What is LARP

What is LARP?

Immersive story experience, live action roleplaying, or LARP, is an interactive theater experience. It is a community art that allows the participants to plunge themselves into a different world. With a skilled staff and an array of costuming, props, and scenography, an everyday setting becomes the backdrop for an amazing experience.

What is a LARP

Live action role playing, or LARP, or larp, is a collaborative and interactive community art that allows the participants to plunge themselves fully into different worlds or universes. With an array of costuming, props and scenography, this setting becomes the backdrop for a unique and astounding experience. A live action role-playing game is a form of role-playing game or enactments, where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue their characters’ goals and values within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with one another in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus between players. Collaboration is working together to complete tasks that produce a desired result. People come together for the sake of play, relationship and community.

  The first larps were run in the late 1970s, inspired by role-playing games and genre fiction. The activity gained international popularity during the 1980s, and has diversified into a wide variety of styles. Play may be very game-like, or maybe more concerned with dramatic or artistic expression. The fictional genres used vary greatly, from realistic modern or historical settings to fantastic and futuristic eras. Production values are sometimes minimal other times over the top with elaborate venues, props and costumes. Larps can vary in participant size and duration. In addition the intention of the larp by the game designers and community can create varied experiences. The styles of larp could be broken down to three different general categories.

The first category is, Adventure LARPs, Demonstrative LARPs, or Boffer LARPs (mock combat with light touch foam weapons). These larps embody a community going on an adventure together (or just engaging in LARP style mock combat) that can be a single weekend or even a campaign setting that takes place over a number of years. The themes are typically based on the monomyth embracing themes of heroic call, separation, the unknown, temptations, self discovery and return.

The second category is, Parlor LARPs, Theater LARPs, or, Salon LARPs. The goal of these larps is more about the emotional engagement of the participants. In some cases there is no true goal to be obtained other than having experiences with others that you would not in your day to day life. Creating a world for emotional literacies and facing challenges outside of our comfort zones and know scrope of what is possible. These larps can and have been used to address difficult conflicts from history or modern events. Using the literacies of Larp allows us to explore what it means to be human, and ask what insights we can gain from being in each others’ shoes.

The third category is, Live Steel larps, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism(SCA). “These LARPs can range anywhere from being a tournament, for individuals or teams, to thousands of players taking part in a mock war.  Their way of fighting differs from other LARPs because they use real weapons and real armour.

All larps focus on a variety of elements of the immersive world, from story to skill to craft. The real difference is in the tools used to create the fictional world. One of the biggest differences is the situational environment or platform from which the larp is built.

To understand larp design let’s consider a dual axis chart. The two axis show the extremes to which larps can be categorized based on what the larp provides their players with to complete objectives. We will call the two axis, for this exercise, The Player Game Play Mechanical Axis and The Environmental Game Play Axis. The Game Play Mechanical Axis is made up of Embodied Resolution on one end of the spectrum and Synthetic Resolution on the other.

Embodied Resolution in an Adventure LARPs typically us mock live combat with the aid of simulated foam weapons. It is a world with the option for battle and consequences that are expressed through a direct somatic interaction. This creates emotional and physical immersion. Excellent for creating a living fantasy adventure environment. The down side is one’s player abilities may not match that of their character abilities. For example, perhaps I just can’t battle as fast as the nimble rouge I’m playing with a rapier. I just don’t possess those skills in real life. This can create contestants around the type of characters one can play in the genres of the larp.

Synthetic Conflict Resolution on the other end of the mechanical axis is based on role play, dice, cards, or other similar methods to resolve conflict and character actions. Although this method allows for more flexibility than live combat, it is meddlesome because it removes participants away from the action. This extracts the player from having an immersive experience. The upside is that one doesn’t have to perform one’s character abilities, thus I can explore being an amazing fenecer even though I’m not.

The Environmental Game Play Axis is about the Player versus Environment or Player versus Player. Commonly known as PvE or PvP. As a note the term PvP is used in video game lingo to define a game where players are in conflict with each other at all times. The PvP we are talking about here is different.

PvE is commonly an adventure style of play. In PvE the players tend to be united as a whole under one community goal while being faced with the conflicts from bad guys, monsters, puzzles, and traps provided by the game masters and staff of the event.

PvP is a game environment where the players have conflict amongst them. Their motivations as well as the narrative of the game focus on player interactions. For example, there may be a larp where one group is playing an oppressed community during a war, while the other group is playing the suppressors, while another group is politically stuck in the middle of this conflict.

One could even add a third axis, creating a matrix graft. Consider the event location, weather, and logistical elements such as food and shelter. If one was to be at a larp in the tundra it would be very different than a larp in the desert. Just as a larp in a real castle would be dramatically different than a larp on a navy vessel. These elements can play into larp design as well.

Larp design can vary and may include only one, two, or three axis outlined here, with a multitude of variations. In addition there are other elements not discussed here in full. For example we have not covered the intentions that players of the larp bring into the game and how this adds additional axis’ to the design of a larp. Question to ask here could be, how much information players have coming into the larp from larp designers, are players meeting beforehand discussing ideas about the larp experience to come, how much agency do the players have or not in the game design experience at the event site? Larp design is a major role in the intention, values and experiences of the larp. It is a community web that creates a larp environment.