So, it is no secret I am a bit sentimental. So much so one of my dearest friends had the wisdom to bring a tissue for me when we were reffing the final scene of Union this weekend. To commemorate the system and what it meant to me I have gone and suffered through this wonderous thing.
However, this is more than just some ink for 4 great years. For me it underlines some lessons I don’t want to forget. Like a lot of people there, I explored myself in Union. Tomec, Brassica, Twiggy, Finn, Big Momma Brown, Hellock, Guidance and Bassette all are parts of me for better and for worse.
However, this tattoo is about more than just any character, more than even the Guild. It is largely what it meant to me to be a head ref.
- Taking ownership of something I loved
- For 6 years there had always been people to ref our Uni system. My seniors and best narrators I knew. They consistently stepped up. Time passed and I became a senior and dabbled in reffing but didn’t think of myself as able to properly commit. 15 Threw down he was looking for 2 partners at the end of year 2 and I had been shyly sat on a plot idea for over 3 years by that point.
- It took me two weeks, several sleepless nights and a lot of internal debate before I finally approached him. The amount of respect I have for 15 is tremendous and, truth be known, I’m not the biggest bastion of self-belief. To try and represent the system that helped me find my place in the world and to try and make it everything it should be felt like an insurmountable task. I was afraid (for reasons I will explain later.) However, 15 wasn’t.
- I sold him my single idea (‘So, we always play at night. I thought we could run a plot where the bad guys steal the sun and they have to get it back’.) We roped in Cullen (Who was thinking about a year out. We managed to get him in for another 2 in the end) and that pair had been discussing a Lord of the Flies island adventure. We combined the 2 and that got us to the plot of year 3: shipwreck on the isle of Acaroth and steal back the sun from the Scorned.
- Being an ambassador
- I came to Nottingham Uni on the strength of its LARP system. I’d seen a documentary on it as a kid and desperately wanted in. It happened Nottingham had both a great law school and a well regarded RPG society for this so I accepted my offer.
- That didn’t make the initial weeks any easier. I was alone and suddenly felt very small. However, at freshers’ fayre I found RPG Soc stall. I asked if this was where the LARP happened and James 4, the first head ref I ever knew, stood up, arms aloft and yelled YESSSSS. This made me smile sincerely for the first time at Uni. I thought, just maybe, I’d find a place to call home. I was right.
- To me, Union and Somershal before it was a community where I found my feet. I grew into a pretty swell person thanks to their love. Not only that, but when I hit hard times they were always there to save me. Taking on this role wasn’t just about running a game but being a touchstone for people leaving home just like I did.
- Being strong in the right measures
- It is a joy to ref with your mates but also the hardest thing. You have to resolve issues fairly and impartially no matter how they are treating you. I have had some scathing criticism of my honest best. I have had to deal professionally with people being anything but. You have to see your player, not your friend, even when they only see you as an obstacle, not the person you are. Ultimately, it’s a testimony to their care to the game: if it didn’t matter they wouldn’t do it. Still – it can be hard.
- Further, sometimes you have to step back and go ‘okay, I was wrong’ and fix something or take it on board. Burning your idea because someone (player or fellow ref) has found the hole in it takes a lot of humility. When you have timelines and just want to churn out an idea keeping your ego in check can be a challenge and this was something I really had to work on.
- These 2 years have made me surer of myself, more able to hold my hands up when I goof and then fix it and readier to defend my points when it is right to do so. Hard won lessons but ones I want to keep.
- For everyone
- Looking round at the end of the final encounter of the last weekend I saw nothing but people I loved. I knew them: their names, their fears and their stories. I know how to push that crowd to get their best and they’ve tested me to my creative limits. Here’s to you Advanced Unit 5, The Remnants, The Light Bringers and The Defiant. You were all Unit XIII and all somehow greater than it.
- But they are not the only ones. Through years this system and the hobby I have made literally hundreds of friends. I have met people from so many walks of life. These games connect me and friends that have moved away and give me ways to see them again. They give us things to smile about.
Put simply: I wanted to mark my body forever to say ‘I dared to touch the thing in this world I loved most, in the full knowledge that I might have a hand in ruining it, and the best I became was good enough to do such a thing justice.’
Without everyone I’d have not had this chance or the back up I needed to do this. But: we did do this. And now I can never forget that. (Lasers can’t remove blue ink – #STAROFBLUEANDWHITE!)
Again: my enduring thanks to all the players and refs of Union, past and present. It was wondrous.