These are excerpts from longer articles about the game.
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The Boston Globe
July 16, 1991
It's a game with complex rules that blend elements of Robin Hood, classic fantasy fiction such as "Lord of the Rings," improvisational theatre, the epic of King Arthur, table games like Dungeons & Dragons, a Renaissance fair and maybe a little psychodrama. The game is propelled in unpredictable directions by players ranging in age from 14 to 60 who create and act the roles of assorted fantasy characters such as magicians, princesses, alien creatures, noblemen, dwarfs, gypsy seeresses, knights and warriors.
This was a long time ago for most of us, but do you remember the stunning joy of first immersing yourself into the realms of tabletop fantasy gaming? You lost all track of time, nearly lost track of reality, and just completely got lost in the moment? I hadn't really had it happen again for about the last 10 or 12 years, then a friend took me to an Alliance game.
I was simply blown away. The costuming was great, the large plumbing supplies we were beating each other with were as visually distracting as I first thought they'd be, and there was nearly constant plot happening all around me. I wasn't even sure who was PC and who was NPC! Then the first real battle hit -- my barbarian character managed to start cutting and hollering his way through rank after rank of minor NPC bad guys, only to get quickly put in his place by something far less crunchy!
I've been to three events now so far, and I just can't get enough. The plots are constantly "topical" for the characters, ranging from romance issues to race relations, the undead and monsters, and the townies getting a plague for which we had to discover a cure, to a Tournament where the major villain inserted a team and took hostages to try to make sure they'd win!
The costumes are great, and sometimes even of such quality that you see something coming and decide it's probably best not to be there when it arrives just because of its appearance. Fog machines cover the undead as they rise from their graves. Sometimes you're woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of ghastly dogs howling, you look across a field and see bright red and green eyes staring back at you, closing in.... Oh, they could charge double the price for admission and it's still worth it!
I've been in this hobby for 15 years now, and played under more game systems than I think I'll ever be able to remember. I've seen a lot of good games, a lot of bad games. Done a bunch of conventions, published my own tabletop once, and nearly have another one purchased right now (keep your fingers crossed for me!), but even with all that past history I was simply amazed by the game that the staff of Alliance put on.
The East Liverpool, Ohio Review
July 13, 2008
While many players of role playing games are content sitting around a table or in a computer chair, some take it one step further, actually acting out their characters with others in a gaming method known as live action role playing, or LARP.
Game organizers concoct whole worlds and in-depth storylines, while the players create characters with detailed back stories and motives. Those characters then create alliances, struggle with each other for power, and fight with weapons constructed from PVC pipe and foam.
One such local group, Alliance LARP Ohio, holds weekend-long events at Camp McKinley in Lisbon in the winter and Lewis Aboretum in St. Clairsville in the summer.
Co-owners and organizers of the local chapter, Michael Webb and Matthew Boyd, said that it can take some explaining for people to understand what LARPing is all about.
"Some people just think it's weird," said Boyd, adding that he usually tells people that it is similar to a war reenactment because in many ways it's like a medieval war reenactment.
"Once I actually explain it to people, they seem more interested than anything," Webb said. "Once people see it's more than just a bunch of geeks sitting around a table."
Both said that they have brought friends who were initially skeptical but were won over to LARPing in the end. Boyd said that some of them were afraid of the foam weapons at first but at the end of the weekend were saying, "Man, this is the greatest time I've had in my life."
"I guess it's all just a matter of perspective in what you like to do and what you don't," said Webb, adding that he was initially drawn more to the theatrical element of LARPing rather than the combat. "It's kind of an improv theater. You get into the story and make it up as you go along. There are twists and turns in the story that you can affect," he said.
"We get a really wide variety of people there," said Webb, including doctors, lawyers, paramedics, and policemen. "It's really neat."
Boyd said that he, Webb, and a staff of people come up with the storylines but don't write them out to a conclusion. "If the players choose a different way, we go from there," he said, adding they can "write as we go."
The writers can also accommodate players who prefer the fantasy element or are more focused on the combat. "Anyone can have their own personal plot," Boyd said.
Boyd said some of the players start out afraid to role play and think they may get made fun of. "After a while you get used to it and you realize that you're all friends," he said.
Webb said that with the popularity of fantasy films like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises, as well as online games like World of Warcraft, LARPing is becoming more mainstream. "It's really grown and become more of its own entity. You can't go anywhere without tripping over a LARP group," Webb said, adding that it is especially popular in Ohio and that there are about 30 different groups in about a five-hour drive of the area.
In the mythical land of Ashbury, players don their carefully honed characters in off-kilter improvisational theatre with epic dimensions.
A low-ceilinged building there called the Dragon's Flagon looks like a twelfth-century gangland clubhouse. Candles and lanterns cast a dim light about the place, and six-foot-long rapiers and other implements of destruction hang on the walls. In the tavern, mead and elfin wine (Kool-Aid and ginger ale) are slugged by players dressed as knights, gypsies, half-orcs and mystic wood elves. But more importantly, this is where Camilla Zatar, the saucy inkeeper, dispenses gossip and advice to players waiting for their "adventures" to begin.
Here, members embark on "quests" during which they are presented with a problem -- say, a farmer's daughter has been kidnapped by a foul necromancer -- and they have to figure out what to do. Although there are no scripts and players have to improvise, the adventurers are guided by plots devised by the plot committee; these include fighting monsters, solving puzzles, and casting spells.
Everyone is a player. For an entire weekend, over 300 players fill the town with barons, knights, squires, wizards, thieves, healers, gypsies, merchants and beggars -- each with his own personal goals, quests and desires.
An event trusts and depends on the fairness of its players (those who cheat are discovered and kicked out easily enough) and it is unlike any other live roleplaying game out there.
The Glens Falls Post-Star
July 6, 1997
A strange world of green-faced elves, pointy-ears gnomes, spell-casting magicians and club-weilding barbarians comes to life periodically. It is not a war game, organizers point out. The writers try to imitate many facets of life -- not just the violent parts -- but with more spice and magic added.
One thing all live action games have in their favor is an immediate emotional thrill; it's hard to really be scared as your character sneaks through the woods while you're just sitting around a table eating potato chips. To actually sneak through the woods and really feel scared, even though you know that you aren't really going to get hurt, is the appeal of the LARP. Free will is encouraged and nurtured and a policy of "the more the merrier" rules its events.
Each player is encouraged to create their own goals and aspirations to encourage as many different plots to be going on all at the same time. Some players want to pass the tests of the Court of Chivalry to become knights, some want to join the thieves' guild and make their fortune that way, some want to become powerful wizards--and there is no one there telling you that you can't. Add to this the myriad other plots that are always going on and it's a guarantee that the only reason for being bored is because you aren't taking advantage of all that is going on around you.
There are people playing NPCs and monsters, but there is absolutely nothing to prevent players from hunting each other, siding with the monsters, or doing anything they want.
This dedication to making the feel of the game as realistic as possible is that final step that other roleplaying games haven't made (or can't make).
At low levels, characters' capabilities and skills tend to be predictable, but the players are free to explore how they use their skills. At higher levels, the distinction between classes becomes blurred, as characters grow in unforseen directions and acquire skills uncommon to their class.
The experience of forty eight hours of constant roleplaying is one not easily conveyed on paper. The live aspect has such far reaching effects that an entire article could be dedicated to analyzing them alone. Tabletop players who are used to knowing their character's percentage chances of hitting with a sword or spell, picking a lock or sneaking up on someone: get ready for reality (sort of).
While the rules are simple, the game itself is immeasurably complex, involving political intrigue, the amassing of coin or fame, or the pursuit of just about any agenda you can conceive of.
There is a saying that you can't be paranoid since everything is out to get you. This is the last aspect of the game which you have to experience to understand: the intensity. Adrenaline-induced exhilaration, rage, greed and fear (always fear) are not common in tabletop games. A weekend will keep you on your toes: you may not sleep, you'll run yourself ragged, you won't want to put your sword down to eat, and when it's over you'll be eagerly waiting for the next weekend to do it all again.
In many game systems, the way to earn Experience Points is to kill monsters. In fact, some games only allow you to use your real out-of-game skills when fighting. This means that the biggest toughest athletes always get to be the best heroes in the game, while those of us who are of a more normal body type end up merely being their followers.
It is a fantasy game which means that (as the slogan says) you can "Be all That You Can't Be." Your character can "learn" skills to make him or her a better fighter despite your out-of-game skills (or lack thereof)!
So you don't have to only be a fighter to advance in this truly roleplaying system. In fact, many of the most powerful characters in the game are the merchants, gamblers, and entertainers.
I must admit I had some trepidation about playing my first boffer LARP. I was afraid the entire weekend would be spent in endless combat with little to no roleplaying. I am happy to report that I was more than pleasantly surprised.
The players and NPCs I met took playing their character very seriously and most stayed "in game" for herculean periods of time. The NPCs provided nonstop action from morning to very late at night. I'd also like to note that as a newbie I never once felt shunned or received any attitude from the more veteran players.
While combat is important in the game, a player's roleplaying and problem-solving skills are the keys to your overall success. As a player you must quickly learn that many NPCs have valuable, if not critical, information, so you must think before you kill.
I highly recommend the Ashbury campaign for any LARPer who wishes to breathe fresh air without sacrificing good roleplay.