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ISSUE 120 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/16/2007

LARPers keep it real

By Lauren Radomski
Variety Editor

Friday, March 16, 2007

In case you haven't noticed, the St. Olaf campus is home to a growing number of dwarfs, elves, gypsies and goblins, not to mention the occasional zombie. These creatures roam the Hill nearly every weekend, wielding swords, casting spells and causing magic-related mischief. Dressed in everything from cloaks to chain mail, they engage in deadly battles, solve mysteries and even find time for romance. All of this is thanks to the students who call themselves the Live Action Role Players (LARPers) of St. Olaf College.

LARP is a fantasy game in which players take on the physical and personality traits of particular characters. One player, the Game Master (GM), is responsible for creating a plotline for the rest of the participants, who are divided into Player Characters (PCs), the heroes and Non-Player Characters (NPCs), the supporting roles. The game follows basic rules established by the New England Role Playing Organization (NERO), but the specifics of the plot are determined by the individual players.

Nate Brengle '10 is a seven-year LARP veteran and the founder and GM of the St. Olaf group. As GM, Brengle comes up with a rough plot outline for the group's Saturday afternoon events. The same story continues from week to week, with new sub-plots emerging on a regular basis. The PCs may have a feel for the story's general direction, but don't know the specifics of play each week. Because of this, many people liken LARP to a form of improvisational theater.

One of the St. Olaf LARPers is Lili Miller '09, whose character is a gypsy alchemist. As Miller explained, playing a character involves not only a certain kind of costume, but a particular personality type. Because the game describes gypsies as flamboyant and selfish, yet loyal to family, Miller embodies these traits when she is in character.

The variety of character personality types are bound to come into conflict, thus a feature of LARP is battle between players. With the use of foam weapons, players engage in hand to hand combat, sometimes until one character dies. Brengle stressed that LARP is completely safe; the touch of a sword to a body should be so soft that the sound isn't audible. The NERO website claims its LARP events produce fewer injuries than Little League softball games.

While battle adds to the LARP experience, it is only one component of the game. According to Ralph Mantey ‘10, LARP “is a chance to return to childhood and let your imagination go wild. It requires players to develop skills such as improvisational acting, quick thinking, physical agility and tactical diplomacy.” As a NPC, Mantey has played a number of supporting roles, such as monsters, orphans and spell-casters, working to bring to life the plot created by the GM.

LARP also challenges players with moral dilemmas. “A lot of it is puzzle and social issue-oriented,” Brengle said. For example, Miller's character, the gypsy, discovered that her romantic interest dealt euphoria, the in-game equivalent of heroin. Faced with the decision of whether or not to continue a relationship with a drug dealer, the self-centered gypsy naturally chose to hide his wrongdoing for her own benefit.

Enthusiasts are quick to sing LARP’s praises over traditional gaming experiences. Peter Haugen ‘09 said he’d much rather LARP outside than be glued to a computer screen in some dark dorm room. “With this, you’re running around, you’ve got a sword, wearing 60 pounds of chain mail,” he said. Brengle agreed. “Unlike video games, the game is custom made,” he said.

The world of LARP extends far beyond the St. Olaf campus. The Live Action Roleplayer Association (LARPA) is a non-profit organization that promotes LARP by educating the public and providing players with schedules of events around the country. NERO, founded in 1989, sponsors LARP weekends around the country, in which participants stay at campsites designed to look like medieval towns. A typical NERO weekend, involving constant play Friday through Sunday, costs $60, while a single day event is $20. One of many NERO headquarters throughout the country is located in Hibbing, Minn.

St. Olaf LARPers may not play in medieval villages, but they enjoy themselves nevertheless. A typical event involves seven to 10 players who traipse around Norway Valley and the halls, lounges and stairwells of Hill-Kitt. Each person dons the costume, accessories and make-up appropriate for his or her character, and usually carries a weapon of some sort. LARP gear is available through websites such as, which sells latex battleaxes, leather pouches and colored contact lenses, among other products. Since these items can be pricey, St. Olaf LARPers are adept at making the best of what they have. Brengle said he can easily find material for weapons at local hardware stores.

LARPers acknowledge that the game may seem rather bizarre to non-players. But LARP is all about having fun, they say, and in order to make the most of the game, it’s important to really get into character. “An actor doesn’t have fun if you don’t embrace your character, if you’re not acting well,” Miller said. So if you’re looking for an opportunity to engage in improv, brush up on your swordfighting and dress as a goblin, you’re in luck: St. Olaf LARPers are always looking for more players.

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