Web Series Review: Realm of LARP
“Nerd Culture” is taking over. Face it, Brosef, with your “Sun’s Out, Guns Out” tank top and oversized shades and flip-flops. The Tyranny of the Bully Era has ended, and popular culture has embraced everything that used to get some poor skinny kid wedgied and stuffed into a locker. Comic books? Only the highest grossing movies at the box office. Computers? Yeah, I think they’ve gone a little mainstream. Video games? You get the point, Mr. Straw Man, so suck it. Even things like tabletop role-playing games are no longer an automatic ticket to Nerd Hell, thanks to offshoots like World of Warcraft making the concept approachable, and having someone like Vin Diesel come out and say they’re cool also helps, because you go ahead and call Vin Diesel lame, then let me know when you finish fishing your forearm out of your own throat.
Now, not everything that geek culture embraces is mainstream yet. Cosplay? Slowly but surely getting more accepted, thanks to the exploding popularity of Comic-Con and the other hugantic cons (that’s “conventions” for those unfamiliar with the term) out there. Anime fanatics? Well, some things still deserves wedgies. (I kid, I kid. However, Dragonball Z and a lot of popular anime is some of the worst dreck I’ve ever seen in my life. Yes, Princess Mononoke and Akira and Ghost in the Shell are incredibly beautiful and moving pieces of art, but most of the big-eyed panty-flashing’ tentacle-rapin’ underage-girls-who-are-”eighteen” kung-fu superpowerfulragefestin’ anime shit is purely awful in every way. But that’s neither here nor there.) There’s another geek staple that still isn’t embraced, and it’s near and dear to my heart, as I’ve said before.
That’s L (Live) A (Action) R (Role) P (Playing). For a while, it was a thing that would get other nerds together to beat up the skinny goth nerds who were roaming around the dealers’ tables at the local con held in a particularly shitty and desperate Holiday Inn. The goth kids would be acting like vampires, crossing their arms in front of their chests and hissing “I’m Obfuscating!” with a tragic lisp whenever anyone approached them. Even someone on their way to participate in a wargame featuring Play-Doh monsters would have to fight the urge to rabbitpunch these people. Why? It’s because they were making the geeks look bad in front of the Normals. Every person that was unlucky enough to stay at that particular Holiday Inn that weekend would see all the geekhood and associate the weird people with the black clothes and pointy teeth with the normal guys just lookin’ to get their rare copy of issue #34 of Princess StatutoryRape Moonbiter and Her Gaggle of Scantily Clad Possibly Hopefully Lesbian Cohort Galactic Defenders and Pillowfighting Slumber Party Afficiandos from the fat sweaty dude behind the cardboard boxes sitting in an undersized t-shirt that has a lame DC comic hero on it that’s faded and food-stained because it’s vintage, man, I was there when Wolverine fought the Hulk and was a nobody and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were in black and white and the Punisher was just a bad-guy in Daredevil and you know what’s wrong with comics today, it’s the retconning and lame attempts at recapturing the glory of the past and in my day we had The ‘Nam and you punk kids who didn’t read comics about war didn’t go through what we went through, man, reading comics about Vietnam with no air-conditioning or poly-bags or chromium colors, we went through hell, man, and you soft kids with your graphic novels and shit don’t know what it’s like to see the JUNGLE, man, right there on the page, right next to the Huffy and Hostess ads, it was like HELL, man, the pages weren’t even glossy for fuck’s sake, and don’t even start with this digital comics shit because….
But I digress. Seriously though, every comic book I ever bought was bought from that guy. He apparently lives in every state in the Union.
So anyway, yeah, LARP. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play.
There’s different variations on the theme. Some of them, like the Vampire-style game I alluded to before, are conducted in hotels and other venues. Players interact with each other, mysteries are solved, widgets are hunted, and battles are fought using various things like rock-paper-scissors and other rules of that nature. They’re generally called Theater-style LARPs. If you’ve ever played one of those Murder Mystery Dinner things, congratulations, you are a theater LARPer. Sorry to break it to you. I personally have played in these types of games for, let’s see (counts fingers, eyes widen, tears fall, moves onto toes, realizes how years go by and how ephemeral and fragile life is), probably 12 years now. I’ve been everything from the Shadow to Wez from The Road Warrior to American Legion, the Greatest Superhero Ever. I may have mentioned that I am a tremendously huge geek/nerd/whatever nomenclature you prefer.
A different but similar style of LARPing involves the same concepts as theater-style LARPs – roleplaying a particular character in a setting pursuing goals and gamemasters and all that shit – but instead of using a system like rock-paper-scissors to resolve combat, the players hit each other with fake weapons. I’ll call this boffer-style-LARPs, since a boffer weapon is the term used for the piece of plastic PVC pipe that’s covered in foam and duct tape to resemble a sword or axe or scythe or shovel (my boffer shovel is one of my prized possessions, thankyouverymuch). LARPers may have their own preferred term for this type of game: I encourage them to correct me in the Comments section, preferably as snootily and dismissively as possible.
This type of game is the one depicted by the web series Realm of LARP (Yes, it took me over a thousand words to get to the reason for the post. I’ll happily send you a free TL/DR sticker to shove straight up your ass.) on the Nerdist YouTube channel. The series follows a group of PCs (Player characters. Dear god, it takes a long time to explain the lingo) as they embark on a quest. The GMs (game masters, the dudes that run the game and set the stage and call “Action”) send beasts and nasties and innocents at the PCs in an attempt to aid and kill the players, all at the same time. The intro to the show describes it as people “wielding foam swords, wearing rubber armor”, and while the foam swords thing is right, I’ve never seen anyone wear rubber armor in a game. The Knight Barrington is wearing real steel heavy-ass armor. Wearing rubber armor will probably result in a wedgie, but anyway.
If you still don’t get what LARPing is, dear god just look it up already. Maybe watch Role Models, at least. Come back when you’re ready.
OK, so the show follows the adventure of five intrepid adventurers (All adventurers are intrepid. I’m not sure “intrepid” is used to describe anything else. It’s one of those adjectives that gets added to a single word and gets no play otherwise.) as they seek out the MacGuffin of The Reason Why We’re Here, a truly powerful magic device that spans worlds and galaxies and is basically the point of 98% of every game played and story ever told, including most professional sports (see “Trophy, Lombardi”). Along the way they meet townsfolk, nobles, guardsmen who seem to know a lot about what’s going on for some inexplicable reason, considering they spend most of their time standing watch in a musty hallway I presume, monsters, riddlers, jokers, and shockingly few catwomen. These people might present the heroes with a challenge in order to receive their aid, they might act belligerent, they might be children just ASKING to be butchered, you name it. It’s the interaction between the players and the world that makes a LARP, and also The Realm of LARP show itself.
The players are not actors. They’re not given lines or a script, just the description of a role. It’s up to them to react to the things they encounter. It’s harder to do than it may sound. They are:
- Barrington, the Knight: Played by Christian Gebhart. With his steel armor, heavy shield, and unbridled enthusiasm for Doing the Right Thing, Barrington is somewhat the moral compass of the group. He is a Good Man, surrounded by evil, dedicated to doing the right thing no matter the cost to himself. In the interest of full disclosure, I know Christian in real life. I’ve gamed with him, spent unbelievably tedious hours pretending to repair pretend armor beside him, fought next to him, and hung out in public with him afterwards. He is one hell of an awesome person. He is also my man-crush. Don’t judge me.
- Tuck, the Elf: Played by Myka Fox. Unlike Christian, who plays pretty much every weekend of the year, Myka had never LARPed before the show. Inquisitive and with a huge contagious smile, she is the adorable irrepressible cheerful person you’d murder after getting stuck sitting next to them in a car for an hour. During the show, she tends to do things on a whim, chasing after things or shooting kids in the eye or whatever seems like a good idea at the time. She’s really awesome, and picks up LARPing really quickly.
- Dubach, the Fighter: Played by Jarad Hillman. An experienced LARPer, Jarad portrays Dubach as the more solitary introspective heroic archetype that dudes like Aragorn and Wolverine fall into. Dubach uses two longswords who tries to do the right thing, much like Barrington, only with less praying or clanking. He occasionally speaks with a Scottish accent. It’s at times a bit jarring, especially when he doesn’t use it for a bit then BAM it’s Bagpipes and Whisky Time.
- Crimson, the Mage: Played by NaNa Walls. Less experienced than some (being younger), NaNa portrays Crimson as a powerful sorceress who’s also crazier than hell. Someone can do something nice for her, she’ll give them a hug, then whisper in their ear that she’ll kill them later. She’s a sweetie. She casts spells, represented by little bean-bags, at her enemies. If you’ve ever seen the LIGHTNING BOLT LIGHTNING BOLT guy on the ‘net, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, watch it now. I’ll be here when you get back and can manage to stop laughing (something my wife struggles with every time she sees someone throw a beanbag and say a spell name, and she’s also been doing this for a dozen or so years).
- Steve, the Half-Ogre: Played by Drew Luckenbach. Yes, Steve. His name is Steve. I hate that fact. I find it jarring. I know there are people who think it’s funny that the fantasy half-ogre is named Steve. I’m not one of them. Anyway, Steve is a big strong dude who uses a club and is not very smart. He’s not my favorite character, because his name is Steve and he’s dumb. However, his costuming is excellent and Drew plays dumb very well, which isn’t as easy as it seems.
Each episode runs about 8 to ten minutes and follows the group as they seek to fulfill the quest they’ve been given to do something or other by seeking That Thing from That Guy by crossing That Bridge or whatever. Watch the show. Generally, there is a fight or puzzle or other challenge every episode for the group to deal with. The show adds some flourishes, like the Battle Card shown above flying across the screen to show the character’s stats, like how many hits they can take before falling down and groaning. During fights, little hit point bars will flash overhead to show how much damage a combatant has taken and how much they’ve got left, much like in a video game. Some people in the Comments section of the videos bitch about them, but more about the comments later. I think it’s a good idea, since it gives people who have been exposed to video games and RPGs in that format something they can relate to. Also, they’ll superimpose little fire or arrow animations over the bean-bags that Crimson and Tuck use, to give it a little more flair and lessen the silliness of someone chucking a bean-bag. I think those are good touches and don’t detract from the show at all.
Each episode begins with a recap of the previous action, which helps since the show comes out weekly and I remember shit nowadays, and generally has sections where the GMs (They call them Game Marshals, which I find pretentious. Generals wait their whole lives to become marshals. D’Artagnan didn’t get to be a marshal until he was mortally wounded on a battlefield. I have no idea what my point is.) are shown and explain some things to the audience. In one case (Episode 5, Den of the Ahkdala), one of the GMs goes on a little tirade about tactics and how obvious something should be and how something should be handled and comes off like a pompous ass. This is fairly typical behavior from GMs, though, to be honest, so it’s fittingly portrayed here.
Because there’s no scripts, the “acting” can be totally cringeworthy at times. Like gut-punch awful and embarrassing and make you feel horrible inside. I recommend that you roll with it. Again, these people aren’t being told what exactly to say and don’t get multiple takes. Therefore, they come off at times stiffer than Natalie Portman and unintentionally hilarious like Natalie Portman and some of the accents are laughable like Natalie Portman’s. Take it with a grain of salt. These shows aren’t supposed to represent A Grand Adventure: their purpose is to show how LARPers portray A Grand Adventure. The two things are very different. Realm of LARP is about what these otherwise somewhat-normal (hey, everyone be crazy) people do for fun and tries to present it in a way that isn’t pointing and laughing but also not treating it deadly seriously.
In that vein, I think Realm of LARP is worth watching. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it provides a glimpse into what LARPing is and why people like me strap on black leather in the boiling hot July sun and run up and down hills getting smacked in the face or genitals accidentally with a foam weapon that hurts a bit more than you might think. I recommend the show. At worst, you’ll be fascinated. At best, you might think that it’s a fun idea and try it for yourself. I know husbands and wives who play all weekend with their kids. It’s a beautiful fucking bonding experience. Plus, you get to “accidentally” hit annoying people in the balls from time to time.
Because some LARPers can be annoying as fuck.
Anyway, what I do NOT recommend in any way is the Comments section. I shouldn’t have to tell you that YouTube comment sections are the worst circle of hell, where anonymous dickbags go to shit on everything. It’s a loathsome, vile place, full of hate that’s not even entertaining like my hate. Avoid it. To be fair, the comments section on the Realm videos is not as bad as most, but there is no impotent raging fury like nerd fury. I should know.