Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales On The Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Part 1

               Start of play begins and I have no idea what the hell I am doing. Normally this is a good thing. Time to pull a few threads, tease a few things out, see what happens. But that's not coming this time, for one big reason: I am scared of the Drop. I am fighting it every chance I get. Silently, I curse my ambition, but I'm not about to back down. I will either do the best damn job I can, or I will lose both sanity and identity in the attempt. No going back now, just forward towards whatever the hell is at the end of this. And for the first time, I'm actually frightened of what I do during roleplay. Walking around in this guy's head would be like hanging out in the hospital from Jacob's Ladder. But at this point, there's nothing else to be done. So I take a deep breath, and go find someone I can traumatize.

               This anxiety was nothing new. For the past two months or so, I'd been silently going "holy crap" with regards to just about everything surrounding ZenKaiKon. This was the first con where I was actually attempting to apply as press rather than just going as a regular guy in a Hawaiian shirt. I kept obsessing over the costs, unsure of whether or not I would be able to handle travel and expenses and hotel and possible entry fee on my current salary. But these, while strong priorities, were small in my mind compared to the daunting task set before me. A good friend of mine on the circuit, here called Benson as it is the most common moniker for him, had talked me into playing a character rarely played or used*. The character, Johan Liebert, was the main villain from a series called Monster. He was also a remorseless sociopath with a ridiculous amount of emotional control and a headspace no one should ever want to tangle with on a good day. At the time, I was coming off of a playthrough of one of my favorite characters, a significantly nicer sociopath. I felt like I was on top of the world. 

So what else could I do? I jumped at the chance and signed him up the moment prereg opened.

                I even talked big to the GMs and other people about it. After all, it was all under control. I'd handled sociopaths before, and while it dried me out, I still had a lot of fun and hit the right notes a lot more than on my "crazy, but a good person" runs. So confident in my abilities was I that I decided I was going to throw myself upon the mercy of the GMs and ask them to crank up the plot details all the way**. And it wasn't until I got to three days before the con that the sheer enormity of what I was about to do came down on me like a ton of bricks. To add insult to injury, I was barely done with my canon review and had three days to squeeze seventy-four episodes of one of the most bleak and nihilistic things I'd seen into my head and develop a decent psychological template. Some of you would call me stupid for doing such a thing. And all those people would be absolutely right. However, a glass of scotch and a quick pack-up later and I was well on my way, with surprisingly little stress.

                 The travel omens were all in my favor, too. The train to Trenton hit the station just as I stepped up on the platform, and the connection to Mr. Ellis's hometown didn't take much longer. To add further wonders, I actually made my connection this time, instead of having to be picked up in Philadelphia. When we set out, the roads were actually pretty clear and straightforward, but I started to get tense. And then I started to examine things. Watching a whole ton of Monster in three days does a huge number on one's psyche, and I'd started to examine my own level of maturity. I'm childish. I wholly admit that. The simple inability to maintain a schedule on this blog for long periods of time only lends credence to the whole exercise. And some days, that childishness is easier to deal with. Some days, it's harder to deal with.  And tonight, it was just under the surface as I did several scatterbrained things. And then as I had forgotten we'd need a credit card to get into the room, one very scatterbrained thing. Mr. Ellis managed to settle the room, something which I cannot apologize enough for, and we settled in. We were joined sometime shortly later by a group from the New York crew: Abby, Josh, and Benson. 

                 Once everyone else got there, friends from other rooms showed up and we had a start-of-con party/catch-up session, basically a lot of people getting drunk and making bad jokes. The party's kind of a story in and of itself, but the highlights are: A bunch of geeks in a room together getting smashed and playing Werewolf****, and then five of those same geeks staying smashed and playing Cards Against Humanity. The tension I had immediately faded, and the alcohol helped me get to sleep after a long conversation. And so ended the first night.

                  The next morning, the good omens continued. I found myself heading through a comically short version of the Line on the way to pick up registration (which, conveniently, was held in the hotel itself), some of the more seasoned members of the group turned us on to a fantastic place for food and drink, and it didn't take too long to find the LARP room. However, once I got my sheet, the tension and terror grabbed my gut, pulled, and twisted. I looked down at that white folder, flipped through the contents, and realized Holy crap, I am actually going to do this. I had a good sheet, I just had to figure out how and what I was gonna do. Not gonna lie, the prospect of spending three days in this guy's head was more than a little daunting and creepy.

          Which brings us right back to where we started. I didn't want to drop into this guy's head. Instead, I puttered. Tried to tease things out. Had him switch to his alternate persona, Anna, to see how long I could keep him in drag. Debated the merits of organizing a mass NPC poisoning. Quickly figured out I didn't actually understand the rules regarding my character poisoning people. And while I teased things out, I found I was sort of putting my emotions on hold. I couldn't do the character's voice exactly right, but I'd started to think in noticeably different ways. I found my emotions slipped away, almost as if I'd put them into a box in the back of my head. And that was when things started to take their toll. 

           Suppressing emotions is kind of a bad thing to do no matter who you are or who you're playing. Emotion actually has strong regulatory and social properties, and letting go of those strong regulatory and social properties makes everything kind of screwed up. Another side effect it had was that it made me kind of...more immature. Then the GMs gave me something terrible to play with, something that would both alter and advance the plays I had currently. Johan had, as it came to pass, been drafted into completing a fairy tale known as The Prince and the Raven for one of the two major powers in the LARP. He was to play the role of the villainous raven, and eat other character's hearts as he searched for the character cast as the Prince to eat his. 

         It was the role Johan Liebert was born to play. Caius C had a little more of a problem with it, since it was a more direct way to be a dick to a lot of players, and I had no trouble behaving like an ass already. Still, with the weird dichotomy I had going, I set off to have reasonably-sized conversations with people, occasionally told "No, it'd be a bad idea to eat them". I managed to get one or two people ensnared by the dinner break, and once the break hit, found that my emotions were coming back. And that I was making a braying ass of myself. I couldn't tell how, just that things were getting awkward. Or maybe it was that my apathy was fading. Either way, things were not looking good. Thankfully, salvation came when Abby and I realized we were both in a really weird way and decided to go to dinner. 

         When I got out to dinner with Abby, I was tweaking like crazy. As we left the LARP room, we'd started talking. I'd said something stupid I've promised not to repeat. She immediately and rightfully wheeled on me. I fumbled for an explanation, but nothing came. It was like I'd kept my arms bound and I was just starting to get feeling in them again. When we finally got across the street for dinner, I'd settled down enough to explain, but I was still twitchy. I'd been confronted with my own immaturity in a room full of people more grown up than I was, I was having an existential crisis, and my sense of emotion was just coming back. I communicated the emotion and twitchy bits as best I could, though I left out the existential crisis. I felt like that was something personal and a little unmanageable against everything else. After all, I get existential crises occasionally from waking up in the morning. 

            Things cooled down, I allowed myself to relax, and we talked a bit about how for once, our plots didn't intersect the way they seemed to in every other LARP we'd been in. I assured her that we were good, I was gonna be fine and playing Johan Liebert wasn't about to kill me. There was a bit more idle discussion, and the bit about the role I was playing not killing me or breaking me may have been bravado at that point, but it was needed, and I went back into the LARP room refreshed and ready to take on more challenges and advance my plots...only to have them unraveled very quickly by two scenes. First, the disguise I'd adopted was discovered by a group of detective characters. Then Josh managed to reverse the circumstances I'd put on him. Then Mr. Ellis came up and told me I'd just taken damage due to a power of his when he provided a logical explanation for how my power worked. 

I decided it was time to slowly re-examine my priorities.

           I spent the rest of the night slowly orbiting and teasing things out where I could. I ate one other character's heart, and then the night was basically over. The group retired to the room for more drinking and a rather confused sleeping situation due to a mistake I made, and talked late into the night. All I knew was that I'd have to speed things up for the next day.

- We find out that no matter what, plot finds a way to bring people together
- The age of John de Lancie is brought into question
- A shocking swerve in the character arc occurs. 
- I give up the funk.

*He is also someone to be filed under "God Damned Saint". And encourages me to do some very interesting and crazy things. Someday hopefully I will return the favor.
**I think my actual note to the GMs read "Maximum for plot details. I throw myself upon your mercy. In nomine patre et filis et spiriti sancti. In nomine patre et filis et spiriti sancti." You know, because I didn't want to be creepy or anything.
****The party game sometimes called Mafia or Killer. We didn't all pull out ten-sided dice and start making World of Darkness characters. We're not that bad.

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