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LARP: Pick up your sword and hit the ground swingin'

Andrew Vidler | Interrobang | Lifestyles | March 28th, 2016

The drums are beating and the ground shakes beneath the footsteps of 100 charging soldiers. War has begun and the battlefield has moved to London.

Live-action role playing, or LARPing as it’s more commonly called, gives fantasy enthusiasts and RPG fans alike a chance to escape the boundaries of their tabletop or video games, and experience the adventures for themselves.

At the heart of the LARP community is Underworld, a Canadian-founded community that has united hundreds of players across the country and beyond under one common purpose.

“The owners have created an entire universe that all of the chapters run in, we all serve as a country, we’re Ralinwood,” said London chapter founder Morgaine Halpin. “There’s a plot and rules that we all have to follow.”

A quick glance at the community’s Wikipedia page shows over 30 races, some familiar sounding and some distinctly original, each with their own sprawling histories, customs and places in the universe. Choosing your race is only one step as you enter into the world, as new players are welcome to choose and establish their own place in the story.

Those new players have been arriving, with Halpin crediting rising numbers to the rising popularity of the fantasy genre in the mainstream eye, with the community showing an ever growing level of diversity among its members.

From a distance, most LARP plots resemble something ripped straight out of Lord of the Rings, and while elves, orcs and dwarves are counted among the crowds, old fantasy tropes are being used by modern creative minds to create something unique. As any fantasy fan will tell you, there isn’t a lot of originality left with which to craft a universe, especially as it grows more popular.

LARP societies set themselves apart by melding these common elements into something unique, and then cultivating a sense of community and participation around them. The depth and importance of plot can also vary from group to group; some such as Underworld make use of crafted and modified stories, while some simply set out with a basic mentality of, “That’s the enemy, get them!”

The tale of Underworld is as sprawling and complex as any high fantasy tome, with a multitude of religions, races and deities that new players can choose to occupy, worship and fight for as they choose. Familiar species such as dwarves and several variations of elves rub shoulders with Ainotaurs, the aptly named Avians (a race of bird-people), and of course a variety of human cultures including the Tiefanese, Berphauntian and Einher.

“When I first started it was mostly cosplayers and hard-core RPG fans,” Halpin said. “Now people are joining just out of curiosity. They’re LARPing just for the sake of it.”

While joining a battlefield full of armourclad warriors may seem like a daunting prospect, Ralinwood is a welcoming place for players of all levels of LARPing interest. A quick jaunt to their website provides information ranging from how to make your first sword, to how to establish your character into the existing plot.

“We always welcome new players,” Halpin said. “They’re actually able to participate in their first battle free, so they can see if they [are] interested in coming back.”

Haplin and her husband Anthony were crucial in bringing Underworld to London, helping to found the local chapter and running it from the beginning.

“We’d been playing for years at Jericho, the Toronto branch for a couple of years when I was told there was interest in a London chapter , ” she said.

Initially recruited to help a few interested people get the chapter off the ground, Haplin soon found herself spearheading the project on her own.

“The other guy involved just sort of vanished after we had met for the first time,” she said. “The interest was still there.”

With interest still strong, those in charge turned to her in order to bring Ralinwood to life.

“We started off with maybe 12 people or so, but last summer we managed to bring almost 100 to one of our Londonbased battles.”

Monthly local events, plus an annual battle in Toronto between all Underworld nations, offers participants a multitude of events to join in with as they please. The LARP community around Underworld prides itself on giving fans plenty of opportunity to get as involved as they want.

With an ever-growing population, dozens of new warriors a year and several new countries set to be founded, Underworld has fast become one of the premier live action roleplaying organizations in North America and beyond.

Grab your swords and arm up, because Ralinwood needs you.
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