So, I'm a Larper.
And a woman.
I guess I'm a woman Larper.
In other words, one of my main hobbies is going to Live Action Role Playing games, and all that comes with it. The crafting of an amazing variety of things, from armor to costumes to making my own quills and books. I spend a fair amount of time and money on this hobby. Recently, I was watching a talk about a feminist movement to get more women larping, and it got me thinking about how I ended up with the larps I'm currently in, and how much they've grown in women's involvement. I decided I wanted to write about this, though frankly, this is much more about being a larper than being a woman.
I think I will start with my own beginnings in 1991. When I went to my first larp, I was already hugely into table top gaming. Even if I'd been making enough money to do more expensive hobbies, table top gaming was what I did most, except maybe reading. When we found out about larping, it seemed like the absolutely best thing ever. My brother gave me the rule book for NERO (New England Role-playing Organization) and I was really excited. We went out to our first one day at Fort Yargo, and volunteered for the day. We played a variety of monsters and npc's or non player characters - and pretty much had a blast. I was very very shy, but I had my (now ex) husband and my brother with me, and the people were extremely helpful to new players. I did get a lot of blatant surprise that I was playing, as one of the few women there - but it was generally kind or flattering.
From there, we made our first characters and started playing. This did not go so well. I think before I get into this, maybe a bit of setting. When we started playing NERO in 1991, it was a fairly heavy pvp (player vs. player) game. There were plot lines and stories to interact with, but the scariest thing you could run into on a dark night was other pc's. I was extremely naive - and thought every single person would want to play a glorious hero. Alas, many liked playing the villain, and I was killed several times by other pc's. So there I was, a shy girl playing a rogue. You gained in level by getting xp either from killing monsters, killing other pc's or going on modules. I was not so good at killing anything and, as someone very shy, was unable to get onto a module. Modules are just small controlled adventures, but they usually have a hook of some sort that requires you to be outgoing. And so, I was unable to get the xp to go up in level. A low level rogue forever.
It didn't take me long at all to give up on playing, but my husband and brother still loved it, so I started volunteering instead. Actually, what I generally did was go to play my character, and as soon as I got killed, go volunteer to play monsters for pretty much the rest of the event. It turned out that I could get a bit of xp from that, so I felt very proactive towards my poor little rogue.
We played this larp for a while - we played it when it broke off and became SOLAR - which was very similar, just without rules coming down from Boston about how the game should be played. I would not say it was toxic, just that it was not really a great larp for me. I feel like being in one of the baronies that was fighting against the other baronies could have been fun. We briefly did join one, but found that being on the bottom of the totem pole - giving them all your experience to pool on someone at the top of the totem pole, was... really even worse. Again, my husband who was very outgoing, managed to stay with them and impress them, and eventually be the one they heaped xp onto. Had I stayed, and proven useful, I might have been that person.
As to how I was affected due to my gender, there were only a few instances that come to mind. One was the eternal joke that the less armor a girl wears, the higher her armor rating. I saw this one for myself though, at the time, the girl who argued for how much armor she should get on her scantily clad self was both very lovely and extremely intimidating. She also held some in-play power that left you feeling you should not anger her. The 'weaponsmiths' who gave out armor tags based on the rep you were wearing, seemed more intimidated than enthralled.
To me, it seemed that there few women playing, but the ones that did often seemed to be in a position of power. Strong willed, clever and ambitious. Understand that my perspective was very narrow - there may have been other women like me: quiet and hard to see - and I just as blind to them as anyone else was to me.
The times that stand out most as being tied to my gender were the times I was sent out as a Nymph. Now, telling this story, it sounds kind of horrible, but at the time, it didn't seem so - it's all how you cant it really. I was nearly always in monstertown, but some women would show up to monster for just a few hours and would often beg to play a Nymph. Nymphs are very close to the ones you find in dungeons and dragons - they are supposed to be stunningly pretty and go out and charm men to their doom. In the case of Nero, they generally charmed you, took you to the woods, and had their way with you. In some cases, they would be evil and kill you, so many players were wary of them. In any case, all girls wanted to play one, and the monstertown manager would often say no. So when they left monstertown, the manager would ask if I wanted to play one. I think this was mostly some sort of reward for never asking to play specific types of things, I was very easy going - but I was also pretty cute, so who knows what the thoughts that generated it were.
So, I'm going out as this girl that charms men and gets them to come have sex, and my costuming is the same costuming as most things - a green tabard, and if I'm lucky, some elf ears. This sounds pretty horrible, but keep in mind, I played a lot of dungeons and dragons. In my head, I was a monster from the monster manual - it was fun to me. Also, I had a couple of things going for me - I was very firmly married and not worried about line crossing, and my husband was a really big guy and every single person knew him. He was the kind of guy that is friends with Everyone. Had I been single, or had people thought I was single, this whole thing might have been extremely uncomfortable. Anyway, as I make a short story long, I would go charm people, take them into the woods, and tell them they had a very nice time. On one very awkward occasion, one of the pc's (who is a very good friend of mine to this day), put me to sleep and put me inside the mages guild circle. (in those days, you could not leave a circle of power without permission, so I'm stuck there) This was at about 2am. This was supposed to be the funniest joke ever, and if you don't think about it too hard, it is. But then, you are me - a usually very shy person, who is slightly better when monstering, playing a creature that wants to drag men off and have sex, trapped in a room full of sleeping people. I 'wake up' from the sleep spell and am at a loss. Most of them are sleeping on the floor and I'm really not sure how to play this. Do I snuggle with someone? No way. My memory on how I handled this is pretty vague, but I know I decided to go for the 'claustrophobic nymph who wants to go back to the woods'. The best part, was one of the mages waking up and saying 'aren't you Justin's sister?' (Justin is my real life brother)
Overall the whole situation was weird and awkward, and amusingly I did not tell the person responsible how weird and awkward it was until just this last year. And that says something about how hard it is to point out the things that happen to you.
As to the monstertown manager who sent me out as a nymph, he also took me out as a Death Knight to his boss level bad guy, and sent me out as the hobgoblin princess looking for a prince. Also amusing is the different reaction between that character and a nymph, even though the costuming was.. you guess it, a green tabard.
We played this game until one of our friends decided to try breaking off and opening a chapter of Nero again - sticking with the franchise and rules that were formulated mainly in Boston. And that is where I will start my next post.
I will throughout this be talking about the many games I've played, but don't expect much real criticism of those games. I've never left a game because it was 'bad', but I have left several because they weren't for me. In almost every game I've played, I still have friends who continue to play those games - because to them, they are good games.