On a Saturday in northern Manhattan, Inwood Park is transformed into another world called Naesil (Nah-zeal). A place full of knights, goblins, warriors and elves. And it can be deadly.
Schnakenberg 1: “We are out here to kill our friends not hurt them so the weapons we use are heavily padded and there are lots of safety rules and you know we are careful and stuff.” (0:07)
LOVELL 2: That’s Conrad Schnakenberg, known today as Captain Rex Culdera – he’s been LARPING for over two decades. Once a month, he leaves behind the daily concerns of a high school science teacher, to join this community of LARPers called Vanguard.
Schnakenberg 2: “When a LARP is done properly it’s not just dressing up like an idiot and hitting people with a foam weapon which I suppose you could do.” (0:06)
LOVELL 3: But there’s more to the Vanguard LARPers. Today, Schnakenberg is a warrior in the Grey Company. He is fighting alongside Jason Mac-en-yoh-knee – or Sergeant Icarus – who made his costume from scratch.
Mac-en-yoh-knee 1: “I am wearing head to toe plate armor but it’s actually home made out of Kydex barrel plastic.” (0:07)
LOVELL 4: Think… cast from Game of Thrones.
Mac-en-yoh-knee 2: “I have a grey taborn on, I have a belt with a few pouches and three boffer swords on my person.” (0:06)
LOVELL 5: And a boffer sword is…
Mac-en-yo-knee 3: “A boffer sword is a foam rubber sword, they are pretty much contact safe and you can actually smack your friends around with these.” (0:06)
LOVELL 6: And he’ll be doing that for the next eight hours, fully immersed in this…Well…What is this is exactly? There’s a murder mystery, a hostage rescue, a chaotic battle and the occasional duel.
SOUND: “Everyone look at me! I am going to be the entertainment now! On Guard!” (0:09)
LOVELL 7: In the world of Naesil (Nah-zeal), my name is Shandtula I’m a herald of sorts, gathering stories about this new strange place. I am dressed in a long black tunic with a slim belt wrapped around my waist.
Sound: “Welcome Herald to this cursed camp, you may want to stick with those of us who can swing some steel. Instead of on the outskirts.” (0:06)
LOVELL 8: The LARP is set in a refugee camp – populated with people escaping a war being waged by the evil Aetherian horde. There is an undead messenger slinking around.A mysterious woman in a long green cape who is silent and sullen. She has a 7 year old son as her companion. And an air elemental, adorned with blue and white tutus around her neck.
LOVELL 9: The camp seems quiet for most of the day, people milling around.But then…
Sound (0:00) “Your true masters have returned”
A group of Aetherian’s rush out of the woods and it’s bedlam. Foam swords thrash against each other, various spells throw people to the ground. Shandtula is cowering behind a tree, taking it all in.
Sound (0:07) Fighting noises
LOVELL 10: When it’s all said and done there is a lot of damage. Lots of wounded LARPers. Which is just fine with Adera Forsyth, Susan Chase and Jason Mac-en-yo-knee — for them LARPING is an exercise in freedom.
Forsyth 1: “It’s my escape from everyday life once a month.
Forsyth 2: “And you get to explore different sides of yourself. You find aspects you didn’t know you had which I think is pretty groovy.”
Mac-en-yo-knee 4: “It is awesome to be able to step out of your head for a little while and something fantastical that you can’t do in everyday life.”
Chase 1: “The friends that you make and all the stories that you have afterwards and it’s wonderful.”
LOVELL 11: That stepping out of everyday life… There is something so seductive about it. Halloween… Mardi Gras… those are just excuses to dress up and play pretend.
Sound: (Meeting Juan Corradi 0:00)
CORRADI 1: My name is Juan J-U-A-N. Corradi C-O-R-R-A-D-I. I have been a Professor of Sociology at NYU for more years than I care to recollect.
LOVELL 12: At his downtown office I talk to Professor Corradi about the importance of role play in our society and why it matters.
CORRADI 2: “Role playing is a good exercise in putting oneself in the place of the other.”(0:05)
LOVELL 13: Which he says is essential for human solidarity and communication
CORRADI 3: “If you can’t imagine yourself being somebody else, then you cannot have empathy and you cannot have human touch or relationship.” (0:10)
Sound: (Door of Bar 0:05)
LOVELL 13: And LARPing is about relationships. It’s communal. Each one has its own rituals and traditions. Vanguard heads to the Irish pub Piper’s Kilt on 207th street after every game. I talk to game organizer and co-founder Joseph Gago and he tells me a common misconception of LARPing
GAGO 1: “That we are a bunch of dorks running around in the forest screaming lightening bolt. (laughs) (0:04)
LOVELL 13: But if that is your thing there’s a LARP for that. In fact there’s version of LARPing for just about anything
GAGO 2: “There’s steampunk LARPs”
LOVELL 14: Post-apocalyptic LARPS
GAGO 3: “Star Wars, Battle Star Gallactica”
LOVELL 15: “Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Marvel.”
LOVELL 16: And the list goes on and on. This LARP is considered high fantasy and today’s game didn’t quite go as planned. Referee and script writer James Bigelow explains:
BIGELOW 1: “I think I in retrospect I was relying on the players to make assumptions that they wound up not making. I think I wound up thoroughly confusing them”
LOVELL 17: Yeah I can see that. Towards the end it was kind of a free for all. Players started to break character. But not Shandtula –that’s me! I survived the game! And was even given some incentive points to come back and be part of this world again. Maybe with an elaborate back story – like her parents were killed by a goblin and now she’s out for revenge. Or maybe she’s an elf that gets to rule a kingdom. That’s the beauty of LARPing, you’re only limited by your imagination. Here’s James Bigelow again.
LOVELL 17 ALT:
Yeah I can see that. Towards the end it was kind of a free for all. Players started to break character. But not Shandtula –that’s me! I survived the game! And maybe next time she’ll come back with an elaborate back story. That’s the beauty of LARPing, you’re only limited by your imagination. Here’s James Bigelow again.
BIGELOW 2: “The truth is you don’t really need the gaming console or the complicated online system or anything. You just need a bunch of people who are wiling to you know put on funny costumes and pretend to be someone else for a day” (0:12)
Vanguards next event is May 21st. Until then…may the LARP be with you.
Amina “Shandthula” Lovell, Columbia Radio News