I hadn’t thought about AOKP for years until I attended MystiCon, a science-fiction, fantasy and horror convention in Roanoke aimed at dragon enthusiasts, zombie experts, vampire buffs, steampunk devotees and space opera nuts. MystiCon took place earlier this year at the Tanglewood Holiday Inn, a 195-room hotel that overlooks a stretch of road riddled with strip malls and power lines. When I arrived, people were gathering at midnight for a seance in Room 438.
I waited for the elevator nearest to the lobby, and when the doors opened, a man stepped out and stared at me. “Never leave the boat,” he blurted out. “Absolutely [expletive] right!” and then he walked away. I stepped into the elevator, slightly confused, and realized that he hadn’t finished paraphrasing the quote from “Apocalypse Now,” which ends, “Unless you were goin’ all the way.”
The con program book referred to Room 438 as “Strange Aeons LARP Headquarters.” “Aeons” is Latin for “lives” or “beings” and, more important, is a reference to the H.P. Lovecraft story “Out of the Aeons.” (Lovecraft was an early-20th-century horror writer, and his foundational work, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is an old stone tablet for many contemporary horrorists.) LARP stands for “live-action role-playing,” a game in which a player takes on the guise of a self-created character and interacts with other LARPers to solve puzzles, gather items or just hang out. The game was to last the entire weekend and was refereed, or narrated, by a storyteller named Jestin Jeffries, an affable 38-year-old with a long face and a drape of burnt-blond hair.
As a player, Jeffries assumes a character that he has cultivated over 18 years of LARPing. “It started off as a werewolf,” he said. “My buddies, who were all playing vampires at the time, decided to turn me into a vampire. . . . It’s just one of those happy accidents.”
Jeffries stood on one side of Room 438 wearing a silver mask, a black top hat and what looked like a fitted undertaker’s coat. All the furniture seemed to have disappeared, and the room was swollen with role-players. Immediately, I felt as if I were back in college, surrounded by AOKP members, but I wasn’t here to judge — I was here to see what I could learn.