What is LARP?
A couple years ago, when I began my journey with creating my own Live Action RolePlaying game, I wanted to ask the question, “What really is LARP?” It sprang from the amazement at a local convention when I saw so many things branded as Live-Action Roleplay, when so many of them didn’t seem to fit that designation. There was a space simulation game, a fantasy boffer game, a hidden bomber game, “werewolf” style games, social gaming (like Vampire) to even party games like Cash & Guns. That wide swath took me by surprise, and I wasn’t quite ready to deal with it.
I was conditioned to believe there were three kinds of LARPing…social games (like the BNS/White Wolf Vampire game), boffer games (the kind that utilize physical combat with safe “weapons”) and the Nordic style (loose with rules and more with story/immersion). I didn’t feel that any style was better than the other, because I had done all three at one time or another. Jim Pinto and I did a lot of Nordic-style LARP experiments at local conventions before we’d even heard the term, and I had done a lot of IFGS boffer games over two decades ago…and spent a good 7 years doing White Wolf NWOD social larping with a large group in Long Beach, CA. All of that showed me that they were the division and that was that, or so I thought.
Now I can look at things with a wider eye over the past 29 years of LARPing and realize that SO much counts as a live action roleplaying game. Everything listed in the first paragraph up there that shocked me…they are all their own form of immersion, their own form of Roleplay, and their own kind of game. I really like the idea of “Social Gaming” and “Physical Gaming” being the dividing line, but what I see the amazing folks from Dying Kingdoms doing (a mix of boffer, social AND tabletop) crosses those lines too. Some days it just boggles my mind the level of flavor we have out there…and I ask myself, do I really want to keep designing my own system for generic settings?
Short answer is still Yes…because I feel there’s a lot of niches that need filling, and storytellers who need a system that will bend with them as needed to get where they want to go. A system that’ll give some structure to the wacky idea feel that some Nordic larps have, without as Rachel Judd has often said to me “a feeling of Calvinball mixed with I-Win mechanics.” Nothing is perfect, and I look forward to picking up this ball that feels like a slippery chameleon again because I think it can do some good.
Back to the initial question…what is LARP? Whether you call it Social, Boffer, Nordic, Calvinball, or Roleplay Theater…it’s all gaming. An intersection of human interaction that is still malleable after all these years. Maybe it’s time to stand in the middle and start making it all work together? I don’t know…but it will be fun to see how it goes.