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I'D met him only once - and that was ion the Internet - But it was an iinvitation I couldn't refuse... to come face to face with a troll.

The setting was on the border between Sweden and Norway, in a remote pine forest, eight hours walk from the nearest town.

He asked me to leave behind my watch, money, mobile phone and anything that would give my identity away.

Then I swapped my clothes for a heavy aquamarine cassock with a sinister- looking black leather symbol roughly stitched on the chest.

We walked past roadblocks placed at the beginning of a shale track leading into the heart of the forest. These are meant to stop anyone stumbling upon the land of trolls...

Welcome to the fantasy world of Live Action Role Play (LARP)...

It's a place where the pixillated images of slavering trolls and stygian beasts of computer games like Riven, Mist and Doom come to life with terrifying reality.

And where the player enters a fantasy world of combat and terror.

Based on the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, several hundred players converge on a site to play in full costume, for 24 hours, in an on-going story that can last for up to a week. I joined the Hogting, organised by the Sifvereken (Silver Oak) society, one of the hundreds of LARP societies in Sweden.

More than 600 people come to play in a medieval fantasy world created with obsessive attention to detail. Any references to 20th century living are strictly forbidden - even spectacles are banned.

The origins of LARPs are shrouded in mystery, but it is thought they started in Britain with a group called Treasure Trap, based at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire in the mid 70's, where they played interpretations of Dungeons and Dragons.

Steve Turnbull, 40, editor of Acorn User magazine, was there at the beginning when he was still a computer science student at Manchester University.

"The costumes weren't brilliant and the whole thing was planned out in advance so it was very linear," he says.

Now, 20 years later, it is huge in Scandinavia and parts of Germany. But the total absorption into violent characters can lead to confusion.

As one English LARP player says: "We stop after eight hours because if we didn't someone would probably get killed. I don't understand how the Swedes manage to literally live like their characters. "

Games in Scandinavia are played by "suspending all belief". It's called "free- form" LARP and means there is nothing to ruin the illusion of a completely parallel reality. And there are no referees in Sweden, unlike the British version.

The frequency of events in Sweden means that dedicated players can attend a game every fortnight in the summer when the season is at it's peak.

The freezing winters mean the forests are too barren...

And there's nowhere to hide from the spooky trolls that have come to life.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 20, 1999
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