Dragon 4ge Day: How DA Changed My Life

The team behind Dragon 4ge Day have been posing the question, “What does Dragon Age mean to you?”    It was a slightly intimidating process, trying to sift through my monumental attachment to this particular fandom and I decided it was probably best addressed here, where I can ramble to my heart’s content.  Perhaps grab a cup of tea and a cookie (or three)…

I have always been the sort of person who becomes hyper-focused on particular interests.  Every few years, my attention will wander and something else will become my primary focus, but I don’t tend to fall out of love with my interests very easily.  Despite my earlier fixations, most of which continue to bubble away in the background, I still wasn’t prepared for the way Dragon Age was going to settle down in the middle of my life and make itself at home.

Living with chronic illness, it’s always been helpful to have a mental escape hatch; a distraction for bad days when the pain and fatigue are relentless and my brain just needs a break from reality.  Fantasy worlds, whether existing fandoms or only from my own imagination, have always been my distraction of choice, inspiring fan art, fiction and music when I have the energy, or providing as a little as half an hour out of my own head with a book, movie or game when I don’t.

It was during a particularly long period of sickness absence from work that I discovered Dragon Age.  After a re-reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, I stumbled across reviews of the recently released Game of Thrones RPG and got curious about it.  I was put off by the set player characters, so have never actually played it, but Dragon Age: Origins appeared as a related suggestion, and the demo character creator caught my attention.  The Digital Deluxe edition was marked down to a couple of pounds on Origins, so I decided that even if it only kept me entertained for a couple of hours and I never picked it up again, I wasn’t wasting much money.

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Nym Mahariel – my first (and most enduring) Grey Warden

By the end of the tutorial, I was hooked by the writing, the characters and the expansive lore, so almost as soon as I got to Ostagar, I bought all the DLC and DA2.  I had this really strong sensation of “this game is going to change your life” but I couldn’t have imagined for a second just how significant those changes would be.

At the time, I was struggling to cope with increasing symptoms of my physical disability and had been recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  My therapist caught on fairly quickly that something had grabbed my interest and made the most of my enthusiasm.  She encouraged me to create fan fiction and art, and we drew on characters and plot points to help me discuss topics I struggled to talk about.  I still use a lot of the tools we built around Dragon Age in my coping plans.

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Lyanna Hawke – Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition

When Dragon Age: Inquisition finally came out, I fell for a coat and wanted one of my own.  I had created costumes before, mostly for living history, and I couldn’t believe how long it had taken me to consider mixing my interest in costuming and heritage crafts with my love of Thedas.  Cosplay was something I’d come across and been interested in, but I felt that I was too old, the wrong body shape and that I would be hindered by my need for splints, supports and the wheelchair.  They seemed like pretty stout and genuine barriers at the time, especially the disability angle, but the coat… I wanted that coat!

 

 

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This coat!

Gradually, a whole cosplay project developed and I found a lot of support – and made a lot of amazing friends – in the Dragon Age cosplay community.  I took my still-unfinished costume to MCM Birmingham in November 2015 and although I missed the BioWare meet, I was firmly bitten by the bug.  The following spring, I got to meet some of my online friends in person for the first time.

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Photo by D. Allen , 2016  (l-r: HanKhar Cosplay, Netherstorm Cosplay, self, Soupy Owl Cosplay and Zomby Boi Cosplay)

In autumn 2015, I heard about a group of fans trying to organise an unofficial Dragon Age convention, that was taking place surprisingly close to home, and I was immediately on board.  The following summer, despite being a little bit apprehensive about what we’d signed up for, we attended The Calling’s debut event and had an amazing weekend.

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Photo by D. Allen, 2016

Only a few weeks later, we traveled to Warwick Castle for a video shoot with The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music, organised by the fabulous @opal.ink.cosplay and @mrjaycosplay (Instagram).

 

After my increasing symptoms cost me my job last year, the games, the fandom and the friends I’d made because of it were incredibly important places I could turn to when I needed a brief escape or support.  Having fandom events to look forward to, even if it was only one day every three or four months, kept me motivated in my creative projects.  In June 2017, we went back to The Calling and I won my first cosplay competition with my design for Lindiranae of the Emerald Knights.

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Photo by D. Allen, 2017  Lindiranae of the Emerald Knights and my brother as Empress Celene Valmont I

Since then, I’ve kept busy with cosplay projects, fan art, music and fiction, and Thedas has been an almost ceaseless source of inspiration.  Earlier this year, we converted our rarely occupied spare bedroom into my Undercroft, which gave me the opportunity to organise my growing collection and begin a larger piece of artwork that I’ve been wanting to start for years.

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For 2018, instead of the convention, The Calling crew pulled together a three-day LARP event (the write up for which is slowly coming together!).  It was a fantastic experience, thanks to the efforts of the team and monsters and the atmosphere created by the other players.

Seven years ago, if someone had told me that a video game would not only change my life but lead to such huge changes in the way I think about myself, I probably would have laughed myself into a dislocation or two.  The idea that I’d ever expect to get more from my interests than solitary consumption was equally ridiculous, but it’s the social side of the Dragon Age fandom that has made the most surprising changes possible.

Every time I go to an event, I get to meet more fans and build more friendships because of Dragon Age.  I’ve been able to support my fellow fan artists, buy some of the beautiful work they produce, and share my obsession.  I know that some pockets of the online DA community have a reputation for toxicity, but I can say with my hand on my heart that I’ve never experienced anything but love, support and, when I’ve needed a kick in the pants, the occasional benign bullying of people who genuinely care about me despite never having met me in person.

Thank you, Dragon Age Community, for being so damn awesome.

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Dragon 4ge Day: The Call

The Call

This song began as a poem for The Calling 2017.  One of the things I’ve loved about each Dragon Age game is the sense of family that grows between the player and the companion characters, even with those who don’t always get along.  After we went to The Calling fan convention in 2016, I was struck by how that same feeling of attending a family reunion had set in over the course of the long weekend, and how strong it was as the year rolled around to the second event.

 Initially, I wanted to include a few lines for each character that had attended the previous year, but there were so many (and several duplicates) that it was in danger of becoming a long and rambling epic.  Instead, it got trimmed down to companions who worked with, or assisted, the Inquisition in some way.  Several more characters got removed when I set it to music, but over all the song seemed stronger for it.  

I’ve been fortunate to find that large parts of the online Dragon Age community has become a vast extension of my Dragon Age family and “The Call” has been playing on my mind as Dragon 4ge Day brings us together to celebrate the franchise and the fandom.

Will you answer the call?


 

O’er the snow-covered peaks of the Frostbacks, a cloud of dark birds fills the sky
The messengers set out on horseback; another year has crept by
Their missives of utmost importance, to be delivered wherever they roam
Our advisors are all in accordance; It’s time to bring our companions home

Sending word on black wings from east to west
To high seas and to Orzammar’s halls
Diplomat, Spymaster, Commander
Beg aid from bow, magic and sword

And we answer the call

In Minrathous, the Magister’s packing, the letter arrived just this morn’,
It will take him some time to get there but he will be on the road before dawn
The Believer restoring her order is surprised by the passage of time
She shoulders her pack, leaves instructions, for she has a mountain to climb

Sending word on black wings from north to south
To Weisshaupt, Val Royeaux and the Dales
Comrades in arms have been summoned
And by foot or by horse or by sail

We will answer the call

The Viscount stays late in his chambers, delegating the business of state
He’ll trade crown for crossbow again, for a while – this quest’s too important to wait
The Admiral knew it was coming when the raven descends on the breeze
She orders a course for the harbour, her ship dashing over the seas

Sending word on black wings across Thedas
To Hossberg, Kirkwall and Ayesleigh
We all make our way to the fortress
And there’s not a moment to waste

To answer the call

In the Herald’s Rest they will gather, heroes and champions all
By the fire, reminisce and tell tales, and be glad that they answered the call
Once a year we’ll create a tradition to gather for story and song
Raising a glass for all of the friends that we miss, in this place where we all belong

Will you answer the call?

–  2nd June 2017

Mystery Package – Final Letter

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My final mailing arrived about a week ago, but I was saving it until I finished all the jigsaws and deciphering that came in the crate.  There were a few things in the envelope that brought the story of the house right up to the current day.

By 2002, the house still has a reputation for being haunted.  Two aptly named urban explorers, Eurydice and Djinn, break into the property by scaling the garden wall and enter the house through the conservatory.  Although there are a few broken windows and tags on the outside of the conservatory,  it looks as though no one has dared damage the interior.

After finding a gnome door, hidden by vines in the conservatory – the same door that the Gruesome Phantom was using to watch Hélène Ashworth – they discovered a trap door into the basement, revealing a long, narrow hallway, covered in dried flower petals.  From there, they find a niche containing a “nest” of old blankets and papers, the walls covered in markings carved into the wood, which lead to another ladder up to the ground floor.  The explorers separate, Djinn remaining on the ground floor and Eurydice going up to the next storey.  Although the top of the stairs appeared to be a dead end, a panel in the wall eventually opened into a bedroom, which must be the one in the top left corner of the second floor.  Once the panel closed, it was almost impossible to see from within the room.  Makeup has been painted onto the vanity mirror to create a face and the room smells of lavender.  The sound of a woman weeping draws Eurydice’s attention and when she looks back at the mirror,  in the place of the makeup is a real face with “begging eyes.”

Eurydice flees, crashing through the rooms to find an accessible staircase, and eventually hears Djinn and an unknown voice speaking to one another.  When she finds him, he is standing in front of another mirror, which is intact despite the shards of glass scattered across the floor, taking photographs of what he sees reflected in it.  The mirror clearly shows a shadowy figure lurching along a narrow hallway, however the only thing that should be reflected, other than the explorers themselves, is the marble fireplace (which is noted to be cracked).  The wallpaper in the photograph of the mirror matches the scrap that had Henry’s final journal entry scribbled on the reverse.

With the figure moving faster and faster towards them, Eurydice drags Djinn back towards the conservatory and they find another passage way under the back staircase – possibly the place that Hélène’s body was found.  Eurydice notes that she ran without even looking back once, securing her escape.  There was a tortured howl behind them, suddenly cut off as they left the house.  Although Djinn managed to stay with her as they fled, he was not the same again and talks frequently about the house and its secrets. By the time of the article, he is in care and may end up permanently institutionalised.  She brings him photographs from their previous adventures and sometimes seems like himself, but when he saw a picture from the house that had accidentally been mixed in, he started screaming and Eurydice has not been allowed to return.  She has since given up urban exploration, but still feels drawn to the house, although she feels that if either of them ever returns, they will never be allowed to leave.

 

The brochure for Griggs Manor advertises the development of the estate into luxury flats.  Although the scheduled completion is due in 2020, the website for Regal Residencies says that the project has been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, possibly similar problems to those Henry and Laura had with their own workmen while the house was being built.

Normally, I tell my cats off for climbing on my desk and stomping on my keyboard, but on this occasion I gave them as pass, because they inadvertently showed me a hidden reference.  I came back from making a drink to find that one of them had opened my start menu and had also hit F12 on my open browser (or perhaps it was the Grinning Goblin?)

Griggs Manor - Regal Residencies

The last item in the envelope was a letter to explain that the game was by the Mystery Package Company and the link to find out the identity of my mysterious benefactor, but I’m going to keep that to myself for the time being.

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At every stage, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of every item I’ve received.  Significant effort has gone into all of the props and, my initial reaction aside, it has been so much fun getting each package through the post and working through all of the contents.  Getting to see the story unfold and handling all of the artifacts added a wonderful multi-sensory experience.  Now I want to pick their artists’ brains on how they have weathered everything so beautifully, including the thick and dusty feel of the paper and the scent of neglect and age that lingers on everything.  Unless there really is a cursed house, all of the props are real and the Mysterious Package company are spreading genuine curses around the world under the guise of games.

I’m a little sad that it’s over, but I suppose I can get back to my costuming projects now that my summer distraction is finished.

Mysterious Package – Part Five

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As ever, SPOILERS everywhere!
Previous Mysterious Package posts:

Just a regular Monday…

Mysterious Package – Part Two

Mysterious Package – Part Three

Mysterious Package – Part Four

This package arrived in a gorgeous cosmetics box and had some serious assembly required!  And here’s what was hiding under the jigsaw pieces, but we’ll get to this in a minute…

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With no real reference picture and no idea of the finished shapes, I spent more than thirty (truly frustrating) hours piecing together what turned out to be five jigsaw puzzles.

 

Eventually, I had five floor plans for 27 East Heath Road and a lot of ciphers to translate.  I realised that I had a few letters missing and remembered the partial blueprint that had come in the first package had random letters scattered across it.

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As well as the larger symbols across the ground and first floors, there are also lots of notes written in much smaller symbols on four of the puzzles, so it’s taken me a while to work them all out.  Click here for the translations

The little bundle of papers that had been in the box contained three photographs, a newspaper article, a letter and a bloodied hatpin.

Photographs

 

Newspaper

The photographs filled in a lot of my last questions.  From left to right the pictures portray Henry Griggs, Hélène Ashworth and Dr. William Elliott.  On the reverse of Henry’s photograph is the following conversation between the symbols and letters:

Why do they come
You must act, again.
Ive watched them all come and made them all go
You have done well.
Am I a ghost
Only you know what you are.
I have made my own face
You are what you have become.
Am I dangerous
Dangerous? Oh, yes.
I am Griggs the Grinning Goblin the Loathsome Fiend the Gruesome Phantom you and I are one
Always.
The one who comes and goes is it my daughter
She is the last.
If her face lies she will die like the rest
One way or the other, I will be free.

The letter, dated 29th July 1897, was written by Lizzy Griggs to her late father.  Lizzy has come into her inheritance, via Sebastian Coldfield, and has set aside her other personas.  With Hélène dead and Claude in Broadmoor Asylum,  Lizzy purchased 27 East Heath Road and has moved in, and says that her childhood bedroom makes her feel close to her father; “not only in my heart,” she writes, “but in the very walls.”  She remembers finding the “Goblin Letters” as a child, which her father helped her to translate, and explains that she saw glimpses of the Goblin writing while she was attending appointments with Dr. Elliott; “on the wallpaper, carved into the balustrade, on the frame of the mirror, even on a slip of paper under a vase of flowers once,” but she couldn’t remember how to decipher it and couldn’t make the doctor leave her along long enough to work it out.  Now that she lives there again, she often thinks that sees the Goblin, lurking around the house.

The newspaper article gives the rest of the story.  While dressing for an evening out, Lizzy and her maid saw a hideous figure, wearing a ragged nightgown, come crashing through a parlor mirror to attack them.  Lizzy, who was adjusting her hat, stabbed the figure in the throat.  As the attacker fell forward, Lizzy was knocked down, struck her head on the mantelpiece and died of her injuries.  The maid reported that the ghastly face turned out to be a mask that was knocked aside as the attacker fell and his last words before he died were, “Lizzy!  It is you!”   The body was identified as her father, Henry, and investigators later identified a “nest” in the warrens of the attic where he had presumably been living for sixteen years since his apparent suicide (the word “Sanctuary” is marked on one section of the floor plan).  According to the police, neither the hatpin nor the mask were recovered.

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Nice to meet you…

It’s incredibly difficult to get a good photo of it, but it’s an impressive artifact.  The inside of the eye sockets is flocked (which scared the hell out of me when I tried to pick it up and felt an unexpected texture on the inside!) and it’s so weighty that I wouldn’t like to spend very long with it strapped to my face.  I suspect this face will be haunting my sleep for a few nights to come.  The two lines of symbols on the tongue read: “They see me through you.”

There’s something about it that the pictures don’t really convey.  Not only is it impressive to look at but there’s something “wrong” with the textures that I can’t articulate, but holding it completely creeps me out.  Every time I put it down, I catch myself wiping my hands as if I’ve held something unpleasant.  There’s also a scent that reminds me of musty attics and dusty long forgotten relics.  There’s been real thought and attention to detail put into every single item, to make the game a full sensory experience, but the mask really is the crown jewel.

I have one more mailing to open, which arrived about a week ago, that I have been saving until I got finished with the contents of the box, so I’ll save my last thoughts on the game for then.

Mysterious Package – Part Four

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Beware – SPOILERS everywhere!
Previous Mysterious Package posts:

Just a regular Monday…

Mysterious Package – Part Two

Mysterious Package – Part Three

It’s another large letter this time, with an interesting assortment of documents:

  • a poster for The Great Goodyear, escapologist and raconteur, performing incredible feats of mystification, obfuscation and prestidigitation.  The back is marked with a stamp;
  • a flip book of The Great Goodyear performing.  The pages appear to be marked with letters;
  • a clipping from a newspaper.  The article is “Murder at Mad Magician’s Mansion”.  The reverse is an advert for Wyrm Bros. Cigars;
  • pages 51 and 52, torn from Charles Dickens’ The Chimes.  The lines “Monsters uncouth and wild, arise in premature, imperfect resurrection; the several parts and shapes of different things are joined and mixed by chance”; “Haunt and hunt him”; “Break his slumbers”; and “saw these creatures, not only among sleeping men but waking also,” are underlined. The last line of page 51 has been amended from “he saw this Goblin Sight” to “he saw with Goblin Sight,” and there is a line of cipher symbols;
  • a label from Elise cosmetics face powder, containing rose water, mercury, arsenic and lead.  On the reverse is handwritten: “You think to hide yourself from me?” followed by several lines of cipher symbols;
  • a garden diary belonging to Hélène Ashworth;
  • an unopened envelope, containing pieces of lavender.  The envelope and sealing wax match those Sebastian Coldfield sent to Henry Griggs.

 

Timeline (7th June 1892 – 1887)

Record of the Orphans Working Home (from the first package)

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Ciphers

Written on the illustrated page torn from Dickens’ The Chimes

Written on the reverse of the Elise face powder label

The flick book has been more challenging to figure out.  Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t flick the pages smoothly enough to see the animation properly and although I could see writing on each image, I couldn’t decipher what it was supposed to say.  Enter PhotoShop…

The writing and images run in opposite directions, which is why I couldn’t make sense of it, but with the animation playing in reverse, it’s possible to spell out the words “murder” and “madness.”  And is that Lizzy’s goblin in the corner of the stage…?

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Mysterious Package – Part Three

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SPOILERS ABOUND!
Previous Mysterious Package posts:

Just a regular Monday…

Mysterious Package – part two

My second mysterious package arrived in a smaller envelope and without any covering letter from my “friend.”  This time, I have:

  • an annotated page torn from a medical text (Baldwin’s Physician’s Guide), marked with the cipher;
  • a sheaf of patent notes from the office of Dr. William Elliott;
  • a couple of letters between Dr. Elliott and Dr. Jack S. Aigner;
  • labels from a bottle of arsenic and something called “Dr. Elliott’s Tincture,” both marked with the cipher;
  • a zoetrope;
  • the deed to the property at 27 East Heath Road, also marked with the cipher.

 

Timeline (5th November 1888 – 12th February 1892)

Timeline 03Timeline 04Timeline 05

The two symbols noted in William’s letter both correspond to what I had worked out from the last package, so this time the cipher messages are:

Written on the property deed of 27 East Heath Road

Written on the page torn from Baldwin’s Physician’s Guide

The message on the reverse of the arsenic label reads: “Are you sure” and the reverse of the tincture label: “You’ve got the right bottle, Doctor”.

Arsenic

Written on the arsenic label

Tincture

Written on the tincture label

I’m fairly sure that the patient, Beth Siggers, must be Elizabeth Griggs, although it is not apparent whether she has since left the Orphan Working House.  She is listed as fifteen when she is referred to Dr. Elliott, which does create a slight discrepancy – Lizzy was born in May, so would actually still be fourteen in February, and would have been seventeen at the time of her last known appointment.  I might just be nitpicking a small oversight or there may be an in-game explanation (lax record keeping or Lizzy’s just slightly inflated her age for her own reasons).

Given the messages, it’s clear that the arsenic and tincture labels had been switched and that the stomach cramps William suffered were a result of the arsenic in his system and I suspect the second experiment probably killed him.

The last piece for this delivery is the zoetrope.  Although I’ve built a lot of zoetropes in my years working in museum education, I quickly realised why I’d never made one of this design before – the cone on the bottom doesn’t spin it as smoothly as one on a stand or dowel and makes it incredibly difficult to actually look through the slits to see the animation.

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Zoetrope

So we ended up scanning the extra strips and animating them!  I’m not quite sure yet what their relevance is, but they’re damn creepy.

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