So far, its been so much more than that. This past weekend, in particular.
Finally the call went out. It was raining a fair amount, but not enough to deter most folks. I ran out into battle and fought fairly well, getting sufficiently soaked in the process. I was taken down a few times before running back inside to heal properly and catch my breath.
After a moment of shaking off and fixing my armor, I step back out onto the porch.
That's when the sky really opened up.
A torrent of rain began to pour, forcing most players closer to the tavern for any inkling of shelter provided by the sloping roof. The monsters attacking us did their best to pursue, but as they were also players, they began to slink back under trees, smaller buildings, or just grudgingly attempt to continue fighting.
I didn't hesitate.
I sprinted down the steps and past the huddled cloaks trying to penguin their way onto the porch. It was impossible to hear anything over the downpour, and almost as impossible to see. I imagined myself cutting a swath through sheets of water, taking advantage of the distracted (and probably discontented) "monsters" doing their best to escape the rain. I pursued relentlessly.
Three hits, back up. They turn around, confused that someone is even out there. Three more hits. Dance around to their side, keeping just out of reach. Three more hits. Down. Deathstrike. Sprint off to another one. Repeat.
I didn't bother with called damage - it was too loud. I didn't bother searching them for loot for the time it would take. I ran on. I ended up taking down two on my own before meeting with another player to take down a third one. I didn't get hit once. There were roughly five or six other people on the field but I wouldn't have known it until hearing someone else's recounting later. Everything about the situation had me feeling I was alone against the world. And I was winning. And it felt wonderful.
I almost lost a contact lens twice. My tunic from that battle was still wet when I went to pack two days later. It was all so worth it.
Unfortunately, I play a shape-shifting character. I say unfortunately because the creature I shift into is a fox. I tend to walk around with ears and a tail, and after being in that kind of rain for so long... well... I looked rather sad. There were a few other shapshifters in the group, though not as drenched as me. We collectively took great joy in standing near anyone who looked too dry, then shaking off dramatically.
Saturday night was by far the hardest time I'd ever had at LARP. In contrast to the night before, it was a trial on both a physical and emotional level.
I was part of a decoy group meant to hold off a slough of undead until a secondary group could get away. The battle was a long one, with the undead getting stronger and stronger as time went on. It was the Harrowing, and at this time of year they had the power to turn our own comrades against us. They did so several times, and we were forced to cut down our friends only to bring them back again, luckily, in their right mind. I don't have a lot of health, as I tend to fight more "sneaky" and dodge often. But as the enemy got stronger, it would only take one hit to bring me down, and I couldn't afford to take as many risks.
As our friends became Harrowed, they were taken down by us and tragically left along enemy lines. I myself became Harrowed twice, but was recovered. The undead were too many for us to recover everyone safely. Quickly, fallen friends 'along the lines' became 'behind the lines' as the undead pressed their attack. We tried going back for a few, but then more would fall and only add to their number.
The call went out for retreat. The other group was successful and it was time to back out.
The undead got stronger.
One by one they called out for large numbers of our group to become Harrowed. More and more went to join their ranks, and more fell as a result. One in particular was the in-game brother of a dear friend of mine: Coral. She cried out as he fell and was promptly overrun by the undead. She's mostly a healer, but she looked ready to charge back after him. I grabbed her and physically dragged her away as she screamed for him. A long, gut-wrenching scream that echoed as one of the enemy walked up to her brother and swiftly ended his life. Someone else grabbed her other arm and we pulled her further, looking behind as one by one our comrades were slain where they lay. More screams and cries went up from the living as we were forced to retreat, leaving them behind.
Once safe, she sobbed bitterly that they would convert him into something evil. That he wouldn't come back, or if he did, he wouldn't be "him." She leaned against me as we sobbed together, my words of comfort ringing more hollow than the death bell. Slowly, we walked back to the town.
The death bell rang out as each spirit of those who fell made their way to the archway. With each toll of the bell, a cry or gasp went up from those around. Three times. Four times. Then with the fifth one: Hart; Coral's brother. She wailed once more, and her quiet sobs turning into open weeping.
We sat outside of death's archway for what felt like hours. We cried for our fallen, weeping openly as more and more people joined us in mourning. Each spirit of the dead went in to greet death, and see if they would be restored to life. Long moments of silence would follow as a new spirit entered. Eventually, one by one, they would come back to us. Usually with some kind of obligation to fulfill as an exchange for their return to life.
Then it was Hart's turn.
By then, quite a few people had trickled away, so only a handful of us remained to see him through. Coral began weeping again as he entered. I told her he'd come back. Everyone else came back. He will too. He'll be okay.
Long moments passed as we waited by the entrance. Finally a creek of wood was heard and he stepped out, tears visible in his eyes, and made a gesture to indicate it was over. He would not return.
He started walking away as we began crying anew.
Suddenly, death called out loudly for his return and we hushed. It turns out he had given death a writ, allowing him a second chance. He returned to the archway and went back inside.
Normally when we mourn for the dead, we sing. This time we didn't sing, and I believe it was due to some complication surrounding the amount of dead waiting for their turn. With only Hart waiting inside, we could now sing again.
The bard came over and started the song of mourning. My throat was broken from crying and talking for so long, but I kept along as best I could. I put my heart into it - we all did.
Another eternity passed. Still, we sang.
Finally he stepped out and we fell silent. He took a deep breath, then smiled. An exhausted cheer of relief went up as Coral ran to him and they reunited.
I went around the secondary stairs to the tavern and collapsed against the wall. I cried harder than I had all night. Harder than I had in weeks. As hard as I had for Sarah. I was crying for her now, as much as myself.
I had been holding it together well when comforting the others. Crying softly in camaraderie as it felt appropriate. But I'd been holding it too long. A lot of the last few hours had felt so real - when fighting against our comrades, dragging people away from the battlefield, and waiting in suspended time as we mourned. It felt like too much.
Then I was okay.
I was exhausted on many, many levels, and suddenly remembered enough of my surroundings to feel cold. It must have been well past midnight, but at least it wasn't raining. I felt at peace.
I cleaned my face as best I could and went back into the tavern to relax by the fire. Everything hurt, but I felt content - as well as a bit foolish. Its just a game, right? Right...
Then I had to tell happy stories to a crazy murder-doll-person or it would go nuts and kill everyone.
I realized that I do not participate in LARP to "have fun" or to use a vessel for my hobbies. I was already well into my hobbies before I started, and have only added to them since.
I LARP to be a part of the stories I've only ever read about. To feel a real connection with people in profound situations. Not to romanticize war or battle, but to know greater struggles beyond a "normal" life. To bond in suffering as well as joy. So that my greatest complaint in life wont be related to traffic or a hard day at the office. So that I have a touch more empathy and fortitude should greater hardships in my life, or the lives of others, truly arise.
To feel a greater spectrum of life.