FANS OF FANTASY: Surrey LARPers find escape in a world of ‘grown-up pretend’

PART 2: Devotees of Live Action Role Play say people from all walks of life immerse themselves into a community of orcs, elves and archers

Surrey’s Mark Charke

Surrey’s Mark Charke

PART 2 IN SERIES: Devotees of Live Action Role Play say people from all walks of life are escaping into a world of orcs, elves and archers.


As two Surrey men suit up in their leather attire and ready their weapons at Green Timbers lake, curious passersby glance at them out of the corners of their eyes.

Michael Sugden fashions himself in painted hockey shin pads he wears as “greaves,” or protective leg armour. He also dons a kilt and a modified tool belt used to store an axe or a sword.

Twenty minutes later, he’s still not battle ready, as he puts on his brown fake fur tabbard under leather scale armour.

The armour is handmade by Mark Charke, who stands just feet away.

“One of the things I love most is the looks people give us,” says Charke, smirking as he puts on his own outfit of brown “peasant garb,” which he then covers in leather armour that he has, of course, also made by hand.

This is just one of his seven completed costumes.

Today, Charke is transforming himself into “Botan Yu,” a nature elf. He spent 200 hours making the outfit – dying, tooling and forming the leather himself.

And Sugden? He’s transforming himself into “Kieran Kollin Koiffe,” grand master of the archers guild, companion of the chosen and champion of Geos.

“But you can just call him Kieran,” adds Sugden.

Garb, as it’s called in the LARP (Live Action Role Play) community, is essentially a costume for the game.

And LARP is what these men love to do. Think Dungeons and Dragons, but in real life. It’s all medieval. Wizards, elves, sorcerers and warriors (though some LARPers delve into the world of vampires, or other genres).

“It’s like playing pretend,” said Sugden. “It’s grown-up pretend.”



(Michael Sugden, dressed as Kieran Kollin Koiffe, prepares to shoot. Photo: AMY REID)



A 20-year LARPer from Surrey, Sugden began his journey into the world of live-action role playing rather modestly in Grade 9 in the fields next to his Guildford townhouse complex.

“We went out with duct tape and foam weapons and did our thing,” he said. “It was probably private property, but now it’s (Guildford) auto mall, so places like that are disappearing.”

Sugden and friend Bart Stawiarski wrote and ran a game called “The Seven Stones of Salamar” for years, until a group called Inritius Alliance took over, running them for the Surrey and Langley areas.

Putting on these games is no small feat, he explained.

“Preparation begins as soon as previous game ends,” he said.

“With our live combat style LARP, if you were to look at a game script, it would look in some ways like a script for a play,” said Sugden. “Not with scripted lines, but encounter one, and a brief description of what happens. So the first encounter of a game, some important person – maybe the mayor of the town or the lord – would explain to the adventurers why they’re there. Maybe put out a call for the adventurers daughter to be rescued from an Orc tribe.”


(Mark Charke, left, and Michael Sugden battle on the frozen Green Timbers Lake. Photo: AMY REID)



For many, LARPing is a contact sport.

“There’s possibility of injury,” said Sugden. “A close friend of mine broke four ribs when somebody fell on him. I’ve broken my nose, I’ve had stitches… You don’t want to take grandma or kids out.”’

Their fun has also been mistaken for real life, Sugden added. Police have even been called on occasion when people mistook their weapons for the real thing.

“After the third or fourth time… (police) started telling people, don’t worry about them, they’re harmless.”

There have also been issues with Surrey’s bylaw department when playing in parks, Sugden said, when an officer “took exception to the fact that we were shooting arrows back and forth.”

That’s why games more commonly take place on private property these days.

While many games last for just an afternoon, Sugden’s participated in weekend-long LARP events where “you eat in character, you sleep in character, until the end of day Sunday…. Some of the downtime stuff is my favourite.

“You get to sit down and be somebody else and shoot the sh*t with your best friend who in the game may be your enemy.”

That “escape” is the appeal of LARPing for many, he added.

“A majority of LARPers you talk to will say it’s about escapism. It’s a word we use a lot… That implies there’s something to escape from and let’s be honest, the real world kinda sucks sometimes.”



A big misconception, Sugden said, is they’re all “freaks and weirdos.” Though he added that’s a bit of an old misconception as LARP becomes more mainstream in Canada.

“We have young people, old people, all sorts of people,” he said, adding they have moms who come out – even politicians, who will remain nameless.

And they’re not snobs, Sugden insisted.

“If you’re wearing a black T-shirt and sweat pants, if that’s all you can afford right now, we’ll let you play.”

But there are rules – mostly pertaining to character races.

“So elves, dwarves, different races have specific requirements. It’s basically so you can look at a person and tell what they are.”

Charke (pictured) said a hard part of the game for newcomers to get used to is the “cliques” and the in-character rivalry.

“Mike almost made me quit,” he said of Sugden. “I was playing my first and favourite character, John Stewart. He’s a pyro. I showed up to the game and I set Mike’s axe on fire. I didn’t actually set it on fire but in the concept of the game I set it on fire. He came over and chewed me out. He was in my face, he was here screaming at me.”

“But in character, of course,” insisted Sugden with a smile.

While Charke hasn’t been enthralled with LARP as long as Sugden has, he is arguably just as passionate.

Charke is about to launch a new LARP group called Aalutan’s Nexus after Inritius Alliance (IA) ceased operations last month.

IA’s setting, according to its website, was fantasy. More specifically, “The land of Antios, home of powerful gods and numerous thriving races.”

But Charke, a writer and video game designer, says his new rules lent itself to a new setting. His games will take place in the world of Nexus, “a natural crossroads of many, many planes of existence.”

Charke says he’s spent the last year rewriting the IA rules, and estimates he’s logged 1,000 hours on the project. The first game is set for this Saturday.

“You know when you’re excited about something and you want to throw up?” he said. “We had play test games though, this isn’t really the first game. This is officially the first game, this is alpha launch but we did two beta test weekends. Just to have people come out, build characters, and say can we play this? Does it actually work? And the answer was yes.

“I’m feeling good. The trick is, the rules are my thing, but can I get enough people to come out?”

Charke said he hopes to grab the player base leaving IA, where he served as recruitment officer.

“There were about 200 different people who had come out and attended (IA games),” he said, estimating 30 to 40 of them were regulars.

“Right now I’m looking at about 20 or 30, if everyone showed up, to my first game.”

Game 1 is set for Jan. 28/29 in Aldergrove at Green Wode Farm, 25133 0 Ave. Tickets are $10 for players and free for crew members.

For more, visit the Facebook event page, “Aalutan’s Nexus Jan 2017 Games 1, 2, 3” or the group “Aalutan’s Nexus.”

PART 1: FANS OF FANTASY: In Cloverdale, these duelling ‘knights’ enjoy a good fight night

NEXT WEEK: Tom Zillich focuses on competitive video gaming at Cloverdale’s Elements Casino.