Featured image of post The Climb: Arconate 2013 Expedition

The Climb: Arconate 2013 Expedition

On the summit

On the summit

This is an Actual Play report for the first Italian game of The Climb by Jason Morningstar (Bully Pulpit Games).

Throughout the article, notes and comments from Flavio Mortarino are indicated in italics.

The Setup

At ArCONate 2013, a small con in Lombardy, near Milan, Mauro and Flavio were thinking about possibly running/playing The Climb, a new LARP by Jason Morningstar. They recruited the other members for the expedition, several of whom had zero larping experience (me included). Flavio: Challenge Accepted!

For a while it wasn’t clear who would be available for the game, so I gave a read to the game materials too, to be able to act as a facilitator. Flavio: In the end we actually had 3 facilitators: Mauro who was unsure about how the game needed to be played, me who was brought in by Mauro in order to help understanding the game and Renato who I brought in because I wasn’t sure if in the I could be part of the team.

Mauro preparing one of the tents
Mauro preparing one of the tents
Mauro and Flavio had come prepared though: we found a room to play in, made some space and laid out three actual tents. We had a stereo to play the soundtrack on, tiny radios, torchlights (even one head mounted torchlight) and just for shows we also had a mountain backpack some wool caps and jackets.

When the room was ready, we did a brief intro, then selected roles; here is how they were distributed:

To enhance the feeling (and to avoid sweating like mad) we also opened the windows to lower the temperature a bit. The fact that we were playing in the afternoon and light became scarcer and scarcer during the game was a lucky coincidence that just added to the feeling.

The camp
The camp

For the second part of the game, the summit, we decided to use a space upstairs in the courtyard. In retrospect I think that maybe we could have done in reverse. This way the people that were still playing in-character would have been in the cold.

  • Hayes - Expedition Leader (Francesco)
  • Lund - Expedition Physician (Mauro)
  • Dorsey - Himalayan Expert (Flavio)
  • Mercer - Internet Zillionaire (Patrizia)
  • Sweet - Meteorologist (Lapo)
  • Wójcik - Expert Mountain Guide (Renato)

First Act

Mercer chose Wójcik as tent mate, while Hayes chose Lund, leaving Sweet and Dorsey for the third tent.

The Team

The Team

We started the soundtrack as loud as we were allowed. The sound of wind engulfed the room. The tents were close to one another, but we had to shout pretty loud to be able to call each other from one tent to another. I was pretty amazed at how well such small details added to create the right atmosphere.

I (Wójcik) started talking with Mercer. So close to summit, she was obviously thinking that she should go all the way up. I was accommodating, but noncommittal: it wasn’t my decision after all.

The others in the other tents started talking… and soon enough we started calling each other to private, one-on-one chats, but also three people meetings. People continued moving from one tent to the other (always remembering to zip them close… a detail that made me smile in retrospect, but everybody was committed to the idea that outside it was hellishly cold). Flavio: I actually had to ask to zip close the tent at least a couple of time.

I (Renato) can only speak for what I experienced: I started pretty convinced that Mercer would insist on summiting, and that Dorsey was a selfish asshole who had left me for dead. Flavio speaking: As for me I started without knowing if my character was an asshole or not. I just decided that I would give the impression that I could be. So I created nicknames for everyone. Wojcik was “the Pole”, Mercer was “the Lady”(she was played by a woman), Sweet was “the Kid”, Lund was simply “the Doctor” and Hayes was “the Boss”.

Hayes seemed a competent, no-nonsense leader that wasn’t ready to leave the fate of the expedition in the hands of Mercer or one of the less experienced climbers. Lund was clearly worried about Dorsey’s health. Sweet wasn’t positive that we could summit at all, and certainly didn’t want to risk his life going himself. Flavio speaking: I started in the tent with Sweet, and we actually just sniffed each other. I think that this was the moment I decided to play the character as someone that could be mistaken for an asshole, and I started saying things with some kind of arrogance. I helped that Sweet was talking about how much he was afraid.

There were two turning points, from my personal POV.

First was how Mercer, throughout several conversations, accepted to not summit. Mercer had confessed that even with all her success, she saw it as all temporary, and petty in a way… she wanted to do something, something that would write her name in history. One of the highlights was me (Wojcik, the slightly disillusioned working mule of the mountains) telling her “When all is said and done, if we DO this, how do you think this expedition will be known to the world? The Mercer Expedition. And when they’ll do the Special on Discovery Channel who do you think they’ll call and interview? Me, the unremarkable Pole? Nah. You, the Internet Sensation, the Millionaire self-made-woman, THAT will be news. Even if we’ll be in the background as the guys that actually stepped on the summit of the mountain”.

Flavio: right after the conversation with Sweet I was summoned to Lund’s tent. The good doctor was worried about my health. Since this discussion took place I started coughing loud every time I finished a sentence, because it would have been more funny to be ok but continuing to give the doubt that I was sick.

And the second was the little private conversation I had as Wójcik, with Dorsey: I started pretty hostile ( “You left me for dead ten years ago, why do you think we never worked together again?” ), and both me and Flavio improvised a lot of backstory details about that previous Himalayan expedition all those years before (man, that Finn was a dick!). Flavio: I decided on the fly that at least I wanted to believe to be right when Dorsey left Wojcik years ago. Whether I was a dick too or just someone who did a tough call is something that actually came out from Renato’s response to my half-assed explanation

In the end… we were both men of the mountains. We lived for the climb. We had nothing else. I was now about the age he was at that time… and really, would I do different, in good conscience, in such a situation? I had to admit, I could see how he could make such decision without particularly ill intentions. We closed shaking hands, with me saying “But this time, you take me to the summit. Deal?”. We had a deal. We just needed to convince Hayes to bring us to Camp IV.

Flavio speaking: so it seems I was not an asshole after all. I was just some guy hardened by the mountain, that managed to find a new friend at 7000 meters. BLAH

An opening in the Storm

After the second Chinese weather dispatch, we scrambled: the opening was coming. We had to decide.

The summit team was Hayes, Dorsey and Wójcik. We took the backpack, checked that the radio was working, took a flashlight (it was really dark by then)… and for a long, looong moment it seemed the opening was not really coming.

Just then, stillness.

We exited the room.

Emerging in the light of the main game room, removing the backpack and other props, was a startling change of pace, after so much dark and wind.

Second Act

The six coupons in the envelope were:

  • A narrow escape from danger—a fall, a crevasse, an avalanche, a mistake—due to teamwork.  “If anybody summits, we all summit.”
  • Trapped at Camp IV. What’s the problem? Whoever survives the summit attempt will require a rescue by a two-person team from Camp III… one of whom will die. This happens after an attempt on the summit.
  • Two gift cards worth $2000 at Mountain Sports Incorporated, redeemable upon safe return. Each has “From Your Pal Mercer” written on it in blue ink.
  • A dexamethasone self-injector, in case the altitude becomes problematic. Dexamethasone is a powerful anti-inflammatory, but not completely safe. It’ll tear up your liver but mitigate High Altitude Cerebral Edema. If anybody starts acting crazy, give ‘em a jab fast.
  • A battered Russian titanium ice screw. It’s been lovingly cared for and is the sort of tool that might be counted on to stop a multiclimber fall and prevent a disaster
  • A letter, carefully shepherded in the folds of a pack pocket. Who is it from? What does it say? (The summit team will decide)

Flavio: So in the end a not so dramatic summit expedition. This is because just one of us(me) put a “negative” coupon into the envelope.

The summit team created the narrative of the summit expedition using the small radios. We enjoyed playing with the radios and being in characters only when we were talking through them.

We actually sat down at a table in the courtyard, in the cold and the fog but with illumination. Using paper and pen to help us we planned what we were going to act as a radio-drama of sorts.

We managed to alternate moments when we did not answer the radio to moments in which we faked a loss of signal. The very first communication from Camp III was Lund: “Everything OK?”.  Given how worried Lund/Mauro had acted all the game, that made us all laugh hard.

We created a timeline of events in order to ease the narration, even defining who had to be the talker on the radio.

We decided to thank Mercer for the gift cards on the way to Camp IV.

We then merged the russian ice screw and the narrow escape. We decided that on the way to Camp IV Dorsey was going to fall and that only the teamwork of Wojick and Hayes with the help of the Russian ice screw was going to result in resolving the problem.

We also decided that even with all the luck, Hayes hurt his legs, or maybe his back, helping Wojcik.

Hayes reported to Camp III that the summit expedition departed safely from Camp IV, but only after a bit he confessed that he had stayed at Camp IV because he was hurt and Dorsey took his place in the summit expedition.

At this point Hayes informed Lund that he had a letter to him and his wife in the jacket pocket. In case he didn’t managed to come back alive, the letter was for Lund to open. Francesco’s idea was that the letter was a mean to reconciliation between Lund and his wife.

At this point the summit expedition didn’t have the radio, and during the last steps of the summit attempt Wojcik showed symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema, it was up to Dorsey to save him giving him a shot of dexamethasone.

After reaching the summit Dorsey and Wojcik reached again Camp IV where it was clear that Hayes conditions have worsened.

Hayes (Francesco) gleefully spreading partial information over the radio

Hayes (Francesco) gleefully spreading partial information over the radio

Only at this point we called back to Camp III and report to them that the mission was a success. After a couple of minute we communicated again informing that Hayes couldn’t walk anymore and that we needed help from Camp III.

We started taking turns in calling for help on the radio: two people would have to come form Camp III. Hayes acting professional, but tired and hurt, Wojcik actually trying to leverage Mercer’s drive to a place in History (dick move, I know).

In the end, Lund and Sweet decided to come to the rescue. We had to choose on the fly which one of them was going to die. And we chose Sweet, the young and the least motivated of all the expedition. When Mauro and Lapo arrived, we welcomed them and I patted on Lapo’s shoulder: congratulations! You’re dead! Sorry!

Poor Sweet. A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Poor Sweet. A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Debriefing and impressions

After the end of the game we gathered ‘round a table, explained just what had exactly happened at Camp IV to the other three players, and shared details of what had happened in the various tents, what each character thought of the others, and so on.

First impression: whew, this was good! For me (Renato) it was the very first larp of any kind. The very subjective nature of this kind of game is interesting: in the end I never experienced some of those conversations that changed the game (just like nobody was there for the peace between Dorsey and Wojcik). This is intriguing (and makes the debriefing doubly important).

Second impression: man, this was an incredibly sensible expedition! I want to play again, and this time I’ll be a completely unreasonable asshole. Flavio: I’m going to convince Ing. Veluttini to play in a more realistic setup.

Interesting bits: the people that stayed at Camp III during the Second Act told us that not only they stayed in character, chatting about what could be happening to the other three, and so on, but that time literally fled by. This was the one thing me and Flavio were a bit concerned about (they don’t technically have anything to do for 40 minutes), but when we told them how much time had passed (nobody used a watch during the game) they were AMAZED, thinking it must have been 20 minutes, tops.

The Second Act is very fun for the Expedition Team! Switching gears, workshopping a coherent narrative, with time still running (people at Camp III are waiting for news!), and then inventing and acting the radio communications… very fun. Francesco especially had a LOT of fun doing this. Oh, sidenote: small/cheap radios were PERFECT for this. Audio quality was bad enough that we often had to repeat, and people misheard (like Mauro’s favorite moment: we said “We need help!” and they heard “Somebody’s dead!”… it makes more sense in Italian, trust me).

Props: they helped a lot, IMO. Especially the tents. I can easily see how actually playing it outside, in the cold and with heavier clothes would enhance the feeling even more. The soundtrack was EXCELLENT: a couple of times I genuinely reacted to the sudden very loud gusts of wind with a “Holy shit, this weather is a nightmare”. Big thumb up for Flavio and Mauro for bringing the tents and the rest of the props. Flavio: Thanks dude.

Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0