Welcome to Bintoria, where encounters with bandits, werewolves, ogres and dragons are not uncommon. This may not be the Binghamton University you’re familiar with, but if you ask any LARPer, we live in Bintoria.
Technically, the University doesn’t become Bintoria until one is in character, but now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Binghamton Live Action Role Play Club fosters some of the most imaginative yet misunderstood students on campus. Who are these costumed anomalies? What are they doing with foam swords? And (for Merlin’s sake!) why are they running through the Nature Preserve?
Upon initiation into LARP, each member constructs their own character. A character is a complex entity formulated with a distinct personality, strengths, weaknesses, special powers, backstory and personal motivation to act in certain ways. Character development is a crucial aspect of LARPing.
“It’s so unlike school that it allows you to just let everything go,” said Anne O’Reilly, president of LARP. “It’s an amazing stress relief.”
LARP meetings can take many forms. There are battle games, feasts and weapon workshops. Most meetings are quests, the preponderance of LARP excitement. A quest is structured like a classic fantasy plot, not quite “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” but more similar to a classic fairy tale. There are three roles in a quest: reaves, NPCs (non-playing characters) and PCs (playing characters). The reaves volunteer to write a story line and make judgement calls during the quest, acting as both referee and God. The NPCs take on a novel role for the quest by congregating and coordinating their function in the storyline. Roles can include townspeople, evil fairies or marauders. Everyone else performs as the playing characters they invented upon joining LARP.
During the quest, PCs have the opportunity to gain personal strengths, bond with other characters and develop. Characters can gain new abilities and spells as well as achieve a greater sense of self.
The plot of one quest involved PCs who were given the mission to capture a destructive group of bandits in the faraway land of Auir. The PCs were transported from Bintoria via enchanted bracelets. Battling wolves and fending off kidnappers, the characters exercised their skills in the Under Dark, more commonly referred to as the Tunnels Beneath Lecture Hall.
Keelia Taylor, a sophomore in the LARP Club, recounts the quest as an opportunity for gaining a better understanding of her character, Row. Row is a Healer. This grants her the power to help other characters who may become injured during the quest. Row must learn new spells and collect bandages to promote the common good of other members of the quest. This role is a crucial reflection of Row’s history. After watching her parents die from a heritable disease, Row began learning spells to promote health. Through a lifetime’s pursuit of curing ailments, she hopes that she will someday cure the disease that took her parents’ lives, as it may someday afflict her.
In fact, Row’s life pursuit will likely be built into a future quest. Such was the case for Akiva Blickstein, a senior in LARP. Blickstein’s character, Ishmael, is a half-dragon, half-human shapeshifter. During childhood, Ishmael’s home was attacked by an unknown enemy. His father saved Ishmael and his siblings by hiding each one in a different spot. After the chaos subsided, Ishmael crawled from his nook to find his brother and father dead, and his sister missing. The LARP E-Board considered Ishmael’s case and devised a quest in his honor. Three PCs made personal sacrifices in exchange for the resurrection of Ishmael’s brother. The event made an essential impact on Ishmael’s emotional development.
Each quest is like a chapter in the never-ending LARP chronicles. The experiences, heartaches and personal triumphs become ingrained in each character’s history and development. Thus, LARPing is an intricate combination of storytelling and improv, combat and camaraderie, and vicariousness and self-expression.
The LARPing world fosters a receptive community, encouraging new members to join.
Many LARPers feel that the activity has allowed them to gain self-confidence. Mundanes, who are the passersby of a quest, will likely cast a critical eye toward the characters.
“I’m having so much fun I don’t care,” Taylor said. “They’re the ones missing out, obviously.”