Fantasy role-playing games are 'fun escape'
Dale Roe, Go-To Guy
They're knights and warriors, monks and druids, sporting names such as Aeris the Fairy Bard and Lorick the Wizard. They ride atop horseback, casting verbal spells upon their enemies. They battle their foes fiercely and valiantly with sword and shield.
And occasionally, one of them ducks out to use the restroom at the nearby Salt Lick Bar-B-Que.
These are the denizens of Barad Duin, a fantasy live-action role playing (LARP) group that meets most Saturday afternoons near the south entrance to Old Settler's Park in Round Rock, just west of the Dell Diamond.
It's tempting, in this age of social media snark in which the ultimate goal is to write something clever or cutting enough to be retweeted to poke fun at these people. They admit the activity is odd and they wholeheartedly embrace it. I will confess to snickering when I received an e-mail message from the group's leader, Skye Drake-Stephan, which began, "Hail and Well Come!"
But is it really any different than performing at a community theater or in an improv troupe? After spending an afternoon with these folks, I suggest that LARPing is purer — the pretense that the event is being staged for an audience's (rather than the performers') enjoyment is stripped away, leaving only the sincere pleasure of the activity for its own sake.
That pleasure and shared sense of community are what compels software engineers, IRS secretaries, Dell analysts, paralegals and whole families to shed what they call their "mundane" (or real) lives, names and clothing in favor of colorful Medieval cloaks, dresses and tunics, and to ignore the modern shin guards strapped to their legs, the foam wrapped around their swords, and the third-base line inside the nearby ballpark.
One recent Saturday, I watched Baron Malamorf Peregrina (mundanely known as Marcus Brehm-Stern) lead the group in a battle game in which he played a river and the others had to cross without being killed. If a player was fatally struck, say with a sword to the chest, then he or she joined the Baron as part of the river, battling against the remaining competitors. It was kind of like the children's game Red Rover, but with more pretend maiming.
Brehm-Stern, a software engineer and programmer, discovered Barad Duin when he was studying computer science at Austin Community College.
"I do Barad Duin because it is a fun escape from my normal life where I get to interact and relax with friends and family," Brehm-Stern says. He notes that the group has exposed him to activities including leather working and historical re-enactment that he would not have pursued otherwise.
In addition to combat games (the group plays two or three lasting 15 minutes or so each per weekend) the group participates in arts and crafts activities — drawing, painting, sewing, cooking, armoring, weapon-making and horse dancing. They invite needle workers, metalsmiths, leather workers and jewelry makers to share their talents. Singers, dancers and storytellers are welcome.
The group is adept at accommodating those with disabilities and mobility issues, Drake-Stephan (Queen Bella Peregrina) says.
Barad Duin is definitely a family affair. Kids love Drake-Stephan's quartet of horses(in the mundane world, she owns Bella Peregrina Ranch) and her impressive, giant, blue and green bird, King Arthur Pendragon of Clan MacAwe.
The family-friendly nature causes the turnout to vary wildly based upon events in members' mundane lives, so the Knights are recruiting. They drum up interest by performing at venues including Pioneer Farms and Eeyore's Birthday. And their brochure might as well be shouted by a town crier:
"In troubled times such as these, the Kingdom lacks sufficient resources to defend herself from the evil knights, robbers, pirates, gypsies, witches, vampires, trolls, dragons and other monsters that assault the Black Tower on an almost daily basis," it reads.
"We need fearless adventurers such as yourself to stand with us against the darkness and help us turn the tide."
Barad Duin Association