You’ve probably heard of Dungeons and Dragons, but a similar activity called LARPing is another popular fantasy game played all around the world. It stands for Live Action Role Playing, and it involves people creating characters and acting out various fictional scenarios in real life. We spent the weekend at a steampunk themed LARP in New Jersey to see what it’s all about and why people love it so much. Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: This is LARPing. You may have heard about it from movies like “Knights of Badassdom” or “Role Models.” But what exactly is LARPing and why are people so obsessed with it?
Chelsea Russell: LARP is an acronym L-A-R-P. It stands for Live Action Role Playing. Some people will say Live Action Role Playing game or they will turn it into a verb called LARPing.
Narrator: Chelsea Russell has been LARPing for the past seven years. Going about once a month. She’s part of a group of LARPers based in New Jersey called Aurum.
Russell: What LARP is, is generally a interactive role playing experience kind of like a Dungeons and Dragons or a video game come to real life.
Narrator: LARPing basically involves coming up with a character, giving it a background, making costumes and props for it, and then acting out a story.
Russell: We are currently in Stagepoint Delta of the continent of Antioch. You determine their name, their personality, you know, do they have any family members? What’s their goals in life?
Since my character likes maths I have a book of Sudoku puzzles.
Narrator: The basic plot has been written in advance and players use that as a launch pad to improvise the rest.
Russell: They have created a world, and they have created rules for that world.
Narrator: Aurum is a steampunk fantasy themed LARP. Some other LARPs can be post-apocalyptic, zombie, and vampire themed. In addition to participating as a player, Chelsea also writes some of the stories and works part time on the staff.
We spent the weekend at one of Aurum’s monthly events to see what it’s like.
This LARP took place at a Boy Scout camp in New Jersey which was closed for the season, so all the cabins and buildings were free for use.
One of the organisers, Robyn, arrived early to set up food and decorations. Soon the players who registered in advance started to show up in their cars.
Russell: When players arrive, they will arrive out of game, out of character. You know, setting up their things and if it’s a weekend thing they will be setting up their sleeping area.
Narrator: Weekend LARPs typically run from Friday night through Saturday at midnight. They cost around 40 to 50 dollars to register per person, which doesn’t include travel or any meal besides breakfast.
About 10 people were in attendance for this event. When they register, they get their character sheet with their current stats along with some cards that represent weapons and ingredients used to make items.
One of the things that people can make in the game is called a clockwork messenger. It’s supposed to be a small animal, often in the shape of a dog, that can carry messages for people.
Narrator: A few people will take turns playing what’s called an NPC. Think of them as temporary staff, working for the writers and organisers.
Russell: The term is call NPC, Non-Player Character. They will send an NPC out as, “I’m a nasty orc and I’m going to burn down your farm.” And the players will react as they determine that their characters will react.
Narrator: As they got into costume, the players ate dinner together.
I am Silas Arloc a dark elf explorer.
Edmund Sterling. He’s a gnome entrepreneur.
Leanna-Rose. She’s an Imperial scientist.
My character’s name is The Mole. He has an actual name but he doesn’t remember it anymore. He’s a hedge mage. So he’s one of the people who try to cling onto the dying magic of this world.
Narrator: Meanwhile Aurum’s head of plot, Kelvin, started setting up his props.
I’ve been LARPing since 1995.
Narrator: Kelvin brought various items, including light up wreaths, fake plants, stuffed creatures, and lots of fake weapons. Aurum is a type of LARP called a Combat Boffer LARP.
Russell: Combat Boffer LARPs have an element of physicality to them.
Narrator: They incorporate specially made weapons that you can actually fight with.
Russell: Just PVC pipe covered with insulation foam and duct tape and made in such a way to represent a sword, or an axe, or a hammer, or what have you.
Narrator: Since it’s steampunk themed, there are also guns.
We use Nerf guns at this game but I painted this one specifically so it would fit the theme a little better. Like with coppers and silvers.
Narrator: If you get hit by one of the bullets it takes away real hit points off your character.
So it’s literally like if you were just shooting someone for fun with a Nerf gun except now in game, that has a little bit more implication then just getting hit with a Nerf dart. He was just shot. I was just shot.
Narrator: It’s a continuous storyline from month to month, so there’s a lot to catch up on.
Everyone evacuated this area after the orc attack. Cool, and let’s get ready to rock. Starting in 15. Thanks Kelvin.
Narrator: On Friday night Chelsea would be playing as an NPC and marshal. Marshals wear white headbands or hats to distinguish themselves from the players.
Russell: I’m out of game. I’m not in character. I’m not something to interact with. They’re asking you maybe game mechanic questions. Like can I use this skill or how does this thing work?
The marshals will have the notes for the different encounters of what they are doing on these tablets.
Russell: Tonight I will be playing a… one of the departed spirits that has remained in the abandoned town. My main goal will just to be as spooky and creepy as possible.
A couple of days after Halloween when all the costume goes on sale we jokingly refer to as LARPer Christmas. So you can go to the stores and get all of your costume needs for cheap.
I actually was the one who mainly wrote the events of tonight.
Narrator: The story started at a basketball court on camp.
He’s a ghost that is in a bird.
I really don’t know where everyone else went.
Bernard, find them!
No, he did not find them.
Narrator: The main plot of the weekend is that the characters are trying to reclaim a town called Stagepoint Delta, which had been overrun with orcs several months ago and it’s now inhabited by a number of creatures, including ghosts.
You have your ether goggles? Yes. I recommend, there’s a lot of strange ghosts out there.
Yeah that’s creepy. How you doin’? This is Bernard.
Narrator: One of which could be put to rest only after burying his bones.
Get back from the green menace!
What the hell is that?
Why don’t we bury his bones?
Stand your ground.
Narrator: Fortunately one of the players brought a shovel.
Russell: Raccoons. Raccoons are also a creature you can encounter and they have specific skills that have been written down.
Narrator: They also were faced with other challenges. Like a puzzle they had to solve to clear the way to enter a building.
The first line is saw twa corbies query make. Second line is downy visage upon thine tree.
Narrator: Once inside, a demon was waiting to do battle.
Someone disarm him.
Just hit my arm damn it.
Someone throw etheric disrupter at it!
Magic, magic, magic, magic, magic, magic, magic! Magic!
Russell: In Aurum characters can die. They can be permanently killed.
Narrator: But that doesn’t mean you have to go home. You can jump in as a new character. Or if you’re only wounded, you can also be healed.
Russell: Someone can come along and say, “I’m applying first aid,” and then you would be able to stand back up and you would may role play… “Oh, I’ve been stabbed through the chest. It hurts, but I’m alive.”
Narrator: The game went on until about three AM. After patrolling the perimeter to make sure the land was secure.
In the morning Robyn made pancakes and bacon for the players who arrived at the table in costume and in character.
On Saturday, Chelsea became one of the players, and someone else took on role of marshal and NPC.
Russell: So my usual character is a sea elf mathematician. She follows the sun god called Hep’a’nen.
My name is Madriloren Avstynerhav, I’m a Vand Nisse mathematician with Stoneforge & Company.
Narrator: In the daylight, the group battled some more creatures, like a tiger.
Russell: Ow! I got clawed up real good.
Narrator: And a troll.
And things got a bit scary when real gun shots could be heard in the woods from nearby hunters.
Narrator: But they managed to tie this into the game’s story.
In the background, Stoneforge is prepping the canons and getting everything ready.
Narrator: While I was filming, no one was on their phones taking selfies or posting to Facebook while in character.
Russell: It tends to break people out of their mindset of playing their character, and once you start playing in character you generally try not to talk about things that are real-world related. You wouldn’t talk about, “Oh my car broke down.”
Narrator: There was also no drinking at this LARP.
Everyone played for the rest of the day and then departed on Sunday back to the real world.
Russell: My real life job? I am a supervisor at a coffee shop, and then I come here, and I play maths nerds and ghosts.
Narrator: Many of them will be back next month to continue the story.
Russell: It’s fun to play pretend, and a lot of people I think, think that dressing up and playing pretend is childish when it doesn’t have to be. The enjoyment you get is creating a story together with people. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t really realise.
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