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When fantasy collides with reality: this week on The Green Room

Two LARPers, or Live Action Role Players, during a recent get-together in Traverse City.
Lisa Fierstein
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Two LARPers, or Live Action Role Players, during a recent get-together in Traverse City.

Fantasy books, games and movies can take you to another reality. Think about Dungeons and Dragons, or The Lord of the Rings. But what if you could enter those alternate, fantasy worlds in real life?

Some people try through LARPing— or Live Action Role Playing— and it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy.

There’s a LARP group in the Traverse City area. They fight evil, save the king and come out victorious, all within 48 hours. 

Matthew Byers prepares a satchel where he stores his magic bells and potions.
Credit Lisa Fierstein
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Matthew Byers prepares a satchel where he stores his magic bells and potions.

Matthew Byers is dressed up like a gypsy, and he’ll be dressed that way all weekend. He wears tie-dyed harem pants with floral designs and a shirt with pastel hues of pink, blue and green. He has fake purple gemstones stuck along one eyebrow and keeps a satchel at his side to store his magic bells and potions.

“I do accents,” he explains. “I’m pretty good with English—quasi English.” 

Byers says most of the time he talks with a Slavic accent. The main character he plays is named Maxwell.

Every month, about 20 to 30 people gather at the Girl Scout Camp near Traverse City. 

The players act out scenes in a Medieval fantasy story. It’s unscripted, but the ending is predetermined so the players have a common goal. 

When the game begins, a spirit, dressed in a sheer blue costume, sends Maxwell on a quest to avenge evil. This is what the players call a “hook.” It gets the game started and lures all the characters into the adventure. 

Out in the woods, Maxwell tries to rescue a dying heart stuck in a tree. The heart is really a dog toy that lights up and flashes different colors. 

While Maxwell saves the heart, a battle breaks out around him and a few goblins are left dead on the forest ground. This kind of battle scenario is what the players call a “mod.” It’s a challenge that advances the plot. 

LARPing is a combination of theater, improv and a game. Many of the players say it’s like a vacation from the real world, but there are conflicts here, too. 

At midnight, Maxwell is sent to a tavern to collect spirits. Then an argument breaks out. 

Evan Primo is playing a character is named Velnaeus. He’s an elf, and he doesn’t want Maxwell collecting other peoples’ spirits. 

“We’re not going to force people to give up parts of their spirit,” he says. “Things like that have happened before and we’re not going that route. I will put you into the ground if you try.”  

Then, out of nowhere, a pale-faced goblin stabs Velnaeus with a sword. Evan isn’t not too happy about it, and it’s hard to tell if he’s in character or not. 

The pale-faced goblin waylays Evan Primo's character, Velnaeus.
Credit Lisa Fierstein
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The pale-faced goblin waylays Evan Primo's character, Velnaeus.

“Okay, you realize there are rules here," exclaims Evan. "You can’t go around waylaying other adventurers! That’s not something we do here.” 

Evan is angry because in the game, he has “magical armor” that prevents him from being hit. He says the goblin broke the rules. 

“He hit me on the back of the head,” he says. “He didn’t know I had magic armor.” 

As an onlooker, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fiction.Live Action Role Playing is just a game. But Matthew Byers says, what happens in the game is a lot like real life. 

“There’s always points of tension - differing opinions of how we should handle a situation might cause an argument or might bring characters to blows with their weapons,” he explains. “Like in real life, not everybody agrees on everything.” 

And that’s why Byers says he LARPs. He says you can play a video game, but there’s nothing like interacting with real people. 

Ever since he was young, Dan has been fascinated with radio. From hearing the dulcet tones of John Gordon broadcast Minnesota Twins games, to staying up late listening to radio theater, he was captivated by the imaginative medium.