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What is LARP?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 17, 2024
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LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role Playing. It refers to a type of interactive gaming in which the players assume game identities and act as a specific character for the duration of the game. The game may conform to a scenario written by the moderator or Game Master. Alternatively the LARP may be based on individual decisions made by the participants.

While activities that fall under the broad definition of LARP have existed for at least a century, LARP gained in popularity during the seventies due to the popularity of table-top role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Many LARP games are medieval or fantasy themed, since many participants are Renaissance Faire or Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Such LARP games may feature knights, castles, wizards, damsels, dragons, and of course, dungeons. LARPs are not limited to this format. A LARP may be set in a forties film-noir and follow the case of a tough-guy private eye, or be set in the distant future with robots, talking spaceships and aliens.

LARPs are typically divided into two types, combat and theater, although the boundary between these is fairly permeable. In fact, while LARPers might disagree, Revolutionary and Civil War reenactors can be considered a specialty-type of live combat LARPers, while Murder Mystery weekends, for example, might qualify as theater-type LARPs.

Many LARP games have long-running or ever-running plot arcs, in which each game is yet another episode in the story. Other games are designed to take place once, perhaps over a weekend, during which the players convene for that one game and then disperse. Some LARPs are goal-directed, such as quest scenarios, while some are played competitively with points scored for winning fights or tricking opponents.

LARPs are enjoyed by players of all ages, genders and backgrounds, despite the common misconception that they are only for teenage boys. Many players grew up LARPing with their parents and met their spouses at a game or convention.

LARPs can be considered an interactive form of literature, an audience participation type of theater, or just an engrossing game. To many players, the games are both a social activity and a way of life.

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Discussion Comments
By ChickenLover — On Sep 22, 2010

@WalrusTusk - There is also a thing called VLARP which is Vampire Live Action Role Playing. I most often see them at Anime conventions and they actually schedule out a time for them on the weekend itinerary at A-Kon in Dallas every year... at least they did the last year I went.

By ellaesans — On Sep 22, 2010

@WalrusTusk - You can actually find LARP stores as well. Stores carry everything from LARP weapons and LARP armor to other LARP necessities. It is actually fun to go in there during or before Halloween because it can give you a lot of great ideas.

By WalrusTusk — On Sep 22, 2010

@leiliahrune - I like to watch the medieval LARP because sometimes it can teach you things you don't already know. You would be surprised at what is considered LARP as well. For instance, the reenactment of the Civil War is considered a type of LARP.

By leiliahrune — On Sep 22, 2010

LARP Clubs can be fairly hilarious and strange if you don't understand the concept. You can find many LARP events at conventions like Anime conventions or Comic conventions.

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