This is a freeform (LARP) game I wrote and ran for the UK’s Continuum gaming con in 2006, loosely based on the Mythic Russia setting.

 

Rising Tsar

A Game of Politics, Potatoes and Personality, set in a Mythic Medieval Russia

By Mark Galeotti

This is a very rules-light game, suited to novice, experienced and veteran freeformers alike. By the same token, it requires a willingness to indulge in high drama and low cunning but no prior knowledge of Russian history or myth: the minimal, necessary background will be provided in character packs before the game. Fur hats optional.

Tomorrow it will be 1382, and the wolves are howling in the Russian winter.

For over two centuries, Russia has been ruled by the Mongols, but just two years ago, the armies of the divided Russian cities fought together at Kulikovo under the banner of Dmitri, Prince of Moscow. Outnumbered, the Russians nonetheless won an unexpected and bloody victory over the Golden Horde. Russia was not yet free, nor unified, but at last there was hope.

Mamai, the khan of the Mongol Golden Horde, is dead. His successor, Tokhtamysh, has pledged to sack Moscow and take the heads of all the Russian princes who dared defy the Horde. Already there are tales of the size of his army and its bloodthirsty mood. Of horsemen whose numbers darken the snow-covered steppe, while the skies roil with their angry ancestor-spirits. Of villages razed to the ground, of pyramids of flame-blackened skulls raised as monuments to the Mongols’ anger.

Now Dmitri has called a great summit in Moscow, to be held in concert with the New Year celebrations. He has invited princes and lords of the Rus’, holymen of the Christian faith and pagan wizards, home-grown heroes and foreign captains. With them have come henchmen and paramours, refugees and entertainers, madmen and opportunists. Everyone knows, after all, that destiny hangs heavy in the air, and this is a time in which empires, prophesies, fortunes and legends will be made and broken.

While welcoming his honoured (and dishonoured) guests to his Kremlin, the ambitious Muscovite prince wants to see an even greater coalition formed to fight the Mongols – and for his own elevation to the status of tsar, emperor of all the Russias. As Dmitri’s schemes thread through the celebrations, so too do those of so many others. The proud bishop who hopes to rid his land of paganism at last, the prince who fears Dmitri’s ambitions even more than the Mongols’, the Siberian shaman with a taste for dubious spirits, the devoted husband who looks forward to cremating his wife (he thinks she’s dead), the lovers whose marriage is to be held on New Year’s Day, the avenger with a particularly polite murder on his mind, the cook with the perfect potato, the singer who has lost his voice and the icon-painting monk who has found another…

(And where is Baba Yaga, the mightiest – and nastiest – witch in all Russia? Would she really have missed out on all this backstabbing and suspicion?)

This is a game for 44 players, which will last 5 hours. Players will take on all sorts of roles, from counts to commoners; there are characters for those who enjoy high politics and military stratagems, just as for those who prefer to play on a lower key or immerse themselves in less exalted affairs.

Characters

(cast list and players)

Moscow

  • Dmitri Donskoi, prince of Moscow – Ed McDonald
  • Vladimir the Brave – Richard Perry
  • Victoria the Fair – Philippa Dall
  • Straw-Haired Sasha – Roy Ashworth
  • Timofei the Sour – Simon Phipp.
  • Metropolitan Alexei of Moscow – Hannu Kokko
  • Red-Cheeked Alyona – Gwen Mott
  • Konstantin Bokevich – Steve Hill

Novgorod

  • Elizaveta of Both Banks – Nickey Barnard.
  • Archbishop Iron-Handed Gennadi – Andrew Richardson
  • Bright Porfiri – Steve Hatherley
  • One-Eyed Maxim – Chris Jones.

Suzdal

  • Prince Mikhail of Suzdal – Nick Brooke
  • Princess Alexandra of Suzdal – Sue Lee
  • Baron Feodor of Suzdal – Malk Williams.

Kiev

  • Prince Yuri of Kiev – Graham Arnold
  • Princess Svetlana of Kiev – Claudia Loroff.
  • Archbishop Pavel of Kiev – Richard Salmon.

Vladimir

  • Prince Gavril of Vladimir – Mark Steedman
  • Prince Roman Gavrilovich – Steve Bassett.
  • Lavrenti Nikolayevich the Brewmaster – Jeff Richards

Tver

  • Prince Ivan of Tver – Lewis Jardine.
  • Baron Oleg of Tver – James Gemmell
  • Kliment Pavlovich Zolotov – Martin Smart

Cossack

  • Bright-Eyed Kolya – Martin Jones

Monastics

  • Sergius of Radonezh – Michael O’Brien.
  • Andrei Rublev – Stu Stansfield
  • Sister Nadia Mirovna – Claire Steyert

Other Russians

  • Baroness Zoya of Roslavl – Claire Blackman
  • Six-Bells Arkady – Dan Barker
  • Boris the Dancing Bear – Ken Rolston
  • Volodya Three-Fathers – Mike Snowden
  • The Birch Woman – Tressy Arts
  • Quiet Oxana – Heidveig Helgadottir

Mongols

  • Timugke Five-Arrows – Duncan Rowlands
  • Osadoko of No-Horde – John Wilson.

Other Foreigners

  • The Contessa Silvana di Bonafede – Alison Rider Hill
  • Egeria Eirenikos, the Byzantine Emissary – Fiona Lloyd
  • Sir William of Haultby-Whitney– David Hall.
  • Petras Beragis – Jamie ‘Trotsky’ Revell
  • Hairy Atchoo –
  • Karl von Thorn, Teutonic Captain – Adrian Smith
  • Father Albrecht End-of-Days, Teutonic Chaplain – Nathan Richards
  • Half-Brother Dietrich of Eissen – Sean Varney.

 

On the Web

There is a personal account by one of the players, Simon Phipp, on his website here. There are also some photos of the players in splendid costumes and of the game in play here.

 

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