Morristown weekend roundup: Confessions of a closet LARP

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ADVENTURERS: (L-R:) Marcella Torres of Bethlehem, Pa., played Evadne Tourmaline; Steve Oros of Hackettstown portrayed Count Apollo Abendroth; and Chris Goley of Allentown, Pa., was Alaistair Darkheart, in Realms of Adventure game at Dexcon 13 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
ADVENTURERS: (L-R:) Marcella Torres of Bethlehem, Pa., played Evadne Tourmaline; Steve Oros of Hackettstown portrayed Count Apollo Abendroth; and Chris Goley of Allentown, Pa., was Alaistair Darkheart, in Realms of Adventure game at Dexcon 13 in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

I’m a lover, not a LARPer.

This revelation came to me on Saturday night, in a dark and crowded conference room at the Hyatt Morristown, as strangers in medieval garb pummeled each other with foam swords and axes.

“It’s very safe,” Victor, a polite young man dressed as a 16th century tavern keeper, had insisted beforehand, giving me a waiver form to sign.

Realms of Adventure was among dozens of LARPs –Live Action Role Playing games—featured at DEXCON 13, a convention that drew more than 1,300 LARPers and board game fans to Morristown over five days.

With a mixture of bemusement and bewilderment, I had covered a couple of these conferences. It was time to actually try LARPing. What, exactly, hooked people?

“I wouldn’t call it Live Action Role Playing. I would call it Improv Without an Audience,” said Joshua Lindover, a 21-year-old bartender and aspiring actor who was decked out as a Prussian officer, circa 1889, for a round of Steampunk.

“It’s like being in your own movie. You call the shots,” said Scott Crater, 52. The Morris County resident, who works at an asphalt plant, was preparing to play a horror game called Dystopia Rising.

Realms of Adventure seemed a better choice for me. A 45-minute introductory version was offered; other LARPs can run for hours or days.

The combat aspect sounded exciting, too. Realms of Adventure is a boffer LARP. Participants get to smack each other with pseudo-weapons called boffers.

There is a long list of body parts you’re not supposed to smack. An EMT plays along, just in case.

Explaining the rules takes nearly as long as the game itself. To a newbie, it’s more confusing than World Cup soccer.

Points are awarded for specific blows. Death can be cheated with bonus points and/or magic spells and potions. (I’m a little fuzzy on this.)

When struck, you are allowed—indeed, expected—to howl in pain, real or imagined.

There are incantations. If the situation spins beyond your comprehension, Victor advised, yell “Clarify!”

Our adventure started in Victor’s “tavern,” festooned with a fake beer mug. Everyone put on his or her game face—and voice.

The improvised accents sounded like auditions for a Merchant Ivory production. Or in my case, a sequel to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Following a bare-bones script, a priest–for lack of a better term, let’s call him a druid–burst into the tavern seeking recruits to battle some Imps.

We agreed, and soon found ourselves in another conference room, flailing away at creatures in skull masks.

Well, they flailed away. I cowered in a doorway. Hey, I am nursing a dislocated thumb from a softball mishap! That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

When the pummeling petered out, we reconvened in another cramped conference room. This one was dark, except for a flickering candle. Count Apollo Abendroth and a Grim-Reaper-like character called the Necromancer negotiated in hushed tones (a spell silenced the rest of us) while skull-faced Imps hovered menacingly.

I felt like I had stumbled into a Skull and Bones initiation, or some secret Masonic ritual.

It was pretty spooky.

A flurry of pretend-violence broke the tension. The druid priest uttered a stream of desperate incantations. The Count and the Necromancer were impervious, however, and they cut a deal that would seal our fate.

In the candlelight, my white MorristownGreen t-shirt stood out.

I escaped into a corridor.

“Which side are ye on?” the druid priest asked.

“Sir,” I said in as husky a voice as I could muster, “I be an observer from the United Nations.”


POSTSCRIPT: Most kids outgrow their imaginations. Near the dawn of time, my wee pals and I spent many blissful hours blowing away make-believe Nazis in the park. So it’s sort of cool that grownups can tune out reality for a few nights and romp through a giant hotel populated with zombies, Imps, druids and other figments. Yearning to channel your inner boffer? Realms of Adventure LARPfests are held at a camp in Sparta;  RealmsOfAdventure.net has details. And if my thumb ever heals, I swear, I will seek revenge on the dastardly Count and the evil Necromancer!

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