Why I LARP
essay was prompted by the fact that, after a long absence, I’m
contemplating a return to live-action role-playing and - somehow - I
find myself simultaneously keen and wary. I’m hoping if I can better
articulate why I do it, I can better understand what I want out of any
it isn’t obvious from the outset, this is just one player’s opinion. I
don’t look to speak for the entire LARPing community - although I’m
bound to share a few observations as I bash this out.
LARP Is Social Storytelling
is a social thing. Solo LARPs are - barring certain mental conditions -
impossible. Last I checked, humans are a social species and
storytelling must be one of the most ancient and appealing forms of
socializing. And with so many of our stories owned by corporate culture,
it’s fantastic to get out there and be a part of something original.
of a few mental quirks, I find it difficult to simply sit back and
passively enjoy a story. I can’t watch a movie on the telly unless I’m
sewing something at the same time, or skimming a book. Listening to
music is something to do while tackling housework. It’s the way I am and
I’m better off accommodating this neurosis rather than fighting it!
LARPing drags me into the story to the degree that I don’t feel like I
should be doing something else at the same time.
games I’ve enjoyed most tend to be the ones where there is more going
on than I can keep up with. I’ll pick and choose the bits most pertinent
to my character and her goals, and wade in from there.
makes a bit of storytelling such great fun? The usual reasons: finding
resolutions to complicated situations (so unlike everyday life!), being
able to take actions without any real consequences, escaping into
something that isn’t the daily grind. That’s all rather obvious, if you
It’s Acting for Non Actors
Are there any LARPers who didn’t dabble with acting to one degree or another during their youth? Didn’t think so.
cheerfully cop to accusations of going a bit further than others. When
writing characters (for play by myself or others - here’s an example)
I borrow various bits of the Stanislavsky system, primarily because
it’s the easiest way for another player or my GM to understand what the
character is about. Stanislavsky called on an actor drawing from their
own experiences and, honestly, a player isn’t going to play very well -
or have any fun - if they can’t identify with a character in some way or
most often-used tools for character analysis - exploring the inner
life, being able to articulate objectives and motivations, and learning
how to listen to and receive another player’s input - should be in
every gamers’ toolbox. Anyone can understand the basics and it’s damn
good fun to go beyond them, when the opportunity arises - but I’ll save
that for the Advanced LARP Character Development essay...
probably no surprise to anyone that I when I first waded into LARPing,
the college courses I was taking at the time all came together in a
gooey synergistic mess - fiction writing, acting 210 and a rather
interesting sociology course. It was gamer-geek heaven... So much so
that I’ve carried that all along with me, ever since.
I’ll never be an actor - hell no
- but I just love playing with the tools. Insofar as such a thing is
possible, some of those tools are a reasonably reliable metric to apply
to the variety of characters and games I’ve encountered over the years.
Otherwise, it would be rather difficult to understand why I had as much
fun playing, for instance, a sociopathic surgeon in one game and a
mercenary pilot in another.
And there’s none of the aggravation of trying to memorize a script.
It’s A Safe Space for Weird Shit
This is almost a subset of Acting for Non Actors
of my LARPing has occurred with White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting,
particularly Vampire: The Masquerade. At its best, it’s a great place
to play - just a bit - with the darker bits of one’s psyche without
wondering if one needs psychiatric intervention by the end of the night.
in point: there aren’t many LARP troupes out there that would let me
sit down with my much-thumbed copy of DSM-IV, some research pulled from
Google University and a character concept that was summarized as “Travel
writer and serial killer”. She didn’t last long and, honestly, I was
relieved. Thinking up new and interesting ways for her to be cruel to
animals and people as her mental state slowly collapsed was quite
tiring. Fun, in a masochistic way, but exhausting and not a little
scary? Because a player brings something of themselves into every
character they play. Every. Single.Time. Sometimes, it isn’t something nice -
but it’s always educational. It seems that, should circumstances really
merit it, I could be a very nasty person - although I hope it never
comes to that!
Playing Dressup - It’s Not Just For Kids!
don’t know about y’all, but my everyday wardrobe is jeans and
tee-shirts and not very interesting shirts at that. It’s a little thing,
but LARPing allows one to play the peacock - to one degree or another. I
get quite grumbly if I’m at an event and realize I’m underdressed...
And, in keeping with my I can’t have fun strictly for its own sake neurosis,
costuming for a LARP provides focus for my sewing hobby. As soon as a
new event lands on my schedule, I start wondering what I can put
together for it. Oh, sure, I could make everyday clothes - if I felt
like spending three times the cost of a retail garment on fabric and
fixings - but that hardly qualifies as fun does it? It’s much more fun to put together an ensemble for the Countess of Ruritania than a pair of slacks for the office.
If it’s so much fun, why did I step back from LARPing?
The First: What I’m NOT Getting Out of LARPing (Or: Why I’m Done With
My First LARP Love, White Wolf’s Vampire: the Masquerade Setting)
Whilst I’m totally behind the safe space for weird shit
aspect of gaming, I’m tired of Vampire LARPs being used as an amateur
BDSM space. God knows, I was guilty of that, way back when, but I got
over it. If you want to explore your kinks, go to fetlife.
the trend of playing vampires as a sort of superhero with fangs. If you
want to smash up the landscape with your cool powers, there are
settings much better suited to that sort of thing.
When were you last in a Vampire LARP that actually utilized the theme of personal horror?
the end, every Vampire character is out for himself, which runs
completely contrary to the collaborative aspect of LARPs. You can’t be a
narcissistic, selfish bastard and work collectively for a greater good - well, not for long.
So, er, what do you want, then?
Rant-ette The Second: My Dream LARP
Focuses on character development throughout the progress of the story, even when it isn’t easy for the player. Especially when it isn’t easy for the player.
a minimum of meta by the playership. (“Meta” is shorthand for when
out-of-character information and biases interfere with in-character
Is not solely beholden to crisis-type plot-lines (“Solve X or suffer the consequences!”). I understand that some of
that is necessary, especially when the event is just getting started,
but room for the characters to take their time and meander about the
landscape (so to speak) would be nice.
a short-run campaign - not a one-shot event or an open-ended story. Say
three or four episodes, in all. Too short, and I’m still getting used
to my character when the game ends, whereas open-ended games invariably
careen into a dynamic where ten percent of the characters hold ninety
percent of the plot clout, a situation that drives both players and GMs
very few statistics. None, ideally. And focused on GM fiat / player
negotiation when a conflict can’t be resolved by pure roleplaying.
Is not run by me, no matter how tempted I get to pitch in. My tendency for bossiness is at its worst in a LARP, I fear.
lately discovered a genre generally referred to as “Story gaming” or
“Norwegian Style Gaming”. Small groups getting together not to save the
world from the Looming Monster, but to walk their character through a
setting or situation. A few examples may be found here. I think that - or something like it - is where my LARP future lies.
Blimey. When did escapism get so complicated?
Postscript - October 2012. On the advice of some friends, I joined a Vampire: The Requiem LARP and I must admit that I'm going to have to eat some of my words when it comes to my past resistance to the rebooted World of Darkness. A lot of the more egregious flaws of the oWoD have been fixed, especially the fundamental structure of vampire society, much to my relief. The superheroes-with-fangs element is still omnipresent, but it's clearly easier for the character-oriented player to get what they want out of the setting, too - or, at least, so my interaction with this one small troupe suggests. Admittedly, I'm playing a ghoul again, as I still find them more interesting than vampires. I've only played two sessions, so far, but I'm sufficiently engaged to want to continue. Gosh!
She’s been LARPing for over twenty years and playing tabletop games for
slightly longer than that. Despite a recent hiatus from both, she still
maintains her LARP Advice page - mostly out of sheer stubbornness.