History of live action role-playing games

History of live action role-playing games

Technically, many childhood games are simple LARPscite web|url=http://www.nifplay.org/states_play.html|title=Play science - the Patterns of Play|publisher=The National Institute for Play|accessdate=2007-11-09 The National Institute for Play describes "Imaginative and pretend play" as the fourth of seven "primal patterns of play".] (even though they don't bear that name), and so in that sense LARPs may have been around since the dawn of humanity. However, the invention of tabletop role-playing games in America in the 1970s, led to the development of recognisable organized LARPs played by adults.

LARP appears to have been "invented" almost from scratch several times, by different groups, relying on local ideas and expertise, although often inspired by reports of foreign LARPs. This has led to LARP practices and histories being extremely diverse. By the 1980s LARPs had spread to many countries, organizations, and different styles of play. In the 1990s Mind's Eye Theatre was the first published LARP system to become popular.

Around this time, the hobby began to attract critical and academic analysis. The 2003 Knutepunkt conference published "As LARP Grows Up" (subtitled "Theory and Methods in LARP"),cite book|last=Gade|first=Morten (ed.)|coauthors=Line Thorup, Mikkel Sander|title=As LARP Grows Up|url=http://www.laivforum.dk/kp03_book/|year=2003|publisher=Knutepunkt 2003|location=Copenhagen|language=English|isbn=87-989377-0-7] to propose future directions for the hobby.

Early history

Childhood LARP games probably go far back into pre-history, with "cowboys and Indians," "house," and "doctor" all having earlier historical and pre-historical equivalents in many cultures, like "Athenians and Spartans," "hunting deer," etc. Childhood LARPs tend to be very simple on rules, and to reflect the culture around them.

Live-action role-playing in the form of historical re-enactment has been practiced by adults for millennia as well. The ancient Romans, Han Chinese, and medieval Europeans all enjoyed occasionally organizing events in which everyone pretended to be from an earlier age, and entertainment appears to have been the primary purpose of these activities. It doesn't seem that historical re-enactment ever became a hobby prior to the 20th century however.

Likewise, adults have used live-action role-playing as an educational or practice exercise for centuries, with mock combats being an important part of military training, and mock treatments and trials used to teach doctors and lawyers. It's unclear to what extent these have counted as "games." The Prussian term for live-action military training exercises is "kriegspiel" or "Wargames," a term that has entered English as well, although the contemporary military prefers to call them military exercises to distinguish them from games.

Another early stream of LARP tradition is the improvisational theatre tradition. This goes back in some sense to the Commedia dell'Arte tradition of 16th century. Modern improvisational theatre began in the classroom with the "theatre games" of Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone in the 1950s. Viola Spolin, who was one of the founder the famous comedy troupe second city, insisted that her exercises were games, and that they involved role-playing as early as 1946, but thought of them as training actors and comics rather than as being primarily aimed at being fun in there own right.

G. K. Chesterton's 1905 book "The Club of Queer Trades" includes a story describing a commercial organization which stages LARP-like adventures for the entertainment of its customers. It's possible that this may have helped to suggest later ideas for commercial LARPs.

In the 1920s Model League of Nation's clubs formed around the states, creating a style of Live-action role-playing that was not thought of as a game but was thought of as a recreational pastime. There is some evidence that Assassin-style LARP games may have been played in New York city by adults, this early too. [ A simple version in which an assassination was performed by saying, "You're dead," was mentioned in Harpo Marx's autobiography, "Harpo Speaks!". This particular part of the autobiography covers the late 1920s.] The 1920s also saw the beginning of live action role-playing used for psychotherapeutic purposes, often called "psychodrama." It was championed in the US by Jacob L. Moreno It was not thought of as a game, but the psychodrama tradition probably influenced LARP games as they later developed.

The 1960s saw the creation of Fantasy LARPs (as distinct from pure historical re-enactments) probably originate with the founding of the Society for Creative Anachronism in Berkeley, California on May 1, 1966. A similar group, the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, began holding events on the University of Maryland, College Park in 1969. These groups were largely dedicated to accurately recreating medieval history and culture, however, with only mild fantasy elements, and were probably mostly influenced by historical re-enactment.

In the 1970s, after the publication of the first tabletop role-playing game ("Dungeons & Dragons") in 1974 Fantasy LARPs began springing up in many places somewhat independently.

American history

American LARPs have no single point of origin, although many of the groups still in operation can claim a lengthy history.

Among the live-combat groups, Dagorhir Outdoor Improvisational Battle Games (Dagorhir) was founded by Bryan Weise in the Washington, DC area in 1977. The International Fantasy Gaming Society (IFGS), also live-combat but with a complex rules system more clearly influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, was started in 1981 in Boulder, Colorado. (IFGS took its name from a fictional group in the novel "Dream Park" by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, which described highly realistic, futuristic LARPs.) At about the same time (but before 1981), the Assassins' Guild was created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pursue "killer" or "assassin"-style live-combat games with toy guns, but also to encourage creative design in LARPs. Assassination style LARPs spread to many other college campuses, even spawned two movies "TAG: The Assassination Game" in 1982, and "Gotcha" in 1985. Amtgard was founded in 1983 in El Paso, Texas and has hundreds of active groups in the US and Canada. While NERO International has over 50 chapters in the US and Canada, it was founded only in 1988.

Theatre Style LARP began in America at around the same time. In 1981, the Society for Interactive Literature (SIL) was founded by Walter Freitag, Mike Massamilla and Rick Dutton at Harvard University. The club's first public event was in February 1983, at the Boskone science fiction convention. A substantial part of the SIL membership broke off from that organization in 1991 and formed the Interactive Literature Foundation (ILF), which in 2000 changed its name to the Live Action Role-Players Association LARPA. The mid-Atlantic and northeastern US has been a center for Theatre Style events, especially the Intercon LARP conventions.

The northeastern LARP scene, founding place of SIL, NERO, and the MIT Assassin's Guild, continues to have an active LARP scene, due to the large number of college campuses present. Other universities along the East Coast have been strong "incubation" sites for northeastern LARPs. Early (pre-internet) campus-based LARPs formed in isolation, developing their own style of games with little crossover with other styles or regions. The existence of larger regional organizations, of published LARPs, and of the internet has helped to create a field of "LARP theory" and deliberate experimentation with LARP forms.

The region also plays host to many, smaller, fantasy-based LARPs, such as Lione Rampant, Quest Interactive Productions, Legends Roleplaying, Mythical Journeys and Chimera Entertainment's n'Teraction, all formed in the 1980s and 1990s by fantasy enthusiasts with a love for character roleplay and adventure, but without large player bases or complex rule systems.Fact|date=May 2008 Quest is the oldest of these groups, dating back to 1986.Fact|date=May 2008 Some of the other LARPs were formed as splinter groups of larger, more franchised LARPs, such as NERO. Such LARP groups tend to run in the spring and autumn, utilizing summer camp facilities (such as 4H and group campgrounds) in their off-seasons.

The Southeast is also home to a very large LARP community. The various Fantasy-based games are also splinters off NERO as well as one another, forming a relatively extensive list: King's Gate, a creation of Red Button Productions, Legynds, SOLAR or the Southern Organization for Live Action Reenactments, a NERO chapter, and the more experimental fantasy LARP Forest of Doors. These LARPs are run out of State Parks like in other areas, most often Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge, Georgia or Indian Springs State Park. Several World of Darkness-based games are also run out of Atlanta, as well as a Science Fiction Stargate-genre LARP, Stargate Atlanta FTX.

Since 1999, the mid-Atlantic US has been a center for a number of crossover Theatre Style/Adventure Style events or "campaigns," which fall outside the medieval fantasy genre which tends to characterize a majority of Live Combat LARPs. An initial impetus for this was the attempt of various fantasy groups to adapt the Call of Cthulhu as a LARP genre, however the genre has expanded to substantially wider horizons. The progenitor LARP in this genre was Mike Young's Dark Summonings Campaign, followed by transitional LARPs including the Mersienne Medieval Fantasy Campaign (medieval fantasy), Outpost Chi (science fiction), 1948: Signals, , as well as the heavily Call of Cthulhu based Altered Realities Campaign and the Victorian "steampunk" Brassy's Men Campaign. Together this network of current and previous events make up a substantial and innovative body of work which characterizes a vibrant mid-Atlantic US LARP Community. The rise of many campaigns all drawing from the same community has tended to preempt growth of non-campaign games, though, and to some degree push out the 'less dedicated' gamers due to the higher commitment needed.

UK history

Treasure Trap, formed in 1982 at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, is recognised as the first LARP game in the UKCitation | 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] . It featured rubber-weapon combat, heroic adventures and fantasy monsters. Over its two-year history, it garnered moderate attention from the press (even being featured on Blue Peter) and established a large, enthusiastic player-base. When it closed, numerous systems sprang up around the country to replace it.

Many of these systems copied most of the format, rules and setting of the original Treasure Trap. Few of them could match the evocative setting of Peckforton Castle, although Labyrinthe secured the use of Chislehurst Caves.

Most of these games were independent of each other; despite their shared heritage, there was no shared world. Fools and Heroes was an exception: many branches of the same game were opened in different areas of the country.

Many games were established by university societies, and organised around the modest budgets of students. (Many of these fell to the declining student grants of the 1990s.) Some systems tried to do things bigger and better - for example Heroquest has continued to successfully run adventures lasting from 5 to 11 days and still regularily runs two events per month across the UK.

LARP weapon design advanced considerably after the innovation in 1986 of latex-coated weapons by Second skin (larp). This allowed a much greater level of detail and artistry in weapon design than the prior gaffer tape models. Over the next decade, home-made gaffer weapons were largely supplanted by professionally-made latex ones.

In the early 1990s, Summerfest, originally a meeting of the various Fools and Heroes branches, had gained an attendance of over a thousand players.cite web|url=http://www.whyilarp.com/history.html|title=History of LARP|publisher=Why I LARP|accessdate=2007-11-09] This led to a style of LARP known as 'fest' LRP: unlike small games (often less than 50 players) fests often centre around warring factions and huge battles. The Lorien Trust, formed in 1992, epitomised this principle with its flagship annual event "The Gathering", which features battles with over a thousand players on each side, as well as complex politics, an SFX-driven magic ritual circle, a licensed tavern, and a large marketplace for the out-of-character sale of costumes, prosthetics, weapons, props and accessories.

The early 1990s also saw the introduction of White Wolf's Mind's Eye Theatre LARP, which introduced a largely new set of players to live roleplaying. Unlike most UK LARPs, it was based on indoor social interaction with minimal costuming requirements, and a combat/magic/interaction system based on rock-paper-scissors. There was some antipathy between Vampire and Fantasy LARPers, although some groups discarded the MET rules and used conventional LARP ideas (such as rubber weapons) instead.

Roleplaying conventions such as GenCon UK, Dragonmeet and Continuum have also become a venue for LARPs, usually 'Freeforms' with little emphasis on either combat or character development, but more on plot development, and player interaction.

The evident size of the UK LARP player-base suggested that there might be a market for LARP-related periodicals, and so professionally-produced magazines such as "The Scribe" and "The Adventurer" were printed, including reviews, advice, photos and humour. These helped to expose players to the wide variety of games out there.

However, none of these magazines got sufficient sales to survive, and the UK LRP community took advantage of emerging internet communities. Initially, these groups concentrated on specific local games until Pagga.com was formed in 2000 in an attempt to form a wider online LRP community.

While the majority of LARPS were either 'medieval fantasy' or Vampire, a growing number of new games were experimenting with other genres, from science fiction to wild west to Celtic to pirates. Some, such as Shards, deliberately crossed genres and worlds. Some games, including Lorien Trust, would allow players to introduce virtually any concept to the game, in a style known as 'Open World'.

The Lorien Trust was subject to numerous arguments and fall-outs, and some of these led to new systems. In 1995, a large group broke away from LT to create Curious Pastimes, initially a spin-off of the LT's Erdreja campaign.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] Its principal event, "Renewal", runs on the same weekend as "The Gathering" and is similarly themed, although the battles are mostly PvM rather than PvP. Renewal has about 1000 players.

A later breakaway in from the LT in 1998 was the Omega LRP team. Their Phoenix campaign, however, was completely different to the LT, being 'Closed World', with an emphasis on community-building and trade, and a professed intention of 'Player-led plot', bucking the current trend of powerful NPCs controlling everything. The campaign ran for 5 years, until a group of PCs effectively destroyed the world. It had about 400 players.

Some of the Omega staff and players went on to create the "Maelstrom" campaign for Profound Decisions Ltd in 2004. This colonialism fantasy game strives to set new standards in player empowerment, and explicitly limits the power of NPCs and plotwriters. It supports a high degree of political, economic, sociological, technological and magical complexity, and inspires a great deal of enthusiasm and creativity in its players.Fact|date=November 2007 Maelstrom usually has around 800 players.

New LARPs are continually in development; currently (2006) favoured themes are horror (with or without zombies) and sci-fi, with airsoft starting to come into play.

Russian history

LARP has been played in Russia since at least the 1980s. The Russian word for LARP translates simply as "role-playing", since tabletop RPGs were unknown in Russia at the time LARP was invented or introduced there. Russian live role-playing is often practised under the banner of "Tolkienism" or Tolkien fandom, though it is definitely no longer confined to Tolkien or fantasy only. Regional traditions vary greatly in their history and practice, though the now defunct Soviet "Young Pioneers" organisation and the networks between former members seems to have played some role in spreading and coordinating the idea of live role-playing. Much more involvement is usually attributed to SF fandom clubs, which flourished in Russia in that period.

Earliest documented mentions of LARP-like activities in Russia relate to the yearly memorial reenactment of the Battle of Borodino, where military history clubs, not satisfied with reenacting this battle only, tried various other takes on the subject -- the first recorded one, in 1988, being the people dressing up as soldiers of Red army. According to witness reports, in 1989 Tolkien fans came to the Borodino reenactment in fantasy costumes, which jumpstarted the movement and led to the first recorded large-scale LARP in Russia, the National Hobbit Games, which ran in August 1990 near river Mana in the vicinity of Krasnoyarsk. Since then, such events occur yearly and the tradition became very widely developed.

Russia probably has the biggest and most varied LARP-scene in the world, with a wide range of genres and playstyles. By now, the number of players is estimated to be somewhere between 50000 and 100000. The biggest plays number more than 1000 players, but many smaller plays (50-200 participants) are also common.

Nordic history

In the early 1980s, the Swedish LARP group Gyllene Hjorten [http://www.larp.com/hjorten/] started a LARP campaign that is still going strong. This is probably the first LARP event in the Nordic countries. LARP in Finland started in 1985 and Norway was initiated in 1989, more or less simultaneously by groups in Oslo and Trondheim. The first Danish games were also played in the late 80's.

The Nordic LARP traditions, though usually invented independently of each other, have developed striking similarities and are also notably different from English language and German language LARPs. These differences are most obvious in the Nordic LARPs' skepticism towards game mechanics, a tendency to limit combat and magic - seeing these as "spice" rather than a necessary ingredient in LARP - and an emphasis on immersive environments where anachronisms and out of play elements (off-elements, such as visible cars or paved roads in a historical or fantasy setting) are avoided. The setting and roles may be given to the participants by the organizers, or suggested by the player to organizers, in either case usually based on a dialogue between the player and organizer. "character sheets", in the manner of tabletop RPGs, are for the most part not used.

When the game starts it lives its own life, wholly directed by the players (some predetermined events are often scheduled). A typical Swedish or Norwegian game lasts 2-5 days and has anywhere from fifty to hundreds of participants. A typical Danish or Finnish game lasts between four hours and a few days. Rules are designed for combat injury simulation and normally emphasize roleplaying of damage rather than abstract hitpoints (though this was not always so), featuring either padded weapons or blunt steel weapons. Each gaming organization uses custom rules, but simplicity and similarities make this less cumbersome than it would at first seem.

The annual Knutepunkt conference, first held in 1997, has been a vital institution in establishing a Nordic live role-playing identity, and in establishing the concept of "Nordic LARP" as a unique approach. A live-roleplaying avant-garde movement, which pursues radical experimentation and the recognition of role-playing as a form of art, has been connected to the Knutepunkt conferences. The scope of the Knutepunkt conference has expanded rather rapidly over the last few years with participants showing up from numerous non-Scandinavian countries. The last 2 or 3 years has seen participants from USA, Germany, France, Italy and Russia as well as from the main Scandinavian countries.

German history

The German LARP history is most easily found, by going to the German Larp calendar at [http://www.larpkalender.de Larp Kalender]

The First LARP that has been cataloged is Samhain's Quest II on April 14, 1995, although Draccon 1 in 1991 is generally held to be the first event of significance. LarpWiki.de has a [http://www.larpwiki.de/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?LarpHistorie page on history] .

outh African history

LARP in South Africa is mostly single evening events of fewer than four hours in length, with 8 to 20 players. Larger, longer-term campaigns are occasionally run, most using World of Darkness: Vampire.

There is a heavy emphasis on roleplaying. In the single evening events this means that there is little use of non player characters, costumes are the norm, and simple game mechanics are used. The standard conflict-resolution systems are symbolic, usually involving dice and very simplified character proficiency statistics. Special abilities are generally handled using cards that the player using the ability shows to those affected by it. Players are usually given detailed character sheets, sometimes of up to eight pages. These included background, goals and knowledge of other characters.

Cape Town is reputed to be the LARPing capital of South Africa, and there is a large archive of LARPs written by Capetonian designers (see under External Links). In recent years, there has been an increase in LARP activity in other communities, such as Johannesburg.

New Zealand history

New Zealand has an established and growing community of LARPers.

An assassin-style LARP was run by KAOS in 1981, and other LARPs have been run in New Zealand since at least the mid 1980s, though at the time the term "wide game" or "council game" was generally used because the term LARP had not been introduced. At NatCon 86 in Nelson, a game based around the ruling council of the city of New Pavis in Glorantha dealing with the approaching Lunar Army was run.

Several major events were held during the 1990s, the largest probably being the [http://www.apocalypse.gen.nz/apocalypse/vision.html Aliens Apocalypse] event run in 1999 as the culmination of a series of games based around the Aliens movies.

Several long-term campaigns have been and are currently running. Typical genres include vampire, medieval fantasy, science fiction (including popular single-evening events of live Paranoia and post-apocalyptic settings), horror, and 1920s/1930s gangsters.

Emphasis in long-term campaigns varies depends on the setting. For example, [http://www.mordavia.com Mordavia] is a medieval dark fantasy which emphasises roleplaying very strongly, where [http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~mikaere/Skirmish.html Skirmish] is more combat-based, and games such as Vampire: The Requiem are strongly political.

Most games are non-contact using Mind's Eye Theatre or similar systems, whilst a few encourage live combat with foam weapons. Magical and other special effects are usually narrated, but are sometimes symbolised by reading of scrolls, throwing of spell packets, and circles outlined in rope for traps and magical portals. In a few one-off LARPS, significant special effects have been produced, often with the help of local professionals, such as Weta Workshop, and lighting and sound are often used to assist mood.

Level of costume varies. Large one-off games usually see a lot of work put in by players with appropriate skills, or professional costumes are hired or borrowed. In long-term campaigns, great care is often taken on player character costumes, as the character (personality, abilities, and background) will most often be invented by the player themselves. Non-player character costume is sometimes less detailed, but favourite monsters or villains may reappear frequently as they become well-loved by the players.

There are LARP communities in all the major cities, especially Auckland and Wellington.

The New Zealand Live Action Role Playing Society is an umbrella organisation created to promote and support LARP throughout New Zealand. It is a parent organisation of [http://www.mordavia.com Mordavia] , and is affiliated with other groups such as [http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~mikaere/Skirmish.html Skirmish] .

A large scale LARP is usually run each year as part of New Zealand's largest roleplaying convention, [http://kapcon.rpg.net.nz Kapcon] .

References


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