Swashbuckling

Behind the Scenes of Live Action Role Play (Photos)

Larp is an interactive storytelling medium. Just as books or film can tell a wide range of stories, from stream-of-conscious narratives to adventure, so too can larp, says Lizzie Stark, author of Leaving Mundania. Here are some of the different types of games and stories in the larp universe.

Behind the Scenes of Live Action Role Play
By Lizzie Stark

Larp, as I write in my book Leaving Mundania, is an interactive storytelling medium. Just as books or film can tell a wide range of stories, from stream-of-conscious narratives to adventure, so too can larp. Players assume a character, dress up in costume, and enact a shared narrative. The form has a rich history, which I chronicle in this essay, and here are some of the different types of games and stories in the larp universe.

Walker Esner

Dagorhir

Dagorhir, one of the first battle games, has been running for 35 years and represents an important stage in the evolution of larp. Participants dress up in costume and meet to do battle. In contrast, larp focuses more strongly on creating a robust character and enacting that character’s storyline, which does not always include fighting.

Walker Enser

Boffers

Players at the battle game Dagorhir, and at many larps, use boffers for combat. A boffer is a foam-padded weapon, sometimes homemade out of PVC pipe, insulation foam, and duct tape. Modern, factory-produced versions constructed of foam latex are popular and look realistic.

Harrison Greene

Vampire, The Masquerade

White Wolf’s flagship game, Vampire: The Masquerade, released in 1991, was a popular pen-and-paper tabletop game. Soon after, the company introduced the Mind’s Eye Theater system, which allowed the game to go from tabletop to larp. The system uses weighted games of rock-paper-scissors to resolve disputes between characters.

Vampire larp is a popular genre. Plots typically feature politicking between factions, rather than the epic-fighting-for-good battles that typify medieval fantasy games such as Knight Realms. Vampire games may occur in public venues, hotels, or other locations. Here, a vampire genuflects to his leader.

M. Theis

Reenactment

War reenactment shares many features with larp, but is a sister activity. Reenactment values historical accuracy over story. In larp, players exert some control over the outcome of their stories, while in reenactment, history usually determines the winner.

In addition to refighting historical battles, reenactors sometimes engage in “tacticals”—improvised, a-historical battles in which the winner is not predetermined. Tacticals resemble larp more closely than typical reenactments do.

Here, Revolutionary War reenactors re-create the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on site in Greensboro, N.C. It was a pivotal battle for the Americans, even though they lost.

Andrew Zorowitz

Parlor Larp

Not all larps require elaborate sets and costumes; many rely on imagination to provide these things. Stand-alone larps, also called “one-shots” take place over the course of a few hours. Here, gangsters have a standoff as part of the game Diamond Geezers, designed by British larpwrights and run in the U.S. This game is part of the parlor larp tradition of the Intercon conventions.

The players wear badges with the names of their characters on them, while the large manila envelopes contain character histories written out by the game designer. In contrast, many games permit players to create their own characters.

Peter Munthe-Kaas

In the Nord

Larp has a large following in the Nordic countries, which have a robust art-larp scene, as well as more mainstream medieval fantasy and vampire games. Nordic larps typically feature fewer rules than their American counterparts.

Peter Munthe-Kaas

In Fair Verona

In the Danish game In Fair Verona, a small, one-shot larp set in the Little Italy neighborhood of 1930s New York, characters interact through tango dancing and strive to overcome their personal flaws and find love.

Michel Winkler-Krogh

System Danmarc

In System Danmarc, organizers built a dystopian future slum out of shipping containers in the center of Copenhagen. The world of the game consisted of a hierarchical caste system.

Michel Winkler-Krogh

Gamechanger

Some larps deliver a political message. System Danmarc was designed to bring home a message about contemporary homelessness to players.