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Live Wires: Dispatches from the Live-Action Front

Leave the Dice at Home

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to LARP

Scott Lynch
June, 2000
 

How many times have you stolen away into the twilight woods, face painted in a death's-head mask with charcoal and grease, to stalk the creatures of darkness on their own terms? How often have you sheltered in the musty hollow of a blighted tree while inhuman eyes scoured the night for you and your warrior kin? When did you last make a kill in the new-fallen snow, and watch the blood of your foe steam its heat away on the cold, frosted ground?

You can lower your hand if you've done those deeds from behind the comfort of a set of dice and a warm bag of Doritos, friends. I'm talking about the real thing, possibly excepting the part about the blood, which was acquired by stumbling into a rusty metal sign and not in a glorious battle. I'm talking about live-action roleplaying, or LARP, and that's how it all began for me back in the dark, cold March of 1995.

Of course, I now understand that I entered the roleplaying world backwards.

I'm a mutant, a heretic- nay, a pariah!

I LARPed first. And I loved it.

How often I have wished I could bottle that initial sense of wonder I had- that feeling of being let loose into something vast and magical! In the leafless winter woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I found myself suckered into playing a bootleg "live-action" game of _Werewolf: The Apocalypse._ My gaming tastes would be forever shaped by the mystery, grandeur, and excitement of those first few nights. Of course, the game wasn't perfect. We didn't even have a copy of the rules. All we were really doing was acting out our roles and sneaking up on each other in the woods. It was more live-action _Last of the Mohicans_ than live-action _Werewolf._

Still, every game I have played in or run since then has been part of an attempt to make that magic live again, and not just for myself. I firmly believe that LARP is the most powerful gaming experience available to us, the most compelling and the most primal. We are curious beings, we pampered children of the late twentieth century. We prefer our adventures secondhand, through the proxies of TV screens, PlayStations, dice, and character sheets. LARP is dangerous because it thrusts us back into a world of choices, a world of consequences, a world of personal stakes. I'll say that again- LARP is dangerous. It threatens to awaken wicked and sensual aspects of our personalities that simmer beneath the surface in a world where homogenization is equated with safety. Not all of us want to break out of our comfort zones, out of that cheery camaraderie of pewter, pencils, and pizza boxes.

Of course my attitude marks me as a target. LARP is a surprisingly divisive topic within the gaming subculture. Quasi-religious, one might say. Many gamers and would-be gamers despise or distrust it, even without the benefit of direct play experience. Most of the negative reactions I've directly encountered fall into the following four categories:

The Table Gaming Fanatic

"Why would I ever want to be seen at a LARP? LARPs are for drama queens and poseurs. Not to mention the fact that the rules tend to stink. And the costumes- ugh!"

The Hipper-Than-Thou Would-be Goth

"Why would I ever want to be seen at one of those games? They're for wannabes and poseurs. They have nothing to do with Troma Films, Nancy Collins, or Poppy Z. Brite. And the stupid costumes- ugh!"

The Holier-Than-Thou SCA Member

"Why would I ever want to be seen with a bunch of whining ahistorical elf fetishists? Plus, you just can't trust a foam weapon once you've hefted a proper piece of rattan."

Your Born-Again Neighbor

"People kill themselves because of those games. The Devil wants them to. Here, I have a pamphlet you should definitely read."

This is what I'm here to preach against, brothers and sisters. Unto you, I say: "LARP is good." Unto you, I paraphrase Homer J. Simpson: "LARP. Teacher. Friend. Secret Lover."

Live gaming is a natural progression from tabletop gaming, not an artsy aberration bent on wiping it out. LARP polishes interaction skills, sharpens wits, and teaches good social poise as well as the effective use of dirty tricks. LARP enables larger casts of more diverse people to interact on a grander scale than ever before, without the dehumanizing element of networked computer games. LARP broke me forever of my shyness and turned me into a capable orator, and I've seen it do the same for dozens of players. They enter the game socially hesitant and uncertain , but they leave the game assertive and eager for further challenges.

Look around you! It's a LARP world. Professional sports are live-action roleplaying games. Millionaires on the field pretend that the movements of the ball actually mean something, while thousands of spectators pretend the same thing! Did your high school have a Model United Nations? The quintessential LARP. Did your college host Mock Trials? LARP again. Ever engaged in roleplaying as a form of psychotherapy? Thousands of people do each day. LARP is used in schools, seminars, businesses, and professional training. Recreational LARP groups exist in every corner of the globe, simulating everything from fantasy warfare to the daily life of Mongolian nomads. Every summer, more than 15,000 costumed "reenactors" gather at the Gettysburg battlefield national park in Pennsylvania to recreate those three pivotal days in July, 1863. For the duration of their visit, each one of them is effectively LARPing.

LARP is everywhere.

LARP is worthwhile, fun, and downright exciting.

Now...

Once you've dealt with the very real possibility that I might be a crooked-toothed madman who could start sending pipe bombs through the mail at any moment, what can you expect from this column?

Plenty! We'll explore every facet of the world of LARP- all games great and small, from "How to Host a Murder" parties to vast convention LARPs written for a cast of hundreds. We'll examine the secrets of staying physically fit for "boffer" LARPs, and the subtle tricks of oration, backstabbing, and compromise that can lead to success in "theatrical" LARPs. We'll expound on the ins and outs of a well-run LARP from both player and coordinator perspectives. Are the people next door convinced you and your LARP associates are demon-worshipping hellfiends? We'll discuss countermeasures. Are you scared witless of stepping into the spotlight and employing your own social skills against the poised, experienced gamers around you? _Live Wires_ will be here for you.

LARP is about broadening your horizons.

LARP is about getting lost in something bigger than yourself.

LARP can awaken dormant feelings and forgotten abilities. It isn't for the faint of spirit, but if you give it a chance, it can make your spirit stronger.

So, with every passing column, I hope to shed a little more light on the subject, stir a little more controversy, and pass on a few more of the hard-earned tidbits of wisdom (or pseudo-wisdom, or cunningly disguised BS) that have been pounded into my head over the course of my live-action years.

Game well, game often, and don't get candle wax on those nice wool overcoats.

Cheers,
Scott L.
lynch@rpg.net

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