Kitty Rode pulls on a brown wrap-around top and tan pelt skirt. She
fastens a swath of grey fur around her shoulders, dons pointed
prosthetic ears and pulls a strand of chunky wooden beads around her
Carefully, she draws two black streaks of eyeliner from the
corners of her lips to her chin. She creates wild black eyebrows, and,
beside her left eye, a delicate vine pattern snakes down her cheek.
is no longer Kitty Rode, the 20-year-old literature student at the
University of Toronto. She is Vivica, the wild elf from Jericho who
adores nature, spurns metal and coins and survives through bartering
This is the realm of Underworld LARP, a live-action
role-playing game that has been going strong for about 15 years and
attracted a stream of dedicated players along the way -- more than 300
at last count.
"It's about escapism. You, as a player, design
someone separate from yourself and you go somewhere else for the
weekend and become someone else," explains co-owner Edward Watt, an
online sales representative who spends his free time crafting
storylines, tweaking rules, designing props and otherwise maintaining
the world of Jericho.
"It's about immersion and it's about
story-telling," Mr. Watt says. "You can forget about your nine-to-five
job, you can forget about school,
you can forget about your
husband and wife and your kids. I think that's what people find most
appealing about it.... It taps into something."
role-playing, a more widespread phenomenon in Europe, has steadily been
gaining prominence in Canada, and the co-owners of Underworld LARP
believe their organization may now be the largest in the country. Each
weekend-long session -- there are about eight per year, with a hiatus
during the winter months -- draws more than 100 participants.
is a complex and immersive game, mingling elements of fantasy and
horror, with a 123-page rulebook outlining the Underworld races, their
skills and abilities, guidelines for combat, magic spells and more. In
fact, players can cast a wide variety of spells, ranging from
protective shields to healing potions to dark curses.
and co-owner David Ashby are among a group of writers who craft loose
storylines for each Underworld LARP excursion, while a team of
volunteers act out key plot points. The players, who join at a cost of
about $50 per game, improvise the rest.
"We basically write the
game world, and as the players play that game world, they choose which
direction it goes in," explains Mr. Ashby, a network administrator by
day. "We'll paint the beginning of the picture and they will choose
based on their reactions, whether they're good or bad, or evil or
moral, what actually happens to the end."
In one hypothetical
example, volunteers dressed as goblins would run into Jericho -- the
game's central town, set up most recently as a campsite in rural
Ontario -- and snatch the mayor's daughter. Players could then decide
what to do: attack the goblins, negotiate the girl's safe release, or
perhaps join forces with the goblins to take over the town.
game weekends, the story runs 24 hours a day, and players are required
to remain in character the entire time, sleeping whenever they dare.
Combat, which occurs using padded "boffer" weapons, can deplete a
player's "body points," which are subsequently replenished as that
player gains more experience. But if the tally hits zero, the player
dies -- a development that can be highly emotional for some, forcing
them to create a new character.
"When you play a character for five years, it's like a second you, and then it's gone," Mr. Ashby says.
Adds Ms. Rode: "People have come and said it was too real."
of Toronto biology student Ryan Szyiko and George Brown College
fashion design student Kate Haines -- a.k.a. Agni Ragnarson and Nadja,
two members of a Viking-esque tribe of "Einhers" in Jericho -- chose
characters that were diametrically opposed to their own personalities,
ensuring the utmost separation of game and real life.
Ragnarson is "aggressive, loud, obnoxious.... He hates everybody unless
you prove yourself to him," Mr. Szyiko explains. Najda, similarly, is
frequently seen in a "blind, frothy rage," Ms. Haines says.
find it easier to play someone very separate from my personality," she
says. "I think it's easier, because I can become more extreme about
Through the magic of character design, Mr. Watt notes, a shy
player can morph into an extrovert; an atheist can become a religious
figure; a "computer geek" can transform into an armoured warrior.
is no job like what we do," he says, a smile playing at the edges of
his lips. He compares his work to that of a playwright, minus the
creative control. "We are essentially story writers, but we have no
control over the characters in our story--and we don't know how the
story's going to end."
(Original article by Megan O'Toole in the National Post - LINK)