LARPing takes many forms, but essentially every participant becomes someone else for the duration of the event, some of which can last a few hours, others days.
They’ll put a spell on you: Cheryl Costa (front) and Linda Miller Poore display a book of spells, a magic mask and magic wands, all implements used when they act out Boorworm’s, their live-action role playing storyline. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO.
What Costa has created is Boorworm’s, a storyline not unlike Harry Potter that focuses on the lives of professors at a school of magic. Of course, like any good story, drama will unfold. “It’s a chance to dress up and be somebody else, solve an adventure and be a bit of a hero,” Costa explained. “It’s splendid fun and highly educational.”
To keep her character current, Costa said she must read up on a character’s profession, such as using a computer flight simulator program and speaking with a pilot for background information on a character of a past LARP who was a pilot. “It’s very much like improv acting,” she noted.
Costa began LARPing about eight years ago. When she lived in Corning from 2003 to 2005, before moving to Washington, D.C., she hosted a 1930s Indiana Jones/Buck Rogers/Agatha Christie-themed LARP titled Dark Dinners. Participants came dressed in era attire and solved mysteries, such as someone leaving to use the restroom and then turning up mysteriously murdered, similar to a live-action game of Clue.
Now, after returning to Syracuse a year ago, the 55-year-old Costa is taking advantage of the basement in her colonial home, which has a 1920s feel to it. Boorworm’s participants, costumed and in character, will become magic professors upon setting foot in Costa’s abode. Everyone has an assigned character and character agenda. “This is who you are until you leave,” Costa said.
Boorworm’s, however, is just one type of LARP. A group of LARPers in Utica, known as Kingdom of Novitas, dresses in medieval garb, dons weapons, casts spells and simulates combat, also known as boffing. Dave Haldenwang, a 34-year-old information technologies worker in Whitesboro, founded the group four years ago, after he and some friends grew tired of driving to Buffalo to LARP.
Eight months out of the year, the group rents six electricity-and-running-water-free cabins at Vanderkamp, located in Cleveland, N.Y., on the north side of Oneida Lake. For the 45 to 65 people who regularly attend, “It’s the perfect medieval frontier town,” Haldenwang said.
To determine which combatant triumphs in battle, every character has a predetermined number of offensive and defensive points. An attacking player announces how many attack points are being administered, whereas the defender must keep a running tally of how many of his or her defensive points remain. If someone’s offensive points are exhausted, then he or she can no longer attack. If someone is attacked with more points than he or she has left defensively, then that person perishes.
Another use of force is a bean bag, also known as a spacket (an amalgam of spell packet), which is used to cast a spell. If someone casts a lighting spell, for instance, he or she must throw the spacket at the intended player and the player only sustains damage if physically hit. “Our combats take 30 seconds, which is fairly long in the LARPing world,” Haldenwang noted.
This differs from Boorworm’s format, known in the LARPing world as a “Salon LARP,” which might use index cards or die to determine action. Salon LARPs are popular in the Albany area, where there is a large constituency of the international, vampire-themed Camarilla, which meets on an almost-weekly basis. Nearly 40 people attend each event.
Phillip Armstrong founded the Albany chapter after his stint in the Army, where he was first exposed to LARPing by some fellow tabletop gaming soldiers. “It’s a strong social group with similar interests,” Armstrong said of Camarilla.
Jennifer Anderson, a 22-year-old technical support specialist from Latham, said she was nervous about joining the Albany Camarilla LARP because she thought it was weird. “Once you get used to it, you meet people with really active imaginations, make friends and become engrossed in it,” she noted. Now Anderson LARPs on a weekly basis.
That stigma of LARPing as something “weird” is one that cultivates even within the gaming community. While there is a large tabletop gaming community in town, and some groups such as Delftwood that act more as a medieval recreationist society, LARPers are a much rarer breed. Costa and her partner, Linda Miller Poore, are attempting to start the Syracuse LARPing community from the ground up.
David Olsen knows about the stigma of LARPing all too well. He just happens to be the world’s most famous LARPer. Having appeared on the CW network’s reality program Beauty and the Geek, Olsen, a 29-year-old fire department administrator from Somerville, Mass., brought the world of LARPing to the homes of millions.
“It’s strange to be the face of an entire hobby,” Olsen said. “More and more I can say I’m a LARPer and people know what that means.”
Olsen, who runs the LARP community known as Quest, even admitted that an ulterior motive for going on the show was to make LARPing more known. Up until Beauty and the Geek, Olsen said, LARPing was portrayed by mass media in a humorous light. His hope is to make LARPing appear to be a legitimate hobby enjoyed by many around the world. “It’s a weird thing to be ashamed of,” he said.
At Kingdom of Novitas, there are chemists, bankers, lawyers, doctors and college professors who participate. “It’s a real small niche kind of thing,” Haldenwang said, but some people “just can’t get over the geek factor of it.”
Haldenwang knows people who share similar interests with stereotypical LARPers, such as tabletop gaming, Lord of the Rings and video games, yet they won’t LARP. “If you’re embarrassed to be into role playing, you can hide your Dungeons and Dragons books in your backpack,” he noted. “But if someone posts a photograph online of you wearing a fluffy shirt and swinging around a sword, you can’t hide that.”
Olsen called these types “closet LARPers.” During the season finale of Beauty and the Geek, the show’s producers invited a group of his friends to LARP on camera, yet some declined. Olsen, on the other hand, wanted to expose his hobby to the world. “People who know nothing about LARPing are the ones who are most interested,” he said.
In Europe, some LARPing events might draw 1,000 people, Haldenwang said, but in America, “there are a lot of things competing with people who would be interested in LARP,” such as paintball and Airsoft. However, like many things, as Armstrong noted, “If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll never know what it’s like.”
Despite all of this, Costa is confident in her pursuits: “Anyone who wants to come be a part of a big Harry Potter-esque adventure, they’re more than welcome.”
You might think of LARPing as taking a world you already know, and making it your own. “LARPing is only limited by the participants’ imaginations,” Olsen said. “Why learn about others’ stories when you can make your own stories?”
Who says Rowling and Tolkien should have all the fun?
For more information about Boorworm’s, visit www.boorworms.org or contact Cheryl Costa at (607) 426-7080 or email@example.com.