Live Action Role-Playing Games, or LARPs as they are commonly known, were a huge phenomenon during the 1970s through the 1990s. Their popularity diminished through the beginning of the new millennium with the interest and advance in computer games and graphics, but the past few years has seen a resurgence.

For those unfamiliar with LARPS, the most popular games are Fantasy, Horror & SF-themed (although historical games concerning pirates are definitely gaining ground). Most often they're played around a table, with one player taking the part of the Game Master. He decides the scenario that the others players will experience. The others take on various personas in the world they've created, and through roles of the dice and charts of variations of actions, an adventure is untaken.

Although it began in some quarters during the heyday of LARPing, the current playing style has moved the games from the dining room out into the “real” world, with players wearing costumes and actually acting out their roles in pastoral and unique settings, such as the Humboldt Botanical Gardens, where I took part in a day of LARPing in support of that organization.


Enjoying the lush greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens.


Preparing to film a commercial for the event with an Ice Warrior from an ancient time.

Susan Tissot, Chairman of the Botanical Gardens, seems impressed by my fellow creature's fancy swordplay...


The Humboldt Botanical Gardens are adjacent to the College of the Redwoods, approximately ten miles south of the town of Eureka, CA (where I currently reside in my crypt). In many ways the Gardens are one of the best kept secrets of the many attractions fond here on the Lost Coast.

The Gardens were organized by a small group of volunteers in 1991, with a goal to create an educational botanical garden for the Northern region. Its mission is to inspire, educate and grow; promoting an enjoyable and educational botanical garden accessible to everyone in or near Humboldt County and Northwestern California, working with schools and others to promote the study, use and preservation of native and other plants, and to promote the use of botanical gardens by local garden clubs, botanical groups and others for developing botanical displays of special interest and for conducting horticultural programs. The five core gardens were installed in the past five years, and they include the Lost Coast Brewery Native Plant Garden, the “All Happy Now” earth sculpture, the Wildberries Natural Riparian Area, the Sun Valley Greenhouse, the Moss Family Temperate Woodland Garden and the Dedekam Ornamental Terrace Garden.

I'm put in mind of Longwood Gardens, that wonderful attraction in Delaware that I haunted during my time on the East Coast. Because the Humboldt Gardens are much younger it does not yet have the scope and variety of exhibits found in Longwood, but it certainly has room to grow (the acreage is larger than Disneyland!) and the staff and volunteers have the passion to make it the equal of any other botanical experience.


Fighting the elements with my fellow Elementals to produce an enticing promo for the event. Click on the image above to see the finished commercial!


Two beautiful representatives of the Emerald Empire LARP group greet visitors to the Garden.

An expedition goes forth in search of adventure, led by the stalwart Pirate Captain!
The LARP was organized by members of the Emerald Empire LARP, a local group, and was called “The Age of Dragons”. They not only mapped out an adventure that took place on every level of the Gardens (several portions runs up the side of the nearby mountains) but built special props and scenery for the day, including a talking dragon that resided at the highest point of the Garden beside their All Happy Now sculpture. (The sculpture is a unique spiral path that rises onto a small rounded mound; the path begins at one side, rises towards the middle, then descends to the opposite side. If an individual walks the spiral path completely, it measures out to an exact mile.)

Despite the weather, a resplendent group poses against the lovely backdrop of the Garden.
From left to right. Yours Truly, animal spirit guide Raza the Rakshasa,
the lovely Susan in her medieval garb, and the brave Pirate Captain.


I was invited to help with the organization of the customers, to help send off the LARPing tours, and to tell some tales throughout the day for those who wanted to attend the event but didn't want to participate in the LARP. In addition to Yours Truly, members of the Archery Club of Humboldt State University demonstrated their astonishing skills with the bow and arrow, participants in the Excalibur Medieval Faire helped bring a Renaissance feel to the proceedings, the Society for Creative Anachronism (or SCA) provided some battle training and exhibitions, and two twirlers lead the young ones in hooping.

It's a Free-for-All of hoopsters and warriors, celebrating a
successful campaign against the dragon!


There was delicious food from the Ethiopian International Cafe, and root beer floats from Lost Coast Brewery (I confess to sampling more than a few myself.) There was Her Royal Majesty, the Queen of the Gardens, watching over all, and ghostly tales shared by a certain spectre, which my human companions seemed to enjoy. And there was one final, unexpected gift from the heavens…


And rain and rain and rain. Although it trailed off to a mist or a soft drizzle at times, it never completely went away. Until after 4:30 pm, of course, once the event was closed, because the gods have a perverse sense of humor.

And yet…the customers did come; families and students and aficionados of the Gardens, and all stayed throughout the day. There were several guided excursions up through the Gardens by our LARP hosts, and all returned filled with excitement and exuberance at having completed their tasks and defeating the dragon. Although the weather no doubt keep away what could have been a much larger crowd, those that did attend didn't find their spirits dampened. (Only their bodies…)


Spinning some phantasmagorical tales for my human companions! Note who braves the precipitation for the audience's comfort...


I was quite surprised to see a large number of very young among the revelers; although there was nothing barring children from attending , the event had been promoted as appealing to an older crowd, notably teens and above, because of the role-playing aspect. Still the young ones had a splendid time as well, and some of the events became tailored to their interests. One young man in particular gleefully took part in a mock battle staged by the SCA, rushing in without fear or hesitation, padded sword raised high and swinging at targets that towered over him.

Many attended in costume, for costumes were encouraged as part of the role-playing, and we had a plethora of young knights and princesses, each equally prepared for adventure. At one point during a lull in the storytelling I followed a group up the winding trail (no one told me the Gardens went up the mountain! At my age, it was quite a climb!) enjoying the other displays along the way, ending at the spiral mound of All Happy Now and the talking dragon. Once the dragon was conquered, many enjoyed walking the mile path up the mound and down again.


The ladies of the Emerald Empire brave the rain with Raza. (I thought cats didn't like water...)

The dragon on top of the mountain at the "All Happy Here" sculpture, silenced for the nonce - until the next party approaches!


In all, it was a wonderful, if damp, day, and one hopes that when the event returns next year (as a planned annual event) that the weather lords will look more favorably on this band of revelers. Until then, may the Gardens flourish green and lovely, and I offer a huge thank you to Susan Tissot and Ellen Coats of Humboldt Botanical Gardens, Mark Boyd, Sydney Blackburn, the Emerald Empire LARP and all those who participated!


The video below gives a small taste of the day's activities. Click on the image, and enjoy! (And don't forget to look quickly for your favorite spectre!)


The event made the front page of our local Sunday paper, with two very handsome subjects featured above the fold!



© 2015 Patient Creatures Ltd.