Monday, July 9, 2012

Adventure Ho!

Or How I Learned that LARPers Can’t Make Babies


This is the story of the one and only time I ever went LARPing. For the uninitiated, LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. Think of it this way: take the kids who play D&D* then dress them up in costumes and send them off into the woods to act out their brave little fantasies.** It’s fun if that’s the sort of thing that blows your skirt up, Marilyn.

Back in 2003 I dated a girl – for the sake of this post, we’ll call her Liara – who was really into LARPing. And I mean really into it. And she wanted me to be into it, too. She had a particular “professional” organization that she frequented. I have no recollection of what it was called – most likely something generic like “mythical journeys” or “journey through the realm” but no matter. I just remember it was based in Connecticut on a 4H campsite.

In October of 2003, Liara asked me if I would actually like to go with her to this particular organization’s (heretofore referred to as The Valiant Spellbinders***) event in November. I wasn’t really interested, but she wanted me to go so badly. I agreed and she got me signed up as a volunteer actor. A volunteer actor doesn’t really get play a character. Volunteer actors for the Valiant Spellbinders typically take the roles of NPC (Non-Player Characters) or monsters scattered through the land. AKA Valiant Spellbinders’ cabana boy. Whatever they asked me to play, I’d play. I was going there for free after all. 

We left for Connecticut on a Friday afternoon. Her mother drove us there because 1) She didn’t have her license and 2) I’m directionally challenged in the days before good GPS. We were dropped off on the campgrounds that evening. If you’ve never been to Connecticut in November, let me tell you this: it is cold. It is bitter cold. I don’t mean Pacific Northwest cold. We’re talking “Holy shit, is it going to snow!?” kinda cold. And me without any kind of a heavy jacket. Way to start the weekend off.

Let me let you in on a couple of secrets right off the bat. First of all, not very many women LARP. It’s an incredibly male centric activity. Second, what few women do LARP are prized possessions. They are placed on pedestals, objectified,and worshipped. I’ll give you a moment to think about how obscenely wrong that is on every level.

Liara and I stepped out of the car and onto the frozen gravel driveway of the entrance. she quickly spotted people she knew over by the main gate, smoking. She brought me over to them and introduced me as her boyfriend. Connecticut had suddenly gotten colder as I was met with several cold, steely looks. Oh, they all spoke amicably to me, but the looks were undeniable. I was an outsider and I held one of their women. One cloth-armor clad fella, we’ll call him Damon,even went so far as to flirt with Liara right in front of me. Game on, indeed.

The first night:
After spending about a half hour at the entrance to the camp, and smoking like chimneys, and the guys showing off their boffers – I’ll leave that where it is and let your minds work that one over for now -- Liara took me to “The Barracks.” This is where I’d receive orders, change costumes, eat, and sleep. We dropped our gear upstairs and Liara took off to change into costume: an all black outfit with a red sash draped over one shoulder and tied around the waist and a cliché insignia pinned above the breast. She was outfitted with a miniscule boffer (I promise, I’m getting to that). I stifled a laugh, especially since a moment later I was called over and put in the very same outfit. It was easily two sizes to big for my 120 pound frame. But off we went, dressed as soldiers of some evil ruling army in the land. We really used it as more of an opportunity to take a walk around the campgrounds. It was cold, but it was clear, and a full moon hung over head. That was the last nice moment I was going to have that whole weekend.

Day 1:
Mountain Troll:
For some reason, someone thought I’d make a good mountain troll, despite me being, well, kinda short, and really skinny. I joined up with a group of five others of varying heights and weights. I was given a boffer, and dirty Halloween wig, and a caveman singlet to be worn over my jeans and my jacket. I was the picture of hotness. Ok, really I looked more like Captain Caveman than mountain troll.
My rowdy group of trolls was sent to the top of a hill. Our job was to wait for a wandering group of adventurers, pop out from over the hill, and engage them in battle. And, of course, lose. The losing was the easy part. The hard part was making it down the hill. As the first group wandered past, we sprang up and barreled down the hill, grunting and yelling. Then everything was a blur. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled out on my stomach. Somehow, I had managed to trip so spectacularly that I flipped and twisted at the same time, crashed to the ground, and skidded across the dry, frozen dirt path.

This isn’t the story of the character so much as the aftermath. Now, according to the rules of a combat for Valiant Spellbinders, defeated characters must return to the barracks holding their boffer (sit tight, it’s coming)on their head to signify that the character is out of play. Given that my job was to lose to actual player characters (AKA people who pay to play)I was defeated pretty swiftly on this particular mission. On my walk down the path back to the barracks, boffer on head, I found myself being accosted by a low-rent musketeer, complete with a feather-plumed hat. He insisted on prodding me and taking swings at me with his boffer. Hard.
Ok, let me (finally!) explain a boffer to you, dear reader. A boffer is a foam weapon. While they are available for purchase, most people take the DIY approach: they start with a length of thick schedule PVC pipe, then they place foam padding around the pipe. The foam is meant, not just to protect, but to aide in designing a unique weapon. Then duct tape is employed in various colors to ad the final details to the design and hold the foam in place.
So, despite any foam padding this weapon provided, this guy cracked me in the ribs with a piece of PVC pipe. I reacted the way any reasonable man who had been hit in the ribs would. I took a swing at him myself. Now, where were on the path had a roughly ten foot drop overlooking a wide stream (Not wide enough and certainly not deep enough to be considered a river and the solid dirt walls of this drop had several thick bushes protruding like would be safety nets. When I swung at my assailant, I missed. Big time. He jumped backward, stumbled over his own feet, and landed in an awaiting bush. I glared at him for a moment. Several people had witnessed our altercation and came over to help. Three people helped him out of this bush where he sheepishly claimed fault. Satisfaction all around. “Game on” was declared and marched back to the barracks.

Nightfall/The Undead:
What’s a game of pretend at night without the undead? That night I was conscripted to play some kind of magical zombie. Word must have gotten around pretty quickly about the bush incident. Between that and my relationship with Liara, I suddenly became public nerd enemy #1. Everyone who possibly could wailed on me with their boffers and they were not pulling their swings. The thing about being hit full force with a padded hunk of PVC is that at certain point, the force of the hit outweighs the padding. And I was taking a lot of these hits.
Liara would later explain to me that they were just passionate about protecting their characters. I’d have bought that excuse more if I had not been the primary target out of eight other “undead” walking around. That night, I didn’t sleep well. Every time I moved, pain shot through my ribs. So, this is fun, eh? Thanks, Valiant Spellbinders. I’ll be sure to come back.

Day 2:
The Final Hours or The Epic Battle of the Nerds:
I learned an important lesson on the last day of Valiant Spellbinders: LARPers are incapable of procreation… that’s probably for the best.
The final day of nerd camp culminates in an all out nerd war. The nerds congregate into one part of the field (in this case we went into the woods), half of them representing the aforementioned red-sash brigade, and everyone else as their characters. The head-nerd-honchos count down and a nerd melee begins. Everyone just taking blind swings. In my case, this became literal. At some point, I took a shot to the face that actually knocked out one of my contact lenses. I couldn’t see. I shut my bad eye so I could see, but my depth perception suffered for it. Out of my limited peripheral vision I saw someone running toward me. I took a swing to that side, not really expecting to connect. It took me a moment to realize I’d made direct contact with a crotch. Not only had I scored an unfortunate solid blow, but my quarry seemed completely unphased by this. He kept bounding through the trees unimpeded. I’d have to file it away, though There was no time to ponder this, though. I had to keep running and swinging wildly at anything that moved.
A whistle cut through the air. This game was finally over! Sore, out of breath, craving a cigarette and the comfort of my own damn bed, it was at this moment it dawned on me whose crotch I’d Falcon-punched. It was Damon. I Johnny-Caged Damon… and he didn’t go down. Well that was certainly interesting. All the same, one does not go around blasting guys in the hippity-hops. I felt I at least owed him an apology. Before I went back to the barracks to pack my stuff for home, I saw Damon at the entrance smoking. I strolled up, bummed a smoke from someone else there, took a good deep drag, looked Damon in the eye and said “So, uh, I think I may have tagged you in the nuts back there, man. Sorry.” Truly a master of eloquence.
Damon smiled and responded with an air of casualness reserved for, well, normal conversations “Did you? Oh, it happens so often I don’t even notice it anymore.”
Really, I have nothing more to add to that story. Just contemplate that. This man has been smashed in the primary male weak point so many times that he no longer feels it. To reiterate: “LARPers” plus “procreation” equals “not gonna happen.” That particular information, much like watching that guy fall in a bush, was incredibly satisfying.
I returned to the barracks and helped Liara pack up our stuff and pack it all out to her mom’s car. The trip home was quiet, outside of Liara’s mom asking questions and the sound of lighters being flicked to light cigarettes. Things were a little tense after that. However a month later Liara called me to let me know when the next event was and asked if I wanted to go. I hung up on her.


*Or any table top RPG. Your mileage may vary.
** I know this is a pretty broad generalization, but bear with me. It was one experience 8 years ago. I’m not claiming expertise in the field of LARP.
*** It was either that or “Boffer Brigade”
There’s actually been some good things written about the male gaze in gaming and geek culture in the last year. It’s worth checking out. Remember dudes: ladies are people, not things.