Tab Tries: LARPing

HANNAH GRAHAM takes on the world of live action role play and lives to tell the tale.

Cambridge treasure trap Discworld dwarf Grantabrugge LARPing live action roleplay mage Mallan orc true elf Wessex Arms zombie apocalypse

I’m sure the Cambridge Treasure Trap LARP society won’t mind me saying that the evening I spent with them was one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had in a while.

Picture the scene: Friday night and most of you are probably at home, sleeping off a hard week’s study or, perhaps more likely, drinking heavily to prepare yourselves for an evening sampling the delights of Cambridge nightlife. I, on the other hand, am spending the evening in the Wessex Arms, a popular tavern in the city of Grantabrugge, chatting with a true elf, an orc, a handful of mages and the odd dwarf. Why, you ask? Well, my friends, I am LARPing.

LARP, or Live Action Role Play, is essentially a real-life version of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, or World of Warcraft. Players create a character, decide its personality, motivation and skills, and then interact with other players, always fully in character. The Cambridge LARP is based in a fantasy world of the Lord of the Rings/Discworld variety, but I’m told you can LARP pretty much anything you like – although I imagine it’s more fun when you get to wear pointy ears or full face orc makeup. Storylines are monitored by the refs who, ‘invisible’ to the players in their fluorescent yellow jackets, patrol the world of the game, sending ‘non-player characters’ into the action to motivate particular plots.

An Orc, an Elf and a Mage walk into a bar…

After a safety briefing – from which I mainly learnt that if someone shouts ‘man down’ then they’re either seriously hurt or have lost their glasses – and a short explanation of the extremely detailed rules for combat  (‘you won’t remember all of this, so if in doubt, when people are hitting you with foam weapons, fall over’) I enter the game. As a newbie, I am set to ‘monstering’, which means the refs give me a selection of different non-player characters with particular short-term goals which will help the main characters to advance the plot. My first character is an angry follower of the god Mallan. Our religion has been banned and our temple destroyed so, I’m told, we plan to worship in the pub instead. Sounds legit to me. Unfortunately the other players don’t seem to agree, so within less than two minutes of entering the game I’m lying ‘unconscious’ on the floor.

I’m not sure if I actually sustained the exact number of hit points that are supposed to knock me out, but I concluded that if the weapons I’m being hit with weren’t slightly squishy I’d be in a bad way, so it’s probably best I fall over. After a while the sheriff, Larch – who in another life I know as Ellie, my next-door neighbour – throws us out, telling us not to come back. I’m concerned that our mission didn’t go very well, but the leader of the party seems relatively sanguine. Apparently the same thing happened last week.

Over the course of the evening I go on to play an urchin; some kind of demon with massive scary claws; a mage on a recruitment drive; a slightly suspicious priest-type and a scout investigating forgeries, all with varying degrees of success. For example, I’m not sure anyone worked out that my suspicious priest was meant to be either suspicious or a priest, but I think I was quite convincingly annoyed when my scout partner was shot by an orc who had misunderstood his use of sarcasm.

The latest in demon fashion.

Every time one of my characters is knocked out (it seems to happen quite a lot) I head to the armoury to get a new weapon and a slightly different piece of leather to go over my shirt, rendering me entirely unrecognisable and able to play someone different. This has got to be my favourite part of the whole experience: the armoury may not look quite as medieval as its name suggests, but what it contains is pretty impressive.

Along with a large selection of costume is an enormous bag of weapons which are, frankly, awesome. They’re all made with a carbon fibre centre surrounded by soft foam, which is made to look surprisingly realistic. There are axes, hammers, massive nobly bits of wood and, while I’m sure size isn’t what’s important, some strikingly long swords. I kinda want one. In the armoury I meet Rosie, who started LARPing as a hobby and now makes armour and other kit professionally. Quite a few members show me pieces she’s made for them, including some rather lovely leather armour. I get the feeling that if you get into it, this could become a pricey hobby. A lot of people tell me they’d rather not think about how much they’ve spent on costume in total.

I enjoyed chatting to the members of Cambridge Treasure Trap both in and out of character, and getting caught up on all the gossip – the latter mostly relating to in-character drama, where the current controversy seems to revolve around who killed a character called Will. I particularly enjoyed walking through the streets of Cambridge afterwards with two members of the society who had got changed, and one who hadn’t wanted to remove his orc makeup and plate armour. If you were one of the people I saw queuing for Life on Friday, that’s what that was. I’m not sure I’ll be taking up LARPing full time, mostly because I think my chances of remembering who can hit who where and for what damage are slim given that I can barely remember what day it is most of the time.

Oh la la

But I had a very fun, if strange, time and I’m very grateful to the whole society for being so welcoming, and for letting me spend the evening playing with their massive weapons. As it were.