Succumbing to the lure of LARPing in Morristown

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By Sharon Sheridan

In the end, I couldn’t resist.

I attended Double Exposure’s Dexcon 14 convention Thursday at the Hyatt at Headquarters Plaza in Morristown as editor of MG Kids, shepherding one of our young correspondents and taking photographs to accompany his report. We checked in, scoped out the options and headed for the board games.

Linda Shelley gives Sean Badurina some pointers. Sharon Sheridan photo

Then I spotted convention senior staff member Geoffrey Schaller chatting with convention Chair Anthony Acompora. What reporter can pass up the chance to photograph and chat with someone fresh from conducting a costuming workshop, dressed as a stunning purple-clad scoundrel gypsy pirate named Carlos?

“I played him before Jack Sparrow was popular,” said Schaller, adding that he wears purple to confuse his opponents.

I snapped another photo of a creatively dressed gent at the bar, who then refused to give his name and preferred his photograph not appear on MorristownGreen.com. Disappointing, but I reasoned perhaps his boss didn’t know he spent his spare time dressed as I’m not sure who, or maybe his character was supposed to be a teetotaler.

On to the board games. MG Correspondent and my resident dragon expert Carl Hausman engaged Daniel Burkley of SFR Inc. in a discussion and then sampled the game of Dragon Dice. The game initially was developed by the creators of Dungeons and Dragons in 1995 and re-released by SFR, which bought the rights, around 2001, explained Burkley, who is developing a board game version of the dice game.

Jared Schuller contemplates his Bag -o- Loot hand. Sharon Sheridan photo

I wandered over to a nearby table, where Jared Schuller, 16, of Hillsborough and Sean Badurina, 13, of Rock Hill, N.Y., were playing the card game Bag -o- Loot with its inventor, John Shelley, of Laconia, N.H. The game recently earned a preferred choice award from Creative Play Magazine, his wife, Linda, noted.

Launched a little over a year ago, “Bag -o- Loot is kind of like a mixture of rummy and poker and Go Fish,” John Shelley said. You make sets of matching cards like in rummy, steal others’ cards like in Go Fish and bluff your opponents like in poker, he explained. “There’s a lot of interaction. It’s just as much fun to play as kids as it is for adults. It’s even fun when you lose, a little 9-year-old told me.”

Each round takes 5 or 6 minutes, with games typically lasting four rounds, but “it depends on how chitty-chatty you get.”

Matt Kaminsky of Matawan and Raekwon Dixon, 9, of Morristown place their robots on the game board. Sharon Sheridan photo

Downstairs, kids and adults – including Carl – chose robots to play a life-size version of RoboRally. Guided by cards and game master Mark Andrews, the competitors moved a robot chicken, Wall-E and other mechanical characters around a game board laid out on the floor, complete with arrows, rotation squares and “conveyor belts” that could dictate sending robots off the board for a few rounds. Robots facing other robots after each set of maneuvers shot their opponents with lasers – well, pretended to – costing damage points in the slow-moving battle.

Kimberly Calloway, 12, of Morristown with her robot. Paul Hausman photo

“Dying is fun in this game,” Andrews assured the players. “Don’t take it seriously. This is a game where you’re supposed to laugh.”

Meanwhile, folks at nearby tables were busy painting figurines or playing what appeared to be various fantasy war games. Dan Raven of Maple Shade and Kirk Brunstetter, company representative or “press-ganger” for Seattle-based Privateer Press, were battling it out in Warmachine with hand-painted characters.

You can get started with a game set for about $70, someone informed me. But clearly the hobby can eat up a bit of one’s discretionary income. Raven pointed proudly to a particular goblin warrior he painted, which he declared to represent a very satisfyingly spent $60.

Then, most irresistible of all, were the LARPers, Live Action Role Play participants who dressed as characters, armed themselves with nonlethal weaponry and acted out scenarios.

In one room, Alliance Crossroads, a two-year-old business that stages interactive theatrical events, was inviting those 18 or older to shut down a series of small blue lights lining the edges of the room and then “kill” a giant inflatable ball with mean-looking eyes before it squashed them. (Alliance also sponsors events for kids, including one today, July 9, in Middletown, N.Y.)

Alliance member Meghan Fitzpatrick, otherwise dressed and known as Sadie the Hobling, explained the setup. Similar to hobbits, hoblings appreciate money and typically are merchants or tinkerers. “They know how to do a good bargain.”

Sadie is a “steampunk-themed” hobling, off on an adventure, working on a hobling-created mechanical ball that goes haywire. “You put the wrong gear in the wrong place and something happens,” she said. “I need help shutting down the battery power to it” – i.e., turning out the blue lights – so the ball will shut down and she can repair it.

And so, beneath a swirling strobe of green lights, a few brave warriors began circling the room, smacking the huge ball – which was being swung at them – with swords while dancing out of its way, or trying to, and shutting off the lights in sequence on either side of the room. Ultimately, the ball lost, but not before squishing one fighter against the wall.

Alliance Crossroads owner Tab Merkel straps on his stilts. Sharon Sheridan photo

Spotting cameras, Alliance owner Tab Merkel offered to stage another battle, dressed as the ultimate villain on stilts. How did he learn to walk on them? “Equal parts perseverance and stupidity.”

With assistance, he dressed as the dreaded Dissonance. “I am the personification of ‘bad guy.’ My role in this world isn’t to rule it, but make it go away. I’m just a giant eraser.”

Eyeing his costume, kids often ask if he can do things like back flips on his stilts, he said. And he provides them with an answer that entertains their parents: “No, because I have something called The Deductible.”

On the floor, a male and female warrior answered his challenge. He defeated them handily. Dissonance, he assured his audience, never loses.

READ MORE ABOUT DEXCON 14

You can check out Alliance and other hard-to-resist fun throughout the weekend at the Hyatt Morristown. Anyone 21 or younger from Morristown can attend for free with a picture ID or a parent as proof of age. Otherwise, cost is $50 for Saturday, $35 Sunday for a pass.

LARPers stage a mock battle. Paul Hausman photo

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