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Tabula Rasa

Introduction · Memoirs · Photos

So, what is Yseda?

Yseda is a company that between 1990 and 1993 ran live roleplaying games of the live combat or 'rubber sword' kind in the Berowra Valley Reserve. There was a core group, including myself, who designed and ran the games, and a wider group of devotees who gave their time and energy on the weekends to fill the bushland with strange creatures, ancient remnants and the cries of surprised players.

We ran on our own system and were not affiliated with any of the international groups. Our weapons were our own design and manufacture (I think the swords we ended up using for commercial operation were the Mark 9). We were reviewed in Games Master International (no. 6 Jan 1991) and Australian Realms (a couple of times).

And of course, we had our own world.

"Welcome to the lands of Dægar.

Everyone in Dægar knows about the Great Sorting. Once, the world had a different face, and in this world lived a great mage known as Dægar. It was Dægar's wish to perfect the world, and in the creation of the City, he succeeded. But to achieve this he sorted through everything in the world to pick out that which was worthy to be included.

"The Great Sorting may be aeons past, but it still makes you angry. Angry that you were rejected by Dægar, that the life of the City is denied you. Everyone in the Wildlands is angry at Dægar. Everyone knows the Wildlands is only a dumping ground for all that was not deemed perfect by him. No-one has ever reported having found the path to the City, or even having seen it. Neither has the edge of the Wildlands ever been discovered; though the Landshifts make it hard to tell.

"The Landshifts make you feel angry too. In order to ensure that the creatures of the Wildlands never became strong enough to threaten the City, Dægar created a world for them where the land would suddenly move to somewhere else. A Landshift may not come for many seasons, and then three could happen in the same day. Nobody bothers to build in Dægar; the land a house is built on may shift to another spot while you are away. Families are soon separated by the random re-arrangements of the land.

"With competition from such creature as the Maga, humankind's great hope is the Guild. Despite the Landshifts, the Guild is strong and continues to grow. Through the Guild you can learn skills and develop your abilities. You know that the only way you can have control over the chaotic mess called the Wildlands is by possessing advanced capabilities in your chosen field, be it the way of the mage, rogue, shaman or warrior.

"You hope that one day the Guild will grow strong and the humans of the Wildlands will find and storm the City to plunder the riches denied them. Your main concern at present, however, is to survive and somehow rule your own existence in this half-world, known as Dægar's Wildlands."

Our goal was nothing less than alchemy -- the transmutation of costumes, latex and various students and professionals into a world. To bring our creation sufficiently to life that people could, for the duration of an afternoon, act within it as part of it.

Our first recourse was our technology : a combination of what the Dægar background suggested and the practicalities of where and under what circumstances the games were run. For example, when running a game in essentially a public place (although it is amazing what people can ignore if they simply don't want to deal with a small, orange dragon watching them as they go by), with Council permission that does not include the right to build permanent structures, your ancient remnants are going to be pretty much that. But because of the nature of the Wildlands, such as there were were automatically significant.

Books were rare, and the most important histories preserved orally. Mages and shamans each had their own script which encrypted their magic texts -- quite literally. Players of magic-using characters were presented with their spell sheets in code, which they had to translate. Some became quite adept, others managed to translate "Read Magic" and sacrificed the necessary points at the start of each game for the rest.

Mining and all consequent metallurgical operations was difficult. Consequently, metal armour was practically non-existent and metal weapons valuable. Of weapons in Dægar there were daggers, swords, maces and axes. Swords, maces and axes came in Standard, Large and Ridiculously Large sizes, the latter generally constructed for intimidation. We sold weapons, sometimes outside the live adventure context. I remember a Ridiculously Large axe that went to the SCA for ceremonial use. Other weapons were trialed, but proved either unsafe for players or, like our prototype Morning Star, completely safe for players but lethal to other weapons.

Thanks to a particularly talented member of the core group, the art of leatherwork was highly developed in Dægar. Leather vambraces, belts, bags and spell books were featured in our games, and always appreciated.

Our second recourse was the stories.

The Mission of the Necromancer: Poverty-stricken adventurers will work for anyone, won't they? Not even discovering that the Necromancer is mad as a hatter will dissuade them. Mad he was, but the Necromancer became an important returning character in our games. The object of this game was to retrieve the crystal from the altar of Elveros, a nasty and long-destroyed cult who sacrificed people to a fire spirit. Through various encounters the party collects the four enchanted staves and the key bearing the Elveros symbol, and translates the ritual to use them from the fragments of a clay tablet. Thus armed, the party fight their way through Yseda Ghouls to reach the altar, exorcise the spirit and defuse the trap on the altar. I think one party actually managed it. Our first and most ambitious game. Six hours! What were we thinking?

Cursed Treasure of the Black Knives: A straightforward trek through the more scenic areas of the ANU, following a map to the, well... The curse involved a lot of Yseda Ghouls.

The Rescue: It's simple. Roger and Daphne are in love, but their fathers (rival merchant enchanters), will not let them wed. So Roger hires a disreputable band of adventurers to 'kidnap' Daphne from her father's caravan. They wait. Then a survivor of the caravan rushes up informing them that they were attacked, and Daphne taken by magas! By the time the party got to their camp, the magas were so desperate to get rid of Daphne they sometimes traded her for a cask of ale. Other features were the spore-shooting mushrooms and the Amazing Abseiling Maga.

The Wildlands: This was an NPC fest. The players had to work out who was cheating who from amongst Rodánt the Rogue, Yorn the Minstrel and assorted Kzul, whilst carrying the macguffin to Tygarr the Enchanter. Do not open the box. Repeat, do not open the box.

The Morning After: This was definitely the strangest and most lavish of our games. To gather the ingredients for the antidote, and if they are alert solve the mystery of who poisoned them, the party had to enter a forest rumoured to have a powerful guardian spirit. Within the forest was some of our very best set-ups; the graveyard and Wisely the oracle. Wisely was a heavily animatronic sundial. Engraved around its dial was the inscription, "Speak Wisely and be answered." As soon as one member of the party said its name, the gnomon spun round to face him or her and a gravely voice said "Well? What do you want?" Like most such entities, Wisely liked riddles. Its information was good, but you had to play along.

There's A Light: For atmosphere, this game had it. Unfortunately, for tripping over objects in the nocturnal bush it had it as well. The idea was for the players to creep up on the fire and lantern-lit camp of the Raven band, spy upon it and utilize various stratagems to disable them and rescue the shaman. Damn, but it looked good.

The City: We pulled out all the stops. We used all our best monsters, drew on all the mythology the players had gained hints of throughout the games and built a Gate. A shaman had discovered an artefact he believed that, as the focus of an elaborate ritual, would enable him open a gate to the City. At the start the players did not know this, but once they had fought their way through and discovered the truth, the shaman offered to let them participate. As the sun set, the circle was drawn and the chant began. Smoke poured out between the pillars of the Gate... and everything went to hell. The shaman didn't have it quite right. He opened a gate into realm of the spirits, and the Necromancer had to intervene to prevent the fabric of the Wildlands breaking down. To this day, the City remains an elusive, golden dream.

The wonderful thing about the games was how they developed. After every run they were examined and critiqued; new encounters were proposed to fill in places that felt slow, NPCs were given larger weapons, and spontaneous jokes were worked into the regular 'script'. The difference it made to a game when the gender of NPCs was changed was sometimes educational. Of course, each new team required on-the-spot responses, and sometimes a little more. One group of enthusiasts went through 'The Rescue' and 'The Wildlands' butchering everything they encountered -- helpless peasant girls, helpful fortune tellers and their Guild contact. The next game we ran for them was a special edition of 'The Mission of the Necromancer', featuring an encounter where every single dead NPC arose as a ghoul.

Our third recourse was props and costume. As you may have gained the impression, we were serious about this. First the players; if they didn't come in their own costumes, it was on with the 'player's cloaks' before they could so much as take a step into Dægar. Next, the GMs. They were always characters -- Alonzo the Used Chalice Salesman, the aptly-named Rodánt and the Necromancer's Apprentice -- amiable, possessed of a certain amount of information and absolutely no use in a fight. We found that integrating the GMs into the story worked well; it set the tone of the game from the first instant, and the players grumbled good-naturedly about the 'dead weight'. Then, ah, then came our creatures. Please proceed directly to the Photos.

After an hour-long argument about what precisely constituted a troll, it was decided that all our creatures would be unique, designed as we required them for games. This was the origin of the Maga and Kzul, the Gratchitt and Alzar and all their brethren. The one exception was the Yseda Ghoul, because we all agreed without hesitation what they were. These creatures were material undead but they weren't zombies. They were too quick... and fierce... and smart... Our monsters were rarely loved, but they were recognized and respected -- except for the time the players, having killed the Shadowbeast, decided to take its skin as trophy (LARP monster's tip: wear shorts. Always).

But the final, essential component of any Yseda game was the players. All of our regular teams -- the Brotherhood, Artee's Raiders and the Brotherhood of the Pumpkin to name just a few -- contributed the vital spark to all our plots and planning. The expression on people's faces as they realized they are surrounded by Yseda Ghouls, their attempts to interact with Wisely, their satisfaction upon turning the tables on the treacherous Rodánt; these are the moments in which, in my memory, the transmutation was achieved. The moments in which, sweating in your maga mask, exhausted after a previous encounter in your previous game role and worried, with reason, about leeches, you would howl a wordless cry and charge to meet the heroes only so the story would be complete. The myth re-enacted once again.

This was Yseda.

-- Kyla Ward


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