• The costumes are also one of the big draw cards for participants and spectators alike. (Eric Jong)Source: Eric Jong
For almost a decade now, hundreds of Melburnians have dressed-up as knights and beasts to do battle on a local footy oval. Thomas Cunningham looks into the fantastical world of live action role-playing.
By
Thomas Cunningham

23 Feb 2017 - 2:50 PM  UPDATED 23 Feb 2017 - 3:05 PM

A seven-foot man dressed as a lion stands by the footy posts, as a group of Lord of the Rings-style ‘monsters’ gather about the parking lot, calmly discussing strategy. After all, this is just another average Friday night at Western Oval, in the North-Eastern Suburb of Parkville, Melbourne.

For the last seven years between 300 and 500 people have congregated at the oval every Monday and Friday to host large-scale Live Action Role-Play (LARP) games.

LARPing is a form of interactive storytelling that allows players to get together with friends and participate in simulated battles and quests. Or as the official website of LARP Victoria explains it, the hobby is merely “an opportunity to escape from the mundanity of real life!”

“An opportunity to escape from the mundanity of real life!”

Players create teams, much like your local cricket or football league does. The difference being, instead of shorts and a singlet, each team is distinguishable by incredibly detailed costumes and themed back-stories.

Tonight’s event is organised by the Swordcraft Company, which is the largest role-play and battle game group in the southern hemisphere.

The “Lions” team is leading events, which means, it is their job to make sure the games progress smoothly.

Ash Mayer, a member of the Lions, has been coming to these events for the past five years now. The 27 year-old, from Epping, Victoria, ordinarily works in a warehouse for the Good Guys Company, but when he’s here, on the oval in full costume, he’s one of Swordcrafts’ Head Marshalls.

A friend, who knew he was interested in medieval stuff, recommended the event to Mayer, and he hasn’t missed a night since. “The community is fantastic. Everyone here is a mate of some sort," Mayer says. “And it’s great after a long week of work to get out some pent up frustration, without going to jail for it,” he adds jokingly.

The costumes are also one of the big draw cards for participants and spectators alike. Mayer says some of the outfits worn by players can be worth thousands of dollars, and that there are even members who practice leather work or blacksmithing at home so they can make their own clothing. Weapons are made from hard foam or plastics, to avoid serious injuries.

“And it’s great after a long week of work to get out some pent up frustration, without going to jail for it,” he adds jokingly.

While many people will source materials from European and American companies, where the LARP scene is much larger, there are also tents at each event night offering weaponry and armour rental.

The people who participate come from a much more varied background than people may think too. The president of Swordcraft, Jeff Krins, is a lawyer by trade. Mayer tells SBS that you have everyone from university students to police officers coming down and donning some Chainmaille and a sword.

An event for the faithful and first-timers

I look around the costume-laden oval and see that, amoung the hundreds gathered, there are a few nervous looking faces. These are the first-timers of the group. Anthony Earp is one of them.

Surrounded by friends, who are helping him into his armour, Earp says he has always loved these sorts of games and he hopes to join the “Imperials” team, once he is done with his training.

New members will train separately from the main group for half an hour each night before they are allowed onto the battlefield. As a Marshall, Mayer says this is important, as it makes sure they are aware of how to use their weapons correctly and are aware of the rules. The minimum amount of training is one week, but players may take up to four weeks if they wish.

New members will train separately from the main group for half an hour each night before they are allowed onto the battlefield.

The scale of this battle, is a testament to just how big the LARP community is in Melbourne. As an outsider without knowledge of the rule handbook, it’s hard to tell who’s winning the battles on-field, but it is clear, from the enthusiasm of the players, no team will go home as the loser.

While Mayer says that other groups around the world are larger, the scene here is growing in stature with each passing week.“We definitely have our own standing. People are starting to hear about us and that’s a great thing,” he says.

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