Dec 9 2011 3:00pm

LARP Insider: Mind the Fourth Wall!

If you read my first article, To LARP or not to LARP? What The Hell Is Larping?, you may have concluded that Live Action Role Playing is a reality-free haven chock full of frothy Dwarven Ale and jovial jousting bouts. Or perhaps you didn’t buy it — no such game can be just innocent fun.

Both perspectives are correct. Truth is, pesky reality often pops its head into our fun fantasy — because, as you can imagine, not everyone plays the same way, or in some cases, fairly, and certain issues you’d think couldn’t ruin “playtime” do.

Here are 7 things you might not know about LARPing from the brochure.

1.) Conflicting Playing Styles: One person could approach their character, “Melvin the Elf,” in a style that is all about storytelling and character development. He learns to speak Tolkien Elvish and focuses more on Melvin’s relationships and life goals, than his “abilities.” Meanwhile, another person’s character, “Kleftjaw the Destroyer,” is a smasher. He just wants to win, to destroy the opponent in the quickest way possible and so spends his experience points on strength bonuses, and weapon skills — ignoring personality or flavor. Can these two players peacefully co-exist?

2.) Mary Sues and Gary Stus: “I’m so pretty and my dad gives me everything but I hate him! Also a werewolf and a vampire are fighting over me. My life is an abyss! SIGH!” Bella Swan. Yep, you want to smack that girl. Over-the-top plot twists and attention-seeking qualities = a Mary Sue (or a Gary Stu). If you thought it was bad in fiction, wait till you see what happens when a LARP character goes down this road. A well-balanced, compelling LARP character comes not only from how you portray them, but how you’ve “written” them to begin with — and often from what you didn’t write.

3.) Blurring the Line: Remember when you assassinated me last week? Find someone else to carpool with! When dressing up to physically (and emotionally) portray a character 24/3, it’s easy for players to lose sight of the line between reality and fantasy. commenter AshleyMcGee sums it up thusly to me: “People say LARPers are weird, and that’s because some people get a little too into it.

4.) Power-level Disparity: Eventually in a LARP, especially long ongoing games, the inequality between new players who start at Level 1 and “legacy players” at level umpteenteen can throw off the game’s balance, leaving novices discouraged, frustrated, and bored. Like when a lowly guardsman wandering on his own winds up facing a horde of Death Knights.

5.) Inertia vs Evolution: Every time a beloved work is “revised,” be it the rules, the costume, words in a dictionary, or SFX, the die-hards are bound to cause a ruckus. There are times, however, when change is warranted and can benefit everyone involved (like if they decided to totally delete Jar Jar Binks). For example, if a rule that limits how powerful a character can become were proposed to deal with the disparity problem, the more long term players might want to resist it — however necessary the change.

6.) Favoritism: “Man, this storyline has nothing for me to do!” “I’m a Rogue and all we’re doing is heavy combat! I want to steal something!” “Did you hear that Eric’s character taught Julia’s character the forbidden skill I wanted? They’re dating IRL!!”

7.) Sexism: In a game formerly dominated by men (when I started LARPing in 2009 the ratio was 70/30, now it’s almost 50/50), female LARPers have some extra barriers to break before they get to have equal fun. I demolished that wall fast, making it clear I had shown up to battle, to play, to LARP! So, don’t hit on me, HIT me — with the foam-covered battle axe you’re wielding!

So, yeah, LARP, like sports, and pretty much everything, is not all fun and games!

Top photo courtesy of Michael Codis

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.

Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
Thank you for these articles! I've been thinking that LARPing looks like a lot of fun for a long time, but never really got into it, because I'm less fantasy and more sci-fi.

Does anyone know of (or themselves do) any LARPing that's NOT about elves and rogues and swords? :)
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
I've got friends who do (or at least used to do) World of Darkness LARPing. One was a Vampire, the other was Garou (werewolf). I assume it's still out there somewhere...
john mullen
3. johntheirishmongol
There was a whole LARP based on vamps/werewolves that was published by White Wolf, I think. I used to see them out playing at the university, which was also where table top gaming was going on in the same area.
Michele Reznik
4. DarthReznik
I have another LARP post forthcoming about the different genres of LARPs out there! In the mean time, rest assured it's not all Medieval Fantasy. There are also Post Apocalyptic Zombie Larps, Steampunk Larps, Sci Fi, Vampire (as some folks mentioned already) and others.

There are some pretty good listings available online (like this one) if you do a quick google search!
5. zapf
@Teresa - Definitely. Kinda depends on where you're located, though. I'm up in the Northeast and I'm involved in a number of non-fantasy campaign LARPs as well as being on the board for a convention called Intercon which hosts a number of one shots over the course of a weekend ( I would love to give you more information, just let me the best way to get it to you.
6. Eugene R.
Another aspect of LARPing of which to be aware is -
We're Not Always on the Same Page, Even When We Are On the Same Page: Characters may be created (and revised) out of order, leading to asymmetries in the printed material (e.g., my description says your character is my character's best friend; your sheet does not even mention my character). Even subtle wording changes can produce large differences in player interpretations (the "LARP butterfly" effect?). In one game, my spy was told by his control that another character, a high-level mage, was a traitor and evidence to that effect was required. In fact, the mage was a total innocent and my spy realized it; what Control actually wanted was faked evidence to trump up charges of treason on said mage. My character, not being privy to the political angle and having a series of frustrating conversations with Control, felt he was being sent on a wild goose chase and thus sidelined by Control, leading him to go rogue. Well, making lemonade, it was fun going rogue (particularly when the Queen asked him personally to investigate rumors of a spy on the loose), but it did require a few hours of "See wall, apply forehead" gaming.
Joseph Kingsmill
7. JFKingsmill16
@ TeresaJusino - MysticRealms based out of South Jersey has a generic system and they play almost every genre of LARP.
8. Rabbit
I play Eclipse in GA, they're Sci-Fi.
9. mrjax38
If Sci-Fi is the genre you want I would highly recommend Future Imperfect. It's in Charlton MA and well worth the drive. The game is set on a new colony in the distant future.

They just changed ownership and the website is still under construction, for now they have a forum and a facebook page. Their real website should be opening up in a week or so.
10. JustinS
I think some of these really only apply to some types and styles of Larp.

That said, playstyle is not just an issue with players who have different wants, but players who get and enjoy the style of different games and games that convey that. Compare a scooby-do investigation with a film noir style, with the same setup, and the basic expectations of how people would behave are totally at odds.
11. Gawin
One thing to note about Larp, ( and some people tend to forget this while playing). Whatever you do, Whatever you think and most importantly, whatever you've planned with your character...It's just a game, so stop whining when your character dies on the field of battle ( or in a dark alley).

Recoup, regroup and rethink, then start a new character and have Fun

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