Larp is a type of role-playing game in which participants assume a character and acts out fictional scenes. The players interact with each other as their characters, while pursuing game goals and objectives.
Larp game mechanics provide structure for players interactions. Those rules deal with character creation, weapon and combat rules, magic rules and more. Larp organizers (gamemasters) manage the setting, play adversaries, enforces game mechanics and help advance the game story.
LARP is an acronym for “Live Action Role Play”.
The Live action term is borrowed from the cinema industry, where it means the use of human actors instead of animations. In a larp context, it means that human actors are used instead of CGI characters, miniatures, or imagined tabletop RPG characters.
- Live: Human actors instead of computer/RPG characters
- Action: The physical aspect of the game
- Role-Play: It’s a role-playing game
- Larp: The game played
- Larper: A larp player
- Larping: the act of participating in larp
- RD&D (real dungeons & dragons)
- Full contact RPG
- LRP (live role-play)
- Interactive literature
- Freeform role-playing
History and Evolution of larp
Children have been playing make belief since the beginning of time. But the real infancy of larp came with the early role-playing games. Larp emerged and evolved simultaneously in many places at once and no one origin can be traced.
With the growing popularity of tabletop roleplaying games during the 1970s and early 80s, players took their Dungeons and Dragons party outside to the park and added rules to play out the physical parts of it. Soon after it evolved to a game by itself with costumes, props, storylines, rules, and game masters.
In the 1980s, weapon safety standards were slowly adopted and larp games diversified to include many styles such as fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.
With the spread of the internet in the late 1990s, larping communities became more organized and started to grow in numbers, some reaching thousands of members. Most larping groups have an online presence, helping them organize and connect with other players and groups. The 1990s is also when the term larp became widely accepted.
With online shopping, larpers today have access to a multitude of products, ranging from realistic looking foam weapons, real metal armor, props and more. Also online are many guides and tutorials on every aspect of larp.
Now, with the acceptance of fantasy and medieval drama into mainstream culture, with series like Game Of Thrones and Vikings, many join the larp scene.
Larp is booming!
Differences between larps
There are three main categories that can help tell larp games apart:
- Style: Focus on a theatrical play, war games or quest related
- Genre: Story backdrop- Historical, sci-fi, fantasy…
- Mechanics: Rules and resolution system
Larp style describes what aspect of the game will be emphasized during play. Most larp games use a combination of styles, yet one is usually dominant over the others.
- Theatrical: Emphasis on character development and acting
- War game: Emphasis on achieving military objectives
- Quest: Emphasis on following story-lines
Larp genre and setting
LARP game stories are set in fictional settings. The following are the most popular larp genres:
- Science fiction
Some larping games are set in established works of fiction from literature or TV. For example, larp games set in Mordor, King’s Landing or Hogwarts School.
Larp rules and Mechanics
“Many LARPs have game rules that determine how characters can affect each other and the setting. The rules may be defined in a publication or created by the gamemasters. These rules may define characters’ capabilities, what can be done with various objects that exist in the setting, and what characters can do during the downtime between LARP events. Because referees are often not available to mediate all character actions, players are relied upon, to be honest in their application of the rules”.Wikipedia
Freestyle larp games have no rules at all or use only some general guidelines. This theatric game style relies on the ability of the players to spin stories together using only their sense for drama. Because of this, freestyle larp games tend to be less competitive than others, focusing more on the story.
Larp conflict resolution
To resolve conflicts between players, such as fighting, picking pockets or casting spells, larpers use one of two systems or a combination of the two:
- Live action
Live action resolution rules
Players act out their conflict. if it’s a fight, they use foam weapons (boffer) and physically hit each other, while applying larp combat mechanics to resolve the conflict.
What is boffer
Boffer can refer to either safe weapons used for simulated combat, or the act of fighting with those weapons. Boffer weapons and fights are used not only in larp games but also in battle games and martial arts.
Symbolic resolution rules
In this style of larp, players pause the game to determine the outcome of an action by rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors or comparing character skills.
Is larp a sport
Most larp games have a physical side. Full contact fighting, being a dominant one, can be seen as a sport.
Many larpers take martial art classes to improve their fighting skills. Being in shape could help as well. But for many players fighting is not the main attraction in a larp. One can spend an entire larp sitting on a chair and role-playing.
Some larp games provide players the opportunity to play in-game sports. A dueling tournament within a medieval larp game can be considered a larp sporting event.
So is larp a sport? No. Larp is not a sport, but some aspects of larping involve physical activity, such as sword fight. There can also be sports events within larp games.
Is larp dangerous
Larp games that involve full contact combat can be as dangerous as any other full contact sport. Injuries can AND DO happen!
Although larp weapons are foam coated and efforts are being made to reduce risks, accidents do happen. Apart from combat, there is also a lot of running, climbing and other potentially risky activities.
If you participate in larp fights, expect blows from hits, falls and collisions, resulting mostly in scratches. Serious injuries, such as sprains, fractures, fainting, and cuts are rare but do happen. I’ve heard of no larp fatalities.
How old do you have to be to larp
In general, players of all ages can participate in larp events.
Some larp games do have age restrictions for admittance (mostly teens and up), while most larp games only restrict activities to certain age groups, such as fighting for minors. Toddlers and children require in-game parental supervision and teens require parental consent.
Adults also enjoy larping and there are adults of almost all ages in a typical larp.
What’s the difference between larp and cosplay
Google defines cosplay as: “The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime”.
While there sure is dressing up in larps, other aspects of it tend to be as important.
Cosplay focusses mostly on the costumes while larp focuses on other things such as role play, character development, game objectives and more.
LARP vs tabletop role-playing games
Wikipedia describes tabletop RPGs as: “a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters’ actions through speech. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a set formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players have the freedom to improvise; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game”.
On the other hand, players in larp games physically portray characters, improvising their characters’ speech and movements like actors in the theatre.
So what is the difference between larp and tabletop RPGs? In tabletop role-playing games character actions are described verbally, while in larp games character actions are acted out physically.
How many people play in a larp event
Two people are enough to make a larp game work. Most games host dozens – a couple of hundred of players. Some larger events host hundreds and a few games host many thousands.
How much does larping cost
Larp players spend money on their hobby. Most events have an admission fee, costumes should be acquired and one needs food and a place to sleep (if it’s an overnight event).
Although the price ranges vary significantly, larpers mostly spend money on:
- Game tickets
- Weapons and costumes
- Lodging / Camping equipment
- Food and drink