Drachenfest and ConQuest of Mythodea. Most larpers keeping an eye out on the international larp scene will recognize two of the largest larps in Germany. While ConQuest is also the largest larp in the world. They are organized one week after another in northwestern Germany (with another large larp, Epic Empires following them). This made a perfect excuse to combine both of them in one huge larp holiday.
Our small group consisted of my wife and son, and a friend of ours who were able to afford the tickets and the trip. We started from Croatia, already tired because of Crolarp, the largest Croatian larp of the year, had just finished. Crolarp had 76 people, and we were completely unable to imagine how a multi-thousand person larp would look like…
We made a stop in Slovenia to meet another friend and his family, and we traveled together for the rest of our journey. We got a bit lost at the end of our journey, and after we found the right town and tiny directions to the event, we finally found ourselves inside, on the crowded ring-road going around the Drachenfest terrain, with exits for various camps every now and then.
Imagining the number of people and actually seeing them on the terrain are two entirely different things. Drachenfest was very crowded, with camps placed on edges of two connected meadows, with empty space in the middle.
I was in Copper camp with my family. It’s a NPC camp with a very organized structure. Not unlike Empire in Star Wars or Warhammer. In fact, those two Empires were obvious models for the camp organization. The society was divided in castes, all of them with strict duties – and we were a very religious camp, worshipping the Copper Avatar who was leading us. Most camps had a dragon avatar leading them, and these were the camps who could “win” Drachenfest. Which is story-wise organized as a combat between followers of each dragon, fighting for one year of that dragon’s world dominance.
It’s a simple concept, but it got amazingly detailed. This was the year of golden dragon, who won the last Drachenfest. The town in game was full of hanging banners of the golden dragon and triumvirat camp. Even the in-character money was minted with their symbol.
The camp was also heavily organized out of character. I had a modern tent, so I was given a camp place that would be surrounded by other, more period tents. There are smaller campsites in predetermined locations all around the camp, and roads and alleyways between them. Our camp was around 200 people and it felt huge, even though Copper is one of the smallest camps on Drachenfest.
General atmosphere on the event was very welcoming to new people. Germans are very flexible around the rules – something that we were not used to – and often ignore them in favor of freeform play. You can create a character on the spot – they were actually surprized when we showed up with already generated characters. And they were surprized by some choices we made. “You took an extra hit point?” the girl at the character check-in wondered. “Really, who’s still counting hit points these days?”. And that’s true – people often didn’t count hit points. But not to cheat – pretty much everything was done to emphasize the drama and the epic look and feel.
People were doing slow weapon strikes, as if the weapon is heavy. And when someone was hit by a heavy weapon, they would often fly away and drop on the floor, simulating getting hit by all that weight. Everyone involved was having fun. It was not the more “sporty” fighting style I was used to (fight to win). Simulated wrestling and barfight combat was also very common (and from what I’ve seen done in quite a safe way). They kept asking us to roleplay instead of fighting to win, making those two concepts opposing terms.
Being based around combat, Drachenfest has plenty. There’s some plot, but there’s very little of it. The event is practically a sandbox, depending on the players to provide most of the content and atmosphere. And it works. Camps are amazingly organized, there’s a great deal of battles, diplomacy, pure roleplaying, espionage and other things happening there.
With a huge number of people, it works excellently. We patrolled through the town, hunted down some orcs, brought them before the judge, found some witnesses to the assault they committed and guarded them until the end of their trial. It was amazing, and it could easily be the focal point of a, say, short local larp. But it was just one of the things popping out spontaneously. Wherever you’d go, there would be things like that just happening. Even in our own camp, it would be a pretty interesting experience if you just stood in the courtyard looking at what’s going on – priests walking around leading rituals and prayers, army standing under banners, barefoot water girls running around, inquisitor reaffirming someone’s faith by a whip, avatar, imperator and caste lords walking around, army master yelling at people, gate guard checking out passports that we were given and even announcing time, and an occasional visitor from another camp, or some troupe or peddler. It was a living, breathing, functioning larp in every way.
One of my favorite moments was when we were attacking the orc camp. It was impressive, all of the orc dressed up to the Lord of the Rings costume standard, with ugly (and really orc-looking) watchtower filled with orcs shooting arrows at us (at a very long range). They had a trebuchet in the back, shooting foam bricks at us – not precise, but powerful and impressive. The orc horde was a sight to be seen as well- they really looked and behaved like orcs, in fight they were slamming our lines in the unruly fashion and they provided some really great atmosphere. They might have been our enemy in game, but they were one of the best themed camps in game.
Landsknechte were also impressive – a camp of colourful mercenary pikemen, with their own flutists and drummers every time they’d go out in battle. Chaos camp was also there, looking like… well, Warhammer Chaos. Warhammer does seem to be a huge style model for a lot of German larps.
The town of Aldradach was a functional in-character town, housing pretty much everything, including school, kindergarden, library, temple, guilds, crafters, judge and a dungeon, taverns and restaurants, and plenty of larp shops.
People in camps proved to be great. Helpful, friendly, and excellent company. We had many memorable moments with our neighbors, Dark Lord Charlie, and many others in camp. Though us not knowing German was a bit of a problem to understand everything that’s going on, but people would usually translate the most important bits. Our friends who travelled with us didn’t go to Copper camp – instead they went to gold camp and joined the Grand Expedition.
The UK Grand Expedition to Drachenfest and Mythodea is the most famous English-speaking group on those two events. Led by the guy called Rick – an American guy living in the UK – it’s another great and friendly (and highly organized) group. We spent a lot of time with them, especially during downtime and between events. My friends who went with them had a very different experience than us, which is common in events as big as those.
Drachenfest ended with a big battle, which Copper lost in a brave attempt to stand alone against everyone in the middle of the field. It’s difficult to describe in words, but the end battle of Drachenfest stands as the best and most impressive larp battle I’ve ever been to. Blue camp created a large alliance and won, so next year will be the year of the blue dragon.
We packed, stayed for an extra day, spent some quality time with people and then went on to Mythodea, which was some 2 hours away by car. ConQuest of Mythodea is played on a large horse property called “Rittergut Brokeloh” in a small German town of Brokeloh. Which is even smaller than Drachenfest’s Diemelstadt – the town pretty much gets enveloped by the event, which is on one side, and parking which is on the another.
ConQuest is even bigger than Drachenfest – it has around twice as many people. And it’s a whole different type of game. While most of the points considering game and style are different between Drachenfest and ConQuest, ConQuest is certainly a game looking in a different direction. Plot, mostly ignored on Drachenfest, is one of the main components of ConQuest, and the game is rich with lore and detail. Unlike mostly player-led Drachenfest, ConQuest has mostly NPC-led action.
I was one of the NPCs, a part of the Black Ice army. The combat here was very involved – unlike on Drachenfest where it’s more like voluntary, we’d attack random passerbys, and a lot of tactics employed, some of them in quite a creative manner. Yet Black Ice was not there simply to kill opponents, so we didn’t always attack. It’s more to make an impact and terrify, and provide for some memorable fighting.
Logistics of ConQuest were even more amazing than on Drachenfest. Toilets, trash containers, huge shower tents, and there was even an actual supermarket in a tent, all to provide for as comfortable experience as possible. Despite the terrain being a bit less open than Drachenfest – with some forested area around, as well as having more meadows and camps being more further apart – exposure can still be a problem (it was new to us since we’re used to larping in a forest), so every bit of comfort is welcome.
Apart from camps, game area was also full of plot locations – or APLs as they are called. Most of them are staffed by NPCs and interactive. Sometimes there’s a bit of waiting, as there can be some confusion among ConQuest GMs – there’s certainly a lot to keep track of on ConQuest.
My group of Black Ice – Swarm 1 – proved a group of very friendly, interesting and helpful people. Black Ice was working in shifts, and the time between was free so I spent some time roaming around as my regular character, when I finally managed to meet the Grand Expedition people in-character, which I didn’t do on Drachenfest (except for one short-lived assault from my camp on theirs) and spend some time hanging around with them.
Like Drachenfest, ConQuest also ended in a great battle, but in a different style. All the NPCs went out, it was colorful and very epic with key NPCs doing their part on the two battlefields that were formed. It ended, we had more fun roleplaying that evening, and then it was all over. All of us went home, feeling tired and having a case of a post-larp depression from having to return to our mundane life….
If you can get to Drachenfest or ConQuest, I fully recommend visiting them. There’s a large international community, apart from Germans I met and talked to players from Austria, Slovenia, Britain, Netherlands, USA, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and probably some more that I don’t know of. I’ll certainly try to get back next year.
Here’s a short dictionary of some German larp terms:
- Outtime (OT) – off-game or out of character
- Intime (IT) – in-game or in-character
- Spielleitung (SL) – game master/reeve/referee
- Orga – game staff
- Stop – pronounced with “sh”. A call to stop a game immediately. Don’t say “stop” IT, use “halt” instead.
- Heiler – an IT call for healer. Pronounced like “hi-ler”.
- Sani – an OT call for medic, used for real injuries, usually in combination with stop. Pronounced like “sunny”.
- Weiter – “onward”, game continues after “stop” or similar.
- Time stop – like stop but for IT purposes, only SLs call it. Close your eyes and hum until you hear “weiter”, game continues from that point.
- Vor! – Forward! Pronounced like “for”. The battle line which is yelling this is likely pushing into opponents.
Ivan is an avid larper, gamer and family man. He hails from Croatia where he is very influential in the larp community. He blogs over on Crolarper.com where you can keep up to date on all things larp related in Croatia.