Darkon is a Larp group run on the east coast of north America in a place famed for the lack of sexual prowess of a ruler of an entirely different country. With councils, executive boards and senates Darkon is thus to Lord of the Rings what episode 1 is to sci-fi. In truth I have no idea what Darkon is like because it is far away and involves going outside and talking to people. Fortunately there is a movie version; that being……………………………….
The movie begins with a voice over, without the actual voice part, as we delve into the under dark to see Drow performing a horrific human sacrifice; in subtitles, which makes it classy. It seems it is a turbulent time for the land of Darkon. The empire of Mordom has grown large seizing many of the smaller nations “for their own good”. But one ally of theirs, Laconia, has decided that enough is enough and that it is time to take a stand.
The rest of the movie nominally follows this plot both in and out of game as we see the decisions behind this and the people behind this. Though in truth it quickly breaks off to talk to some other floating heads about why they game. This meant I struggled to get too invested in the story either in or out of game as just as we see the plucky rebellion forming we have to jump over to a starbucks employee who seems to have no connection to the tale other than also “living” in the land of Darkon.
Now the idea behind Darkon compared to your typical LARP is that it is one continuous event run every other week with nations building power over that time to claim hexes on a map. Now the game is American and they want you to know this with it seems every other player talking about how this is the embodiment of the American dream. In fact the only thing that struck me as truly American about it was the lack of history with Spartan helmets sitting on heads that might other wise be bearing M1’s all the while fighting against lands dedicated to Warhammer gods. That isn’t to say that history hasn’t grown up from this but we don’t really get to see it. The movie could have been akin to ‘Gamers’ except without the script and the jokes but then again maybe that wouldn’t have sold to the general populace at large.
It would have been nice to see a bit more of the legacy of the game, a fact demonstrated nicely by the fall of the “evil empire” shortly after the movie wrapped. Is their tale soon forgotten or are their choices still affecting the game for years to come? That to me would be the beauty of a game like this, where your win or loss on the field of battle could impact not only the other one thousand, nine hundred and ninty nine players but also how the game will unfold and the decisions made till you are long since departed. Yet instead the film makers had to make time for the guy picked on even in the world of Darkon for his armour choices. Instead of getting more of the character of Skip we need a two minute shot of his son dressed ready for Halloween swinging his fake blade around like that guy on t.v.
Is the movie stacked against the players, I can’t help but feel so but then the tragic tale of a man trying to build an empire and do what is right while in the real world he is kicked from his fathers company by his own flesh and blood probably gets more bums on seats than the 9-5 Postman who can only make every other session due to his love of fishing or the school teacher with no real problems in her life to speak of other than a slightly leaky tap in the bathroom and shelf she still can’t get her husband to put up despite the constant nagging. In the same way that Dungeon Masters focuses on the chosen DM’s rather than the game this too feels like it focuses a little too much on the players and not enough on the titular Darkon. Though it does give some of the more eloquent players a voice as they talk about how this is just a role like any other though one that they have created and they control when it is put on rather than their time table or their boss.
We hear about the manager who got his first break not running a company but a renegade band of mercenaries working for gold pieces. In the same way that to play dungeons and dragons you need to grasp basic maths and fairly quickly to get anywhere in this you will need presence and the ability to speak in public. Like any other LARP you can’t just roll for charisma here.