LARP at Play: LARP 101

Now that my spring break is over, it’s time to return to writing. There are some good articles lined up for this year, including a few from some guest columnists. This article was inspired by a comment from Ryan Paddy. While I’ve covered many aspects and angles of LARPing, one I’ve not really covered in any depth has been an introduction to LARPing. It’s hard to write an article that will cover every question that an individual new to the hobby may have, however I think there are enough common basics that can be addressed. Welcome to LARP 101 or “So you want to start LARPing.”

This will likely sound redundant, however I think it’s good to have a common base to work off of and build up from. To start I’d like to define what LARP is. The LARP entry on Wikipedia has a really good, concise definition:
“A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play.”

The Wikipedia entry is also a good read, should you wish for more information beyond what is in this article. If you’re still interested in giving LARPing a try, I think you’ll find the following information a help.

What types of LARP are there?
There are a few styles and more than a few genres of LARP. Style wise the two dominant ones are theater and live-combat.

I’m going to pull my explanation of these types from a paper I wrote a few years back:
“Theater style LARPs don’t use any kind of mock weapon (boffer or otherwise) and instead use an alternate resolution system for combat and conflict resolution such as rolling a die or drawing a card from a deck for the randomizer then adding that number into what ever skill or ability is used to determine success or failure or comparing skills or stats from character sheets. There is the commonly perceived thought that theater style games focus more on plot and character development as there isn’t a huge combat focus. But like any LARP there are theater style LARPs that are weak in plot and character development. Most theater styles LARPS are not a if-you-can-do-it-you-can-do-it form of LARP as almost every aspect of the character (sneaking or lock picking for examples) is resolved via the resolution system and not on the ability of the player to actually pull off the act.

“Live-Combat LARPs use mock weapons as a part of their conflict resolution. These LARPs are much more of a if-you-can-do-it-you-can-do-it form of game. If you can pick the lock you’ve picked the lock, if you can sneak by the orc, you’ve snuck by the orc, and etc. While theater style LARPs tend to have simpler conflict resolution system (draw card, roll die, or etc., add to ability, compare result with combatant’s result) live-combat tend to be more rules heavy. This is not to be confused with the creation of a complex, hard to understand resolution system, but more that the rules need to cover more than just how to handle resolution: There are safety checks in place to ensure the safety of the weapons used (criteria that must be met for them to qualify for use) and the participants (legal targets or illegal actions with weapons) during the event. The common perceived thought is that live-combat LARPs focus primarily on combat with less emphasis on plot and character development. To a degree this is true as it depends on what sub-group the game falls under: Role-play or battle game. Many people just roll these two sub-groups up and call them both live-combat LARPs.

“Role-play oriented LARPs put the focus on plot and character development within a story and less on just combat. Role-play oriented groups try to keep the focus on the story and only involve combat when needed because the story warrants it. This doesn’t mean that an entire event that happens to be combat heavy isn’t a role-play oriented live-combat LARP, but that the combat is there because of story and plot, not because that’s the extent of the event without other reasons.

“Battle game oriented LARPs put the focus on the combat and don’t have much plot and character development isn’t based on story. Battle game groups tend to be capture the flag, but boffer style. This isn’t to say that the combat doesn’t have a goal in mind, but that the event as a whole is to engage in fighting with little to no role-play whatsoever.

“It’s important to note that even though most LARPs will tend to fall into one of these categories, there will always be a game or organization which doesn’t quite fit any one category and instead may be a cross category hybrid. The most common hybrid is Adventure Style in which there is an in-game location where primarily theater style play may take place, but there are modules that allow for primarily live-combat style play.”

And from the Wikipedia article, “There are also LARPs that do without rules, instead relying on players to use their common sense or feel for dramatic appropriateness to cooperatively decide what the outcome of their actions will be.”

As for genres, games run the gamut: from modern horror to steampunk to fantasy medieval to post-apocalyptic survival for example. Some games will provide you with a pre-generated character (typically theater style games) while others will provide you with the rules so you can create your own. There really is a little bit of everything out there, it’s just a matter of finding a style and genre of game that interests you.

Where can I find a list of games or local forums?
There are several good spots to ask around. These are all larger community hubs, but from this you should be able to find someone in your neck of the woods who can help introduce you to games in your area:

If you live in the USA, there are several regional LiveJournal communities that cover the US (see the bottom of the top post of this thread). Find the community related to where you’re at and check it. If you’re not from the USA, there’s a list of international LARP forums and organizations on Shade’s LARP List.

How much does it cost?
Games can vary in cost from nothing for a small, private troupe game to over $100 for a weekend by the time your game fees, supplies, transportation and food costs are added up. Typically an evening private group game will cost much less than a full weekend foray away from home at a rented location, however like any game prices will vary and some times dramatically.

When you find a game your interested in, if they don’t have any costs listed on their web site or fliers, get in touch with them and ask them how much people pay and what the financial expectation is for their game.

Do I have to be a particular age to play?
This depends on the group you’re looking to join. Some may allow teenagers or those even younger to join while others have a strict 18 and up policy. Your best bet would be to find a few games that interest you and then find out what their age policy is.

What should I do now?
It’s a good idea, though not necessary to decide what style and genre of game you want to participate in, but once you’re ready ask around to friends you know who might have contacts and there are always the forums listed above. Once you find a game that sparks your interest contact them and let them know you’re interested, ask questions and ask more questions. As I shared in my LARP article on player ‘homework,’ “Look into the details of the game you want to play and making sure that it really is something that you have the time and desire to get involved with and it fits what you’re looking for in a game.”

If the game interests you, see if you can look over the rule book and chat with someone about it and any character concepts you may have. Most games have a point of contact of some kind: email, phone, a contact form on their site, etc). Once you’ve found a game, they should be able to help you with the fine details of getting integrated into their game.

Some common terminology:
Below is a list of words and acronyms commonly used within the hobby and that you may encounter as you explore web sites and chat with various LARPers. Some terms you might be familiar with if you’ve played role-playing games before.

  • PC: Also known as player character, this is the kind of character that you and the other players play.
  • Crew/Cast/NPC: NPC stands for non-player character. These are all terms for those plot controlled characters that you interact with. Since plot controls them, they are non-player characters.
  • Experience/XP: Much like table-top games have an experience reward for making it through an encounter or game session many LARPs also have some kind of experience system. Exactly what it is depends on each different game.
  • LARP/LRP: Two of my favorite acronyms. Both stand for Live Action Role-Playing. Many people in the States call it LARP while many people across the pond in Europe (UK in particular) call it LRP (a.k.a. Live Role Playing).
  • LARPer: A person who LARPs or plays in a LARP.
  • LARPing: The act of playing in a LARP.
  • RPG: Or better known as role-playing game.
  • Theater/Parlor: A style of LARP where combat resolution is not done via mock combat, rather resolution is more familiar to what is used in a table-top setting (the roll of a die, selection of a random card or comparison of abilities for example).
  • Live-combat: A style of LARP where mock weapons are used in conjunction with the game rules for conflict resolution.
  • IC/IG/IP: Or in actual words in character, in game, or in play. These are all terms meaning stuff that occurs during the course of the game or while you’re playing your character.
  • OOC/OOG/OOP: Or out-of-character, out-of-game, out-of-play. These acronyms and words all reference the activities that occur to you, the player when you’re not playing your character or non-in-game related events.
  • GM/Plot: This refers to the person or group of individuals who heads up the plot crew part of the game. If you have a question about how a rule resolves, what an effect does or have a question about a storyline your character is involved in chances are you’ll be talking to the person or people responsible for the game’s production: The GM or plot crew.
  • Monster camp/plot camp/GM corner: In many games the GM or plot crew have a spot reserved just for them and their stuff. It’s the brain/headquarters of the game where the GMs/plot people go to update each other on plot, handle out-of-game record-keeping and otherwise manage the game just before, during and just after the game.

For those that are new to the hobby, what other questions do you have? For those who are experienced LARPers, what other introductory information would you share?

The next article will be on pre-generated LARPs from a guest columnist, Ryan Paddy. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there. If you want to become a guest columnist, please write to Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com with your article idea.

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