In its most basic form, role-playing is all about taking part in a story; rather than simply reading a book or watching a movie, you participate and build the story for yourself and others playing with you. This can be done sitting around a table with a bunch of papers and dice, setting up battles with miniatures, getting in costume and acting it out, or sitting at a computer.
In its most real form, role-playing is about getting together with a bunch of your friends and kicking serious monster-butt, all while explaining how this fits into your character's motivations and goals.
If you have heard of or played any of the 'table-top' role-playing games (such as Dungeons and Dragons, Rune Quest or Earthdawn), you will have some idea of what role-playing is about. Live Action Role-play (or LARP) is like writing your own part in a play. You invent a character within a given background and get together with other people doing the same thing. You decide who or what you want to be, make some costumes, find, make or buy some props, and join the increasing number of LARPers who spend their weekends away at local, national and international events.
Events are where groups of characters get together, use their imagination and some background information (the world they live in, the places they come from, the people they might represent), and have fun living in an imaginary world. For some it's the world of vampires or Cthulu, for others it's Tolkien or Dragonlance.
Events can be political, social or military, and can differ in size. Unlike a historical re-enactment using authentic weapons, LARP uses only mock weapons. These are heavy enough to fight with, but only imitate real weapons. The smallest events may have 50 characters and 50 monsters, while the largest may involve several thousand people.
At many events you may have the chance to 'monster' rather than 'play', and this is usually free or very cheap. At events the players form units who come together under factions, and they may encounter all sorts of creatures. They may be at war with another faction, or their lands may be overrun by an invading army or monsters - vampires, for instance, or trolls, wild fey, orcs or goblins.
At each event, people are needed to dress up in costume (a mask and some kit is usually supplied) to play 'the other side'. These 'monsters' are not always evil, and are certainly not always stupid, but they can add real excitement to any event. Coupled with the fact that it is often fun to relax and just ambush your friends on the other side, monstering can be a good introduction to events and give you an idea of what is involved and how it all works.
The Lorien Trust is one of the organisations which runs fantasy Live Action Role-play events in the UK. Characters are taken from event to event, and take on a life of their own.
To generate a character for this system you have 17 points to allocate to skills. You must initially decide which 'race' your character belongs to (eg, human, elf, drow, orc, fey, and so on) and whether you intend to play as a combat or non-combat character - there are plenty of both. What skills your character has depends on what sort of thing you want to be. Each skill is worth a number of points, and you can choose various skills up to a total of 17 points.
For example, you could play a mermaid healer character, who spends a lot of time crewing and captaining boats in dragon waters. She could take a one-handed weapon (1 point), some light armour (2 points), some literacy (1 point), some shield use (2 points), 9 points-worth of healing, some numeracy (free), small weapons (free) and a Lore skill, the ability to make and read maps... She could be a combat character who has worked for the Chancellor of Erin.
A more specialist fighter character might take body development (6 points), which means they are tougher, or heavier armour, which means it takes more to 'kill' them. Anyone interested in playing a magic user has a variety of combinations available. If you want to play a clerical character you would take some level of incantation; a mage would take some measure of spellcasting. You could decide that you want to be a ritualist, and take ritual magic alongside either incantation or spellcasting. There is a detailed breakdown of the rules and skills in The Lorien Trust Handbook.
The Dragons are a faction (equivalent to a nation) in the gameworld of Erdreja. There are others, too - harts, wolves, vipers, lions, bears, gryphons, unicorns, jackals and tarantulas. These factions make up the nations of the heartlands (which have great similarities with Europe) and, like the nations of the real world, each has a very different culture. Although there is some slight variation, it would be fair to say that the setting is late Dark Ages - Early Medieval. In Erdreja, however, things are never that simple! Some characters seem to revel in the distant past, and a few have arrived from the future!
The Dragon Faction is a Celtic nation set in the Dark Ages. Dragons live in the lands of Erin and Cymrija. If you've read any Celtic mythology (the Mabinogi or any of the Irish cycles), are interested in the Celts, or like Bernard Cornwell or Katharine Kerr, this may be a good place to start. You don't have to come from the culture - there could even be a Roman or two to argue with! But if you'd enjoy the environment - join the dragons.
The other factions all have their own approximate identities, and you are not restricted in choosing which faction to join. The vipers are known for their 'greenskins' - they're not all green, but this is where you'll find the goblins, orcs, ogres and trolls. They are based in Teutonia.
At the other extreme you have the harts. They are a very Medieval and courtly faction (very English!). Known for drinking tea and eating cake, they are ruled by Queen Elspeth and her consort. They replaced the lions as rulers of Albion, the lions travelling through the mists to the magical realms of Avalon. Arthurian legend abounds both within the lions and in the harts.
The unicorns are a trading nation. They are the merchants, the privateers and (it is often rumoured) the pirates. The gryphons inhabit the realm of Estragales to the south, and are home to the Elven Alliance.
Our wilder cousins, the bears, live to the north. They are a kilt-wearing nation (think Highlanders), known for hunting the haggis over the mountains of Caledonia! They are ruled by a triumvirate of Queens, and are rumoured to be a most hospitable faction. Over the northern seas are the wolves, known for their fearsome army and feats of drinking. Their Viking lands cover Norsca and Orkneyja.
The jackals are a new faction, who are based in Aegyptus.
Finally, there are the tarantulas. This is where you will find a lot of drow (think 'Forgotten Realms'), and their lands lie beneath the surface, in the Underdark. The extent of their realm is unknown. They are led by a Council of Matron Mothers.
The majority of LARP events are held in the open air, either on private land or on campsites hired for the weekend, so you would need to own or share a tent. Winter events are often held in youth hostels or scout camps. As well as a tent, the important things are a decent sleeping-bag, and a decent pair of comfortable, waterproof boots - there is nothing more miserable than being cold and wet!
The weather is unpredictable in the UK, and even the hottest of summer days can turn chilly at night. A variety of clothing and costume is a good idea. You don't need to worry about spending a lot of money on costumes, or making a vast amount, but a variety of plain clothes that you can wear in layers under a cloak or tabard means you'll be warm when you need to be. A basic costume could be a cowl and a cloak. Avoid any modern clothing with distinctive logos and slogans. Often valued more highly than any other piece of kit is a decent belt. Swords, tankards and pouches can all hang from them, and they often prove a necessity.
If you're not sure whether you'll enjoy LARP, stick to something improvised from your wardrobe, or something quickly and cheaply made, and work on improving your costume later. At many events there are traders who sell weapons and all sorts of other kit (costume, props, etc.), and this can give you ideas.
As far as weapons are concerned, attempt to borrow a safe sword from friends. These weapons and mock-ups can be made with a carbon fibre core, surrounded by padding, shaped and then either covered in gaffer tape or painted with many layers of coloured latex. All weapons must meet certain safety standards, and are checked at each event to ensure the highest possible level of safety for all involved. You don't have to fight in the battles; many do enjoy it, but no one will think the worse of you if you are apprehensive.
In and Out of Character
The first thing to realise is that at the majority of events the day is divided into periods of 'Time In' and 'Time Out'. This is time 'In Character' (IC) and time 'Out of Character' (OOC). Even when events are billed as '24 Hour Time In', there is often a lull when the fighting stops so that people can get some rest. At any point in the day (unless you're up to your neck in plot!) you can go back to your tent and relax. Most people find that they are so interested and involved in what is happening that they don't spend much time in their tents, but it's reassuring to know that you can take some time out and rest.
Anyone who has a medical condition that may affect them (eg asthma or diabetes) must register this when booking a place so that arrangements can be made and staff are aware of any potential difficulties. There are always first-aiders on site, and if you are in any form of distress approach any member of staff, referees or other players. People come first, and the LARP community is generally very helpful.
These vary from site to site, and from event to event. The bare minimum is running water and toilet facilities. Other sites have showers available, although it does seem to be down to pot luck as to whether you get hot water throughout your shower. The sites are usually chosen so that there are areas of shelter if the weather turns really bad, and often fire pits are provided. There are to be no other fires, but camping cooking equipment is fine as long as it used safely. Many events have some catering facilities, with hot drinks and some hot food available. It is always best to be sure you have plenty of food with you. Some sites are near supermarkets, and people often go off site for a hot breakfast before 'Time In'.
The scenario for an event is often given in a description of the event. Within the faction there is an IC Command Group of players, usually those most experienced and with a considerable character history, who OOC often take responsibility for faction level plot, liaising with the Lorien Trust and event staff. At each event you will have referees following groups of players through the plot, to see that people are playing by the rules and that certain events happen. There are referees for both players and monsters. They are also there to maximise the safety of all involved.
What happens next depends on what is plotted for an event and how the Players react to it. Expect to be awake at strange hours - there are often opportunities for those interested to be involved into the early hours of the morning. A typical Time In is 10am or midday. At the end of an event, Time Out will be declared, and you can then relax and pack up your kit and tent, and say goodbye to friends, and leave the site in a decent state. Often you have to be off site by a certain time.
Fighting and Spell-casting
Each character has a certain number of hits per location. If they are hit on a location during combat, they reduce the number of hits that location has left, until it drops to zero, when that location becomes useless. Obviously, depending on the location, this is more or less crippling. Most wounds can be healed by an IC Healer, but if you are in a bad way in the head/chest region and don't get healed within ten minutes, your character dies. If this happens you can go to the referees and roll up a new character there and then.
Different weapons do different types of damage and have different effects, and when someone has a special weapon they have to call out something every time they use it, for example 'silver' or 'blunt' or 'enchanted'. You'll get the hang of these calls: certain things affect certain beings, and there is some guidance available in the Players' Guide or the Dragons Combat Guide.
Spells are done with vocalisation and gestures. You get a certain number of spells per day, and at most events you are issued with spell cards which you must rip up every time you use a spell. You cannot carry spells over to the next day: each dawn you are assumed to have fresh power for that day. Healers use different numbers of spell cards depending on the type of injury they are healing. Again, see The Lorien Trust Rules for a full description. Referees are particularly helpful in these areas.
There are a number of 'calls' that are yelled out during combat situations. The most important of these is 'Man Down'. This is a call for OOC aid when someone is in distress or has been inadvertently injured. Anyone in genuine distress can call out, and everyone takes this seriously. If you ever hear this, cease fighting and let people through to help whoever is involved - it's common sense, really.
Another call is 'Time Freeze', and this is to allow something to happen. Sometimes it is necessary to yell 'Time Out' (this often happens with a 'Man Down' call). If this should happen, 'Time In' will be called when everyone is ready again.
This is only a summary, and there are a lot of links to other resources on the Internet from the Resources section of the edelphia website.
While on h2g2 we have Running a Live Action Role Playing at a Gaming Convention.