LARP (Live Action Role Play) has existed for hundreds of years but was claimed by geek culture in the 1970s after the roaring success of Dungeons and Dragons, and it has only grown more popular over time. Some events now attract thousands, and the apocalypse is a recurring theme.
Despite the similarities – dressing up, re-enactment (or pre-enactment for postapocalyptic events) and themed camps, most postapocalyptic events do not describe themselves as LARP – there is no story or script to follow, and characters can be as fleshed out or nonexistent as attendees wish. While there are roleplaying elements to most of the postapocalyptic festivals around, it is an optional bonus, not the main event, which instead resembles a gathering of motley tribes partying like it’s the end of the world. Here are five of the best:
The granddaddy of them all. Set in a remote part of California’s Mojave desert, Wasteland Weekend is heavily based on the Mad Max series with elements of Waterworld, though Fallout fans have recently gained acceptance providing they follow the enforced dress code by heavily weathering their outfits and equipment. Around 4000 people attend this five-day event and activities are optional. Bands, walkabout acts, discussions, performances of all kinds, games, quests and bartering; it is impossible to do everything, and what you take part in and experience is entirely up to you.
For a true Mad Max immersion complete with insane custom cars, Dinki-Di merchandise and a Thunderdome, this is the one to go to, though it is comparatively hardcore; you bring what you need- including food and water. Public transport does not venture out this far.
A Czech forest, nature reserve and former military base holds the permanent site for Junktown. The area is more sheltered and less prone to extreme weather than the unforgiving desert, ensuring things like tents stay where you put them! The grounds are mostly pedestrian-only, but a large circular track means attendees can drive or hitch a ride on a postapocalyptic vehicle and go hurtling around, which is an experience not to be missed. The dress code is very open to interpretation, which adds to the feeling of madness and unpredictability, and means if you strike up a conversation you’ll hear some fantastic tribal ‘origin stories’. Approximately 1000 people attend, and there are talks, bands, contests, games, tours around the hidden areas in the forest and plenty of food stalls. Compared with the UK and much of Europe, the Czech Republic’s comparatively relaxed attitude to weaponry means that some seriously badass blades and weapons are for sale- and if you don’t want to own one, you can always practise your shooting skills on the firing range.
The English postapocalyptic festival just celebrated its second year and attendance has quadrupled. The smallest of the events listed here (around 400 attendees this year) makes up for what it lacks in numbers by the power of the atmosphere and ambition that has gone into creating it. Set in the English countryside near a military base and former rocket fuel factory (yes, really) the site is divided into three; a considerable stage featuring a flamethrowing car with fire pits and food vendors in easy reach, a labyrinthine wooden ‘village’ with hidden rooms, chillout areas and film references everywhere, and a semicircular ‘show zone’ for the many postapocalyptic vehicles, workshops and fighting arena. A highlight of the event is the ride-out, where drivers take passengers on a circuit around the nearby towns and villages, attracting much attention!
With typical English eccentricity, the music is very eclectic, there’s a steampunk element to several of the outfits and acts, and tea is available until at least midnight.
The only postapocalyptic event held in Ukraine – and a mysterious one. Exact attendance is unclear though the event had a combined social media following of about 2000 and the event website, social media and reviewing videos are mostly in Ukrainian- that adds to the excitement! (I have seen plenty of people at postapocalyptic events who do not speak the primary language, and all are welcomed.)
Held in a spookily real abandoned area with an enormous pit from which the festival gets its name, entertainment includes a casino, Jugger (the Wastelanders national and violent sport) and acts which combine vehicles with fire. The festival also runs outings to the Chernobyl nuclear zone and it is for this reason that while all of these events have their own distinctive atmosphere, The Pit is (so far) the closest to the end of the world.
While the other four events listed here are festivals with an optional LARP element, Oldtown in Poland is mostly LARP with an optional festival! This one hundred hour roleplaying game is set after a nuclear war, held in an abandoned airport and is billed as the biggest postapocalyptic event in Europe. It is 24 hours of total immersion, which means you invent a character to play for the whole week and read up on the mythology and backstory of the event or attend a workshop held there before things get going. Everyone has a part in creating the story of Oldtown, which continues the next year! Weapons including airsoft guns are allowed (but regulated) and the inspiration is heavily based on Fallout and Metro 2033.
The event is open to experienced LARP-ers and newcomers, but there is a lot to take in; fortunately, there are plenty of guides and information packs on the website and (as the organisers put it) “boring things to do as well”- like see bands, barter for souvenirs and watch acts.
About the author
Faith Roswell is a writer, explorer and lover of the apocalypse. Sci-fi action and coffee are her drugs of choice and she writes about her world as “the living Lara Croft” here: www.lifeoutthere.co.uk.