I've played a variety of fantasy games in my time, from Dungeon! to Dungeons and Dragons to a slew of fantasy games on the computer, but although I have friends who LARP (Live Action Role Play), I've never tried it myself. I have, however, sat down to lunch with those who do on a Monday, after they've just returned from Nexus (their LARP). Based on this observation and my experience with D&D games, Dave Barrett's It's All Fun and Games seems to be fairly on target... At least until things get real.
The premise is one that has been done before: people are engaged in some form of fantasy-based entertainment and then that fantasy comes to life. What happens to our heroes? How do they cope? What is their reaction to their new situation? Is it a dream come true... Or a living nightmare? Can they get back to the real world... and do they want to?
This "trope" is a fairly common one, from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, the Guardians of the Flame book series (Joel Rosenberg) or even TRON, in a way. One interesting aspect of Barrett's interpretation in It's All Fun and Games, however, is that as the players find themselves inside the game, they not only gain the skills and backgrounds of their characters, but the memories of their characters' adventurous lives, as well. While this provides a much needed advantage in this new realm, they will have to work hard to avoid losing their real identities... and, perhaps, to keep track of which identity is their real identity.
TJ Keller, a geek, is best friends with Allison Duggan, who isn't. For years, TJ has been trying to get Allison to come to LARP for a weekend, but it took the stars aligning to convince her. Then, one weekend, with her parents out of town, a forecast of beautiful weather all weekend, and the news that Simon Williams, the high school football star who she (and all of the other girls at the school) harbored a crush on, was going to be in attendance, as well... well, it seemed like a good time to try it out. Never having played before, she takes on the role of the party's healer and gets a one-line backstory and she's ready to try it out.
The rest of the party: Jimmy, playing a warrior, Chuckles, as their thief, Stu, a talented archer and ranger and Simon, playing an orc, meet TJ and Allie at the registration area.
When they begin their adventure, things seem fairly normal for a couple of encounters, but when they decide to stray from the path to get the element of surprise, they find themselves in a different realm, where the story, the magic, and the weapons are real. They have no explanation, no idea how or if they can get back to their own realities... only the vague argument that, in the absence of any other direction, they should probably push forward on their quest, because it might lead to their return... if anything would.
I enjoyed reading It's All Fun and Games. It begins an exciting fantasy tale, but the characters are all the more relatable, since most are fellow nerds. Further, as one would expect, the party members reference popular nerd literature, such as Lord of the Rings and Hitchhiker's Guide, in inside jokes that feel inclusive to the reader (assuming the reader is, in fact, familiar with those). At two hundred pages, it's an easy read, but it doesn't resolve the story, wrapping up at a great place to start another book. Another book which, personally, I'm anxious to pick up.
Whether you're a seasoned LARPer or a D&D player, if you've ever considered what it might be like if your fantasy became your reality, I highly recommend reading Dave Barrett's It's All Fun and Games.