Come, my friends, and let me bring you to a magical world where your physical limitations will not prevent you from kicking ass, and your imagination defines reality. Put your PSP down, log out of League of Legends for a while, and don your least era-specific boots. There are player characters to whomp, and it might get muddy. We’re going LARPing.
But first, some history.
Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, defines the activity thusly:
LARPs are all about 24/7 immersive role-play. They take the fantasy a step beyond. You create a character, invent a backstory, put on makeup, dress the part, and physically wander around a real setting, interacting with other players and making up the banter as you go along. And occasionally you beat the crap out of them.
You may have been introduced to the subcultre when LARPing gained some mainstream notoriety from the 2008 buddy comedy, Role Models.
LARPs have their own universes, including game rules, dress code, participation, and combat system. The intention of the group is to tell a story rather than to recreate one that happened. The storyteller (or plot member) creates a module (or scene) and expresses to the non-player-characters (NPCs, the regenerating horde of monsters) what dialogue must get through to the players in each specific adventure. The improvisation comes into play when free-thinking gamers choose to interact with their opposition.
Each group/faire/event/game is different from its neighbor. There is no rigid how-to guide that umbrellas all of the producing organizations. All games create individual silhouettes and moods. LARPing necessitates believing in what is possible rather than believing that it is real while dressing up to play “make-believe”.
LARPers get a bad rap. It takes a lot of chutzpah to fully commit to an imaginary character. To let that made-up person’s wants and needs envelop your own. Like protagonist, Kvothe, in The Name of the Wind, a LARPer must create two separate thinking minds — your character loses her puppet strings, and your puppet master ignores OOG (out of game) information that might sway her decision making. I know that stepping on that doggy toy springs a trap, but my character doesn’t have the skill ‘trap-finding’…guess I’m walking through this maze without looking down, so to keep myself honest. Squeak. Boom. 5 Normal Damage!
But isn’t total immersion what we’re looking for in our over-saturated-short-attention-span filled lives? We’ve learned to divide our attention so to avoid boring our big brains. We’re in constant communication through social media and text messages. Movie-going is a time-honored passive activity that grabs our attention, but not enough to warrant the unnecessity of high-budget PLEASE DON’T TEXT IN THE THEATER pleas from our sponsors before the show. LARPing is a perfect solution.
I’ll set the scene for you.
It’s late Saturday night. You’re exhausted from having spent the entire day on your feet, running about the woods, ducking branches, and parrying blows. At your side is a band of your closest pals. You might live states apart from each other, as a good LARP is worth the travel. You’re not reminiscing about a night at the bar, but you are gambling in the Tavern. That greedy halfling swindled you out of your coin last month, and you want to show him a lesson this time.
But suddenly, every head in the Tavern turns to the door: a scream starts and is quickly muffled from the center of town. One of the newest players has been captured. On cue, your noble friends and heroic townpeople hustle to regroup. Someone casts light, someone offers their silver weapons, someone begins to track. A band of fighters and casters gather, huddling in woolen cloaks accepting buffs, preparing for an altercation.
Without fail, the tracks lead you to a dark narrow path. There could be anything in that darkness. Confident fighters send shields to the front and the back of the group. People huddle for protection, tripping on each other’s robes, fumbling quiet apologies. Commotion erupts at the back of the line: from the darkness, a claw has reached out to grab a healer! And soon, persistent ghoulish undead things are slashing at you from all sides. You block the blows you can see while ticking down your health until they no longer resurrect.
Fear has a hold of a few of you, who would consider heading back to town, but there is safety in numbers. And who knows how many more waves of swords and spells you’ll face before reaching the Big Bad and helping your comrade to further solve the riddle that obfuscates his past.
A scout returns to the group to report that he’s found the Drow Matron’s layer. You start, confident once more and accept some healing potion from your neighbor. He keeps the bottles in a handcrafted leather belt with pouches and snaps. You’re honored that he’s sharing and caught off guard when a monster flies at you from the brambles that have been deceptively quiet and peaceful at your side. You jump back to avoid the blow and two things happen in quick succession: you knock your friend into the bushes and lose your glasses.
Laughter boils as skeletons help their fellow gamers to their feet. Plot members and the well prepared shine flashlights on the earth to help you find your glasses.
IS THERE ANY REASON THIS TIME OUT SHOULD CONTINUE?
There are murmurs as people return to positions mid-battle, frozen.
And thus, your journey continues. When you and your band return to town, victorious, the Tavern fills once more. You dry your grass-stained boots on the stove and sip heated cider to warm your nose and rehydrate. For this is living. This is LARPing.
EEK allegedly plagiarized some of this article from her undergraduate thesis about the sub-genres of Neo-Medieval themed performance, because she is a very, very cool kid.