What is larp?

This an old piece I once wrote in the newsletter of our gamers association in Nijmegen, Casus Belli. An attempt at satire.

From one gamer to another, larpers are pretty extravagant, aren't they? Of course there's no problem in playing a WWII German General or a Drow in a video game or in a tabletop game, but there is a big difference between that and really putting on a costume. And it's not just the costume; there's the foam weapons that really look a bit silly and then there's details like travelling all the way to the woods, spending whole weekends outside and camping out. It's just not for us, we'd rather play a game while sitting comfortably in a warm room with snacks at hand.

So I took that step, I went out larping and found out that there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. Like the fact that most larpers make their own costumes, because that's cheaper than having them custom made, and it's also more personal. It's easy to tell the difference between an experienced larper and a newbie; one wears an impressively detailed costume that wouldn't look out of place in the Lord of the Rings movies, the other wears a rag-tag jumble of second-hand hippie clothes. Same goes for the weapons. Which makes you think that one needs to be quite handy in order to get along with other larpers; another reason why we gamers would rather not larp. We can do miniatures, cards and counters, with little tweezers and brushes, but leather and latex are quite a different story. Plus it sounds a little kinky...

It's hard to imagine how the rules work at a larp event, do you suppose they pause the game to throw some dice or look up the rules in a book? Nope. But the reality (ahem) is no less bizarre. The rules are kept as simple as logically possible, because the a in larp is for action. So if you hit someone with your rubber sword, it's a hit. If you miss, it's a miss. And if you trip, it's a fumble. There are hardly any saving throws or resistances, so if someone casts a spell on you, you're just going to have to go along with it. I hear you complaining already and I agree: it's not fair. You could never play a great sword master without actually knowing what you're doing with that rubber sword. Well, as the Dutch larpers often say: larp is tough.

The rest of the rules are just as simple. You cast a magic spell by saying the right words. So talk fast and don't mess up, or your spell will backfire. Players have a number of hitpoints, usually multiples of 5, one for each limb and one for the torso. The head and the crotch are off-limits, because the organisation of the event would rather see that no one got hurt. A normal weapon usually does one point of damage on a successful hit. If the hitpoints on your arm or leg are gone, you can't use it anymore, and if you run out of hitpoints on your torso, you're down. You can get extra hitpoints from armor, spells or special skills. It's that simple.

And now the silliest but nevertheless a very important rule: if your weapon does special damage, like magical or fire damage, no one can really tell by looking at that rubber thing in your hand. Just like the spells, you have to imagine and play along. So you have to call out the special effect with every strike. For example, a cleric who has blessed his weapon must yell "holy!" with every strike until the blessing wears off, or two barbarians who are having a bar brawl must shout "subdue!" the whole time. It's true. I've even seen someone who was lazily moving a couple of dead bodies, and the guy who played the dead body hanging over his shoulder hinted that he should hurry up by motioning to his belly wound while saying "intestines! intestines!"

Then there's some little details that you wouldn't expect. Most larpers wear army boots, sometimes even the ones playing courtiers or ladies. Why? You try trudging through the forest for three days on pretty shoes. A lot of larpers fight with two weapons. Of course, rulemongerers like us already know that it's just a shame to have an empty hand, but there are even more reasons. Rubber weapons don't weight much, so waving them around like maracas is actually pretty easy. Two-handed weapons and shields are really expensive and a lot more difficult to use properly; and yes if you use them wrong and really thwack someone in the face, you could get in trouble. You don't see a lot of larpers actually wearing plate or chainmail all day long, because news-flash! that stuff is heavy, not to mention expensive. Ok, ok, I'll admit, I've seen larpers who do wear pretty shoes or plate mail for three whole days. But they are either exceptionally resilient, or completely wasted by the end of the event. Sometimes they're both.

But the thing that is the most difficult for us gamers to understand about larp is that fine line between the game and reality, the suspension of disbelief. Of course it's all in the game to cry over a fallen warrior, but the fact that combat actually hurts, that's a flaw. And it just feels odd to have to ignore the people who are waving a finger in the air to signify that they are invisible, or to have to run away screaming from a guy who says something like: "In the name of Kossuth, fear me." People who think that such reactions are in fact quite normal might have been larping for a little too long.
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All i could think of after reading the title of your post was
"Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more."