LARP, or not LARP, how’s that a question?

The Company of the White Wolf is Whitehorse’s medieval combat fighting group, but there is a common misconception that their activities can be classified as live action role-playing, aka LARPing. Live Action Role-Playing involves dressing up in costume and enacting the type of interactive role-playing game that would normally be confined to kitchen tables or online in games such as World of Warcraft. It has gained some mainstream recognition through feature films including Role Models and Knights of Badassdom.

Due to the medieval armour and pageantry surrounding the events, casual observers will often refer to the various tournaments held by the Company of the White Wolf as LARPing, but there are major differences between the two activities. And these differences are serious considerations as the group aims to access funding for travel to competitions and tournaments. In previous interviews, company member Land Pearson has noted previously that the group hopes to be recognized as a sport-variant for the purposes of competition.

When differentiating the two, the single largest consideration is that the medieval combatants are competing for real, as themselves. “Joe” may be dressed up in armour, but he’s still fighting as Joe from Whitehorse. Their individual martial skills and fitness levels are what determines the outcome of their fights, the same way it would for a boxer or mixed martial artist. An apt comparison would be an armed eastern martial art, like kendo, a traditional Japanese martial art where combatants use bamboo swords and armour. In fact, it may be useful to consider medieval fighting as an armed western martial art.

LARPing, on the other hand, is an enactment of a fictional realm where you are adopting the persona of you “player character,” or PC. Joe from Whitehorse is more likely to be Joblum the Brave of Narnia than simple old “Joe.” The skills or actions participants can undertake are dictated by their PC’s statistics or skills. For example, an out-of-shape teen could play a large muscled warrior capable of overpowering all opponents. This would be reflected during the enactment of the game. The objective of the group is to tell a story that is crafted especially for the activity. In that respect, it may be better to think of LARPing as akin to hosting a play or murder mystery dinner party, where individuals play the role of a character.

This acting aspect of LARPing contrasts with the real nature of medieval fighting. Pearson will be heading to the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships again this May and will be competing as Land Pearson of Team Canada, against competitors from numerous other countries. While the event itself will feature ritualized entrances and announcements, these are no different from the ritualized opening of other sports events, like anthems before hockey, soccer teams entering onto the pitch, or bowing to your opponent in karate. It can also lead to injury. Even though blades are blunted, they can still lead to stitches in an unfortunate contact.

So when you see the local Company of the White Wolf competing this year, remember to avoid referring to their tournament as LARPing. They won’t show up on YouTube in a clip throwing what appear to be marshmallows at a “monster,” yelling “Lightning bolt!”

Though that looks like it might be fun too. There’s a video from 2006 if you Google “ LARP lightning bolt.”

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