Wednesday, 7 September 2011

#27 Zombie LARP II: Tales from Station Zero

Friar’s Walk, Reading, used to be a shopping mall. Harassed mothers would do their last minute Christmas shopping there, nervous graduates would shop around for their first Interview Suit, teenagers would shoplift from the Claire’s Accessories. Not anymore though. Now there is no Claire’s Accessories.

Because in Friar’s Walk, everybody died. Usually more than once. Now it is a dark place, a quiet place, a graveyard of empty shop fronts, disused kitchenettes, and a tragically unused jungle gym.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
But as you stand there, in the dark, if you listen carefully you can hear whispers. Because is Friar’s Walk the walls tell stories.

Stories about the massive Zombie LARP game that went on there last weekend.

These are those stories.

Long-time readers will have already read about my last Zombie LARP adventure. There was one survivor.

This time around, most of the team was reunited. Myself, Alina Sandu and Matt Barnes were ready for action with a couple of important additions- One, Tom Harvey, Hello Bear bassist and our blog’s absolute favourite buttmonkey joined the team, as I felt it was important to have a red shirt character we could kill off easily and without remorse.
I'm not going to stop posting this picture until it's the top of Tom Harvey of Hello Bear's google results.
Secondly, and somewhat more impressively, we had Ninjas.
Somehow Alina is still the scariest person there.
Our team was assigned the moniker 2B, so we hilariously always referred to ourselves as Team 2B or Not 2B, because I insisted on it and never, ever got tired of that joke. I still haven’t.

The following game featured four hour-long runs. The rules were simple- Find eight batteries, plug them into the radio, then run for the roof where the “helicopter” would come and rescue us. Each run would begin with a quarter of the players as slow moving Romero zombies, and the rest as survivors. Personally, I thought this was stupid. One of the little suspension-of-disbelief tricks we always pull watching zombie movies, is accepting that groaning, slow-moving corpses are only that deadly in large numbers. Clearly a minority of these against an intelligent, fast moving and organised majority of humans would be quickly wiped out.

Run One
Our team was murdered pretty much instantly. I died screaming in the jungle gym.
This was a common story, but the human spirit prevails, and other teams fared better than hours, as survivor Anthony White’s video testimony proves:
Zombie LARP - Station Zero from Antony White on Vimeo.

Against adversity, the humans were able to unite, make a brave stand and escape, even though our team was completely... wait a second. What’s this?
Something isn't right here...
There, looking extremely cheerful considering that all his friends are dead, is Hello Bear bassist and blog buttmonkey Tom Harvey, right there among the people who made it out.

Outraged, I tracked down Tom Harvey, and made him account for his actions. His words, if you can believe them, are printed right here:

Testimony from Tom (Butt Monkey) Harvey

I soon found myself alone and bewildered, with no ammunition. Time passed, and the zombie hordes grew considerably. I was aimlessly wandering about, attempting to find other survivors, and to assist in collecting the precious batteries. I had been imformed that only one more was required in order to summon the helicopter. I casually strolled into a large room across from the childrens play area, and straight into the eyeline of a prowling white knight. This was not good. I had no ammunition, and no backup.

Okay, for those of you who don’t know, a White Knight is a cross between Rorschach from Watchmen, and Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining.
Believe it or not, he is an alcoholic author and house-sitter.

So ensued a small game of cat and mouse around the pillars. However, the white knight allowed me just enough time to sprint away, and to safety. Unfortunately, in my haste, I ran straight into a large puddle of water. Suddenly I was running without having any forward acceleration whatsoever. The White Knight was metres away from me when I somehow managed to find some purchase, the shock of which caused me to stumble. Using my now useless gun to steady myself, I ran to safety, at least, for the time being.

The time following this terrifying incident is mainly blurry, but I imagine it mainly involved cowering and whimpering. My memory kicks in back in that same room, this time escaping a large horde of the undead. For reasons unknown, I stopped in my tracks for the briefest of moments, which allowed me to spot and collect the final battery. This was brilliant, I had a chance of surviving! Oh wait, there's a fuck tonne of zombies bearing down on me....forgot about that. My days were surely numbered, there was no escape.

However, my knight in shining armour arrived, in the form of a skull adorned ninja. We were being backed into a corner, but the opportuniy to escape somehow arose - a gap had formed, I merely had to make a break for it. It was then that I bravely ran away, leaving my ninja companion to distract the zombies long enough for me to safely navigate my way out and into the dark stairwell. I would like to say that this was pre-agreed with my stealthy ally. In reality, I believe the conversation was somewhere along the lines of "Sorry mate, I'm gonna have to leg it.....good luck". Unfortunately, he did not survive, but I did, so all was well with the world. My next aim was to safely return the battery to the saferoom....but where the fuck was I?

I found a small band of survivors, and attempted to communicate, with clarity, that I had the final battery in my possession. Admittedly this mainly consisted of waving it (the battery, you dirty bastard) about and shouting. Amazingly, my informative speech was not fully understood initially, and we continued looking for the battery, until I reitirated my original message, to which the response was "well why didn't you mention that before?".
The safe room, with me in it. Before Tom left me to die.
We safely navigated our way to the saferoom, and called the helicopter. We now had to make it to the roof, fight off the hordes, and await salvation. By now we had a decent sized group, but we were woefully under equipped. In our rush up the narrow stairs, I was injured by a passing zombie. Limping, I bravely hid behind my fellow survivors, fighting off the neverending surges of the undead with nothing but melee weapons. Realising my importance in this scenario, I valiantly yelled "Look out there's a fucking zombie" when it seemed appropriate. I even attempted to hide under the air conditioning units, alas the zombies had the same idea. I was left, cowering next to a dead pigeon, although still not regretting my generally traitorous ways. After what seemed like an eternity, the doors to the roof were open. Our rescue had arrived, we had survived! The high priest, regrettably, was taken at the last second, sacrificing himself for the greater good. The doors were closed, and relief flooded through me like some insensitive simile to do with a tsunami. We had survived, we had not been taken. My team had been.....but screw them, I was alive!

Run Two
Following our disastrous first run (I can’t believe Tom managed outlive me!) we agreed that we needed a more unified, organised approach. We would stick together, shouting our team name out if we became separated, and shoot Tom in the back if he tried to run.

Of course, this plan went to pot when the game started, and we realised Alina was nowhere to be found. Despite this, our team pushed on ahead, running and gunning our way through the mall. A many great acts of heroism occurred during this run. By people who weren’t on our team.

Testimony from Grant Hewitt
I'm playing the preacher in the Safe Room, and I hear an almighty scream from down the corridor on the main concourse. Two guys burst into view - one with a lead pipe, and one with a pistol, both running like mad. The lead pipe wielder draws too much attention from zombies and gets dragged down - the other guy, spooked, pushes past me into the safe room and collapses against a wall. I cry out to the man who didn't make it, saying that he'll "find solace in the peace of death" and then, just before he stops moving, he flings something at me. Hard. It hits me in the neck and I'm about to chew him out for it, but I look down and realise it's a powercell. What a guy. True warrior of Christ, he was.

Meanwhile, our stick together plan worked fine right until we passed through the jungle gym, where promptly I lost everyone on my team. Bravely carrying on alone (unlike Tom, who ruthlessly left his team mates to die) I moved onwards and upwards. I got to the roof of the mall, found it to be a dead end, and turned back. This was when I saw survivors charging up the stairs.

Testimony from Alina Sandu
Pictured: Apparently not dead.
My new team seemed well organised and competent (Editor’s Note: By now Alina had joined another team. She isn’t talking about 2B or Not 2B) and we made our way through the mall painlessly. I even found a gun I could use after starting unarmed.

We stopped in the safe room very briefly, and I hoped I'd meet up with 2B there but didn't. We carried on up and down for a while, until we heard the helicopter was on its way. It seemed a bit early in the run but everyone was going towards the exit so we followed.

That's when I ran into what was left of 2B. Matt wasn't with them, but nobody could confirm that he was dead, so I decided to think he was alright.

We made it to the top of the building and waited for the helicopter. And waited some more. A few zombies were getting close but it didn't seem much of a problem. We kept waiting.

After a while, I started feeling guilty that I hadn't managed to meet up with Matt. I imagined he was waiting for me around the safe house since that was supposed to be our meeting point.

As we waited, the zombies continued to mass, but we held them at bay. Alina started arguing that we should go back to save Matt, but I told her he was probably dead already, pointed out that he’d happily left her to die at the last Zombie LARP, and when that failed, slapped her hard about the face and told her to pull herself together (That last bit was a lie- hitting women hard around the face is wrong. Even LARP-safe hitting hard around the face).

Then, I turned around for one second and turned back to discover Alina had run off on her own, completely unarmed, to save her already dead boyfriend. Because that always works in the films.

Realising I was also about to do something incredibly stupid, I asked another survivor for his gun- a pistol with two bullets left, and was ready to set off after Alina, when the next bunch of zombies arrived. This time we were out of ammo, and the zombies had found ways to climb over and crawl under our defences. Soon we fell back to the door of the roof. I tracked down one of the people who had been shouting about the imminent helicopter, and he swore it was on its way.

It wasn’t on its way.

I was one of the last to die, and went down heroically hiding in a crack behind the big A/C unit on the roof, trying to shove another survivor out into the open so that he wouldn’t give away my position. I’d do it again in an instant.

Run 3- The Zombie Run
Team 2B or Not 2B were zombies for this round. I spent pretty much the entire round hiding behind a locker in the basement, waiting for someone to come and pick up a battery hidden in there.
That and working on the pitch for our movie "Twilight Only Gay and with Zombies"
Other zombies had better luck

Testimony from Zombie Matt Barnes

My most enduring (and endearing) memory from being a zombie is best presented, I think, in the form of an ASCII map:

              | H | 
|=============  H |
|   Z           H | 
|   ==------======
|     Z  Z  Z
|      Z   Z

The humans were heading down to the (pitch-dark, of course) basement through a corridor. They turned a corner, and were faced with a glass wall to their left and one Zed dead ahead. While that zombie was getting a pretty decent bashing, the humans had apparently failed to appreciate that the glass wall in question was not -entirely- glass. 

I say apparently because they didn't seem to be expecting four undead arms to suddenly burst through the gap and start groping for human flesh. The looks on their faces were pretty special.

Of course, not all the survivors were simply trying to call the helicopter and get out. Some players like to bring along a selection of NERF weapons so extravagant that they can only arm themselves with the benefit of an Evil Dead II style Bruce Campbell montage. Not wanting to break the game, the organisers offered these players the option of playing the Left Hand of God mission. While everyone else was running about like headless chickens, a team that accepted this mission would be allowed to take only their own guns- with nothing from the communal gun pool, and be assigned to kill a mysterious, deadly creature known as the Leech.

This is the story of one such team:

Testimony from Grant Hewitt
I'm on Leech duty. It's very quiet, and Liam saunters through the basement.
He's about to do something really badass isn't he? You can tell.
So I pop up to him and ask him quietly - "Oh, man, how did you die?" because I figure he's been taken out of action early on.

"Well," he says, "technically I didn't die." And RUNS. I've already given up the power cell I had after a team graciously gave me one of their number, so I figure - what the hell? I give chase. Liam flees through corridors and takes turns almost at random, searching for a staircase. I get shot a couple of times as we run past people, but whatever - I'm screaming "I CAN SMELL YOUR BLOOD! THIRSTY! THIRSTY! I CAN HEAR IT IN YOUR FUCKING VEINS!" and I'm going to get him and drink him dry.

Unfortunately, he managed to find a staircase - and the leech doesn't leave the basement, so I let him run, and turned around to go back to my lair. Behind me in a doorway is team Hand of God, who shoot me to pieces whilst chanting "The power of Christ compels you!" over and over, unloading what must have been around thirty or forty bullets into me at point blank range until I slumped against a wall, unmoving.

Now that is the stuff of legend people. That is the sort of thing that should only be taken on by heroes or fools.

Run 4- The Left Hand of God
After Run 3, our team were sat around, relaxing, planning our strategy for the next run. We’d come to affectionately know the ninjas as Darth Vader and Skull Face. As we chatted, one of the ninjas, I believe it was Darth Vader, said “We want to do the Hand of God mission.”

It took a split second for us to think this over and say “Nooooo! Nope. No. No way. Not doing that. Nadda.”

“For the Hand of God you can only take your own guns with you,” I pointed out. “None of us have brought any weapons.”

Then Darth Vader said something that would eventually doom us all. He looked at me and said, “We can kit you out.”

“We’ve got a massive box full of guns,” Skull Face added. “Plenty of weapons for everyone.”
There was a long, pregnant pause. On second thoughts, maybe it was what I said next that doomed us all.

I said, “Show us the box.”
That's a nice box.
We tooled up. Took as many guns as we could carry and crammed out pockets full of ammunition. This time we weren’t going to be a bunch of panicked civilians, fleeing for our lives. This time we would be a crack time of combat specialists, with a mission, and purpose.

Our mission was to kill the monster known as the Leech, a mysterious creature that could be harmed with acts of religious devotion- With Atheism not counting as a religion, Grant felt the need to point out to me for some reason.

In keeping with our new professional attitude, I said we should probably assign a leader, and it was unanimously agreed that this leader should be Skull Face, because nothing gives inspiring leadership like a man with a skull for a face.
I see no problem here.
Testimony from Matt Barnes
We were tooled up to the eyeballs. I had the biggest gun I'd ever picked up, and two pockets stuffed full of spare ammunition. Obviously not even any need for one of the swords I was offered. We had one objective: kill the Red Leech, described variously as "scared of religion" and "not as hard as the White Knights". No problem.

We first headed down to the basement where we had been reliably informed that the Leech always hung out. While one team member kept the handful of normal zombies at bay, the rest of us chanted piously while pummelling the target with more bullets than it could handle. When it fell to the ground, a couple more shots were enough to put it down for good, and we grabbed its energy cell and melee weapon before heading to the safe room.

Our general assistance was enough to ensure that everything else needed to escape was gathered in no time, and we headed to the exit. Like a well-oiled machine we cleared the path to the doors, stopping just before them, and holding the exit for the other survivors with our overwhelming firepower.

That was the plan, anyway. It was a good plan, as well.
This picture has nothing to do with this part of the story, but Christ it looks awesome.
Testimony from Darth Vader
We headed into the depths of the Mall, Theravadic chanting under masks and medics wielding glow stick crosses, we felt damned invincible. We joked about hanging a crucifix round the leech's neck. But in the dark, something drew the zombies to us like moths to a flame. Tap, pin. Tap, move. Tap, pin. Tap, move, but still they kept coming.

Testimony from Matt Barnes
It was actually all going pretty well when we met our first zombie. We all immediately opened fire, and six darts found their home, almost simultaneously, in the centre of its chest. One more once he was down to put him out of commission. We then advanced cautiously and slowly through the basement, double-checking behind every obstruction to make sure there was no possibility of a surprise.

In retrospect, this was an excellent plan for making sure we weren't ambushed, but a dreadful one for making sure that loads of other zombies didn't use this extra time to turn up hoping for tasty, tasty brains. Coming at us from all sides in the dark, we held them off for a short time but the inevitable happened soon enough. A couple of us (including one random survivor from another team, who I can only assume arrived at some time while we weren't paying attention) managed to clear a path long enough to escape upstairs... directly into the welcoming arms of a cheerful-looking White Knight.

So this was when things started to fall apart. Quickly, we realised our weapons were occasionally a bit more jammed than we’d like, and we were being completely outnumbered. I found our brave, skull-faced leader on the floor and ran over to heal him, only to turn round in time to see a White Knight bearing down on me with an axe.

Still somehow the team carried on without me. Darth Vader was somehow still alive.

Testimony from Darth Vader
Ahead, crouched by a pillar, I saw our leader. Armour still on, still armed, very still. I retreated back crouched down next to him, and asked "How'd you get through that?"
Alas, poor Skull Face. He loved the jungle gym, like all ninjas.
He turned slowly, and reached out towards me, groaning like the last escaping air of a corpse.
Sword across his chest, I forced him back across the floor and over (figuratively) the safety rail, but not before he'd swiped at my chest. I turned and ran, and ran, and ran, pumping a rifle I had no idea if worked, and swinging a sword at anything that moved. I got slashed at on the ribs, but momentum and a goal ahead of me kept me going...  An arm that I thought was going to swing just under me as I leapt suddenly shot up. With my armour gone, and nothing but momentum carrying me on bones that may have shattered, not thinking about the weapons, just managing the pain, and knowing, KNOWING the safe room was around the next corner... I ran.

Straight into practically every zombie in the field.

So, once more, the last remaining member of our team was Matt Barnes- who makes a habit of this sort of thing.

Testimony from Matt Barnes
I hung around in the safe room for a bit as it became apparent that not only was I now unarmed, but there were a quite terrifying number of "ambulant cadavers" outside each entrance. In the end all the survivors got together to make one final daring break for freedom (or "suicide run" as it might more accurately be termed). Most of us actually got quite a long way towards the other side of the mall before being brutally torn down by an assortment of zombies, White Knights, and one inexplicable mad woman with a shotgun.

The last I saw of Matt he was lying in a shop window, wounded, but not dead.

So I ate him.
Pictured: Not invincible.
Thanks to Alina Sandu and's Anthony White for letting me use their pics and video footage for this blog.


  1. Just one word - "Excellent!"

  2. I was gonna go to Station Zero but other commitments prevented me. Your team sounds like one of the funnest from what I've read and If I go in December I'd like to join you.

    Yes, I'm remaining anonymous for the sense of mystery it shall cause.