"Undomesticated equines could not remove me."

- Teal'c, Stargate SG-1 -

Dropzone 2014

by Russell Tomlinson

Every year on the last May bank holiday, the United Kingdom Laser-Tag Alliance (UKLTA) holds its annual live role-playing event at the Harmer Green Scout Campsite near Welwyn.

Some of us (Dave Baseley, JR, Kelly Dillon and I) have been going to Dropzone for some years now, but the 2014 event was extra special because Dave, JR, Kelly, David Rowley and I had spent several months devising a game to be played.

Each Dropzone has a theme and this year's theme was the Stargate universe. This made costuming a little easier than in previous years. The organisers had managed to get their hands on a replica Stargate, complete with electronic gizmos to mimic the sound effects of the Stargate opening into a new world. So far, so good.

Seven LOTNA members had signed up for the event (Dave B, JR, Kelly, David Lee, David Rowley, Tara Dainton and myself) and this was a big jump from the four of us that attended last year. However, on the Thursday night, our plans had the potential to be knocked completely off track by the news that JR's family circumstances meant that he might not be able to help us get all our stuff from Orpington to Harmer Green. It was even possible that JR might not be able to make it at all, which meant we could not run our game and that we would have severe difficulties getting everybody, not to mention a mountain of camping gear, toys and props for our game, to the event. Luckily, JR was able to make it.

But then the prospect of bad weather forecast on Saturday opened up the possibility that our game, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, would either be played on the Saturday (in possibly bad weather) or even not at all, to ensure that the main flagship game "Stargate-Puddle Jumping" was played. It was under these less than ideal possibilities that our group set off for Dropzone in three heavily laden cars (We had an absolute shed load of stuff to take).

Upon arrival, we quickly set up our tents, plus two gazebos for us to sit under and store food etc. Personally, I can do camping, but I don't really enjoy it. David Lee ended up with a leaky tent that he dumped once the event was over, Tara had a self-deflating airbed that needed pumping up every few hours, and David Rowley had a tent that was too small for his tall frame. The rest of us fared better, especially JR with his carpeted mansion of a tent.

The mud, the lack of space inside the tent, and other things like having to remove boots that seemed to be stuck to your feet with every change of outfit are irritating. But, this is really the only way to enjoy the whole Dropzone experience. Doing B&B's means you are more comfortable, but it means that you can't fully enjoy the more social aspects of the event as you need to worry about driving and getting back before the doors are locked for the night.

The first game of the event was "Zombie Dawn". This had nothing to do with the Stargate theme and was really a kind of warm up game. The players were divided into four teams of roughly equal numbers. One team was designated as human survivors and their mission was to defend a compound from the other three teams, all of whom were flesh eating zombies.

It was eerie and atmospheric to be part of 30 odd zombies, all groaning "bwainnnnns!" and rattling the walls and doors of the compound. The compound was a good area to defend, but the snag for the survivors was that they only one bullet for each zombie. You would either need to be a peerless marksman… or you would need more ammo. There was a new ammo supply, but there were 30 odd zombies between it and the survivors.

The zombies were unleashed and the survivors lived or died depending on how well they did. Once the scenario was over, another team was picked to be the survivors and the previous survivor team joined the zombie horde, and the teams were rotated until everyone had had a chance to be survivors. The only survivor team to survive was team one, which included Kelly, David Lee and David Rowley. In spite of some of the other teams getting hold of the new ammo supply, it did them no good. They became zombie food.

"Zombie Dawn" was a simple and brilliant way of getting everyone warmed up for the following day, although it was disappointing that there was no firepit organised for everyone to get together afterwards for drinks and socialising, which usually happens on every night of Dropzone.

On the following morning, at around 5 am, many of us heard the ominous pitter-patter of rain falling on our tents. The bad weather that had been forecast and feared had arrived. There was a heavy and continuous downpour for the next five odd hours. Shivering under our gazebos, we were fearful about what this bad weather would mean for the game we had spent months planning and working towards. We were even thinking about abandoning the event for the day and heading down the A1 in our cars to LOTNA to join in the board-gaming and the geeky goodness of the meeting.

Thankfully, at about 11 am, the rain eased off and then gradually ceased. The flagship game of the event "Puddle Jumping" started later than planned, but it did start. There were three SG teams, two were composed purely of combat soldiers and the other of scientific specialists. Our brief was to explore a world which had briefly been visited by another SG team several years earlier. On arrival, we encountered telepathic lizards who definitely had the jitters about something. They led us to an area with some sort of control panel and also to ancient temple with many old writings. As a translator, my job was to help decipher these and it was hard going. About half an hour in, our forces came under attack from Horus Guards led by a Jhaffa, and we took heavy casualties. Even the team of translators became casualties.

Command decided that a hasty retreat was in order, and we scarpered through the Stargate. However, the Stargate setting was green and we ended up in an alternative timeline where Stalin had allied himself with the Gaould and become ruler of the world. After a brief confrontation with some soviet troops, we gained control of their Stargate control facility. This gave us translators the chance to finalise our findings and we worked out that to get home we needed to reset the control panel we had found to a blue setting. Anything else would result in us ending up on an Earth that was slightly or more different than the one we knew. This also meant that we had to go back to the planet we had just left. The one with the Jaffa...

So, we went back, and for a while we took a real pasting. The Jaffa costuming was impressive. We were gasping with awe even as we were being mown down by the Jaffa's devastating firepower. We grimly hung on and eventually prevailed. Our techies re-set the panel and we were able to go home. The game took the whole of Saturday to play, but it was well thought out, fun and the costuming was simply awesome.

From our perspective, we not only enjoyed the game but were mightily relieved that it looked like our game would be going ahead after all.

It was then off to the firepit for a big roaring fire, lots of alcohol (one guy was even wandering around with a load of bottles literally begging us to take them off his hands) and socialising. This went on into the wee small hours until people became too tired to continue (or ran out of booze).

Sunday proved to be a much better day weather-wise. The first game of the day was "The Lost Boys". I had signed up for this only a few days before and had received a big wad of briefing material by way of reply. A bunch of students who live in a world where unquestioning obedience to orders was essential for survival, decide for once to let their hair down by having a party and inadvertently play around with a Stargate and they end up stranded on another world.

Here they meet a humanoid known as the hermit, who provides for all their needs, making it necessary for the students to follow him. Meanwhile an SG Team arrives on the same world to touch base with a survey team who had been there for a while, and through the Stargate comes security forces who want to round up the errant students.

The SG team want to help the students by taking them to a less oppressive world, but the security forces have issues with that. Although no actual firefight breaks out, there is a great deal of tension. Then the survey team discover to their horror that a solar flare will appear soon and wipe out all life on the planet. This makes evacuation by means of the Stargate essential. The techies manage to fire up the Stargate and get everyone through it, at which point the Hermit reveals himself to be the mischievous Loki in disguise. I wasn't entirely sure exactly what was going on and the game time was briefer than the other games, but it was still fun and there were some hilarious moments.

It was lunch time, but for the five of us involved in running the LOTNA game "Stargate Revolution", lunch was a luxury we could not afford. We had several sites to set up and it seemed to take us much longer than anticipated to get everything in place. Some of us were getting stressed, understandably, as Dave B, Kelly and JR had invested so much time and effort on this project and they were desperate to make it perfect. David Rowley and I had been involved, but our contributions were less than those of the others.

The game started a little late, but not dramatically so. Centuries ago, a system lord called Thaun had been imprisoned on the world in which the players found themselves, with some of his followers. They set up a primitive, agricultural society which had been running ever since. The players emerged from the Stargate only to find they couldn't get back. Clues scattered around indicated that they must acquire four keys and insert these into a control panel to get the Stargate working again.

The problem is that they only have half an hour to complete all of the trials and insert the keys before everything on the world re-sets itself (meaning that any keys and other items obtained by the players disappeared and returned to their original locations). I played the part of Thaun, who is posing as a benevolent father of his people, and I wore an Egyptian Pharoah costume. My murder happened very half hour, just before the re-set occurred. The players initially assumed that my death was the catalyst for the re-set and so tried unsuccessfully to prevent my death a couple of times.

Once the translators had done their work, the players worked out what they needed to be done. They had to undergo trials of pain (going through a heavily booby trapped area), skill (puzzle solving), greed (bartering) and strength (defeating a fearsome opponent). However, to complicate matters further, one of the keys had already been retrieved by an earlier - and now deceased - SG Team and had to be recovered from a grave.

About two and a half hours after the game started, the players managed to get all of the keys and insert them. But whilst this allowed them to go home, it also freed Thaun from his imprisonment. Thaun gathered his followers and left on a mission to conquer the galaxy.

The game was successful, mainly due to us all, but special credit must be given to Kelly, JR and Dave B who put so much effort into the concept of the game and the prop building over a period of many months. The game was well-received by the other attendees.

Dropzone held a free-for-all BBQ and bring-and buy sale, but we could not join this until much later as we needed to clear away our props so that the next game could be played. Thankfully, taking the props down does not take as much time as setting them up, and so we managed to grab a few burgers and sausages.

The final game was based on the Farscape universe but it did feature a Stargate. The players were all Peacekeepers of one sort or another. Our mission was to go through the Stargate and recover a man and bring him home.

As soon as the game started, we came under attack from the natives and had a fight with them before happening upon an order of silent monks. The monks seemed harmless, if a little uncommunicative, but it transpired that they were the keepers of secret technology. We found our missing man, a US Air Force pilot who had gone through the Bermuda Triangle and ended up on this world.

Then we encountered some large insectoid creatures with vicious looking teeth and claws and a big grudge against the monastery. After suffering heavy casualties after an attack by the insectoids, a rapid strategic withdrawal was deemed to be in order. This proved to be far from easy to accomplish as we were being chased. I went down early on, someone else tried to help me and became a casualty themselves, and in the end there was a confused cluster of casualties. In spite of the fact that many of us didn't make it back, the mission was a success.

Overall, the game was enjoyable and the costumes of the insectoids and the monks were also very good.

Another firepit meeting took place, but after an exhausting day, I was too tired to attend and had an early night, although the other members of LOTNA did make it and had a good time.

At 5 am on Monday morning, the heavy rain was back again. This was not an issue in terms of Dropzone, since there were no more games to be played, but it did mean having to take down and pack soggy tents before heading home.

Dropzone 2014 was a highly enjoyable success, despite the bad weather. The Stargate theme worked really well and having the ultimate prop of the Stargate added to the experience and the atmosphere. All of the games were interesting and fun to play and it was clear that an incredible amount of work had gone into the various plots, props and costumes.

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