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THEY'RE GAME: ‘Scholars,' goblins invade Plymouth

Chris Anderson of Rockland and Ryan Korzeniowskin of Abington, both playing half-orcs, battle during the weekend production staged at Camp Clark in Plymouth by New England Role Playing. (Debee Tlumacki/The Patriot Ledger)

The Patriot Ledger

The town was quiet until the goblin-like creature arrived. Then a fierce battle exploded. It wasn't Dungeons and Dragons, in which people sit around a table and play out a game.

It was a production staged in Plymouth by NERO - New England Role Playing - a 13-year-old company that produces weekend-long, live-action, role-playing adventures across the country.

The event was a combination of Renaissance fair and improvisational theater. The participants became characters of their own creation, battling mystical creatures and solving puzzles as they tried to accomplish a mission.

This weekend's mission was to find the Forth Sword, so Volta could rid itself of the undead creatures that had been terrorizing its people.

Somewhere in the woods was a representation of the sword. Characters gained knowledge through hints and clues given by event staffers, who play characters, and by completing various adventures.

NERO, which began in 1988 in an Arlington gaming store, now has 35 chapters nationwide. Some events attract up to 200 people, and many NERO members - some of whom are doctors and lawyers - travel for hours for a weekend of role playing.

This past weekend, Plymouth's Camp Clark was no longer a YMCA camp in hibernation. It was the Duchy of Volta, awake with dwarfs, goblins, mercenaries, scholars, half-orcs and a dozen other types of characters. In all, more than 70 members braved the coldest weekend of the winter to participate, to battle, and to pretend they were someone else.

Consider it a $65 medieval version of fantasy baseball camp.

‘‘It's a sort of escapism, to forget about everything else for a while,'' said NERO owner Joseph Valenti, a 35-year-old computer systems analyst from White Plains, N.Y.

Valenti, dressed in a red tunic, a padded ‘‘shatter-resistant long sword'' at his side, waited for the next monster to disturb the peace. He had a bag of spells - a small packet of birdseed wrapped in cloth.

‘‘It's a game,'' he said.

It may be a game, but it's about as complex a game can be. NERO's official rule book is more than 100 pages long and contains instructions covering every aspect of the game, such as making weapons, character development and codes of conduct. It describes different types of spells and attacks, tells how to become resurrected, and even gives tips on how to write an adventure. To ensure fun for all participants, it also presents strict rules on cheating and bullying.

A skilled player knows the rule book inside and out. But true strength depends on how frequently a player takes part in NERO events. Valenti has been playing since 1990 and has become a powerful scholar; not all scholars can carry long swords.

This weekend's adventure in Plymouth was organized this weekend's adventure was organized by Matthew Pearson of Boston, a 12-year veteran who recently started a Boston-based NERO chapter. His job was that of a marshal, in case of disputes, but he said disputes are rare.

‘‘We're an honor game,'' Pearson said. ‘‘Usually players resolve it themselves.''

Pearson and Valenti said NERO rules state that games are not to be affiliated in any way with a religion. NERO wants to avoid the gothic or satanic stigmas that have been attached to some role-playing games.

‘‘That's why we don't have demons, we have undead,'' Valenti said.

Chris Anderson, 20, of Rockland and three of his friends played half-orc mercenaries. They spent a good part of Saturday afternoon walking around with their faces painted green and wearing black, hooded robes looking for trouble.

‘‘It's just fun,'' Anderson said of the events. ‘‘I go to college, so it's a nice break.''

There are 34 NERO chapters in the United States and one in Canada.

Another event will be held at Camp Clark in two weeks.

For more information, visit

Copyright 2003 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Monday, January 13, 2003

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