A dying king, a crazy fur-wearing warrior woman, zombies, enchanted objects, and a mythical realm to save. No, this isn’t the latest fantasy novel or the latest D&D campaign your best friend cooked up for game night. Strap on some armor and find your ogre fangs, LARP fans, because there’s a new live action role-playing web series in town and it’s showcasing the hobby in a great way.
Realm of LARP is a reality web series that just completed its eleven episode run over on The Nerdist. It follows a party of five players as they team up for a weekend of LARP adventure, role-playing as their self-created fantasy characters. Along the way, the audience gets to know Steve the Ogre, Crimson the sorceress, Dubach the warrior, Barrington the Knight, and (my personal favorite) Tuck the arrow-shooting, troublemaking elf. The show chronicles how their party comes together to quest for an amulet that will cure a dying king. Sounds easy to you? Clearly, you don’t know how maniacal a storyteller staff can get when creating obstacles for their adventures! The players have to travel far, make tough choices, solve complex puzzles and moral dilemmas, all while trying not to get themselves murdered by angry townsfolk, werewolves, goblins, or various scary creatures. Reality show interviews are spliced into the sword-and-board action so the viewers can get behind-the-scenes commentary from the players about their experiences and character motivations.
It’s those interviews especially that highlight the key to why Realm of LARP succeeds where other media representations of the hobby have failed. While there have been other documentary/reality shows made about LARPing, very few have captured the hobby with such good-natured enjoyment as Realm of LARP. It’s so obvious from watching the players in action that they’re having a great time, and that enthusiasm about their experiences makes the entire production feel friendly, candid, and honest. That openness is also key in showcasing a hobby that is sometimes looked at as insular and hard to understand.
The show made a point to include a diverse group of players in their LARP band, with seasoned veterans alongside a brand new player so that the full range of player experience could be represented. One of the most enjoyable parts of the show for me was watching LARP newbie Tuck (played by Myka Fox) adapt and grow into her character throughout the series. By the end of the adventure she was out causing mischief and stealing things with unreserved glee and I was rooting for her every step of the way. Her evolution from hesitant new player to enthusiastic participant is not just fun to watch but a welcome representation of the fun anyone can have at a game their first time out.
Realm of LARP not only succeeds as entertainment but doubles as great LARP education, too. The show takes particular care to intersperse staff members explaining key aspects of LARP mechanics and out-of-character information into the show to inform the viewers just what’s going on. While that knowledge that might be obvious to someone familiar with LARP, the show explains things in a way that’s easily accessible without seeming like a giant rules lecture. The Game Marshals explain combat rules, unpack game mechanics being used that might be unclear, and toss in their two cents about the players’ decisions and tactics (or lack thereof) when dealing with threats. These interviews help keep the story clear to the audience—even when the players themselves get a little confused along the way—and lets those of us watching at home understand the out-of-character and in-character ramifications of each decision. In the end, we as an audience get to see how the players’ actions directly impact what’s going on around them, which is the essence of a great LARP experience.
Realm of LARP also educates by working hard to break LARP stereotypes. Players talk frankly about their real lives outside of the game and what interested them in the hobby without being represented as socially awkward or escapist. They’re articulate, well-spoken, active people from all walks of life and that’s a point of pride for the players as well as for the show. Crimson’s player NaNa Walls makes a point of mentioning in one interview that she is out to show that LARP isn’t just for “thirty-something white guys” and that women and people of color are involved in the hobby as well. Dubach’s player Jarad Hillman jokes about LARPers being “alpha nerds” by pointing out that the hobby is not only geeky but full of social interaction and physical fitness, something that breaks the horrible stereotype of the overweight, socially inept nerd. Realm of LARP does a lot for showcasing the reality of another aspect of “nerd culture”: people tired of being miscast as misanthropes and basement dwellers, who are instead ready to come out of the geek closet and present their hobby unabashedly to the world.
So is it high drama and Lord of the Rings level fantasy? No. At times the dialogue ad-libbed by the staff can be cheesy and there’s no Legolas-style fluid combat that you might get from a scripted fantasy series. And sometimes the players make some choices that are a little… questionable. (“We killed everything!” Tuck says gleefully at one point, and she’s exaggerating by much). But the show does capture the immersive atmosphere that the staff of the game is trying to create for the players and the earnest fun the players have engaging with the story. You watch from episode to episode as these five folks from different walks of life shed their everyday concerns and dive into their characters for a weekend of romping in the woods fighting pretend monsters. And that’s a great way to think about Realm of LARP overall: a hell of a fun, informative romp through an oft misunderstood hobby.
Kudos to all those involved for creating one of the best representations of LARP out there in media. If you’re a fan of the hobby or just curious about how it works, or even if you’re just looking for some reality TV fun with ogres and undead, check it out. My LARPer cap goes off to all involved and here’s hoping for season two!
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.