'll be helping the GMs.


Steve Hatherley is a keen freeformer in the UK and has set up www.freeforms.org.uk. He also sells freeform-style murder mystery games at www.freeforms.com. (Also see www.mysterygames.co.uk and www.great-murder-mystery-games.com)