I was sitting near the rose garden of the old Ranch House at Joseph Grant Park in San Jose, CA a few weekends ago, enjoying the relatively quiet and fresh mountain air that greets me every time I’m up there. I brought my folding chair, camera, and iPad, and had intended to write a fascinating post about the search for extraterrestrial life (stay tuned for next time). Just as I had finished the second paragraph, I heard a yell come from nowhere.
Before I knew it calls and screams rang out of the court yard, the sounds of shuffling feet and clanking armor in tune with them. The curious sound of lacquered foam core over PVC being unsheathed from a sewn vinyl scabbard accompanied by the dull thud of a padded plastic shield. I was taken back by what I was seeing. Worried that I had slipped into a Game of Thrones induced psychosis (I’ve been reading a lot of Song of Ice and Fire and watching the show lately). What I had actually slipped in to was a full on LARP.
Larping, for those of you who are not familiar, is the acting out of typically fantasy genre-like scenarios that normally revolve around battle and accomplishing a specific task or goal that’s been prearranged. LARP (Live Action Role Playing) communities are lead by an organizing body of experienced players that book venues, provide food, and write out the plots that will make up the activities at the events. Every group is different but generally participants pay an entry fee, of which the proceeds go to paying for the events.
This first battle that I now found myself in the midsts of was between a young winged woman donning a golden helm and armor and a tall fair haired man in his mid to late 20’s. She had a set of small insect like wings protruding from her back and a 4ft long pole-arm that was padded on both ends. He wore a full length yellow jump suit that was complemented by the two dark gray foam swords he was raining down upon his opponent. The man thrusted forward taunting her with each blow, forcing her to lose ground and fall back in a circle around the courtyard. A group had now formed around them shouting words of encouragement for the overwhelmed young woman. Then came a furious exchange of strikes as the woman in gold yelled, “5,5,5,” each time landing a blow on the man’s arms, yet it seemed not to phase him. He rallied back, hitting her arm, leg, and back screaming “6,6,6!” and with that his opponent was on her knees. All seemed lost for her until a man in the crowd emerged and spoke words unintelligible to the layman. Before I knew it, she was back on her feet taking the man by surprise, attacking with a new urgency. Then came a yell from the nearby hall they had rented: “Hey guys! We’re ready now!” And like that, it was over.
I stood there perplexed by what I had just seen. I thought to myself, “What the hell is going on here? Are these guys serious? This is ridiculous.” Just then as the crowd dispersed to regroup, one of the women nearby, a young lady dressed in a black with spider fangs painted on her lips and eyes on her forehead approached me. “Would you like to watch? We’re heading down the road in a minute and you’re welcome to join us.” I was honestly a little surprised. while the battlers seemed oblivious to my presence, some of the other members of the crowd looked at me wary, no doubt apprehensive of some impending ridicule. Luckily I’m not one of those people and with an open mind and insatiable curiosity, I accepted.
A short way down the path, I set down my folding chair and backpack on a picnic bench. A different group this time had formed. The young spider lady that had invited me smiled in my direction as she and an armed spider man gathered near a tree. I had heard some talk of an infestation in a nearby cave mentioned by a large mushroom wielding a staff as I had approached a few minutes ago. By the time I sat down, the battle had begun. A melee of swords, staffs, and daggers rained down on the spider people. That’s when I noticed a young lady in a green tunic sat cowering near me on the paved path just outside the fighting. While the spider people tossed blue bits of cloth weighted and tied off at one end and shouted spells at they tossed them, I decide to head over to the girl in green and see if she was ok. It was a hot day and I was a bit worried she may have gotten heat stroke. Her name was Robin and it was my luck that her character was terrified of spiders and was unable to assist in the battle. Luckily she had no fear of podcasters and was pleased to answer some of my questions. As we talked and she explained things like how the rules for battle work and how much fun she had during these events, which had seemed so silly and absurd to me just a few minutes ago, but now seemed much more interesting and truly fun to watch. I hadn’t come to gawk and ridicule (I would never do that), but I hadn’t expected to be as drawn to it as I was.
After the fight had concluded, I thanked Robin for her time and prepared to walk back to the ranch house. I was stopped by a man in red and black armor with shield and sword. He just laid a final blow to the spider infestation and his shield was covered in what substituted for spider entrails and poison. His friendly demeanor met mine and we walked back in the same direction talking more about this particular community. His name is John and he’s been larping for 12 years. We had a delightful conversation in which he brought to light an aspect of all of this that wasn’t totally apparent to me: the social part.
John’s introduction to the world of larping started after friends had introduced it to him to it. He fell in love with it instantly, and participates now as often as time allows. For John nothing is better than the camaraderie he feels with his colleagues as they leap headstrong into quest upon quest. Larping communities have been around since the 1970s and local groups often have dozens if not hundreds of members, many of which form strong and lasting relationships, everything from friendships to marriages. As I looked around, I could see so many friendly and kind people and finally I got it. There is nothing introverted about this activity. In fact, it’s all about being social and forming relationships.
Now I didn’t want to take up too much of John’s time and I gave him an out if he needed it. However, we ended up talking at length for nearly 20 to 30 minutes about all things LARP.
After I finished talking with John it was time to head off and start writing this blog, which was good timing as the group was now forming a large party and heading off to engage in a nearby battle. Amid the sounds of conquest and my thoughts coming together on screen, I started to reflect on my day’s experience. Would I join a larping community? Doubtful, but do I encourage others who find this blog entry interesting to do some research and see if it’s right for you. There is a lot of information online for you to look into, including local larping communities near you with websites full of information on how to join. If you live in the San Jose Bay Area check out www.rocklarp.com From my time visiting with them, I can vouch for their friendliness and openness, a characteristic that from what I can see is pretty universal across the hobby.
So if you’re crafty, creative, friendly, and have a sense of adventure, you might just be larping material. If you pursue it, then you’re braver and more willing to have a good time than I. I salute you. GAME ON!