What Is Larp?

digital larper in costume
Who will meet and portray in your next digital larping adventure?

The term ‘larp’ gets thrown around here all the time at The Geek Initiative. It’s kind of a big deal. But, some people still haven’t participated in a larp, or otherwise haven’t heard of it. So, before we start chanting ‘one of us, one of us,’ we’ll give you a quick explanation of what the larp fuss is about. 

What is Larp?

Larp is a kind of game or an art, depending on subject matter and location. It stands for ‘Live Action Role Play.’ Role playing games are focused on the interactions between characters. Role play is often facilitated by rules, and is commonly seen in tabletop settings like Dungeons & Dragons or in text-based form that’s more fast and loose with rules. The ‘Live Action’ part of larp refers to the format in which it’s presented.

Unlike tabletop games, live action games have more in common with impromptu acting, which is why some larps are more like art or experiences as well. Each person represents their character in their dress, mannerisms, and speech in a real-world setting. In this way, live action role play is focused on interactions between characters and the world they inhabit—but in the physical world. There are many different types of larp, some of which vary in how ‘real world’ they are, the price, the presence or absence of physical combat representations, and other facets. But, they have this basic premise in common.

What is Parlor Larp and What is Chamber Larp?

What is larp? It is theatrical.
Larp can feel very theatrical.

Also called ‘theater-style or theater form larps,’ chamber larps (also known as parlor larps) are defined by one key feature: a lack of physical combat simulation. Players may be able to act out scenes, but there are no foam weapons or other props. Usually, these larps take place indoors, and can take place in a single room. In these larps, players may or may not dress in costume. This, combined with the game setting, makes parlor larps one of the most accessible options. Plots based around negotiations and social interaction tend to be common with parlor larps. The “secrets and powers larp” style lends itself towards the parlor larp format.

Examples: Urban Myths’ Dresden Files larp, with Fate mechanics to simulate combat.

What is Nordic Larp?

Originating in the Netherlands, and rarely seen in the United States, Nordic Larp is also called ‘What You See Is What You Get Larp.’ Nordic larp often focuses on immersion. In Nordic Larp, your character is only capable of what the player is physically capable of doing. Those looking for an escape from their mundane lives and the limitations of their current human bodies may want to consider a different type of larp. Players are encouraged to collaborate to create a more interesting story, rather than try to ‘win’ a game and compete with other players. Some people have said that they do not believe Americans, who seem to play to ‘win’ at the expense of other players, are capable of true Nordic Larp.

Examples of Nordic larp

What is Boffer Larp?

Boffer Larp has become synonymous with ‘American Style Larp,’ for better or for worse. This type of larp has a lot of fans, and just as many haters. In this larp family, combat is simulated in real-time with physical touch weapons called ‘boffers.’ These toy weapons run the gamut from naked foam covered in duct tape to latex-covered and painted, down to the last detail. Dagohir and Amtgard are two notable boffer larps that commonly come under fire for being ‘low plot, and hard hitting.’

This type of larp is not very friendly to those who require accessibility considerations, and might even be considered more like hardcore exercise than larp by some. Most larps that take place in America fall under this umbrella, but vary on the scale of combat to roleplay ratios. Many also take place at a ‘site’ to further simulate the fictional location of the larp. Most boffer larps require costuming, but the extent of costuming requirements varies from larp to larp.

Note: Several large boffer larp organizations in the US have been reported to have issues with the presence of white supremacist players, and not taking their presence seriously. Please do your research before attending an event. We are providing an example that eschews fascism. Many boffer larps, however, have rules about safety, inclusion, and respect.

Examples: Dystopia Rising

What is Destination Larp or Blockbuster Larp?

What is Larp? It could happen in a ballroom.
An ideal destination larp or blockbuster larp setting.

Blockbuster larps are usually defined by their production values. That is, they are expensive compared to every other kind of larp. It’s expected that there will be a crew of non-players to act out non-player-characters—with suitable costuming to match. Food is usually included, and there is minimal if any ‘game off’ time. Players should expect to pay a premium for the site—and there is usually a lot of effort taken to make the site physically match the fictional world of the larp as much as possible.

The most famous of the blockbuster larps are run by Dziobak Larp Studios—the minds behind College of Wizardry and Fairweather Manor. For the record, College of Wizardry takes place in an actual castle, and Fairweather Manor takes place in an actual mansion. Costuming expectations on players are quite high.

Destination larps are often described as “cinematic experiences.”

Examples: Fairweather Manor, College of Wizardry, New World Magischola (US)

What is Digital Larp or Remote Larp?

What is LARP? It could be a digital larp setup.
A remote larp setup.

Remote larps (or digital larps) are the new kids on the block. It falls closer to parlor larps on the combat scale. The entire larp takes place over the internet, with players and game facilitators remoting-in from their personal locations. While many larps are vulnerable to weather changes, this type of larp is most at risk for technological problems.

The low cost, due to no site fees, also makes this type of larp distant from the wallet-busting blockbusters. But, costume requirements and room decorations vary from larp to larp. You could probably say that the immersion levels also vary from larp to larp, depending on how much time players spend out of character.

Examples: CHARIOT LARP, Dealmakers and Dreamers: A Faefolk Digital Larp Experience

These are the general categories that larps fall into. Now that you know that, and what larp is, I need you to get a goblin mask and meet me in the woods next Sunday. Have fun playing.

Ready to start? Digital larp is a great way to enter into the adventure. Join The Geek Initiative’s larp community on Facebook!

This page was written by Katherine S.