Editor’s Note: The article below is an interview of sorts. I asked David Ashby a bunch of questions and this is how he answered them. It may not look like an interview; it is.
Underworld LARP is an 18+ horror fantasy game. We’ve been running for almost 20 years now, but we’ve incorporated and been running seriously as a business for the last 7 years. Our games are full weekend events and we specialize in full immersion “hardcore” role-play. We strive to break the mould on what a larper is considered to be by the mainstream media. We’ve been coined the “Rock Stars” of LARP by more than one media outlet here in Toronto, which sounds cool, but is a bit odd given the fact that we’re all running around the woods dressed as elves and hitting each other with plumbing supplies. We’re averaging about 150 to 200 players per game during our summer seasons and we have chapters running in Toronto, Edmonton and London Ontario. I’ve personally been an owner for the last 7 years, before that I was a player. Edward Watt, my business partner has been here since day one.
I’m happy to say we are successful in Canada and I think, honestly, it’s a result of old-fashion hard work. We’ve structured our game to make it very appealing and easy for new players to find their place and we created a safe supportive community that acts as a second family to a lot of players. Hell, sometimes a first family. We have our ups and downs like every larp but we do the best we can with the tools we have and it’s worked for us so far. Having incredible players helps a lot. We keep things from getting stagnate by continually upping the bar. Aside from the grey hairs and little sleep, this year we managed to safely hoist a Banshee Queen 15 feet into the air on guide wires then zip her across our field while she rained down death upon our terrified players. On our Halloween event, which tends to be our flagship event, we built at 20 foot giant undead, that 80 players took on, in an epic battle that would rival many action movies. I don’t know what we’re going to do next year but we’ll just keep on going and changing things up to stay relevant.
Recently we were approached by one of the scouts for Dragon’s Den, to do a “spectacle” pitch on their show. They refer to a spectacle pitch as one that is heavy in theatrics, fills the stage, etc. The fact that we were scouted, rather than having to apply like most folks, was pretty complimentary. We were given a month to come up with a pitch, organize our best 15 players, build our rock golem and get our books in order. It was incredibly stressful but we pulled it off. We were asking for $60,000 in exchange for 25% of the company. That money would be used to secure a deposit on a plot of land that we could build our own facility on. We’ve grown to such a size, that we’re almost capped out on what our currently rental site can accommodate. If you own a larp, you know the pain of finding sites for games of our size (or bigger). That aside, we also have dreams of building an entire, fully immersive, medieval village for our players to game on. Since the show aired we’ve had a number of secondary investors contact us, we’ve had offers to start Underword LARP chapters in the US and Japan and we’ve just had an incredible amount of positive response from new players, friends, family. It really got our name out there. We’ve been organizing new player socials for weeks.
A lot of people ask us if we’re happy with how the episode went. Honestly, we never really expected to get a Dragon investor. Of course we wanted one, but we knew that LARP in Canada is just starting to break into mainstream. We knew we would be hard pressed to convince billionaires to throw their money at us, when we only had 7 minutes to explain what larping is and how it has become profitable. We were aiming for the free publicity, exposure for LARPing in general, and hoping our pitch was taken seriously. We got the best possible no. If a 10 out of 10 was a Dragon investment, we scored a 9. We have absolutely no complaints.
We knew we would be hard pressed to convince billionaires to throw their money at us, when we only had 7 minutes to explain what larping is and how it has become profitable.
Since the episode aired we knew we would be getting a lot of attention from the non-gamer community and the public eye. We still want to fulfil our dream of having an owned and dedicated site to play on, so we started listening to secondary investors, as well as rolling out our own crowd funding project. We established a GoFundMe page in an effort to help raise capitol, so we can accomplish our dreams without Dragon support. We’re happy to say we’re 1/3 of our way there and we’re grateful to any and all that can donate or have already donated. I’ve been asked in the past why the larping community, as a whole, should support us in our goals. Rewards for donating aside, I don’t have a solid reason outside of just supporting the community. Six years ago Edward and I decided to take a percentage of our profits from every game and create a Player in Need fund (PiN). If a player falls on hard times, loses their job, or can’t afford food, we give them money. This comes out of our pocket for the most part, although other players can donate, and since we’ve established it we’ve helped dozens and dozens of people. We’ve sadly had a couple players pass away unexpectedly over the last couple years and we scraped together just over $2000 for the families they left behind. Underworld LARP regularly donates to charity and we’ve planning on hosting a blood drive in the spring. We don’t just take care of our own, we help other games the best we can. Last year a tornado ripped through the site of one of our competitors, ending their season early. We donated what we could to see them rebuild and get back into the game. There is no moral obligation to do this, other than to be kind and supportive. We want to support LARP, we want to see people happy in their hobby, and we want our community to grow. We don’t give selflessly so that it’ll come around. It’s great if it does, but that’s not the point. We will always pay it forward. That is what a strong community does. We don’t give selflessly so that it’ll come around. It’s great if it does, but that’s not the point. We will always pay it forward. That is what a strong community does. We are larpers. We have been the underdogs in the gaming/nerd community for as long as I can remember. That’s changed a bit as LARP becomes a little more mainstream but we can’t forget our roots. We have always had each others backs and we want to keep it that way. Underworld is dedicated to helping the community with their dreams, if you can help us too, great!
If all goes well we’re hoping that within 5 years we’ll not only have a dedicated site but also a fully functional, medieval village. I have visions of cabins, showers, a fully stocked Tavern and Inn. We have plans and designs for archer towers, corn fields turned mazes, a beautifully constructed and organized NPC and props cabin. Aside from our dreams of land, we’re also expanding our chapter base. We currently have games running in Toronto, Edmonton and London, but we’re in talks with Ottawa, Texas and even Japan. We want to focus on finding clever hard working individuals that are interested in starting up Underworld Chapters throughout Canada and the US. We brag no licence or start up fees and have a ton of amazing support from a wicked community of hardcore Underworld gamers. We’re dedicated and willing to put in the work to see these dreams come true.
Thanks to David and the crew at Underworld Larp for their gracious participation in this interview.
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