What is LARPing?- The Perspective of A Long Term LARPer

Over the years, there have been a multitude of articles, pages, and an entire Wikipedia site dedicated to answering the question of what LARP is. In this blog, I am going to put our own perspective on what LARPing is and try to answer some of the basic questions surrounding it that LARPers have tried to answer for the people they know that are uninvolved in the community.


                            Define LARP…  What is LARP? …  What is a LARPer? 


What Is LARPing?

LARP is an acronym and stands for Live Action Role Play. Thus, LARPing is the game or activity of live action role playing. I like to describe LARPing as an improvisational, collaborative, and community-based storytelling experience. It’s an adult’s playtime of make-believe that you share with your friends that have a passion for theater and costume play. It’s a game that allows you to explore new worlds or other time periods that provides an immersive experience and an escape from your day-to-day reality.



There are many different Live Action Role Playing games. There are tabletop games, theater LARPs, one day LARPs, short-term LARPs and long-running LARPs. I’ve written before about my start in NERO (New England Role-Playing Organization) as Jerricho, but I also played D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) with my brother as a DM (Dungeon Master) before I went to my first convention, so my experience dates back to when LARPing first came to the United States.


The LARP community will use the term LARP to reference the specific LARP game that they play. In LARP Portal, we call LARP games ”CAMPAIGNS” because the word “GAME” has a singular connotation with a winner and a loser and LARPs are most often ongoing and don’t have any victors or really a ranking system to determine who was the most of least successful in a game. LARPs are often plot based and can run for many years or a specific number of seasons. This is, however, not the case for all LARPs.



As mentioned, some LARPs run for only one event. Some LARPs include more role playing than other games. For example, one of the oldest US LARPs, NERO, that I played in Massachusetts, that eventually expanded to many chapters across  the US and Canada, has a very heavy role play aspect. That is also the case with Alliance, that broke away from NERO several years ago  and formed their own multi chapter LARP, the Accelerant Games like newcomer LARPs Fealty and Coventry which are both part of Living Fictions Entertainment, and the Dystopia Rising games, to name a few.


Game designers make decisions about the story that they want to tell and then they leave openings for the players to roleplay and make their own decisions within the story.


Game designers choose the look and feel of the roleplaying by defining the levels within their realm, choosing their world, genre, style, time period, tech level, and weapon style. A player will know this or similar type of info about a game before they choose to play.






       Choices a Game Designer Makes





       Earth, Another Planet, Other




       Adventure, Cyberpunk, Dark Fantasy, Dystopian,Fairy Tale, Goth,           Heroic, High Fantasy, Horror, Low Fantasy, Mystery, Mystical,                 Mythical, Political, Post Apocalyptic, Re-Enactment, Science,                   Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Survival,                 Urban, Utopian, Vampire, Wargames, Wild West, Zombies, Other





        Boffer, Theater, Live Combat, War Games, Re-Enactment,                      Freeform, Combination




 Time Period


       Ancient Greece, Antiquity, Ancient Rome, Feudal Japan, Medieval,         Renaissance Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, Baroque, Victorian,               Civil War, Machine Age, Progressive  World War II, Post/Cold War,         Space Age, Early Modern, Modern,Modern Post Apocalyptic,                   Futuristics, or Custom / Totally Made Up for the Game




  Tech Level


       Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval, Age of Sail, Industrial           RevolutionMechanized Age, Nuclear Age, Digital Age, MicroTech             Age, Robotic Age, Multiple, Future






      Foam, Latex, Spell Packets, NERF, Rattan, Blunt Steel, Lazer,                Paintball, Dice/Cards/Coin Toss, LARP Safe Arrow, Multiple, Other



In an earlier blog we discussed The 5 Tiers of LARP Combat. This is another way of categorizing games.  The types range from pure athletics to pure theatrics and would influence a player’s choice of game. If they enjoy heavy roleplay and are not into heavy physical combat they would likely choose theater LARPs or LARPs that are rich in roleplaying plots or that are lighter on fighting mechanics.



The player also knows the rules about the game and how they can build their character in advance. There is typically a  rulebook with skills and abilities that can be purchased with some sort of character building points (XP, BP, CP, etc) and a character advances over time able to gain more abilities.  


LARPing is like a never ending soap opera where the player is one of the cast and has some control over what storylines they are involved in and can sometimes impact if and when they might get written off.


What Is a LARPer?

A LARPer is any person who engages in live action role playing activities.


LARPers can be a PC, NPC, or STAFF. 


 PCPlaying Character, Paying Customer, Hero. In most games, you design and control your character. Everything your characters say and do is your choice, within the rules of course. Generally you pay to play.


 NPC = Non Playing Character, Cast, Villains, Monsters. These are players that support the game runners. They can often play a variety of roles in any given event. Their roles are created for them by the staff. Many games don’t require them to pay and even provide them with food and housing for the event.


 Staff = Plot Staff, General Manager (GM), Owners, Game Runners. These are the people that design the world, the rules and the stories. They write the plots and direct the NPCs and do everything it takes to make a LARP run.


In our community we use NPC and PC as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, they stand for non player character and player character. I am a PC at Madrigal (a high, heroic fantasy game) and a staff member at Cottington Woods (a fairy tale game), where I play a wide variety of roles, including constant named characters or just fighting “monster” roles. As a verb they represent “played the game” versus “supported the game” (I PC’d the January event, I NPC’d the April event and I staffed the May event).




But really, what is a LARPer? A LARPer is a person who wants to share a hobby and a passion with their friends. New LARPers are just friends who haven’t met yet. The overwhelming majority of my friends are people who I met at LARPs, people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.


They are people who want to enjoy time away from their real life, to get away from it all and forget the “real” world. They are people who span all ages; I’m 63 and some of my best friends are the same age as my sons and some of my more recent friends are barely older than my grandsons.


LARPing is a great equalizer. I have LARPing friends that are doctors, teachers, florists, medics, graphic artists, musicians, stay-at-home parents, college students, plumbers, admins and so many more.




It also brings together people of all abilities. My brother is totally blind, with a guide dog and all, and he’s enjoyed LARPing as long as I have. He introduced me to LARPing via the tabletop D&D game in which he was our GM and introduced me to NERO, my first LARP. 


In short, LARPers are a great group of imaginative and fun-loving people of all types that love and want to share in this fantastic hobby!



In our blog we defined what a LARP is and explained the action of LARPing. We also described the different roles of LARPers as Staff, PC and NPC. While we expect that many who read our blogs are already LARPers we hope that our perspective was helpful and that it might entice you to give it a shot if you haven’t already.


And for another blog in our “The Perspective of a Long Term LARPer” series, check out our guest blog "What is Theater LARPing" from Adina.


Share Your Thoughts

We want to hear your thoughts! Please share your thoughts on what is LARPing. If you have any particular thoughts on something you think we missed, let us know.


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Remember LARP Portal simplifies your administrative processes and gives you and your players more time to play the game. Contact us at demo@larportal.com today for a free demo.


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