Saturday, April 13, 2013

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales from the Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Conclusion!

          Sunday began and after a brief scene, I was locked in combat with a Sudoku puzzle for the fate of Johan's story. Quite literally. Upon entering the room, I explained to the GMs what had happened the previous night and that Johan's plan simply refused to work. After a brief scene with the main villain where Johan snarked at him for losing control of the story ("Well then you should have thought of that before giving your villain a soul", I believe was the line), the following exchange occurred:

"So, Caius, how much do you like puzzles?"
" 'em enough..."

              Some background: The previous night, a team had led an assault on the clock tower and the bath house where the villains of the setting had their bases of operations. I can't speak for the bath house, though from what I saw it was a combination of Betrayal at House on the Hill and a dungeon crawl. The clock tower dungeon was a bit different, being a series of puzzles one had to get through to get to the top and confront the eccentric man who built the thing in the first place. Having been closer to where the puzzle dungeon was run the previous night, I had heard horror stories of the kind of things they faced. But the one I'd heard the most ranting about was a Sudoku puzzle in the final room. 

             "Long as it isn't Sudoku." I added hastily.

             They exchanged amused looks, and handed me the puzzle. Frel, I thought. Here's the thing: Sudoku joins the very short list of tactical wargames and geometry as traditionally weak areas for me. Well, and understanding and reading social situations. Still, I was game, and they gave me a long time limit. So most of Sunday while people ran around was me doing a puzzle. I was actually glad. It meant less talking, time for my lips to heal, and I got to eat a hamentasch we'd purchased from a deli the previous day. Everyone else ran around enacting plans. Finally, a group headed into the clock tower as I closed in on the last three squares of that damned Sudoku puzzle, the pencil they gave me almost snapping in half when I realized yet again that I had bungled something and needed to start from scratch. 

              It would have been great to solve the Sudoku puzzle and then have a pissy, hung-over Johan waiting for the rest of the players at the top of the tower, wondering what took them so long. And, as I'm the narrator, I could have told you guys all such a thing and made it true. But I'm kind of against lying outright, so here's how it goes:

              Upon sitting there and watching them ascend the puzzle tower and go through various challenges as I faced a grid of numbers in epic combat, I was confronted with several puzzles that I did know. So I got sidetracked trying to solve them. Among them were Eight Queens (One of my favorite puzzles from The Seventh Guest), a variation on the Fox and Grain puzzle (Unfortunately my solution of "beat the fox over the head with the grain, then retire with the sheep to Cardiff" was not an acceptable one*), and an interesting puzzle regarding the writing of equations, which was solved by Kris in an epic moment where she struggled with whether solving the puzzle was out of character, and then promptly found a way to resolve the conflict she had with it in-character

                And finally the intrepid heroes reached the top of the tower to find a hungover blond man cursing at a door with a grid of numbers on it. And it was finally DAS, a good friend of mine and someone who actually does Sudoku puzzles, who finally finished the damn thing. Due to an earlier challenge and having to give up something of value, her character (who suffered from a jekyll-and-hyde sorta thing) had given up his more intelligent, less sociopathic personality. So since she was doing the puzzle, we decided it was the more intelligent personality's ghost solving the puzzle. Yes, that's right, this was a sudoku puzzle so annoying that we had to resort to getting a ghost to solve it. But solved it was, and the heroes entered the room to rewrite the ending. Or rather, to let Johan rewrite the ending.

                 After a few mumbled comments, I began to narrate, and suddenly a switch flipped. I cannot remember what it was I said. I don't think I was actually "there" much to say anything. I'm pretty sure by that point, it was either mostly or completely Johan. What I can remember is bowing to Abby and doing a forehead tap similar to the one pictured above when the time came. The point where I tuned back in was when the GM running this leg of things asked me "So, you want total erasure?" 

                I hesitated. Johan answered. "That was always the plan." 

                And so, the GM narrated the endpiece to the elaborate suicide of Johan Liebert. I was left with the feeling that this was odd...that the best possible ending for my character was the one where he essentially engineered his own death and then wiped himself from existence and memory. But it was an ending that fit, and no matter how much humanity Johan had gained, he still recognized that the world would be better with him gone. 

                 LARP wound down with that. Mr. Ellis won an award for his portrayal of his character, which was more than well-deserved. I hung out in the back of the room for a little, and when it came time for the Long Farewell, I made extra-sure to thank the GMs for allowing me to drive a giant bird through part of their plot. I should have tipped them. I also found out that Feldman had in fact, with a rather devious machination, written his own ending which allowed me to rewrite the ending the way I did. Which I have not thanked him enough for.

                 I packed up my bags and left in a huge mass-exodus, only to somehow run into everyone I'd met and reconnected with over the course of the LARP period as we were funneled down the single hallway to the exit, the con being dismantled in our wake as the parade of colorful con-goers streamed out towards the first floor, and from there the exits to wherever they were from. Mr. Ellis and I made it back to his car, running into Feldman and the New York crew on our way, and finally left the sights and adrenaline rushes of Lancaster behind, to the sounds of "Step Right Up" by Tom Waits. We'd survived, we had our sanity, we had a whole load of new stories, and we were gonna do it again. Just as soon as we recovered.

Down Town by Vido Polikarpus and Tappan King

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Burton and Swinburne in The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder
LA Noir by James Ellroy
- LA Confidential by James Ellroy

*A thousand apologies to the people of Wales, who are probably tired of sheep jokes. In my defense, I'm an American. We don't know any better.

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