Underworld LARP: Canada’s Largest Is Expanding Again

A full moon illuminates the foggy field of humans, elves, and barbarians that have come together to rid their shanty town, Jericho, of The Banshee Queen. Citizens gasp and point high into the tree line. A woman, clad in a dirty bridal gown, drifts between the treetops. She emits a blood curdling scream that sends shivers down even the hardest of warriors’ spines. One hand raises high above her head, she begins an onslaught of death spells. People dash left and right, scrambling to get out of the way. Not all succeed. Healers rush to the fallen’s aid while fighters cluster underneath the banshee and hack away at her health. Finally, she falls to the ground and the citizens rejoice. Once again, they have saved Jericho.

This is the kind of scene that is encountered by players once a month at Underworld LARP. Underworld is a Live Action Role-Playing game. In role-playing, players assume a persona. Characters vary in realism and can be as close to or far from a player’s every day personality. When thinking of role-playing, most people probably jump to the idea of Dungeon and Dragons. LARP is similar to that, except that you become the character. You don the studded-leather chest piece, take on the mindset of a rogue, and grasp a stiletto in either hand. Not to worry though, the weapons used by Underworld are all made of either foam or latex and there are safety rules in place to restrict real pain. And, just like Dungeons and Dragons, you can play any style of character you could possibly think of. There is a combination of race and class to suit everybody.

A sharp shooting Wood Fae.
A lawful Einher mercenary.

Underworld is not for the faint of heart though. The game is 18+ because of the dark-fantasy theme. The age restriction is in place to provide players with a deep sense of fear and to give parents an escape from their usual responsibilities. It is like an adults-only retreat where you can pretend you don’t have responsibilities for a weekend. The game usually takes place once or twice a month beginning at 10 PM Friday night and ending around noon on Sunday.

During that time frame, players must stay immersed in their character. Full immersion is enforced through real armour, medieval costuming, lack of technology, and a release from any talk about the real world. The setting is medieval; therefore all electronics must be turned off at the gate. No cellphones, battery-powered watches, or laptops. Talking about real-world events is prohibited.

Every time that a non-player character (the people who volunteer to play the monsters) or a shaper (one of the storytellers that writes the plot) hears a player “speak infernal” a monster known as the Grym grows a little bit stronger. The smell of sulphur and brimstone occur because the Grym comes from a hellish plane. Once a year, on All-Hallows (the most impressive game each season which overlaps with Halloween), the plane of evil overlaps with the plane that the players exist on and demons walk the Earth. During this time, the Grym appears and attacks the players. The Grym is powered by “infernal talk” so; the amount of it that occurs throughout the year determines the strength of this great demonic foe. With so many people showing up to each game, it is up to the players to help one another stay in-character.

Why Join LARP?

At this point, you may still be thinking, this LARP thing sounds crazy. How can people disconnect from their lives for a weekend and run around as fantasy characters beating each other up? Well, it’s not just about the activity of Live Action Role-Playing that attracts people. Some are drawn to it from years of playing video games or other role-playing games and falling in love with the characters. Through LARP they are given a safe environment where they can become their favourite villain or hero.

Sam Brinkman, a long time role-player and recently Underworld attendee, summed up the various reasons that she joined:

I get to be someone else for a weekend and be entertained by interesting stories. LARP for me is a form of escape. I started LARPing when I was going though a great life change and LARP helped me escape from the hurt, pain and loneliness I was experiencing. The LARP community, although it took me quite some time to break into, is also a very accepting, nice group of people with interesting personalities and, on a whole, good hearts. It also takes 3 of my favourite hobbies and roles them into one. RPG’s, Costumes and Camping and is a way of getting some exercise without it feeling like working out.

Location, Location, Location

Underworld LARP is the largest Canadian based Live Action Role-Playing game and is ever-expanding. Each location’s owner gives their site a name. This name is added to the game’s map and becomes the name of the location in-game. The franchise has games located in London [Ralinwood] and Ottawa [Ashendael], Ontario, Edmonton [Kalidor], and Calgary [Stormlands], Alberta, and Nagoya [Havenhollow], Japan, . As of November 3rd, 2015 Underworld has also opened up a game in Vancouver, dubbed Salem Ruin. Underworld makes it easy for D&D fanatics or experienced LARPers to start up their own game. Their oldest location, or Guildhouse, is Toronto-based and called Jericho. It hosts over 100 players every game. For the past 20 years, the game has taken place on rented land; most recently, a horse farm in Lindsay.

In November, 2014, Underworld LARP took part in an episode of Dragon’s Den. Regardless of the outcome, the owner of Underworld LARP, David Ashby, was able to put aside enough money this year to accomplish his dream of owning a site.

The new location is 100-acres of field and forest just north of Fenelon Falls. Currently, Ashby is working on rezoning the land from agricultural to commercial so that players will be allowed to begin construction. In May of 2016 the first Jericho game will be held on the new site.

Following the growth of live action role-playing in Canada, Underworld hopes to become as grand as the 300–1000 player LARPs that have prospered in England, Russia, and the Czech Republic. And, they are well on their way. On July 10th, 2015, Underworld LARP hosted their first international event. All of the guildhouse’s players were invited to Singhampton, Ontario. Around 300 people took part. Now, with the large customizable site, there is space to accommodate the wants of the current Jericho players and have room for the hundreds who are expected to join over the next few years. Before the 2016 season starts there is a lot to do.

This commercial, filmed on the new site, proved to be a challenge because the fields were overgrown, piles of unearthed rocks scattered the grounds, and animal’s burrows created difficult-to-spot ditches. Since then, Ashby has organized multiple “build days” where players can go up to the site and help transform it into a safer area.

A gravel road and parking lot near the entrance have been completed. Lower branches of trees have been chopped away and burned to limit the harm of players during the night. A town centre fire pit has been dug out. And, most recently, a draw was conducted so that players could choose where they would build their camps. One stake stands tall on a hilltop. Another is driven into a mossy section of the forest. The camp markers dot the site, giving a foreboding feeling. Who will be allies or enemies?

As players invest more time and energy into the site, Ashby hopes to see different structures begin to form. The Jericho Facebook page has been swamped with images of easy-to-build sheds, environment friendly dens, and inexpensive cottage designs that players hope to use for their character’s permanent residence on the new site. Ashby’s hopes are to put the players to work making fortifications for their town. With proper structures, Underworld’s foreseeable future is to have games run all throughout the year, even in the dead of winter or early spring.

The new site’s town centre fire.