What is Larp or Live Action Roleplay?
What exactly is a larp?
You’ve heard the term Larp for the first time and now you’re dying to know what this wondrous hobby is all about? Is it just a bunch of nerds in the woods, fighting with plastic weapons? Or is there more to it than that? We at Andracor would like to answer you. We are Larpers ourselves and have had to explain the term often. Let’s take a deep breath and dive right into it:
LARP stands for Live Action Roleplay. Live Action Roleplay is a form of roleplaying game where each player creates a so-called Larp character according to certain rules, depending on the particular Larp one is attending. This character, or ‚role‘ as it is called in the theatre, is then portrayed in a role-playing manner by means of a previously considered concept and by means of costumes (robes) at a mostly three-day event, the so-called role-playing convention (short Con). Still sounds a bit complicated, right?
While the organizers come up with a specific setting & plot for the larp event, kind of a movie script with optional endings, all characters are played actively (physically) and in real time by the participants. Dressed in sometimes very elaborate costumes (also called garments), each player chooses the characteristics and abilities of his character himself and walks, talks, interacts and reacts like this character as long as the game is on. The most important rule is:
You can play what you can portray!
Live role-playing games, unlike computer role-playing games, are physically and actively portrayed and come in different genres and backgrounds, each with its own dynamics and rules. The game can take many different forms, but the basic scheme of a Larp event is often the same.
How does a Larp event work?
A Larp has a structure consisting of the organizer (Orga), the game master (GM), player characters (PC) and non-player characters (NPC), those are similar to extras in a movie.
- The organizer & Game Master:
The Orga can be seen as the logistics of a larp (e.g. where to put which tent, the administration of the participants, renting the location and so on…) The game masters can be seen as the script writers and directors of the story (Plot). They prescribe what is to happen in the game and will interfere if nercessary, to either push the plot or to stop actions that will lead in a wrong way or that are just not allowed in the game. At small events the organizer and the GMs are often the same. Both tasks are quite inseparable.
- Non-Player Characters (NPC)
The NPCs are the knowing characters, the movie extras and the tool of the game master to transport the plot (the bewitched king, the enemy army, the blacksmith’s daughter with the mysterious amulet, etc.). They communicate secretly with the game control and then trigger corresponding game situations for the players.
- Player Characters (PC)
The players are the participants and usually the heroes of the story, reacting to situations or acting within the constraints of the game. They only know basic information about the location of the action. (The barony has invited to a festival, but the area is terrorized by orcs! You are supposed to take care of security, etc.) However, there are players and groups of players who also bring their own internal plot and action into the game. This is called a sandbox plot.
The whole thing seems a bit complex? There are many terms and structures in Larp, which are abbreviated for practical reasons. You can find more information in the article: Terms in Larp.
The plot – The story of a Larp
Every Larp event tells a story that extends over several events. Similar to the episodes of a series, one event will feature an important core plot of the big story line.
Let’s take the „Conquest of Mythodea“ as an expample, it’s the world’s biggest Larp, and has been telling the story of the conquest of the continent of Mythodea for many years.
For three days, important events take place that can be actively influenced by the players or are only created by them. The game masters of a Larp determine to a large extent how the plot progresses and in which way it will develop. This is done with the help of the NPCs who play important key roles, the king of the country or the commander of the opposing army, but also the enemies who have to be fought.
Larp events are often numbered and or come with a subtitle like a good movie (e.g. Sturmwacht II – Under Siege). This way you know how many events of this Larp have already taken place and in which point of the so-called campaign (the big plot) you are, a word every stategy computer gamer or pen and paper player knows. In Larp it is fine to join in the middle of a campaign. Similar to how some characters in a series just appear in season 4.
Topics and locations for live role plays:
There are very special Larp conventions such as Western Larp or Science Fiction Larp, although here it usually refers to a specific area, for example Star Wars. Or also Horror Larp like Cthulu Cons, Post Apocalypse Larp & Vampire Larp. But the most common and popular theme is the Fantasy Larp. In this world elements of fantasy are mixed with elements of the middle ages.
Live Action Role Play takes place mostly on long weekends throughout Germany and in many European countries such as Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, England or France. The locations match the settings of the events, which can be a castle in a fantasy larp and the ruins of an old military site in an end time larp.
Types of live role play
Besides the genre (Fantasy or Vampire) or setting (1Night or 5-3 Day Camping trip) of a larp event, there are also game types or game modes of Larp conventions. They have a decisive influence on the course of a Larp con.
Sometimes also called demonstrative or boffer Larp. Boffer refers to foamed weapons, the so called Larp weapons, which are used to hit each other in-game. As the name Battle-Con suggests, there is war between two or more parties, and it is fought in epic battles. Very typical for the fantasy genre! Here you have to be prepared for sports, sleepless nights, constant siege and a lot of fighting. You should choose your equipment accordingly and not go into battle without the necessary protection or armor. Usually they last for a few days.
- Ambience Larp or Party-Con
Those Larps are rather cosy, a pacified area is the setting, and there are celebrations, sports events, tournaments and one or the other political discussion. In the evening there are extensive celebrations in taverns. These Larps also last a couple of days.
- Survival Larp
Here we are concerned with bare survival, the enemy is numerically superior and resources are scarce. Or a path must be taken through hard terrain. Mostly end time or zombie events are survival cons. But also historically inspired con events can have survival con character and last a few days.
- Horror Larp
Not for the faint-hearted, this game aims to teach the participants to fear and to make them afraid. Mostly these events are also from 18 years on, because they can push you to emotional and physical limits. But it is precisely this self-awareness that makes such events so appealing to many. 1920s themed Cthulhu Cons that last a couple of days are just one example.
- Nordic Larp
Is a special form of Larp. Numbering, scores and other things one knows from pen and paper games and finds quiet often in fantasy larp, are non existant. NPCs, monsters and so on are also rare. It is the players which play against each other and try to stick to their roles as best as possible to maintain high immersion (an important word one should know also in other Larp types). Larps that deal with serious topics are common. There is also little rules which makes the game often more physically and mentally challenging. Some Nordic Larps feature modern topics like hostage-taking or more fantasy-like ones like sailing to England on a boat with Dracula.
It is a tournament among knights and warriors, a test of strength among players.
- Tavern, Saloon or Theatre Larp
A tavern usually only lasts one evening and is the meeting in a pub (tavern, saloon). Here people exchange ideas, make plans and make music and celebrate together.
- Riddle, Mystery Con & Crime Larp
Rather small and often short events of one evening around a crime plot. A dead body appears, an enchanted village, paranormal events and so on.
This is the all-rounder among the Larp events, here you get served a little bit of everything if you are actively looking for it.
There are many more sub-types of larps and of course there are hybrids of these game modes.
Basic requirements for a larp
Appropriate clothing is mandatory, you cannot visit a Larp without a matching Larp outfit. And even with everyday objects, attention is paid to the genre-typical ambience, which affects the environment in which a Larp takes place. On the whole, one abstains from everything that does not fit into the time in which the Larp takes place, unless it is indispensable, like glasses or a wheelchair for example. Then it is not „present“ or is also covered up.
Mobile phones and technical equipment are not used if possible and photos are actually only taken by professional photographers of the event who stay in the background. Larp premises are elaborately decorated to make the location of the event look convincing. At Larp this is called ambience. At Larp, the aim is to immerse oneself in the history as intensely as possible and all participants therefore try to keep disturbing objects of modern or „another“ life (as a real Larper would say) out of the field of vision of other participants.
Is larping expensive?
Basically, larping is a hobby that can be considered expensive when operated intensively, but there are ways and means to keep the entry and testing inexpensive. There are many established Larp groups that welcome newcomers and make a low-cost start possible.
A non-player (NPC) normally pays less for participating in a larp. For players (PC), the participation fee is usually between 80 – 150 €, depending on the size of the event and the popularity of the Larp-Con, while NPCs often receive partial catering and pay only half or a quarter of the price.
However, what is added for newcomers is the cost of a first garment. A Larp outfit can be simple and can be put together for under 100 € and look great by doing your own handicraft work. For complete armour, masks, used parts, jewellery and so on, a Larp outfit can cost 1000 € and more.
In addition, not all events offer a hostel and many larps take place in tents. Also the tents in the larp are ambience tents to not disturb the atmosphere or immersion. You will not find a plastic tent at the Larp. Ambience tents are of course expensive and not everyone who wants to try out Larp can afford such a tent right away. As a beginner it makes sense to join an existing group or to get in contact with the organization of a Larp to get a sleeping place in a tent.
On a larp itself, by the way, one pays in-game with larp money that suits the respective event. Copper, silver and gold coins have established themselves in the fantasy larp. They are accepted as means of payment at almost every Fantasy Larp-Con. You can buy coins before a Larp event, but it can be earned just as well.
Larp – How fantasy & middle ages come alive
So much for the technical procedure, but how does a Fantasy Larp really feel? The Middle Ages, a bygone dark time, and no more than a part of history? Not if you participate in a fantasy live role-playing game! Many fantasy events roughly use this epoch as a model for their fantasy settings. People from different backgrounds play here with devotion figures with medieval, fantastic looks. And you also leave reality behind and become another person in another world for 3 – 4 days.
Women and men in medieval robes, in shining knight’s armour and a system of nobility, which with its titles and structures could also originate from the Middle Ages, is waiting to be explored. But Fantasy Larp is more than the mere representation of historical medieval times. Everyone can be radiant heroes or even anti-heroes and actively influence the events of the Larp through their actions. In Fantasy Larp you will meet the historically inspired Viking or ancient Roman as well as elves, dwarves or orcs. Magic is an essential part of the Fantasy Larp and you will experience true wonders here, see impressive beasts and creatures and party at night with wild pirates, barbarians, minstrels and bards in dimly lit taverns!
And there is always a lot to do! Countless riddles want to be solved by you and conversations want to be held to solve the problems your characters encounters at a Larp event together with other players. The interaction as a group is important and very welcome. Only by uniting the different abilities of all characters a Larp mission can be successful. Finally the heroes can stand their ground together against the dark threat of fiends and monsters is shown in the decisive battle on the last evening of the game.
With weapons from the Middle Ages, such as swords, axes or bows and arrows, the opponents approach each other. What looks brutal and dangerous turns out to be relatively safe. You pay attention to each other, play with each other, even in battle. Because fighting is done with so-called Larp weapons, foam weapons or buffer weapons made of soft foam material. This fight is called „Final Battle“ and reminds of the fights from typical movies like „The Lord of the Rings“ or „Braveheart“. Only that you are in the middle of it!
And when you go home afterwards, or rather return to the real world, after a long weekend full of adventure, magical encounters, new friendships and 1000 new stories in your head, you must have been on a larp! We could explain to you what after con blues is, but you have to experience it yourself 😉