An outsiders guide to the world of Larping

words Alexa Wang

The term LARP is an acronym for the world-wide phenomenon otherwise known as Live Action Role-playing.

Never heard of it? That’s okay, but you won’t be able to ignore it for too much longer, because it’s only growing in popularity.

What is Larping

Live Action Role-playing is when a group of adults comes together to play out a fantasy world created using their imaginations. Although the enactment happens in a real-life venue, the role-playing itself is complete fantasy. Larping is not the same as outdoor theatre. It is not rehearsed, and there is no audience. It is also not the same as the popular tabletop mystery games where the outcomes are predetermined and assigned to each character.

Larping is not a spectator art. A curious audience might linger if the LARP takes place in a public area, but Larpers by no means intend to gather an audience and certainly don’t perform for their benefit. One of the closest comparisons could be that Larping is a cross between a fantasy game and improvisational theatre, but it happens without an audience, and the players connect in one physical venue and not via gaming consoles.

We all Larped (in an informal sense) as children without even knowing it, when we played impromptu fantasy role plays, whether in the classroom, doctor’s office or a spirited game of cowboys and Indians. These outcomes were never pre-planned. We simply played. That’s pretty much what the Larping community does today.


Larping can be traced back to around the 1970s, but it only really took off in 1977 when Dagorhir Battle Games was created. This battle-themed game involves full-contact melee fighting and is based on the Lord of the Rings. It’s still around today. Within years of that introduction, Larping had become more diverse, spreading to a number of countries.

Larping basics

Larping is all about enacting a scenario (or plot) of an imaginary world. The plot is determined by the core members and director of the LARP community. Although the ending is not predetermined, there is a detailed backstory, so the players have enough information to immerse themselves in the story.

A Larping plot might be set in the past, the future or current day. It might be futuristic, historical, supernatural, horror, post-apocalyptic, fantasy — the list is as long as your imagination will allow. The only certainty is that the story will never mirror a real-life event in the way that wartime re-enactments do.

Once the scenario is decided, the director will draw up a list of characters and assign each player to a character. The scenario’s backstory will set the scene, but the rest is up to the players. The story is interactive and flexible — provided that all characters remain within the agreed limits of the group’s ideology. Generally, new members are attracted to a particular community because they find a connection with the plot.

Your Larping character

All participants put aside their natural persona and assume roles as co-actors in the scenario.  Each actor (called a player) is expected to immerse themselves in the role of their given character. This includes taking on their character’s personality, speech patterns, habits, weaponry and dress code. The acting is regulated to a degree by the game rules or by consensus amongst characters.

Each LARP also has a crew which helps to set up the events. But that’s not all they do. If things get too boring, the crew become the monsters to spruce things up again and make things more interesting for the players.

Monsters will dress up and put on masks and makeup to become part of the game. Their main aim? To try their best to beat up the players. Oh, and they always scream while they go about it. Monsters usually take on the form of goblin-type characters with some magical abilities. Non-Player Characters are people in the crew who are given supporting roles in the plot. They are usually not evil and could be a character like a priest or a peasant. Together, the group of players, non-players and monsters create a fictional world in which they share.


The character costumes will suit the plot and the character each player represents. Each player is responsible for their costume. There are retail shops that specialise in making character outfits, but many players choose to make it themselves. Other options are to frequent charity stores and costume shops for unusual items.


Every player that is expected to fight in the plot must have a weapon. The weapon will, of course, suit the genre and plot. Most weapons are homemade, and players can get quite creative, especially if your weapon is a magical or fantastical tool that has never been imagined before. All weapons must be deemed LARP safe before being allowed on location.

This means that it must be safe for combat in a LARP plot. Each LARP will have its own rules about the weapons. The rule of thumb is obviously that a weapon cannot be designed to cause a real injury. If a player is hurt badly or distressed during a fighting scene, the player or crew will call “man down,” and all play must stop immediately.


All you need for Larping is an open area big enough to accommodate your group. Since the plot is set in a fantasy world, it’s not realistic to find a space that will match your needs exactly. Larping communities like to use camping grounds because these offer the space they need, as well as accommodation for the group while they are Larping. Other popular spots include sports fields, public parks or forests.


Larping isn’t like cricket or football; there are no standard rules to play the game. Rules and guidelines are set by each community — generally the director of the group. Although there are no standard game manuals, there are general do’s and don’ts and etiquette guidelines that are broadly accepted across the world. Online LARP forums and conventions are constantly discussing the game etiquette in general.

Something that is largely discussed are vaping basics. The Larping community is quite large and with vaping on the rise, it’s important to address proper vaping etiquette. A general rule of thumb is that you should use the same social etiquette with vaping as you would for tobacco smoking. So, as an example, you shouldn’t vape indoors when at a LARP. If you’re in a social setting, and you feel it may be acceptable, make sure you ask permission from the other players first. It’s also a huge no-no to vape when you’re in character unless your character vapes.

It’s never acceptable to blow vapour in people’s faces or to leave your equipment where it will be visible during time-in (in-play time). Also, be vigilant about your equipment. Don’t leave it unattended where others may be tempted to try it. You never know who has a sensitivity to the e-liquid and what their reaction may be.

The bottom line is that you must always show respect to non-vapers and the social rules of the setting you find yourself in. Technically, you shouldn’t vape in any setting where cigarette smoking is not accepted. The etiquette and rules around vaping or any other aspect will be discussed with you in detail before you become a player or member of the crew. You will need to agree to the team’s rules if you want to be a part of the plot.

reenactmentWhy is Larping so popular?

Larping provides fantasy and entertainment in what is usually a very mundane adult world. You could be an accountant today and the captain of the fairy empire tomorrow. Larping gives you the social opportunity to immerse yourself in a completely different world as you assume the personality of an entirely different person. For the duration of the game, you can relinquish your burdens and responsibilities and immerse yourself in a different space.

Where an organised sports team would use their physical skills to play a game, Larpers use their imagination and acting skills to play an organised cultural game. Your imaginative powers are not only accepted but encouraged in Larping communities.

The challenge

The biggest challenge that Larpers face is that it is not recognised as an official cultural activity by governing authorities. In fact, very often, it’s perceived as being a childish game. Not many organisations have been willing to acknowledge that it is a subculture of re-enactment drama, which has many benefits. Whether it’s acknowledged as a cultural art or not, Larping has taken the cultural world by storm, and it’s not waiting for formal approval to grow.


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