Name: Leslie-Ann McCormack
IG Name & Race: Birgitta Drexel; (KR) Kormarian Callisto Rhumer; (WoD) Tremere Prince; and others
Age: 50
Number of Years LARPing: 17
Home Game: Knight Realms

Leslie-Ann McCormack has been LARPing since the 1990s, playing multiple personas in various systems. At the age of fifty she is still physically active as Birgitta, a Dragoon Cavalier, leading a group of mercenaries called the Blood Spirits at Knight Realms.

LARP is both a passion and an outlet for her artistic creativity through the written word, drawings, paintings, and other sorts of creative outlets and crafting. McCormack also has the rare breed of LARPing partner: Melody, her Rough Collie who plays as the Baronial Wardog. She was trained as a puppy to accept and be non-reactive to masks, make up, sound effects light effects props, and boffer and latex weapons.

Catherine C. J. Baxley: Where did you first hear about LARPing and what persuaded you to attend your first event?
Leslie-Ann McCormack: LARPing came into my life via friends and a notice of a World of Darkness game in Philadelphia called Darkest Before Dawn. I saw the flier, asked others and investigated the system at Between Books, an Independent bookstore in DE. I hatracking_20140615_1591631748d done improvisational theater in high school and learned method acting and thought they would apply to this interactive theater experience. I was hooked from the first night of that game and expanded into other games thereafter including One World By Night and Knight Realms which was my first Boffer LARP in the year 2002.

CCJB: What has been your most challenging experience in game (IG)? Did is coincide with your out of game (OOG) mentality?
LAM: LARPing offers a wide variety of challenges.  At times, they can cross without meaning–even under the best of circumstances. As an example, I have inadvertently made another player truly cry when I was under the impression it was an in-game (or IG) experience, in reality, they were out-of-game (or OOG) upset.

The moment I realized the situation, I dropped the persona and we talked it out. The sudden shift from the upset Elder Vampire, to me, shocked the other player into the realization I was not yelling at her. Later, I was at a different game where that player was now in the role of Prince and I found out that she, too, had done the same to a new player. I was proud of how far her acting skills had come in the intervening years and the connections of having done the same to the other player just proved that the persona is not the player.

In boffer LARPing my hardest challenge is keeping up physically with the warrior I personify IG.  While I am aging, the player character (or PC) is about ten years my younger and is six-feet tall to my five-foot-six height. To portray such acting takes skills, in terms of having a large presence as if you were on stage. The best compliment I’ve received was from a gentleman who was taller than I, saying when I play Birgitta he sees me as I stand if I were six feet tall. My response was, “Good! It means I am doing it right because she is.”  He laughed!

CCJB: You say you’ve played over since the 1990s. Over the years, how has the “LARP scene” developed to you? Are there any things you miss or wish could still happen?
LAM: The LARP scene has grown exponentially with persons and events. There is an entire community of people that come from all walks of life and invest in the hobby that was once thought of as an off-shoot of “Cowboys and Indians” or “Cops and Robbers” games kids used to play.  It’s harder to find one-on-one, small personal plots that don’t affect the entire game. The staff of any game finds it nearly impossible to tailor a plot to a person’s background. I miss those almost-private storylines.

CCJB: According to the 2014 LARP Census results, there are only 2.1% of LARPers are between the ages of 50 to 54 in the United States. Why do you think there is a such a low percentage compared to the 21.3% of those 25 to 29 age range?
LAM: Growth of LARPing has come from that fifty-something generation to the twenties-generation. You are seeing families LARP together from kids, teens, young adults to fathers and mothers. I know of quite a few children who have grown-up in a LARPing family. I also think as you age, responsibilities come into playtime. The ability to engage in active play is more limited…unless you get family and friends involved. Or you are as lucky as I am to have most my friends stemming from the gaming experiences I have had over the years. Knight Realms is my chosen family. I even discovered a lost cousin through that game. I firmly believe he is my blood second-cousin.


CCJB:
Tell us about your dogs and their history of LARPing! Why did you want to introduce them to LARPing?
LAM:  My two Shelties, Tempus and Jazzy, were my first LARPing dogs. They attended Knight Realms with special permission from the Director, FB_IMG_1461006405123James Kimball. There were supposed to be Wolf Pups IG and Tempus and Jazzy’s Uncle Matt was the one who was supposed to have them.  

It started as a joke and turned into much more as I explained they both had hiked, canoed, and sailed with me off lead and their obedience was good enough to have gotten a companion dog (or CD) and Companion Dog Excellent (or CDX) title from American Kennel Club.

The use of hand signals and 100% adherence to commands came in handy when Jazzy and Tempus were in hot pursuit on Goblins. Jazzy was quite vocal and it unnerved the NPC player. He called a hold to their flight across the field and when he did, he threw up his hand palm out and both my dogs dropped to the ground. It was their drop command. He asked the other non-player character (or NPC), Did you see that? I was just watching from nearby as everyone gathered breath waiting. The other player said yes and added he thought they were okay and so the NPC who called hold called “lay-on” to begin again and  lifted his hand which is my up command…and off they went again.

Down went the NPCs in a hail of swinging boffers. Afterwards they stood up to re-pop and Jazzy was on him again. He looked down at Jazzy and said, “My weapons over my head I’m OOG.” I then called both dogs back to me and he gave me a wave. At that point I vowed if any of my future dogs want to play with me in this game, I’ll teach them everything they need to know to actually play.

Melody is my current player dog and she does much more than just drop on command and rise on commands that are IG rules.

CCJB: What training methods did you use in order to help them prepare for an event? Do they participate in any combat mods or just role-playing scenarios?
LAM: Basic solid obedience is a must for a LARPing dog. They must be on all the time; they must have the proper fearless temperament and forgiving nature to even consider them for LARPing; they must be non-reactive to stimulation including being struck – albeit gently – by what can only be considered a weapon. My dogs can and will enter combat and will role-play (or RP) in their own way in scenarios at game.

  1. Take your dog everywhere when they are young. I have had my dogs in malls, shopping areas, outside construction sites, banks, even active fire stations! If the dog is sensitive or reactive to any of these sights, sounds, or activities then they may not be LARP-dog material. I have two others that are not.
  2. Play with them and teach them to be light of mouth when holding items. No one wants a chewed LARP weapon. Teach them that’s it’s a game of ‘try and take down what is tapping you’ and reward them when they succeed.
  3. Wear makeup, masks, armor and weapons at home. Be certain these are associated with the fun ‘take it’ game as above. Introduce them to your LARPing friends whom you trust to handle your dog when you can’t. There will be times like when you are on NPC shift that the dog will have to be in another’s care. Be certain they have the same control of your dog you do or you have a secure a quiet space for your dog to be a dog and relax while you NPC.
  4. Give them downtime at game. They will want to be with you night and day, but it’s up to you to make the quiet sleep time dogs require.

I further recommend therapy dog training. Melody is a registered therapy dog and has been temperament tested for that work. That temperament works well for the LARPing dog and the services can come in handy for the occasional player who becomes overwhelmed by a particular scenario. The intensity of some plots can as about cause real reactions, duress and occasionally panic attacks in players. In fact, many people use the relative safety of these games to get over fears and other issues. Therapy training has come in very handy for those in need.

Melody is also Tracking and Trailing 1, 2, and 2.5 all-terrain trained which is the starting work for Search and Rescue. She can and will follow scent trails to find a person, so if anyone ever gets lost on the 200-ish acres of campground we have my dog who can track them. We’ve practiced with full-body makeup and costuming and masks in place. She’s found her subject every time! It’s a great way to demonstrate to people just how useful a dog can be on site.

Lastly, remember not everyone likes dogs. Some people even fear dogs. Talk to those people and assure them they do not have to interact with your dog at any time in the game and that’s okay.  As a handler, the dog is 100% your responsibility and so is the damage, harm, or endangerment that can come from having your dog at any event.

I won’t kid you… Melody the Baronial War Dog has a fan club filled with Knight Realms players.

CCJB: Have you ever been told “no” to bringing your dogs to an event?
LAM: Yes, some of the state parks do not allow dogs on property due to bears and or lost animals in the past, in which have turned out poorly for the owners.

Allergies are a consideration as well. Where the dog is sleeping, eating and drinking and with whom could be an issue where you have many persons in one place. An allergy attack would spoil someone’s fun and that is not the intent of bringing in a dog companion.

Then is the prior experiences with simple ‘pet’ visitors that may not have the certifications and or experiences of your dog. The precedence can make it difficult to get that first shot. Add to that fact that some games have loud noisemakers, bright lights, or fire elements and it can become overwhelming for any dog.

While I choose very carefully and communicate with the Knight Realms staff when I chose to bring Melody to game, others may not think of these things.

No is a perfectly reasonable answer for any of these reasons.

CCJB: How much of a difference in your LARPing experiences would it be if you didn’t bring your dogs with you?
LAM: I have LARPed with and without my dogs. If the dog adds to the game, bringing Melody is a joy. It is extra work for me in packing, care, and maintenance but it’s a labor of love. I have had requests to bring her to day- and week-long events. When she flags with fatigue, we go home. I want this to be as much fun for her as it is for me. Otherwise why play the game?

CCJB: Have they helped others during events as therapy companions?
LAM: Melody has helped a good number of players with her therapy sessions right at game from dealing with claustrophobia effects on players, to emotional upset, even grounding an autistic player when things became too much. She has assisted with panic attacks that were unknown to me until after the event. She can read or scent changes in a person and prevent things from becoming full-blown and has even calmed people being treated for trip and fall injuries.

CCJB: If someone were to bring their pet to an event for the first time (or a new game), what would you tell them?
LAM:

  • Obedience! On-lead and off-lead under all kinds of circumstances. Make this a game for them too! If it’s fun, your dog will do it and handle it well.

  • Test! Create an IG environment in your home with everything they will interact with at an event and guide them through it.

  • Think! Think ahead plan ahead and know what your dog will do before he or she does it.  Stay one step ahead.

  • React! Your dog will tell you when they have had enough of anything well before they quit or break.  Be there for them in all things.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a story. It was Sunday and we were packing up the tent early at Knight Realms. I was out and cooked breakfast over the fire when a pack of NPC wolves wandered toward our encampment. Melody the Baronial War Dog was on patrol and intersected with these wolves. I told her to bring them up to the camp because it was likely the wolves were hungry and she circled them drawing them up to the encampment.

I carefully took up the muffins and butter from the plate near the pit and offered them to the wolves while she watched. The wolves snatched the buttery goodness from my hands sniffed around the encampment and went on their merry way followed by… The Baronial War Dog. I called out, “Melody you can not go pack with those wolves!  Get back over here right now!” She cavorted around the wolves once and trotted back up to me. The NPC wolves giggled.

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Photography: Kyle Ober 

Game(s) Featured: Knight Realms

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