“What happened to your hand?” my boss asks. I look down at the brace on my right hand. “It’s complicated. Sparring injury. Sword fighting. Foam sword.” He looks at me blankly. “Foam sword?” “Foam sword. It’s for a LARP. A live-action role-playing game. We dress up, and run around hitting each other with foam swords,” I say. “Write a story about it,” he tells me. I look appropriately horrified.
So here I am, trying to explain myself to you. It’s the same as the time I tried to buy pill bottles to use as props. “What do you need the pill bottles for?” the pharmacist asks me. “I can tell you, but the answer won’t make sense.” “Try me.” “I need the pill bottles to make physical representations for alchemical potions in a live action role-playing game.” She blinks at me for about a minute. “I’ll just go get the bottles.”
Every three months or so, a bunch of friends and I go somewhere in the bush, and for an entire weekend, about a hundred of us participate in a medieval fantasy LARP that we call Medieval Adventures (or just MEAD). We’re all adults, and about a third of us are women. So no virgin nerd jokes.
Playing in a LARP involves physically acting out a character in a story. It’s like interactive improvisational theatre, complete with costumes and props. We got our system from an American organisation called SOLAR, although we’ve made some minor adjustments to their rules by now.
Characters are made by spending 35 build points to buy skills. Skill costs differ depending on what class you pick. Fighting skills are less expensive for warriors, while scholars get discounts on magic skills. Rogues are usually somewhere in between, with access to some sneaky skills. Most skills can be taken cross class, leaving a lot of flexibility in the system.
You also have to pick a race. Human is always an option, but most people opt for something more exotic. If you want to play an elf, you better have pointy rubber ears. Dwarves must have fake beards, even if they already have real beards. Faeries must have wire wings. Sea-elves must have blue skin. Fendari must be red. I play a Sarr, a cat-person, so I need to wear a tail, fangs, and have tiger stripes on my face.
To fight, you have to take up your foam sword, and score points in actual foam combat. Some people score more points per hit than others, because they spent more build points on fighting skills.
To cast magic, you have to throw a small cloth bag filled with birdseed. If it doesn’t hit your opponent, your spell has missed. Since scholars are notoriously weak of body, if your spell packet of Doom (an actual in-game spell) has missed the big bad ogre (an actual in-game baddie), you better start running. That’s actual physical running. Because if you don’t, he will come after you and clobber you about the shoulders. (Head hits are illegal.)
Once the big bad ogreTM has hit you enough times with his large foam bat (for scholars, this is about once), you die. It’s not over yet, since your disembodied spirit may walk back to the resurrection ring to get a new lease on life. If your character dies enough times, you die permanently. When this happens, your carefully constructed character history, motivation and skill set is down the drain, and you have to start all over again.
There are several ruling houses and independent organisations in the game. (What? You didn’t think it was all about fighting, did you? Then we really would deserve the virgin nerd jokes.) The game is also about diplomacy, political maneuvering, and advancing the interests of your house or organisation. Of the ruling houses, we have honorable Corvinus, the house of diplomats and nobles; Domicile Veneficii, the source of all magic in the land; house Skaven, the keepers of secrets; and finally Talo Da’Lua, home of the swashbuckling Gypsies, greatly skilled in alchemy. We also have some independent organisations. The Archbarony of the Gloom Cliffs are fighters and mercenaries. The Tribes of the Burning Sands, nomads who accept all comers. Solace is a place of healing and, er … massages.
Finally there is my organisation. The Grey Cloaks, or the House of Manifold Splendour, or the Free Traders of Heavensgate, or the Kooperasie Nasie. We haven’t decided yet. We are merchants. That much, we agree on.
So why do we do it? Well, like my father said to me: “A man has to find his fun where he can.” We’re part of a story, and that story is part of a greater story. We recently contacted SOLAR to get permission to use some of the text of their rules in our own rulebook. They were so pleased with what we’ve done here that they are treating us like a chapter of SOLAR, and have assigned us an ambassador.
You play golf. I take up my foam sword, and I defend the caravans of my trading house. We just find our fun in different places.