I larp. It’s awesome. I am not particularly remarkable as a larper and do not, to my knowledge, receive special favours over other players. (Well, I don’t think I am, anyway.) In fact my death record is terrible: I have never before had a primary character live long enough to achieve anything. I play a death-heavy system where dying is easy and living is hard, and I’ve mourned several good characters. Oddly enough, despite how much each loss hurts, I like it that way.

Here follows the story of Why I Lost NaNoWriMo 2016 — and why I have no regrets whatsoever.

(Names and locations altered/avoided to protect the guilty. Needless to say, some variant of this is already a book in prep. Detail lost towards the end because (a) if I start filling it in this post will end up being the book, and (b) I’m not normally possessive but this is a special story dammit, only those who were there get to be the first to tell it properly. Or in other words, I’m not doing my normal Creative Commons thing until it’s actually complete.)

You might think this was planned. Plotted, crafted years in advance, pieced together as a whole and written out. But it wasn’t. It’s just a series of things that happened to multiple people: accident after accident, chance and coincidence creating the almost impossible.

How do I know? Because I was there.

Timeline: Seven Years Ago…

I’m monstering an adventure: playing an NPC for the active character party to interact with. Or stab up, as the mood takes them: they’re PCs and unpredictable. Particularly the more-than-slightly crazy one.

Helen, village alchemist, has lived all her life in the constrained world of a small demon plane in which the only colours are shades of purple. Walk too far from the village, and you come back from the other side. There is no part of her world that she isn’t familiar with, no human being she doesn’t know. She’s heard legends of the world from which her people came, two hundred years before, but no more. So when she sees a party of strangely garbed, brightly coloured strangers, and none of them demons, she’s more than just curious. They ask her to guide them, and she agrees.

During a confrontation with the demon lord who ostensibly rules the tiny plane, one of the character party makes a very unwise decision. Having previously found a small “hole” in the air and peered through it, thereby going even more insane than she already was as she looked upon Oblivion, Kenzie discovers a “loose thread” and threatens to pull it. The confrontation does not calm down, and she yanks.

The entire self-contained little world begins to unravel into nothingness. The strangers flee for their lives, dragging Helen with them. They reach their portal just moments before it consumes them, and dive through, though some of them — Helen included — have been touched by the unravelling. It will continue to spread through them and ultimately destroy them if they cannot find a cure.

I love Helen so much as a character that I petition the refs to allow me to keep her permanently as my own new primary PC, putting the one I was playing previously aside. They agree, and she is my character from then on.

Helen’s first week in the new, overwhelmingly different world sees the last of her hope extinguished and her ability to trust others shattered. She’s sitting despondently in the bar when someone stops by her and comments on how sad she looks, offering her a drink. Helen, raised in a world where other humans were never the enemy, accepts it on trust.

The alchemical potion mixed into the drink causes the drinker to immediately attempt to attain the thing they desire the most, without scruple or restriction. But all that Helen wants is to go home and see her world again. She runs to where the portal was, only to realise, still under the influence of the potion, that everything is lost. Irresistible determination meets immovable impossibility, and shatters.

But she lives, because what else can she do? She won’t let herself unravel, won’t let herself die, and so she stays alive, searching for a cure, keeping her unravelling at bay with healing potions. But she doesn’t find one so swiftly…

I leave town to go get my PhD, and so Helen leaves the system to wander the roads of Albion, still searching for her cure…

Timeline: Last Year…

At long last, I move back to town, and naturally I immediately rejoin my old larp group, where I find a mix of old faces and new. The year’s plot was already long since decided — but when I return and ask if I can bring Helen back into the system, I cause a secret stir amongst the refs, which I only learn about much later. Completely unintentionally, I’m literally walking back in with the year’s plot stuck to my face.

Helen reluctantly returns to the place that destroyed her world. Only there, it seems, can she find the answers she seeks… if it doesn’t kill her first. But her unravelling is not the only danger she faces — because the very world is falling apart. Helen, who has seen something similar before, understands the stakes. She understands what’s at risk. Grimly determined not to see another world fall, she risks everything to protect the world that destroyed her own.

And, though she comes hideously close to death repeatedly, though she’s no fighter and no-one of influence, though she has nothing to offer but her determination and a little alchemy… somehow, against all of the odds, she succeeds. The world is saved, and a good 50% of the world exists because of her. And somehow, finally, she begins to feel as though she might have a home here at long, long last.

But she’s still touched by the Void, and there’s still so much ahead. Her journey isn’t over…

Timeline: This November…

Everything is coming to a head. This is it. This is the final moment, make or break. It’s also NaNoWriMo, and despite everything, I’m keeping ably ahead of the curve. Until that fateful three days that decided whether or not all personal triumphs would last.