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Playing in the Rain: A Dutch Fantasy Fair

Written by Tanja de Bie

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The rain poured from the sky and the grass was turning into a swamp. A cold wind howling from the stretched grasslands surrounding the park, the famous Dutch Green Heart, was slowly freezing me. Standing below the thatched roof of a small medieval hovel I noticed with relief that such a construction is actually waterproof, though the stench of the wet woolly cloaks of the role-players surrounding me was a bit of realism I could have done without.

On the second weekend of April one of the largest fantasy shops in the Netherlands Elf organized Western Europe's largest fair at no other place than historical theme park Archeon in my old hometown Alphen aan de Rijn. The Archeon was a nice setting for the Fantasy Fair. Historical re-enactment and Live Role-playing are very close related and the normal staff of the park mixed seamlessly with the orcs, elves, vampires and trolls. Much to my surprise it was a very successful event to Dutch Fantasy standards with over 10.000 visitors over two days despite the weather.

The Fantasy Fair made good use of the basic layout of the park. The prehistoric village was remodeled for Orcs, Goblins and Barbarians who chased after children, ate cookies in a gross way and generally made a nuisance of themselves. The masks were not always realistic but the role players were having the time of their life, and so where the many children visiting. Grown ups like me chuckled when a Barbarian told his neighbor Orc "No, no, we're only stealing her, not hurting her. She is my bride to be" as he pointed at a nearby girl, meanwhile avoiding a Goblin who told anybody who would hear that "adventurers are just a bunch of worthless people." The amount of Vampires in daylight was amazing, and I noticed how most of them were not even part of staff. Many fans had chosen to dress up gothic, adding an extra touch to the atmosphere. "The witch is not real, " my son assured me, "there is something funny about the nose." He stayed well clear of her to be sure.

The medieval town was dedicated to table top gaming. An older guy with a beard and a set of dice, teaching a couple of teenagers with a sheet; a familiar sight to most of us. But to the visitors it was amazing and they gathered around and stared with a hesitant look at these mystic rituals with dice, unsure of what was going on. I realized at that point that a large amount of visitors were perhaps drawn to the combination of Harry Potter and the Archeon. If it opened up their eyes for role playing I'm happy. Meanwhile Pepijn, my delightful five year old, had recovered from his brush with death with the local witch and was now happily feeding the geese. The birds walked around proudly as if they owned the place, hissing at unwary visitors.

In the Roman village there was a market at the bathhouse. It was difficult to get a good look at most stands through the throng of people, but with a little persistence I finally managed to admire the most original ones. From Germany a large collection of LARP weapons and armor were on display. The helpful staff pointed out why you can have too much circlets in a chain mail. Wrapped to tight you won't be able to move about and swing your sword. From the reactions I guessed most visitors don't ponder these questions regurlarly. Most of the larger swords were made of latex, to prevent accidents. Some of the smaller ones were of genuine iron though. I spend lots of longing moments staring at a leather satchel that would have been perfect for my healer character, and couldn't get enough of the collection of clothes, especially the chemises and fluffy white male shirts that are the bread and butter of swashbuckling. I barely stopped drooling. In the arena next to the bathhouse demonstrations in fighting with weapons were running much through the day, and several role players also engaged kids in sword fights, with the evil knight being chased by a horde of little ones, and of course dying in a most dramatic manner.

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