Tomorrow, my son and I embark on our second excursion into another era. Another world, to be exact. We’ll join the more than 8,000 others who drive/fly/hike to a little village in the middle of nowhere, in Northern Germany. Any other day, all you can do here is watch grazing cattle and horses and buy the famous local blueberries.
In August each year, the area is invaded by Vikings, knights, undead, elves (light and dark), bands of orcs, goblins, dwarves, vampires, magicians, witches, Steampunks, mercenaries … A lot of them bring their children when they meet here to create another time and place. A fantasy-medieval world where there’s no electricity (the washing-area is thankfully exempt from that rule), but as long as it’s vaguely medieval, anything goes.
Conquest is a huge European LARP-event. As of last year, it’s said to be the world’s largest LARP event with 8,500 participants in 2013.
For the non-LARPies: You live for five days without electricity in tents, develop stories in roleplay and attempt to be as fantasy-medieval as possible. The stories flow quite smoothly because the underlying rule is: “You can do what you can depict.” So if you pour enough ideas and heartblood into your character’s actions, chances are good that what you play becomes “reality” of the game.
Fodder for the imagination
Last year was my first Conquest and I thrived on the impressions. I don’t think there’s anything not to love if you’re a writer (or reader) of fantasy stories.
Well, maybe there is, depends on your attitude. I don’t mind if people aren’t 100 % authentic or talented — my imagination happily supplies the missing percents to make it feel absolutely real to me.
I actually also love the out-time (real) moments of it that some people find jarring. Like cueing in the provisions tent with elves at your front and undead warriors in your back, shopping for loo paper together. ;-) Or running into knights at the break of dawn who hurry to the washing houses shirtless, with towels around their necks, sword in one hand and orderly toiletry case in the other …
And when there’s no modern element to temper the effect … Man, then LARP is breathtaking.
I still remember vividly joining the defenders of our village on the 2nd day of Conquest last year. I was utterly untrained (still am), and kept in the back. Then in a mere minute, every trained fighter (men as well as women) had been mowed down at the gate. You find yourself one of the last three standing, all women, all first-timers with a weapon, facing down an army of undead warriors, all kitted out in grisly attire, looking like giants and yelling for blood. (These guys are non-player-characters. They are trained and styled to look like the real thing and to supply the suspense.)
Players are careful when fighting, even in massive battles, but when you’re not seeing this on TV but with your own eyes – especially if your eyes happen to be at 1,60 meters height because you’re small ;-) – the pure adrenaline is mind-boggling. It’s chilling to the bone to see fifty or more masked warriors come running to your gate, skulls dangling from thick shoulder pads, fake blood spattering their clothes. And you know it’s up to you. You can’t click off the TV or lay aside the book. You stand and you have to do something – but what you do, is entirely up to you.
A lesson in self-efficacy.
That’s exactly why LARP is great and why LARP is even taught at school in Denmark: There’s a moment when you realize that what YOU do, the solution YOU come up with, is as viable as any other and that it shapes the reality around you. The same is true in “real” life, but we are often blind to the fact.
It’s not all battles, though
What I loved about Conquest last year was the mix of high intensity on one side – roleplay and battles. And slow-motion life on the other side. Slow-motion in a good way. In the group I play with, we all don’t wear watches. From one day to the next, we guess time by the sun. Tasks that take a few minutes in the “real” world, now fill hours. We have to light a fire each morning before we can even think of boiling water for coffee. The evening before, we lined up at the “well” to fetch said water, people-watching, exchanging gossip on the storylines. Eating lunch in the sand outside the pirate tavern, taking a picturesque detour through the forest back to the camp … only to run into a band of blood-thirsty mercenaries. Back it is to high adrenaline.
If I have to pick a fav moment, I’d say the evenings. Somewhere, there’s someone singing, playing a guitar, the children are soundly sleeping after their evening mock-fights on the “village” green around the tents. The low chatter of the adults and the far-away music are the only sounds. Overhead the stars are so clear and there are no lights for miles except campfires and candles … Happy goosebumps.
So, if you’re cueing in a LARP-food tent this summer: The woman behind you sketching your outfit with her feathered quill into a leather-bound notebook might be me. ;-)
Here are links to the 3 Trailers of 2013 in English. I prefer the 2013 trailers for Conquest to the 2014 version.
Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.