LARP Insider: To LARP or Not to LARP & What the Hell is LARPing?

Everyone’s into something. Fantasy football. Scaling rock walls on weekends. Collecting action figures, comics, or rare Fabergé eggs. Me? In my free time I dress up as a green-skinned half-orc and run around bashing friends with modified plumbing equipment.

That’s right. I’m a lady who LARPs and I love it. LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) has a “weirdo” rep that’s kept it relatively below the radar since its inception in the 1970s. Now, as comics, gaming, anime, and other “nerdy” pursuits have become commonplace, and even sexy, LARPing is crossing over.

A LARP is a collective fantasy world similar to the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons — but in the flesh. Instead of a “Dungeon Master” verbally narrating the story, a Plot Committee writes and guides loose overarching storylines in-real-time and real locations. LARPs range from purely theatrical, to strictly combat and tournament style, to somewhere in between. Genres include science fiction, steampunk, zombie apocalypse, and more. My LARP of choice is medieval fantasy — elves, dwarves, half-races, assassins, mages, warriors… It’s like becoming a character out of Tolkien.

“For one weekend of each month, people travel great distances and escape… to become something else.” – Monster Camp (documentary, 2007)

A half-orc war chieftan (left) and an elf (right) at LAIRE: Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Explorers - the game I play in Sparta, NJ.

A half-orc war chieftan (left) and an elf (right) at LAIRE: Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Explorers – the game I play in Sparta, NJ.

If you’ve never heard of LARPing, you’re not alone. Until two recent documentaries Darkon (2006), and Monster Camp (2007) and feature film Role Models (2008), the whole concept was unheard of by most — including myself.

I gave LARPing a shot in January ’09, but only after 6 months of nagging from my weekly Dungeons & Dragons gaming group.

“You play D&D.”

“Yeah…”

“And you make costumes…”

“Yeah…”

“You’re into community theater.”

“Yes…but…”

“So why don’t you go with us to LAIRE?!”

“I dunno guys, LARPers are weeeird!”

“You hang out with us.”

“YOU’RE WEIRD! OK. Grrrrr. I’ll try it. Once.”

For my first LARP I played it safe and volunteered as an “NPC” (Non-Player Character) — basically, an extra. As an NPC, I was a pawn in an overarching storyline that the “PCs” (Player Characters — those who paid to play their own characters) could interact with. For three days, at a camp blanketed in snow, I was instructed by the Plot Committee to portray squealing goblins, undead skeletons, and scared townspeople crying for help.

In an episode of Tough Gig comedian Dara O’Briain gets thrown headfirst into LARP. Here a Plot Committee member pauses the game to tell players they are about to experience a “bad feeling as though someone has walked over your grave.” Watch the full scene above at 2:25 and check out the other two parts here.

On one “townswoman” assignment, I had to run to the Inn for help as the men of my village, including my “husband,” were being slaughtered by a Demon Tree. Doing my best “distraught damsel,” I beseeched some “heroes” (PCs) to help. Heroes, my butt! By the time they finished their coffee and got to the scene, it was too late.

Me: “How DARE you call yourselves HEROES!? People are DEAD because of your… YOUR COFFEE!”

Adventurer: “Mind your tongue, peasant! If you want revenge, learn how to fight!”

Outraged, my rampage continued all the way back to the Inn. Technically, my “NPC mission” was over, but I was getting into it! I spat at every “hero,” chewed out anyone who tried to comfort me, and got pretend-wasted on “dwarven ale” (root beer). Then, out of left-field, the cook slapped some sense into “me.”

“You listen to Mama!” She shook her wooden spoon. “If there’s anything left of your husband he will resurrect and come looking for you. Would he want you to sit around like a drunken fool, or pick yourself up and live?”

Stunned yet inspired, I “finished the scene,” and went to get a new role from the Plot Committee. Later that night it hit me — my character had fallen into my lap! A disillusioned widow with no one left — established conflict and resentment to boot. Perfect! I named her Dana, and have been developing her story for 3 years. Today she is Sergeant of the Dale Guard.

Dana keeps an eye out for an ambush.

Dana keeps an eye out for an ambush

“One of the best gifts you can give yourself is simply permission to go and pretend. As adults we watch kids… having a lot of fun, but somewhere along the way we suddenly say ‘no no no we can’t do that anymore!’ and that’s a shame.” – Monster Camp, 2007

Hook, line, and sinker. Now I have three different characters I alternate between — each an ongoing experiment. Dana, a serious brooding human, Lekar “Bone Smasher” the aforementioned half-orc, and Miska, a silly, playful Gypsy teenager. Their world is colorful, full of characters in all shapes, sizes and species. In real life, LARPers range from high schoolers to retirees, including parents who bring their children. LARPers are professional writers, actors, programmers, teachers, U.S. Army officers, make-up artists, costume designers, retail workers, “suits,” and maybe… you!


Michele Reznik is a marauder and messer who solemnly swears she’s up to no good! Graphic/web designer, social media writer/curator (Mediatronica, Kraken Rum, Hangar One Vodka), Public Relations/Event Production Associate (with Jeff Newelt AKA “JahFurry” for comics, film, tech, lit & music clients), Live Action Role Player, and hobbiest costumer. When she isn’t writing, designing, or LARPing, she’s usually catching up on comics and sci fi — one series at a time. You can find her at @DarthReznik on Twitter.

LARP photos courtesy of Michael Codis.

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