“There’s a large group of people in the park all wearing black. They must be dangerous!”
No, we’re not. We’re just playing a game.
Thankfully, the stigma associated with live-action role playing looks to have diminished a bit over the years. I play in a Vampire: the Requiem LARP with about thirty to fifty people every other weekend and I can tell as new people keep coming in that our player base is becoming much more diverse. Which is a really good thing.
But not everyone has decided to embrace live-action gaming. Even a lot of tabletop RPG players are still on the fence about it. If you’re thinking about experimenting with live-action, here are a few things I can tell you right off the bat to try to make sure you’re not going in with the wrong impression.
First off, a lot of people see LARPers dressing in strange costumes and wandering around in semi-public areas and think they’re a bit nuts. Having interacted with LARPers regularly, I can confirm that they’re no crazier than the average tabletop role player. While I realize that sounds like a setup for a joke – one that I’m trying heartily to resist as I write this – what it really means is that in live-action you get a range of people, just like you do with any hobby. Some are going to be stranger than others. Some will be perfectly normal folks you could easily see hanging out with on a Friday night. Others will be a bit odd and socially awkward, but basically all right once you get to know them. A few others will act like they’re going for the title of Bull-Moose Bozo of the Psycho Ward, and you can generally spot those types pretty quickly and do what most of the rest of us who LARP do – avoid them!
One little caveat, though: if you do run into someone acting strangely there’s a chance they might be role-playing. If you’re not sure, the best way to find out is to just ask someone nearby.
“Hey, is he for real or is he role playing?”
That’s all it takes, honestly. Anyone who’s there to have a good time and behaves like a civil human being should be happy to tell you what’s going on.
That leads me to my next point. If you’re used to tabletop games, there are a few little differences you’ll notice aside from the fact that you’re up and walking around now instead of at a table. One of those differences is that there’s generally more of a focus on role playing and less of one on game mechanics. The mechanics do tend to come into play a little more often in “boffer” style LARPs – in which you strike people with soft, foam weapons – than in “salon” style LARPs – in which there’s generally little or no physical contact – but overall there’s still less of an emphasis on game mechanics in live-action than in tabletop games.
LARPs will usually have more players than a tabletop game, and while the Game Master or Storyteller will be doing things all the while to let the players interact with a plot line that may be running in the background, the main focus of the game is going to be your interaction with the other players. You might want to think of going to a LARP as being like going to a party, hanging out and socializing as a character you’ve created. Instead of waiting to follow a pre-determined plot, you and your friends are creating your own stories and intertwining those stories with the GM’s plots when the opportunity presents itself. In quite a few live-action games, you get to decide when and if you involve yourself in the game’s various storylines.
So, if you’re thinking about getting into a LARP, go ahead and give it a try. You don’t have to have any special skills for it. Costumes are usually optional; in those rare cases when they’re not, they’ll probably have something you can throw on so you can join in. Most of the LARPers I know also play tabletop games so chances are you’d see the same kinds of folks at a LARP as you’d see at the gaming table.
Whether the interest is in tabletop, live-action or something else, when it comes down to it, we’re all gamers. Some of us just like to get up and walk around every now and then.