My Weird, Wonderful Hobby – Live Action Role Play

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For the past 5 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, but that’s just pedantic as it means the same thing. Now you are probably thinking “Live Action WHAT?!” and that wouldn’t be a surprise, as it is still a relatively unknown hobby outside of the LARP community.

Members of the Harts Faction at the Gathering 2014

Members of the Harts Faction at the Gathering 2014

I go to around 4-6 LARP events each year. Some contain less than a hundred players, others, a few thousand. The biggest LARP event in the UK takes place over August bank holiday weekend and consists of around 3,000 players. Run by Lorien Trust, it is called The Gathering and It’s essentially, a massive 5 day (most turn up on a Thursday night, the day before the game starts) festival-like event, where all of the players take part in a massive, complex and often physically demanding, but fun game. During the game we stay in camps based on the faction we are in, so for me, it’s the ideal hobby, as it combines camping and being outdoors with a massively fun and immersive game played with friends.

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

We play a character of our choosing, we dress up and act like that character as the game unfolds, which is full of twists and highly detailed plot that we use our character skills to try and progress or overcome. We all work together to combat the bad guys, and whilst dressing up and taking part in a live version of Lord Of The Rings isn’t to everyone’s taste, i’ve met some truly amazing people doing it, and it’s a hobby that I dearly love and so wanted to do a feature here on the blog. Sadly due to illness, shots I obtained from the latest event are limited, so i’ve added a few pictures from previous events too.

Seelie Court, a group within the Harts Faction 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 who know and reveal the plot, 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, as an excuse to turn up in regular clothes, then LARP probably isn’t for you.

LARP character

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, reading graphic novels 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 may find world lore, game mechanics and rules much easier to understand.

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.

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
  • 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 folk songs. Many have been written specially or adapted from well-known 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 crazy, stressful modern everyday world

Warewolf at the Gathering 2014

Harts of to Battle, Gathering 2014

LARP costume in my tent

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

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!

  • Timothy Bateson

    The pictures alone bring back some wonderful memories of my days in the LT. I spent a lot of time in the Dragons, and the Lions camps, as well as hanging out at the Guild tents. My wife is a LARPer too, and we’ve had a lot of fun remembering the events we attended in the various LARp systems. One day, we’ll be on vacation in the UK (where I’m from originally), and get booked in for an LT event. My wife’s not had that pleasure yet

    • Thanks for your comment and lovely to hear it brought back memories! You must let me know if you are ever back in the UK and heading to the field again! 🙂

      • Timothy Bateson

        Look forward to it.. And who knows, we may find we have a group to join, rather than getting randomly assigned by LT booking 🙂 hehehe…. Ahh that lovely lottery 😉

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  • GoblinKing

    Nice article, Shell. I’ve been LARPing since the mid-90s and started at The Gathering and have since moved on to other systems such as Curious Pastimes (or LT-Dangerous as it should be known) and now found a happy home in Empire.

    Your comments on cost are spot-on, but new players can tailor their characters to suit their budget. We played goblins for years at LT and charity shop leather items, fur and creatively treated rags will suffice. The same is true for playing a lowly thief, assassin or back-street sawbones (as I’m currently playing).

    You can also start small and work up. So if you fancy playing a Knight or Paladin, you could get together some basic squire kit (trousers and a smock) and wear that to your first event. If you love it, you can build up to the full platemail, by buying a helmet one event, a breastplate the next. LARP stuff is readily available online, so suddenly your friends and relatives have a whole new selection of birthday and Christmas presents to get you!

    Glad you like the hobby. If you or anyone else has any questions about CP or Empire or whatever, get in touch.

    • Thanks for your comment. Great suggestion that a character can be chosen with budget in mind. I keep hearing so many great things about Empire, but I just don’t have the time for more than one system, but delighted to hear you enjoy it 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. Great suggestion that a character can be chosen with budget in mind. I keep hearing so many great things about Empire, I wish I had time (and the brain power!) to play more than one system, but delighted to hear you enjoy it 🙂

  • Alex Armstrong

    Spot on on getting kit for events for a new player.

    For those interested in the other Two big LARP systems here are their links:

    Profound Decisions: Run Empire and Odyssey
    http://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/home;jsessionid=utdydlruc5ye?0

    Curious Pastimes:
    http://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/home;jsessionid=utdydlruc5ye?0

    For second hand kit look here:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/289666864462656/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/102396143274251/

    • Thanks for the links to the other systems Alex and for the second hand kit links too 🙂

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  • Bonobo Woodland

    Thank you for this artical, I’m wanting to develop a system but I’ve never been Larping before. How do they evolve? My email is outlinegallery@gmail.com if you find the time it would be great to talk. Thanks Jason

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