In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, people who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons from within. Without the ability to indulge in fantasy, many of us lose out on the opportunity to really get to know ourselves.
Luckily for Manitobans, some brave adventurers step forward in the summer to battle all varieties of magical beasts on our behalf.
Misthaven is one of Manitoba’s dark fantasy Live Action Role Play (LARP) guild houses. Like tabletop role-playing games, LARP allows players to create and insert their own original characters into an established fictional universe.
Speaking to the Manitoban, one of Misthaven’s guild masters and co-founders, Coltin Day, described LARP as taking “what happens in popular fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings or series like The Witcher and [acting] that out in real life.”
“You actually get to swing the sword, slay the dragon, that kind of thing,” Day explained. “You don’t just imagine it in your mind’s eye, you actually get to participate and basically put on that persona for a day, a weekend or however long our events are.”
Rather than imagine entirely new settings, rules and systems from scratch, many LARP groups build on and tweak pre-existing templates that can be molded to their liking. Misthaven uses a base game system called Underworld.
Misthaven’s current membership is about 44 players according to Day. Underworld’s entire player base is harder to measure, as some guilds have been founded in Florida and even Japan.
U of M faculty of arts student and Misthaven player Lauren Perry assists with Misthaven’s public relations and social media operations. Perry described LARP as an “interactive, improvised theatre experience.”
“It’s very akin to playing pretend like when we were kids, except now we have money, and we are more able to play in a more complicated form,” she said.
Day explained that games are usually prepared for by guildmasters, who “facilitate the game by writing quests” for the overall story that rope in the players’ characters.
Fully immersing themselves in the story, LARPers not only act as their characters, but dress in garments and come equipped with props that suit the setting of the game.
Day said that prop weapons — which are primarily made of latex foam — can range from homemade crafts using PVC pipe and pool noodles to realistic, “commercial-grade” weaponry from vendors like Epic Armoury.
Day described the interest in purchasing gear as “fashion-forward.”
“You’ve got to look good when you’re cutting down goblins,” he said.
LARP does not strictly involve simulating combat. Misthaven’s most recent event was a pre-season Yule Ball complete with dancing, a three-course meal and a masquerade theme.
Due in part to the ways that LARP encourages creative production, many players with theatre backgrounds are drawn to Misthaven. However, there is no one reason why LARPers play.
Perry said that “an interest in fantasy, interest in fantasy literature or movies, pop culture [and] an interest in theatre,” as well as gaming, crafting, sports and a general desire to be part of a community all spark people’s interest in LARPing.
Day believes that LARP draws people in because it offers them a chance to create memories.
“It’s a peak memory,” he said. “You go out and you enjoy it, and after you come back from it you don’t have something tangible, you have the experience.”
Day also thinks that LARP alters players in positive ways. He described how some participants who were initially shy and hesitant about public speaking or improv used LARP as a way to overcome and escape their inhibitions by taking on a different persona.
“You don’t need to be that shy person, you can be that loud knight who stands up for what they believe in,” Day said. “You can be whatever you want. It’s so freeing in a way, to be able to have that opportunity and that experience where you become more than yourself.”
“That’s what I think draws people into LARP, the opportunity to escape — in a healthy way — their lives.”
For Perry, LARP draws people in because it provides “a creative outlet, a safe space for personal growth, a place to have an adventure and to experience a story together with a welcoming community.”
Misthaven’s regular seasonal programming picks up from May 5 to 7, with events spanning entire weekends including optional campouts. Weather permitting, an event will take place each month after that until November.
As adult society loses some of the magic of childhood, then, LARP equips people to seize the day, embark on an adventure and become more than what they are.
Players interested in joining Misthaven can find this season’s scheduling and other information on the group’s Instagram, @underworldmisthaven, or at https://underworldlarp.com/guilds/winnipeg-larp-misthaven/.