Beginners Guide to Larp: Choosing
From the 1970’s to the 2000’s larp was hyper local, for many new players the one local game became the entire concept. Only in the last 10 years the breath of scope that encompasses larp has become available to new players. Unfortunately the idea that larp is only one kind of thing persists. When new players look for help they often fail to state clearly what kind of larp they are looking for.
Here’s a general guide for new players who are looking to try larp, but don’t know what they should be looking for. This is an attempt to sum up, from my point of view, the larping world as I see it. That sentence contains lots of caveats because larp evolves over time and it’s impossible to know everything about it. The reality is there are lots of different styles of larp, all equally valid. And then within the styles there are many Theme’s and Settings. Hopefully this glossary will at least give new players a starting point for understanding the broad concepts of larp like activities.
Sometimes Chamber Larp or Black Box larp these forms rely on the imagination of the players. The setting and props are minimal or non existent. In the style of Experimental Theater the game may be a blank stage with taped lines to denote locations or scene changes. Interpersonal conflict resolution and storytelling are the main focuses of the action. This style can be run by anyone in any location with low resources.
An oversimplification to get the point across, a Con Larp is a theater larp with more material and more people. Usually held at a convention which can accommodate the large number of players. My definition might be a little on the light side, because I’ve never participated in this form of larp before. Con larps seem like a great entry into larping especially if you’re going to the con anyway and your idea of camping involves room service. Check out New England Interactive Literature for their array of resources, conferences and conventions. If you want to run a larp without having to write one, check the library.
Jeep Form/Free Form Style:
These games usually have very few rules or game mechanics and function a lot more like Interactive Theater. Less about mechanics and more about the emotion and player interaction. ‘Playing to lose’ is an important concept in this form of larp. Seeking the dramatic moment, which may mean setting that moment up for someone else, is the focus. This form allows you to intensely explore emotional spaces you might not usually get to explore. Find more about Freeform on the Leaving Mundania Blog.
Hit Point Systems:
The vast majority of U.S. campaign larps these days are played with some kind of Nero variant rules. These rules are quite similar to table top role playing. You have a character sheet, hit points, stats and skills. Except you actually carry the weapons, and fight with them. These games tend to be prop and mechanics heavy. Players will have a host of skills and spells to build their character with as well as the weapons and armor (or representations) to go with them. If you want storytelling, drama, swinging a sword, casting a spell, picking a pocket, a little bit of everything, start here.
Hit Location Systems:
Occasionally derivative from the SCA, occasionally from HEMA, these systems tend to be combat focused. They are fast paced, and brutal, simulating a martial art. Some allow full contact and others only partial contact. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have role playing. Far from it. Although conflict is resolved through physical interaction more than game mechanics, there will be spells and magic. The settings tend to be high fantasy or post apocalyptic. If you want to build foam weapons and armor, while practicing martial and role playing, start here.
There are some trappings of the historic, but effectiveness in combat rules the day. Very little role playing, but some of the most intense combat on the play field. This is almost an eSport in real life. There could be game mechanics which represent ‘magic’, but you will find fewer than in other styles of campaign larp. If your focus is being at the top of your physical game, and showing your skill, start here. Or if you like larps and want a better workout, check out a battle game.
This is not a true style, but a point about all the styles. Lots of games mix and match all these aspects. Or add board game mechanics. For example Shut up and Sit Down has reviewed a few games which blend live role play with other games. The MegaGame, where ShutUpandSitDown are clearly role playing, and the LHS Bikeshed where attendees play roles on board a star ship, are examples of things approaching larps. The reality of larp is that every game borrows concepts from others. Every game blends some aspects of each style.
This is the most polished post from my blog, and one that I’m proud of. If you think my definitions are incorrect, or incomplete let me know. That way this glossary can be improved for everyone.