Ready Your Swords! Honor Awaits at Stomping Ground
The year is 2001 and I’m having the time of my short life watching through my fingers as four Hobbits narrowly avoid detection during their first encounter with a Nazgûl.
To say that I liked Lord of the Rings growing up is like saying Homer Simpson likes donuts and beer. Sure, obviously Homer “likes” donuts and beer. He also craves and devours them. It’s likely that donuts and beer are incessantly nagging and gnawing in the recesses of his mind. D’oh!
For me, LOTR was an introduction to unlimited mystical world building potential. I can only imagine how excited I would be if anything remotely similar to what happens during the LARP or Live Action Role Play sessions at Stomping Ground was made available to me.
This week we’re lucky enough to have one of our LARP experts, Renee Reeves share a little bit about how LARP works and why it works so well at Stomping Ground.
"Alright, gang!" I rally my little group of heroes and bring them up to speed: an evil force is taking over the kingdom and we've been asked to investigate. We'll have to be careful, though. We certainly can't forget our (foam) swords. Anything could be waiting for us in the woods near Robin Hood Village.
My band of campers wave their swords around, grinning and yelling. Knowing that our ambushers are really two counselors and a dozen campers doesn't dampen their joy -- just the opposite. Knowing that it's just your cabin mate who's snarling at you about the perils of trespassing on elf lands is what makes LARP (Live Action Role Playing) the highlight of the summer for many campers.
When I told our program director that I was interested in helping with Stomping Ground's LARP sessions, I didn't entirely know what I was getting into. By the second week of camp I was co-running LARP, leading bands of kids armed with foam swords into the woods for eight or so hours a week.
For the uninitiated, here's how LARPing works at Camp Stomping Ground: campers split themselves into two groups, one of Player Characters (PCs) and one of Non-Player Characters (NPCs). The NPCs don various hats to populate the world with mooks, minions, merchants, monsters, and whatever else bubbles out of the Game Master's (GM's) brain. The Player Characters are responsible for saving that world. Non-Player Characters head out into the woods with the GM to set up an exciting scenario. After a few minutes, the PCs follow. Enthusiastic sword fighting ensues.
When we LARP at Stomping Ground, we come together as a mix of ages and interests and commit to building an awesome world together. Some kids want to build a character and create a costume, others just want to sword fight in the woods. That's okay -- both approaches are welcome! We don't set age limits on LARP. Instead, campers learn how to sword fight six-year-olds and counselors and still ensure everyone has a blast. (They show me no mercy, if you were wondering.)
While being a PC may sound more appealing -- surely everyone wants to be the hero? -- I found that many campers love playing NPCs even though it guarantees losing nearly every battle. Sometimes so many students want to be NPCs that I have to talk up the benefits of being a Player Character just to keep the ratios balanced!
During one debrief session, Jack asked a camper why he always seemed to be on team NPC. "I don't have to worry about winning," he answered. "I just have to focus on making sure everyone has a good time." Jack brought this up later during a staff meeting, comparing being the NPC to being a counselor. I find that a helpful metaphor for a healthy counseling mindset: while we can play hard and have a blast doing so, we leave our egos at home.
There are many things I love about camp LARP and some of them are selfish: frankly, adding fantasy-magic-battles-in-the-woods to my summers improves them drastically. But Stomping Ground LARP is more than just sword fighting in the woods. (Not to knock that perfectly respectable past time, which I also enjoy.) It's special because even though we're ostensibly good guys fighting bad guys, we're really on the same team, joining forces to make something big and magical and unrepeatable. Which, if you think about it, is something worth fighting for.