Larping and tabletop games aren’t familiar to everyone. Larping in particular can be kind of niche. If you’re here for the disability content, but don’t know either of those things and are interested, I’ve compiled a set of definitions to help give some context.
Tabletop Role-playing Games (TTRPGs)
In most mainstream media, the common example of a tabletop game is Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons is what we refer to as a system– a set of rules and settings within which players create their characters. Released in 1974, it was a massive success. Unlike in larp, players narrate their characters actions and speech. Dungeon Masters (in Dungeons and Dragons) or Game Masters (in almost everything else) create the world the player characters are in, often set up plot to follow, and narrate outcomes of actions. Some games require rolling dice to determine an outcome, and some don’t.
Systems other than Dungeons and Dragons exist. They might use dice, or they might not– one even uses a Jenga tower to determine outcomes. They might be focused on combat, or interpersonal conflict, or romance. The possibilities are really endless.
Epidiah Ravochol has a good introductory game here. It’s one page long, free, and explicitly designed for new players. No dice involved.
Live action roleplaying is a form of roleplaying where the participants physically act out their character’s actions (Wikipedia). Watch a movie (such as Role Models) and you might get the impression that it is a dork filled romp through your local, public park. Both of these impressions are slightly skewed. They both answer the question as merely an onlooker and not a participant. […] My working definition of larping is a collaborative, pretending with rules.
The stereotype, as partially mentioned in the article, is a bunch of nerds running around with foam weapons and varying levels of costuming pretending to be warriors, wizards, or survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. And while that’s true in the best of ways, there are other types of larping. American freeform, blockbuster, parlor, and Nordic are other styles which I engage with regularly in general and on this site. Everyone has a preferred style, but I think Larping.org provides the best summary for all of them.
Some of this might sound familiar to you– if you’ve ever gone to a murder mystery dinner, where you might be dressed to a certain theme and given a “whodunnit” mystery to solve? That’s a form of larp.
If you just wanted a quick definition, stop here!
If you want a explanations of the styles of larp people play, complete with source linking, continue on!
The definitions of these can vary depending on what your play style is and where you larp. I’ve done my best to create quick, jargon-less definitions that are representative of multiple sources. The scene is constantly changing and evolving all over the world, and it’s one of my favorite things about the hobby… but we lack an standardized definition, so people use the words differently.
I used Leaving Mundania as a primary source for these, along with a few others and what I just know from playing them. I highly recommend checking out the site and the book. If you want an academic sense of it framed in an ethnography, I recommend The Arts of Larp by David Simkins.
American freeform games have a limited number of players and time to play, where players collaborate using improvisation and meta techniques. Meta-techniques let players communicate with one another about their characters where they are neither fully in game nor out of game. Players improvise their play to focus on that collaboration and influence how the game turns out.
As I mentioned, boffer larps are what we most often see portrayed in mainstream media. They’re named for the foam weapons they use to simulate combat. Each one has different rules regarding how combat is done and the type of strikes that can occur. One of the largest, located in Germany, has over 8,000 people attending.
Nordic larp style emphasizes larp as a living form of expression; a constantly changing entity that focuses on immersion, consistent themes, and action. It values the collaboration aspect of larping and disapproves of the commercialization of larp.
Blockbuster larps are large scale events, usually 2-4 days long. They accommodate a large number of participants, generally above 100. They can include boffer, Nordic, and American freeform elements. They’re called blockbusters because the location, props and make up, and accommodations are all of high quality.
Okay, great, I think I understand. But I grew up in the 80s and remember seeing this stuff on the news– are any of you teenager Satanic devotees who are performing arcane human sacrifices?
We’re a lot of things– academics, artists, writers, creators, makers, crafters, and yes, some of us are teenagers (we actually have a really large age spread). While I’m sure some folks may actually be Satanists in the religious sense, as far as I know none of us perform human sacrifices.
The Satanism scare really screwed a lot of us up. These hobbies are a creative outlet. It can be done with very few materials, making it accessible for people with low incomes, as well as for people with few creative outlets in the first place. While that view has largely faded, I think it’s still important to address.