What is a LARP?

I am a storyteller.

Not just someone who tells good stories, or likes to tell stories, but I literally have the role  “storyteller” in an organization built around collaborative group storytelling.  Formally its called a LARP organization, but most people (read: non-geeks) don’t know what LARPs are.  It feels like I spend a lot of time explaining what a LARP is to my non-geeky friends.

So here it is, a whole entry dedicated to defining LARP!

I imagine to my non-LARP friends it [LARPing] is a hobby that has slowly cannibalized my life. I used to make plans to go out and see a movie – instead most of my weekends are already committed. My friends that don’t LARP have seen me less and less over the past six years.  Which doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it  just means that I’ve become obsessively engrossed in a time consuming complicated hobby.  But  the real question seems to be:

What is LARP anyway?

LARP stands for:

Live – Action – Role – Play

And, that’s a mouthful –  so most people just say “LARP” for short. Immediately, some people will assume its some sort of sexual roleplaying “Eyes Wide Shut” type of thing – it’s not. Well, to be fair – within the scope of the events I’m aware of LARPs aren’t – I suppose there are probably underground swingers LARPs, I’ve never heard of them but then again I’m probably not the target audience either. I’ll assume they probably exist on the periphery, along with other unusual but overly sensationalized recreational hobbies – like underwater basket weaving, or curling.

LARPs usually center on a particular story like Game of Thrones or Battlestar Gallactica – to name a few of the more popular ones. They can also center around a particular roleplaying game. The most famous roleplaying game is “Dungeons and Dragons” put out by Wizards of the Coast – and this is the game most people are familiar with when referencing roleplay games. However, LARPs can be based on almost any roleplaying game. Many LARPs are custom designed stories that are made specifically for LARP events. I prefer the games published by White Wolf publishing, which are based in a setting called “World of Darkness” these are all horror stories with various themes – although I also enjoy the Game of Thrones style setting and themes.

Usually, if its a book, TV show, or movie it can be made into a LARP. You just need someone willing to break down the the character types, and decide on a system or rules.  I’d like to note that you don’t actually need rules either, it just makes it easier to resolve conflicts between characters if there is some sort of predetermined method for resolving that conflict.

Once you have a setting you ask people if they would like to play in this LARP – these people are called players or “LARPers”. A small LARP is anywhere from 10 – 15 people.  Most LARPs can range from 20-50 people.  I tend to think more than 50 is my threshold for a large LARP, other (more experienced) LARPers will have different ideas about LARP sizes, this is my basic and serviceable explanation.

Once you have a setting (with or without rules of some sort) and you have players (or LARPers) you need a storyteller. You can call this person anything: gamemaster,  administrator, director, storyteller – the title isn’t important. What is important is that you have at least one person willing to run the game. This role includes producing material about the setting, finding a place to hold the game, and approving or generating characters for people to play. Think of storytellers as part police officer, part movie director – they are there to make sure that the game goes on, that the characters fit in the setting, and that the players have stuff to do. Usually this isn’t just one person but a team of people who work to make sure the LARP event runs smoothly and is fun for everyone.

Once the game, the players, and the storytellers are set — characters are created. Either by the players, the storytellers, or a collaboration of the two. This part is usually pretty creative. It requires taking the time to suss out what kind of character you would have the most fun being. Certain archetypes are common like:

The Tough Guy – I am Billy Bad-ass. I can beat up everyone! Bad guys hate me, the opposite sex loves me, I’m a hero here to save the day. I am the hero in every action movie.

The Prettiest Guy – I am so pretty that when you look at me you are swayed by my words. Everyone does what I say because I have all the pretty. All of them! I am the center of many day-time soap operas.

Funny McTricky-Pants – I am super cunning and funny, because I am super smart. You will never guess all my tactics, because they are just so good. If I had a mustache I would totally twirl it – sometimes I need a mustache. But I will continue to crack jokes instead, because that is easier and way less work. All those cool indie movies you love – totally me.

There are a lot more archetypes – just think of the different types of characters you see in movies and you’ll get a good idea.  Take twenty or so characters made for a particular setting, one set of game mechanics, and at least one person willing to weave it together to form a story for 4-6 hours and you’ve got yourself a LARP.

Pretty neat – huh?


4 thoughts on “What is a LARP?

  1. Pingback: The Pandora Society – Strange & Beautiful Events for Cincinnati & Beyond | Vampires & LARPing at Pandoracon

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