It’s been a couple of years since I was last at Phenomenon, and many years before that since I’d gone. That was dumb of me. So, I played 6 games and walked away with 2 awards and my wife with 3, which matches our standard trophy hauls. The con has now ended, but it’ll stay with me, for a long time to come. How? Well, let me tell you about my experiences… A warning: this is going to get overly long despite how little I can remember. Anyhow, we were only able to attend from Saturday night, with our first game being William Shakespeare’s “All Vampires Must Die Part II – The Movie”. That should start to explain things. Or not.
We were (mostly) vampires who’s job it was to keep our existence secret, and had done so by claiming we were making a movie. That backfired on us when were forced to actually make the movie, at low cost, in Romania and working with the vampire known as ‘Bloody Ted’. This inspired the exchange that I believe won me an award…
PC: “So, is he a sexy vampire?”
GM: *Hold’s up picture of Max Schreck from Nosferatu*
ME: “I’m sure he’s someones reason to masturbate.”
*Cue the GM and rest of the able looking at me strangely and breaking out in laughs*
I heard the GM repeat that several times throughout the con. I’m very proud.
Next morning was Servants of the King, a swashbuckler which enabled me to deploy my legendary French accent! Granted, the only thing legendary about it is that after about 30 seconds it becomes Londo Mollari. Swords were drawn, there was copious shouting and fun was had by all. I’m selling it pretty damn short, as I had a lot of fun, but I han’t slept well the
night week before so things were something of a blur. I can only apologise profusely to the GM and throw myself on his mercy.
The stage was set for The Fall of the House of Atreus, our first freeform and one which played with the Trojan War. I was a young lady who was pretending to be a boy and coping with some pretty fucking horrific PTSD, which the GM team took great delight in reminding me of by every so often whispering things like “You killed us” in my ear as they walked past me. I’ve some experience with playing damanged people, but that took it to new levels. There was chaos, no small amount of bloodshed (Fittingly), and it’s the closest I’ve come going shirtless in game, though I did finally choose to announce my birth gender rather more demurely. It was to my mother after all. Standards darling. Also, I have to give a shout out to the GM, who’s t-shirt the following day read “What would Titus Pullo do?” I loved that show.
Monster Hunters followed, in which we were out of work actors lured to Romania thanks to an incompetent agent and an appearance fee. I’d like to say I chose my character based upon his skills and temperament, but it was mostly cause I recognised it was based on Anthony Stewart Head. We were hired by a village to burn out a hive of vampires, the villagers thinking we were our characters from the show. (Yes, I noted that, asking the other PC’s in character if they’d heard of the Three Amigos or Galaxy Quest, and at one point saying “As a dear late friend of mine would say on bad days, By Grabthar’s Hammer…“) We went oddly well, as all the vampire wanted to do was make a film based on the show and by that stage, it was well paid work. I made sure that I wouldn’t have to say that bloody line again thought, so a win for me!
We move now to Monday morning and Deathless, a Victorian age freeform with monsters, where I was the Dewan (The Earl of Upper Slaughter), a werewolf who was one of Queen Victoria’s advisors. My character portrait was Idris Elba, which also meant I had to stifle the urge to shout about how I’m cancelling the apocalypse. I’ll confess, I lost track of what was happening about 10 minutes in – there was an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, a truly terrifying piece of headgear, a player wh’s costume reminded me of Harpo Marx (Which confused me whenever he talked) some scientists (A curse on that Frenchman!) and the not at all cheerful inconvenience of being turned into a Vampire. For starters, I couldn’t talk as well with the teeth. An eclipse and several of the artifacts in the British Museum* (the game’s location) was, I think, was responsible for the change, which thankfully went back to normal, but I’m still blaming the Frenchman. I also deeply regret a fight not breaking out, as I’d hoped to use the exchange “YOU *stab* WILL *stab* BE *stab* POLITE!” Oh well, there’ll be other times. Also, had the game gone on about 5 seconds more I was set to stab Ra in the face. Yes, that Ra. No, not the one from Stargate. What can I say, other than I’m sure there’s something in the book about no acts of necromancy in front of the Queen, who’d just arrived. Standards must be maintained and there’s no excuse for bad manners…
We return to Sunday night now and Red Sisters, Black Skies. This is where it get’s rough. It’s fair to say the game had an effect on me. Actually that’s something of an understatement. I left it a crying emotional wreck, in a state close to having watched the end of The Iron Giant and the 1st 15 minutes of Up. I’ve mostly been GM’ing at cons the last few years, so my mental state in regards to bleed might be out of whack, but I’ve been more affected by it of late. Between this and a recent freeform in Sydney, I kept having to remind myself that it was just a game, that I wasn’t actually crushing on someone, that this would be over the a few hours. And yet, when I think back on it, I’m still choked up. It’s the mark of a really good game, and as good as the Sydney game was (I’m itching for the sequel), I think Sisters was the best freeform I’ll ever play. How do I describe it? It was the Mona Lisa, the Casablanca, the Duck Soup, the Empire Strikes Back, the Wrath of Khan, the City of Death, the 1973 Three Musketeers, I’ll stop now otherwise I’LL KEEP DOING THIS. What I’m trying to say is this, it wasn’t just good, it was fucking magnificent.
We were playing members of the 588th, an all female Russian airforce unit, known as the Night Witches. Between outdated planes, low supplies and the sexism of the rest of the military we had to struggle against, but we had each other and hope that the war would soon be over. The terror of night flights, the hope that comrades would return safely and finding a brief solace in the arms of another. There was comradeship, vodka, the bright light of a birthday celebration and the shattering blows of losing friends. Being reunited with comrades, the terror of mail arrving only to find that family were alive, these things brought a joy I didn’t know I had. I’ve cried in games before, many times. Hell, I’ll cry at the drop of a hat. But these weren’t stage tears, these were great heaping shaking tears, accompanied by sobs of grief and rage that, looking back on things, were mighty scary. I have something of an issue with unexpressed rage, and to give way to that level of emotion scares me more than a bit, but this event demanded nothing less. The fact it was the designer’s first event only made things even more awe-inspiring and I’ve already suggested they bring it to Sydney.
Lieutenant Emilia Turganev, airwoman, assigned to B Section of the 588th Night Bombers Regiment. It was an honour to have been you, even if only for a few hours.
From the first flight, things were tense – we’d been warned that PC death’s weren’t just possible, they would happen. I believe we made it out OK with only 3 deaths, though one of those was our CO (As played by my wife). PC’s killed in action didn’t leave though – they could be interacted with as ghosts, able to be talked to, or staging small flashback sequences. It was eerie as all hell seeing them there, wearing bloody headbands, waiting for someone to come close. There was angst (Having fucked my commanding officer pre game, she’d left me for a younger woman without a word. Kids, as my character sheet said: never fuck your commanding officer!), solace (I found love in the arms of a fellow veteran pilot – she’d been keeping count of how many missions we’d flown), and comradeship with the members of my section. It wasn’t until late game that we took serious damage, and I found out later that the other sections were far worse off than us. It did explain why C section cheered so much when they made it home.
There’d already been tears, many of them, more so as it was announced that we’d be flying during the day, to help cover the final assault on Berlin. It was the final flight, we were determined and no matter the odds, we would see things through. Things got incredibly tense, with the piloting mechanic far crueler than merely rolling dice. Somehow, B section made it back alive, but others didn’t.
And that wasn’t the worst. After having our private hopes read out (Which we’d put down earlier), we went slowly to join the comrades we’d lost, whether going straight over, or staying to take part in squadron reunions. I was howling, and it only got worse when the pilot I was close to decided not to attend the reunions, walking away, but not yet passing on. If it wasn’t for my section leader (Who I’d patched things up with), I’m not sure I’d have made it. Just thinking on this has gotten me shaky, and I completely lost it when she finally crossed over and I got to see her again. She won, the stubborn old cow, finally flying more missions than I did.
And so it ended, and it was back to where we were staying to cry, try to sleep and pet their cat (Who slept on my chest all Sunday night, which meant I slept terribly but it was worth it) to calm down. It’s been a rough few days, but managing to put this down has helped somewhat. Bloody good game. To my sisters, I salute you. *raises glass*
So yeah, that was my Pheno. Do try to come next year. I’m going now to eat ice cream and watch the 1973 Three Musketeers to recover and plot my next event.
*I also managed to avoid making the Bugle’s joke about the British Museum being an active crime scene.