A Beginners Guide To My Weird, Wonderful Hobby – Live Action Role Play (LARP)

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For the past 7 years I’ve been involved in a hobby called LARP, which stands for Live Action Role Play. Some dislike the ‘action’ bit and prefer to refer to it only as LRP, or Live Role Play, but whatever, it refers to the same thing. Now you are probably thinking “Live WHAT?!” and that wouldn’t be a surprise, as it is still a relatively unknown hobby outside of the LARP community.

If you have heard of it, chances are you probably think it’s a hobby for a bunch of weirdo sad-ass nerds, in which case you should read on to find out what it’s really like.

Members of the Harts Faction at the Gathering 2014
Bell Tent Boutique

I go to around 4-6 LARP events each year and whilst these days I take a less active role in the game, regarding events more as a holiday and a chance to rest, I do still get involved. Some of the events I go to have less than a hundred players, others, a few thousand and whilst I do have a bit of a geeky side, I’m by no means a table-topping, graphic novel obsessed mega-geek.

LT Spring Moot LARP event 2018
Harts Camp at the LT Spring Moot 2018

The biggest LARP event in the UK takes place over August bank holiday weekend and consists of around 3,000 players. Run by the Lorien Trust, it’s called The Gathering and It’s essentially, a massive 5 day, festival-like event. Most people turn up on a Thursday night, the day before the game starts to meet up with mates and have a rowdy night of drinking before the game starts. During the event players take part in a massive, complex and sometimes physically demanding, but fun game where we respond to events in the way that our character and their individual skills dictate.

The Harts Camp at LT
The Harts faction along contained 58 canvas ‘in character’ tents & yurts at the 2018 Spring Moot

During the game we stay in different camps depending on the faction we are in. I’m in the Harts, a faction loosely based around Arthurian lore….something I actually still know very little about even after all these years! Because I love camping and I’m creative and love dressing up and escaping from real-world stress, it’s the ideal hobby, as it combines being outdoors with a massively fun and immersive game that allows me to spend rare quality time with my closest friends. Part of the fun of the game is gaining new skills and working your way up so you have skills that few other people have, making you more useful or powerful depending on your point of view.

This is me, in costume. I currently play a Dryad (woodland Fae)
This is me, in my summer costume. I currently play a Dryad (woodland Fae)

You can play a character of your choosing, then you dress up and behave like that character as the game unfolds, which is full of twists and highly detailed plot that you use your character skills to try and progress or overcome. Essentially, we all work together to combat the bad guys, and whilst dressing up and taking part in a live version of Game of Thrones isn’t to everyone’s taste, I’ve met some truly amazing people and some of my best friends through the hobby.

Seelie Court, a group within the Harts Faction
The Seelie Court, a group within the Harts Faction

All events have a ticket price from anywhere around £45 to £70 per event, and there is a surprisingly large ‘back stage’ team of crew that run and manage the game, consisting of ‘actors’ (DPCs – directed player characters and NPCs – non player characters) who know and reveal the plot to the players, game referees who make sure the (many!) rules are adhered to, make up artists, plot team writers, set builders, first aiders, security and so on.

LT Gathering 2014

What Makes A LARPer?

You’ve got to be fun loving, creative and you can’t take yourself too seriously. Many of us are definitely in touch with our inner child, and find dressing up and playing lets-pretend, immense fun. Who says the dressing up box is for kids only?! If you are the sort of person that pretends they didn’t realise a party was fancy dress, and uses it as an excuse to turn up in regular clothes, then LARP probably isn’t for you.

LARP character
Me playing a different character in a different game system, Curious Pastimes

Most LARPers will readily admit that they have a geeky streak to them. That doesn’t mean we all spend hours playing board games like Dungeons & Dragons or sat in front of our PCs playing WoW, but, if you have even a teeny tiny geeky side, you’ll fit in well at LARP and will probably find world lore, game mechanics and the rules much easier to understand and pick up.

Harts Camp, Gathering 2014

I personally think LARPers are a clever bunch, and an alarmingly high number of my LARP friends have the doctorates to prove it. That said, LARPers come from all walks of life with varied backgrounds and from different professions. One of the things I still love about the LARP community is the sheer diversity, and the fact that you get to make new friends of people you might never otherwise encounter in your own day to day life.

Lorien Trust LARP traders
Market Place Traders at The Gathering 2014
Players walking through the market place where weapons and costume can be purchased

The Skinny On Live Action Role Play

  • There are different ‘systems’ in the UK and I play a system run by Lorien Trust or LT for short which you can find more about here
  • As with all systems, we have a set game world with heaps of lore (back story) and it’s own rules
  • Depending on your system, the game rule book can be alarmingly large which can prove daunting to someone new to role play, and even more alarming to some one new to fantasy in general. That was me – in fact most of the references people make, still go way over my head as I’m just not as into the whole fantasy genre as they are but if you like things like Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, you’re on the right tracks
  • At LT you can camp in-character or out-of-character. If you are camping IC, then you’ll need a canvas bell tent or other traditional canvas tent in order to look the part, camping out of character however is generally more convenient and allows you to use any style of tent
  • In LT there are 4 main events each year, these are known as mainlines, and these are the big events that have all factions attending. As well as the 4 mainlines every year, each faction also have 2 or 3 smaller, faction focused events known as Sanctioned events
  • You can devise your own character to play, choosing things like race, allegiance, and your character skills from a set list of options
  • Costume standards vary from system to system but generally if you want to play a fae, rocking up in a pair of jeans with a set of sparkly toy-shop wings on is not really acceptable, and nowhere near the effort level required – the more convincing you look and the greater the level of detail that you go to, then the easier it is to immerse yourself
  • Don’t buy fancy dress costumes for LARP, they won’t cut it (though some can be cleverly adapted if you are that way inclined) the level of kit you need to be aiming for is stage costume quality
  • The spirit of the game means that as a player, you are honour bound to play the game with honesty and integrity, if someone deals you damage, you take that damage (there are refs on hand to ensure players adhere to the rules and take damage properly) and when you strike players, your aim is not to maim and cause real physical damage
  • Some people argue that a high standard of kit means it can be expensive for new players to get into. Nonsense. Whilst some people spend thousands of pounds on kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a big budget film, you can look good without spending a fortune. Compared to other hobbies I have, the initial outlay for LARP costume was actually fairly low. Second hand kit, props and weapons are all easy to pick up, though be prepared to invest in anything from £60 upwards for a decent LARP-safe weapon, and significantly more if you want something custom made
  • Think about kit when you decide on and stat up your character – a Paladin tank might seem appealing, but you’ll need to invest heavily in armour and weapons to pull it off
  • Events provide a real sense of community. In the camping areas everyone is friendly and happy to help. Newbies are made to feel welcome and offers of combat training and chat about current plot is usually easy to come by
  • The more you put into the hobby, the more you get out of it. It often takes me far out of my own comfort zone. I don’t find socialising particularly easy, neither do I find remembering complex rules, calls, magic spells and plot easy, but there is fun to be had, and the more you can get stuck in, the more you’ll get from it
  • LARP does involve combat (If you want it, you can opt out if you’d prefer not to get so physically involved). You can choose to use a weapon, such as a LARP-safe latex sword or you can use magic as your weapon, for those who aren’t too keen on combat (real and serious injuries do occur, don’t let the fact that weapons are LARP-safe make you believe they can’t still cause damage!), taking on the role of a healer may be more appealing
  • LARP is very different to historical re-enactment. Whilst some back story and plot may be loosely based on historical events, that’s where the similarities end
  • LT mainilne events mean camping in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside in the stunning grounds of Locko park, the location alone is a good enough reason for me to go along
  • Leave cynicism at the gate – everyone taking part is there to have fun and to get out of the game whatever they want. Snarky one-upmanship is not recommended, suspend your disbelief and get stuck in
  • LARP isn’t just a game for 14 year old lads who want to hit each other with latex swords; lots of families come to LT events as do singles, couples and groups of all ages
  • You will feel utterly daft at times and you’ll have an internal monologue saying “What the hell am I doing?!” but once you’ve left behind your real-world ego and are engrossed in the game and playing your character, you’ll have a whale of a time
  • IC means in-character and refers to times when you are acting, behaving and responding as your character rather than as yourself. It’s best to only drop out of character, or OC, with friends you know well and out of the ear shot of others – chatting loudly about problems at work in the middle of the game, won’t help set the scene for those in-character, who are more concerned with trying to figure out how to track down and retrieve a stolen faction artifact
  • LARP is a great form of stress relief. You don’t have to think about the real world for a few days and whilst it can be a demanding hobby, especially once your character gets more heavily involved in plot and gains status, being able to switch off and live in as I refer to it, Nonsense-land for a few days, is incredibly liberating and refreshing
  • One of my favourite bits about LARP is sitting around a campfire in the evening, drinking (copiously of course), and singing lots of different traditional folk songs. Many have been written specially or adapted from well-known traditional songs, all of which get progressively bawdier. Under the gaze of the often visible Milky Way, people sing, play drums, tell stories and we create an atmosphere which is as close to ancient community life as it’s possible to get, far away from our stressful modern everyday world
Warewolf at the Gathering 2014
Harts of to Battle, Gathering 2014
LT Spring Moot LARP event 2018
LARP costume in my tent
leather leaf armour dryad larp
More of my LARP kit, including my custom made leather armour
The Gathering 2014
The Gathering 2014
Lorien Trust LARP
My current character, Seraphin the light incantor May, 2019

Thinking of giving LARP a go but don’t know where to start? I’m no expert, but I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have about my rather weird, but wonderful hobby below. Perhaps you are a LARPer and want to share what you love most about the hobby. Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Bell Tent Boutique

Where to next?

Shell Robshaw-Bryan
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