Friends don’t let friends do Live Action Role Playing (LARP). It’s like getting dragged to a grade school production of Peter Pan, spending a day at a renaissance fair(e), and sitting through a goth poetry reading all at the same time. And LARP events are usually scheduled to last for an entire weekend. It’s a big game of Let’s Pretend for the socially inept, with terrible acting, ridiculous costumes, blatant attention whoring and the most desperate cries for help you’ll see this side of a successful suicide.
LARP fans tell themselves that if enough people do it, it must not be pitiful, but at the end of the day it’s still a bunch of feral nerds playing dress-up in the woods. And while LARP enthusiasts are harmless on their own, they can exhibit a pretty savage pack mentality in larger groups. A sensible person gives LARP events a wide berth, leaving the town, county, and even state that they are held in whenever possible.
I wish that I had been a sensible person in college. That way, I wouldn’t have found myself dressing up like a ninja with some other loser, trying to sell a pretend key to a third loser who was dressed like Robin Hood on laundry day. And if anyone tried to pick a fight with us, we had to throw the fight. It was the kind of ordeal that shouldn’t even be wished on folk singers.
We weren’t called ninjas, the official name was something ridiculous and copyrighted that I have long since forgotten, but we were dressed all in black, and we were supposed to have come from a country with “strong Asian cultural influences.” We weren’t really given much more information than that. Or maybe we were. I might have missed the key part of our NotNinja briefing that explained why two trained killers who strike from the shadows were supposed to be wandering around in the middle of the day doing a traveling salesman act.
Eventually, we found one of the guys who was supposed to buy the key from us. He was a greasy, red-haired "rogue" who would never know the touch of a woman, but after we sold the key to him we could ditch the stupid outfits and go do something else. At least, we were supposed to, but we ran into some trouble.
We had completed the sale and were hustling off to do something less demeaning when one of the huskier pretenders called out to us. He looked like a complete mess, with oily hair that had clumped into rudimentary dreadlocks, and a scrubby goatee, accented by an outlandish costume that Gary Glitter wouldn’t even have worn in the privacy of his own bedroom with all his lights turned off. Imagine the fattest hog you can rooting through Liberace’s closet and then getting caught in a category 5 greasestorm. A gruesome spectacle.
I should have ran the moment he opened his greasy, fur-lined mouth. Ran straight back to my car and driven home. Because he had told us to halt. No one there was in the army, no one was dressed like a soldier, and we were miles from the nearest military base, but he actually used the word “halt.” And once we did, he jiggled over.
As he panted closer, I got a better look at Duke Fatbert Largefield. He never recited his pedigree, but from his bearing and the various trophies of battle that were scattered about his costume, I could piece it together myself. Born in the butterlands, he had bested a wild pack of ding-dongs in hand-to-mouth combat, and was awarded with a knighthood in the order of the Burst Girdle for it. Then he laid waste to the Kingdom of Frito Lay, and became the Earl of Beefington. Finally, he went on to claim the title of Viscount of Tubbsfull and became the scourge of Little Debbie Snack Cakes everywhere. But since listing all of his titles here would be tedious both to write and to read, I’ll simplify it and use a shorter name that conveys the power and grandeur of the individual involved. I’ll call him the Hulk. His associates, ten grown men wearing garish and unflattering pyjamas, gathered behind him.
In his most imperious tone, the Hulk began his interrogation. “What are you doing here?”
I wish I knew. I was told that it was supposed to be a fun weekend with some interesting people, and I had been quite thoroughly lied to. But since I didn’t have anything nice to say, I followed mom’s advice and didn’t say anything at all. My fellow ninja chose that time to practice his impression of Marcel Marceau, so we all just stared at each other for a minute.
The problem was that I knew so little about their world of make-believe that I had no idea how to answer. What did ninjas in their world do? Work long hours with one eye on the clock, waiting for a chance to get home to their families, maybe falling asleep on their recliners at the end of the day, with cold drinks in their hands? I figured that I was just an average, garden-variety ninja. A regular Joe Sake-pack, maybe with a ninja mortgage, and two ninja kids I was trying to put through ninja school, counting the hours until quitting time and hoping that the ninja union could negotiate better wages in the next round of ninja contract talks. Or whatever it was that an average ninja from NotJapan was supposed to do. And this average ninja just wanted to quietly slink off to someplace that he could change into a slightly less humiliating costume.
The Hulk took a deep breath, flaring his nostrils. “I asked what you are doing in these parts!”
I ventured a response. “We, uh, have a business to conduct.” Mid-sentence, I remembered that I was supposed to be Asian. So I squinted, and used an accent that came out sounding like Pat Morita on a tranquilizer binge.
The Hulk’s expression made it clear that he thought my response was insolent. “Where did you come from? How did you get here?” His tone made equally clear that he didn’t want more evasive answers.
I had no idea how far we were supposed to have traveled. And if we did come from far away, nobody mentioned how long distances were covered in Playland. I didn’t know if they traveled on horseback, through magic spells, by train, or borne aloft on the gossamer wings of fairy unicorns. Probably not the unicorns. That seemed a little fruity for ninjas.
“We, uh, walked,” I said. My companion was still silent.
The Hulk took another deep breath. He thought that we were defying him. And that just wouldn’t do at all. Our defiance was making him angry. And he was trying as hard as he could to emote that we wouldn’t like him when he was angry. “Then who let you into the settlement?”
That was anyone’s guess. We had just kind of showed up, and were told to put on dumb outfits and wander around. I guess that I could have remembered a few key people, so that I could name-drop about knowing Lord FakeReagent, or Prince MadeupName, but their aliases were too silly to keep straight. So I just tilted my head at him quizzically.
“Well, who took your papers?” It was the most important question that he asked, even if it made no sense to me. The Hulk wanted to know if we were registered characters, or if we were extras. If we had handed in a registration form, it was considered bad manners to attack us without provocation. But if we hadn't registered, then we were just extras furnished for the sole purpose of making him look effective in combat. And I still had no idea what he was talking about.
That’s when Fatbert saw that his dreams had come true. Not only was he the boss of a mob of tough fantasy bruisers, but now they had found targets. And when he figured it out, I’m pretty sure that he had to adjust his costume to mask an erection.
And that’s when someone hit me with a savage +5 tickle attack. A foam sword tapped me on both legs and one arm. The touches were so light, and so fleeting, that I thought it was one of those “what’s that spot? MADE YOU LOOK!” gags that are so popular with grade schoolers and the mentally enfeebled. So I stood there, trying to figure out what had just happened. My genuine puzzlement was interpreted as aloof indifference.
My assailant (a weedy looking fellow whose costume could generously be described as having been scavenged from the Hamburglar's laundry basket) took a step back as his eyes widened in horror. "He didn't take any damage!" Disbelieving murmurs rippled through the crowd, and the word "enchantment" was thrown back and forth as I realized that I had been attacked.
"Oh," I said, finally realizing what was going on, "ouch." I tried to make my knees buckle a little bit and hung my arm at my side in what I hoped looked like dead weight. I brought my foam sword up to defend myself, and was immediately charged by the Hamburglar, Fatbert, and three others, Drooly O’Headcase, A Very Special Elf, and Doug, the eternal virgin. Things looked grim.
The fighting itself is a blur. Since I was outnumbered 5 to 1, I spent the entire exchange in a defensive stance, backing up in the hope that I could break into a run and get the hell out of there. It didn't work. Instead, I ended up backing out of the clearing into a more wooded area with thick underbrush. That’s when they started yelling “Hazard! HAZARD!”
The word was supposed to warn me that I could hurt myself by tripping over a root or something, but what they really meant was “Step out from between the trees, because we spent months practicing the cool foam sword moves that we want to use to poke you to death. We can’t get enough clearance to use the Spinning Dragon Burn Scythe of Righteous Justice Strike (+2) over there. “
So I stepped back into the clearing and got killed. It was an experience that I could really have done without. That description applies equally to the whole time I was there, but something is particularly degrading about having to listen to the cheering and pant-hooting of a bunch of geeks convinced that overcoming you was a victory against a mighty foe who wasn’t completely outnumbered and explicitly told to lose to them beforehand.
I was able to leave a little later that day, less than 24 hours after I had arrived. I didn’t spend the full weekend with them, but I still had more than enough time to witness uncountable acts of stupidity and to collect a lifetime’s worth of shameful memories. By far the best part of going to the LARP weekend was the drive home.