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Game of Throngs

Swordfights, mead and wizard hats enter the mainstream

Author Vicky Lane Illustration Luci Gutiérrez


SPERNALL, ENGLAND – There’s an orc in the ladies’ room. It’s making small talk with a blue-gilled woman who’s reapplying her lipstick. “I can’t die today,” the fish lady chirps. “I’ve got a meeting later.”

Outside the restroom there are more orcs, loads of them, black-eyed and with gray skin, clad in leather and fur, stomping through the muddy, medieval setting of “Empire,” a live-action role-playing (or larping) event. “Is there any loo paper in there?” one of them asks.

About 1,800 wizards, goblins and sundry fantasists have assembled in this Middle England field, ready for a weekend of waging war, drinking mead and discussing matters of state inside large canvas tents. It’s “Game of Thrones” meets Lord of the Rings meets … nervous dog walkers, unused to such sights in their sleepy village.

“A lot of people think this is weird until they see it,” says Matthew Pennington, director of Profound Decisions, the firm behind the event. Role playing is no longer seen as a marginal pursuit, he claims. There are events for Harry Potter and “Downton Abbey.” Kids are doing it, he says. Grandmothers.

There are plenty of elderly ladies here today, even though someone seems to be stabbing or throttling an opponent everywhere you look. “It’s just innocent fun,” Pennington says.  
But this isn’t only about fun. According to Pennington, role playing satisfies a fundamental human urge: “Becoming whoever you want without any restrictions.” Unsurprisingly, that desire is often best fulfilled by playing the part of the bloodthirsty villain. “I’ve only killed a few people myself,” he says. “I’m more of a thief.”


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