What is LARP*?

As mentioned previously, I LARP (live-action roleplay). My wife tried to explain what LARPing was to one of her friends without perfect success, so I’m sharing my description here for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know what LARP is or wants ideas for how to explain it to others. Remember that moment when you’re watching a suspenseful film and the lead character is about to do something you think no sensible person would do? LARP is a way of finding out that you would do lots of daft things in the same situation without actually getting murdered. For a longer – and potentially more helpful – thought, read on.

One would have had to have had an unusual childhood never to have played some form of let’s pretend with friends, whether it was ‘Cowboys and Indians’, ‘Disney Princesses’, or my own favourite ‘N-Dimensional Rugosity’. And one would have had to have had an equally unusual childhood for there never to have been a dispute about whether or not someone shot, married, or polar transformed another. Roleplaying games are a way of taking the joy of being the characters from your favourite type of story rather than just reading/watching the stories, and adding a method of resolving questions over whether something happens or not.

©James JonesCC BY

These methods can be anything from a simple random test (such as picking a coloured bead from a bag, with each colour representing either success or failure) to a system that accounts for what a character is good or bad at and how hard a task is (such as rating a character’s ability at everything on a numerical scale then rolling a number of dice inversely proportional to how hard something is and counting the number of results lower than the character’s ability as the level of success).

Live-action roleplaying is roleplaying while wearing super swanky duds rather than just sitting around a table imagining one is the character.

And, like stories, some roleplaying games are played as a single session (for example, a game based around a dinner party where the players try to identify the murderer) and some are played as a series of sessions (for example, a group of pirates and other free-spirits start a settlement on a new island and each week/month/&c. have adventures). The second type of game often has a method of determining how characters develop over time (so people can learn new skills, obtain useful items, and so forth) and a way of transitioning over the bits of time between interesting bits (so, for example, having a character sitting in a library learning a new language for months can happen without needing to pause the game for those same months).

Some people claim LARP is a retreat from reality. However, given that psychology holds that we all pretend to be other than our true selves and law is a method of resolving questions upon which two people disagree, I feel the opposite is true: Western society (if not all society) is a roleplaying game; roleplayers have therefore embraced the way the world works.

*Boffa don’t hurt me… don’t hurt me no more.

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