"Clak! Clak! Clak!" shouted an army of skeletons on the lawn in front of Denny Hall. Pedestrians walked by, smiling and staring at the spectacle. Others stood mesmerized, while some took photographs on their phones.
As javelins were thrown through the air and a knight swung his sword, two UWPD officers dismounted their bikes to investigate.
"What's going on here?" one of the officers asked.
Desta Yarrow, a healer from the province of Taus, was in the middle of reviving a fallen adventurer. Yarrow stopped reciting her spell so that she could reply to the officer as Rebecca Slingwine, a UW student.
"We are live-action role-playing (LARPing) as part of a class here at the UW," Slingwine told the officers.
"It looks like fun," one of the officers said. After expressing an interest in playing, they left. And then Yarrow, portrayed by Slingwine, went back to healing.
Slingwine is a senior majoring in biology and Japanese. She started her first two weeks of CHID 496A similar to her classmates, by reading, discussing and watching two documentaries about LARP. Afterward, on online message boards and in class, they discussed the kind of characters they wanted to play and how to actually build the character they envisioned.
Thus, through the power of Slingwine's imagination, Yarrow came to life around the third week of the quarter as a healer from Taus who prefers to wear brightly colored, flouncy skirts and shawls.
"Her body language is open and friendly, and though she'll fight back if she needs to, she doesn't like to start fights, either," Slingwine wrote of Yarrow online.
All players are encouraged to develop brief character histories for their in-game personas, on which they can further elaborate, in person and online.
According to Yarrow's history, she left home to train at the House of Healers. After improving her craft, Yarrow's family assumed she would return to serve their small village like every other woman in her family before her. However, Yarrow wanted more than to live a life that was exactly like her mother's. Her older sister managed the town's clinic very well, so she felt no need to stay.
Knowing that the people she loved and had grown up with were well cared for, she decided to stay and serve the House of Healers, which meant she could travel outside of Taus, meet more strangers, heal them and make a difference in their lives.
Slingwine enjoyed how students were allowed to develop their own aspects for their character.
"With Desta, I can take on this different persona and look at the world in someone else's eyes."
The story and mechanics behind Archaea
Adventurers, or player-characters (PCs), venture through Archaea to achieve their goals with the option to join pre-made organizations, such as the House of Healers and The Hall of the Knights. By joining an organization, players get certain perks and advantages, like spells and money. Organizations have specific rules and requirements, which prevent reckless behavior, like unwarranted killing.
While PCs strive to fulfill their goals, they have to be conscious of the history and current events of the high-fantasy world.
The current campaign occurs in the Realm of Archaea, where something unusual happened on the Day of Dawn.
"At the height of the moon, the skies streaked with fiery white light, thin and gossamer, leaving lines of brilliance like glittering strands of spider silk. The shower lasted exactly three minutes and then vanished," the Elder of the Realm said on the message board.
After this unusual event, people in Archaea started finding stones, many of which were confiscated by the crown.
"Rumors filled every tavern, hall and commons," the Elder said. "The stones were magical and would lead one to great power or treasure. The stones brought luck to those who found them. The stones were a hoax perpetuated by some Fool's Day prank."
PCs began the adventure after having discovered some of the stones. The overarching plot of venturing through Archaea is to find out what the stones mean.
To uncover the mystery of these stones, students dressed up in medieval garb every Thursday for two hours in front of Denny Hall.
Instead of throwing Frisbees, they wielded padded weapons, such as swords and axes. Instead of reading textbooks, they read spellbooks. Instead of a traditional classroom, they entered the world of Archaea, where players could be whoever they wanted.
The transformation was facilitated by TA Edmond Chang, who was the Elder of the Realm.
"Ed is essentially God," Slingwine said.
As Elder of the Realm, Chang has control over the non-player characters (NPCs).
"NPCs are like the extras to the movie set of the game," Chang said.
While PCs are venturing through Archaea, Chang gives instructions to NPCs on how to interact with the PCs.
NPCs can sometimes be helpful.
"There's a fire-thing! There's a fire-thing!" a group of Darklings, played by NPCs, warned the adventurers.
"Save us from a fiery death!" fleeing villagers screamed.
One NPC joined the group of adventurers as an academy mage who was able to tell them how to defeat the approaching Fire Elemental.
NPCs have also appeared as zombies, skeleton armies and Darklings who ambush and confront adventurers, demanding money or wanting to start trouble.
"Ed has control of the NPCs, but I'm not sure how much he controls and how much he creates," said Alexx Schulte, who plays the knight Xan Atriedes.
A lot of what happens is a result of the player's creativity and motivation in creating a character's personality.
"Sometimes he calls us [PCs] over and tells us information and sends us back," Schulte said. "'Oh, you notice this ... or they look like that, or we're in a town and hear rumors.' Little stuff that we can't physically see. Tiny bits of knowledge that helps us role-play."
Chang helps with character development. He allocates experience points and money to all of the characters.
Money can buy items, such as potions, and improvements, such as better weapons.
Experience is needed for skills like Yarrow's Restore Flesh or Arche of Body. Her level-seven Arche of Body enables her to revive players who have been dead for less than a minute.
Schulte's character Atreides is a knight from the Sarus province who comes from the nobility, which helps him receive resources and exclusive information. One of his skills is called "street-wise," which allows him to hear rumors and talk to shady informants.
Awarding a player five to 10 experience points for each event is about average. But since students have fewer than eight classes to play their events, Chang sped up the process by awarding 10 to 30 experience points to each character for every class.
As their experience grows, characters like Atreides and Yarrow aspire to venture peacefully, but that's not always an option.
"Battles usually begin when we're either ambushed or notice something from the distance that comes closer," Schulte said. "We usually negotiate, but that fails."
Yarrow has an oath of no-violence, Slingwine said. She's passive-aggressive and only does things to protect the poor and sick.
One day, her oath was tested by a Fire Elemental who took Atreides, their strongest knight, hostage.
"Because I'm a knight, I'm supposed to run in and protect everyone," Schulte said, "I got burnt to a crisp several times."
At one point, the Fire Elemental had two knees on the ground, one hand on his sword, and the other on Atreides, which was burning him to death. He was really powerful, Slingwine said. So everyone was very hesitant at first.
Yarrow, in her yellow fluffy skirt, was frustrated.
"As Rebecca, I'm not bad in combat," Slinewine said.
A convergence of Rebecca and Yarrow occurred as she flung her scarf off the top of her head and grabbed another warrior's sword.
The Fire Elemental swung his sword and hit her face.
I was lucky it hit my head, because it doesn't count, Slingwine said.
If he had hit her arm, she would have received a critical wound, which would have disabled that limb, thus limiting her to the use of one sword.
Her glasses fell off. Even though she could have called a hold - a pause in the game - for safety reasons, she decided not to, because at that point, warriors were rushing in, giving her time to pick up her glasses and charge the Elemental with two swords. In the end, the adventurers defeated the Elemental and saved Atreides.
While the adventurers continued to celebrate their victory, there was another monster waiting for them outside of Archaea.
Slingwine said that while they play, some people try to heckle them.
"There's definitely a stigma, which is really sad, because it's fun and enjoyable," Schulte said.
Senior Andy Chow, one of the more experienced players, is really good at responding to the teasing.
He usually asks the hecklers if they want to join.
The stigma of live-action role-playing has been used in juxtaposition to other forms of role-playing.
"It's better than being locked up in a room playing [World of] Warcraft," said Ben Johnson, a senior who watched the players' adventure. "At least they're outside interacting socially."
Slingwine understands the stigma but doesn't let it bother her.
"It's weird; obviously, most people don't dress up," Slingwine said. "I don't see it as any weirder as someone dressing up and going to a Husky game. In a way, they are LARPing."
Players realize the outside world cannot always be separate from Archaea. The characters were traveling through a dungeon one day when a pedestrian approached. Their dungeon was someone else's footpath.
"Mundanes!" the players yell at each other, so they would all know to get out of the way. Mundanes are what players call non-players or people who are not dressed funny, Slingwine said.
"Mundanes are the most powerful creatures in Archaea because they can disbelieve," Slingwine said.
The disbelief of live-action role-playing is one of the lessons Chang hopes the class teaches the students.
"My goal is to think about how games can be analytical and critical, how games can tell us about the world around us," Chang said. "One goal of the class is to realize that live-action has a stigma. It's about challenging those stereotypes and realizing how live-action games tells us about the different roles and personas we play in real life."
A question of normativity enters into the consciousness of the players, as LARP challenges them to think about their own personas.
"There's a temptation to perceive LARPing as this crazy thing," Slingwine said. "But I have a job. I make money. I make eye contact when I talk to people. I do other things, I'm not just this freaky person."
There seems to be this pressure to grow up and make something of yourself, Slingwine said. People who play are perceived as useless, but it's a great way to be creative.
"It's a lot of fun to give yourself permission to run around," she said. "I think we lose that in America as we grow up, that ability to play."
Many of the students plan to continue LARPing. Players who are more interested in the battle aspect of Archaea are turning to Amptgard, an older system that focuses more on fighting and large-scale battles.
Slingwine hopes to convince others that LARPing is an acceptable creative outlet. Currently, she and other students are interested in creating Archaea UW, a registered student organization that would help organize the playing of Archaea at the university.
Reach reporter Kevin Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.