A Quintet of Larping Prejudice (Five by Five #3)

Fighting prejudice about larp is something I never intended to do quite so obviously – but shit adds up. Three years of hearing and reading shit about larp – from muggles and larpers alike – is a lot of shit. So enjoy this monday roundup of – you know.

Maybe a bit of it sticks if we say it often enough.

One / Larp for the Laymen

#1 Dildo swords. Maybe 20% true – someplaces even completely false. We’re making an effort, crafting latex swords at home and ordering pretty shiny weapons in bulk. But yes, a tiny amount of dildolike foam swords can still be seen hanging around at some larps.

#2 Adults who don’t want to grow up playing make believe. 50/50. Some of us are more than grown up, but we’ll never stop wanting to play. And then there are larps with more than mature subjects (say, refugee camps) which wouldn’t really appeal to children anyway.

#3 Tabletop RPG for the desperate. False. Yes, you can trace some larp forms back to DnD and the like and yes, some of the earlier larping rulesets were, I guess, inspired by regular RPGs. But even traditional fantasy larps offer different storytelling and playing perspectives than a tabletop does – and the social aspect is often even more visible.

#4 Poor (and lazy) man’s version of historical reenactment. As false as false gets. Sure, one should probably try both to see all the differences, but it’s foremost important to note that larpers are not as intended on bringing history back to life as reenactors seem to be. And then there’s a whole universe of non-historic and definitely non-medieval larping, something people are usually quite reluctant to notice.

#5 Just a game. 50/50. Larp is almost always a game – at least the way I define it – but many times it’s not just a game. Be it an educational method, a social experiment, a tool in therapy etc… the possibilities are virtually endless, even if many local larp traditions are just catching up to them.

Two / Game Mastering

#1 Anyone can run a good larp. False. Although a lot of people are more than capable of designing and running awesome – sometimes spectacular – games, not all of us have the necessary skills, the least of which are simultaneous thinking on several tracks and basic people skills. Of course, if you want to design and/or run a larp, by all means, do – but if you lack skills or experience in any related area, get qualified backup. Better safe than sorry.

#2 You have to be a god to run a larp. 50/50. While godlike abilities are definitely welcome, lesser mortals make perfectly good GMs, too. It’s the effort that counts.

#3 A single GM is enough to run a larp for over 30 people. False. Well, it’s definitely possible – I’ve seen it happen – but I’ve also seen what happens to the GMs who do it. Do yourself a favor and don’t take on more players than you can manage and stay sane and sleep.

#4 GM before players. 50/50. Responsible GMs will take care of themselves and their players both, but it’s the mutual good experience that counts. GMs who think only of themselves are in for a bad, bad ride. GMs who think only of their players will have it bad, too – balance is the key. (Just a hint – there’s a post coming up in the next few weeks which’ll tackle this a bit more – and I’m happy to announce it will be the very first guest post on the SnW blog! Really looking forward to it.)

#5 A good story is enough to create a good larp. False. Sure, a good story is a prerequisite for any larp, but there’s a lot more to it – players, characters, plots, location and not a little bit of luck – all necessary for a really good game. You can never plan everything, and even if you do, Fortune will always surprise you.

Three / Larp Inspiration

#1 All larps are based on already existing work. False. And then false a bit more. In the last couple of weeks several publications in Croatia mentioned that larps are, as a rule, based on something already familiar, say, a novel, a videogame, a movie etc. I’ve just begun tackling the idea on how to fight the growing prejudice – and this post may help just a tiny bit. There’s nothing to say larps should be fanlarps or original ones, as there are a lot of upsides to both. Still, I view larps in general as an original way to express oneself and I’m really depressed when I see stuff like that.

#2 There’s nothing original in larps anymore. False. See above, if you like – or participate in a larp run by someone you’ve never met, who larps in a different tradition than you. You could be as surprised as I was when I discovered the current Croatian larp scene.

#3 Local shit is boring – we should all do something foreign instead. False… and it’ll probably stay false for as long as there is humanity. Sure, all of us – especially the ones who, like me, live in a really tiny country – grow up thinking the grass is greener on the other side, which most of the time prevents us from finding shiny new fun things in local lore or art. There will always be more followers of Nordic gods than those of the ancient Slavic pantheon in Croatian fantasy larps, but we did have – and enjoy – at least one larp based totally on a local work of literature. The same goes for larp tradition and really good larps – not all of it has to be imported, some of it can also be invented. Creativity and hard work know no borders.

#4 It takes months to design a larp. 50/50.  Larps can be designed in a couple of hours, although the shortest one we did took our team 3 days to plan before we ran it on the evening of the third day. On the other hand, there are larps which probably take years to create. It depends on the subject, the approach you’re taking and – of course – the larp’s scale.

#5 People will be angry if you run a larp they designed. False – with a bit of caution. It’s a little different with larps than with other original creative work, but it’s always advisable to ask first, borrow later. Some larps are available online in complete versions (say, this collection of chamber larps), and some you can get if you ask the creators directly. Still, some you can only read about and draw inspiration from – and if that’s the case, the librarian (and decent person) in me urges you to name the work as inspiration when you announce or publish materials for your game. It’s not only polite – it’s nice, too. And most of the game designers will be proud to see their work spread anyway.

Four / Larp Format

#1 There’s no larp other than the fantasy larp. False. There are even larps which have no genre. Can you imagine that? (Of course you can, you’re a larper – but if not, you may need to catch up on some reading or leave your fangs at home and join a different game next weekend.)

#2 A larp has to last several hours to count as a larp. False. One of the most popular larps in Croatia – at least among people who don’t usually larp – runs for 60 minutes to the second. The co-alpha and I’s short chamber game Koliba runs closer to 75 minutes, although the workshop and post debriefing fill the slot up to 3 hours. There will always be larps which last for a week and even more (especially pervasive ones), but short games definitely count.

#3 A larp has to be held outdoors. False. Chamber larps (see above) are not new, and are ever increasing in popularity. They also tend to be a bit more flexible in terms of playstyle, genre etc. – and they’re playable all year long, even for the non-avanturistic players.

#4 It’s not a larp if there’s no fighting or at least a serious conflict of some sort. False. It’s a common misconception still present among some players (I’ve heard it in person a couple of times), one we’re doing our best to dispel. There are a ton of larps which are based on the complete opposite of fighting. Also, there is such a thing as a non-fantasy larp, just to say it again. In case you were wondering.

#5 Hit points and specific armor rules are essential for ingame combat at larps. False. Sure, if you’re playing with jerks only, detailed rulesets with stuff like that could help. But the “honour” system makes for happy, realistic games. If we wanted to play a first-person-shooter, we’d do exactly that, thank you very much, and monitor our vital statistics closely. When we’re out in the open… well, anything goes.

Five / Larpers (Tiny hint – luckily, almost all quite false.)

#1 Girls don’t larp – other than the “healer girlfriend” types. False. I started larping in a almost 50% female larp, and I have very well participated in larps where the majority of the human population was in fact the majority of the players as well. We’re even currently negotiating on a bigger larp which – I hope, just for fun – could be designed and run exclusively by female GMs. (Be afraid, be very afraid.) Still, I keep meeting larpers who are in awe that there are so many female players at a specific game. Yeah, that’s really weird. And not all of us were even brought into the hobby by male players! Some of us even ventured into it by ourselves… how the hell did that happen? (Hint – larping grew up in the last couple of decades. Players followed along.)

#2 People under 18 don’t larp. False. On that note, there are larps held exclusively for kids – a ton of them, actually! It just takes a slightly different approach and the right GM mindset.

#3 People over 25 don’t larp. Maybe 30. False. The general average varies from group to group (and probably from country to country), and larpers do tend to be, as a population, closer to 20 than 60 years of age, but we come in all shapes and ages. There’s a ton of students in larping, but also a ton of “adult” players. A good (albeit general) example might be the Monitor Celestra larp (run in Sweden in March 2013), which seemingly attracted a bigger than usual number of players over forty – something to explore as local larp traditions grow and venture out of the regular “young geeks” realm. It’s not a question of who you’re going to invite to your larp – it’s what kind of larp you’re going to offer to them.

#4 Non-geeks don’t larp. False. It’s actually one of my favorite falses, since I take pride in knowing at least one non-geek who really enjoys larping. Among the people I larp with, geeks are a huge majority, but we’re slowly and steadily changing that. I truly believe larp has an incredible potential which shouldn’t be contained in the geek population only. (And yes, I’m a geek – a proud one, to add to that – and I have no problem with saying that.)

#5 Larpers are just plain weird. Weeeell… hey, I had to have at least one “true”, didn’t I? And even if we were all weird (at least a little bit), we’re still fun as hell to hang around. That I can say for sure.


Five by Five is a regular feature on Skirts ‘n’ Wolves, which runs on the first Monday of (almost) every month. I’m a huge lover of all sorts of lists, and larp-related ones fit right in. Come to think of it – got a great larp list idea? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment or an e-mail.

4 responses to “A Quintet of Larping Prejudice (Five by Five #3)”

  1. Sorry if it came out wrong (and by your comment, I guess it really did), I definitely don’t think that the public opinion is more important than the larp community, it’s just that this post adressed said opinions first and foremost. I wouldn’t call myself a latex fan – it’s not really a big issue in Croatia, and I really haven’t thought about it like that until now – but it should probably be noted that most events with fighting that I’ve been to have had a big number of non-round, soft boffer weapons. I honestly have no idea if round and non-round soft boffers differ in safety, but I sure prefer to see thinner fake blades at larps in general. And the boffer swords are one of the main objections towards fantasy larping (and by extension, larping in general) I’ve heard from non-larpers myself. I’m actually glad there are people (like you) who haven’t.;)

  2. Without getting into my personal opinions on the relative safety of boffer and latex weapons, the people I know who choose to run LARPs with the soft, round boffer weapons do so because they honestly believe that boffer weapons are safer, and I think safety is a far more important than worrying about public opinion of LARP. I’ve yet to hear a single non-LARPer say anything disparaging about boffer weapons. But even if they did, it sounds as though you think public opinion is more important than the LARPing community. How disheartening to hear that other latex-fans are even more disparaging towards their fellow LARPers.

  3. Hi, thanks for the feedback.:)
    My intention was to fight prejudice by stating said prejudice first, therfore the choice of words. I think what made things unclear was when I didn’t include non-round boffer weapons in the example, quite common in my larping, too. I’m sorry if my poor choice of examples offended you, it was by no means my idea.
    I’m sure I’ve stated quite often in the articles that what’s written here is just my take, heavily influenced by my own subjective larping preference, and I just can’t say that round boffers portraying blades help in the general public’s opinion on fantasy larping.:(
    And if “dildolike” is what puts you off the most, let’s just say that after this article was published, a collegue actually said (for #4 in the first section) that what he regularly hears is a lot more impolite.;)

  4. I have to say, for a piece about fighting prejudice in LARP, having your very first example refer to some LARP weapons as “dildolike” seems way off the mark. I don’t want to make assumptions about what you meant, but it does sound like you mean all non-latex (and non-atex-like weapons, like foam injected ones) are ugly and phallic and mock-worthy.
    If that’s not what you meant, then you should probably clarify and hopefully avoid offending a large group of LARPers.
    If you did mean to disparage all non-latex weapons, then… I don’t know what to say, other than I’m a LARPer who uses those round, blunt style boffer swords made of insulation foam (though it does not have duct tape) and while I’m open to trying LARPs with latex weapons, I find this kind of attitude from latex-fans to be extremely off-putting. I don’t know why LARPers can’t be more supportive of one another and say, “this isn’t my personal preference, but to each their own” instead of using terms like “dildolike” and implying that people with weapons we don’t like aren’t putting in effort.

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