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The SCA: Is it a LARP?

by Justin (Mark Waks), April 1997

reprinted off Usenet by permission of the author
I'm catching up on my back messages (the Rialto digestifier got clogged up, and is just now clearing), so this is about a week old, but it's a topic I'm quite fond of. I've done enough LARP panels at SF cons to have a pretty good feel for what's out there; the issue's a good deal more complex than most people realize.

Background: as well as being heavily involved in the SCA for a dozen-plus years now, I also am part of a team that writes pretty cutting-edge LARPs, and have been playing them for about nine years. As an artform, it's a lot more fluid than the basic D&D-type stuff many people think of.

For those coming into this cold, LARP stands for Live-Action Roleplaying, a *very* wide medium for games. The kind of stuff I do is mainly "theater-style interactive literature", and the genres vary all over the map. Broadly speaking, "LARP" covers games where the players are physically interacting (instead of just sitting around a table), and each player takes on a "character" for the purpose of the game. So: is the SCA a LARP?

The short version: The SCA probably isn't a LARP, but it's very close.

Digging into the posting from Friar Thomas, we can see some of the usual misconceptions about LARPs.

I should caveat here that the major factor is probably the LARPs the good Friar has dealt with; the models he mentions are common, but by no means universal.

And many LARPs are the same way.

Ditto. Historical LARPs, in particular, generally don't have this concept.

Ditto again, although most LARPs to have a measure of artificiality to their social structure. On the other hand, many don't have any formal concept of rank, so that becomes a non-issue. And some of the ones that *do* have rank are structured quite similarly to the SCA, with real-world politics being the main element.

Actually, *most* of the medieval/fantasy LARPs are the same way -- skill determines the outcome of combat to at least a large degree. The main difference is that the majority of medieval and fantasy LARPs use somewhat less realistic simulated weapons: usually boffers, instead of rattan. Still, that's mainly a matter of degree, not kind.

(On the other hand, the LARPs I do usually are entirely simulated combat with cards, so the point is well-taken.)

Although many LARPs use magic, many others don't.

Then you don't know the LARP community very well.

Let me give some examples of the kind of games I write and play in; I think it'll get the point across more clearly. The key issue is that many LARPs are *not* simply D&D standing up -- Live-Action Roleplaying covers absolutely *every* aspect of history and literature.

In short, there are games of pretty much any flavor you can imagine. If all you've seen is medieval fantasy, you need to explore more deeply; it's a rich field. For those interested in more information, I commend to you the home page of the ILF, the Interactive Literature Foundation, which is essentially the umbrella organization that tries to encourage this artform:

http://www.ilfinfo.org/

And those who are interested in playing a really killer LARP in Massachusetts in September should check out the Tabula Rasa Homepage:

http://www.inmet.com/~justin/tabula.html

Now, all that said, we get to the real question: is the SCA a LARP? My answer is "probably not", but for different, higher-level reasons:

The key common distinction between the Society and live-action roleplaying games isn't the "live-action roleplaying", which the SCA clearly is; it's the word "game". The LARP form of game has certain meta-assumptions that seem very common, and which the SCA breaks.

Still, the borders are very fuzzy. In meta-discussions of LARPs, I often use the SCA as an extreme milestone, the far boundary between heavily- structured and lightly-structured games. The SCA *can* be validly viewed as an entirely improvisational live-action roleplaying game. That's different from anything that *calls* itself a LARP, but it still might fall into the category. There aren't any black-and-white boundaries; rather, it's all shades, with the SCA at one edge of the spectrum...

Justin
Who has a *lot* of odd hobbies...

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