Monday, 18 May 2015

LARP II: The unexpected value of ignorance

In my previous post I had written about how my first ever LARP event was a storming success. I’d left feeling empowered and energised. 

But, like a die-hard fan of ‘the original’, I was secretly concerned by the idea of a sequel.

Either way, I was back for a second go at it. I strolled onto the camp site ready to take on the (fantasy) world again and waved a keen ‘Hello!’ to a few familiar faces. A few hollered back.

I had perfected the art of carrying a tent, sleeping bag and tankard to make room for my trusty guitar. My rucksack contained less fodder and more socks. I felt like (and quite literally was!) a weary traveller whose journey was only just beginning.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon when I had arrived. It was still a couple of hours until kick-off so, after setting up my tent and settling into a bard’s outfit, I suddenly found myself at the mercy of pre-game hubbub.

People were faffing with tents, costumes and cars; all getting ready for the weekend. For some this went on late into the evening.

The place came alive as the field filled up with a weekend community of people, drifting unpredictably between themselves and themselves. Some had begun speaking in their voices that I recognised - others had changed colour altogether.

As the sun fell away we all gathered in the big tavern for the boss to call an official ‘time-in’.

Perhaps it was the frightened newbie in me that suffered from an unshakeable sense of awkwardness. Or perhaps with my previous experience and a greater sense of expectation, I became acutely aware that I didn’t have anything to do.

I brushed the vexing feeling away, sipping my trusty tankard of cider, and went ahead to perform as loudly as a bard should in a tavern crowded with people. I was making the most of it. A dodgy rendition of “The misty mountains cold” fit the scene nicely.

After yet more socialising - which had an atmosphere like that of your local on a Friday evening - we had the official announcements by the head honcho to mark the official beginning of story-time. It was the preface to a book I'd been waiting to open.

Everyone shushed and listened to the rules and restrictions like naughty children on the night of the school play. Of course, it wasn’t without some light banter. Though the sincerity of his subjects (safety, noise-levels & language) made the entire thing feel less... organic

I can understand the need for such a lecture. A crowd of grown adults running around dressed up as fantasy heroes clearly need their boundaries firmly set! Still, it was like being made to read the safety rules before your turn on a bouncy castle.

As I faded into my next tankard of grown-up apple tango we were issued our first challenge. Like a scene from Monthy Python and the Holy Grail we were faced with four riddles that we must answer as a group before we may pass beyond the confines of the tavern.

This quickly devolved into; a lot of loud people and a lot of silent people struggling to organise themselves - which takes a lot longer when people are waving swords and magic spells around! As a newcomer it was especially hard to get my opinions taken seriously - much like real life I suppose.

I tried resorting to more intelligent tactics (like suggesting to a goblin my answer might be his great idea in the hope he'll yell it out!) but, since all my guesses were off the mark, I'll remain thankful we got out alive.

So, we finally submitted the correct answer and everyone sauntered out into the wide world to discover where we had be transported to...

And then, what felt like, nothing happened the rest of the weekend.

I am certain that lots of stuff happened over the whole weekend. People around me seemed busy, anyway.  I just felt more like an observer to it all.

My previous experience had set a benchmark from which I had expectation. I played a dozen monsters last time. I witnessed three exciting missions last time. I half-understood where we were and why we were there last time. I attended a real funeral pyre!

Perhaps I had erred in expecting everything to be as fabulous as before but it still left me more than a little deflated. More worryingly; I wasn’t sure where to turn for guidance.

The experience I had at the event was definitely not the same for everybody else but I’m sure I am not alone.

It made me want to huddle back around a table with three or four close friends and start rolling dice. I wanted to let loose in a world where our imaginations could fill all the gaps and correct our little mistakes along the way.

I would encourage anyone who wanted to LARP to consider this until they suffer from word dissociation:

The more you put into the LARPing, the more you get out of it. And as a consequence, the more you expect back.

So, after an 'unengaging experience' like this, should you go again? Well, I guess that depends on how ignorant you are to the amount of rubbish that comes along with - what I still consider as - one of the world’s coolest hobbies.

A wise man once said to me: “If you hate getting hit with a paintball gun; suck it up or don’t go paintballing.”

And the same goes here for all cases .

I think it’s important I go LARPing again for a third time with the same group.

After all, I'm still writing about it!

Thanks to the Seaxe and Sorcery Facebook group for the photos

To find out more about the event I went to; visit this facebook group.

To get in touch with questions or get involved; send me an email.

To learn more; here is a 1 hour documentary on LARPing in New Zealand.

Monday, 11 May 2015

LARP: Swords, Magic and Carlsberg

As the flaming torches were ceremoniously fed into the heart of the funeral pyre I knew this was the coolest thing I had been a part of in a long while. The body that rested on the wooden structure was quickly swamped in flames as someone important, holding aloft his fourth tankard of booze, began chanting the fallen hero’s name. 

Fuelled by the immolation of a meticulously decorated polystyrene corpse, everyone joined in the chanting and, all-of-a-sudden this had become a real funeral.

It was on that dark Saturday night, looking around the ritual circle of sixty-or-so other peasants, lords and clerics that I found myself truly lost between worlds of reality and fiction.

With one hand I pulled a fur cloak tightly around my finest embroidered Viking tunic as I gazed into the dancing flames, and in the other I held a conspicuously modern can of Carlsberg lager.

The ceremony went on for ages, with people dressed in all sorts of outfit standing up to deliver heroic tales about their fallen comrade. I must have cheered to his name (and eagerly sipped some beer) ten times in one speech about the slaying of a demon.

And the great thing was; all of these stories I was hearing had happened. The body that I could see disappear into the increasingly unsafe bonfire was a real guy. The character for which I was a pallbearer in the procession to this funeral site had been a walking, talking (and evidently honourable) chap!

These dramatics held more depth than anything I had seen on Game of Thrones and more majesty than the best-constructed epic-level tabletop RPG. Saying that, there was just the right amount of awkward.

Amongst the congregation I could see a few bored faces - those who’s commitment had dropped along with the evening’s temperature - and there were a few slip-ups from the speakers which just made the whole thing feel so much more… real. Even at a real-life wedding there are mistakes that make you hold your breath in anticipation of absolute disaster.

This piece of theatre that I had been a part of was not rehearsed and that, alongside the enthusiasm of everyone who had organised and attended it, made that night one of the most enjoyable and moving -nerdy- things I have ever done.

The following morning, after a long night of drinking and theological debate about the undead, we rose sprightly to continue with another day of adventure and faff. Some rose from their tents more sprightly than others.

After a whole day on Saturday of playing (besides my character) a demonic scarecrow, bureaucratic zombie and tainted giant oak tree, by the Sunday I had found my rhythm. One last adventure before lunch ensured I had met over half the people at the event and had a good idea of the way things worked.

In downtime I was able to continue talking to characters, and players, and make sure I left with some certainty as to how I would continue if I came back at the next event later in the spring.
And that was the question on my mind as I sat amongst some new friends in their tent full of fantastical trinkets whilst diving into a can of pringles. Would this experience, as eye-opening as it was, be something I would want to do all over again?

One thing is for certain; the more you put into LARPing, the more you get out of it. Sitting in the corner expecting something great to happen won’t get you anywhere – you need someone or some way to become part of the shared experience. This isn’t to say everyone needs to make themselves as loud and friendly as they possibly can be, but everyone should have some idea of why they are there and what they hope to achieve as a character, in the world that everyone has a vested interest in.

To give you a couple examples; one character I met was a bodyguard, sworn to protect his beautiful elementalist friend, both far away from home. As a character I found him quite cold and arrogant but after seeing him volunteer to fight two bad-guys in a duel so his friend would remain unharmed, he had made himself part of the story! What a hero.

Another fellow I briefly met had clearly invested a lot of time and money into his costume (like many others) and, although he went on adventures calmly and quietly, had a large influence over the world and everyone else within it.

All the established mages, scribes, warriors, goblins and necromancers I met on that weekend made the place feel organic and, more than anything else, an interesting place to be. However, learning the world and not feeling like an outsider might take forever and I feel like there could have been a clearer process in place to help newbies get integrated.

Reflecting on the grandeur of the event, the diversity of the attendees and support of the administration I am certain it would be foolish for me not to give it another go.

My only fear is that it won’t be as impressive the next time around.

On a more basic level; spend an entire day wearing a cloak, drinking from a tankard and laughing about ‘how we almost died back there’…why wouldn’t you go again?

To find out more about the event I went to; visit this facebook group (their website is down a the time of writing)

To get in touch with questions or get involved; send me an email.

To understand what LARPing is; here’s a great video that started me off.