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The Spoooooooooooooky Issue

Keep on LARPin’ in the Free World

Used to be that live-action role-playing (LARP) was nothing more than a bunch of full-grown virgins with action-figure collections
October 13, 2011, 3:45pm

After this brawl it became apparent that elfin battle tactics rely on sitting in the forest and picking off stragglers, confirming the suspicion that elves are total pussies.   Used to be that live-action role-playing (LARP) was nothing more than a bunch of full-grown virgins with action-figure collections distracting themselves from suicidal thoughts by gouging one another with foam spears in the park. Today it’s a thriving subculture with its own multimillion-dollar faux-armaments industry and a series of massive for-profit tournaments hosted all over the world. LARP’s natural home is Quebec, where French-Canadian adults somehow find it perfectly acceptable to pretend they’re living in a film-student remake of Red Sonja. They’ve even built more than 100 “medieval” structures on a 350-acre “village” in northern Quebec, which is appropriately named the Grand Duchy of Bicolline. Every August, thousands of these exemplars of modern humanity descend on this entirely made-up settlement for a weeklong medieval festival that ends with the Great Battle, which is basically the LARP Super Bowl. The first was held in 1996 as a competition for a few Quebecois LARPers, and now it hosts people from places as far away as Luxembourg. Since this was one of the bigger events advertised as being open to all, I rented a tattered Peter Pan outfit from a costume shop for $30 and made the two-hour drive from Montreal. As I pulled up to the entrance, a tiny “welcome hut” suddenly appeared from behind the pine trees. An organizer dressed like a Swiss Guard briefed me on the grounds, talked about the minted currency called Solars, and gave me a “battlecard” with my name on it (I eventually traded this for three beers). Following his recitation of rules, including “no fires” and “no violence,” he led me into a tiny forest enclave at the fringes of the grounds, where I pitched a tent. On the way I passed a few rows of buildings with orcs rolling dice in front of a fire, a group of Vikings roasting a pig on a spit, and a baby dressed like an elf. It was becoming obvious that these people did not fuck around. When I reached the campground, my neighbor, a Scythian with a leather kilt, was complaining about being nearly kicked out by the “Bico” fashion police because he had orange bootlaces, which were “not up to medieval standards.” Even though my outfit looked like a figure skater that’d been hit by an AIDS truck, I didn’t sweat it, cracked a few beers, and we hung out for a bit. After three king cans, I walked the torch-lit dirt roads as clans of knights stormed by, spilling liquor from their hollowed-out horns. Suddenly some crazy-as-shit Friar John character barreled toward me, slobbering with googly meth eyes. In these types of situations most people would shit themselves, but I was mesmerized by his Middle Ages bowl cut. Before I could react, he swung at my can of beer, spilling it everywhere. “Why the fuck is your beer not in a horn or stein? What the fuck, man!” Stunned, I kind of just nodded and decided that this lunatic wasn’t worth being removed by LARP security guards dressed like seven-year-olds on a trick-or-treat mission. Besides, it would’ve been foolish to miss the epic Great Battle everyone was talking about. This guy described his LARP classification as “skirmisher.” He’s also a real estate agent. Further into my journey I met a warrior named Thorkol, a proud member of the Raven clan. His long blond hair and patchy red beard made him look like a midpuberty Viking, but in all actuality, he was a 20-something tradesman from Abitibi who lived in his parents’ basement. He agreed to take me on a tour of the grounds and introduce me to his “brothers.” While we were walking across a drawbridge toward his Great Hall, I told Thorkol about the asshole who knocked my beer to the ground. “You have to understand that people come here to be someone else. They don’t like people who make fun of them or don’t take us seriously,” he said. “Me neither. Fuck those people. Next time, cover your beer with your cape. It’s like with girls. Some guys here can’t get any girls in their real lives, but they come here and act like brave knights, and it works.” Later, Thorkol took me into town, where his clan was partying. When I met them they all refused to tell me their real names, electing instead for titles like Tchakalouy, Morcius, Ulf, or Khylandra the Fairy Princess. This one burly guy with a plumed hat and metal armor barking orders at everyone basically told me to fuck off, but in an Olde English type of way. I later discovered that he was a policeman in real life. It was interesting to note that even in this fantasy world, cops can still be full-time assholes. By the end of the night, I was tired of all the weird role-playing bullshit. Everything remained in this bizarre social purgatory, moderated by fake names and lackluster backstories. But I still had the Great Battle to look forward to, so I hit the hay. I woke up to the screams of garbled war chants. Unzipping my tent, I saw a group of barbarians circled around a French Canadian Arnie-in-Conan look-alike. Raising their swords in a glorious ceremonial yelp, they began running to the battlefield, navigating their way between beer coolers and lawn chairs. It was a total mindfuck that I was still too sleepy to deal with. Following the procession of war parties making their way single file over a bridge toward a giant forest ravine cleared for war, I saw entire regiments of fully equipped knights with shiny swords, while terrifying underworld creatures squealed. Bloodlust was in the air. When the horn sounded, more than 2,000 LARPers sprinted at one another to what would surely be a biblical crashing of blades and spears. Instead it was a blur of foam weapons poking aimlessly until the “dead” were awkwardly rolling around in fake convulsions. Because they use the honor system to keep tabs on body counts, I heard a lot of whining from fully grown men in endless rounds of “I got you!” “No, you didn’t!” They would even pause for cigarette puffs and take naps, waiting around for something else to happen; I had time to bum a smoke off a slain elf. I’m not sure they had machine-rolled cigarettes in the Middle Ages, but whatever. Confused and really bored, I tried to get the attention of a king passing with his entourage, but two of his shitty bodyguards sprung out and beat me with their swords, accusing me of being an “assassin.” This was the final straw. After two days of being bullied by a pack of fucking nerds, I was disgusted with myself for even thinking this could be remotely cool, so I packed my shit and headed for the real world. The many joys of the Grand Duchy of Bicolline. And by “joys” we mean “massive fucking bummers.” Who needs childhood when you can pretend to be a figment of your own imagination along with hundreds of other delusional and sad Canadians?