I was standing, alone, about fifty metres from battle, watching, taking it in, wishing I could help. “I’m invisible,” whispered a man standing inches behind me. “You can’t see me.” The masked man placed his hand on my shoulder. He was wearing what looked to be executioner’s regalia with a Bane mask on.
Moments passed. Long moments. Awkward moments. I did not know what to do. And presumably my oaf of a character wouldn’t have known, either. I wanted to be respectful of the roles we were playing. But, real or not, and that was a blurry distinction, there was a man with his hand on my shoulder, in the middle of a forest. And it was just the two of us.
He let go, walked a few feet in front of me — his steps were intentional and in-character — still invisible, I assumed, and whispered, “Your bowstring has been cut.” I checked. It wasn’t. But I had to believe it was.
He continued walking toward Roguefort. The battle, still taking place, didn’t bother him. His mission seemed larger than all that.
But, whatever the case and whoever he was, I no longer had a usable bow. And I don’t think I had mending abilities. His name is Kelas of the Keltoi, I would find out later. “Little is known about this man, save that he fought against the Orcs in a war they call the ‘Hunger.'” He’s an archer and bartender, known to commune with the dregs of Roguefort.
LARPing is a word yet to be baptized by Merriam-Webster. But its colloquial definition as both an acronym and verb is Live Action Role Playing. And LARPing was what the Spectator Tribune got up to August 24 near Steinbach, Manitoba.
Luke Raymond Thiessen, or, today, Luc De Fromage, formed the Steinbach Larpers Society in 2010, and its members range in age from 18 and younger, to people well into their 50s. “We started off doing just Medieval-themed combat, but after the second year we started up Campaign, which is a real, live-action adventure game where we have characters that progress as the game moves along.”
And the Society now hosts one of that largest LARPing events in Canada: the annual Zombie Apocalypse. “It is a four-hour survival game,” said Thiessen. “Players use Nerf guns and foam weapons to battle zombies. The ultimate goal is to get on board the evac at the end of the game. Simple structure, simplified rules, and massive scale horror!”
“Last event we had over 300 people attend. Our zombie game blows nearly everything across the country out of the water, numbers-wise. We had people coming in from across Canada.”
But this day was different. No zombies. Roguefort, a frontier town on the edge of the Argead Empire, was surrounded by an enemy army controlled by the Dark Elves. And, Luc De Fromage, “your classic heroic knight, is presumed dead,” said Thiessen. “But what none of the characters know today is that he is not. It’s a surprise return.
“As for how Sir Luc cheated death … I’d prefer if that tidbit did not get into the article, as I’ll want to share it with the group when it’s posted and I do have enemies among the players who could use it against me. You can say I have a powerful magic artifact that allowed me to cheat death.”
I was a Brown Orc. That’s what the Game Master told me. That’s why my face was painted. That’s why I was holding a bludgeoning weapon and a bow. And that’s why I was standing in the middle of a cattle pasture staring at the frontier town, Roguefort.
The Green Orcs, the most common of the Orcs, were better than I. And the Red variety was the most ruthless. I was at the bottom, but still a loyal servant to Drow, the Dark Elf.
“As a Brown Orc, you can’t rip their limbs off and eat them for nourishment,” said Ben, a Blood Orc, who could easily do such things. “You’re not that strong. But you are stealthy, and smart.”
“The town has held out long enough,” said Game Master Ryan Plett, “The enemy thinks it’s time for this town to burn.”
We were waiting for the command. We were to pillage and plunder this town, if negotiations soured. They did. The running was real. The battle was, too. And so was the trebuchet.
Plett, with the help of others, including ideas from other LARP groups, writes these storylines and helps them come to fruition on Campaign day, “jumping in as various characters that the players encounter along the story.”
Storylines can change, however. And they do. “For instance,” said Plett. ” If you have a story where they’re supposed to rescue a princess somewhere, but they decide to go fight a Goblin tribe, then you have to ignore the princess and go to the tribe.”
It’s busy for Plett. He visits the various groups stationed throughout the forest, telling people, especially newcomers, about their characters and what to do next.
“What’s our will power at?” a player asked Plett. “No one will be attacking your will power. There will be no intimidation or negotiation. But it’s 1, I believe,” said Plett, adding, “Anyone who doesn’t have will power rank 1 currently has the fear effect.“
“Do I see you?” a Roguefort guard asked of the Orcs running through the bushes outside the town’s walls.
“What’s your heightened sense ranking?” asked Plett.
“Nope,” said Plett. “All you see is a blur, but you can’t make out what it is.”
“If you see Trav, tell him to move his car,” said Thiessen, forced to interrupt the game to make an announcement about parking in front of farm implements.
“Oh yeah, you guys have rank 1 hide,” Plett told us Orcs.
Nicolette Thiessen — who met her now-husband, Luke Thiessen, at these LARPing events after “people from university dragged me out. I had a lot of fun” — was playing the Light Elf Princess Allora. Hers was a new character, and was instrumental in Luc De Fromage’s resurrection.
“You’ve heard of her and you’re scared,” Plett told the enemy armies seeing the Light Elf for the first time. “When you see the Light Elf, you won’t believe it. It’s like seeing a Gryphon for the first time: you’ve heard of Light Elves but never seen one. When you realize what she is, you’re scared spitless.”
Some may want to roll their eyes, but the dedication to character displayed in the Green and Red Orcs around me is far beyond reproach. This is quite real. The excitement is real. The panic is, too. It’s sprinting through the bush. It’s thinking things through, and remembering details. It’s leadership, organization, confidence.
“The rumours are true! She lives. And she bleeds,” said the Dark Elf Drow (Plett), commander of the enemy army, referring to the Allora. “Orcs, I want this town. I want it burned. I want all of its inhabitants destroyed.”
We were all out of breath at this point — lots of running, grunting, battling. Things had been ramping up to this, today, and for months prior.
These events appeal to all sorts of people, said Luke. Often, it’s those “who have no interest in sports. This is a way to get together and do something really physically challenging, and have a lot of fun.”
LARPing is often written off as for the nerds of the nerds. But Luke doesn’t like that. It’s much more than pretend. “I’ve had people with social anxiety issues join the group, and come out of it with such confidence. It’s amazing the good things that have come out of it for people.”
Newcomers are suited up as Orcs and townspeople. But the group urges its participants to develop their own characters, crafting the skills they want to have. But Luke and the other leaders will give high-level roles and skills to those adept at role-playing, improv, and thinking through the situations they are presented with.
Luke, who is in the construction business, also mentors young builders through the Society. Roguefort is a ring of buildings the group has built. And Luke is out there a few times a week adding structures and enhancing existing ones.
For first time LARPers, attendance is free. But the group asks for $5 every visit after, unless you’re helping out with logistics. The money goes into building materials, weapons, and props.
“My dream is for this town to have another ring of buildings on the inside,” said Luke. “We have a couple forts in the woods, and we’ll leave it like that for now. But I’d like to see a wall built around town.”
The Steinbach Larpers Society meets at the cattle pasture near Steinbach two or three times per month. And they do so nearly year-round, taking a break over the cold months of December and January.
The Orcs were too many and the town was quickly overrun. With no word of reinforcements and thousands of Orcs breaking down the gates, in desperation, Rougefort’s leaders gathered everyone in the centre of town and used a teleportation spell the Mages guild had prepared, transporting everyone 10 miles away to relative safety. There, as refugees, they encountered an armed force of Elves with whom they are now going to be working.
Toban Dyck is a writer, and especially now, a farmer. Follow him @tobandyck for some occasional wit and lots of Prairie sunset Instagrams.