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The Wizard's Desk

The Wizard's desk is a blog space where our staff and creative leads offer their insight and experience on engaging with DrachenFest US! We're excited to share what we can, so pull up a seat!

Interview Series: Raquel Skellington

This week, another Scribe, Keara Moore, sits down with Raquel Skellington, and discusses vulnerability, the importance of lifting and communication, challenges of being a Woman of color in LARP, and how LARP can bring crucial community building for involved participants.


Keara Moore: Alright perfect. Well, thank you for your time, Raquel. I'm happy to have this interview with you! My first question to you is, how did you first get introduced to LARPing and what made you decide to get involved in this hobby?  


Raquel Skellington: My first introduction to LARPing was Googling around on the internet. I was into cosplay when I was younger, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I wanted something more, and I had Googled LARP when I heard that it was kind of like a sister thing to cosplay, but I just couldn't find one anywhere near me. A couple years later, I ended up going to New York Comic-Con, back then it was called New York Anime Fest. I was 15 going on 16 in high school and went with all my friends and I found a booth for a LARP that was in New Jersey. At the time I lived in New York, I begged my dad to let me go. All my friends were boys, so he said, “well you got to go with the boys,” and that's been a wrap ever since. That's how I got involved and it's always what I wanted to do. So, when I finally found it, I have just stuck with it ever since.  


Keara Moore: That's awesome. Speaking of that, what do you feel is the difference between LARPing and cosplay?  


Raquel Skellington: Cosplay, it's costume play, right? It's no different than I would say, Halloween, where you're dressing up as a character. You don't necessarily have to assume the persona of the character, but you can. It's just about the visual presence of a character. Usually, the character is someone else's. It's never really your own. Some people do cosplay as their own original characters, but that's more on the rarer side. LARP is all about embodying the character you are playing, creating, and becoming them, which is both a skill in the visual execution of the costume and how they look, but also the bodily performance of how they act, how they speak, and hold themselves. I would say LARPing is, between the two, far more difficult than cosplay because it's about body performance that has more expectations than a cosplay body performance. So, there are elements that are similar but fundamentally the LARP character belongs to a collective story, driven by a community. When you are playing your character, you're in a world with other characters that are taking part in a world and its story.  

Keara Moore: Thank you for explaining that. That makes sense. Speaking of the development of a character, can you tell us about your character(s) in the DrachenFest world and how you've developed them over time?  


Raquel Skellington: Yeah! So, my first character is Alicia Dura. She is the character that I bring to DrachenFest and was my very first LARP character that I made when I was 15. I have some really cringey art that I have of her and everything <laugh>. Back then there were no guides on how to make a character. There were no suggestions, no videos, or anything. I was out there raw dogging it <laugh>, with an art creation of my character. I really just made what I wanted to be at the time. I was a very insecure teenager and I wanted to feel beautiful and magical. And honestly, looking back when I made her, I didn’t feel like I was.  


However, looking back, I took massive inspiration from Atlantis: The Lost Empire’s (2001) character named Kida to make Alicia because I felt like seeing Kida was the first time I ever saw somebody that kind of looked like racially ambiguous like I did. Even though, [there existed the] blue-eyed, POC trope. I took that and ran with it, and I gave my character blue eyes, white hair, and she was half human, half elf. I didn't realize I was making my characters mixed race until way, way, way later down the road because I'm multiracial. I wanted my characters to be mixed because they reflect me in that way, even though at the time it was subconscious. I've always said that your first LARP character is your greatest reflection of self, who you want to be, [and] who you are.  

Alicia just wanted to be a good healer. She wanted to be a good person and see the world after feeling really sheltered in her life. In a similar way, that's how I felt in my life at the time. I only got to play Alicia for about six months before I left that first LARP, due to unfortunate bullying and other unfortunate circumstances. After signing on with DrachenFest 2022, I had the opportunity to bring her back. It was my 10-year anniversary, and it was a chance to return to form. I suddenly got to bring back this character I hadn't seen or been in years and I finally had the money and skill to successfully pull her off visually how I always wanted her to be. The endless possibilities of DrachenFest have made me feel like I've been able to bring Alicia to life in the way I always saw her in my mind and felt her in my heart.  


Keara Moore: Thank you for that explanation. That is very enlightening about how you're able to be transformative in your own characters and how they reflect on you. Speaking of the importance on the reflection of yourself when you're first starting out, can you provide some insight on what those next steps look like once you've developed this self-reflective character? Also, how can I also transform my character into something I’m not, nor have never been?


Raquel Skellington: Well, the greatest lie ever told is that you are somebody else when you LARP. That's impossible, right? We are only who we are. We can only understand the world in our point of view as people, right? We can empathize with others, but we, in LARP, are playing different aspects of ourselves. Perhaps some people call them shadow parts and light parts, like the parts of yourself that you embrace, that you hide, that you like, and that you hate. I think LARP allows for a lot of exploration of those different parts of oneself. So really, if you're going into it consciously and not subconsciously, creating a character is about picking different aspects of yourself that you want to explore and challenge yourself in being that character. When I wasn't fully aware that I was bisexual, I played a lesbian Android, it was so much fun, and I was like, “oh, I actually like this.” I actually feel a lot of things towards girls. LARP allowed me a safe space to be able to explore those elements of myself in a safe environment because it's not real. Everything's fake. So, it didn’t matter if I was a lesbian in this game. But then I found out that the feelings I was feeling around my sexuality were very real, and it helped me discover that. There's a lot of people in LARP that find out about their sexual, romantic, gender identities, or any other journeys through LARP because it's a safer environment to explore those hidden aspects of ourselves. I would really say to anybody that's taking the next steps is to think about the story that you want to tell and think about the parts of you that you would like to explore in that story.


Keara Moore: That's an insightful explanation. On the topic of considering what to prepare, do you have any other sort of advice that people can think about before going? Such as what they should mentally start preparing for, whether it's for themselves, their character, or anything else? Especially whether it's between a new beginner or an old person coming back?  


Raquel Skellington: Yeah, I think before going to something like DrachenFest, or really any LARP, make sure that you understand the story you are telling. What are you trying to play? Do you want to be the down-on-your-luck rogue who has a heart of gold? Or are you a damsel in distress looking for her true love? Figure out the narrative that you want to tell, bring that to life through your performance as your character and extend your story to others existing in this LARP world. It’s important that you can lift others in their story and, in turn, allow them to lift yours (whether simultaneously or not). What you put into LARP, you’ll get out of it.  


If you are a very generous player, people will be generous back and very thoughtful. I think that's what it's all about. Don't center yourself, center the story and the experience. DrachenFest is a faction, camp driven experience. We have all the different camps, The Bazaar, and when I play in DrachenFest, I ask myself all these sorts of questions. What is Silver Camps story? What are we doing as a group? Why am I in Silver Camp versus Green Camp versus Blue Camp, et cetera? What story am I trying to tell in Silver Camp and how can I help both the Silver Camp narrative succeed, but also my own narrative succeed within Silver Camp? How can I make it fun for myself and others? That's how I would think. Also, everybody thinks they suck at LARP <laugh>. Everybody thinks they suck at role-playing. Literally, I cannot tell you. I have been around this planet, gone to about 13 different countries and everybody thinks that they suck when you don't. It's just nerve wracking, right? Role-playing is a skill. Just remember that everyone starts somewhere and just putting yourself out there is already step two.  


Keara Moore: Yeah, very much so. I think that's a very important thing to discuss about how much people can feel vulnerable when starting out. In terms of vulnerability, having other people lift others who do feel more vulnerable when they're starting out is very powerful. However, could you provide examples or talk about what lifting looks like exactly between different characters?  


Raquel Skellington: Sure, I think a really great example that I'll never forget is I was in a LARP in Denmark. I was basically playing a post-apocalyptic cop, I guess. I was part of the Texaco Rangers, and I had this giant mallet, like a Harley Quinn mallet. It was huge but obviously just a light prop. I had put it down at this bar and some guy starts talking to me and wants to lift my hammer. Here I'm thinking, all right, he's going to pick it up, right? However, he doesn't and role-plays that hammer being so heavy, he couldn’t even lift it off the ground. He could barely get it on its side and that looked real! It made me feel amazing.  


Now, I am a small woman, and that was the first time in my life I had ever really felt like, “Oh my God,” <laugh>, “I’m strong! Yeah, that's right. I totally am strong!” My character, Ruby, is a total, beefcake. She's so strong. That was such an easy way to lift. If somebody tells you, “Oh, I am the smartest magician in my realm,” and they start speaking complete jargon about crystal magic or whatever, and [you can be like], “wow, I've never heard of something like that!” [You can say], “Ah, the people I've heard speaking about that are only the brightest and the greatest.” That's lifting somebody. It's about playing up somebody else. It's not at the expense of yourself. Playing to lose is at the expense of your character. So, when you're playing to lift, you support somebody in their role-play. Whether that be by role-playing up their performance, such as, backing them up in what they’re saying or doing, your body performance like lifting a prop of theirs, or you're fighting them while playing to lose, which is also a good thing, I think Americans have a very tough time lifting somebody's story at the expense of their own character. It’s a really great thing to do.


Choosing to lose the fight, or doing really something stupid that results in your character getting in trouble may seem negative. However, it gives another character, let’s say, an authority figure, the opportunity to discipline you! You were able to lose and give them that opportunity to play and I think that's what makes the world go round. LARP is a dance where you step forward, they step back, you step back, they step forward. Lifting while role-playing is an important skill that requires you to understand the balance of when to push and when to pull. 


Keara Moore: I really like how you've put that together as that is an important thing to consider. The theme that I'm hearing from that is about communication. I wanted to touch on the “Oh, Mother,” topic because it is an important subject for players to know about boundaries while mid-game. It helps people have power within themselves to set boundaries as their character and their real self. I feel that it adds to the notion of communication, lifting, and helping others feel comfortable in being vulnerable.  


Raquel Skellington: Yeah. I think something that we run into here a lot in the United States, particularly, is emotional accountability. It's about being able to say, “I need to stop,” instead of pushing, or ,“I thought I was going to be okay with that, but I'm not” and able to remove yourself from a situation and back out. I think, “Oh, Mother,” is such a great calibration tactic and something I'm really glad that DrachenFest US involves. It's a diegetic way to let the people in the scene know that you don't want to stop, you just need to pull back a little bit or that [their role-playing] is a bit much. It's a good signal to let somebody know that they are coming onto your character too strong. It's like, “Oh, Mother,” you should really take your advances elsewhere. <laugh>. That is such a great way to be like, “nah,” <laugh>, “I'm not that into it.”  


Or “please tone it down.” Sometimes we think we know our boundaries and exactly what we want. [That] we are so sure. However, it can feel different when we get into it and things become real, because LARP is real, right? Yes, we’re playing pretend, but we're actually doing those things. Sometimes it can become very heated, and emotions can become very strong. Sometimes, the physical exertion can be more than what you thought it would be and it's in those moments where it's important that you know when to cool down, back out or, “Oh, Mother” yourself, in the situation. It's also important to know your personal boundaries. So, if somebody is, overstepping those boundaries, using “Oh, Mother” to calibrate the situation without completely breaking immersion is an easy and healthy way to do so. However, it is important that you understand where your limits and boundaries are, adhere to that, and do not modulate yourself for others. It's important that your health and safety comes first.  


Keara Moore: I definitely agree with that. Regarding this, out of curiosity, do you have any input on how someone could have a fun and yet challenging scene that provides tension and story building where “Oh, Mother” doesn’t have to be used between players?  


Raquel Skellington:  Well, my first piece of advice is don't avoid it. I think it's the easiest way to voice what you need. The way I’m going to interpret that question if more that the best thing you can do, in-game, is calibrate with somebody. If you’re going into the game, and you make your intentions clear, like, “Hey, my character's really aggressive and I'm going to go after demonic characters. I'm a Paladin who hates demonic characters and vampires and I'm going to kill them.” You may not be able to get in contact with every vampire player in the game, but as long as your performance is obvious, it can be an advantage. It goes back to the bodily performance. If every time you see a vampire, you go, “Creature of the Night, I'll slay you.” They can taunt you back with their body language and say something like, “okay, bring it on!”   


That is their invitation to get involved with your play and your antagonism. I think a skill with LARP is being able to read body and facial signals. If you're not sure on how to play, play big rather than small. A mark of skill with LARPs is to pick up on very subtle cues, however, that takes a lot of practice and time to master. Being able to recognize a big play is a lot easier, especially if you're starting out. Make it as obvious as possible, whether you are boisterous and fun or very strict with a stick up your butt or whatever, you know what I mean? You need to be able to telegraph your intentions via your face, your bodily performance, even your costume. If you say you're a vampire hunter and you have four stakes on your hip, yeah, alright, <laugh>, you're a vampire hunter. However, you can also be more nuanced than that. You don’t have to have four stakes on your belt, you can look more like a mage, and still be a vampire hunter. There are different ways that you can communicate that you are out to get vampires other than just looking like you are. That all circles back to how you perform your character.  


Keara Moore: Thank you. That, that does put things into perspective. Next, in terms of what we’ve been discussing thus far, what do you enjoy most about LARPing and how has that impacted your life outside of the game?  


Raquel Skellington: I definitely enjoy putting the costumes together, but I also really enjoy the people. There's something very touching and fascinating about the fact that you can go into a world with a bunch of strangers that you’ve never met. You could be in another country with 120 people that you don't know, and you'll walk out with 20, 30, 40 new friends that you played with, or, at least, 120 new acquaintances. That's really the beauty of LARP. It's something that is so personal and I think the ability to make friends in that kind of environment is really beautiful because we're all inherently social creatures as human beings and have common ground in this hobby. Even if we meet in a pretend world, it usually means you're going to walk back into the real world with a real friend.  


That’s cool. For me, the people are really what's always been driving me because there's nothing better than somebody you met once in the woods as a stranger, [and now] you're getting married <laugh>. Or they're your best friend for life. Almost all my friends in my life, I've, met through LARP and they're the best people I've ever met on planet Earth. There takes a certain kind of bravery to be in this hobby, as you are playing pretend with strangers in real life. They are fun, authentic, and true to themselves. I couldn’t be happier to be in an environment with those kinds of people. 


Keara Moore: I love that. I think that is truly beautiful. On the flip side, would you like to share any potential challenges that you’ve faced while LARPING and how you’ve overcome them? 


Raquel Skellington: Well, I am a person of color <laugh>. There is the constant underlying threat of racism everywhere. It doesn't matter if it's the United States or overseas. However, I'm also in a very particular position as a racially ambiguous person because I am an MGM, which is a multi-generationally mixed person. I am very ambiguous in my features. So, people just know I'm a POC, but I'm kind of spicy. Is she black? Is she French? Yada, yada, spoiler alert, I'm everything on earth, basically. I would definitely say racism has been the biggest trial. I won't even say that I've overcome it. I think I've gotten to a point in my life and in my career where I try to not let it affect me. I will stand up against it and I'm not afraid anymore to call people, companies, games, or clicks out.  


I am so tired of trying to be an agreeable, black American in this scene. When I see something, I say something because I have the power to. As somebody who is seen as a community figurehead and a community leader and representative of LARP, keeping people safe is part of that responsibility. To make sure my, and other minority, voices are heard because when you have a platform, you should be using it for good. I have also faced [other] challenges like being a woman in the space, but it's intersected with being a woman of color, right? You know women definitely go through experiences of sexism sometimes in the community such as women taking positions of power, like warriors, or even how they are subjected to being pigeon-holed where some people have the opinion that all women are supposed to be healers and whatnot. 


When you layer the fact that you're also a brown woman on top of that it gets messy sometimes I think with Alicia, my very first character, I, at the time, didn't know I was very lucky to be raised in such a progressive household, and went to progressive schools, You don’t know you’re different until one day somebody tell you that you are. The day that shattered that reality for me was in LARP when somebody said that my skin looked like leather. I'll never forget that. And that's suddenly when I realized I was different and the only person there that looked like me in the room. That was crazy. Suddenly I got uncomfortable and scared. Now, sometimes, I’m still the only person in the room. However, I don’t let that bother me anymore. I’m here, I’m loud, I have a right to be here, and I’m staying.  


Keara Moore: One hundred percent. Thank you for sharing that aspect of yourself. In part of that as well as in relation to lifting other people and making sure everyone feels welcomed, do you have any advice for anyone that wants to come to these LARP events? How can they help other people, especially POC, feel safer, more welcomed, not othered?  


Raquel Skellington: Well, with the subject of inclusion, it’s one thing to say that we deserve a seat at the table, but true inclusion is believing that we belong there. I think there's a lot of people out there that say, “yeah, oh my gosh, we need to have POC at the table.” But then when we're sitting there, they don't make us feel like we belong or deserve to even be there. That's the thing that I would tell our white members of the community that everybody has their biases, right? None of us are free of guilt, including POC. We are raised in a culture and a society that has completely colored our worldview of people and ourselves. There's a lot of, both external and internal stuff, to work through around that. 

 

I think the greatest thing that we could say is truly listen to people of color and appreciate them. Get them involved and lift their play. Make them feel seen. Because if you are nervous, imagine how nervous they are. You know? Imagine how scary it could be for them to wear their natural hair out or play this character. Like one thing that has driven me is that I like to play characters that most people don't think women of color should be, or it's not in the conscious decision of what a character should be. Meaning, when we think of a beautiful princess damsel in distress, usually that woman is white most of the time, blonde and most of the time, blue-eyed or brunette or something like that.  


And I want to change that up. I want to be that damsel in distress. Maybe she's me and maybe she's brown and there's nothing wrong with that. Getting people to understand that we're all the same and we're all just here to play pretend where we respect each other and lift one another in play and our experiences. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Listen to marginalized voices. We’re all to make oopsies, okay. We’re all going to make mistakes and step on each other's toes at some point. It's about being willing to discuss that with grace and understanding that like, “oh, I didn't realize that that was a microaggression,” or, “I didn't realize what I said could have hurt your feeling or that you felt excluded.”  It’s important to embrace that [other] person instead of putting up walls because you're afraid of interacting with them. Because what is it they call you ex, what do they think you're racist? Uh, because it's not about you, right? It's about getting more marginalized people involved and sometimes that can make you feel a little nervous out of place, and that's okay. No one's perfect, but as long as your heart is in the right place about getting people involved in this hobby and making them feel comfortable, you're already way ahead of the game.  


Keara Moore: Thank you for that insight. I keep hearing the theme of vulnerability, how, when people make mistakes, microaggressions, or anything else in between, that there's this immediate jerk reaction that now they're a bad person. They could be worried that now no one likes them and can worry about the repercussions of accidentally doing something wrong. What do you think is important for people to think about when coming into this space? I know you explained it a little bit already, but if you could go more in depth about accepting that you will be vulnerable when you're LARPing. People know when they come in that they're like, yeah, I'm going to be playing a character. Yeah, it's going to be a little awkward and it's going to be a little bit difficult to start, especially for newcomers. Do you have any advice on accepting that vulnerability?  


Raquel Skellington: You know, that's a good one. I think it's really going into everything with an open mind, right? An open mind and an open heart. Understanding that you're going to feel a little bit silly, and that's okay. Everybody probably feels a little bit silly. I think not taking yourself so seriously is the important part. It's an interesting mix, right? You don't want to take yourself too seriously, but you want to take the LARP seriously, and also not too seriously. We're still just playing pretend and it's still just a game. None of it's real, but it's also meaningful. We're making art and it's okay to put passion and care into that art. I think your art only gets better when you're staying true, vulnerable, and honest in how you express your art through your performance in LARP. Therapy will help. <laugh> and LARP isn't therapy. Being in touch with yourself and having a good sense of who you are will help you be more vulnerable than not most of the time.  


Keara Moore: That’s very true. <laugh>. A lot of these questions feel very interconnected. What role do you think LARPing plays in community building between participants?  


Raquel Skellington: Well, LARPing is inherently a community action! It's a community engagement. It inherently takes a group of people to do this. I think it ends up building a lot of good community relationships because LARPing inherently fosters community trust. You must be able to trust each other to play pretend with each other, even on some surface level. Just being able to trust that if you're going to role-play with somebody, they'll role-play back with you. That they're here for the same experience and they mean it, and they want to have fun with you. That's how it starts. Fostering that community of trust is something that's done over time by people taking accountability for their own emotions, for their own actions, for their oopsies and for their wins as well as lifting each other up in that support. I think we can see a lot in DrachenFest US, especially in the camps as they grow closer in their own [respective] camp cultures and how beautiful that is. That is a sense of the people being in those camps and trusting each other. DrachenFest is hundreds and hundreds of people getting together that don't know each other, they’re from all over the country and world, all to do something a little silly. We just want to trust that we can all be a little silly guy and have a really fun time role-playing with each other. I think it’s inherently beautiful to be a part of the community that LARP fosters.  


Keara Moore: Thank you. Lastly, as someone who is experienced in the LARP world, what advice do you have for potential interested newcomers who may want to be involved in LARP worlds like DrachenFest?  


Raquel Skellington: Don’t overthink your first character. Do not write a freaking massive backstory. Keep it simple so you can have the opportunity to change it up if you don’t like where your story is coming along. I know your backstory is basically a lore bible for you personally. Yeah, you may have like a friend or something who wants to read it, but nobody will probably read it. I'm really sorry <laugh>. It's something for you. I would recommend keeping it simple and fun as that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Make something that you want to play, someone you want to be and something that you find interesting. If you are not having fun doing that thing, just shift course. There are technically no rules on how you want to play your character other than the rules of the actual game. Switch it up, be flexible and figure out how you want to change the direction of your story because you are the arbiter of your character's destiny. Embrace being silly, embrace losing and embrace lifting, and I think you'll have a great time.  


Keara Moore: Well, thank you so much. Those are all the questions that I have for you today.  


Raquel Skellington: All right, thank you so much. I really love to speak about LARP. I'm a turbo nerd for it. It's literally what I've devoted my life to. So <laugh>, thanks for having me.  


Keara Moore:  Yeah, thanks for being on board <laugh>.  


Raquel Skellington: Thank you. Yeah, that was great. Thank you so much, Keara. Those were really thoughtful questions. 


Keara Moore: Thank you!


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