Time to get something off my chest, I think.
When I was about 13, I had found my feet in the world of Role Playing Games and miniature painting. It was my escape from the Other Stuff that was going on in my life and I loved every Geeky second of it.
Before the joys of the Internet, ordering new figures or bits for your game was all conducted through mail order; you’d spend hours looking at a little catalogue, at the black and white photos and decide what it was you wanted, before putting your cheque in the post. Then you’d get that delicious torture you only experience when you’re waiting for something really cool to drop through your letterbox.
In the back pages, they allowed other companies to advertise and one thatregularly caught my eye was from a group called ‘Treasure Chest’, who advertised themselves as a ‘LiveAction Role Play’ group. They would take over a crumbling castle, dress half the players up as monsters, evil wizards and warriors and the other half would go on a quest through the ruins to battle the Forces of Darkness and attempt to get the treasure or whatever the point of that expedition was.
It sounded brilliant and I’d often plan what I’d be, if I was going. Trouble was, it was in Nottingham and I’d have to save for ages to be able to afford it – and I had miniatures to buy…
Fast forward a good few years and my first book, Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girk Kind, was on shelves, paying homage to my miniature-painting years. When it came to the second one, I knew what I wanted Archie and his mates to get up to; I wanted to send them LARPing. But, in all those years, I’d never done it.
So, I did.
I contacted a group in Devon and asked if I could come along. Before I went, I had a few chats with a guy, Paul, who explained it to me down the phone, as best he could. There was a rules-system, just like my beloved RPGs and all the weapons were made of foam-latex.
The first time I went, I went with my son and we were told to meet in a service cafe, near Exeter. The cafe was on the first floor, overlooking the shopping aisles of the supermarket it was sat in. My son was only seven at the time and kept asking me where the people we were going to play with were. As I was telling him I didn’t know, he suddenly said “Look! There they are!” and pointed into the supermarket. There, wandering through the bread-aisle, came several wizards, a few warriors and some blue people. No, really.
The met up with us and we were told to follow them to the LARPing ground. We were to follow a guy in his car. I can’t remember his name but, if you think the word ‘Geek’, then whatever you think of – that was him. He was very thin and very self-conscious and very quiet. However, by the time we got out of the car, he’d changed into his full Roman Gladiator and was suddenly The Most Confident Man in the World, slapping his latex-clad chums on the back, bopping them on the head with his rubber sword and generally being loud. He’d completely transformed and come out of his Geeky chrysalis as something bigger, bolder and more colourful. It was actually quite lovely to see.
The best stories came out of my second LARPing adventure. Again with my son, we went to a field in Devon, early one Saturdau morning, to meet Paul, the guy I’d chatted to on the phone. We found the car park, parked up and walked through a hole in the hedge – straight into a fantasy realm. Sure, it was just a campsite – but the tents were all medieval-looking, festooned with rubber skulls and other arcane decorations. After asking a few bemused Elves where Paul was, one suddenly went “Oh – you mean Sebastian! His tent’s over there!”
As it turned out, Sebastian was the name of Paul’s character. We knocked on his tent and there was a bit of rustlinng inside, before the front flap opened and a very tall man, wearing a cloak and dressed in a Renaissance costume made from black velvet, appeared. Unfortunately, he had a bit of a hangover (they’d been on the Mead the night before) and wasn’t up to showing me the ropes just yet. He threw some costumes at us and said the best thing we could do was just mingle and chat to people and we’d get the hang of it. As we wandered off into the camp, he called out: “Oh – and be sure to chat to Brith, the Dwarf.”
So, we wandered and we chatted to people. When I say ‘people’, I mean Dark Elves, Wood Elves, Cat People and Wizards. And they all looked Fantastic. I mean, the work they’d put into their costumes was astonishing. There were shiny armour plates, leather gauntlets, pointed hats – whatever you wanted from your favourute fantasy novel was here, in a field in Devon, eating a bacon sandwich.
Once again, it was my son who pointed out the best bit: there, on the hhorizon, he’d spotted the silhouette of a diminutive figure; horned helmet, knee-length chainmail, HUGE beard and a hefty-looking axe: it had to be Brith the Dwarf. So we went to say Hallo.
Brith the Dwarf turned out to be a 70 year-old retired English Teacher called Barbara. Barbara had been doing this for years and was completely devoted to her character – and she was pretty handy in a fight, too. Her reasons for going was that LARP allowed people to be who they wanted to be, in a completely safe-from-the-rest-of-the-world environment.
As the day went on, we got into some battles, got chased by a Minotaur, my son slew his first Rat Ogre and we made it through the Gates of Death. We allied with Drow, took secret messages for Sebastian and tried to solve the Riddle of the Moving Box. It was bonkers, but beautifully so.
My son LOVED it – and probably because all the adultstreated him and the other kids as equals. If they hit someone with a sword, that person dropped to the floor. If they made a suggestion, it was listened to. If truth be told, he’s better at it than I am.
But what I loved about it was that these mad, mad people had created an environment where they could unleash their fantasies and make them real. Only for a weekend, but they packed as much as they could into those 48 hours and by the end of it, I was exhausted – but happy exhausted.
So, that’s the backdrop to Geekhood: Mission Improbable; a gloriously Geeky world, where no-one is quite what they seem. Some of the scenes in the book are direct lifts from stuff that happened; some of it funny for the wrong reasons, but all dome with complete respect to that lovely bunch of LARPing lunatics.