What's in a LARP?

by Frances Moritz

I have, on multiple occasions, been the clueless "normal" person in a world with magic and superhumans; once at a Camarilla gathering. I have twice been accused of witchcraft in Salem. The first time, I was innocent - you don't need witchcraft to poison three husbands - and guilty the second. The first time was more fun: the voices in my head told me to kill the bad guy, so I stabbed him during my trial. (I said I wasn't a witch; I didn't say I was sane.) I spent more than half an hour crawling around, list, in the mines of Whately's Mesa, as we rejected assistance from the "ghosts" who offered to lead us out, but not forward. And despite sore knees, I crawled through the three levels of mines again after the game to try the slide at the end. In a delightful Dungeons & Dragons based game, I learned the ins and outs of the third edition spells as my chaotic evil devil looked up the Desecrate spell and asked the gamemaster where the paladin's temple was located. It all started, for me, that is, with thwacking monsters with my mighty (foam) sword in the world of Cuckoo's Nest.

LARPing, or Live Action Role-Playing, has many variations. The best known are "boffer" LARPs and White Wolf's Mind's Eye Theatre, but there are many LARPs, both one-shot and on-going , set in any number of worlds; and even dungeon crawls, which focus on problem solving with role-playing as an optional part.

"Boffer" LARPS, such as NERO and (parts of) Cuckoo's Nest, involve foam weaponry and the opportunity to release some stress through sword fighting. The weapons must meet certain safety standards and can be made by the players or purchased. They tend to have well-established worlds with on-going plotlines that can easily accomodate an influx of new players.

Mind's Eye Theatre, White Wolf's live action world, is widespread throughout major cities. The system is plot-oriented, tending towards social politics, and well-known for the use of Rock-Paper-Scissors for the resolution of confrontations. This simple game is used for everything from combat encounters to mental challenges between characters, keeping the focus on the on-going plotline.

Due to time constraits, I rarely play in on-going LARPS; I tend more towards one-shot adventures run by local groups or at conventions. Whichever the location, you generally receive a pregenerated character designed for the specific plotline. At a convention game, you pick the character on-site and rush to familiarize yourself with your character background. At non-convention games, you frequently comlpete a questionnarie designed to pair you up with a character you will enjoy playing, and receive the character a few days before the game. Due to ambiguous wording on one such questinonaire, I was once woefully miscast as a gloomy villain in an infamiliar setting; the re-telling of the game led me to tell a friend that "I'd rather be a perky sort of evil." (And I certainly proved that a few months later as a chaotic evil devil.)

One-shot LARPs have an incredible range of worlds to choose from. Any setting is fair game, from alternate versions of historic events, to live action incarnations of our favorite tabletop games, to corruptions of Hollywood's finest (from fandom's perspective) shows and movies, to worlds generated by the gamemaster. They generally support fifteen to twenty-five players, though I've seen them as small as six ( The Curse of Whately's Meddling Kids) and as large as fifty. LARPs take a lot of effort to prepare on the part of the gamemaster, particularly the ones that are prop intensive, and can take a lot of effort on the part of the player to research the world or setting and costume appropriately. Having been on both ends of the preparation work, I think it's well worth the experience. That said, I have a LARP to prepare for... I'm a "meddling kid" this year.

Liked this article? Hated it? Have questions? Discuss it in our Forums, or tell us directly.

Copyright 2004-2005 The Lady Gamer. All rights reserved.