Sunday, August 10, 2008

The RPG Three: Part Three

In today's RPG three post, I want to talk about Live Action Roleplaying. I've noticed that LARPing is not a very common RPG blog topic, and as someone who's done it for 8 years, I hope that I can shine some light on the subject, help you find out if LARPing is right for you, and give you the steps to get involved in a local game.

Before we get started into that however, I've got some great news. I mentioned on my previous RPG Three post that Ravyn from over at Exchange of Realities was going to help out the series by writing a post on Play-By-Chat roleplaying and post it over on her blog. Well, she delivered, and it's a great post! Thank you Ravyn! It's enough to make me want to join up in a Play-By-Chat game (if you have any with open slots, let me know)!

Now, I wanted to expand upon live action roleplaying since, to tell the truth, LARPing events are tons of fun, and probably my favorite style of roleplaying. I will say this: LARPing is not for everyone. But for a special few, it will probably be the most fun you'll ever have. So lets waste no time, and dive right into the grand world of LARPing.

LARPing's not for everyone? Is it for me?

To be a successful LARPer, there are some key personality traits you're going to want to look for. Primarily, people who are drawn to such games have to be pretty extroverted, not to mention proud of their geekiness. If your a cosplayer then you're already halfway there, since you're used to dressing up in a costume.

One common misconception about LARPing is that you need to be athletic, or a skilled fencer/swordsman in order to play. Bzzz. Wrong. Trust me, from a guy who goes to the gym maybe once a month and lets just say... avoids the beach... LARPs are welcoming to people of all shapes, and sizes. In fact, LARPers are probably some of the most accepting people I've met. After all, you can't really judge someone when you're running around in a cape...

Another misconception is that girls don't LARP. That it's just a bunch of guys getting their manly anger out via fake swords. Also very wrong. While it's true that LARPs generally do attract more males then females, a lot of LARPs have strong female player bases, and are always welcome to having more.

If you play a tabletop game and love to really get into the minds of your characters - maybe even finding yourself acting out your character's actions more then describing them, then LARPing may be for you. If you enjoy acting or improvisation, or simply wish life was more like the game you enjoy playing so much, you should give LARPing a chance!

You're hitting each other with swords. Is that safe?

Well, techinically we're hitting each other with boffer swords, not real swords. Boffer swords are generally crafted with a PVP piping core, with pipe insulation foam around the pipe on all striking portions. The foam is usually secured with strapping tape and then the whole thing is wrapped in duct tape (for the blade) and electric tape or grip tape (for the handle). Some games allow archery as well, in which case the arrows are usually made out of golf tube similarly tipped with insulation foam, if not entirely covered with it.

That's a lot of "typicallys" and "usuallys"...

Every game is different. Some games will allow latex weapons for use by experienced fighters, while other games may have different rules for weapon construction. All games though take safety very seriously and have detailed rules for the weapons they allow in-game, usually followed up by weapon-checks at registration.

In addition to strict weapon construction guidelines, LARPs take many other safety precautions as well. All LARPs have safety rules that all players are required to abide by, generally accompanied by safety calls such as "HOLD" and "EMERGENCY" based on what the safety issue is. All players and staff members are briefed on these rules through the rulebook and usually following registration at any given event.

LARPing combat follows the "lightest touch" combat system, meaning that all swings are pulled. Basically, this means that players are only allowed to swing hard enough to lightly touch their opponent, and that people swinging any harder may be removed from combat if not from the game. This takes a little getting used to, and of course accidents do happen, but it's pretty carefully regulated.

Combat? How does that even work?

LARPs vary in combat rules depending on how the game works, but many LARPs work with a hit-point based system. Once you run out of hit points you can be knocked out, and then killed. Some LARPs have a much quicker combat system which is based on "hit locations". In these games, if you get hit in the chest or back, you're dead. If you're hit in the arm or leg, you lose use of that limb.

In the end, in either system, LARPs generally are based on an honor system. Obviously, you're the only one who can keep track of your hit points or armor, so everyone is generally expected not to cheat in order to make the game fun for everyone else.

So you just run around in the woods, hitting each other with fake swords?

Well, yes there is some "running around in the woods" that always tends to happen, but we don't hit each other. We hit monsters! In addition to the player characters at any LARP event, there is also a number of staff member who help to run the plots, stories, and encounters for the weekend.

Over the weekend, staff members alternate between taking on the roles of "Face Characters" (named NPC's who may be anyone from a traveling musician, to the head of the town's mages guild) and "Crunchies" (monsters of all shapes and sizes). For example, if you were to come to the LARP that I work as a senior staffer for, over the course of one weekend, you may see me as a half dozen different monsters, or Volt Greyfeather - the town's Chief Engineer.

Good LARP events will have a mixture of both combat and roleplaying encounters, with a nice mix of puzzles and dungeon crawling as well. LARP events will usually have many different plots going on - both overarching plots that concern everyone, and personal plots that deal with specific characters - usually based on their backstory or their current goals.

At most LARPs, after an event the staff will have some sort of form that you can submit to them prior to the next event. Through this form, it allows the staff to learn what your character is trying to accomplish, and allows them to write plot for you. Some LARPs will also allow you to accomplish tasks between games, such as producing alchemical potions, or doing scholarly research.

So, can you level up in a LARP?

While most LARPs won't actually call it "leveling up", your character does increase in power the longer you play them. In addition to the magical items, tools, or wealth your character might find in their adventures, your character will gain points or "build" of some kind the longer you play them. In almost all LARPs you increase in power simply by attending an event.

Usually, there are other methods you can take to increase in power more quickly - such as good roleplaying, donating materials to the game, helping to set up before an event, or helping to clean up after. Generally, in most LARPs, if you help contribute to the game in some way, you'll benefit from it. So, the more you help out, and the more you play, the more powerful your character becomes.

Some LARPs have a cap on how powerful your character can become, though in some games your character could theoretically continue gaining power for as long as you played them. This is generally based on the Death system that the particular LARP uses.

Wait I can die? You didn't mention that!

Well yes, just like in all RPGs, LARPs do allow characters to die. However, this varies wildly depending on the type of death system the game uses.

Infinideath - In what I like to call "infinideath" games, you can die theoretically an infinite number of times. Dying has no effect on your character, and it generally just means that you have to lie there until someone raises you. In infinideath games, generally there are a lot of people who can bring back the dead, since dying is most likely a pretty common occurance. Killing off a character permanantly is usually possible in these systems, but incredibly difficult to do. These games usually use "hit location" fight systems and have monsters that can swing blows that kill in one hit.

Finideath - In a finideath game, you can only die a finite number of times, and it's usually not that many, depending on the game. If your character dies too many times, you may have to make a new character. At these games, after you die there is usually a designated spot where you have to go and speak with the entity of death, played by a staff member. Such games usually use a hit point system and the ability to raise the dead is available, but hard to come by. Monsters can vary between weaklings and things you just plain run away from.

One-death - In a one-death system, you can only die once. These are the more gritty, realistic games. Generally characters are more powerful, and monsters are weaker in these games, as the characters become true "heroes". Such games have complicated death systems, and usually make it pretty hard for your character to die. For example, once you get knocked down, there may be a certain amount of time before you start bleeding out when a basic healer can get you up. After that, you may have another amount of time before you die, during which someone can try to use powerful magic or stitch you up in some other way. These games are usually more horror based, and certainly take advantage of the fact that you may die at any moment, adding a whole new layer of fear to the game.

Are there other LARP genres besides fantasy?

Why yes! In fact, there are tons of different LARPs out there, of all different genres. Certainly there are plenty of fantasy LARPs out there in countless different settings, but you can also find steampunk LARPs and even contemporary LARPs. For those of you familiar with World of Darkness, there is actually quite a popular LARP based on that game that is played nation-wide. Like Call of Cthulhu? Play Cthulhu Live! (Eeeeeeevil!)

You've piqued my interest. How can I get involved?

Huzzah! Well, the first thing to do is find a LARP in your area. One of the best ways to do this is to visit Shade's Larp List. There you can check out games in your area. Once you've found one that's piqued your interest, look around their website. Reading through the rulebook and taking a glance at their photo album is a good way to see if the game will be fun or not. Check out their messageboard if they have one, and don't hesitate to email the game directors!

Obviously the people running the game are going to have nothing but good things to say about it, but they can answer questions that you may have and help you make your character. With their help, you can get everything you need to set up.

My first LARP event is coming! What should I bring?

- Money for the event

- Snacks and water for the weekend (even if they're being provided. I strongly suggest beef jerky. If you have an in-game pouch you can carry beef jerky around in, it will sometimes even deter an ogre from killing you. Trust me.)

- Your costume (most LARPs will have costume requirements they mention on their website. Try to look at least partially in-period for the game you're going to. Avoid logos and denim jeans.)

- Your boffer weapons (if you don't have one and can't make one, ask the game directors if their might be extra ones. Most staff centers will be more then equipped with weapons and will gladly lend you one. Work this out ahead of time.)

- Your cell phone (it's a good idea to get the cell phone for a director of the game since most LARPs are held at campgrounds that are hard to find - especially if you'll be arriving in the dark.)

- A notebook and something to write in (you'll need it, trust me. You can pick out journals or notepads without metal rings or words on the front at most bookstores.)

- A flashlight (helpful for finding your cabin or tent in the dark, though you shouldn't use them in-game.)

- Your papers (make sure to have your character sheet on you, if you're required to bring it, as well as the waiver for the game you're playing since most LARPs require a signed waiver.)

- An open mind (don't be scared to have fun and talk to people!)

- A friend (sometimes you'll just have more fun if you don't go on your adventures alone. besides, some LARPs will give you a discount if you bring a friend! Everything's more fun when you get a discount.)

Happy adventuring!

Edit: As an added bonus since I made this post way longer then it was supposed to be, here's a lovely picture of yours truly sparring in one of the LARPs I used to play. The guy in the blue was actually the king of an in-game nation. I lost on purpose, you know, because he's royalty and all. Yeah... that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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