Hitting My Friends with Sticks in the Woods

Friends, sticks, woods. I'm second from the left, in the maroon tabard. My name is Evan and I have always been fascinated with hitting my friends with sticks in the woods. Here is the story of my first LARP event, which turned this fascination into a serious hobby and career goal.

When I was young, my friends and I would play in the front lawn, pretending to be characters in a Final Fantasy game. One of those friends in particular, an older boy whose stepfather was an engineer and would make plastic and metal swords for us to swing around, took the lead in creating a world and acting as various villains and allies for the rest of us to interact with. I thought he was the coolest person in the world and could not imagine what sort of mental gymnastics it required to conjure fantasies for others to enjoy in the fashion that he did.

Orcs solving problems. Violently.

We stopped playing in the front yard around the time that I entered high school. At one point, someone in the clique of nerds and drama geeks I had found myself in had heard of a thing called "Amtgard" where people made weapons out of PVC and pool noodles to beat each other up in the woods with. None of us actually made the mental leap toward, you know, joining a local Amtgard chapter, but we certainly took to forging mighty blades out of pipe and pool noodle and duct tape, and wandering off to a local playground or behind the school to beat on each other. A blow to the limb made the limb unusable. A blow to the chest killed you. A blow to the head was a cheap shot and didn't count. What is a shield, how would you even make a shield out of pipes and pool noodles.

I drifted away from hitting my friends with sticks in the woods after high school, and joined an acting troupe instead. Eight years passed. I played a lot of video games and every now and then a little tabletop RPG gaming. I had all but forgotten about hitting my friends. I met Kelsey while playing World of Warcraft, and we did the long-distance relationship thing for a year. During that time, she mentioned that every few weeks or so, she would not only go out into the woods to hit her friends with sticks, but... she did so while wearing a costume and donning elf ears and being part of a story. She was a LARPer.

A number of things clicked for me. Final Fantasy in the front yard. Sticks. Woods. Friends. Tabletop RPGs. I had to try it.

I moved away from where I had been, to where she was. In April of 2011, I attended an Alliance LARP event at the Connecticut chapter. I was an NPC. I wore black sweatpants and a black t-shirt. They gave me a black tabard and some black facepaint and some sticks covered in foam and red duct tape, and told me I was a "shadow."

I dueled many warriors that day, most of whom dispatched me in seconds. My heart raced and my lungs burned with the exertion of combat. I struggled to remember what I was supposed to say when swinging my sticks, and I flailed wildly at people. They threw little cloth packets filled with birdseed at me, and said some words that objectively I knew the meanings of ("I curse you with weakness" is a very straightforward sentence with an Extremely Specific mechanical function) but could not remember what they referred to in context. I fell down a bunch of times.

Fear my arcane might.

I watched a scene unfold before my eyes, in which a beleaguered town of exhausted and war-bitten heroes came face to face with a mighty necromancer and his wicked pet dragon. I heard cries of anguish as the army of shadows possessed the bodies of the fallen, commanding the dead to rise up and strike down their fellows. I saw tears on the faces of the living. I watched a coterie of mercenaries, known and feared as much for their prowess as for their utter disregard for anything but precious coin, surround the dragon with an impenetrable barrier and sacrifice their lives to contain its fury and hatred. I turned my tail and fled with the wicked necromancer, routed and humiliated. I heard behind me the ragged cries of a hard-won victory. Later that day, with a broken finger and twenty new friends cheering my presence among them, I ate Chinese food.

It is now July of 2015 and I am more in love than ever with hitting my friends with sticks in the woods. I look forward to sharing the experiences and insights I have gained along the way.