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What is LARP? (Prithee don't hurt me...) - John C. Kirk

May. 11th, 2014

09:56 pm - What is LARP? (Prithee don't hurt me...)

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When I've mentioned LARP to some friends (eg in my swimming club), I've got blank looks, so here's a quick overview. This isn't a tutorial for new players, and I'm sure I've missed a lot of stuff out, it's just intended to give people a vague idea of what I'm talking about.

So, what is this LARP thing you're talking about?

LARP stands for Live Action RolePlay.

That's less informative than you might think.

Ok, the basic principle is that it's a roleplaying game. The game I play is set in a medieval/fantasy world, so people pretend to be knights and wizards and then go off fighting demons. There are computer games like "World of Warcraft" with a similar idea, and some people do tabletop games where they roll dice to see what happens.

Oh yeah, they do that in The Big Bang Theory.

Possibly - I don't watch it.

You don't watch The Big Bang Theory? How come?

I watched the second half of one episode, and it didn't really grab me. However, I think we're digressing from the point here.

You're the one typing this.


Ok, so what does the live action bit mean?

It means that we dress up as our characters and act things out. For instance, suppose that I'm playing a knight, and I want to hit a goblin with a sword:
* In a tabletop game, I would say "I hit the goblin with my sword". (I may then have to roll a die to see whether it works.)
* In a computer game, I might use a particular combination of keys, eg down/left + the A button on my keypad.
* In LARP, I hold the sword in my hand and swing my arm towards the person dressed as a goblin.

There's also an element of amateur dramatics involved: the idea is to think and feel as your character. There's an episode of "South Park" (Make Love, Not Warcraft) where the boys play Warcraft; as they get technically better, they get less emotional, and playing the game becomes a mechanical exercise. That's fiction, and it may not reflect how people really play the game, but I've noticed a similar thing for people who are really good at games like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution: they look impassive. Now, it's their time to spend, and they're not hurting anyone, but that doesn't appeal to me. With LARP, people feel a whole range of emotions, including laughter, tears, anger, fear, and triumph.

So is this the same thing as historical re-enactment?

I think it's similar, but there are some differences. (Personally, I've never actually done re-enactment.) In the game I play, we're not too concerned about historical accuracy, so we're going for a medieval-ish feel but we don't refer to real monarchs, and there were probably weren't wizards or dragons roaming around in real history.

We don't use metal weapons, because we don't actually want to hurt anyone. I often refer to "rubber swords"; to be more precise, they have a fibreglass or carbon fibre core, covered in latex (liquid plastic) and sculpted/painted to look like wood/metal. Combat is similar to touch rugby, i.e. we pull our blows rather than whacking people at full strength.

We don't use Shakespearean speech, e.g. "Whither art thou going-est?" However, I do try to adapt my speech patterns a bit, to avoid any obviously modern references. For instance, I recently had to describe a dream, and I said: "I was looking down upon the land, in the way that a bird might see it."

I should also clarify that not all LARPs are historical. For instance, there are sci-fi LARPs based on Stargate and Battlestar Galactica.

Do you have to buy your own costume?

Basically, yes. You may be able to borrow some bits and pieces from other players, particularly if you're new, but it's not included when you buy a ticket. Think of it like skiing: you pay for a lift pass, but you have to buy/hire/borrow skis separately.

Does someone work out a plot?

Yes, we have a game team who do that. However, the players don't know what it is in advance. So, we react to what other people do (e.g. when a group of monsters attacks our camp) and we can also choose our own actions for other people to react to (e.g. arguing about the ethics of an undead labour force). This also means that nobody knows exactly what will happen. It's a bit like living inside a film (e.g. "Lord of the Rings") but there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

So how do you pick a character?

In the game I play (Curious Pastimes), you have 20 points to "spend" on a character. It costs you 2 points to use a sword, 3 points to use a shield, etc. So, you have to choose which things you want to do; you can't do everything. You can also work out a personality to go along with it.

What stops you from using a sword without buying that skill?

Mostly, it works on the honour system: we trust people not to cheat. That said, there are referees around, and we all carry cards around our necks with our character's description, so they could check whether you're actually allowed to do what you're doing.

Where do you go to do all this?

In theory, you could go anywhere, depending on the number of people involved. At CP, we use a few scout camps (outside London) so that we can run around in the woods without any obvious signs of modern civilisation.

It all sounds a bit weird to me.

You say that as if it's a bad thing! This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I really enjoy it.