The Diary of a First Time LARPerPosted: 14 June 2011
Last night was, well… interesting. Last week, I would never have imagined that I would spend the evening in a darkened tavern, playing a wooden board game with an orc, a warrior monk and a high priest of the Sordanite faith. We struggled to see the dice under the feeble light of a single candle. With our counters mostly captured the orc roared his approval at a game soon to be won; that is, until a cold breeze and shrill cackling on the air announced the presence of air demons! One swirled around our table and blew out our light, then disappeared into the darkness as the sound of chairs scraping backwards and swords being unsheathed left our game completely forgotten.
Oh, and did I mention? I was an elf.
Before this week my only encounters with the world of Live Action Roleplay (or LARP, as it is more commonly known) have been fleeting at best. A friend or two who LARP themselves, a few costuming purchases from an online LARP supplier… even a documentary on Youtube in which comedian Dara O’Briain took his own first foray into real-life fantasy roleplaying. But I’d never before seriously considered doing so myself.
That is until Saturday afternoon, when I attended Nerd East – a LARP fair held at Durham University – in search of costume bits (and boy, did I find them). Among the utter shininess of a hall filled with every type of costume, jewellery, foam-latex weapon, leatherwork and armour imaginable I was persuaded by a friend to ‘come along’ to the Durham University Treasure Trap Monday night ‘interactive’ and try LARPing for myself.
As the cultural norm dictates, grown adults who run around in forests after dark dressed up in silly costumes and waving swords have taken one flying leap too far into the vast realms of eccentric weirdness. Or so the cultural norm dictates. I had this thought firmly fixed in my mind en-route to the student union building where the action was to take place, accompanied by the aforementioned online store purchases, a bag of props and the slight embarrassment of wearing furry ‘too-big-to-fit-in-bag’ winter boots in the middle of June.
On arrival I realised just how out of my depth I was. Having spent several hours reading the rules and background information on the group’s web site, I figured I would have at least some idea. I was wrong. As I stood listening to a (very helpful) group member giving me background information and advice on the creation of my character, I felt a definite sense of information overload. Being shown how to use a foam sword was definitely a new experience! However, taking my first step into the medieval city of Durholme was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done.
I was immediately surrounded by a cast of dizzyingly diverse characters, already deep in conversation with each other, bickering, laughing, drinking and milling about, hailing friends and avoiding enemies, casting suspicious glances across the room. I began to understand why LARP is so engaging. I was so impressed by the scene around me – though it was so obviously held in a modern building – that I began to feel I was on a film set; albeit without a script; where anything could happen. Once I’d gotten a few things clear – ‘people with green-painted faces are orcs’ ‘that guy over there with the red face whom everyone is avoiding is a pyrokin (fire elf)’ ‘the fire escape door is the one you take to go to the toilet’ – I really started to enjoy myself.
Another thing that struck me was how welcoming everyone was, in and out of character. I had decided to model my character Sable partly after a friend of mine, and have her sit in a corner spending her time poring over the ‘phys-repped’ scrolls she was carrying in her bag. Though no sooner had I done that, I was immediately approached by another visitor or denizen of Durholme. With each encounter I became more sure of myself; and by the first ‘time freeze’ (a pause in the game while monsters are brought in) was called, I felt part of the group rather than an outsider.
There are more than a few panicky moments which will stay with me for some time. The moment I realized that I would have to actually use that sword which had, by sod’s law, become inextricably tangled with my bag. Being caught in the middle of a battle with foam swords flying everywhere and people shouting almost unintelligble things like ‘half!’ ‘single’ and ‘double’ on all sides. Forgetting, momentarily, that being hit on the arm with a sword meant I actually was injured and I needed to act like I’d been hacked at. Then, realising that it was nearing 11pm and that I’d been at this for almost four hours.
All in all though, I had an absolutely amazing time and am already looking forward to Sable’s next adventure!
For more information on Durham University Treasure Trap please visit: http://www.dur.ac.uk/treasure.trap/