Beginner's Guide to LARP
A complete guide to LARPing, its history, and everything you need to know about this addicting and upcoming past time.
I’m not a huge LARPer. I stick to the basics: watching TV, going to the gym, and hanging out with friends. However, I’ve come to realize that I’d enjoy some more excitement in my life; something that gives me the capability to immerse myself into an entirely new world––and even recreate myself within it. In its simplest form, that’s exactly what LARPing is.
Whether you’ve heard the term or not, I promise that you will soon. LARPing has taken the fantasy world by storm, due largely in part to its creative capabilities. Whether you want to dress up as Luke Skywalker and fight Darth Vader or create your own persona and hunt for clues to solve a case, LARPing’s imaginative powers are endless. There are an unlimited amount of characters, settings, and situations that one can take control of, creating an extremely entertaining environment for those into fantasy.
I came home from work the other day and started asking my mom about her day.
“Did you watch TV all day? Did you go to the gym? Did you LARP?” I asked.
“Did I what? Did I fart?” my mom angrily responded to me after I asked her these questions.
“No mom, why would I be asking if you farted, you do that all the time. I said something you might not do as often, did you LARP?!”
And thus begins the conversation of all conversations: how to get into what is known as LARPing, or live-action role playing. If you’ve seen Paul Rudd’s Role Models, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, watch the film and catch up with the rest of society! In the meantime, sit back, relax, and read this crash course in LARPing basics.
What Is LARPing?
LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role-Playing, which is a form of role-playing game where participants physically act out fictional characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting (that actually takes place in the real world), while interacting with each other. When a participant takes on the persona of a character that has been created, it includes their habits, speech, and physical actions. The outcome of the player’s actions can be mediated by game rules or determined by a consensus among players. Each game has its own rules, setting, time limit, and weaponry. The rules define each character’s abilities, and it is necessary that the director of the LARP, known as the game master, creates a complete rule set that guides the storyline.
Laurie Zolkosky, who has years of experience with live-action games (and has started her own game), describes LARPing as:
"A cross between a game and a form of theatre. It’s designing a character or persona to fit into an imaginary world. It can involve something like a sport where you fight, or it can just be interacting and talking with the other characters. You create an imaginary setting with its own rules and themes and ideology. You make a character who fits into that and play as the character within the environment. It’s a kind of total immersion, and it involves accepting an alternate reality."
While there is no single point of origin, LARPing has been traced back over the years to independent groups in North America, Europe, and Australia. Well-known games such as “Cowboys and Indians,” and “Doctor” are considered extremely simple LARPs. More modern role-playing games in America began in the 1970s, which led to recognizable, organized LARP’s, played mainly by teenagers and adults.
One of these organized LARPs began in 1977 with the foundation of Dagorhir Battle Games, a battle game with full-contact melee fighting. This specific LARP has become extremely popular in modern day gaming society, and was originally based off of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On their website, Dagorhir markets itself as combining "fast-paced full contact combat situation with elements of live-action role playing."
By the 1980s, LARPing had spread to many countries and organizations, and diverse styles of the original simple games have developed. Rather than just simple reenactments or games, creators in the 80s first coined the concept of “total immersion,” creating detailed backstories and specific scenarios to make the games more entertaining for participants. Rather than simply creating individual LARPs, it made more sense to create ongoing and creative worlds, where participants can play in character over a longer period of time, going back and forth between reality and their LARP world.
In the 1990s, Mind’s Eye Theatre emerged as the first published LARP system to achieve popular status. This is another example of a total immersion live action role-playing game, and is based on the White Wolf World of Darkness universe. Instead of actual battles, conflicts and skill challenges are settled with “rock-paper-scissors.”
One of the great things about LARPing is that each world can be as imaginative as the creators desire. They can combine different fantasy worlds into one, create their own, or any combination. Some of most famous genres include fantasy, futuristic, horror, supernatural, post-apocalyptic, historical, and modern.
What’s the Purpose?
What’s the purpose of anything we do in our free time? Entertainment! There are thousands of reasons why people enjoy LARPing. Most importantly, it’s that LARPing allows participants to escape their current reality and enter an entirely new world. Whether it was a tough day at school or work, or you're just looking for something new and engaging, there is something to be said about having the capability to leave your current world and enter a seemingly new one full of surprises.
Michael Pucci, an active LARPer, gives his take on the purpose of the activity, claiming,
"LARPing allows people to take the banal and mundane world that is their job, their paying of bills, and their household chores and put these frustrations away for a night or a weekend. Going to a LARP is almost like being involved with an organized sports team or being actively involved in a musical subculture. When you go to a LARP, like these other events social oriented events, you get to step away from the frustrations that come with the responsibilities of being a part of society and step into another world that has been designed for your enjoyment. This environment, because of its alternate world immersion, is a set place where you go to play and relax.”
Different Types of LARPS
There are three main types of LARPs. How a campaign plays out depends largely on the type of game and the director, and there are three main ways in which games unfold. The director has the responsibility to not only create the imaginary world, but also its history, culture, myths, and rules. The intricate details and backstories of each fictional setting is what distinguishes a unique LARP. Like any game or form of entertainment, the more detailed and interesting it is, the more people will enjoy it and want to engage. The three most popular types of LARP consist of the battle game, theatrical game, and role playing game.
The Battle Game LARP
The Battle Game includes two groups of opponents facing each other on the battlefield. They are dressed in clothing of the time period and armed with different types of foam weapons. Someone gives a signal, and the battle begins. The combatants rush at each other and fight until a clear winner emerges. Daghorir is a battle game of this type.
Founded in Washington, D.C., Daghorir spread rapidly throughout the US, Canada, Britain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Germany, Australia, and Japan. This specific LARP is a weapon combat game, and differs from many LARPs due to the fact there is no concept of magic involved. Fighters use foam weapons such as swords, flails, spears, bows and arrows, javelins, axes, and other medieval weapons. Participants must stay dressed in character throughout the duration of events, which in some cases last up to an entire weekend.
The Theatrical Game LARP
The Theatrical Game begins with a group of people hovered around a storyteller who starts the game. A scene is described, and players use the information given to them by the storyteller to decide how to respond. If there is no need for combat, they play rock-paper-scissors, pull cards from a deck, or roll a dice to determine the outcome. If you wanted to create your own LARP, you could create any type of game to settle conflicts within the story. Theatrical Game’s are non-combat games. White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theater games are theatrical LARPs.
The Role-Playing Game LARP
The Role-Playing Game typically begins with players arriving at a campground, where they will be staying for the weekend. The participants either have their own, created characters that they have submitted, or receive cards describing the character they will play. They are then given a situation, for example. “A powerful vampire has been terrorizing the village and kidnapping our children.” These players are given information about what’s happening in the story and subsequently act it out. Based on their skills and abilities, the characters must decide how to achieve their goal, in this example defeating the vampire and rescuing the children. This is a role-playing combat game. The most well-known role-playing combat game is called NERO.
Who LARPs, and Where?
The concept of LARPing appeals to various types of people, both men and women of all ages. Typically, it takes a truly imaginative person to enjoy such a practice. Most people involved have a taste for fiction and fantasy, and most are highly intelligent. LARPing has also become known for bringing people out of their shells. When people see other LARPers living out the same stories they’ve been living in their head, it is easy for even the shyest and most reserved to find some common ground and create a social circle based on the LARP.
Things to Know, and How to Get LARPing
It is important to remember that there are no specific rules for LARPing in general. However, the guidelines that directors use often make the game more entertaining for the participants. LARPs range in size from as few as 20 people to thousands, depending on the game. Whether you enjoy individual battles or full-scale war, it is easy to find a LARP that suits your interests.
The best way to find a LARP that you’ll enjoy is going on any of the Larping Forums online. On these forums users are constantly discussing anything from future LARP’s to ideas, to questions about the game in general. In addition, you can find the closest LARPs happening in your area.
Lastly, there is no specific location needed for a LARP. In fact, all you need is an open area. Many of the larger events take place on the site of a campgrounds, where participants will live for a weekend as part of their mission. A large grassy area would be ideal, as there is often a lot of running around involved. You have now been given all the basics on the fascinating alternate-reality of LARPing. You are set to conquer the world, save the world from evil demons, or just meet some really interesting people.