It's at least as cool as it looks.
"And so LARPing was born! Dignity died shortly thereafter."
LARP stands for Live-Action Role-Play
. It's like role playing, but instead of sitting around a table and describing what your character is doing, you generally actually get up and do it (or act it out). Think of it as cross country improv theatre.
LARPing has multiple sub-genres. In the US, these include Boffer (which generally includes actually swinging padded weapons at one another) and Theater (which is generally based around pre-written characters accomplishing social and political goals, with combat frequently represented by abstract mechanics. Theater LARPing also goes by a variety of other names.) It should be noted that most boffer games also include a fair amount of roleplaying and that logic puzzles also play a large role in both types.
In Europe, LARP usually sits between these genres, mixing character development and role-playing with combat. Weapons are far more realistic than their American counterparts, manufactured using latex-covered foam, or harder, unpadded plastic in some systems; consequently, the style of combat includes taking care not to hit too hard; some variant on "Pull your blows" is a standard rule.
In Democratic Russia
, LARP is often indistinguishable from historical reconstruction, not that anyone but hardass living-history types (and, more importantly, Jerk Jocks
who are in historical reenactment for the fighting) tries to enforce the distinction much. There is a huge sliding scale
, from theater RP, where the absolute worst thing that can IRL
happen to you is a rubber knife somewhere uncomfortable
, to buhurt
-style faintly-story-driven mass violence, broken bones included.
The main distinction of ex-USSR LARP scene lies in players' attitude. Around one third of the players treat it as combat sport with lots of DIY. Other two thirds are composed of teenage counterculture wannabees who are in it for the chicks, said chicks, escapists (mostly teenage, though there are quite a few more mature players) and plain old fantasy
Ex-USSR LARP Weapons are made from aviation-grade glass-fiber plastic, running-track rubber, duraluminum
, reforged leaf springs, PVC piping and hardwood, with repurposed sports implements and furniture parts considered a thing of shameful past and frowned upon. Western-style padded weapons are slowly gaining ground in the ex-USSR, but many people still view them as "sissy" and "cowardly" and limit their use to players below the age of maturity (and thus unable to give consent to broken bones). The "pull your blows" rule either only applies to unarmored targets or is absent altogether, and wearing armor is considered the manly way to avoid traumatism. Likewise, armor has evolved from cardboard, wood and plastic to complex sets of canon-accurate gear tailored to a specific setting, historically-accurate getups brought over from living history and historical combat (which are either past or future hobbies of more than half of LARPers around this parts), sports\hidden armor kits, replicating the construction pinciples of ballistic armor with DIY-store materials, and wide use of fencing, motorcycling and other off-the-shelf protective gear.
Worthwhile games are either multi-day (up to a week) forays into the wild, far from any civilisation, with a large part of baggage being vodka (no, really — and this applies to LARP worldwide, not just Russia!), or sizeable social events with elaborate costumes and convoluted plotlines
held in university ballrooms.
Settings are often some variant of the standard fantasy setting (of varying levels of "yeah, we nicked this straight out of The Silmarillion
"), possibly with a dash of Alternate History
, or taken directly from a popular RPG.
LARPs have their own set of common tropes, including some form of Closed Circle
or Enclosed Space
(which give players an excuse to stay in game even if their character's smartest option would be to leave) and Time Travel
(regardless of genre.) However, the largest LARP events (sometimes called "fests", for festivals), who host thousands of players, occur on large swaths of land, which gives players space to flee while remaining in the game.
LARP, especially boffer LARP, is considered one of the easy targets of nerddom. This is mainly due to the widespread popularity of the "Lightning bolt" video on YouTube
, which features boffer combat in all its anarchic "foam weapons and spell packets" glory. Strangely, LARP makes an easier target among
nerds than outside of geekdom. The occasional small-press article on LARPing is usually sympathetic, and Role Models
, while pointing out the inherent goofiness of LARP, still treats it as a great way for people to socialize and build confidence. On the other hand, the "Lightning bolt" video is usually circulated around message boards and geek-oriented blogs, often as a way of saying, "I may be a nerd, but
In several European countries, LARP is viewed in a different light. Especially in the Nordic countries, LARP is increasingly considered Serious Business
. While your milage may always vary, LARP is creeping into the realm of the mainstream. For example, there are more Danish kids participating in LARPs (often school or daycare related) than there are kids in football
clubs and a popular LARP-show
is aired on Danish national television (and exported to Sweden) . The inter-nordic "Meating Point" or "Node"
convention in particular strive to advance LARP as a medium in many ways, and serious academical papers on LARP is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.
- AIR Maelstrom - An alternate-earth Steampunk-themed LARP based in Atlanta, GA, by lead writer G.D. Falksen, lead designer Chris Dodson, and many others at Hatboy Studios. Makes use of nerf guns as well as traditional foam swords, but also features robust economic and social systems for those not as keen on battle, and is well balanced between different player interests. Storylines are set up by the staff but players are highly encouraged to participate in the storymaking process. Also, airships!
- Belegarth - A very closely-related group which spun off from Dagorhir, focusing mainly on the boffer combat aspect but still maintaining subtle RP element.
- The Darkon Wargaming Club - A central Maryland and Northern Virginia based medieval fantasy Sword and Sorcery boffer style LARP. Founded in 1985 and built upon the rules of the now-defunct Emarthnguarth Outdoor Wargaming System, Darkon grew from a handful of LARP enthusiasts to almost 2,000 members in 2005, with a small number of chapters dotting the country.
- Dystopia Rising: Takes place after a Zombie Apocalypse
- Accelerant - Formerly the nTeraction system, and forms the core ruleset for several New England-based LARPs (a few of which are listed below). Developed by Robert Ciccolini.
- The Calling
- Seven Virtues
- Adventurers Wanted : Medeval High Fantasy LARP in East, Central Pensylvania
- Eras Chronicals :Medeval Low Fantasy LARP newly relocated to a site near Montrose Pensylvania
- Knight Realms: A high fantasy LARP which owns its own 200 acre camp in Sparta, New Jersey. It rents the land to other area LARPs including"
- Dystopia Rising
- Realm of Adventure
- Wayfinder Experience, a mainly upstate New York based LARP camp. Falls somewhere in between Boffer and Theatre, depending on the camp.
- Westfinder, a rules-lite LARPing community in California's Bay Area.
- Adventuez, the Philadelphia offshoot of the above two
- Uncharted Horizons, a smaller group in the area with many of the same people which split off after internal conflicts
- Lorien Trust/The Gathering - one of the largest in Britain, it is a High Fantasy system using high-quality rubber weaponry.
- Curious Pastimes - Originally the same gameworld as the Gathering, there was a split after disagreements between the organisers. Now very different and more deadly, whilst still being the same style of LARP.
- Profound Decisions run large-scale fest LARPs in the UK.
- Maelstrom, a colonial-era fantasy fest, ran for nine years
- Odyssey, a Time of Myths - era system
- Empire, a classic fantasy setting, with orcs, wizards, etc.
- Minds Eye Theater: The White Wolf LARP system. Organizations within the system include
- The Garou Nation
- Isles of Darkness
- One World By Night
- City of Resonance
- Beyond the Sunset
- NERO (New England Roleplaying Organization) - Originally one system, but internal schisms have resulted in NERO International and Alliance, formerly NERO Alliance. This system or ones inspired by it are what most Americans think of when asked about Fantasy LARPs. As well as the main Heroic Fantasy style, at least one branch has also run games of a Dark Fantasy bent and some games based on the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Besides the Alliance other LARPs springing from NERO include
- LIONE (Living Imagination Of New England) Rampant
- SOLAR (Southern Organization for Live Action Reenactment)
- Fanwar (Fantasy Warplay) is another Long Runner, having existed since the early 1980s as a more accessible version of Dagorhir. The rules are based mainly on a combination of NERO and (strangely enough) Magic: The Gathering.
- The Realms - a New England-based community-run fantasy boffer LARP.
- Squadra dei Falchi di Gradara (Band of the Hawks of Gradara) - an Italian fantasy/medieval/renaissance/steampunk kitchen sink LARP set in the eponymous town. Unrelated to Berserk.
- Systems Malfunction: A small science-fiction LARP played in/around Westchester County NY. Unique in that it emphasizes both Boffer & Spacket combat and Theater-style role-playing & goal structure.
- Relkin: A small low-fantasy boffer LARP run in New York State.
- "Murder mystery games", either at parties or special dinner events, are a semi-mainstream variant.
- Treasure Trap - One of the oldest LARP groups in the UK, beginning in the 1970's. The original system is now defunct but student spin-offs are still running in Durham and Cambridge.
- IFGS: The International Fantasy Gaming Society, inspired by the Larry Niven and Steve Barnes Dream Park series.
- Skullduggery. A medium sized LARP based in the south east of England who have been featured on British TV several times, most notably when Dara O'Brien tried his hand at LARP for the Tough Gig series.
- The Society For Creative Anachronism, or SCA is not a LARP and calling it one is bound to press someone's Berserk Button but deserves mention here because many of the roots of LARPing lie in it and there is substantial membership crossover. The same goes for Renaissance Faires.
- Model United Nations has been described—including on its page—as LARPing in suits and getting away with calling it "an educational activity." In all fairness, MUN involves a lot less fighting between characters—although there's usually a lot of backstabbing all the same.
- Krigslive("War LARP") is a Danish Warhammer-inspired LARP series currently nearing the 7th game. Examples here and here.
- Conquest of Mythodea, Germany's largest recurring LARP, possibly the biggest in the world.
- Drachenfest, the second largest annual event in Germany.
- Labyrinthe, a high-fantasy system run mainly in Chislehurst Caves for literal dungeon-crawling.
- Tol-Galen, a mid-low fantasy LARP system native to the channel Islands and parts of Manchester, with themes varying by chapter. The Guernsey chapter's setting is quite possibly the most pop-culture saturated LARP in existence with an unusual atmosphere that bounces between tongue-in-cheek comedy, genre deconstruction and in many cases psychological horror. It uses the same equipment and maintains some links with the Lorien Trust system mentioned above. It operates via tavern evenings (In-depth, noncombat/combat-lite sessions that focus on intrigue and character development) and adventures (sessions at various sites with a heavy focus on combat and puzzle solving, usually working through scripted encounters in a linear or branching order, mainly due to monster crew constraints. Overall gameplay is NPC/plot-crew driven and skirmish based.
- Tales of the Crystals, a product of the '90s that was essentially an at-home LARP for young girls. The game provided four player character roles with unique powers and responsibilities, various props, a list of NPCs and places to visit, a cassette tape that guided players through four different adventures, and a journal for recording the highlights of each adventure.
- Swordcraft, a fantasy LARP based in Melbourne, Australia. Promises "as much or as little roleplaying as you want".
- Hobbitskiye Igrischa (Rus. "The Hobbit Games") are the stereotypical post-Soviet LARP event, the oldest long-running LARP series which started back in the halcyon days of the USSR. They are a yearly event loosely based upon the world of Arda by J.R.R.Tolkien and various plots from its history. The rest is vodka, traumatism, total lack of seriousness and plot driven by inter-team warfare.
- Otakon has the Otakon LARP, a Theatre-style LARP which has been going on for decades.
- Katsucon has the Katsucon LARP/Katsu LARP, which runs on a modified version of the G Otaku system with the blessing of the previous LARP staff.
- In general, many sci-fi/fantasy cons feature LARP modules.
- The second arc of Powers, "Roleplay," deals with a college LARP group that pretend to be superheroes (in a universe that actually has superheroes) complete with "calls to action" from the rooftops. Things start to go horribly, horribly wrong...
- The Larry Niven and Steven Barnes series Dream Park, which was something of a Trope Codifier for the medium.
- In The Dresden Files short story "It's My Birthday Too", the action takes place in a mall that's been rented for a LARP very similar to Minds Eye Theater. Ironically one of the people in it is Thomas, Harry's brother who is a vampire.
- Honor Harrington is a member of the SCA, though her branch deals with reenacting the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her skill with present-day pistols becomes a plot device in Field of Dishonor and Honor Among Enemies.
- Many founding members of the Portland Protective Association in S. M. Stirling's Emberverse series were originally SCA members.
- Unexpectedly Older Than Radio: Perhaps the oddest example is found in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. In the first chapter the girls reminisce about having created what was essentially a dungeon crawl based on Pilgrim's Progress.
- Dagmar, the heroine of Walter Jon Williams' This is Not a Game and Deep State produces ARGS, Augmented Reality Games, which contain elements of both LARPs and MMPORGs for a living.
- In Cory Doctorow's Little Brother the hero is a former LARPer
- A super hero LARPing group appear in Season 1, Episode 12 episode of Bones. Booth and Brennan each compare the other to one of them (specifically to the victim of the week).
- The victim of the week was found by a group of LARPers on a convention-run game in The Princess & The Pear.
- One of the Geeks in a season of Beauty And The Geek. In fact his was the pairing that won that season.
- The Winchesters are accused of being such in Supernatural.
- And then they end up engaging in it in "LARP and the Real Girl," when something gets loose at a LARP and starts killing the players. By the end, Dean's gotten into the spirit of things.
- An episode of Good Luck Charlie titled "LARP in the Park" has Teddy falling for a teen, but discovers that he's into LARPing... and she gets roped into one of their sessions.
- A group very similar to the SCA features in an episode of House
- Glen, a LARPer and the nephew of the title character of FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman is a recurring character and in his debut episode runs the episode as a LARP. Because it's a kids show however there's no physical conflict, just a series of logic puzzles (which are also often featured in real LARPs)
- iCarly: Aruthor (Spencer's 'avatar') and Aspartamay's (Jack Black's character's 'avatar') battle, combined with spoofed references from MMORPG like Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft.
- Anya in Degrassi is a LARPer. She even gets her boyfriend to join in on it.
- In one episode, Rick Castle mentions a group he once researched for a book that roleplays fairy tale characters, although none of them appear in the episode, which revolves around women being murdered and found dressed up as fairy tale heroines.
- Another episode features a "zombie run".
- One episode had a character played by Mitch Pileggi who was suspected of murder and was thought to be a spy later. He didn't realize his arrest was a real thing because he was LARPing.
- In the shortlived MTV series The Phone contestants were given a situation (example plunged into the middle of an undercover cop's plan to bust a Mafia family) and run through a series of tasks they had to perform. At the end one contestant was given the choice to share the reward with their partner or keep it all to themself so there was even some roleplaying.
- In the series Great Escape teams of paired contestants, imprisoned in varying scenarios (Alcatraz, a mental institution etc) have to go through four levels while solving mental and physical challenges, evading guards and picking up keys and equipment..
- The series Cult has already depicted a number of LARPers of the Show Within a Show.
- ABC show The Quest is basically LARPing meets reality television.
- A Hawk and a Hacksaw's music video for "Cervantine" depicts a LARP sword battle, and plays it up for maximum Mundane Made Awesome-ness.
- The video for Turisa's "Battle Metal 08" features fan contributions from what looks like a LARP
- In Transhuman Space this is how Lunar kids spend their time, since they can easily reform Lunar City's smart buildings into whatever environment is appropriate, and don't have realtime access to the Earth-based Net games.
- Tai of Questionable Content combines this with Flash Mob for interesting results.
- ''Geebas On Parade'' is all about this and is based on the experiences of creator Jennie Breeden in both NERO and SOLAR. Her half-orc character has also appeared in her other strip The Devil's Panties.
- The protagonists in Weregeek participate in a Minds Eye Theater vampire LARP and, less often, a fantasy boffer LARP. In one arc they also inadvertently stumble into a horror LARP without knowing it. Then they joined a werewolf Minds Eye Theater game. Then came an arc that took place during a SCAdian style weekend. Then it was revealed that the entire Hunter/Geek war was an elaborate LARP. To mixed fan reaction.
- PvP has an arc where the magazine's staff decides to engage in a boffer LARP as part of a company picnic. They end up sharing a park with Civil War re-enactors, which leads to some "who's dorkier" tension.
- And then they run into some Trekkies, and a pie fight breaks out.
- Some of the trolls in Homestuck enjoy an "Extreme Role Playing" system called FLARP, which tends to have much higher risks and potential real-life consequences than normal LARPing. Most of them stopped roleplaying after couple of them had "accidents" and the game descended into a downward spiral of revenge that left one of them crippled from the waist down, one of them blind, one of them lacking one eye and one arm, and one of them a ghost. Aka dead. Later revealed to be an odd example of Generation Xerox – most of the trolls are basically FLARPing as their own ancestors.
- The cast of Something Positive have spent plenty of time engaging in various LARPs, predominantly Steampunk-esque ones. In fact, some of the popular minor characters (such as Spooky) appear almost exclusively in the LARP-related arcs.
- Adam Barrett of Boomer Express is into roleplaying and once bested Vikki at a Renaissance Faire fencing tournament.
- The level of manliness is quantified when someone receives a scar from a LARPing sword fight in this comic from Statistical Fact.
- In Penny Arcade, Gabe and his son get into LARPing on occasion, to Tycho's disapproval.
- Motorcity: Chuck is part of a group that does this, but then two members of their party go missing for real. The group seems to view Chuck as their Fake Ultimate Hero.
- There are a few episodes of South Park revolving around LARPs, such as "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers", "Lil' Crime Stoppers", and the Coon and Friends and Black Friday trilogies, plus the upcoming video game South Park: The Stick of Truth.
- Henchman 21/Gary from The Venture Bros. Took a Level in Badass between season 3 and 4 after the death of his best friend, Henchman 24, in part by training with a LARP group, the "Orchard Street Wolf Pack."
- An episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) involved the turtles LARPing, only to get caught up in a real fantasy quest. There's even a set of action figures based on the guys' fantasy personas, with "Live Action Role Play" right on the labels.