SPECIAL FEATURE: ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ – a Visit to ‘Shadowmoor’ LARP

Once nearly every month, the beautiful and scenic Kings Mountain State Park, which splits the border between North and South Carolina, plays host to something truly fascinating; even beyond its own timeless natural wonder. Because for three days a month from March through November, the entire mountain is transformed into the epic fantasy realm of Shadowmoor.

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(image courtesy of Shadowmoor LARP – fair use)

Shadowmoor is a live action role-playing game, or as it’s more commonly referred to, a LARP. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a role-playing game much like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, except instead of rolling dice on a table, controlling a created character as they adventure through your imagination, you ARE the character, and the adventuring is 100% your own actions in an actual, physical setting.

You don a costume, equip yourself with padded “boffer” (safe) weapons, and literally act out every aspect of your RPG character; from your interactions with other players and monsters/enemies, to your eating, drinking, and even sleeping. Everything is done in character. It’s much like a Renaissance Festival or a Civil War Reenactment in the sense that LARPing, as it’s commonly referred to, is a complete, total immersion into a fantasy world setting.

For years I’ve known several people who were into the hobby, many of whom have tried to convince me to come check it out for the better part of the last decade. Although I am an avid RPG fan, and have played both tabletops (D&D and Pathfinder, in particular for me) and video games for the better part of my life, I never had much interest in taking it that far before. It wasn’t until my lovely better half, who used to very casually LARP herself several years ago, asked me to come along with her and see what this one was all about that I finally decided to give it a shot. We bought some camping gear, put together some basic costumes (luckily, she’s an avid cosplayer so I had some help in that department), and set out on the hour or so journey to check this place out. Not knowing what to expect, I figured at worst it would make for a good story, and as many of you dear readers know, there aren’t many lengths I won’t go to for the sake of good, old-fashioned gonzo journalism.

Walking in, I found myself riddled with anxiety, very nervous about diving head first into something I literally know next-to-nothing about. I felt like a complete fish out of water, worried that I wouldn’t fit in the slightest bit, not have a clue what to do, and of course, look like a complete fool out there. Confidence has never been a problem for me in my normal everyday life, so this was doubly tough for me having so little experience with feeling this way. Thankfully, upon walking in I was immediately greeted with a surprised shout of “Dave F***ing Harlequin” from a couple of friends I knew from my years working in live entertainment, so I felt a little better right off the bat. Character creation was a bit hurried, and a lot confusing to me, which led me to just pick from a list and create a sort of “whatever” character – a basic human rogue with almost no fighting ability, and a knack for alchemy, which little did I know at the time didn’t fit me at all, and was basically useless to me. After character creation, everyone gathered around for an opening ceremonies speech which lasted for about an hour, and was about as understandable to me as Cantonese (FYI: I don’t speak a word of Cantonese). After that, myself and the group of new players (pronounced “newbies”) attended a safety meeting going over the proper methods of combat (how/where to hit with your boffer weapons, how/where to throw your beanbags for spells and effects, how to not be a complete creepy douchebag, all the basic stuff) and finally set out on our very first adventure.

Our first adventure was, as I understood it, much like a tutorial mission in any video game and was for new players only. Our characters (mine “Gregor” and hers “Laylei”) were given a basic guideline for our story – we were all in the town of Docksides, where we took a mercenary job with the East Amaroth Trading Company, which led us to fight some bandits along the road, ultimately landing all of us in The Oasis of Shadowmoor (the setting of this game). We were given some gold as payment (actual stamped metal coins of real in-game currency which had to have been expensive to print), and from there we were turned loose into the world to do as we will.

After that, the misses and I made it to our cabin, unpacked our stuff, got into costume, and set off to explore this place. The misses, who was playing an Islander (basically a fishlike humanoid race) met another Islander lady “Kaylani” (possible misspelling) before attending on the official forums who took her in, and in turn took me in to basically show us the ropes. She explained several things to us, set us up with a ward and golem to protect our cabin from would-be thieves. Yes, players can absolutely break into your cabin WHILE SUPERVISED BY GAME STAFF (that’s a VERY big deal there, and they thankfully do not mess around when it comes to keeping everything safe, which made me feel a lot more comfortable) to steal your in-play items (out of play items are safe, no one’s going to actually rob you). This, while legal, is generally frowned upon when it comes to new/newer players, as it’s seen as taking advantage of noobs who probably won’t know what’s going on, or be able to defend themselves.

“Kaylani” introduced us to her guild, and told us of some severe in-game consequences she bestowed on the last person who took advantage of the newbies. She took us, and one of my aforementioned old live entertainment friends “Jack” to her cabin, which was literally transformed into a Tiki bar (not an actual bar, mind you, as alcohol isn’t allowed on site for pretty obvious reasons) gave us a few drinks, gave the misses some better Islander gear, and suddenly we turned around and it was 5:00am. We headed back to our cabin and crashed for the night.

shadowmoor1

(image courtesy of Shadowmoor LARP – fair use)

Saturday morning, with maybe 3 hours of sleep between us, we headed to the town Tavern (a large meeting site with a full kitchen) to get breakfast. Each player can create a tab with actual money, and purchase three full meals a day with several options, just like a real restaurant. Pretty cheap prices, too; between $4-$8 per meal. Coffee, lemonade, and water are provided free of charge, and sodas/sports drinks can be purchased for around 75 cents each. After breakfast, we embarked on another mission for level 10 and under players only, and that’s where I figured out that I was going about this all wrong. I literally was able to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Feeling confused, still anxious, and somewhat dejected, I walked over to the plot tent (game-masters HQ) and spoke with the people in charge about my issues.

They were very understanding, and exceptionally helpful in letting me create an entirely new character that better fit me as a person. They offered great tips on how to basically make my character an extension of myself, and do only as much as I was comfortable with. With their help, I re-created a new “Gregor” – a Barbarian mercenary fighter, which fit me 100X better. Suddenly, like a light had gone off, everything was now much more enjoyable for me. I went an “re-met” everyone, and eventually found myself joined by a very friendly Bard whose name escapes me from the Battle Healers Guild who helped me to understand that my previous character was merely “a bad dream brought on by too much drink at the Tiki bar” the night before. He shared more tips and tricks on how to LARP, the rules, etc. I was still probably the least experienced player there, even among the newbies, but I was suddenly enjoying my gaming experience much more.

After that, I found myself jumping right into the frey, fighting monsters, earning coin, meeting many more people, splitting rewards with co-kills (which I didn’t have to, it just seemed like good sport to me). For about an hour and a half I played as a monster, giving back to the game, which was supposed to be for two hours, but it was called short by the GMs due to their needing to get the big battles ready, and a reset time approaching. I very much enjoyed playing as a monster, possibly even more than playing as my own character, and I very much hope I’m able to repay the 30min I wasn’t able to give them, as well as give them even more in the future, because I just enjoyed it. After that, we saw a reset, which was exactly what it sounded like, and after dinner I headed to the cabin for a much-needed nap.

An hour or two later, the misses comes to the cabin to tell me that the bad monsters are now out, agents of the Harbinger of Pestilence (think Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – either Biblical style or X-Men style, your choice) who are hitting characters with some pretty nasty diseases. I came across a kind traveler on my way to the tavern who gave me a cure disease potion and told me to keep it close in the event I fell in battle, which gave me two as I already had earned one from the night before. Suddenly, all hell broke loose, and the tavern was attacked by tons of these monsters. Let me tell you, it got intense. There was fighting everywhere, people falling in battle all around me (taking a knee waiting to either be healed or die), and eventually a very powerful big baddie came in and everyone freaked out. This is when things got a bit hardcore.

During this epic close-quarters fight, a group of people got very much into it and were heading straight for another gamer who was taking a knee. Seeing what was about to happen, my instincts kicked in and I threw myself in front of the man to keep him from being trampled, taking a pretty hard shot to the mouth in the process. It was a total accident, but still hurt all the same. Shots to the head/neck/groin are illegal, but they do tend to happen. I personally took about 12 shots to the back of my neck in combat, which left me wondering at one point if it was some sort of rib to new players (I asked, I was told it wasn’t, it just happens sometimes) and all of that was fine, but this particular one was painful enough to make me toss on a white headband (that means you’re out of play/don’t exist in game) and walk it off, spitting out a little blood and laughing at myself for no good deed going unpunished. Thankfully, everyone was moved out into the streets/wilderness from there, and the battles started happening like crazy all around us.

Finally, it was time for the big, final boss battle, if you will. Myself, the misses, and a few of us other newbies were taken in by the Tiki bar guild (I believe they were the Druid Circle, but don’t quote me on that, it just seemed that way to me) who had made an alliance with the Battle Healers Guild, and they gave us some strategy and watched our backs in the final battles. I really can’t praise these people enough, as they helped make me feel included, accepted, and gave me an actual purpose in this game, ultimately being weekend-savers. We defeated the boss, retreated to the tavern, went over strategy and such, and finally it was decreed that my poor misses needed to call it a night as she was so tired she could barely stand. She’s a tough woman, but all that physical activity on 3 hours of sleep had taken its toll. I took her to bed, and that’s where we called it for the night.

Finally, Sunday morning had rolled around. I got up, got dressed back in my costume, really lamenting the lack of running water (there usually is, but this particular time there were some issues) on site and my desire to shower, but not letting that stop me from having a good time. Then, when I went to walk down the cabin steps I felt my thighs burning like you wouldn’t believe. I decided to take a moment to sit back down on my cabin steps, and “Laylei” and “Evvard” (another new player, and a very nice fellow, albeit a very talented LARPer, miles better than any other newbie there) came looking for me. “Evvard” makes actual armor in his free time, and offered to fit me for some, which was very kind – something I noticed a lot of among nearly everyone there, kindness. Finally I convinced my legs to work again, and headed back into the game, where we battled some more monsters, this time some enraged Orcs and Dwarves, two of which I was able to drop and loot, and I ran into my first actual issue of the game.

Another gamer, I would assume a fighter/warrior of some sort, and a clearly very experienced player and I co-killed a monster. I called to search the slain monster, but found that my loot was taken from me. When I spoke up saying that I called that search, the player then got very defensive, up to and including threatening to fight me for it. As you’d expect, this really rubbed me the wrong way, but I let it go and walked away, telling a few people who had seen what happened about it, including someone new from the Tiki bar crew who told me not to worry about it, that he and his guild would sort that out in game for me later. I’m not really sure what that bit was all about, or even how much of that was legit vs. how much of it was in character, nor did I honestly care that much anyway. As with all games, you always have those players (in tabletop we call them powergamers) and as any gamer can tell you, you get used to it.

Finally, it was starting to get late into the afternoon, so I went back to the cabin, packed everything up, got back into my regular clothes, loaded the car with our stuff, and went to check out. The friendly Bard showed the misses and I how to cash out our earned coin, use it to level up, and even took a look at all of our loot, buying some of mine from me, and telling us both where/who to sell the rest. Then, we hopped in the car, headed home, and recapped our weekends with one another, both talking at great length about how much fun it all ended up being despite all of the worry we had going into it.

So that’s my story of my very first LARP, and my very first trip to Shadowmoor. Overall, it was a fun, rewarding, and interesting experience where we got to enjoy a whole new level of gaming, and meet some really great people along the way. We already plan to come back for more, and I would definitely encourage any of you dear readers who may be interested in any sort of gaming to at least give it a try yourselves. There are a ton of LARP events all over, just Google what’s in your area, or if you’re interested in checking out/learning more about Shadowmoor itself, you can visit their official website at www.shadowmoor.org. Until next time, dear readers, this is your humble editor signing off. See you all again soon!

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-Dave Harlequin
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
@DaveHarlequin

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Note: the preceding article is presented as opinion based solely on the personal experiences of the writer. Your experience may differ. The views and opinions expressed by Mr. Harlequin herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Nerd Nation Magazine, our sponsors, or anyone else for that matter. So please, don’t be a d-bag and try to sue anyone over the stuff he writes. Don’t like it? Feel free to sound off respectfully in the comments section below, or simply go read something else… preferably right here at Nerd Nation!

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