Make Believe


Remember when you were a kid, and you used to pretend? A simple stick was a magnificent sword, fit for a king, and little plastic bricks promised more fun than you could possibly imagine. It's too bad that as we grow up, we become less and less able to pretend...or do we? What if there was a way to be that knight in shining armor again? Would you do it? These people would. They take part in an activity called "LARPing", and it involves a lot more than just hitting each other with sticks.


LARPing, or "Live Action Role Play", is an intricate, fast-paced and creative game. It requires you to suspend disbelief, put your whole self into everything and truly believe that you can be whatever you want. Check out the slideshow below for an in-depth look at the game.

October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | And so it was that on a warm Saturday afternoon, the Baron of the Seven Sleeping Dragons gathered for their weekly ritual: LARP practice. LARPing, or Live Action Role Playing, is all about becoming somebody else, having fun and more importantly, whacking your friends with foam swords. In the background, third year Cal Poly agricultural business student Ryan Sheppard awaits a killing blow from his opponent. Zach Harvey, who goes by the name Krom, walks off the field with his sword above his head. In my (very limited) time larping with them, Faye McKensey (left, walking towards the camera) told me that this is a standard practice after being “killed”. “Otherwise, people will honestly just keep on hitting you until you go down,” she said. Sounds vicious. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | LARPing can be a gnarly game. There are complex rules to learn, foam swords to hit people with, and...arrows? David Inglis, known as Deimos, has his target (Garth Germond) right in his sights as he fires past his head, only j  ust missing him. Notice the quiver of arrows on Deimos’ hip has “Destruction!” written on it. That arrow actually casts a spell when you are hit with it. Inglis also happens to be rather funny. When describing a new gametype, he had an analogy, to help players understand it. “Who’s never played warlord before? It’s very simple. You start with no friends. Just like the real world, no friends.” But then as you kill people, they are brought over to your side. “It results in a lot of backstabbing, it’s Hilarious. It is deeply funny,” Inglis said. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | Right, so remember how people hit each other with swords in this group? Well, here they are. And as it turns out, people make them on their own. Fun fact from the fighters: The inner core is usually made of golf clubs with the head hacksawed right off! Then they wrap it in housing insulation, sew on a colorful cover, and viola! Also, note that one of the swords has “LOANER” emblazoned on the sides. That’s one of the best parts about the group. You don’t even need your own equipment to play. It’s all there, waiting for you. In the background, Mariah Patague (Limn) looks on as the game “Warlord” rages. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | Tyler Smith, better known among the group as Azalin, goes all out when he LARPs. Green robes, a tunic, magic spells, a bow and arrow...and of course, these elvish ears. It’s all about getting into character. “When I was in college, this was how I relieved stress,” Smith said. And you can tell. When people put on their garb, they become...different. Their problems are gone, and they become fully invested in these characters, and this world. In one instance, ropes were laid out on the ground, and we were told by Zach Harvey that we couldn’t go through the roped off areas, because they were cliffs. This created a funnel, a sort of choke point, right in the middle of the battlefield. Which was really just a grassy area in the park. But still. We were forced to use our imaginations like never before, and it was brilliant. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | LARPing isn’t just about getting into character and pretending to be somebody else. It actually involves a whole lot of rules and strategy. “Think of it like a game of really complicated tag,” McKensey said. If you get hit in the chest, you die. If you get hit in the leg, you have to put your good leg behind you and pivot around, so the other players can’t cut that one off, too. Because if you lose two guessed it! Dead. Here, McKensey discusses strategy and placement with Sheppard. Notice that McKensey has indeed “lost a leg” here, as she is on one knee with her leg right behind her. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | McKensey and Patague face off, neither backing down. Which is all the more impressive, because McKensey has had her left leg “chopped off”. And Patague has lost an arm, judging by the arm tied behind her back. Vicious. And wonderful. It’s just like being a kid again. In the background, Inglis and Roark Smith discuss who killed who. LARPing is all based on the honor system. Whoever hit first is declared the winner, but things can get a little messy in the heat of battle. But it’s all in good fun. As Inglis put it, “There are way more awesome people you’ll meet on a daily me!” October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | But it would not be all fun and games for Inglis today. Little did he suspect, Larry Pena, or Stagwood, was preparing an attack on the veteran LARPer. Here he stands, his sword raised and shield at the ready, preparing to enter the fray. HIs shield, by the way, was entirely handmade, as is most of the LARPing gear and garb. If you’ve got a thing for craftsmanship, it sure is impressive to see the talent some people have here. October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | And so Stagwood moves in for the kill, with Deimos (Inglis) hobbling on just one leg. Like Robin Hood vs the Sheriff, it’s a scene for the ages. Who will win? Swashbuckler or veteran warrior? October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | ...But Stagwood deals the crushing blow, sending Deimos (Inglis) off to the respawn point, to join the battle in a short ten seconds. And all Deimos’ teammate, Roark Smith, can do is look on in stunned silence. That is, only before avenging his death! October 8, 2015 | San Luis Obispo, California | LARPing is a challenging, sweaty and unusual activity. But when you give it a chance, it’s an absolute ball where you can live out all of your storybook and movie fantasies. Here, Pena (Stagwood) has changed weapons, and is moving to more of a ranged archer’s role. He takes a breather, notches an arrow and jumps right back into the raging battle. After all, who wouldn’t want to? Descriptions of games sound like they popped right out of your imagination: “Everything in this zone is now water, instead of lava,” said Harvey. “So you can trudge through on your knees and not burninate. Everything’s water now!” See? Turns out that using your imagination is easy. Just like being a kid again.


So now that you've seen LARPing in action, thanks to the photos above, let's dive a little deeper. This is an interview with Ryan Sheppard, a student from Cal Poly who takes part in the Saturday afternoon activities at Santa Rosa Park. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and get some insight into why people find a great deal of joy in this fantastical event.


Every Saturday in San Luis Obispo, something special happens. At the strike of 1:00, a small group of friends don robes, swords, shields and armor to partake in fierce combat. Okay, so maybe it's not fierce, but it is combat. With foam swords. Listen in to get a sense of the fighting!


So, what is LARPing, really? This piece explores its origins, place in pop culture and impact it can have on people of all sorts. Give it a read. You just might learn something.


LARPing isn't all about the fighting. There's a fair bit of worksmanship and artistry that comes into play. I had the pleasure to talk to Larry Pena, one of the LARPers at the park, and learn about how he put his costume and gear together. Check it out below!

sword, fighting

"Nobody tosses a dwarf" - Gimli