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A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of
role-playing game A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game, RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal ...
where the participants physically portray their characters.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "LARPs can be viewed as forming a distinct category of RPG because of two unique features: (a) The players physically embody their characters, and (b) the game takes place in a physical frame. Embodiment means that the physical actions of the player are regarded as those of the character. LARP participants may dress in the costume of their character and carry appropriate physical props (e.g., an 18th century militia LARP participant may wear a military uniform and carry a musket). Whereas in a RPG played by a group sitting around a table, players describe the actions of their characters (e.g., "I run to stand beside my friend"); in an equivalent situation in a LARP, a player would physically run to the appropriate point within the game space." The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by real-world environments while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called
gamemaster A gamemaster (GM; also known as game master, game manager, game moderator, referee, or storyteller) is a person who acts as an organizer, officiant for regarding rules, arbitrator, and moderator for a multiplayer role-playing game. They are m ...
s decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play. The first LARPs were run in the late 1970s, inspired by
tabletop role-playing games A tabletop role-playing game (typically abbreviated as TRPG or TTRPG), also known as a pen-and-paper role-playing game, is a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters' actions through speech. Participan ...
and
genre fiction Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is a term used in the book-trade for fiction, fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre ...
. The activity spread internationally during the 1980s and has diversified into a wide variety of styles. Play may be very game-like or may be more concerned with dramatic or artistic expression. Events can also be designed to achieve educational or political goals. The fictional genres used vary greatly, from realistic modern or historical settings to fantastic or futuristic eras. Production values are sometimes minimal, but can involve elaborate venues and costumes. LARPs range in size from small private events lasting a few hours, to large public events with thousands of players lasting for days.


Terminology

LARP has also been referred to as ''live role-playing'' (''LRP''), ''interactive literature'', and ''free form role-playing''. Some of these terms are still in common use; however, LARP has become the most commonly accepted term.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "LARP ... is the commonly accepted term in the gaming community." It is sometimes written in lowercase, as ''larp''.(Fatland 2005:1) "The non-Nordic reader should, however, keep in mind that there are some differences between the Nordic and Anglo-American uses of English when talking about larp. Most importantly, we treat 'larp' as a word in its own right, not an acronym (L.A.R.P.), and it is spelt lower-case." The ''live action'' in LARP is analogous to the term ''
live action Live action (or live-action) is a form of cinematography or videography that uses photography instead of animation. Some works combine live-action with animation to create a live-action animated film. Live-action is used to define film, video ga ...
'' used in film and video to differentiate works with human actors from
animation Animation is a method by which image, still figures are manipulated to appear as Motion picture, moving images. In traditional animation, images are drawn or painted by hand on transparent cel, celluloid sheets to be photographed and exhibited ...
. Playing a LARP is often called ''larping'', and one who does it is a ''larper''.


Play overview

The participants in a LARP physically portray characters in a fictional setting, improvising their characters' speech and movements somewhat like actors in
improvisational theatre Improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improv, is the form of theatre, often comedy, in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers. In its purest form, the dialogue, a ...
. This is distinct from tabletop role-playing games, where character actions are described verbally. LARPs may be played in a public or private area and may last for hours or days. There is usually no audience.(Falk & Davenport 2004:128) "...live role-playing games are devoid of the audience concept." Players may dress as their character and carry appropriate equipment, and the environment is sometimes decorated to resemble the setting.(Falk & Davenport 2004:131) "The LRP player, like a stage actor, is a person who under-goes a transformation into a character. The character's costume and accessories, or kit, aids this transformation ... Physical structures may be used as game locations, and sometimes even purposely constructed to enhance the game world ... Players frequently use physical artifacts as props and tools in their role-play, primarily to back up their character roles." LARPs can be one-off events or a series of events in the same setting, and events can vary in size from a handful of players to several thousand.(Tychsen et al. 2006:259) "Most LARPs are either scenarios (or single-shots) or campaigns (also known as chronicles)"(Tychsen et al. 2006:258) "Games range in size from a handful to more than 4,000 players" Events are put on for the benefit of the ''players'', who take on roles called ''
player character A player character (also known as a playable character or PC) is a fictional Character (arts), character in a video game or tabletop role-playing game whose actions are controlled by a player rather than the rules of the game. The characters th ...
s'' (''PCs'') that the players may create themselves or be given by the gamemasters. Players sometimes play the same character repeatedly at separate events, progressively developing the character and its relations with other characters and the setting. Arrangers called ''gamemasters'' (''GMs'') determine the rules and setting of a LARP, and may also influence an event and act as referees while it is taking place. The GMs may also do the logistical work, or there may be other arrangers who handle details such as advertising the event, booking a venue, and financial management. Unlike the GM in a tabletop role-playing game, a LARP GM seldom has an overview of everything that is happening during play because numerous participants may be interacting at once. For this reason, a LARP GM's role is often less concerned with tightly maintaining a narrative or directly entertaining the players, and more with arranging the structure of the LARP before play begins and facilitating the players and crew to maintain the fictional environment during play. Participants sometimes known as the ''crew'' may help the GMs to set up and maintain the environment of the LARP during play by acting as
stagehand A stagehand is a person who works backstage or behind the scenes in theatres, film, television, or location performance. Their work include setting up the scenery Theatrical scenery is that which is used as a setting for a theatrical product ...
s or playing ''
non-player character A non-player character (NPC), or non-playable character, is any Character (arts), character in a game that is not controlled by a Player (game), player. The term originated in traditional tabletop role-playing games where it applies to character ...
s'' (''NPCs'') who fill out the setting. Crew typically receive more information about the setting and more direction from the GMs than players do. In a tabletop role-playing game, a GM usually plays all the NPCs, whereas in a LARP, each NPC is typically played by a separate crew member.(Tresca 2010:188) "Where LARPs differ most from tabletop games is in the handling of non-player characters (NPCs). The physical performance necessary to pull off a performance in a LARP makes it impractical for a single person to handle many NPC roles. As a result, there is often a cast of characters who take on the roles of other NPCs. Unlike the players, the NPCs usually know the game's plot and have some idea of the narrative. NPCs, then, are a form of pseudo-player. They play the game, their characters have somewhat more limited goals, but they are ultimately constrained by the plot." Sometimes players are asked to play NPCs for periods of an event. Much of play consists of interactions between characters. Some LARP scenarios primarily feature interaction between PCs. Other scenarios focus on interaction between PCs and aspects of the setting, including NPCs, that are under the direction of the GMs.(Young 2003:11) "The focus of interaction of larp... can be player to player or player to environment."


History

LARP does not have a single point of origin, but was invented independently by groups in North America, Europe, and Australia.(Tychsen et al. 2006:256) "LARPs ... appear to have developed based on inspiration from tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, more or less simultaneously in North America, Europe, and Australia in the early 80s. Players from all of these continents claim to have hosted the oldest LARP, however, it appears that LARPs developed independently and with marked cultural differences." These groups shared an experience with genre fiction or tabletop role-playing games, and a desire to physically experience such settings. In addition to tabletop role-playing, LARP is rooted in childhood games of make believe, play fighting, costume parties, roleplay simulations,
Commedia dell'arte (; ; ) was an early form of professional theatre, originating from Italian theatre, that was popular throughout Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. It was formerly called Italian comedy in English and is also known as , , and . Charact ...
, improvisational theatre,
psychodrama Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous Adaptation (arts), dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives. Developed by Jac ...
,
military simulation Military simulations, also known informally as war games, are simulations in which theories of warfare can be tested and refined without the need for actual hostilities. Military simulations are seen as a useful way to develop Military tactics, t ...
s, and
historical reenactment Historical reenactment (or re-enactment) is an educational entertainment, educational or entertainment activity in which mainly amateur hobbyists and history enthusiasts dress in historic uniforms or costumes and follow a plan to recreate aspect ...
groups such as the
Society for Creative Anachronism The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international living history group with the aim of studying and recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century. A quip often used within the SCA describes ...
. The earliest recorded LARP group is '' Dagorhir'', which was founded in 1977 in the United States and focuses on
fantasy Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction involving Magic (supernatural), magical elements, typically set in a fictional universe and sometimes inspired by mythology and folklore. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became fantasy ...
battles. Soon after the release of the movie ''
Logan's Run ''Logan's Run'' is a science fiction Science fiction (sometimes shortened to Sci-Fi or SF) is a genre of speculative fiction which typically deals with imagination, imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and techno ...
'' in 1976, rudimentary live role-playing games based on the movie were run at US science fiction conventions. In 1981, the ''International Fantasy Gaming Society'' (IFGS) started, with rules influenced by ''
Dungeons & Dragons ''Dungeons & Dragons'' (commonly abbreviated as ''D&D'' or ''DnD'') is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The game was first published in 1974 by TSR (company)#Tactical Studies Rules ...
''. IFGS was named after a fictional group in the 1981 novel ''
Dream Park ''Dream Park'' is a 1981 sci-fi/murder mystery novel written by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes set in a futuristic amusement park of the same name. It was nominated for the 1982 Locus Award and later expanded into a series of cyberpunk murder ...
'', which described futuristic LARPs. In 1982, the ''Society for Interactive Literature'', a predecessor of the ''Live Action Roleplayers Association'' (LARPA), formed as the first recorded theatre-style LARP group in the US. ''
Treasure Trap Treasure Trap was a live action role-playing game A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically portray their character (arts), characters.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "LARPs can be vie ...
'', formed in 1982 at
Peckforton Castle Peckforton Castle is a Victorian English country houses, country house built in the style of a England in the Middle Ages, medieval castle. It stands in woodland at the north end of Peckforton Hills northwest of the village of Peckforton, Che ...
, was the first recorded LARP game in the UK and influenced the fantasy LARPs that followed there. The first recorded LARP in Australia was run in 1983, using the science fiction ''
Traveller Traveler(s), traveller(s), The Traveler(s), or The Traveller(s) may refer to: People Generic terms *One engaged in travel Travel is the movement of people between distant geographical Location (geography), locations. Travel can be done ...
'' setting. In 1993,
White Wolf Publishing White Wolf Publishing was an American roleplaying game and book publisher. The company was founded in 1991 as a merger between Lion Rampant (game publisher), Lion Rampant
released '' Mind's Eye Theatre,'' which is still played internationally and is probably the most commercially successful published LARP. The first German events were in the early 1990s, with fantasy LARP in particular growing quickly there, so that since 2001, two major German events have been run annually that have between 3000 and 7000 players each and attract players from around Europe. Today, LARP is a widespread activity internationally. Games with thousands of participants are run by for-profit companies, and a small industry exists to sell costume, armour and foam weapons intended primarily for LARP.(Tychsen et al. 2006:258) "Today, LARPing is a widespread hobby, especially within the United States and Europe, and caters to at least 100,000 players worldwide ... Professional, full-time LARP sites also exist ... a small industry has grown-up supplying latex weapons, costumes, theater props, and special effects, and numerous special effects and make-up artists work in the LARP environment for training purposes."


Purpose

Most LARPs are intended as games for entertainment. Enjoyable aspects can include the collaborative creation of a story, the attempt to overcome challenges in pursuit of a character's objectives, and a sense of immersion in a fictional setting. LARPs may also include other game-like aspects such as intellectual puzzles, and sport-like aspects such as fighting with simulated weapons. Some LARPs stress artistic considerations such as dramatic interaction or challenging subject matter.
Avant-garde The avant-garde (; In 'advance guard' or ' vanguard', literally 'fore-guard') is a person or work that is experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social be ...
or ''arthaus'' events have especially experimental approaches and
high culture High culture is a subculture that emphasizes and encompasses the culture, cultural objects of aesthetic value, which a society collectively esteem as exemplary art, and the Intellectualism, intellectual works of philosophy, history, art, and lite ...
aspirations and are occasionally held in
fine art In European academic traditions, fine art is developed primarily for aesthetics or creativity, creative expression, distinguishing it from decorative art or applied art, which also has to serve some practical function, such as pottery or most ...
contexts such as festivals or art museums. The themes of avant-garde events often include politics, culture, religion, sexuality and the
human condition The human condition is all of the characteristics and key events of human life, including childbirth, birth, learning, emotion, aspiration, morality, conflict, and death. This is a very broad topic that has been and continues to be pondered and ...
. Such LARPs are common in the
Nordic countries The Nordic countries (also known as the Nordics or ''Norden''; literal translation, lit. 'the North') are a geographical and cultural region in Northern Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It includes the sovereign states of Denmar ...
but also present elsewhere.(Fatland 2005:5) In addition to entertainment and artistic merit, LARP events may be designed for educational or political purposes. For example, the Danish secondary school uses LARP to teach most of its classes. Language classes can be taught by immersing students in a role-playing scenario in which they are forced to improvise speech or writing in the language they are learning." Politically-themed LARP events may attempt to awaken or shape political thinking within a culture. Because LARP involves a controlled artificial environment within which people interact, it has sometimes been used as a research tool to test theories in social fields such as economics or law. For example, LARP has been used to study the application of
game theory Game theory is the study of mathematical models of strategic interactions among rational agents. Myerson, Roger B. (1991). ''Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict,'' Harvard University Press, p.&nbs1 Chapter-preview links, ppvii–xi It has appl ...
to the development of criminal law.


Fiction and reality

During a LARP, player actions in the real world represent character actions in an imaginary setting. Game rules, physical symbols and theatrical improvisation are used to bridge differences between the real world and the setting. For example, a rope could signify an imaginary wall. Realistic-looking weapon props and risky physical activity are sometimes discouraged or forbidden for safety reasons. While the fictional timeline in a tabletop RPG often progresses in ''game-time'', which may be much faster or slower than the time passing for players, LARPs are different in that they usually run in real-time, with game-time only being used in special circumstances. There is a distinction between when a player is ''in character'', meaning they are actively representing their character, and when the player is ''out-of-character'', meaning they are being themselves. Some LARPs encourage players to stay consistently in character except in emergencies, while others accept players being out-of-character at times. In a LARP, it is usually assumed that players are speaking and acting in character unless otherwise noted, which is the opposite of normal practice in tabletop role-playing games. Character knowledge is usually considered to be separate from player knowledge, and acting upon information a character would not know may be viewed as cheating. While most LARPs maintain a clear distinction between the real world and the fictional setting, ''pervasive'' LARPs mingle fiction with modern reality in a fashion similar to
alternate reality game An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and employs transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players' ideas or actions. The form is defined by int ...
s. Bystanders who are unaware that a game is taking place may be treated as part of the fictional setting, and in-character materials may be incorporated into the real world.


Rules

Many LARPs have game rules that determine how characters can affect each other and the setting. The rules may be defined in a publication or created by the gamemasters. These rules may define characters' capabilities, what can be done with various objects that exist 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. Some LARP rules call for the use of simulated weapons such as foam weapons or
airsoft gun Airsoft guns are replica toy guns used in airsoft sports. They are a special type of low-power smoothbore air guns designed to shoot airsoft pellets, non-metallic spherical projectiles (pb) often colloquially (but incorrectly) referred to as "B ...
s to determine whether characters succeed in hitting one another in combat situations. In Russian LARP events, weapons made of hard plastic, metal or wood are used. The alternative to using simulated weapons is to pause role-play and determine the outcome of an action symbolically, for example by rolling dice, playing
rock paper scissors Rock paper scissors (also known by other orderings of the three items, with "rock" sometimes being called "stone," or as Rochambeau, roshambo, or ro-sham-bo) is a hand game originating in China, usually played between two people, in which each p ...
or comparing character attributes.(Young 2003:7-8) "Live combat... requires the players' abilities to perform an action. You want to hit someone with a sword? You have to actually hit the player with a prop representing a sword, usually a padded weapon. ... Simulated combat is more abstract. It uses an external method that does not rely on player ability. For example, if you want to hit the other person with a sword, you may have to make a rock-paper-scissors challenge." 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.(Tychsen et al. 2006:255) "...a LARP can be very similar to improvisational theater, with only a few guidelines for rules and a very low-powered GM."


Genres

LARPs can have any genre, although many use themes and settings derived from genre fiction.(Falk & Davenport 2004:129) "All LRP games of our definition take place within an agreed upon theme or narrative setting that provides the context for players' actions and character roles. This theme can be pretty much anything you can imagine; the possibilities are inexhaustible. To give some obvious and common examples, it may be fantasy and involve magic, heroes, and fantastic creatures, much like the game world settings of the classic tabletop role-playing games. Or, it may be realistic, based on historic events or contemporary life. Or it can be futuristic post apocalyptic environments, involving mutants and cyborgian characters dwelling in deserted cities. Or, it can be any combination of these" Some LARPs borrow a setting from an established work in another medium (e.g., ''
The Lord of the Rings ''The Lord of the Rings'' is an epic high-fantasy novel by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. Set in Middle-earth, intended to be Earth at some time in the distant past, the story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 children's ...
'' or the ''
World of Darkness ''World of Darkness'' is a series of tabletop role-playing games, originally created by Mark Rein-Hagen for White Wolf Publishing White Wolf Publishing was an American roleplaying game and book publisher. The company was founded in 1991 as ...
''), while others use settings based on the real world or designed specifically for the LARP.(Tychsen et al. 2006:261) "The world setting or framework for the fictional world in which the game takes place varies greatly in LARPs. Generally, these can be divided into either real-world settings or fictional settings."
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