LARP or Live Action Role Play is a booming industry here in the UK and abroad. A lot of people aren’t aware that you can find LARP groups on your door step if you know where to look. I’ve reached out and spoken to some members of BathLARP this past week in hopes to learn more about the hobby.
Physically challenging, immensely creative and a unique hobby. If you’re one of the geeks of the world who loves the world of role play, then chances are you’d love the transition into an activity that allows you to get out and about whilst still getting your fix of fantasy.
A player will pursue a goal, set out by a games master, whilst performing what is akin to improv theatre. In a tabletop RPG, players will play out their characters, sometimes even going so far as to doing the voices. LARP is a step further then. Create your very own character, get in gear and fight through a series of events to achieve your or your teams goal.
Most areas of the UK have a LARP group nearby. In the South-West, one such group is BathLARP. I’ve been lucky enough to get some time from some of the BathLARP members and even a member of their committee. I was keen to get to know more about the hobby, so in true GeekOut style, I posed some questions to the LARPers.
Interview with the LARPers – Members of BathLARP
Q: How did you first get into LARP and how long have you been LARPing for?
Judith: I first heard about LARP through my sister – she used to be part of a Vampire: the Masquerade group in Bristol – but although I was aware of the Bath University group (BLADES) I didn’t join until my final year for various reasons. I’ve been LARPing ever since – which is eight years and makes me suddenly feel very old! That said, I’ve met LARPers who have been in one system or another pretty much since LARP took off in the UK, which is over 30 years at this point.
Louisa: I have been LARPing for around 6 years now, though I had my first go at LARPing 2 years before that. I was introduced to the hobby by a friend who was a LARPer already and knew I liked dressing up and reading fantasy novels.
Greg: I first got into LARPing as a Fresher at university of Bath. I saw a bunch of people in costume advertising the society, at first I was too nervous to approach them and walked past. Almost immediately afterwards I thought “what’s the worst that can happen” and turned around to introduce myself. I’d not been part of role playing as a hobby before that at all really but it looked like a laugh and I could certainly use the exercise. Since then I’ve been hooked! It’s far more immersive than tabletop games, has improved my confidence no end and I’ve met some amazing people! I graduated a few years ago and have been LARPing for seven years in total now and still love every minute of it!
Doug: My first LARP was on October 12th, 2003, so that means I’ve been LARPing for 11 years, 9 months, 17 days and this evening…
My first introduction was a few days before, at the societies introduction days during Freshers Week when I came to Bath Uni as a PhD student. Walking along the main concourse, I saw two people fighting each other. In broad daylight. With weapons. I remember my first words well:
“Excuse me…sorry for saying this, but what the hell are you doing?”
I was answered by a very enthusiastic guy dressed as a highland warrior (who is now a professional stuntman) who invited me to Google ‘Blades Bath’ and come along to the first game on the Sunday, and it all went from there. I showed up (I say showed up…I hid out of sight until I saw someone else dressed oddly) wearing a green t-shirt, black tracksuit bottoms, a pair of belts strapped across my chest like braces, and for some reason I still can’t quite work out, black shoe polish under my eyes as war paint. I was rocking the look.
I had an idea of what I wanted to play (one of my Everquest characters brought to life), the more experienced players helped me translate MMORPG stats into LARP stats, and away we went. We fought goblins, a couple of skeletons, and almost bricked it when we came up against an ogre…but we won!
Q: What does having a group such as BathLARP mean to you?
Judith: For me, it’s a community where I know everyone is as bizarre as I am. In a small system like ours we all know each other fairly well and look after newcomers to the group – we know who can help with various aspects of the game, from kit to combat to role play. There’s also that sense of shared history, both Out of Character and In Character – you’ll often hear war stories of The Day My Character Did Something Heroic/Stupid or That Patrol Where Something Really Weird Happened told in the pub after a game.
Louisa: I love being a member of BathLARP! When I was new to the area it helped me make friends and I’ve always found it to be a really welcoming group. I also love the fact it’s weekly, so I get to do lots of LARP!
Greg: Having a group where I know and trust the members is really important to me. I’d have never been able to get into the hobby without BathLARP and the members have been supporting me in upping my game since turning up at my first session with pretty much nothing to the point that I’ve made some of my own armour and own more kit than I could ever use. The sense of camaraderie within the club is really important to me and I count it’s members among my closest friends.
Doug: BathLARP (and its Bath University equivalent – BLADES) has been a constant in my life for over a decade. When I came to Bath, I was still coming to terms with advanced and alien concepts such as ‘friends’ (a strange thing that I experienced as an undergraduate in Bristol, after a school life entirely devoid of such things and filled instead with all the malice that children can visit upon one another), and ‘independence’ (I had spent all three years at Bristol in halls of residence, so it was still quite new to me). I knew I liked the fantasy genre, but the idea of actually being it – putting on the kit and running around a forest hitting each other – required some very welcoming people to avoid making me feel horribly out of place.
I have met some amazing people, had some crazy arguments, defended my opinions, learned to patch up some of the gaping holes in my understanding of social interaction, and been educated in a variety of social issues in which my understanding was sorely lacking. I also met the most utterly perfect, utterly beautiful, utterly magnificent individual ever to grace my existence, and just under three years ago, I was lucky enough to marry her. BathLARP made it possible.
I am really, really glad I pushed through the apprehension, bit the bullet and stepped out of hiding on that first morning back in 2003. Look at all I would have missed had I not!
Q: Across the UK, there are various different groups. Have you ever been to and partaken in the activities of another group?
Judith: So far I’ve played in Curious Pastimes and Lorien Trust – two of the big national ‘fest’ systems – and Winter in the Willows, which was a short-lived Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk game based on Wind in the Willows. Yes, it was as strange as it sounds. These days due to time, money and energy considerations I haven’t really felt the need to stray from BathLARP, but it’s nice to have the option out there.
Louisa: Yes! I played the local World of Darkness vampire game (now sadly come to an end though a new one is planned) and I have been a member of the Unicorns in LT, a creepy borg-like rabbit in a post apocalyptic steampunk winter in the willows game (Winter in the Willows) and a noble lady airship owner in a tiny steampunk system (Clockwork Monkey).
Greg: Yep. BathLARP runs small, relatively short “linear” games. This means that there are at most about 30 people attending the game, they last less than a day (4-6 hours) and have a defined goal to them. The events that I’ve been to most outside of BathLARP are the national events run by the Lorien Trust. These events last for a weekend or a long weekend, have several thousand people in attendance and the plots are sprawling and multi-layered. It’s great to be able to enjoy these two really different forms of the hobby.
Doug: In addition to TL (Tony Live) in Bath, I have been known to do a little creative nomading when it comes to LARP. Nationally, I have spent several years in the LT (Lorien Trust), several more in CP (Curious Pastimes), and have shown up to Maelstrom in the past. Distributed across the UK, I have played systems called White City (which had the best magic system I have ever seen), Arborea Interactive, Crooked House (the best assembled LARP I have ever played), Shadow Wars, and Winter in the Willows (who doesn’t love a ferret road warrior?). Closer to home in Bath, I have played Vampire (rather badly), a horror system called Tales of a Scorched Earth, and I even had a hand in writing my own system, called Elysium.
Q: Are there any other ‘Geeky’ hobbies you take part in?
Judith: I’m also part of a Mistborn RPG tabletop group, and I read sci-fi and fantasy fairly voraciously. Next year will be my third DiscworldCon and I’m probably going to be made to cosplay again – or at least help my partner with his troll hall costume. I also code for fun (primarily the website for BathLARP), write (material for BathLARP), make costumes (for LARP)…
Louisa: I’m part of two semi-regular table top games and one really occasional one (we’ve managed 4 games in three years…). More recently I’ve joined a medieval martial arts class and I sew my own costumes.
Greg: I’ve been known to take part in tabletop role play games, enjoy a wide range of board games and, when I find something my elderly laptop can run, enjoy computer games as well. I’ve always been a fan of fantasy/ sci-fi literature as well, which probably explains the LARPing.
Doug: I have played Everquest (and later Everquest II) since late in 1999, making it probably my longest running geekdom (and also the reason for the first internet connection being obtained in my family home). Before that, I played Magic: The Gathering, but never had enough money to make a decent go of it (anyone who has played on a shoestring against those with money to spend will feel my pain).
Unlike most LARPers, I came into role play from the stage (where I had been since I was seven years old) rather than the table top. My first tabletop role play experience came after I had started LARP, but since then I have played Shadowrun, Call of Cthulu, SLA Industries, Exalted, Vampire, Promethean, Amber and Warhammer FRP (but curiously, never D&D). I also ran a weekly Shadowrun game for six years – at one point, we got into such detail that there was an in character debate between two characters about taking out the rubbish.
I also like collecting and watching bad fantasy films (plenty of those around), and mulling over such fundamental questions as “Will there ever be the perfect adaptation of Wind in the Willows?” and “Will we ever see an Iain M. Banks movie?” These are questions that can keep you warm at night.
Q: A person has approached you asking for advice on getting into the hobby. They don’t have any friends who LARP, but have some who said they’d give it a go with them. What should these new LARPers prepare themselves for?
From personal experience LARPers tend to be keen, friendly, and enthusiastic, and if you’re willing to join in there’s a good chance that someone will take you under their wing and help navigate you through your first game(s). The key thing is finding the sort of system that follows a genre and style and level of commitment you might enjoy; there are systems out there that cover everything from high fantasy high combat mosh-fests to steampunk politics and horror, from big budget sci fi down to low-budget noir.
After that, what you prepare for could be anything from glorious battle to scheming deviousness to polite society to having the bejeezus scared out of you; there will be war stories and battle scars, there will be camaraderie and friendly rivalry.
Louisa: Make sure you have really good boots. You’ll thank me later, I promise! Also, be prepared for Weather and layer your clothing accordingly. During the course of a typical English day LARPing you will be hot, cold and rained on at least once. Beyond that, read the rules of the system you’re going to, but don’t worry too much if they don’t make sense. Most LARPers are willing to stop and explain to newbies and a lot of systems will have a new person briefing before the game starts to go over things with you. It can be a little confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it really quickly!
Greg: To have a great time!
In all seriousness I’d let them know when and where we meet, to bring some food and water with them and find out what sort of character appeals to them. I’d then be asking around the club/rummaging through my kit to find costume that will let them be the hero that they want to be. The only thing that you need to have a good time at LARP (especially BathLARP) is an open mind, sensible shoes and something to keep you full of energy all day.
Doug: Something very different. LARP is unlike any other form of role play you have experienced so far, and you may feel apprehensive about the concept, or the way you might look. Please, please, push through that, step out of the hiding place, and give it a try. The chances are you will not regret it, and that you will have a blast. If it turns out it’s not for you, you’ve had a good walk and a day out in the forest.
Be ready to spend the day outside, running around in a variety of different weather conditions. Most LARP sites are in wooded areas, so can be hilly, rocky, damp, muddy and slippery. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty (hard-wearing trousers, but not jeans, are ideal), and stout footwear (walking boots or walking shoes) are your very best friend. Bring lunch, and definitely bring water. If it’s spring, autumn or winter, bring multiple thin layers of clothing – these are better than big, thick layers. In summer, bring multiple removable layers. Just because it’s summer in the UK doesn’t mean it can’t rain at the drop of a hat.
Don’t worry about getting hit. In LARP, weapon strikes are pulled, meaning that the only impact is a light tap. If it hurts, the person hitting you has hit you too hard. Full stop.
If you’re coming along to play, it’s a good idea to think about the kind of system you are playing in, and the kind of character you might like to play within that system. The more experienced players you meet can help you make your idea into a reality (which is exactly what happened with me) when you arrive. Alternatively, come along and play a ‘Monster’ for a while to learn about the system. Monsters are the NPCs the characters meet throughout the game – you might be an enemy combatant, a diplomatic envoy, a dead body, a shambling corpse, anything the GM running the game has in mind for the players to interact with. It’s an excellent way to learn about a system without having to create a character to play in it.
Be prepared to be sore the next day. Not because you were hit too hard, but instead because unless you play regular competitive sport, you will be using muscles you didn’t even know you had, and they will be decidedly unimpressed with you after using them for the first time in a long while. This will get better.
If you’re around Bath or the surrounding areas, cities such as Bristol, then you really should speak to the BathLARP committee. They’re a bunch of really kind people, who are truly dedicated to making fun events for the LARP community. I am enthralled with the response I had for interviews with these wonderful people, who are a very welcoming group.
I’d like to extend my thanks to all four of the LARPers who took the time to answer our questions today. LARP is such a personal experience to people, so it’s truly inspiring to hear from them. Whilst you’re at it, you should check out Louisa’s blog where she talks about all of her geekdoms!
Have you ever done any LARPing before? Have you ever had interest but didn’t know how to get started? Let us know what you think about LARP in the comments below, over on Facebook or on our Twitter page.