What is your quest?

It’s a wonderful time for people who like a good story (and who doesn’t like a good story?). Books have never before been available in so many different formats. Besides your plain ordinary hardcovers and paperbacks, you’ve got audio books, and electronic books available for a confounding array of e-readers. Podcasts give us the real-life storytelling of This American Life, or The Moth.

And for the lucky people who discover Otherworld and summon up the courage to attend for a weekend, there is storytelling at its most immersive. In Otherworld, you do not sit back and listen to a good story. The story is performed for you, and you interact with it. Instead of turning pages, you are finding treasure in the woods, and solving riddles, and defeating villains.

You will likely have one of two reactions to this notion of “immersive storytelling”: 1) Cool! Or 2) That sounds ridiculous.

I myself was firmly in the second camp. Running around in costumes waving foam swords at people pretending to be monsters? You have got to be kidding me. Am I a child? No. I’m a grown man in my 40s. Sure, I played Dungeons and Dragons all through my childhood and straight into college, but it was never “escapist” entertainment for me—no more than any other game I enjoyed. I never had any desire to climb permanently out of this world and go live in an imaginary one.

And, furthermore, at Otherworld you stay in a cabin with the other adventurers in your “party.” More specifically, you stay in an unheated cabin with no electricity and with bathrooms a walk away through the freezing nighttime air. I believe they call this “camping,” but I am not sure because the very idea of it is foreign to my experience.

My friend Lance attended Otherworld some years ago and has volunteered to help run the thing every year since, and now and again he mentions it to friends and tries to get them to go. I’ve spent the last few years ignoring him. This year, though, I found myself thinking about it. And what I thought was: When Lance participated in Otherworld, it was with other people I know, all of whom really enjoyed it… and several of whom are by no means the type to go roaming around the woods waving foam swords. So maybe there was something to this.

And I also thought: Twenty years ago when I was young man, I would have brushed aside all concerns and jumped at this with no forethought at all, purely for the experience of the thing. So what if it’s silly and so what if there is bound to be some discomfort from the camping? It would be an adventure, and I would come back with a story to tell. When had I become this person who leaped away from oddball opportunities, instead of toward them?

So I signed up for Otherworld.

This past weekend was the event itself. I drove up there with two graduate students from Yale who needed a lift, and tried to ignore my nervousness. I think even my twenty-year-old self would have been having some serious second thoughts. Lance had friends beside him when he attended Otherworld years ago. I was flying solo. I would be thrown in with a party of other adventurers—all of them complete strangers—and I would have to spend the entire weekend with these people, even sleeping in the same unheated, unlit cabin with them. My God, what was I thinking? As we drove to the campsite, my brain rapidly counted up the number of ways that things could go wrong, and stopped when it reached a million.

The story of Otherworld takes its cues from generations of fantasy-adventure novels and role-playing games. (Although when I signed up, the registration coordinator took pains to assure me that Otherworld was not a traditional LARP—a live-action role-playing game, a genre apparently known for its detailed and arcane rules.) Participants are asked to choose from a number of familiar character types. I gave it some thought and decided to be a rogue, which is a polite way of saying “thief.” I named myself Kelp, after Andy Kelp, one of the merry modern thieves in Donald Westlake’s “Dortmunder” novels.

When we arrived, there was quite a lot of chaos in the basement of the campground’s main building. Naturally, some of the participants were dressed in elaborate costumes. I had previously perused a variety of Renaissance Web sites and had blanched at the prices, so I went a simpler route, wearing some black chinos and a green long-sleeved pullover. I augmented this with a vest from Otherworld’s own stock of costume pieces, and grabbed a thick sweater as well, in preparation for the cold.

Soon it was time to meet the other members of my adventuring party. This was a moment I approached with more than a little trepdiation. The weekend would largely succeed or fail based on how much I enjoyed the company of the people I would be thrown in with. I’ll be honest and tell you that I was expecting a fair amount of social malformity–my weekend with the Die-Hard Gaming Nerds. But it wasn’t like that at all. Otherworld seems to attract an amazing and varied audience, all of them intelligent, funny, and interesting. Here, for example, were the others in my little group of adventurers:

– Russ, 50 years old, was an engineer, specializing in making big things safer. He has worked for the military; he has worked on the Space Shuttle. He was a bearded gentle bear of a man, who had come to join us as Tao, a cleric.

– John was Marin, our mage, and his costume made my costume want to crawl into a hole. He wore a flowing black cape with a blood-red liner, under which was an all-black outfit augmented with all kinds of jewelry and magical bric-a-brac… basically, he looked ready to cast a fireball at a moment’s notice. His long black hair completed the look—here before us was Marilyn Manson’s more good-natured younger brother. In real life, John was a technician working on the factory floor at Proctor & Gamble.

– Allison had arrived with John. She was a dark-haired, elfishly pretty young woman in her early thirties, and in real life she was a microbiologist with a Ph.D. In Otherworld she was a ranger named Quinn, and she too had an amazing costume of greens and browns she had constructed herself, possibly out of various animal parts.

– Rounding out the party were two dewy-cute college kids from the University of Vermont, Kelsey and Andrew. She was a French major, he studied Comp Sci. Kelsey, who couldn’t possibly have weighed 120 pounds soaking wet, became our Paladin, Luna. Andrew chose to be a bard, and he gave his character the unlikely name of Pants. (Not that I, “Kelp,” was in a position to poke fun at him.)

Joining us throughout the weekend was a staff member named Susan, who was assigned to be our guide—no, sorry, our companion. It was her job to make sure we didn’t go too far astray as we wandered through the story we would help to tell.


And here I have to stop and think about how to proceed. It’s funny—I’ll talk about movies or TV shows on this blog, and toss out a Spoiler Alert like a small dog biscuit, and that is supposed to be sufficient to get you to avert your eyes, if that is your choice. Here we have a story that almost none of you will choose to experience, that I can spoil up and down, and that even if I told you everything I experienced, that would only be a fraction of what went on at Otherworld… and yet to go down that path seems wrong. Nobody asked me not to tell, but instinctively I know that I can’t.

Some of it you can guess, if you have ever been exposed to the fantasy-adventure genre. My fellow adventurers and I came to the village of World’s End, the setting of Otherworld, on a particular quest, in search of a magic item which was desperately needed at home. It took about an hour on the first full day for that quest to spread out like a Chinese fan into a whole array of complications and subplots. There was a tricky riddle we had to solve. We had to hike through gorgeous woodlands in search of a gypsy camp, where we bartered for a needed item. Villains were revealed; good guys needed to be saved; monsters were fought and defeated. You know the drill.

Except you don’t know the drill because none of that really gets to the heart of what Otherworld is about.

Let me take a step back and approach this from a different angle.

All stories have a structure—a beginning, middle, and an end. Some stories are more complicated than others, and some of the best stories perform some very impressive stunts with their structures. (Think of the back-and-forth timejumping in Pulp Fiction, or Memento.) Stories, and particularly fantasy stories, also need to take place in a particular setting, ideally with lots of juicy details. This “worldbuilding” is (I have found) a very challenging enterprise.

In terms of both structure and setting, Otherworld is a masterpiece. For one weekend each year, Kristi Hayes and her staff of eighty plunk down a vibrant, bustling community in the middle of a 4-H camp. The attention to detail is staggering. There are stores, there is an economy, there are royal leaders and drunken fools. Indeed, adventuring participants (only 48 of them [60, as of 2012] are accepted each year) meet literally hundreds of different characters in World’s End, each one with their own background and motivations, all of them bouncing off each other like ping-pong balls in one of those Lotto machines. The characters are brought to life by exactly zero professional actors, but they are all so well-drawn that this hardly matters. These people—computer programmers, technicians, accountants, teachers, students—make acting look easy. They probably do not even think of what they are doing as acting; they are simply helping to tell a story. There may be a lesson there for actors.

And the story they tell is mind-boggling in its complexity. Each six-person party is the star of its own plotline, but those plotlines—and the stories of the various people in the village—weave together in unexpected and dazzling ways… and often resolve with an emotional resonance that is deeply human. I didn’t go to this event to be moved, dammit, but I was, several times.

On top of all that—on top of creating heaven knows how many characters and weaving them all together into an epic story that takes a full weekend to tell, and which no one person can experience fully—you have the more pragmatic problems of sets, costumes, lighting, props… and here, too, Otherworld amazes. More than amazes, when you realize that all of this stuff was loaded in from somewhere far away, set up temporarily for your benefit, and will be gone again tomorrow.

And yes, and yes, the camping was, for this middle-aged man, no fun at all. It will be a long time before you see me again in an unheated, unwired rustic cabin in the woods. (Thankfully, you can only participate once in Otherworld. If I could go back, I might have to.) The first night I literally did not sleep for even a minute. The second night I bailed out of the story early—missing out on some amazing things—and headed off to bed, chiefly because I was bone-exhausted and secondly because I wanted to get a head start on the snorers in my midst.

But that downside barely registers—the memories of those cold nights are buried somewhere underneath all the wonderful things my party and I accomplished over the course of two days. We solved that tricky riddle, by gum, and all six of us contributed to its dissection. We stared in bafflement at a physical challenge that at first glance seemed impossible… and then figured out how to do it. It was slow going, and required intense concentration and cooperation, and quite frankly I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. (It wasn’t physically threatening or anything–just tough.) But there was no choice but to do it, and so, supported by my teammates, I did.

We watched each others’ backs. We saved each others’ lives, more times than I can count. Really? No, not really. But in the context of the story we were living through, it was real enough.

There’s something else about stories, something far more elemental than any discussion of structure or setting: Stories have to exist for a reason. English teachers approach this concept when they ask their students, “What is the author trying to say…?” Otherworld wears its theme on its sleeve, and that is why I can reveal it here when I was so circumspect about plot details. Heck, it’s right in the introductory materials they send you weeks before the event begins. Otherworld is about becoming a more heroic version of yourself.

Maybe this seems like an unlikely goal. I, personally, wasn’t even all that interested in being a hero. I read the background of my character and my party’s quest, and found it, frankly, silly—we were off pursuing a vision that someone had seen in a dream. I decided that my rogue would also find it silly. Far from being a hero, Kelp would be a true rogue — out for himself, willing to go along with the group because he might pick up some interesting treasure along the way. Yes, that would be my role.

This bad attitude melted the instant the curtain was thrown back and we entered the candlelit tavern in World’s End. By the end of the weekend, we had saved a life, brought justice to the unfairly accused, and helped a young woman move from suffering to healing. And I wondered how I could have possibly dreamed that I might play my role as a selfish cynic. No. It’s impossible to imagine any participant keeping that facade for long. The problems and villains of Otherworld are fantastical, but for one weekend they also seem perfectly real. And the irresistable idea of Otherworld is that you can be the person who, with your valued friends, stands up and sets things right.

Here is more information about Otherworld.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someone
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Comments

  1. Katherine
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kelp! As one of the 80 staff members, I’m so happy to read this. I have a TERRIBLE time explaining Otherworld to people, and a hard time convincing friends and family to come. I think next year, I may just send them a link to this. Thank you! And I’m so delighted that you had such a fantastic time!
    Katherine/Carrie, Companion to Claria

       0 likes

  2. Peggy
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, so much for this. I echo Katherine’s thanks for expressing what we often have so much trouble explaining to people. And I never got to tell you at the event, but I loved your name. I too am a Westlake fan, and when I heard your name I laughed out loud. Better Kelp than “Diddums”.

       0 likes

  3. Eric Berlin
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Otherworld folks — welcome! If you comment here, please follow Katherine’s lead and tell me who were at the event. Your real names flew by in a blur at the end there.

    Peggy, I’m glad somebody got the Dortmunder reference! Mostly I got a lot of blank stares and my name repeated in a tone of “I must not have heard that correctly.” (The Ringmaster led my breakout group at the end, and he got it. So that’s two!)

    And of course anyone is welcome to send people here if you think this is a worthy explanation. I would be delighted to know I convinced somebody to give Otherworld a shot.

       0 likes

  4. Greg
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    That was fantastic. Reading things like this really reinforces why we do what we do… Thank you so much for putting an enormous grin on my face today, “Kelp”

    Greg aka Dimitri, Gypsy Prince

       0 likes

  5. Lance
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    In case she doesn’t come back to say: Peggy was Winona, cleric of AllSeasons. (The Ringmaster, as it happens, is her husband Kevin.)

    Thanks for writing this up. Like the staffers above, I never quite know how to describe this thing we do, and the longer I’m on staff, the harder it is to remember what things are like from the other side. And, of course, thanks for coming!

       0 likes

  6. Rob
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    I was a participant at Otherworld this past weekend, the Bard of Noctara…Uh, we were the ones lucky enough to have a professional costumer in our close circle of friends if that helps identify us. I was the one who helped Kristi’s character during lunch on Sunday (so hard to do this without spoilers).

    This pieces really sums up my experience well. It’s been hard the past few days to describe my weekend to friends and family and co-workers, both because it was vast and because I want them to all go and walk in with the same naivete that I did.

    I wanted to post here because it looks like some cast members/staff are here and I want to thank all of you for the countless hours (seen and unseen) that must have gone into this weekend. Thank you for all your work. I miss this weekend a lot and will always be thankful I had it.

       0 likes

  7. Kit
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    So glad you enjoyed yourself. Like I said to the group I debriefed, the thing that really makes staffers the happiest is helping participants have the same sense of wonder and fun that we had when we were in their shoes. I had a great time interacting with your group and hope your positive feelings bring more new participants our way.

    Kit aka Wrath, total bastard

       0 likes

  8. Rob
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Kit-

    I only had one interaction with your character but it was refreshing to meet someone in the town with that attitude. Heard through the grapevine that you had a “fun” story arc.

    And I’m almost afraid of the horde the 2010 Noctara alumni will bring to you.

       0 likes

  9. Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I’m also glad that you enjoyed yourself. This year had really positive feedback all-around, and this is post is great!

    Justin aka Bumble the somewhat forgetful mage

       0 likes

  10. Bryan
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Good on you Eric! I can’t imagine being able to describe this weekend better without spoilers. I’ll be pointing some friends of mine who are on the fence about participating to this posting. Very glad you enjoyed yourself so much, and thanks for being part of the group with Luna (my step daughter in real life) – can’t wait to hear her and Pants’ stories.

    Malachi, wise ass Gypsy

       0 likes

  11. Eric C.
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Eric,

    I wax nastalgic reading your well-phrased description. Yet, “description” hardly serves to do it justice. You really bring out the thought behind Otherwold.

    I played Neville Smirch among other faceless characters and each and every party that I was able to interact with was an absolute joy. I get warm fuzzies hearing participants put down in their own words the same experience I had as a participant roughly fifteen years ago.

    For those of us who have experienced it, it’s often difficult to convey that wonder, excitement and satisfaction at the end of the weekend (not to mention the longing to return to that place of magic, of youth and escape).

    Thank you for summing up perfectly what keeps all of us coming back to help recreate the experience for the next batch of participants. Your review was not just gratifying, it was humbling, because it reminds me of just how moving the experience can be.

       0 likes

  12. Allison
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Kelp, you rock! It was fantastic puzzling and fighting alongside all of you…and many, MANY thanks to the players and staff who were so kind to me and facilitated my return to Worlds Edge after almost running away with a lost-sleep induced massive headache (I am more than glad I stayed). What an amazing group of people in otherworld…if only this one could be filled with such brilliant and gracious souls.
    -Alli (aka Quinn)

       0 likes

  13. Kath
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad — and not at all surprised — that you had such a great time. Nine years later, I still get chills thinking about my Otherworld experience. Look forward to hearing more.

    Sorrel, ranger of Elsewhich 2001

       0 likes

  14. Alison Morris
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Eric,

    I’m SO glad that a fellow member of the book world could come to Otherworld in the same way that I did (as in, with serious reservations!) and leave feeling (as I did) so thoroughly enchanted by the experience. Thanks for writing a post that so eloquently examines the wacky but wonderful thing we staffers try to create for Otherworld’s participants.

    If you’re curious, you can find the blog post that I wrote for Publishers Weekly about my own Otherworld experience here:
    http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=156

    Best,
    Alison Morris (a.k.a. Lurline)
    long-time independent bookseller & blogger,
    now an editor at Scholastic Book Clubs

       0 likes

  15. Alex
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Wow, I couldn’t of said it better myself. If anyone asks about Otherworld, I am definitely sending them here.

    -Athens (bard of waylon)

       0 likes

  16. J Butler (Marin)
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Eric,
    I really enjoyed your take on Otherworld. I’m usually very confident in my writing abilities, but I could never come close to the eloquence with which you describe our tale. I, too, was in awe of the overall Otherworld experience. The unbridled enthusiasm of 81 staff members all working to create such a special place for the mere 48 of us, was hard to fathom.
    I appreciate the compliments on the costume, particularly the Marilyn Manson reference! I trust you realize that whatever you feel you lacked in the costume area was more than made up for by your sheer enthusiasm. I’d also like to thank-you for the genuine concern you expressed for both Alli & I during our brief hiatus from Otherworld.
    Finally, I have to comment on the staff of Otherworld. I’ve never experienced such a depth of amazingly special people in one place before. The kindness and concern they showered Alli & I with during a time of need will stay with me forever. I’m dying to join the Otherworld staff just to experience that again. Anyone listening?
    -J
    (Marin, Mage of Elsewhich 2010)

       0 likes

  17. Jen Platt
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Hi Eric,

    Turnabout is fair play. Thank you for being so connected. I had such a great time interacting with you and the fine folks of Elsewhich. You handled tough subject matter and complicated characters with grace and compassion. You helped make my weekend truly memorable. Many thanks!

    Jen/Lissie Rutt

       0 likes

  18. Kisha
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Hello! This is Morgan, the Mage from Waylon. So very glad that your link made its way to me. I have been trying to write down my reactions to the weekend, finding it a mixed bag of success and total frustration. Now, I rather feel I don’t have to worry about it! You have completely captured my feelings – from the nervousness to the adrenaline to the sheer triumph. Thank you for creating such a fitting tribute.

    Kisha/Morgan

       0 likes

  19. Jill
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    Hi Eric, I remember chatting with you Sunday morning before most were awake while I was wondering around waiting for my first cup of coffee to flick my brain back to “on”. We were next to/behind the Tavern. You told me you were a writer and wanted to write about Otherworld. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you did!
    I mentioned to you at the time another event for middleschool aged kids that seemed similar to OW. An aquaintance told me he travels from VT to Texas every summer to be on staff at this event. It’s put on by “The Book People”; these are literary camps to get kids interested in reading. Check it out! I wish it were closer to I could investigate it up close!

    http://web.me.com/camphalfblood/Rangers_Apprentice_Camp/Home.html

    So glad to meet you, and sorry if I killed you out there. OK, not really : )

    – Serena, Mercenary Guarde (aka real life mother of “Luna”)

       0 likes

  20. Christina
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    I, much like Alison above, was the reluctant girlfriend before I went this year (my bf was Lord Godfrey). I knew I’d enjoy it, but wasn’t really sure if it was “me.” Also, this weekend is usually one I spend with my mom, since it’s near my birthday and I now live four hours away from her.

    Now, you couldn’t find a more enthusiastic convert. What struck me the most was not just the emphasis on storytelling, though since I am an English grad student and teacher, I loved that. It was how the weekend felt like some kind of journey of self-discovery, like a retreat without the religious aspects and a lot more fun and active. I have not only a better sense of who I am now, but also of what makes me awesome. Believe me, after years of grad school, I welcome that feeling back. Anyway, I can’t recommend the experience enough!

    Christina (aka Juliana, Bard of Clairia)

       0 likes

  21. Eli
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Eric/Kelp,

    Others have covered most of what I might add. Thanks for finding such a great way to describe the experience in a way that is compelling but not spoiling. Since joining staff three years ago I’ve been trying to find a way to describe some things to those near and dear to me and encourage them to come. Your words might finally help me bring them to the Other-side.

    -Eli (Lord Jamison White)

       0 likes

  22. Jeff A.
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Ditto x16. This entry matched with writing what Otherworld provides in person. Perfectly. Thanx for the recruiting ammunition! Hoopa Hoppa!
    ~Jeff aka Chess & Scurvy Jack Brigham

       0 likes

  23. Eric Berlin
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I’m so pleased so many of you have stopped by! It’s like I get to the extend my weekend! But this time with electric lights at hand!

    Jen, I’m glad you in particular popped in. The one moment I came closest to the ideal of the “more heroic version of myself” had nothing to do with combat or roguery (I never got to sap anybody! dang!), but rather involved our few minutes out there in the woods. I’m going to remember that part of the weekend for a long time.

    And Jill, I knew Luna… uh, Kelsey… had a whole bunch of family out there, but I never exactly tweaked to who they were. Your daughter was a pleasure of a teammate. Thanks for the link to the Book People, I look forward to checking it out.

       0 likes

  24. Eric Berlin
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and: As some of you have noticed, comments from newcomers fall into a moderation queue and have to be approved. It’s the only way to keep this blog free of spam. I get to new comments as quickly as I can, but I’m going to be running around a lot today, so there is certain to be some delay. Thanks in advance for your patience.

       0 likes

  25. Russ
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Eric!
    Sometimes people discuss writing as being able to paint pictures with words. Truly, when relating common experiences, we can “see” the messages portrayed within them. What you have done with your words however, is not painting. When reading this I felt my nerves melt. My muscle memory was pinged like a distant URL, and responding, fired subtle checks and parries with attendant aches and twitches, as your words reminded them directly. They burn now with a fresh hunger to walk up woodland hills and rush madly into the foamy fray. So it seems your words are not graphical; they’re visceral. Thank you for that.
    I hope you don’t mind if I offer a companion critique.
    If I were looking for a word to be the otherworld mascot, it would be opportunity. I found that there was so much opportunity to enjoy the immersive environment that I became “unchecked,” operating within the storyline as if I was living an alternate reality. I was Tao, a wild winter cleric with unkempt hair, and brambly white beard, running madly through the woods in a mix of white and black karate garb. I was equally comfortable being Tao, the gentle playful wild man doing magic tricks for orphan Anders; Tao, the quiet warrior interested in discussing the merits of various evisceration techniques with Wrath; and Tao, the intensely caring member of a team whose boundaries were undefined and shifted like the wind, wrapping itself about all of the travelers from Elsewhich and their companion, and around the various other travelers from other duchies, around the in-character otherworld staff when their roles became interwoven with our objectives.
    When actors act, their roles are usually well defined and their actions are preconceived. I, therefore, was not acting exactly. I was taking advantage of the opportunity to author an alternative version of myself on the fly. It was a delight. I am sure that I was a handful to deal with, being the infamous snorer, but if you were able to rise above it then I shall be happy to offer a simple apology on behalf of my sinuses. I am comfortable embracing the reminder that we are who we choose to be, except for the snoring part.
    I enjoyed recreation in the broadly accepted definition of the word. I was entertained and engaged. I also enjoyed recreation in the sense that I was given an opportunity to recreate myself based upon an out of the box, harebrained, wacky, and amazingly clever process that I’ve bought into lock stock and barrel.
    Some of the puzzles we had the opportunity to solve were provided by Otherworld, while other deeper puzzles result from our own personal challenges. The result was a well spent weekend, a bigger sense of who we are and can be, and a larger circle of friends that I hope to entrain into the flow of my life.
    Warmest Regards,

    Tao
    Love the life you live while crafting that life you’d love!

       0 likes

  26. Chris M
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Kelp~

    what a wonderful description of what we lived through at Otherworld. There is a huge chasm between participate in and live in and Otherworld quickly transferred me from participant to citizen of Otherworld. Your descriptions though really do a wonderful job of taking the adventure I experienced and putting it out there so others can really truly get a feel of what it was. I will be pointing people to this article when I try to get them to go to Otherworld in the future.

    To all the staff, thank you, thank you, thank you. You truly made the tapestry of Otherworld come alive. you allowed us participants to fulfill needs we didn’t even know we had. I can’t wait to reconnect in the future.

    Chris/ Cring – Rogue of Noctara

       0 likes

  27. Britt R
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully put! It was truly an honor to be included in your Sunday morning ritual. Sometimes there is a spot in the weekend for me when the real world vanishes and everything I am and everything I know revolves around the moment. I will carry the image of six total strangers offering comfort and aid to a dear friend for a long time.

    Britt/Evelyn

       0 likes

  28. Sarah
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Hi Eric!

    Your blog post here is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through a participants eyes so eloquently and of course I’m thrilled you had such a wonderful time! I can’t wait to share your post with my own hesitant crew of folks I’ve been trying to recruit for years. Thank you so much!

    Warmly,

    Sarah/slow as molasses Petunia/Fortunetide Captain

       0 likes

  29. Lara Crigger
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for posting this, Eric. It captures the experience so deftly and eloquently that it should be required reading for anyone looking to go to Otherworld — or who has ever been.

    It’s funny. Realistically, I know I don’t really *know* any of you, fellow participants or staffers. But I feel like I do. You’re family to me now, even the ones I barely interacted with, and now that it’s all over and I face the possibility of never seeing some of you again, a cavern has opened in my heart that may never close.

    I will never forget the people I met, the bravery I witnessed, and the strength I found inside myself at Otherworld. I’m a different person than I was last week. Or maybe not. Maybe I was like this all along, and I just never knew.

    Thanks everyone, player and staffer alike. You helped one person deal with her deepest fears this weekend, and that you did it for someone you didn’t even know speaks volumes about who you are and what this wonderful experience is. Thank you.

    -Lara
    Ellie P. Fawcett, Ranger (Noctara 2010)

       0 likes

  30. Chris
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Eric. It was great to reread about both your journey and everyone else’s feelings towards the weekend. As one who had to be convinced to go, I was right there with you when it came to being tentative.

    But I couldn’t be happier that I did decide to go. Otherworld creates an environment that allows you to (as many others have already said) more firmly understand who you are and what you’re capable of, as well as a boost of confidence when you see how your actions are making such a difference in the world. It’s not everyday that you see so much compassion from a bunch of strangers, and even the times when you don’t see it almost always give you a story to tell, at the very least.

    Between the good times and the “bad,” the ones that touch your heart and the ones that make you laugh, Otherworld is an experience I will never forget. I can’t thank you all enough for playing a role in this past weekend.

    See you all in about a month!
    Chris, Bard (Keer 2010)

       0 likes

  31. Jessica Kaufman
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Eric:
    I am (rapidly) approaching 40 and was hesitant to sign up for Otherworld. But my husband and I together decided that after 15 years of marriage we needed a weekend away doing something different. Deb Lack told us about Otherworld and we decided that the worst possible outcome of the experience would be that we spent two days in the woods together and really how bad could that be. And so we signed up.
    I was the mage in the Arden party–“Zanne” and my husband was the rogue “Wolfshadow.” Our experience was much like you describe in your blog. I too have been trying to write about the experience without success. Thank you for putting into words what happened. It was one of the most “fantastical” experiences I’ve had in a long time.
    Jessica “Zanne” Kaufman

       0 likes

  32. Moira Malone
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Wow! That’s what I thought about the weekend, and that’s what I think about your blog post – perfectly describing an otherwise indescribable weekend. My husband, Bob (a/k/a Peregrine, Paladin of Uri-Kesh), and I lucked into last minute cancellation spots and therefore didn’t get to anticipate with friends and family. So, we therefore haven’t really been asked about it, and we both just want to talk and talk. We’ll definitely be sending folks here to read what you’ve written. Thank you, Eric. And thank you to all you wonderful people who make it happen and made it happen, particularly, for us (especially Marléna (Mrs. Plumbuckle) and John (Solomon Stillwater))!
    -Moira, a/k/a Tarian Greenleaf, Cleric of Uri-Kesh

       0 likes

  33. Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Dear Eric,
    Thank you SO much for writing this! My husband now understands what I was doing, what was happening, at a level that I was despairing of him ever reaching from my stories and explanations alone. He “got” it! Yay!

    A big thanks to everyone, staff and participants, for such a wonder-filled time, and for taking such care of me (especially Susan with the dietary help, our companion Maizie, my Arden mates). I’m still not caught up on sleep and my sword arm/shoulder is a bit sore, but my soul continues to sing with the joy of the experience.

    –Mer/Mary (Ruby, the winter cleric of Arden)

       0 likes

  34. Eric Berlin
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Arrgh. To the commenter who left a long message and then asked me to remove her last name from said message: I seem to have accidentally deleted your post entirely. Didn’t mean to. My apologies. (This blog has not been this comments intensive since, um, ever.)

       0 likes

  35. Posted October 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’ve never heard of Otherworld before, and I’ve never participated in any LARPs (which, from your excellent write-up, I understand Otherworld is not). But, man, now I can’t wait to attend in 2011!

       0 likes

  36. Posted October 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m SO happy that Eric and some of the rest of you have put into words what I have been trying (and failing miserably) to do myself! I was looking forward to the weekend as a fun romp but, as I became totally immersed, the ‘real’ world faded and I couldn’t believe the intensity of the experience I was having or the thrill of sharing it with my sisters from Claria.

    As an artist, I’ve been scribbling away trying to capture images of the weekend before they fade completely from memory. I’m hoping that some of you have photos of the event that I can use for reference! Not sure how you can get them to me without posting my email address here, but we’ll figure something out!

    Joanne (alias Johannah of Claria)

       0 likes

  37. Eric Berlin
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I second the need for pictures. I was going to give it a while before I wrote to the staff about this — I assumed there was an extended recovery period underway. But, yeah: Pictures! Must now to see!

       0 likes

  38. Lucy (April)
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Eric, great description in your blog. I’ m repeating my comments that were inadvertently deleted, and hoping you’ll post them again. The weekend was so intense I forgot the outside world and was completely immersed. It was a mental “retreat” or break from the outside world. Tho it was not “relaxing” as one normally pictures a retreat!!
    I faced many of my personal challenges and deficits immediately, mostly from the kinds of contributions that were required of the team in our quest, many of which I wanted to make so badly, and had thought I could make, but could not make – and I also faced some of my deepest fears (fear of combat, fear of being accepted, fear of trusting others). With the wonderful and incredible support of my team I pushed through my insecurities and fears to experience: humiilty and acceptance of the person I am and the person I cannot be; confidence in the person I am and the person I can be and become; with care and acceptance from persons who had shortly before been strangers to me.
    I re-discovered something I had believed and known before but not really appreciated that intensely in a long time: that each person, even the most untalented or limited, had an essential contribution to make, something no one else could do or be, and that the team did its best in its quest and for each other and for others when each contribution was invited, appreciated, supported, and valued.
    The learning was experiential, my best way of learning: concepts became flesh and blood, lived out, played out in people instead of intellectually appreciated, memorized, or analyzed.
    I felt that rather than my heroic self, I was able to be my inner self, my true self. The supportive atmosphere and kindness of others especially my team and companion made it a safe place to be vulnerable, to be my true self. I knew of my teammates only what they said and did and how they were in this otherworld, not in the real world; so my learning of their character and personality was direct; age, history, professions, politics, all was unknown or irrelevant because we interacted in the context of what was happening in otherworld. The barriers that might have separated us in the real world, or that might have made it take longer to know and trust each other, were down.
    I’m still puzzling out how this occurred; there are many details of the structure of otherworld and the staff culture that I think enabled such relationships and learning to flourish.
    The story arc was increasingly intensely emotional for me. I still tear up thinking of certain scenes played out or told to me. Why was something unreal so real? The weekend in otherworld was in certain ways the experiencing of a utopia: a community valuing truth, kindness, love, self-sacrifice, idealism, respect for others, goodness, teamwork, inclusion, compassion, acceptance, civility, appreciation of the smallest to the biggest contributions. I sensed this among the staff even as they were packing up before I lerft, that the community values re-established or represented by the plot resolution at the end of the weekend are in fact the values of the dominant culture created when this group of people is together. I even had a vision or insight of each of us as ambassador trying to make this culture more real in the outside world, bringing back our enlightenment to the rest of the world, somehow, in our ordinary lives….
    I had tears streaming down my face in the tavern on the last day, not wanting to leave such a community, or its magic.
    At my ripe old age (mid-fifties), having experienced much of the internal, intense journey that occurs when you are raising children, I did not think there was another way to make such an intense journey in life… but there is!! and I am so much richer for it. Thank you Otherworld and everyone involved, staff and participants, and especially my team and companion. P.S. I loved being outdoors and being so active, and in such a beautiful woods setting.
    Lucy (April, palladin of Arden)

       0 likes

  39. Bill Hincks
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Eric, you have indeed summed up nicely a weekend that is ‘very’ difficult to describe. I agree with the sentiments expressed by others earlier that I have come to feel that all of the participants of Otherworld are now friends in some fashion, for I think that we have all found a common thread within ourselves that speaks strongly. I’m not aware of a single person that walked away from this past weekend thinking ‘Ehhh’ or ‘this is silly’.

    The story is fantastic and if you embrace it, it will hug you back. I am still rolling in the afterglow of it all. This will always be one of the best thing that I have done.

    Thanks for keeping the thread alive.

    Bill / Hawk (Ranger of Uri-Kesh)

       0 likes

  40. braine (Darrick)
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I was Darrick, the ranger from Waylon, this year. And yes, pal, you nailed it. The only thing I was prepared for after reading your post was being moved. And then I was moved way beyond that. Thanks for suggesting that I go.

       0 likes

  41. Neo
    Posted February 23, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I know you may never read this comment… but is there anything remotely like this in Europe? I would want to participate!

       0 likes

  42. Eric Berlin
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid I have no idea what European counterparts there might be to Otherworld — sorry.

       0 likes

  43. Posted March 10, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    From another participant (back in 2004) thank you. Nice to see a professional writer apply his skills to the problem of explaining Otherworld. I liked what Lucy (April) had to say as well… remembering brings a tear to my eye. The community created around Otherworld, the dominant culture of paying forward, helping other people find something wonderful, is interesting to me. I would love to see it spawn a copy of itself in Europe (or in other parts of the US, for that matter).

    The men of Keer are pretty, the girls of Keer are brave,
    Our mages and our rangers are often quite depraved.
    While there may be danger, there’s also lots of fun,
    And when we’re in the tavern, there’s lots and lots of Rum! (8)

    Drink up, drink up, and raise a song to praise the hearty few,
    Whose wits are sharp, whose courage strong, whose hearts so pure and true.
    Raise a glass and toast to them, for everyone agrees,
    ‘Tis better to die upon your feet than live upon your knees.

       0 likes

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Plan ahead on October 26, 2010 at 10:36 am

    […] you enjoyed reading about my experience in Otherworld, and think you might want to participate in next year’s run, then listen up: The dates for […]

       0 likes

  2. By Pack your cloak and magic wand on May 11, 2011 at 6:59 am

    […] about six months ago when I wrote about my trip to Otherworld? How I was uneasy about joining what amounted to a real-life D&D game and wound up having one […]

       0 likes

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Archives

  • Subscribe

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

  • Twitter