Crossing the Nerdicon
Published: January 15, 2014
With my iron helmet pulled snug about my head, I cinched my studded armbands tight against my forearms, muscles taut for battle, and glared out across the frozen field; my loins had never felt so girded as I steeled myself for battle. Krog, the wild man from the wastes of a land known as Glen Burnie, let out a blood-curdling war cry and hurled his massive, shirtless body toward the fray. Inspired by his heaving, goose-pimpled woobs—or as they are known in the muggle world, warrior boobs—we joined his fateful charge toward the Rusty Scupper. I held the right flank against Bleys, the most feared man in our opponents’ line. I slammed my massive tower shield into the deadly fast warrior (who is also an accomplished retail salesman) and, too late, brought my stout, short sword to the place his clavicle had just been. Bleys skipped to the side and rained blows on my ribs with his sword. As I fell awkwardly toward the cold embrace of the earth below, I let out one final cry, “Oww, oww, oww, oww! You got me! You got me!”
Lying there bested, watching the rest of my comrades fall, their last moments framed against the backdrop of the Science Center, the beach volleyball courts, and a squad car full of very amused Baltimore cops, I shed no tears. Though none of our number lived to sing the songs of our heroism in the Battle of Rash Field, I remained stoic, for I knew after a short break and perhaps a bagel, we’d all be alive again to battle once more.
All geeks have our line in the sand, our own private nerd-Rubicon too full of dork shame to cross. This day, on the banks of the Inner Harbor, I crossed mine: LARPing, or live-action role playing. Sure, I play Dungeons and Dragons, and yeah, I’ve gone to Klingon Karaoke, but LARPing? That’s for nerds, or so I said in public as my dungeon master mocked the “geeks” who actually dress up like their characters and exchange their sack of dice for swords made of PVC and pool noodles held together by a soccer sock. But truth be told, I was always a bit LARP-curious, and when I got the Facebook invite promising medieval carnage by the harbor, I leapt at the chance. ’Cause it would make a good column. Seriously. I’m not some kind of dork, just ask anybody at the comic shop or my old co-workers at Medieval Times.
In LARPing, people get together and become their characters, be they knights or wizards, mystical priests, or fox-tailed kitsune, odd humanoid canidae like the pretty blond woman who showed up late for the battle and took the field in fake furs and pointy ears. Darkon, based locally, is perhaps the most famous group of LARPers, thanks to the documentary of the same name, with between 150 and 300 members from 15 or more fantasy countries coming together for combat every other Sunday. But in this introductory skirmish there are gamers from Darkon, Dagorhir, and Amphion, rival clubs coming together in an uneasy peace.
I arrived early with my borrowed short “sword” and shield looking for a guy named Skip Lipman. He was tough to miss, a towering man with a thick black beard and voice like distant thunder, clad in gleaming steel Spartan armor and a great plumed helmet, and armed with a Ravens travel coffee mug. He welcomed me with a giant smile and sent me to his daughter Sarah to get armored up. Sarah and her boyfriend—Michael Raines, better known as Forest, clad in the greens and browns of a woodland ranger, a longbow and foam arrows slung across his back—hooked me up. I got a black tunic, leather arm guards, a Mongol-style helmet that only sort of fit on the top of my head, and shoulder pads with latex skulls that matched the giant crotch skull on my belt that was incredibly suggestive, though of what, I have no idea. Fully girded, I became Grond, Hammer of the Underworld, then headed over to the back of a Mazda to eat donuts with Krog and Gorm. Krog and Gorm are work buddies from Walmart who, when not dying at the base of Federal Hill, are remarkably good dudes that go by the earth names Craig Lacey and George McDevitt, respectively. Also, I’m pretty sure Krog ganked the last strawberry-glazed donut, and for that I would make him pay.
Honestly, I’d expected assholes, but just about everybody was awesome. Forest and I bonded over our inexperience and a shared sense of fear at the foam wallopings we were about to receive, but Bleys—who, when not laying waste to half a dozen foes at a time, goes by Nate Shay, is model handsome, and works retail—gave us a quick battle primer that allowed us to die a bit less quickly. Sure, there was some of the alpha nerd I expected—one late-arriving warrior wore gleaming white armor that seemed to radiate a mystical aura of douchiness—but everyone was incredibly kind.
Of course, that kindness ended as soon as Skip bellowed “Lay on!” at the start of battle. I died once with a screaming longsword swipe to the back of the neck that, in the cold, felt like my skin exploded. I died another time when Skip knocked my shield aside with his sword, then rammed his 4-foot foam spear into my gut nearly hard enough to relieve me of my donuts. The most ferocious death came as a soldier known as Blood Reaver in black plate mail, a red cape, and an ebony iron mask charged me. I thrust my tower shield—a slab of wood the size of an entertainment center—at him, but he launched from the ground and delivered a front snap-kick to my shield that went through my forearm like a lightning bolt before running me through. Blood Reaver’s square name is Jesse Rommel, and he absolutely loves this shit. “The first fight, I got my face bashed and my nuts fucked up,” he reminisced, “I was like a kid in a candy store. This was fun.”
Forest and I checked in throughout the hours of combat. We were new warriors who’d fast formed a friendship, a brotherhood built in mud and (imaginary) blood, but in the day’s final battle, we ended up squared against each other. Our eyes met, and a sadness filled the space between us. “I didn’t want to meet you this way,” he said. I nodded before we launched our simultaneous assaults, though I’m not sure I agree. I can think of no better way to have met. Until next time, Forest, have at thee!
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