A frank discussion about LARPing…

2008 April 14
by Dante

Today I’d like to discuss one of the more interesting areas of the nerdly arts, the world of Live Action Roleplaying (or LARPing). I must admit, the strangeness of costumed folk at conventions that claim very fervently to be some character that only they and their friends know about is considerably unsettling to me. The level of passion that LARPers bring to their hobby isn’t the only thing that bothers me…

Disclaimer: I have never LARPed before. It frightens me, and I apologize in advance if you are offended by the following.

Those of you that know me or have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to some of my posts know that I enjoy high quality props (both relating to films and relating to my campaigns). Unfortunately, the examples of craftsmanship in costuming and propwork have run the range from hilarious to extremely unsettling (most seem to be executed using Wal-Mart bargain rack fabric in roughly 36 minutes). That, and the penchant for tights and ill-fitting bosom supporting devices is intolerable, and don’t lie to me and tell me you don’t wear them, I’ve seen them with my own eyes at GenCon!

Heavan help you if you actually stop to ask someone who LARPs what the giant sword that they are carrying is supposed to be, or what (incorrectly assumed movie) character they are dressed as… because you’re going to get a dissertation on the providence of said item that the person or someone they knew made up and nobody else knows about. This is usually followed by the Nerd Sound, usually a “nyahh” vocalization to indicate extreme satisfaction. I make it too (about other topics), so I’m not throwing stones… simply pointing out a fact. That sound is often used as punctuation when fulfilling ones nerdly genetic imperative.

I tend to lump LARPing in the upper echelon of what society assumes when it thinks of roleplaying “nerds.” It is clearly within my personality to be mortally embarrassed if I was ever photographed LARPing and said photos were shown to my family/coworkers/dog. It is simply past my threshold of acceptable levels of nerding out.

That being said…

The rest of my disdainful perspective comes from ignorance. If there are any LARPers in our midst, I would love a few words about why you love your hobby and if it can be related to a classic roleplaying experience I would love to understand your point of view more.

Many stories exist on the Internet regarding LARPing and some of the unique characters (both real-world and created) that have existed in this genre, and I am curious what segment of our readership have experienced this type of roleplaying first hand.

Educate me! Share your stories!

If you agree with my general perspective, lets hear from you too!

(NOTE: I would prefer this not become an “is True Dungeon LARPing” thread. We will save *that* topic for later on this week.)

17 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I always considered LARPing as a barrier I didn’t want to cross in terms of keeping Roleplaying from encroaching on reality. Younger I was really intense about RPGs (I still am, only saner) that I fear that participating in LARPing could make me go Mazes and Monsters (you know the movie where Teenaged Tom Hanks goes Bananas over RPGs).

    Having played with people who took their characters far too seriously, I choose never to encourage this with my players.

    Now, I just have no interest in that part of the hobby. I consider it as a form of interactive CosPlay… something to be watched from afar.

    So I share most of your issues and probable misunderstandings about that medium.

  2. WilliamS permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I’ll have to say, I’m in the same boat. LARPers are sort of the odd little brothers and sisters to me. I don’t have to like them, but I’ll try to guide them. I took on D&D to improve my writing (on top of love of fantasy and something to do with friends). The possibilities in RPGs are incredible, literally something for everyone. If the community could get out from the stigma, who knows the possibilities! A new world order, even!

    But, I think, that as long as I don’t don the cloak and hat, I should be able to live my fake life and let others live their’s.

  3. thanuir permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I’ve larped, umm.., thrice (and then numerous boffer fighty things with friends, both those have little to do with larping). I’m too shy to really enjoy larping, unfortunately.

    Generally speaking there is a huge crossover between larpers and tabletop roleplayers in Finland and other Nordic countries. It’s nothing special. There is, naturally, random friend poking, but no huge misconceptions overall.

  4. Greenvesper permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I’m sure many of you have heard the “D&D is a game of the imagination” quote, but I think it’s true. When I sit at a table with pencil and paper, I enjoy what takes place through my mind’s eye. Worlds, characters, and experiences live and breath in my imagination.
    When I think of LARPing, it just seems like a cheap knock off of that experience. It’s like telling a kid Spider-man is coming to his birthday party and getting this.It brings too much reality to the RPG. And it gives the “normal” gamers out there a bad name.

  5. Sandrinnad permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I haven’t LARPed but I have dressed up for cons – most of which were around Hallowe’en so costuming was highly encouraged. (One year there was the _most_ amazing Jack Skellington. It was seriously incredible.)

    Dressing in character can be really fun, even if no one else knows who the character is – when else do you get to break out those things you would never wear in real life? 😀 As long as you’re aware nobody else knows or actually cares who you’re portraying 🙂

    I’ve never quite grasped LARPing either….I’m waaaay too shy, and too aware that pretending doesn’t make me taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, or a different species so it just doesn’t seem real enough to me to be fun. Especially if you bring ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ into it…. Give me pen & paper any day 🙂

    And convoluted rants in response to a simple question are just flat-out obnoxious 🙂

  6. ChattyDM permalink
    April 14, 2008

    …as are self-satisfied dissertation on one’s fictional origins…

    Ending a sentence with a smug Nyaah! Is a surefire way to invite me to punch someone in the face.

    However, I’m all for an entertaining Elevator pitch style (i.e. less than 10 seconds) description of what is so cool in said character… you may even get me to ask questions!

  7. Your G(rinning) M(asochist) permalink
    April 14, 2008

    The problem I have with LARPing is that it is too limiting. I can’t really play an insanely dexterous rogue or a buff and powerful fighter or even a wizard when you get right down to it. I can imagine Hal, the Nimble Night-thief flipping past an Orc, but I can’t do it myself, so I can’t act it out. Therefore, the idea of trying to LARP just fills me with dread and seems like it’s voluntarily giving up a huge number of character ideas because I can’t really play them. Who wants to do that?

  8. Trask permalink
    April 14, 2008

    I just posted on this issue. As Chatty said, it is a public relations disaster. These are the mutants that always make the local paper when the media shows up. Bad for the hobby and just boring to participate in (IMHO.)

    If they want to do this sort of thing, join the drama club.

    Trask, the Last Tyromancer

  9. Dave The Game permalink
    April 15, 2008

    Wow, I’m honestly surprised at these comments. I bet there are plenty who look down on us tabletop roleplayers in the same way.

    Yes, there are people who take it too far, but that’s the individuals fault and not the style of game(and I know plenty who take it too far at the tabletop as well.)

    I don’t LARP anymore, but I certainly don’t look down my nose at them and tell myself that D&D is somehow better.

  10. long time listener, first time caller... permalink
    April 16, 2008


  11. Anonymous permalink
    April 18, 2008

    I’ve known about LARPing but thought it odd and never really looked into it. I figured it was a further spin off of SCA.

    I have friends that enjoy Civil War board games and miniatures. Their passion has resulted in joining re-enactment groups where they invest a lot of time and money in developing historical characters and re-enacting battles. I respect their dedication and enjoy watching them.

    Is LARPing really that much different?

    Thanks to the above poster for the youtube link. I went and found others. I now have a more respectful view of LARPing. Lots of nice chain mail and a stone golem! Not something you’d find at your local Wallmart.


    I still think it a bit odd but haven’t we as RPG fans been on society’s short list for that title as well?

    If LARPing is your form of entertainment then more power to you.

  12. Doug Hagler permalink
    April 21, 2008

    Many problems people have with LARPing seem odd to me. Do you every say anything in-character during a game? Or say “I” instead of “my character” during a game? Because that’s basically LARPing.

    You can dress up as your character to varying degrees, and use a system that is representational of things like combat (like White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theatre) or not (like a boffer LARP), but once you’re gaming in first-person, you’re LARPing as far as I’m concerned. Especially if you stand up while you do it.

    I’ve enjoyed writing/running LARPs much more than playing in them (because I hate dressing up, mostly). I also just like running games. Writing up 80+ characters with backgrounds and hooks and character sheets for a three-night LARP that I got to run with two friends was amazingly fun.

    For me, a LARP is immersive. You lose a little flexibility (you’re usually rooted to a few locations, have to decorate them somewhat to give the right impression, and so on) in exchange for immersion. In a decent LARP compared to a decent table-top game, its about an even trade. They’re also a hell of a lot more work to pull off than tabletop. Take your usual preparation and multiply it by ten for a good LARP.

    There are also a lot of people who just like dressing up – whether its to go to a club, or for theater, or Halloween or whatever, and they get a huge kick out of dressing up for a game. I see no problem with that.

    Also, in all of the LARPS I’ve ever been in or heard of, you’ve got a vastly higher proportion of women involved than table-top, and I think that’s cool for a lot of reasons. (better than 50/50 in the ones I’ve been in or run personally, and the others I know of are run by women almost exclusively).

    So I guess it might also be a gender issue, on some level, though I don’t want to go there at the moment.

  13. Gregory Weir permalink
    June 27, 2008

    Like Doug said. LARPing is usually just getting into the characterization far more than the questing or the combat side of things. If you like roleplaying your character talking to other characters, you might as well walk around while you do it. It’s sort of a combination of tabletop roleplaying and improvisational theatre. The folks you talk about in your post exist in tabletop gaming, too; they just don’t stand out as much. At its best, LARPing is about wearing cool costumes and playing cool characters with other cool people.

  14. Harrison permalink
    June 27, 2008

    Alright, this is too good not to weigh in on, and those of you who know me will learn the 13th Weird Thing About Harry

    I used to LARP and worked as an ST for a small independent gaming company at GenCon. I used to work as a tarot reader at the NY Ren Faire. Yes, I have a puffy shirt or two collecting dust in the back of my closet and a pair of sterling silver custom fangs in my medicine cabinet. My walls are decorated with all sorts weaponry.

    LARPs were fun, but I never got to the point of being as fanatical about it as some I’ve seen.

    Believe me, that kind of shite scares me too, and that’s why I don’t go to Cons or LARPs so much anymore.

    I love using props during a tabletop game, and if folks want to dress up fine (it’s a little easier with my chosen genre of World of Darkness because it basically amounts to street clothes).

    Escaping reality is fine for a little while, but some take it a touch too far.

  15. surfing samurai permalink
    February 13, 2013

    Idk if what I did was considered larping… honestly I don’t care either
    I did a local group of about a hundred people who made Walmart/home depot crafted weapons and beat each other… I did call myself the “surfing samuria” and wore beach attire… but that was as far as I went…. I’m not against the actual acting or role playing part as long as your chill about me not liking it (agree to disagree)
    There were a few guys that got into the character thing and were cool about it… HOWEVER there were some that became obnoxious… they became proud of their fictional self… then went as far as to be arrogant… like some how their great elven prince fantasy could woop my butt in the lunchroom of school… no matter how much you imagine that you did a backflip, my fist is going to hit your face… and I’m not saying this just to flatter myself or stereotype how weak role players are… but more to illustrate how blinding these fantasies can become… to much of anything can be a bad thing
    By all means role play if it pleases you… just keep somewhat of a grip on reality…

  16. Joshman permalink
    November 11, 2013

    In contrast to what that guy said about how his character can do things he can’t in real life, I’m the other way around. Often times I got bored when starting a D&D campaign because my character is actually less skilled than I am, and it takes a considerable amount of gameplay to get that character close to my own abilities. Usually in a game I try to make a character in my own likeness, not someone I wish I could be.

    Eh, whatever. I guess I’m just saying I don’t have to pretend to be tall and handsome since I happen to be. I’m not shy about it.

    So I guess LARP to me is to test myself and show off, be active and have fun. Tabletops are fun as well, don’t get me wrong, but damnit nothing gets me going like a good, actual sword fight. Or pizza. Or good looking women. Or beer.

    I should probably get some sleep. Peace out.

  17. September 11, 2018

    Believe me, that kind of shite scares me too, and that’s why I don’t go to Cons or LARPs so much anymore.I’ve enjoyed writing/running LARPs much more than playing in them (because I hate dressing up, mostly). I also just like running games.

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