Live action role-playing game


Live action role-playing game

A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters' actions. The first LARPs were run in the late 1970s, inspired by role-playing games and genre fiction. The activity gained international popularity during the 1980s.

LARP groups have highly varied approaches to rules, costume, degree of physical acting out, participation, focus of character activity, and genre. LARPs range in size from small private events lasting a few hours to huge public events with thousands of players lasting for several days.

Terminology

LARP has also been referred to as "live role-playing" ("LRP"), "interactive literature", "freeform role-playing", "interactive drama" ("indrama"), and "wide game". Some of these terms are still in common use, however LARP has become the most commonly understood term internationally.cite journal
last = Tychsen
first = Anders
authorlink =
coauthors = Hitchens, Michael; Brolund, Thea; Kavakli, Manolya
title = Live Action Role-Playing Games: Control, Communication, Storytelling, and MMORPG Similarities
journal = Games and Culture
volume = 1
issue = 3
pages = 252–275
publisher = Sage Publications
date =
year = 2006
month = July
url = http://gac.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/1/3/252
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2007-11-04
] It is sometimes written in lowercase, as "larp". The "live action" in LARP is analogous to the term "live action" used in film and video to differentiate works with human actors from animation.

Play overview

Players physically portray characters in a fictional setting, improvising their characters' speech and movements somewhat like actors in improvisational theatre. This is distinct from tabletop role-playing games where character actions are described verbally.

The setting, characters, and rules may be defined in a LARP publication, invented by the arrangers of the larp, or created by the players. LARPs may be played in a public or private area,cite book
last = Widing
first =Gabriel
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor= Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman
title = Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
publisher = The MIT Press
date = 2003
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate =
isbn = 0262240459
quote= Live-Action Role-Playing Games can take place in indoor or outdoor settings, in private or public spaces.
] and may last for hours or days.cite book
last = Widing
first =Gabriel
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor= Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros
title = Playground Worlds
chapter = We Lost Our World and Made New Ones: Live Role-Playing in Modern Times
publisher = Ropecon ry
date =2008
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate =
isbn = 978-952-92-3579-7
quote= ...the participants sustain these temporary worlds for a few hours or several days
] There is usually no audience, and bystanders are typically either ignored or treated as part of the fictional setting.

LARPs vary greatly. There is a broad spectrum of settings that play takes place in, methods of physically representing the characters and the settings, game rules, and types of activity that characters are involved in.

Production

Players may dress as their character and carry appropriate equipment, or costume and gear may be portrayed by physical symbols or entirely imagined. The environment in which play takes place may be dressed to resemble the imaginary setting, and special effects may be used to represent unusual occurrences in the setting.

In character versus out of character

There is a distinction between when a player is actively representing their character (called "in character", "IC", "in game" or "in play") and when the player is being themselves (called "out of character", "OOC", "off role", "out of game", "off game" or "offplay"). Some LARPs encourage players to stay consistently IC except in emergencies, while others accept players being OOC sometimes and use devices such as off-game areas, armbands, or gestures to signify when players are currently OOC. Information learned while OOC is usually considered distinct from information learned when IC, and characters making use of OOC information is a form of metagaming.

imulation and representation

All LARPs occur in both a real and an imaginary environment - the latter called the "setting", "game world" or (in theory) "the diegesis"."Diegesis is what is true within the game." cite web
last = Stenros
first =Jaakko
authorlink =
coauthors = Hakkarainen, Henri
title = The Meilahti School: Thoughts on Role-playing
work = As Larp Grows Up
publisher = Knudepunkt 2003
date =2003
url = http://www.laivforum.dk/kp03_book/thats_larp/meilahti_school.pdf
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-27
] Characters inhabit the imaginary environment, while players inhabit the real, physical environment. In all LARPs, the real environment to some degree represents the imaginary environment (for example, a real wall is normally also an imaginary wall) and player behaviour represents character behaviour. In cases where the real environment does not correspond to the imaginary environment, LARPs use different techniques to simulate events in the imaginary environment. These techniques may include game rules and randomizers (dice, cards), physical symbols (for example a rope signifying an imaginary wall) and theatrical improvisation.

Game rules

Some LARPs have game rules that determine how characters can affect each other and the setting. These rules may define things such as a character's capabilities, how those capabilities can change over time, what can be done with various items in the setting, and what characters can do during the "downtime" between LARP events. Because referees are often not available to mediate all character actions, players are relied upon to be honest in their application of the rules. There are also LARPs that do without rules, instead relying on players to use their common sense or feel for dramatic appropriateness to cooperatively decide what the outcome of their actions will be.

Gamemasters

The creative content of a LARP is usually produced by players in collaboration with event arrangers called "gamemasters" ("GMs") or "larpwrights", who determine the fictive framework of a LARP. GMs usually define the setting and scenario for each LARP event. They may decide how characters are created by players, or write and distribute characters to the players. The characters allowed or authored by the GMs, along with conflicts placed between characters and possible interventions during the LARP, usually determine the type of interaction in a LARP. GMs may also influence the LARP while it is played, for example by playing or briefing non-player characters. The logistical arrangement of a LARP event may also fall to the GMs, or there may be other arrangers who handle details such as advertising the event, booking a venue, and financial management.

Player characters and non-player characters

There is sometimes a distinction between player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs). The NPCs exist to make the LARP more satisfying for the players and they typically receive more direction from the GMs than the players do. Unlike in traditional role-playing games where a GM usually plays all the NPCs, in a LARP each NPC is typically played by a separate person. People dedicated to playing NPCs at an event are sometimes called "crew" or "cast", and may play multiple NPC roles. Sometimes players are asked to play NPCs for periods of an event.

History

LARP does not have a single point of origin, but was invented independently by several different groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. What these groups had in common was experience with genre fiction or tabletop role-playing games and a desire to physically experience such settings. In addition to tabletop role-playing, LARP was preceded and possibly influenced by childhood games of pretend, play fighting, costume parties, roleplay simulations, Commedia dell’arte, improvisational theatre, psychodrama, military exercises, and historical reenactment groups.cite book
last = Morton
first =Brian
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Lifelike
chapter = Larps and their Cousins through the Ages
editor = Donnis, Gade & Thorup
publisher = Knudepunkt 2007
date =2007
url = http://www.liveforum.dk/kp07book/lifelike_web.pdf
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2008-05-21
]

The earliest recorded LARP group was the physical combat Dagorhir Outdoor Improvisational Battle Games, founded in 1977 in Washington, DC, USA.cite web
last = Dagorhir
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Origins of Dagorhir
work = Dagorhir website
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.dagorhir.com/dagorhir/history.htm
format = HTML
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-28
] Soon after the release of the movie "Logan's Run" in 1976, rudimentary live role-playing games based on the movie were run at many US science fiction conventions.cite web
last = Muir
first = John Kenneth
authorlink = John Kenneth Muir
coauthors =
title = Logan's Run: The Series
work = John Kenneth Muir website
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.johnkennethmuir.com/JohnKennethMuirsRetroTVFile_LogansRun.html
format = HTML
doi =
accessdate = 2007-10-19
] In 1981 the physical combat International Fantasy Games Society (IFGS) started, with rules influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. IFGS was named after a fictional group in the 1981 novel "Dream Park", which described futuristic LARPs.cite web
last = IFGS
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = History of the IFGS
work = IFGS website
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.ifgs.org/history.asp
format = HTML
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-29
] In 1982 the Society for Interactive Literature, a predecessor of LARPA, formed as the first recorded theatre-style LARP group in the US.cite web
last = Olmstead-Dean
first = Gordon
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Theatre Style Live Roleplaying Events
work = LARP Writing.org
pages =
publisher =
date =
year = 1998
month =
url = http://www.larpwriting.org/essays/article_ts/ts8.shtml
doi =
id =
quote = In 1982, Walt Frietag and some friends at Harvard University "invented" what they called "interactive literature."... Frietag called his group the "Harvard Society for Interactive Literature," which was shortened to "Society for Interactive Literature" the next year.
accessdate = 2008-05-29
]

LARP quickly appeared internationally following the growing popularity of role-playing games in the 1980s. Treasure Trap, formed in 1982 at Peckforton Castle,cite journal
last =
first = Rob
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Rob's Bit
journal = Peckforton Post
volume =1
issue =
pages =
publisher =Treasure Trap
date =
year =
month =
url = http://www.treasuretrap.net/TTPhoto/displayimage.php?album=4&pos=12
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2007-07-28
] was the first recorded LARP game in the UK and influenced many of the physical combat fantasy LARPs that followed there.Citation | last = Hook | first = Nathan | title = The History of UK LARP | periodical = The LARP Magazine Newsletter | publication-date = 2006-06-05 | volume = 2 | url = http://www.larpmag.com/Issue01_April_06/larp_magazine_newsletter_volume02.htm#Section%20IX.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20The%20History%20of%20UK%20LARP,%20Written%20By%20Nathan%20Hook] In 1983 the first recorded LARP in Australia was run, a freeform event in the science fiction Traveller setting.cite journal
last =
first = Arcanacon
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Free Form Role-Playing
journal = Arcanacon I - 83 handbook
volume = 1
issue =
pages = 10
publisher =Arcanacon
date =
year =
month =
url = http://www.arcanacon.org/1983/page10.html
doi =
id =
quote = ...in the pioneering freeform tournament at Canberra Games Convention '83 participating players were members of the crew of the ship 'Sarten Valador'... rather than sitting around a table... the players move about the game environment...
accessdate = 2007-10-21
] In 1993 White Wolf, Inc released which is still played internationally and is probably the most commercially successful published LARP.cite web
last = Appelcline
first = Shannon
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = A Brief History of Game #11: WHITE WOLF, PART ONE: 1986-1995
work = RPGnet website
publisher = Skotos Tech
date = 2007-02-01
url = http://www.rpg.net/columns/briefhistory/briefhistory11.phtml
format = HTML
doi =
accessdate = 2007-11-03
]

Today LARP is a popular activity in North America,cite web
author =Ryan S. Dancey
title =Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary (RPGs)
version =V1.0
publisher =Wizards of the Coast
date =February 7, 2000
url =http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/wotcdemo.html
format =
quote = According to a 1999 survey in the United States 6% of 12 to 35 year olds had played role-playing games. Half of these had played a live action roleplaying game.
accessdate = 2007-02-23
] Europe, Russia and Australasia. Large games with thousands of participants are run by for-profit companies, various LARP books are published and an increasingly professional industry sells costume, armour, and foam weapons intended primarily for LARP.

Classification

LARP is notably diverse, with widely different approaches being taken in different groups and regions.(Young 2003:7) Defining LARP] LARPs are sometimes classified according to the verisimilitude of the game mechanics,(Young 2003:7) The Mechanics Axis] primary conflicts (between player characters or with non-player characters),(Young 2003:11) The Interaction Axis] number of participants, duration (campaigns or single events), stance on role-playing (immersive or theatrical) or genre (fantasy, science fiction, contemporary etc.).

Verisimilitude of game mechanics

A game mechanic is a way of representing a character's action and determining whether it succeeds or not. LARP mechanics can be classified by verisimilitude, i.e. how closely the player's action resembles the fictional action being performed. This difference is most clearly visible when comparing LARPs that use physical combat and those that use symbolic determination of combat. However, the same principle applies to social influence and intellectual problem solving, which can also be based on the actual skills of the player or handled by symbolic mechanics.

Physical mechanics occur without interruption in role-play, using foam weapons, airsoft guns, laser tag guns and similar, to represent weapons. Sometimes relatively harmless versions of real weapons (blunt metal swords, firearms loaded with blanks) are used as representations. Games using physical combat are often known as "boffer" or "live combat"(Young 2003:7) The Mechanics Axis] LARPs. In LARPs with physical mechanics the physical skills of the player play an important role.

Symbolic determination relies on players momentarily suspending role-playing in order to determine the outcome of an action, for example by rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors or comparing character attributes.(Young 2003:8) The Mechanics Axis] In symbolic combat systems, weapons may be represented by cards or physical replicas. Depending on the environment the game will be played in, the possibility of misunderstanding, and the sensibilities of the participants, realistic looking weapon props may not be allowed. [The Mind's Eye Theatre system forbids realistic looking weapons. From the "Basic Rules" section: "#2 - No weapons as props." "However, real weapons or anything that even looks like a real weapon ... are a definite no-no." (Dansky 1996. p136, "Appendix")] A "no-touch" rule prohibiting physical contact between players is sometimes enforced. [The Mind's Eye Theatre system has such a rule. From the "Basic Rules" section: "#1 - No Touching. This means none whatsoever, even with consent." (Dansky 1996. p136, "Appendix")] Many symbolic and physical combat systems also use game rules for character attributes like strength and physical endurance to help determine the outcome of a combat situation. Others use an honour system where players are trusted to determine the outcomes of combat through free improvisation.

Genre

LARPs can have as many genres and settings as novels, plays, or movies. Many use settings derived from genre fiction. Some LARPs borrow a setting from an established work in another medium (e.g. "The Lord of the Rings" or the World of Darkness), while others use a setting designed specifically for the LARP. Proprietary campaign settings, together with rulesets, are often the principal creative asset of LARP groups and LARP publishers. LARP players sometimes re-tell the events of a LARP as a story, with their character as protagonist. However, LARPs seldom feature pre-determined stories of the type common in literature or cinema.

Focus of interaction

Some LARPs, such as theatre-style games in the US, feature primarily conflicts between player characters or groups of characters. Others, sometimes called "adventure style LARPs", pit players against gamemaster-controlled obstacles or antagonists. Another distinction is often made (especially in the UK) between player-led and gamemaster-led interactions, the former being improvised by players during play while the latter are planned in advance by GMs although they are usually reactive to the players' improvisation.

Game format

LARPs vary in size from a handful of players to several thousand, and in duration from a couple of hours to whole weeks. Most LARPs are either single, self-consistent events or form parts of a campaign - a series of LARP sessions featuring the same setting, the same rules and many of the same characters.

Common styles

LARP rules and play cover a wide variety of different styles that blend into each other. There are some categorizations that are widely used and in broad terms help identify shared expectations for a game.

Avant-garde

Common in the Nordic countriescite web
last = Fatland
first =Eirik
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Knutepunkt and Nordic Live Role-playing: a crash course
work = Dissecting larp
publisher = Knudepunkt 2003
date =2003
url = http://knutepunkt.laiv.org/Knutepunkt%20and%20Nordic%20Live%20Role-playing,%20A%20crash%20course.pdf
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-29
] but also present elsewhere, avant-garde or "arthaus" LARPs are eclectic events using experimental themes and techniques. Avante-garde LARPs have high culture aspirations, and are occasionally held in fine art contexts such as festivals, art museums or theatres. The themes, settings and characters of avante-garde LARPs are usually relevant to real-world issues of politics, culture, religion, sexuality and the human condition.

Fest

A fest (short for "festival") LARP has hundreds of participants, usually split into competing character factions camped separately around a large venue. There are relatively few fests in the world, all based in the UK, Europe, and Canada, however their size means that they have a significant influence on local LARP culture and design.

Linear

Some LARP events feature a small group of PCs facing a series of challenges from NPCs. Such "linear" events are often more tightly planned and controlled by GMs than other styles of LARP. The International Fantasy Games Society calls such events "line-courses". [cite web
url = http://www.ifgs.org/about.asp
title = About the IFGS
accessdate = 2007-12-08
publisher = International Fantasy Gaming Society
archiveurl = http://www.ifgs.org/about.asp
archivedate = 2007-12-08
]

Pervasive

Pervasive LARPs mingle their fiction with modern reality,cite book
last = Markus
first =Montola
authorlink =
coauthors = Jaakko Stenros
editor= Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros
title = Playground Worlds
chapter = Introduction
publisher = Ropecon ry
date =2008
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate =
isbn = 978-952-92-3579-7
quote= The third and youngest design ideal is "pervasive larp". These games blur the line between larp and life as the game spills onto the streets. The whole world becomes a playground...
] in a fashion similar to Alternate Reality Games.cite conference
last = Markus
first =Montola
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor= Baba, Akira
title = Tangible Pleasures of Pervasive Role-Playing
booktitle = Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Situated Play conference
publisher = The University of Tokyo
pages = 178-185
date = 2007-09-24
year = 2007
url = http://www.digra.org/dl/db/07312.38125.pdf
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2008-06-04
isbn =
quote= Alternate reality gaming is the most widely established subgenre of pervasive gaming, but others are evolving as well.
] Bystanders who are unaware that a game is taking place may be treated as part of the fictional setting. In-character materials such as websites may be actually hosted on the internet with fictional people registered as the creators.

Theatre-style/freeform

Theatre-style or freeform LARPs are characterised by symbolic combat, an eclectic approach to genre and setting, and a focus on interaction between characters that are written by the gamemasters. They are sometimes played at gaming conventions, which they suit well as they typically only last a few hours and require relatively little preparation by players.

Youth LARPs

Youth LARPs are intended for children and young people. Some are run through institutions such as schools, churches, or the Scouts. Denmark has an especially high number of fantasy and medieval youth LARPs."According to the survey, 8% of children had participated in role-playing events in nature during the last month... The Danish larp scene is... dominated by large fantasy and medieval games and campaigns" cite web
last = Morten
first =Gade
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Danish larp by numbers
work = Dissecting larp
publisher = Knudepunkt 2005
date =2005
url = http://knutepunkt.laiv.org/Danish%20larp%20in%20numbers.pdf
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-29
] Other varieties of youth LARP include some set in the Harry Potter universe.

Common genres

LARPs can be in any genre, however certain genres are especially common.

Espionage

Espionage LARPs are inspired by spy fiction. Some leverage the real world as a venue or real player identities as characters in a manner similar to Assassin or alternate reality games. These usually avoid physical combat and real-looking weapons which could attract unwanted attention from the public and authorities.

Fantasy

Fantasy genre LARPs are set in pseudo-historical worlds inspired by fantasy literature and fantasy role-playing games such as "Dungeons & Dragons". These settings typically have low technology, magic, and fantasy races. Many fantasy LARPs use physical combat and focus on adventure and/or competition between character factions. Fantasy is one of the most common LARP genres internationally.

Historical

Historical LARPs take place in our world, at some point in history. They can vary from a 1930s murder mystery to a feudal Japanese Samurai story. Historical accuracy, in both fictional content and physical props and costume, is often prized in these LARPs, and there are similarities with Historical reenactment.

Horror

Horror LARPs often use horror fiction as inspiration. LARPs with a horror theme can be set in any era, often crossing over historical or science fiction genres. One common sub-genre is based on the writing of H. P. Lovecraft, sometimes using the published LARP Cthulhu Live and often set in the United States in the 1920s.

Military simulation

Military simulation (mil-sim) LARPs focus on military operations, often in modern or futuristic settings. Many include live combat with laser tag, airsoft or paintball markers. Some mil-sims have a hard-core approach and attention to detail that resembles police exercises or war games conducted by the military. Players may take on combat roles or play non-combatants such as civilians or VIPs.

World of Darkness

Published by White Wolf, Inc., this is a goth-punk setting in which players usually portray secretive supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. This setting can be played using Mind's Eye Theatre, which is a relatively complex symbolic LARP system also published by White Wolf. These LARPs are usually played in a "chronicle", a series of short events held at regular intervals, and are also popular at conventions. An international chronicle is run by White Wolf's official fan club the Camarilla. The World of Darkness is one of the most commonly-used LARP settings internationally.

Mythology

Mythology LARPs are set in a semi-historical era with legendary aspects of that time. For example, a Celtic mythology LARP might include features of Celtic myth such as Druids with powers from the gods and goddesses, or legendary creatures and monsters such as the Tuatha Dé Danann or the banshee.

Science fiction

Science fiction LARPs take place in futuristic settings with high technology and possibly extraterrestrial life, but usually without supernatural themes. This describes a broad array of LARPs, including politically themed LARPs depicting dystopian or utopian societies, combat-oriented events played with laser tag weaponry, and settings inspired by cyberpunk, space opera and post-apocalyptic fiction. Official rules have also been published for popular science fiction settings such as Star Wars. [(Russo & Heinig 1996)]

ee also

;Lists
*List of live action role-playing groups

;LARP conventions
*Intercon - several conventions regularly held on the East Coast of the United States
*Knutepunkt - convention regularly held in several Nordic countries

;Related activities
*Alternate reality game
*Assassin (game)
*Cosplay
*Historical reenactment
*Improvisational theatre
*Murder mystery game
*Pacifist warfare
*Wide game

;Movies
*"Darkon" - Documentary about the Baltimore, Maryland Darkon Wargaming Club
*"Monster Camp" - Documentary about the Seattle, Washington chapter of the New England Role Playing Organization

Notes

References

* cite book
last = Dansky
first =Richard E. (Developer)
authorlink = Richard Danksy
coauthors =
title =Laws of the Night
publisher = White Wolf, Inc.
date =1996
isbn =1-5604-506-8

* cite book
last =Niven
first =Larry
authorlink =Larry Niven
coauthors =Barnes, Steven
title =Dream Park
publisher =Phantasia Press
date =1981
isbn =0-9320960-9-3

* cite book
last =Russo
first =Anthony
authorlink =
coauthors = Heinig, Scott
title = Star Wars Live-Action Adventures
publisher =West End Games
date =1996
isbn =0-8743128-3-3

* cite book
last =Young
first =Mike (Editor)
authorlink =Mike Young (game designer)
coauthors =
title =The Book of LARP
publisher =Interactivities Ink
date =2003
isbn =0-9708356-8-X

External links

* [http://www.rpg.net/larp/journal/index.html Journal of Interactive Drama] International peer-reviewed LARP journal.
* [http://forum.rpg.net/forumdisplay.php?f=70 RPG.net's LARP forum] International LARP forum.
* [http://www.larplist.com Shade's LARP List] International LARP portal.


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