Live Action Roleplay or LARP1 is the illegitimate offspring of tabletop role-play and historical re-enactment. Like roleplay, you need to create a character who will interact with a fantasy world containing monsters, magic and treasure. As with re-enactment, you will need to dress up in period costume and spend the odd weekend running about in a muddy field. There are hundreds of Live Action Roleplay Clubs (henceforth referred to as LARPs) around the country which range from small university-based groups to the infamous Gathering2, which is attended by thousands of LARPers.
Most LARPs use the Dark Ages/medieval setting familiar to players of Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons. Some LARPs use other historical periods as their setting with early 18th Century and Victorian being the most common. Other LARPs - most notably the Camarilla3 - use a modern setting with a fantasy feel and there are also ones which use a sci-fi setting.
- Players - players are the lifeblood of any LARP. They are the people who really bring the plot to life and their actions will determine the outcome of the story.
- Crew - these are the people who do all the hard work. They organise the events, write the plots, play the monsters and generally stop things from becoming too easy for the players. Most LARPs have a few people who are permanent crew5 with the rest of the crew being made up of players who have volunteered to help out at the event. The permanent crew go by all sorts of names; the more polite ones include Storytellers, Adjudicators and Dungeon Masters. For the purposes of this article they are called 'Refs'.
- PCs or Player Characters - these are the creations of the players; they are the heroes and occasional villains of the story. They are the treasure-hunters, the monster-slayers and the rescuers of damsels in distress.
- NPCs or Non-Player Characters - these are the plot-related characters played by the crew. Unlike monsters they aren't always evil. Every LRP event you ever attend in your life will include the following NPCs: comedy peasant, zealous priest, mysterious assassin and rich landowner.
- Monstering - This is where the crew and any players not directly involved in the current plot put on masks or greasepaint, dress up in suitable kit, scream and try to beat up the players. Most of the monsters you'll encounter will be basic orc/goblin types with a few hit points and very few (if any) magical abilities. A small group of first-level monsters will invariably be better at fighting than the fifth-level adventuring party that's just encountered them6.
- IC or In Character - this refers to things that the characters are doing, saying and feeling. You will always be considered 'In Character' unless you make it obvious that you are not.
- OOC or Out of Character - this refers to anything that the players are doing, saying and feeling. Many LARPs have a hand signal7 which is used to indicate that you are currently out of character and some also have 'safe' areas within which you will always be considered OOC. You are also considered Out of Character if you are holding a camera or have bunked off for a quiet smoke8.
- Hit Points or Body Points - this is a measure of how much damage a character can take before being incapacitated. Each LRP will have its own rules for how Hit Points work.
- Time In - this is the 'Ref call' which is used to 'officially' start an event. It is also used to resume the action after a Time Freeze.
- Time Out - this is the call which is used to end an event. This call will not disrupt the IC passage of time before the next event unless the Ref states otherwise.
- Time Freeze - this call is used for things that are supposed to happen instantly IC but the refs have to prepare. All the players have to stand still and close their eyes while the relevant preparations are being made, eg the Refs placing an important item on the table in front of the players. When Time In is called the players can open their eyes and, as far at the PCs are concerned, the item appeared instantly. Anything you see and hear during Time Freeze should be ignored.
- Man Down or Real Damage - this call is used when a player is in distress or badly hurt. All roleplay (especially fighting) in the vicinity should stop immediately, and anybody with first-aid training should check the player out and call an ambulance if necessary.
- Physical Representation or Phys Rep - A Phys Rep is a real item which is used to simulate something the character has on his/her person. Some things, such as costume and weapons, are obvious examples of this. Other things like bandages for healers or spellbooks for magic users are also Phys Reps.
- LARP Safe - this refers to any weapons which are safe to use in LARP combat. See 'Weapons' below for more details.
Types of LARP
Although there are many types of LARP, these are the two most common.
A club type event is basically D&D brought to life; there will be one or more character parties accompanied by a ref who will follow a linear route from encounter to encounter and all the players who are not adventuring at the time will be monstering or playing NPCs. These events are usually very structured with set times for meals and 'dungeons'. Some club types are now following a slightly more free-form style of roleplay, which allows the players to develop more personal plot in between adventures.
Fest type events tend to be a lot more free-form than club types, often with several plotlines happening at once. It is entirely possible to be directly involved in the event's plot; a group9-based plot and your own personal plot at the same time.
Choosing Your LARP Group
The only practical advice that can be offered about this is simply to go with your heart. Just pick the LRP that seems right for you...of course, the ticket price may be more than you'd anticipated and the events may be two hundred miles away, but if the setting feels right then go for it. Most people go to their first LARP with friends who have been playing the system for a while. Their system of choice may not be for you but the first few times will always be easier if there are people you know there already. You never know, the system may grow on you or you may decide to branch out on your own to a LARP which seems better suited to your genre of choice.
Costume and Kit
The style of costume you should wear will largely depend on the individual LARP.
Choosing a basic costume depends on a combination of common sense and the LARPs setting. Obviously a Metallica T-shirt, jeans and trainers would be completely unsuitable for a medieval fantasy LARP10 and conversely a slashed doublet, breeches and hose wouldn't look right in a modern LARP. At its most basic level costume should consist of the following: tunic or shirt, cloak or jacket, trousers, comfortable footwear. If you shop carefully this basic outfit can be used at almost any LARP.
Improving Your Costume
Once you've played a few events you should probably think about accessorising and, again, you should apply a bit of common sense here. A simple belt with leather or canvas pouches will do for most types of LARP except modern day. If you haven't done so already you will also need to get scabbards/holsters for your weapons. A hat can also go a long way to improving the look of your character. Any accessories you get will need to either be quite generic or (in the case of items bought for specific characters) fully complement the rest of the outfit.
After a while you may also want to start looking at improving the costume itself. If you think that waistcoat you saw in the charity shop will go with the rest of the costume, go for it! Every little helps.
Where to Get Costumes
Make it Yourself
If you know your way around a sewing machine (or know someone who does) this is probably the best option for you. As long as you can lay your hands on some basic patterns you will be able to make exactly what items you want for your character without worrying too much about cost or whether you'll be able to get hold of what you're looking for.
The charity shop is the best friend of the LARPer on a budget. Leather waistcoats, plain shirts and velvet jackets can all be found if you keep at it. Even if something isn't strictly in keeping with the period your LARP is set in it only takes a seam-ripper, a pair of scissors and a sewing machine to make a garment that will be suitable.
At one end of the scale you have the traders who cater exclusively for LARPers. Their clothing will often be machine-made, durable and reasonably priced and many of their items are generic enough that they can be used for everything from Dark Ages to post-apocalypse. Be warned however; some traders sell flimsy and often highly-priced goth clubwear as LARP clothing. While this stuff looks good it may not stand up to the stresses of its wearer hurling themselves around a forest and should therefore be restricted to indoor events or non-combative characters.
At the other end of the scale are the traders who make clothing primarily for re-enactors. The items they sell can be very expensive but have two advantages over the cheaper LARP clothing; they are always made of natural fabrics (wool, linen, etc) so they will keep you warm and allow your skin to breathe, and the traders are often willing to make the items to measure at little or no extra cost.
From the humble quarterstaff to the mighty great axe, every character who intends to fight will need a weapon
At the most basic level a LARP-safe weapon is a stick, covered with pipe cladding and bound with black and/or silver gaffer tape. This type of weapon11 is still widely used in the US and some companies even make them professionally. In Europe in particular, weapons have advanced well beyond this basic start. A basic sword will be constructed from a thin, but not too flexible core (usually glass fibre or carbon fibre), which is covered in carved high-density foam. Finally this is painted using coloured latex and the whole thing is finished with flexible clear varnish. Weapons are often highly decorated and will usually have a leather-bound handle for comfort when wielding them. Some weapons are weighted to make them behave more realistically when used in combat. Some manufacturers also make coreless weapons which are specifically designed for throwing or stabbing.
Some manufacturers are moving on to the next stage of evolution and are making weapons using injection-moulded latex instead of high-density foam. This technique allows the weapons to be highly detailed and much more realistic. Unfortunately, the technique is still in its infancy and a decent weapon can be prohibitively expensive.
Buying your Weapons
Like costume, weapons can vary in cost tremendously. A basic 'off-the-peg' sword will normally cost about £40 whereas a highly-decorated custom-made great axe can be as much as £200.
When you are just starting out with LARPing style should always be secondary to cost...certainly, that jewelled rapier12 with matching main gauche13 may look cool, but what if you decide LARPing isn't for you? There are a couple of traders (most notably Eldritch) who specialise in reasonably cheap weapons of standard designs so, while it may not be absolutely perfect, there will always be a weapon out there which will suit your character.
This is often the best way of getting that perfect weapon you want for a favourite character. Be warned, though, this can be time-consuming and if you make a mistake you may have to start again from scratch. On the up side, this is by far the cheapest way of acquiring weapons and you will have complete creative control at every stage of the process.
- Be careful when walking around at night. Many LARP events are held at campsites with plenty of forested areas - a tree stump which is easily avoidable during the day can become a major hazard at night.
- Be aware of your costume and kit. Flowing robes, rigid scabbards and spiky armour all look cool but if you're not careful you could end up injuring yourself or others.
- Always tend to even the smallest of real wounds. A tiny cut may seem insignificant but it can still get infected if you go rolling around in the mud!
- If you see something unsafe, remove it or make others aware of it. While it's very unlikely on a well-maintained site, there's always the possibility that the patch of nice soft undergrowth might be hiding a bit of barbed wire fence or a plank with nails in it.
- Always pull your blows. It's tempting to think to yourself that the weapons won't hurt because they are only made of foam and latex but they do and if you hit someone hard enough you can still injure them.
- Never stab with cored weapons. Stabbing with a cored weapon weakens the tip and eventually the core will start to come through. If this happens you could end up really stabbing somebody.
- Never fight when drunk or over tired. Your judgement, speed and reaction times will all be affected.
- Never fight with broken or otherwise substandard weapons. This is just common sense really...apart from the fact that the weapon won't look as good there's always the chance of the core coming out or a loose part of the weapon catching someone in the eye.
- Avoid your opponent's head and groin. Most LARPs disallow head and groin hits anyway, but it's far too easy to get carried away in the heat of combat.
- Be careful when using ranged14 weapons. Always aim for the torso and only use ranged weapons at night if you have good night vision and are completely confident with using them.
Dos and Don'ts
- Do ask the Refs if you are doubtful about a rule. The other players may be able to help but the Refs will often have better knowledge of the system.
- Do try to get involved as much as you can without getting out of your depth.
- Do make sure your costume and kit are in good repair before each event.
- Do make sure you have plenty to eat and drink if the event is self catering.
- Do have fun!
- Don't keep asking different Refs for a ruling until you get the answer you want to hear. The decision of the first Ref you speak to is final.
- Don't interrupt anybody who is role-playing to speak to them out of character. It's rude and they probably don't need to hear who won the football.
- Don't make your first character in a new system a mysterious introvert (especially if you are new to LARPing). You will find it very difficult to make friends and get involved with the plot if you do.
- Don't bring real-world politics into the game, especially if they are controversial in any way.
- Don't harass people (sexually or otherwise). If they say no – regardless of whether they are saying it in or out of character – accept it.
- Don't over-plan your characters before you play them. It's a lot more fun to let the characters develop through roleplay than to start out with a set of rigid ideas you have to stick to.
If you can get away with it: Flange!
Flanging is possibly the greatest thing available to LARPers. Basically flange is anything which isn't covered by the rules but is cool enough that you can get away with it.
A good example of flange is a powerful mage who walks away from the scene but forgets to pick up his staff. Does he sheepishly go back and collect it? No! He makes some impressive looking gestures, bellows 'Staff, to me!' and an obliging ref or player will put their hand in the air15, pick up the staff and take it to the mage.
Shards LRP - Fantasy LARP with a heavy 17th/18th-Century feel.
Fools and Heroes - Medieval fantasy LARP with branches all over the country.
Lorien Trust - Fantasy LARP which hosts The Gathering as well as many smaller events.
Crimson Requiem - LARP set in a post-apocalyptic Britain.
Maelstrom - Player-led fantasy LARP with an emphasis on politics and trade.
General LARP Sites
Pagga - Messageboards, Wiki and links.
The DIY Guide to LRP - Instructions on how to make everything from cloaks to LARP-safe swords.