Monday, August 23, 2010

LARPing: The New Staycation?

For every reader familiar with the term "LARP," I really don't have to explain the kind of ludicrous shenanigans to which this article alludes. You may skip to paragraph three if you wish to keep reading. Now for the rest of you Nerd Nation drop-outs: LARP stands for Live-Action Role Playing. Ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons? How about World of Warcraft? Now imagine that people run around in the woods hitting each other with foam swords and bean-bag fire balls instead of dice and pencil shavings (or worse, carpal tunnel and "Leeroy Jenkins!") while acting out scenes like those weird Civil War guys.

It's the same basic principle as any RPG (that's role-playing game, for you tr00 n00bs), except magnified about ten-fold and given free-range to abuse NERF weapons. Think of it as improvised theater fused with fantasy writing. Here are the two key points that make a LARP's philosophy so different from other forms of entertainment: 1) You can act as any character you want (within reasonable -- Meta Tag: what's reasonable about a LARP? -- limits), and instead of basing your skill-set off of a piece of paper, you get to base your skill-set off a piece of paper and personal aptitude. 2) You can meet some truly fabulous, albeit completely insane, people face to face and turn a weekend camping trip into an unforgettable fantasy vacation.

And that's my angle on LARPs: they make a fantastic, affordable "staycation" that everyone will remember for years to come. If for no other reason than the economic imperative of remaining close to home, you proud souls still soldiering through this post should definitely LARP at least once before you die.

I've been fortunate enough to fall-in with a relatively small, close-knit group known as "Haven LARP." Based out of New Jersey, these guys host events year-round all over Central PA and South NJ. If this is your region and sounds like it might be your cuppa, check out their website and get in touch with them on their forum. They'll make sure you know what to expect going into your first event, and give you the most up-t0-date pricing information. Keep in mind: Haven LARP is a branch of the Boy Scouts of America, and they don't tolerate what I'm going to sum-up Eliza Bennet style as "ungentlemanly conduct." (Ladies, that include you too; don't get your ovaries in a twist.)

As of this post, the cost to register in Haven as a PC (playable character, you are in control of your own gaming experience) was $35, and NPCs (non-playable characters, the plot directors are in control of your gaming experience) cost $15. That covers shelter, major meals for the weekend, and the paperwork that goes into making Haven such an exciting game. Granted, there are some incidentals: you need to bring at least one set of black, weather-appropriate clothes. They'll loan you some fantasy garb to put on top of the basic black if it's your first time, but most people put a lot of effort into their costume. You should also invest in a set of boffers if you're planning to attend multiple events, but again -- they'll loan you some if you're new. Bottled water and snacks for the wee-hours are also a must, as LARPers tend to stay awake nearly round-the-clock to complete their missions. And, for the love of God, bring more socks, blankets, and hand warmers than an Alaskan trucker takes on a mid-winter haul. A happy Alaskan trucker.

Tl;Dr? Google LARPs in your area and gtfo my blog.

Now that we've got the boring parts out of the way, let me say one thing about LARPing: I hated my first event. Loathed it. I was cold, I didn't know enough about the gaming system to care about its continuity, and I was with a friend (another first-timer) who wouldn't get off her cell phone long enough to try anything interesting with me. I also thought the people I met were freakishly friendly, and we know I don't do well with... perky. Alas, my good friends and pro-LARPers, the Silvas, convinced me to give it a try under better barometric circumstances. I'm a glutton for punishment, so -- naturally -- I said yes.

As fate would have it, my next foray into the realm of Haven was at the same camp site as my first. I knew what to expect in terms of bedding (Alaskan truckers, people!), I knew the camp layout, and I had a pretty solid grasp of the game mechanics. Since it typically doesn't snow in the Poconos in mid-August, I had all of my bases covered with one plastic tote full of necessaries and a garment bag. And, in what I deem a stunningly ballsy move of universal kismet, I had a really good time!

One of the other things that makes Haven an especially fantastic LARP is the food. The kitchen is directed by a professional-LARPer-turned-professional-chef, and staffed entirely by volunteers (so be prepared to take a shift of dish-washing or onion chopping). They provide a really filling stew or rice dish on Friday night and a tasty brunch on Saturday morning, but the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance comes on Saturday night: the Feast. Everyone comes together in the evening, fresh from battling Owl-Bears (don't ask), doing kitschy dances (definitely don't ask), and defending against the forces of Darkness to dig into what I can only describe as the gastronomical equivalent of a night out in The Green Dragon's hotter, older sister back from her second year of culinary school. The Feast alone is worth the registration fee.

So what are the low-points of LARPing? I'm here to tell you, the whole thing does take some getting used to. Expect angry eyes for "breaking character," a low tolerance for out-of-game remarks, and a penchant for boffer safety. The boffer safety is kind of a no-brainer, even if emotionally repressed Amazon Women like me do get a little carried away with the beat-down on occasion. So, yeah... don't seriously injure anyone. Pretty self-explanatory. Staying in character and / or "in-game" is a bit more of a challenge. I found it easier to maintain the continuity of Haven as a PC than as an NPC, but even then it takes a pretty high degree of jargon to navigate your way through the weekend. No worries, though. Someone will always be there to help new players above and beyond the basic orientation meeting, and it's all because they're so committed to providing a really compelling, safe gaming environment.

Focusing on the continuity of the role playing environment is probably the biggest key to having a successful first LARP. Right after the happy Alaskan trucker bit. I mean, if Rockstar Games started popping up Muppets in the middle of GTA, that would be 1) effing amazing for the 30 seconds it would take to text every other meat-head gamer in your phone and 2) a total buzz-kill 2 hours later as you mugged the fully-clothed and largely incoherent Swedish Chef instead of some poorly-rendered hooker. LARPs (and LARPers) without good RP standards are like Jim Henson's Grand Theft Auto; it's useful for a quick laugh, but more or less functionally retarded after that.

I find that this is a perfect moment for a bit of Douglas Adams rhetoric to anyone considering a LARP: don't panic. Everyone knows it's your first time. They'll always take the time to answer questions for you, and the exasperated sighs aren't personal. Really. I can't stress that enough.

So, members of the ever-growing Nerd Nation, families looking for a weekend away from the office, and perversely curious strags looking to cross-over into the Nation's ranks -- LARPing is the way to go. It's cheaper than a trip to New Zealand, and you can actually fight some goblins instead of walking around old Lord of the Rings sets and daydreaming about fighting goblins. It's even cheaper than normal camping, since you're splitting the cost of a campground with a group of like-minded individuals and don't need any expensive equipment. Now, it is NOT cheaper than a trip to the video rental store (or even a NetFlix subscription, but who really pays for movies anymore?). I'll admit defeat on that point, but you'll get a great workout and some fresh air all weekend instead of staying cooped up on the sofa with the blinds drawn.

And for anyone who just thought "why would I want to do that?" GO OUTSIDE AND TAKE A WALK RIGHT NOW.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you

Anonymous said...

how are you?

Can I link to this post please?

Ray Yaegle said...

Re: Anonymous #3 -- I'm great! Go ahead and link away, I certainly don't mind. :) Share your site w/ us when you're done.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I am really delighted to discover this. great job!

Anonymous said...

hello and merry xmas to every one - hope yous had a good christmas - pity we didnt get snow was all prepared wi sledges kids loving it any ways , all the best for the comming year -