I was a Live-Action Roleplaying Virgin

It was a time of magic. A time of mystery. A time, in fact, of rubber swords and costumed tomfoolery. Simon Cooke donned his scabbard and joined the fracas...

I'd often heard it said that live action roleplaying was a good laugh. At the very least you got to hit your friends with an assortment of latex weaponry, wander the streets scaring the local inhabitants, and if you were very lucky, you might actually do some proper in-character roleplaying as well. I'd never tried it, mind you - mainly because of a lack of good equipment and willing participants all in the same place at the right time. So when the news filtered through to the Arcane offices that there was a really big live roleplaying (or LRP) event happening in Derby - known as The Gathering, and reportedly the biggest event of its kind in the country, if not the world - I just had to go. Totally unprepared for what lay ahead (I hadn't even rolled my character, nor did I know what choices I had in the matter - I only found out I was going at the very last minute), I borrowed a tent from a friend, a Grim Reaper style robe from another, and popped to Tescos to buy what I'd been told were the essentials for the weekend - beer, beer, more beer, lots of Mars bars and a pot of Nutella. Feeling confident that this was all I'd need, I dragged myself to the train station and was on my way.

Trainspotting at Derby Central
At Locko Park, where the event was being held, I was waved through the pay-on-the-gate queue by whispering the magic words "arcane magazine", and then deftly avoided the compulsory weapons-check by cunningly not bringing any with me. In the world of The Gathering, there are a number of factions - the Vipers, Bears, Dragons, Gryphons, Harts, Lions, Tarantulas, each of whom own territories in a world vaguely representing medieval Europe. I was with the Vipers, hosts of this year's event, and so with the help of the nearest bystander I set up camp. Then I met up with some friends (Tamsyn and Nathan - Richard would be arriving the next day). We did some scouting around the site and discovered what would form one of the focal points of the weekend - a large Beer tent, known as the Sickspack Inn.

When I finally tracked down and talked with organiser Andy King I found out some rather interesting information. Apparently someone going to a rival event being held just down the road at Drumhill Park - called "Renewal" - had decided that it'd be a really funny jape to steal The Gathering's AA road signs so that people couldn't find their way to the site - presumably in the hope that they'd all go to Renewal instead. Whoever it was failed to even make a dent - rumours indicate that only about 400 people went to Renewal. Compare that to the more than 4000 people who came to The Gathering. The other big news was that the Met Office had released a Gale warning for that night, and it was set to go straight through the campsite. Oh joy.


"I could heal. I could mute people. In fact, I could do a
number of funky things with my magical powers."


Later that night, after Nathan and I spent three hours lost in the Derby ring-road system, searching for somewhere we could buy a torch from - leading to an incident with a petrol-station attendant offering plentiful advice on why the Colt 45 was useless as a weapon - the rain set in. And boy did it rain. When we got back to the camp, the in-roads had turned to a thick sludge, with Andy King and company ferrying people back and forth through the quagmire in a land-rover. Rather than let this worry us too much, we squidged through on foot to the beer tent.

An Eventful Night
Sleeping was interesting. At about 3am the gale hit a glancing blow across the camp - though fortunately the worst of it hit the countryside further south. In an episode which would be repeated a number of times over the next few nights, my tent quickly filled with water, completely soaking my sleeping bag. I may not have known what it was like to sleep on a water bed, but now I knew how it would feel to sleep inside one. I woke at 8am to discover that the gale had broken the metal struts of the tent the night before, decided that in the circumstances I didn't need a shower, and got into costume. People were already up and about (most with hangovers), and so after a quick breakfast of roast pork with apple-sauce in a bun followed by a large coffee, I trecked off to register my character. I was to be an Incanter, whose main purpose of life is to vanquish the undead (such as Chaos warriors), and to form wedges - which is where a number of Incanters get together in a triangular formation and channel their power through one another to ramp up a spell. I could heal. I could mute people. In fact, I could do a whole number of funky things with my magical powers. Incanting was nice and simple - different coloured pieces of paper with various powers of Incantation were carried or worn around the neck on a string, to be torn up after the spell was incanted. With enough power, you could cast any Incantation you wanted - which made for a very flexible system.

After getting Attilla the Nun's signature on my application to the Incanter's guild, and signing up for an hour's duty at the guild per day - having lost my character money over-night, I was forced into slave labour - I wandered the camp in search of people to fight and plots to join. The opening ceremony which soon followed was a great introduction to the events of the previous years, and soon I was getting into the swing of things. Shortly Richard arrived, looking surprisingly like Christopher Lambert in Highlander (his character being that of a hippy who'd taken too much acid in the 60's and had woken up in 1096 with the rest of us).

Bizarre Occurances
On completing a stint of guard duty on the gates to the camp, that night I joined everyone gathering around the fire. Buffalo horns full of beer were passed around (the idea being that it's impossible to put them down, so you just have to keep on drinking or pass them on), and the partying went on all night - in fact, on the last night we kept one going for over twelve hours! At some point during the night, a band of people decided that it'd be great fun to go and moon at everyone's favourite group of enemies - the Drow - over at the Tarantuala's camp. Hey, no-one ever said that this LRPing lark couldn't be childish.

Over the course of the next few days, I got involved in all manner of scrapes. Muggings were common-place - the roleplaying equivalent, of course - but fortunately I wasn't the recipient of any. Responsible for one, yes, but it didn't happen to me… I was a juror for the trial of the Violet Mage - also known as the Violent Mage. We let him off - he was accused of the murder of a high-up leader, because he'd resurrected him at one point and decided not to carry on doing so, but we thought that he had the right to do so - but he got himself in contempt of court very shortly afterwards!

I hung out with the Goblins and the Rancid Tusks most nights, who were a band of Gobbo's and Orks with the most amazing costumes I've seen. Shagnasty (of the Rancid Tusks) and Pukka (of the Goblins) were married, as were Rungo and SideSalad (who were both from the Goblins as far as I know), in a hilarious marriage ceremony performed by leader of the Vipers, King Gustav.

The Battle
On the last day, relations had broken down between a number of previously allied factions - a happening which cynics might say was carefully organised by the referees - and there was therefore nothing for it but to prepare for war. The whole of the Vipers gathered around King Gustav (not only very regal, but it would seem also party-animal extraordinaire) and listened closely to the battle plans for the fighting which lay ahead. Tension filled the air as everyone made their way to the battle-field, heavily laden with weapons. Except for the Alchemists Guild, that is - they decided that the middle of the battle-field would make the perfect site for a picnic.

Everybody lined up, allies against enemies, ready to begin dealing death. Two thousand people on one side, two thousand on the other. Copping out from the fighting to take photos (you think you'd find me in the middle of that? I may be mad, but I'm not stupid), I stood by the Alchemists and watched on as battle commenced.


"It's well worth getting involved, and I can recommend
it to all roleplayers as the experience of a lifetime."


As if it had been pre-arranged by the kind of people who steal road-signs, at the very moment the fighting started the heavens opened up and rained down more heavily than it had throughout the entire weekend. Undeterred, people fought on in the pouring rain. The ground quickly turned to mud, and it was then that the first major casualty of the weekend happened. Pukka of the Goblins (Micki) was rushed off to hospital with a suspected spinal injury - but fortunately it didn't turn out to be serious and she was sent home later that day. I don't know who won the battle - and to be honest, I don't really think it matters. Everyone picked themselves out of the mud and dried themselves off, then started packing up to go home. Tents were unhooked and folded away, and I waved goodbye to my newfound friends.

It was all in all one of the most fun things I've ever been lucky enough to do in my life. However, I'll leave you with this warning: be prepared for culture shock when it's all over. After four nights without much sleep, and being in character for nearly all that time, Nathan, Richard and I were definitely not prepared for what happened on the way back. It seems innocuous enough, but we stopped off at a service station. Walking in, we were confronted by flashing lights on arcade machines. Jean-Michel Jarre was being piped in through unseen speakers. Bright lights and strangely coloured pre-packaged commodities were being sold in shops nearby. All three of us just stood in the door-way, looked around in amazement and went "ooooooh". It took nearly two days to come down from it all, and I understand that this is quite common. But don't let that scare you off!

So much happened over the five days I was there that I can't even hope to relate them all to you in such a short space. Needless to say though, that it's well worth getting involved in, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone as the experience of a life-time.

Simon Cooke (simoncooke@earthlink.net) will definitely be at The Gathering next year. Not even gales, torrential rain, fire, acts of God nor unknown antagonists from rival events childishly stealing the signposts could keep him away…


A Veteran's Viewpoint

The Gathering recently celebrated its 5th successful year, but as an event for experienced live roleplayers does it have what it takes to carry on going for another five?

The system used by The Gathering and its smaller sister events, the Faction Moots, is easy to understand. Characters align themselves with one of the Factions and advance in Rank within them, gaining money and command. There are no character classes as such, making for very flexible character generation. Fighters can have magic, Scouts can be good at healing and Mages can carry a sword and lop people off at the knees - it all depends on how many points you spend when you first create your character.

The combat system is slightly disappointing for experienced live roleplayers, as it doesn't take account of the fighting ability, strength or stamina of a particular character. In fact, in combat everyone will be dead after a few good hits, which makes having Healers mulling around essential. However this is a system for thousands of people, all of whom must be able to readily comprehend it, create their own characters at home, and perform actions without having a referee present for every fight. Another aspect to consider is the importance of good equipment. In Lorien Trust games, if there is no physical representation of an object, then there is no effect. This means that if you want to have the protection of chainmail armour, you have to wear chainmail armour. This can be expensive - and heavy - and can also restrict the types of characters which you can play. As for the actual gameplay, if you aren't of a high Rank, the 'official' plot will most likely pass you by completely. Unless you can worm your way into one of the guilds, you're left to go out and stir up trouble for yourself. Although this can be fun, it leaves little scope for character development, and can make you feel as if you're merely cannon fodder for the big battle.

For me, the Battle is one of the best parts of the whole event. Realistically there is complete confusion, bad weather and lots of waiting around until the one great push which leaves the adrenaline surging - and usually in my case with me lying dead in the mud. Luckily there's usually enough magic floating around to keep your character from dying. It just hurts a lot.

Is it worth it for the veteran live roleplayer? Well, I'll certainly be going again next year!

Tamsyn Hutchinson (aka Dralisha of the Vipers)

  BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

The Lorien Trust take their weapons very seriously. There was a weapons check on entry to the event - to make sure that the weapons were in good nick, with no protruding edges (there's usually a fibre-glass rod in the middle of most weapons to give them some strength) and no hidden steel rods or fishing wire - some people take this all way too seriously. There was another check before the main battle - after all, three days of constant fighting can cause a lot of wear and tear. If a it wasn't in tip-top condition, you weren't allowed to use it.


CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
One of the keys to successful LRPing is choosing the correct kit - or to be more precise, the correct weapon.

There were a plethora of market traders at The Gathering from which all manner of hack and slashery could be bought. Fat ones, thin ones, long ones, skinny ones… all were available for anyone with a wallet which could cope. One of the most impressive I saw (apart from a breathtaking double headed axe with more pointy bits than a hedgehog after an accident in a pencil-sharpener factory) was a mage's staff with a working plasma ball on top.


IN LORIEN WE TRUST…
So, you've read the article, salivated over the idea of beating other people up with latex weaponry, and generally decided that you quite fancy sleeping in a sodden sleeping-bag - in a tent - in a gale - in a field - in Derby for four nights… (honestly, it's not as bad as it sounds! - very character forming, in fact). Why not? I mean, after all, I'll be going again, so it can't have been that much of a hardship. (Really? You probably just want them all to suffer what you went through. Ed) Rats.

Anyway, if you want to get some more information on The Gathering, you could do a lot worse than send an S.A.E. to those wonderful people at the Lorien Trust, who you can find at: The Lorien Trust, 68 High Street, Eaton Bray, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2DP. Alternatively, give them a ring on 01525 222884. Oh, and tell them that arcane sent you…

If you want to try general Live-Action Role Playing, then you should be able to find a group near you - if all else fails, go to your local uni and have a look for the Roleplaying Society noticeboard in the Union, or drop something into their pigeon-hole. Like maybe a pigeon.


Legal Notice and Copyright:
This article first appeared in arcane magazine in November 1996, published by Future Publishing. All of the text, photographs and images included in this article are Copyright 1996, 1997 Simon Cooke. The rights of the author to reassert copyright of the article and photographs after a period of 6 months from Future Publishing, as per contract, have been asserted. Unauthorised copying, distribution, publishing or reproduction of this article in any form including both electronic and paper media is prohibited without prior arrangement with the author, Simon Cooke, who may be contacted by email at
simoncooke@earthlink.net. Fair use copyright terms are upheld, as are printing of this article for personal use. All rights reserved.