I took a three hour drive into Maine this past weekend to attend the first event of Beyond the Wall, a LARP set in an outpost of the Night’s Watch, North of the Wall, in the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones setting.
I admit that leading up to the event, I was having significant reservations and strongly considering backing out. I couldn’t seem to come up with a character concept that I liked, which sounds odd considering what a huge fan of the books and tv show I am, but when I dream about LARPing in this setting, I’m usually imagining cutthroat politics, wheeling and dealing and backstabbing in a courtly setting. I also knew I’d be at a significant disadvantage in combat without any kind of armor or latex weapons. I also was unfamiliar with the combat system and worried about not catching on fast enough, and dreading the long car ride.
I did some last minute costuming and prop building in the week leading up to the event, thinking I’d feel more encouraged to go if I did some prep work. I bought two XL black t-shirts at Michael’s and turned them into two garb-ish tunics with with grommets and ribbon, then made throwing knives out of black and silver duct tape and some foam I had lying around from a previous LARP project.
I guess the Fallacy of Sunk Cost worked, because on Friday, I hit the road and spent much of the ride trying to create a character. My ride and I arrived just as the LARP was starting. (Bad traffic played a role in this.) Between the time it took to unpack the car, set up the tent, get into costume, and register two new characters, we walked into game about two hours late. We ended up playing two maester characters — scholarly types of characters who often have skill in healing — to reflect our lack of armor and my lack of decent weapons.
While it’s unfortunate that we missed the opening of the game (and taking the Night’s Watch vows along with it), I don’t regret the late start. (Well, I feel bit bad about taking up the staff’s time during game time.) After the last LARP event, in which I spent my first moments only half in-character, awkwardly rushing to pin costuming together, I had already been thinking about deliberately making my PCs slightly late to future events to avoid having that sort of start again. At Beyond the Wall, I was fully in-character when I walked down the long dirt road to the main campsite, and the PCs that were there to greet us (and put us through a rather realistic security check) were, too.
My character was slain pretty shortly after that; we came under attack by wildlings (denizens of the woods). The PCs, as it turns out, with the exception of my ride and me, were all completely new to LARPing and were still figuring out the mechanics, which is I think why no one healed me in time. Fortunately, we’re allowed to come back from death once.
We fought the wildlings a few more times and captured and released one, in the hopes that we’ll be able to trade with them in the future. A would-be deserter from the Night’s Watch was executed by the First Ranger, which made for an intense scene that mirrored one of the earliest scenes in the first book. We also recovered a bunch of supplies stolen by wildlings and traded with a merchant who came by our outpost.
The highlights of the event (besides the presence of two adorable dogs who I think actually added to the atmosphere — I’ve always wanted to try a LARP with pets included!) were the two training modules run by the First Ranger and the First Steward. The former set up bales of hay painted with targets and taught us the basics of archery, while the latter took us on a short hike and taught us to identify a number of edible wild plants. I ate my first Indian cucumber root, which tastes like… well, a very starchy cucumber.
I have played in two non-Accelerant boffer one-shots in the past, and tried out the combat system of another, but Beyond the Wall was the first non-Accelerant boffer LARP for me that marked the beginning of an ongoing campaign for me, and it differed from my typical boffer experience in a number of ways, besides the basic mechanics. Typically, the boffer events I attend have PCs numbering somewhere between 40 and 80 — this LARP had only nine of us, and with the exception of myself and my ride, all were completely new to LARPing. The low numbers went a long way in helping me feel like part of a cohesive group, with all of us participating together in all events equally. And I loved watching newbies discover the joys of LARPing.
The standard Accelerant rules state that players are in-character 24/7 during an event, but Beyond the Wall called “game off” in the evening, and there was a four hour break on Saturday afternoon. I think I generally prefer the 24/7 format, but for this event, I’m very glad we had breaks, as they enabled me to get to know the players and find out how they were enjoying themselves thus far, and how they came to try LARPing. (They found out about it through a convention, and one said they play tabletop RPGs and this was the “next logical step” — definitely a phrase I’ve heard before about LARPing.) Some were huge fans of Game of Thrones, but others were as of yet unfamiliar with it, which surprised me.
The campsite was also quite unusual for me. Burgundar is considerably smaller and more rustic than any other site I’ve LARPed at (no indoor plumbing or electricity), but also much more immersive. Most sites are modern summer camps rented by LARPs — this one was built by LARPers, for LARPing, and it’s still in the process of construction. It has only had five small buildings, a tavern, a general purpose building, a yurt-like apothecary, watchtower, and a monster camp. But the buildings are constructed with a very historical feel (excluding the one used for monster camp) and are filled with period looking furniture and plenty of props and decorations to enhance immersion (e.g. baskets, old books, herbs hanging from the wall to dry…) I found the presence of the two-story watchtower overlooking the main path to be the biggest contributor to the authentic feel of the site. (The campfire pit was also a huge plus.)
I’m sad to say I missed the second half of the weekend, as I had to leave late Saturday evening. I hear I missed attempts to decipher an ancient tablet and the discovery of a dragon egg. (North of the wall? Unheard of!) I initially thought I’d just be attending this one event to try out a new style of LARPing and indulge in my inner A Song of Ice and Fire fangirl for a weekend, but now I’m really hoping to get back for future events.
(All photos by Crystal Hersom/Burgundar.)