When I tell people that I LARP, I almost always get the question: What’s that? and oftentimes, What’s that like? I don’t really mind answering these kinds of questions because I like introducing people to this somewhat obscure but growing hobby. It is however really hard to sum up what LARP is in a short conversation, and I’ve always wanted to give a broader response as to what LARP is for me.
The name is pretty descriptive: LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role Play. In real life you act out a role, or the character you are playing. It’s a broad description, which has lead to the term being used for a large variety of games that have very different styles.
There are, in my experience, three categories of LARP that mostly center around their combat systems: Parlor LARPs, Light Touch, and Hard Touch. Parlor LARPs are role-play heavy and do not act out their combat, though they may still determine combat scenarios using dice, rock paper scissors, or other non-contact methods. Light touch games can range from being role-play oriented to combat oriented and generally blend the two pretty well. Hard touch games still strive to be safe and generally still use padded weapons, but they allow for more physical contact like grappling and other things not allowed in light touch games.
My personal experience with LARP has been with light touch games. These games involve combat using padded weapons called boffers and generally only allow weapon-to-body contact, with no body-to-body contact allowed during combat.
There is another level to the combat systems called heavy combat, which is generally not used in LARPs. This form of combat uses real armor and weapons, or a reasonably safe facsimile made of different materials. This style of combat is used in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), who do not consider themselves a LARP despite, in my opinion, fitting all of the criteria, as well as being very similar to European-style LARPs, which often have an emphasis on realism as opposed to the more fantasy-oriented American LARPs. Heavy combat is also used by other more historical organizations, or those centered around a competitive sport rather than a game. This is the style of combat we use for the Medieval Tourney group I am part of.
Let’s run down what a LARP looks like from the inside. First off, there is a game system, often presented in some kind of rulebook. The rules outline the creative ways you will be able to act out what your character does–especially things that you as a normal person may not be able to do, such as casting magic. The hope is that you’ll do your best to learn the basic rules before your first game, but in my experience LARPs are very welcoming and patient with new players, and are willing to help them learn at events as well. Your experiences may vary.
Once you’ve gotten into the rules system, you’ll want to make a character. There are usually guidelines in the rules system as to what kind of character you can make, and how to go about doing so. You get to pick what kind of skills you will have, what kind of personality, and generally what kind of person you will be playing.
Next, you’ll need some equipment. This is where things might start to get a bit tricky. You see, there is a difference between IG (in game) equipment and OOG (out of game) equipment. Generally the two connect in some way, but having one does not always mean you have the other. For example: out of game, you buy a cool-looking boffer sword for your character–that means your character has a sword, right? Wrong. You’re character needs to acquire a sword in game, as well. IG equipment is generally noted using some kind of tag or card created by the game staff. Once you have both pieces, then you have a sword! This helps prevent someone from spending a lot of OOG money to become powerful, and leads to a more realistic game with an IG economy for goods.
There is a limit to the IG/OOG item connection. you don’t need an IG tag for every cup, piece of clothes, length of rope, or anything else you bring. Generally, it is limited to things that affect combat. If it enhances the role playing experience, without giving you a statistical advantage in the rule system, you don’t really need a tag for it.
So, you have your OOG gear, like costumes, weapons, armor, and props. The next thing you’ll want to do is tell the people running the game that you are going to attend their event. Most games have some sort of system for this, by sending an email or filling out a simple form. This lets the game runners plan for food, sleeping space, equipment, and other things. Also, prior to your first event, the game you’re interested in may have staff members available to help you preemptively create your character!
Now you know the rules (mostly), you’ve built a character, prepped your gear, and you told the game runners you’ll be coming. Congratulations–you are all set to go to an event!
When you show up to the event, the game runners usually have some kind of check-in system that lets you see all the details of your character, gather any IG tags you might need for gear, pay your fees for the event, and generally let them know you are actually there.
You are now ready to assume the role of your character and jump into the exciting world of LARP! To find out what that’s like, check out the companion piece: What’s LARP and What’s It Like? In Game Edition!