A little while ago, I came to a realization: I’m a LARP wannabe. All my life I’ve obsessed about knights, castles, and wizardry. When I was young, I eagerly indulged in acting out my every sword swinging fantasy, even going so far as to recruit my friends into roles of their own. Strangely, “adulthood” seems to have robbed me of the fun I had on those post-homework childhood afternoons. Which sucks, especially since things don’t have to be this way. Every year, thousands of people pack up their swords, armor, and war paint, and head out for a good day’s LARP (Live Action Role Play). It’s time I joined them.
But despite constructing my first boffer sword(!!!), I don’t really know the first thing about LARPing, except for what movies like Knights of Badassdom and our own LARPs: The Series explain. One person who does know what I’m about to get myself into is actress and all-around badass, Mackenzie Jamieson. As part of my quest to become the biggest noob on the field of battle, I recently had a chat with Mackenzie about what it is to join the LARPing world. Here’s what she had to say:
How long have you been participating in LARP events, and how did you get into it?
I’ve been participating in LARP events since February 2008. First game, first mod when my character was attacked by undead creatures, and I was hooked. I get to act, dress up, and basically take a character that I would play in a video game or tabletop game and get almost the full experience of being that character? YES!
How does one get into LARPing?
There are kind of two sides to the LARP experience. There’s the side that is the cast and crew: your Storytellers and your Non-Player Characters (NPCs) who are people that have names, stats, backgrounds and motivations written out for them. Those people don’t really have control of their charters, they are acting out motivations of a character that the storyteller is guiding, though their actions out on the field definitely influence the game. These people will also throw on monster costumes or general bandit costumes and play what we like to call “crunchies”: nameless creatures and people who are there to do battle and be challenges for Player Characters (PCs). There are some people who LARP, but only ever play NPCs. We call those “career NPCs.” The LARP community is very grateful to have those people.
Player Characters get to make up their own stats, background, and motivations, and completely control their character in the story as long as it fits in the rules system and cannon of the game.
Though I didn’t originally start [as an NPC], I highly recommend people NPC a few games first before creating their own character in order to get a feel for the setting and what sort of character you would like to play. You are basically joining a private club, so it’s also a really good way to figure out if that particular game or LARP community [right for you]. A game may not be the style you want but the people may be awesome, or vice versa.
As an avid participant, how would you describe what it is to attend a LARP event?
There are different types of LARP events. There are day events that only last for eight hours and there are events that last the whole weekend, where you are your character from the start of the game on Friday night to the time that you hear the call “game time down!” Sunday morning. Each game is actually a close community. It’s a reunion with close friends every event.
- Day games: Usually you just come dressed with your LARP weapons and bring a cooler or picnic basket.
- Camping events: We go all out with tents and full encampment. Some people have modern tents and some people have pavilions and Viking tents. It depends on the level of effort and money a person wants, or is able, to put into their character’s personal gear.
- Experiencing the story as a player character:
- Let go, jump in, and have fun and your character will grow and take you through experiences you would only otherwise dream or read about. Expect to be challenged mentally. There will be [in-game] problems that your character will need to think through and try to solve through logic and sometimes compassion.
- Expect to run around and get a lot of exercise if you are a fighting type. Battles can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Sometimes the most fun times are the dire situations when you are losing the battle and maybe even dying and getting saved by a healer or a comrade, or even being the person saving people on the field.
- Don’t be afraid of being the noob. We were all noobs once and remember how exciting and terrifying it was. A good LARP community loves to welcome new people. They also understand that new people to a game or even LARP don’t know all the rules and etiquette. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification. Even in the middle of battle, people will clarify a call you don’t understand and help you find a solution to counter their attack.
What advice do you have for people who have seen films like Knights of Badassdom and might want to try LARPing for the first time?
That’s not quite what all LARPs are like. That’s only one kind of LARP and they simplified it for the general audiences, though they did get pretty close. There is usually a story that you’re playing through and improvising with everyone else. It is literally like when you were five years old and used to play My Little Ponies and pretend you were one of the ponies or Ninja Turtles. (Interviewer’s Note: I did not divulge to Mackenzie that I used to play with My Little Ponies in tandem with Ninja Turtles. I suspect some nefarious soothsaying was done to obtain this information.) There are also parlor LARPs that don’t have combat, [as well as] games where there isn’t story and it’s all battle, like in the movie Role Models.
What different types of events are there?
There are Vampire LARPs, Star Wars LARPs, Firefly LARPs, high fantasy LARPs like in Knights of Badassdom, etc. Each game has a different rule system, much like computer games or tabletop games. So, besides genre, a person should see if they like the rule mechanics. There are also games that allow player vs. player (PvP) where it’s every person for themselves, light PvP games, where you have to get consent with another player and agree that having mortal conflict with each other is fun, and games where PvP is just not allowed.
Are there specific event types that are more accessible for beginners?
Day games are a great way to get your feet wet as a beginner. I would also recommend NPCing first to learn the system, world, and figure out what kind of character you would want to play. It’s also a great way to test out a game before you fully commit because personal costumes and props for LARP get expensive.
Speaking of expenses, what sort of equipment and character development should any would-be LARPer build before attending their first event?
As a PC in a day game, you would want a costume, any makeup/prosthetic effects, spell packets if you are someone who uses magic, your character sheet, and a LARP safe weapon or shield if your character is a fighter and has spent the character points and starting gold for that ability and the weapons they carry. Expect to have to go through a safety check with a marshal to test if your weapon is safe enough for live combat and to make sure you aren’t hitting people so hard that you will really hurt someone.
For Camping or weekend games, expect all of the above but also bring camping gear. This is a decent if not overkill guide to what one should bring to a weekend event.
If you are NPCing for a day game, come wearing all black clothing that you can move freely in (with no logos) because it’s easy to throw on a monster costume or a tabard for quick changes. If you have your own costuming that fits in the genre and makes the game look and feel better for the PCs, it’s super appreciated. Most LARP games in the United States are run on a super low budget and have limited costuming. If the story team contacts you before game and asks you to play a specific character, ask them what you should wear. You don’t have to bring your own costume, but it really helps.
Also, a LARP costs money to put on. Most LARPs charge game fees to cover costs such as insurance, site fees, props and costumes. Depending on the type of game, expect to pay $20-$100 for a ticket to the game depending on the LARP and if they provide food.
What are the absolute don’ts at a LARP, a.k.a. “how can I avoid making an ass of myself and accidentally ruining everyone’s day?”
Number 1 rule for most LARP communities that are filled with good people: Don’t be a dick. This means don’t be someone who harasses people, hits people with their weapon too hard, or cheats. Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind as well:
- No touchy. Unless you and another individual are comfortable enough with each other to make physical contact, you’re not allowed to touch anyone unless you ask for consent and describe in brief what you plan to do. And just because you got permission once, doesn’t mean you have permission again. Ask every time unless you and another person have an ongoing agreement to what both of you are comfortable with.
- Stay in character. We are here to lose ourselves in another world. It sucks to get ripped out of that experience. If you do happen to drop character for a long period of time and chat about something non-game related, step aside, out of ear shot of other people and go hang out. Some people are hardcore and never break character at a game, and some people stand around and talk about real life stuff or their other characters in other LARPs (which is SUPER annoying).
- Bring your own camping gear and food if it’s a camping event. People are always willing to pitch in to help people camp and eat, but constantly expecting this and not contributing to the game is kinda like being a leech.
- Make a character that actually fits the rules and genre of the game. Don’t be that guy that demands to play a Jedi Knight in a world where they don’t exist. Yes, there has been “that guy.”
- Don’t hog the plot. LARP is collaborative storytelling. You are playing one person in the mix of 20-90 people who are all a part of one BIG story.
Mackenzie, you have my deepest thanks. You’ve given me a great look into a world I’d love to join. How about the rest of you out there? How do you feel about LARPing? What would you add to what Mackenzie has to say?