Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Short, Violent Career of Brin the Barbarian

I wish people wouldn't lay claim to acronyms without either checking to see if they have a well-known use or taking the precaution of simply adding (in small type) the actual meaning the writer had in mind the first time he/she uses it. This would save much time, not to mention the embarrassment and legal trouble that can arise from an innocent but erroneous expansion of the writer's cryptographic reference into real English.

Case in point: I have been getting back to my fantasy role playing roots of late by participating in a Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game. Now for those of you not in the know, Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker can be enjoyed in two very different but related forms -

  1. sitting round a dining room table with pencils, paper, geodesic dice, bottles of soda, snax and a handful of little metal figurines
  2. dressing up as the character you are playing, rendezvousing with a bunch of like-minded people and actually playing the part for "real" (albeit with rubber weapons and strict rules about limits on behaviour)
The latter version is called "Live Action Role Playing", or LARP for short. This is a form of the game I had not personally tried, though I have several friends who have and still do, and they all recommend it as the best time you can have in public without getting arrested. You have to consider the source, of course. I had become more intrigued as I read articles of the shenanigans of various groups of people having a high - if imaginary - time of it and had decided to give it a whirl at the first opportunity.

Accordingly I began amassing suitable LARPing gear. I didn't have much of a budget but thought I might be able to put together a fair imitation of a barbarian's outfit on a shoestring after seeing the minimal costume requirements of "Conan The Destroyer" on the TV one weekend. I scored a pair of furry boots in a thrift shop and also a belt that would do for hanging a sword from. The sword was researched on the web and was made from a core of plastic plumbing pipe wrapped in many layers of foam rubber by yours truly. No scabbard would be needed, just a loop on the belt which was easily fabricated from duct tape. An old door-curtain served as a fine (if moth-eaten) cape with the addition of a bit of chain to hold it together. I googled for some sort of leather harness to complete the costume and managed to score a rather nice and totally barbaric-looking one from LeatherBoy dot com. It was a bit pricey, but the spike-studded codpiece was exactly the look I was aiming for and the chest cross-straps would be a fine place to attach fake daggers if and when I could locate some1. I needed a headband too, which I made from one of Mrs Stevie's towelling ones dyed black with india ink2. I cut a fine sight in my spiky codpiece and curtains, waving my rubber-wrapped pipe aroud in what I felt was a reasonably barbaric fashion. The only thing left was to locate a group to LARP with.

It was while walking out of the local Lutheran church gymnasium after one of the Stevieling's basketball games that I saw a large poster exhorting the reader to "come and join the fun with L.A.R.P.". I read the entire thing, which took up a sheet of craft paper about fifteen inches wide and two and a half feet long, and with each line became more excited. It spoke of "like-minded older people" who still were "active" and who met each week in the hall across the way. Older people meant no bloody kids ruining the fun with stupid anachronistic kung-fu fighting or still going through late puberty at 21. It was perfect, almost too perfect. I immediately told the pastor I was "in" and agreed to attend the next session the following Friday night.

Thus it came to pass that last Friday I burst through the double doors of the church hall, struck an heroic pose in my curtains, boots and spiky codpiece and I loudly boomed "I am Brin! I am here to kill, loot and ravish!"

It was then that I noticed that not only was I the only one who had troubled to dress the part, everyone else was significantly older than me. There was dead silence for a few seconds, broken by the sound of a couple of coffee cups being dropped, then all hell broke loose. A large group of men leapt up from the tables where they seemed to have been drinking coffee and eating cookies and ran at me roaring their battle-cries. I couldn't really hear what they were saying because all the women were screaming and carrying on. Clearly I had wandered into a set-piece, some sort of Goblin barracks perhaps or maybe a Troll enclave. Unfortunately, the Dungeon Master didn't seem to be there so I had to "wing it".

I drew my rubber-clad pipe and began to "kill" the enemy, swirling my sword around my head before bringing it down on the head of any Goblin/Troll near enough to do me "harm". I admit I was puzzled as to why there didn't seem to be any other "adventurers", but put it down to the probability that pastor had told me the wrong door to use and I had started the game separated from the rest of the "good guys". I felt bad for them since I had probably upset something it had taken weeks to plan out, but decided to try my best until they showed up. After all, it wasn't my fault.

I lashed about right and left with my "sword" but the other guys didn't stay "dead". They fell over when I hit them in the head, but would scramble up again within seconds. That clinched it. They were Trolls for sure. Everybody knows Trolls regenerate. I would end up having to "burn" them but without the Dungeon Master I didn't know the protocol for pretending to set them on fire.

Then it dawned on me. There were carafes of what looked like iced-tea on a side table. Obviously this was representing flasks of oil that would be thrown on the enemy in the classic "douse and burn" that is almost a cliché in regular Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker. I fought my way to the table, grabbed a carafe and threw its contents in a wide arc over the Trolls that were clawing at me with rather too much enthusiasm to be honest. I put it down to the excitement of the scene and threw another carafe’s worth of "oil" with deadly accuracy at my would-be killers.

By now some of the women players had decided to join the assault and I realised that I would never defeat the enemy single-handedly. The only thing for it was a fighting retreat. The "oil" was having quite an effect on the combat too, though a completely unintended one. The floor was some sort of hardwood that had been polished to a high sheen. The iced-tea or whatever it was was making the floor treacherously slippery and the enemy soldiers were having trouble keeping their footing. I would have stopped to allow a time out for mopping but they were playing very rough (some of the ladies were actually throwing cups at me) and so I decided that it was their own fault if their lack of control led them to slip and fall. In fact, there was so much slipping and falling by then that I was able to disengage from the enemy and make my escape through the doors I came in by. I thought it prudent, given the hot tempers of the Trolls, to block the door so I put my sword through the handles until I could think of a better plan.

Which was when I met the church wardens coming the other way. I paused to ask them where the players were supposed to meet. They were puzzled. I explained I was there for the LARP meeting. "The Lutheran Active Retired Persons" are meeting in the room behind you. There are no other church activities taking place tonight.

Mentally my feet were already windmilling while rapid-fire coconut noises were playing. Mr Brain surged into action and formed an emergency plan on the fly, one that would call on all my Live Action Role Playing skills to pull off.
"Then why were those men wearing ski-masks in pastor's office?" I asked in a puzzled voice, casting a worried look in the opposite direction to the blocked doors that were now beginning to rattle. The church wardens span round and raced to foil the dastardly burglars and for a split second I was about to join them when Mr Brain snapped back into the real world.

It was clearly time to be elsewhere, so I was.

  1. For some reason I received several e-mails a week from the same guy badgering me to buy handcuffs, leg-irons and animal collars of increasingly bizarre designs. I eventually had to add the company to my spam filter. Such are the perils of shopping on the WWWeb
  2. Which turned out to be a bad idea because the ink bled out onto my head leaving a purple stripe across my forehead, then I threw it (the headband, not my head) in the washer with some other stuff and by foul luck turned everything pale purple. Mrs Stevie threw a fit and several items of cookware at me, and called me some particularly vile names. As I've said, she drinks far too much coffee and suffers from bouts of irrational rage as a result

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