What’s LARP and What’s It Like? In Game Edition!

What’s LARP and What’s It Like? In Game Edition!

My ten-second pitch for those who haven’t heard about LARP has always gone like this: “It means live action role play. We dress up in costume, run around in the woods, and hit each other with sticks.”

Alternatively, when asked my weekend plans, I might not mention LARPing at all. I’ll say I’m “camping with friends,” since that was what roped me into LARPing to begin with–it’s camping, but also dress-up. Two of my favorite things.

And it can be a lot more than that, too.

Setting the Scene

It’s Friday night. You got through the out of game prep work: you created your character, you’ve checked in, and you’re ready to play. Everyone is standing around, chatting among themselves. Maybe they’re setting up a place to crash later. There are pre-game announcements to be made.

When “game on” is called, real life slowly fades and everyone disperses to their own points of reentry. Some approach from far down the road, some from the woods, and some have presumably never left the tavern.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.

You’re not in Kansas anymore.

You might realize, as you try to step into character and approach from the dark, that everyone you knew and anyone you’ve just met is suddenly a stranger (unless, of course, you and your buddies created coinciding backstories–always a good choice). You’ll have to greet them again, and introduce this new person you’ve become.

Adventurers, when you meet them, don’t often start with small talk. They are each the main character of their own story, as you are of yours. They will ask you your name, your purpose, and your talents. They’ll want to know who they’re spending their time with, and why you should be valued. What you tell them is up to you, but you will earn their favor by seeming convincing.

Passing this test will make you fast friends. The air will feel lighter, and lights will glow warmer, for their laughter and camaraderie.

The adventure begins.

Entering Combat

You might notice patterns, the longer you LARP. Aside from the PC (player character) interactions, there may also be encounters with townsfolk, merchants, and various creeps and creatures, played by NPCs (non player characters). Rather than staying in one role throughout the game, NPCs will wear a lot of different hats to keep the events of the story moving.

These story events are called mods, or modules. Planned in advance or on the fly, at the behest of show runners or restless players, these modules vary in length of time and level of difficulty. There may be puzzles to solve, tests to perform, rituals to cast, or monsters to slay–sometimes all at once. There might be moments of light-hearted, feel-good play, or grueling battlefields of struggle and strife.

In the beginning, it might feel ridiculous to utter repetitive worded attacks like “lightning bolt” or “two normal,” but this embarrassment will fade. No one will judge you for playing the game correctly, and, with the downright magical power of human imagination, you might just forget you’re saying anything at all. The words might start to register as the cries of battle and the clashing of swords. Your friends’ voices become the familiar pattern of their distinctive fighting styles. The numbers are replaced by wounds, feelings, fuel.

Just imagine. That’s the golden rule.

Rain or Shine

You might be wondering whether games are often cancelled due to rain or, in the north, snow. Generally, while fewer games take place during the more frozen months of the year, you might be surprised how little rain seems to matter.

Because of the frequency of rainy weekends, at least in the Midwestern United States, LARPers in the region tend to have pretty solid advice on what to bring and how to prepare for a game.

Sometimes, the weather gods do bless us with ideal conditions. Sunny, mild days, with bright blue skies and the occasional soft cloud, warm-enough nights beneath a hemisphere of constellations, and fresh, cool mornings.

And sometimes, the weather outdoes itself.

Thunder rolls. It’s midnight, and the cloud cover obscures all light from the moon, the stars. What you can see is limited to shadows swimming in the dark, blurred by the downpour. The grass beneath your feet is slick and wet. If your shoes aren’t waterproof, they’re soaked through. You don’t care. You don’t have time. Water runs down your face and arms, plasters your hair to your forehead. It feels like blood.

Lightning flashes, and for a brief moment you can distinguish the drenched and furious faces of allies from gruesome humanoid enemies. You use these glimpses of insight to augment your assumptions about body language and shape. You can use the darkness to your advantage–but so can they.

Going Home

You made it back to the tavern. Stoke up the fireplace. Lay your boots on the hearth, and your head on the floor. Console the grieving, celebrate those who survived, and take in the aftermath of your successes. The world is safe, for now.

You’ve never been so wet, soaked by weather or sweat, but you still need a drink.

A good game will likely offer variety, in role-play and combat scenarios, comedic moments, and scenes of tragedy. A well-balanced game will leave you, on Sunday morning, feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted. Ready for a hearty brunch with twenty of your new closest friends and the lively reminiscences of recent adventures.

Strangely . . . refreshed.

Remember to thank your game staff, your cooks, and your NPCs.

It’s time to venture back into the real world. Go on, back to work, back to school, back to all the complicated responsibilities of respectable society.

Someday soon, you’ll be on your next adventure.

Your story is waiting for you.