My Life in LARP: A timeline of LARP for the “Oregon Trail Generation”

Pre 1999: I was a latchkey kid raised on TV, movies and about normal people transported to magic realms (D&D Cartoon, Captain N, Labyrinth, Never Ending Story, Flight of Dragons, etc.). I started to discover tabletop roleplaying in middle school as White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Palladium, and Steve Jackson games and a hundred other smaller presses were pumping out amazing game books faster than my paper route money could pay for them. Every weekend, I would take my tips and buy a new game book. Saturday would be spent reading the book cover to cover, sucking up the new worlds and ideas then Sunday would be devoted to going to my friend Dan’s house and subjecting him and his little brother to my hastily thrown together adventure based on each new world or setting. I was terrible, there was no continuity because each new book brought on a whole new set of characters and problems.

As I moved into high school my world expanded further and I craved more. I found a gaming group that met regularly in North Pole, Alaska, about twenty miles from my house. We played Legend of the Five Rings and Shadowrun Regularly and our group often swelled up to 12 players at a gaming session, bolstered by soldiers from the near by Ft. Wainright Army Base and Eielson Airforce Base. One of these soldiers is better known to Amtgard folks as Sir Goldcrest

1999: Sir Goldcrest had just recently been stationed in Alaska and was content to find a group of nerds to hang out with. But with such a big group as ours, he felt comfortable enough to try to introduce us to his passion, Amtgard… And the world opened up to me like never before! We were just 12 people at the first meeting of the land that would eventually become Astral Winds but we had such a blast swinging foam and slinging spell packets. Our ranks swelled quickly and I was able to learn a lot from Sir Goldcrest about sportsmanship, safety, conflict resolution and organization. He set an amazing example for all of us and laid the fundamental groundwork for how I act and carry myself at LARP.

Asrianna, Wilhelm the Baker (Me) , Sir GoldCrest, Ramiel, Gorin and Etoh

After that I discovered the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and unfortunately, my experience with them in my town was less than welcoming. As much as we tried to involve them in our events, they made sure we knew that we weren’t a serious group and they were. I have since met a lot of amazing “SCAdians” and have learned that groups can be very different city to city and town to town. I still wanted more opportunities to LARP and tried paintball but ended up getting frustrated when only 1/5 of the scenarios had a compelling story. Around this time I discovered Killer: the assassination game from Steve Jackson Games and was introduced to the concept of using Nerf guns in LARP! Needless to say, it was a huge world of opportunity set out before me and I wanted to keep discovering!

2000: After graduating Highschool, I was introduced to World of Darkness LARP (Vampire: the Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse) and I fell DEEP! The stories were more complex than those I had experienced through Amtgard and in-game actions had greater stakes (teehee). You could embody your character more deeply and feel their emotions more fully when faced with the chance of character death. The community was just as welcoming as Amtgard could be and I made a lot of amazing new people that taught me a lot about acting and immersion and their roles in LARP.

Vampire: The Masquerade- Sabbat 2001: Kemal Osman and his pack

I have to acknowledge that the actual physical setting of Alaska was an incredibly important piece to my experience. There is always some suspension of disbelief not matter how immersive your LARP setting is but there were times where Alaska gave me some of the most amazing roleplaying gifts and helped me to understand just how magical a hobby this is. My town sat at a high enough latitude that winter was a very dark time indeed! When you don’t see the sun for days at a time, it is very easy to be a fiendish vampire, but the summer offered its gifts as well. Nothing is better than playing a werewolf and howling into at the midnight sun just to be joined by three different sled dog teams 2 miles away and having your chorus of howls echo off the hills that surround your game site!

2003: Thanks to the Minds Eye Theater network of White Wolf LARPS, I was able to meet up with fellow Vampire LARPers in the UK. Beyond meeting an incredible community across the sea (even if they did say VON-true instead of VEN-true and followed the JAG-you-AR totem instead of JAG-war), I was able to get a taste of European style play. I made some amazing friends that I still have and saw some things I never would have seen if I hadn’t been travelling with gamers!

Though on this first trip, I didn’t get to play in a game that used latex weapons, I was introduced to them for the first time. I can’t express how amazing they were to discover, especially compared to the pvc, pipe insulation foam and duct tape I was used to! When I returned to the states, I tried everything I could to find any information about these amazing products- how to buy them or how to make them but I couldn’t find anything! You have to remember, this was literally the year that MySpace and Facebook were created. It was a different time and Web Crawler, Lycos and Ask Jeeves search engines were not helping!

2007: I returned to the UK to see my old friends and explore the country further. One of the friends I’d made through the vampire LARP makes it their mission to get me to one of the amazing large scale LARPs that had been cropping up. They introduced me to the Profound Decisions game Maelstrom, a Fantasy Colonial era game about fantasy nations and races discovering a new world and learning to deal with the denizens of that new world. The game featured cap guns, Latex weapons, high production value costumes, metal coins and it was my first WYSIWYG experience. The event featured 1000+ participants and almost the entire game was player driven.

Profound Decisions: Maelstrom 2007- John Doolittle and the “Caravan Crew”

Having little time to learn the game and no equipment, I decided to be a beggar. By sheer twist of fate, I ran into a gang of pickpockets and ne’er-do-wells that were actually game staff whose true purpose was to collect as much of the in-game coinage as possible to reduce the resource loss of an expensive game material between games. I absolutely had a blast and thanks to a drunken dare, drunkenly accepted, I earned my greatest “No S#!t, There I Was” stories so far! (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about it!)

LARP desert: I took a 10 year hiatus from LARP. Life Happened, things changed but I did my best to maintain my nerdy activities through Table Top. I got by but it was hard to step away.

2016: The opportunity for me to return to LARP presented itself and I took it! A new Dystopia Rising Chapter opened up about 3 hours away from my new home. Post-Apocalypse! Zombies! Nerds Camping! Who could ask for anything more? DR was one of the slickest things I’d seen in years and had an amazing community. I gave it an honest try but stepped away from it for various reasons, not the least of which were that I was so tired from work that nightly zombie attacks made it impossible to recharge over the weekend. When I tried to return to the Minds Eye theatre games, it felt like they were still telling the same stories we were telling when I was in college. My return to LARP suffered several false starts and I started to worry I had lost the magic.

Dystopia Rising Oregon 2016: Professor Pygmalion, the Retrograde Barber (by Jeremy Joseph)

I discovered Larping.org while planning a trip to Tennessee. I wanted to see if there was a game near where I was visiting but it showed me so much more. It was a window into a world I thought I’d left behind but that had grown so much. I discovered Lands of Exile in North Carolina and worked with the staff to create a character, costume and weapons for my visit. I was so excited but I ended up having to leave the game early for health issues. The lesson had been learned though! I could travel for LARP and there were options all over!

2016: Preparing for Land of Exiles

Near the end of the year I signed up with The Voyage North(link), a group that covered all the arrangements necessary to attend Bicolline, a French language fantasy combat larp in French Canada. The sign up process initially felt a little weird but I trusted the process and when it was all said and done, I had basically booked a vacation Package to Narnia, Westeros and Middle Earth all rolled into one.

2017: Registering with TVN thrust me into a huge community that was as excited and motivated as I was to tell amazing stories and live fantastic experiences. I was so excited about it that I actually attended two other events at Bicolline before the “Grande Battaille” which I had originally signed up for. Through these experiences and through the people I met, I began to learn more about the LARP world. I was introduced to the concept of a Blockbuster LARP- a LARP with a heavy focus on strong production value, strong story and a package that supports the travelling player.

My first official block buster LARP was Dragon Thrones, a Game of thrones style LARP focused on intrigue and massive kingdoms vying for power. The medieval style setting was perfect and the writing team created the foundations for a truly amazing event- the players did the rest. The more people I met, the more my world grew! There were game Designers like Jason Morningstar (Fiasco, Night Witches) and the leads for Peculiar Crossroads, Hanging Lantern and other larp producers! There were movers and shakers in the business world, gaming taste makers like Kaza (Larp Girl) and MoMO O’Brian and just this huge community that were just as fanatical about LARP as I was!

Dragon Thrones 2017: The Brotherhood of Yarrow

Bicolline capped off my year and for whatever it may have lacked in roleplay (you make your own roleplay there) it completely made up for in amazing atmosphere and community. You could tell the Local Quebecois players were leery of the new comers from the US but it didn’t take long at all to open up the community when they saw how truly excited we were. It was amazing to participate in massive 2000 person battles and to share food and drink around the fire with new friends.

Bicolline Grande Bataille 2017: It is better to stand behind the Angel rather than in front of him.

2018- I’m a full convert (Addict?) to travelling for games now. I attended Armistice Arcane, a Victorian LARP about Magic factions vying for power in the US while also dealing with the unknown powers of entities from other dimensions. The setting, an old Haunted Hotel six blocks from the French quarter was amazing and was such a perfect setting for our experience. The costuming was amazing and the stories were engaging and Tragic.

Armistice Arcane 2018: Uncle Theo’s Cirque du Freak

I managed to make it to the Purple Ball, the second largest Bicolline event, in March but sadly missed several of the other big events of the year (Real Royalty and Project Ascension). I will be returning to Bicolline and will be attending my first LARP in mainland Europe in October with Dziobak studio: Convention of Thorns. (Dziobak has existed for a while but it only really came onto my radar through the connections I have made and I can’t wait to play with them!)

Bicolline Purple Ball 2018: The Mille Visages (The 1000 Faces)

2019 and Beyond: The community is continuing to grow and new amazing games are appearing all over!

People are talking about experiencing a LARP renaissance but I think the real renaissance is not that these big games are only starting to be made because many of the groups creating these experiences have been going on in some form for 20+ years. I think the big change is that people are getting to see just what else is possible almost every single day!

There will always be local games and I thing local games are incredibly important! But as players and staff get more and more opportunities to see how else it can be done then the LARP experience will continue to grow and evolve at every level!

What an exciting time to be a nerd with all these opportunities and a drive to experience worlds completely different from our own! I look forward to seeing what’s next!

Article by Jason Sanders

My Life in LARP: A timeline of LARP for the “Oregon Trail Generation” (https://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2015/04/oregon-trail-generation/)

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