Live Action Role Playing. If it’s good, you will never encounter a more enthralling, complex, colorful, or enjoyable role-playing experience anywhere. Ever. Seriously. If its bad, you will never feel more like a pathetic loser who gave up their Friday or Saturday to hang out with elitist douchebags playing rock-paper-scissors and/or beating each other with foam wrapped dowels. So my first bit of advice is this, if it’s bad, drop it like a bad habit. Get out. Do not waste your time on bad LARPs. Your time is worth more than that.LARPs come in (as far as I’ve seen) two varieties: social and physical. Social LARPs tend to have rules against touching or doing anything even remotely dangerous or physically threatening. You can rant and point and snarl all you want, but any direct contact between participants is strictly forbidden except between people who are friends in real life and trust one another. Physical LARPs involve using foam wrapped, safety tested weapons or thrown bean bags to tag (not hit) each other in mock battles. These as well usually have rules concerning physically touching another participant’s body or body parts with your body or body parts, but there is an obvious “contact” gap where the foam weapons are concerned. Either can be performed in doors or out of doors, but physical games (out of necessity) are almost always played during the day time and out side where there isn’t anything to break. Social games tend toward being performed in doors or in
a setting that helps with immersion into the world because breakage is far less of a factor. I have played in and run and enjoyed both types of LARPs, but they really cater to completely different groups of people and so the play style of each is very different. Both usually involve using a combination of intelligence and character skills or abilities to overcome problems. The most obvious difference is in the fact that most physical LARPs are designed for a group of teammates to run along a pre-determined “line-course” plot that is set up and game balanced well in advance of the event. You move from encounter to encounter each filled with NPCs, sometimes fighting, sometimes interacting, sometimes problem solving, but eventually reaching a pre-determined end goal (see Boss Fight) for resolution. These plots are composed just like RPG mods and usually indulge in character level and team composition requirements. Social LARPs on the other hand have a minimum amount of NPCs and (optimally) little to no injected plot other than PC
interaction set in a “world” setting rather than along a “line-course” of events and locations. Both types involve and are enhanced by props and costuming and overt role-playing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that either type, with a lack of props, costuming, or overt role-playing quickly falls in to the “bad LARP” category. I mean, without those things we might as well just pull the dice back out. Right? So, having thought it through more clearly just now, I suppose that makes props, costuming, and overt role-playing the point of playing in a LARP rather than a table top game. So if you’re going to do it, go all out. At worst you’ll be that player who shows up to every game speaking Shakespearean English toting a box of costumes to cover up every square inch of denim you encounter at every session. At best you will make the difference that pulls your fellow players into the game world instead of leaving them wondering what else they might have accomplished this weekend without such a lame distraction. Advice for the GMs of either type of LARP is difficult different reasons. In physical LARPs GMs are usually just walking rule books, decision makers, and boxed text readers. Not a lot can be done there except following the rules and keeping a good attitude. In social LARPs it is difficult because each group is different and from each PC’s point of view, the other PCs are the game’s NPCs. If you have a good group, they will usually feed on each other’s actions. Because of the line course setup in physical LARPS you have people dedicated to playing the NPCs at each stop and usually more than one team going through the plot in succession while it is set up. Mostly what you should try to be as fair as possible and keep things moving so you don’t hold other groups up. Try and set good role-players into key NPC positions and trust them to do their jobs. Also, if during an encounter you notice that one of the NPCs was doing something that detracted from the game, mention it to them politely and with a smile on your face so they’ll hopefully improve their performance for the next group. In designing physical LARPs be very careful not to favor any one character type or ability too much. If every encounter hinges upon one PC’s actions and success your other players will quickly begin to feel like NPCs in their own game; supporting cast for the one relevant individual. Also, be very clear about the danger levels involved in your game with both the players and staff (GMs, NPCs, and NPC wranglers). When going into a game if the permanent loss of a character or some hard earned item is going to be required, the game can be ruined if the players find this out after six hours of encounters out in the sun and mosquitoes while covered in costuming and makeup and mock battling with foam swords. For social LARPs you have to be clever and try to get your players to do most of your work for you. A good, but by no means the only, plan is to have a set timeline in which some over arching danger accumulates and then boils over. Give bits of information to different (warring if possible) factions to force them to cooperate, trade, or spy in order to put the pieces together, but find ways of pointing them toward who they should be cooperating or trading with and spying on. If you just give bits and no direction, there’s no reason to assume they’ll ever put the bits together. And don’t forget to make the “boiling over” obvious in some way. Visions and prophesy are good, but hard evidence is better because you don’t need to be a hippy to understand it or get your hot little hands on it. Above all do not, under any circumstances, show favoritism for any player or group of players. Are they your GM in another game? Are they your significant other? Are they a friend in real life? Be very careful on this point. Most of the games I have seen that sucked (of both LARP types actually, but more for the social variety), did so for this reason. No one PC or faction of PCs should be the linchpin for the whole game and you should never become so interested in a single plot line that you neglect your other players. Also, pay special attention to getting new players involved. When someone who doesn’t know anyone at the game out of character gets completely neglected, they leave and with LARPs “the more the merrier” isn’t just a good idea, it’s the only idea. The more players you have the richer the setting is for each individual. In a table top game a GM can accomplish this on their own, but in a LARP they need the PCs to do it
for them. My advice for players? First, show up with a posse. Again, with LARPs the more players you get to interact with the better so showing up with more people is better for everyone. However, it is best for new players to show up with a posse because then the GMs have no choice but to give you their attention; one PC can be ignored, five can cause trouble if ignored. Also if you come to game with your own NPCs to interact with, then you don’t have to rely on the other players who may have been in this game for years and don’t feel like giving any n00bs any of their time or letting them in on any of their plots. If you bring a group with you it is easier to bully your way into the plot or make new plots. A social LARP is a large scale consensual hallucination. In a very real way, the more people in your faction or power block, the more “votes” you have over the consensual group reality. Keep that in mind. Second, role-play your little hearts
out. Be the speech maker and politician. Make sure you are seen and that you have an impact. Be memorable. Group consensual hallucination. Remember? Be the part of that hallucination last session everyone remembers at the next session. Hoo boy… long post this time.