My first LARP Experience – Arbon 5

I’ve known styles and types of Wiki LARP for a long time but never wanted to be a part of them myself. Simple because of my cliché thinkin:. People playing magicians, throwing softballs at each other screaming “fireball, fireball” was not just something I could imagine to be fun. Of course there are many different categories, or genres if you like, and only for a few of them this cliché is true. In total this doesn’t do justice to all the LARPs out there, no it is pretty simple minded I have to say. So why did I attend the Arbon 5 despite having reservations and prejudices?

Foreplay

Do you know how it feels to enter you living room and not seeing the room because it is overcrowded with wool, cloth other fabrics and somewhere in the middle a sewing machine? Well if you don’t know this feeling, you might not be a LARPer or you don’t have one living with you. But I do.

My girlfriend attended some smaller conventions in her youth and got ‘infected’ again while studying. Which means that every second Ebay offer for nice and cheap cloth was shipping to us from this moment on. Well at least it felt like this. She needed to make some new clothes for her character and bought enough material for for a whole army. Note: Most LARPers do not buy their clothes pre-manufactured from a shop, they craft them on their own. It is tolerated for beginners to start with some basic things from a shop but you are more or less seen as a ‘groundling’ if you haven’t made most of your equipment by yourself.

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Basically this is pretty awesome because many people playing LARPs are very creative in what they do. And they do learn much about the craft of sewing clothes, working with leather or even making showcase latex weapons and tents. A few even do metal works and craft their own heavy armor. But well it really can be a pain in the ass if you’re not a LARPer yourself and you don’t have a dedicated workspace for all this stuff.

So from time to time I was beefing about the fact that our living room couldn’t be used for living anymore. This let to my girlfriend weaving an ‘evil master plan’. She just told me to ‘come and see for yourself and you will see how great a LARP is…’.

But this was only the first part of the plan and she couldn’t really get me with this. It was just annoying and led to some tiny conflicts.

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The second stage was a bit more hideous I would say. I always was interested in the stories that she and her group where playing and I was also eager to learn more about the look and feel, but there seemed to be not so many photos from all the LARP conventions she attended. Which is quite natural because when you are there you want to play and not shoot pictures all the time. She showed me some pictures but from what I saw and heard the (Trigadon) style was just to colorful for my taste and I just couldn’t get a clear picture of a consistent group and especially a consistent world.

Let’s be honest in my mind I was expecting something like the drawings in a D&D or DSA rulebooks or as seen on the Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones movies and tv series. Well of course film productions have a huge budget and I didn’t want to compare a hobby with a professional business. But I think you get the idea.

From what I saw on the pictures of the LARP conventions I was confronted with something in between ‘no we are not that high fantasy, we have our own style and everything you see and like are just clothes bought from a store’ and something similar to the arrogance from people doing reenactment – something similar to LARP but oh sooo different at the same time – who would say ‘the shirt you are wearing was invented in 1410 AD but we are playing 1350 to 1400 AD so you look like an alien’.

I also somehow felt like being a part of the movie Reservoir Dogs where nobody was allowed to be Mr. Black because everyone wants to be him. It seemed to be the same for my girlfriend and her group. Of course black clothes look cool but they wanted to be as colorful as possible to distinct themselves from other groups. And the colors where also used to show differences in the social hierarchy. Which means if you are a high lord, a baron or whatever you wear even more colors than a simple farmer just to show that you have the money. This made sense of course but just from a logical point of view, it was not appealing to my eye.

And yes, we also got into some little conflicts about this too, with my girlfriend resigning to explain more of the background to me and me trying to figure out what she wanted to tell me when pointing out what was so great about their group and theier style. So again we came to the point where she told me to come and see for myself and after struggling with this for a long time we kind of made a silent agreement, well at least I did. Despite not being so much interested in trekking she was willing to go on a trip to Sweden and I somehow felt I had to give something back in return. So I was willing to visit one convention with her. Additionally she caught me with ‘you’re always saying you want to see more pictures, well bring your camera and you’ll be our photographer so you don’t really have to play’.

This is how I got into this LARP thing. I had a camera, additionally I had a driving license and was able to drive a transporter, so basically I could help with some stuff. Before the whole thing started I got my character briefing, about the role that I should try to play despite making photos, and everything was set for the event.

One important thing to know is that all the background story that is provided and all the possible ‘quests’ (speaking in typical roleplaying terms) are just offers. You are not forced to do anything, but if you like you can take part.

Welcome to the Middle-Ages

The ‘big day’ came, we rented the transporter, drove to our friends to pack the so-called ‘fund’ – the Arbon e.V. has a lot of things to offer from simple dishes over clothing up to a big tent for the players – and get some sleep. Well not really, because there where of course still some clothes that need some finishing touches and so on.

But somehow we managed to arrive at the ‘Wasserschlos Wuelmersen‘, the location where the convention should take place. And there where still had a lot of things to do, especially decorating the location with banners and pennants. So we where pretty much exhausted before anything had really started.

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The next morning we switched into our ‘costumes’. Mine was made by my girlfriend, not so colorful and all in all very simple, and I was fine with that. And yes I have to admit it was kinda cool to wake up and everything seemed to have switched to a world about 500+ years ago. Well I always liked the little middle age festival markets that we attended, except for the huge masses of people there, and at first it somehow felt the same at the convention. Despite the fact that everything was not just made by some people trying to sell stuff, no we all where part of it.

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Photo by Tine

This was really nice and I’d like to state that I never questioned this part before when we were discussing the whole LARP topic. As explained before I had more of a problem with the looks of the costumes and additionally with the setting itself. That’s because I had never seen myself as being part of a playing something evolving arround a household or a castle and typical knights stuff. Being polite to the ladies, battling in tournaments, slaying dragons (just kidding), and being involved in politics, not my thing. If I ever thought about a LARP it always meant for me to go into the woods with a tent, sit arround a nice campfire, tell stories and maybe hunt some deer or orcs. But nothing with shiny armors, lords and ladies. The closest thing to a organised structure would have been playing a mercenary for me. So my type of character needed to be an outlaw and free.

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Luckily this was possible due to the little story and the role that was written for me by the orga(-nisation) team of the Arbon 5. So I didn’t have to take part in a tourney, the politics meant nothing for me and basically I could do what was fine with me. Sometimes I helped the servants of the household with collection wood to build fires, I worked as a messenger, I played games with people in the late evening at the tavern but I didn’t really have to obey any special rules and could just stand besides and watch if I wanted to, wich was also perfect for taking photos by the way.

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So yes this was really fun and there was somehow always something going on, but only if a character was as free as mine, I guess. That’s because characters with a stricter role had just to obey more orders. For example if you play a higher lord and there is no politics to talk about and there is no tourney that you can attend you can’t just say “I’ll go and collect some firewood because there is nothing else to do at the moment”. And as a servant you are always kinda busy with more or less hard work, but you are not that free. Although I’d rather play a simple servant than a high lord.

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What always has to be kept in mind is, that there are really many small little story plots evolving arround the big main theme and you are also free to make one up on your own. You just have to be a bit creative. If you get bored and don’t know what to do, well than just go and talk to someone. Or sit down and carve something. Just do something that you like that fits your character and play style. You could even listen to some poems or ‘erotic stories’, which I did and which was pretty funny, or do some dancing in the evening. I tried to get some pictures from the dances but it was to dark and I didn’t want to use the flash.

From this you can see that I started to like this LARP thing. And I also have to admit that the colorful clothing style wasn’t really that bad. In fact most costumes weren’t really as colorful as I had imagined them to be. With some exceptions I really liked what I saw and the atmosphere that was created kinda felt ‘real’. It looked much better than I expected from the few photos I had seen before and the stories my girlfriend had told me before.

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And with some characters, and of course their players, it really was a pleasure to play with. I didn’t take part in any of the big events, but this was fine with me because I liked the small things better.

The final evening was also very great when we very sitting in a small, dark room with many pillows, hides and blankets, with some candles flickering and some bottles of ‘Trigadons finest’ going round. Songs were played, stories were told and we laughed a lot. I really enjoyed it and I have to mention here that many people in Trigadon or Arbon don’t give that much on their social status as you might expect. It’s just a big family and everyone can sit to gether and have a good time. There are events more suitable for the ‘lower’ people, some are made for the knights and so on, but all in all the game is based on fun and not on some people just commanding others and getting served all the time.

Anything not so shiny?

There where just two things that I didn’t like that much. First I would have really liked it to stay in a tent. That’s just because I’m a ‘outdoor person’ and I like it really much to go camping, build a fire and so on. Going inside a house and sleeping in a normal, warm and comfortable bed takes away a lot of atmospheric feeling, or immersion as LARP people tend to say, for me. So I was really a bit envious of the people in the tent camps. Well of course there was the problem that I have no LARP tent and it simply wasn’t possible to do this.

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The other thing was that I have problems with the greater meta plot background and I seemed not to be the only one. First the gods names all kinda sound the same (Riasion, Riasina, Riason…), even long time players told me before that they always mix them up.

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And then my head just couldn’t get a clear image of the world we where playing in. In some Pen&Paper RPGs I have the same problem e.g. in Pathfinder because I just need a good description of the geography, about the people living in different parts of the world and so on. There are some smaller and really large texts to be found in the Trigadon Wiki and I really have to admit that I just read small parts of them.  So a big part is just my fault that I didn’t study the background enough. But the thing is that I just couldn’t really dive into it while reading some of the articles. And just to make this clear this is a problem because I’m me, not because it’s anybody elses fault.

Like I said before I don’t like politics that much. And don’t like playing it and I don’t like reading about it. And much of what I read was too much about political and historical events, but nothing about the people itself and the landscape. And this is something that a really need to get into a story and setting. Of course I can make something up by myself or just imagine something, but I just like it to be consistent with what everybody else knows/sees/thinks.

I’ll give you a small example what I would like to read about and what I don’t like that much.

Like:

“The people from the north are used to harsh weather and living a hard life. their lands are not so fertile so they mostly have to rely on hunting which can be quite dangerous because they often have to climb high up into the mountains to find mountain sheep to hunt and they are often days or weeks away from home. Their villages are small but often heavily defended, not just against hordes of wolves or mountain lions roaming the area but also against people from the south…”

–> I now know how the world looks like.

Don’t like:

“Baron Erechnar and his wife Muria are ruling in the north with his Bannerman consisting of the Lords Wiemas, Gerion, Himbolf and… He has been the kind ruler of these lands now for 20 years and after having fought several battles against the south they now live in peace for over 10 years. His father was… who ruled after he had successfully taken the throne from…”

–> names, names, names but nothing about the world itself. There are just people living and ruling an empty space for me.

These are the two things that made it sometimes kinda hard to really get into it. Adding up to the descriptions in the Wiki was the fact that everything reminded me too much of the real middle ages in Europe and I would have liked a more abstract fantasy setting better. Take DSA for example. The world looks like Africa but the setting is totally different and you’ll forget about that very fast (of course you still make fun about that from time to time).

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Well and I’ll never like social events include dancing, not in real life and not in LARP. Several people where really enjoying it and had much fun but this is just something that drags me away because it is just not my style playing ‘lords and ladies’, but like I mentioned before it adds up to the many things you could do and no one was forced to do anything.

Aftermath

Well that was it. My first LARP with a theme/setting that I didn’t expect to be much fun for me. I can’t say that I’m 100% convinced now but I really liked it and I’m already planning to attend two other, smaller LARPs in the beginning of next year.

LARP is something that can cost you quite some time and I’m not planning on spending as much on it than other people do. That’s because I have other hobbies too like trekking which can be expensive and time consuming too.

But I met some really nice and interesting people and had much fun most of the time and I enjoyed the Trigardon setting more than I thought. Now it is on me to study the background harder to be able to dive more into the whole thing.

And I would say if you are interested in the whole middles ages theme, it might be nice for you too to try out some LARPing for yourself.

More pictures from the Arbon V – Pferdeherren:

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