Staying Inspired in Larping (Five by Five #5)

Photo by Ivana Delač (Izgon/The Exile, Zagreb, 2013)
Photo by Ivana Delač (Izgon/The Exile, Croatia, 2013)

The currents of a larp scene flow steady and slow, and slow and steady stuff changes. From time to time there’s a boom (like what happened in Croatia couple of years back, due to a few wonderful enthusiasts), where the rest of us larping fish have to change direction in a matter of seconds, but most of the time it’s just flowing, flowing into the distance. From time to time, stuff repeats itself. Then some more. And more. How does one stay inspired after, say, a couple of years of intense larping experience? When you’ve been larping long enough to have seen a lot of good larps, and some bad, and some you can barely recall because they were so similar to one another, what exactly keeps you playing?

Three years of larping is really not as little as it seems, and this start of another larping season – the Fall one, which may be similar to Summer (fantasy camps) and Winter (indoor activities with bursts of outdoor fighting), but not the same – is as good a time as any to reflect upon them, in terms of what keeps people inspired.

And if some of it was written with the intention to resonate with specific people… well, let’s just say there’s a couple of reasons I enjoy larping, and people are at the uttermost top of the list (just below adrenaline – on some days). Although, to me, three years has not been enough to see people leave the hobby, I’m not ready for it to start. Thus, I write.

One / Emotion

#1 Adrenaline. There was a time, not so long ago, when passing by a monument in the middle of my other city was sure to bring on an instant adrenaline rush. The time was mid-Izgon, and the statue of king Tomislav (lovely dude) was at the dead centre of a huge ingame conflict between two nations at war. The thing is, after the larp was done, the feeling stayed with us – not just me, but some of my co-players, too. Once you reach an adrenaline rush in larp, it stays. I still remember it with fondness, and salute the statue while I’m passing by, occasionally.

#2 Awe. It may be awe caused by stuff other people do ingame, or a wonderfully curious plot twist, or whatever else you fancy, but awe is a constant companion in well-done larps. It’s not something you can technically plan, but it’s definitely something to hope for.

#3 Battle rush. There was a time, couple of months back, when my so-far-favourite NPC started a suicide mission to retrieve an artifact from the undead, just by herself and a soldier by her side. It ended up with most of the camps joining in, which lead to my so far biggest larp battle, right at the middle of a forest road. People died, people were resurrected, shields were almost smashed into the ground, magic was almost abused how often it was cast… Yeah, well. Quite a few people cite fighting as one of their favourite parts of larping (or reasons to join the hobby in the first place). There’s definitely something in that.

#4 Fear. It may not be a thing you’d normally seek out in your everyday life, but fear is another powerful emotion which can accompany awesome larping experience. It may be as simple as running away from a hunting party in the middle of the woods (a friend has a rather scary larping story which starts something like that), or as layered as playing out your deepest fears at a chamber larp designed specifically for the players to face their fears. If you keep it safe, and watch yourself, it can really be something to remember.

#5 Suprise. Similar to awe, but easier to recognize – and somewhat easier to plan, if you’re the one running the larp. The thing when someone drops dead in the middle of the room. When you run into something totally unpredicted in the middle of the night in the freaking woods. That perfect plot twist. We’re used to controlling everything around us – and larping is a far possible from, say, your newsfeed as you can imagine.

Two / People

#1 Larping friends. Three (and a half) years back, the co-alpha and I were having coffee in our then-new steampunk gear at the Zagreb main square, waiting for the organizers and other participants of the first big steampunk event in Croatia (far as I know). A random guy in a dark crimson shirt, with a black vest and a lovely top hat, joined in and we chatted away the rest of the morning. The evening saw the first (full) larping experience for the three of us – the beloved Parni zakon larp (Zagreb, Croatia, 2011). Three (and a half) years later, the same guy (minus the vest) is running Croatia’s current biggest organizer team and laying out some of the biggest larping events in the country. And he’s just one of the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of larping with so far. Call it mutual interests or whatever you like, larping brings people together, sometimes spectacularly.

#2 Co-GMs. Different from RPGs, larping welcomes multiple GMs, making it more of a project management thing, at least sometimes. When you create something along with another person, be it your partner, friend or a total stranger, it’s a totally different experience from when you’re on your own. I wouldn’t go as far as to say you have to be a creative individual to larp, but GMs, well, are creative people, some of them incredibly so. (You should see some gdoc brainstorm sessions I’ve participated in…!)

#3 Newbies. ❤ If there’s one thing on this list which can keep larping interesting, it’s the newbies, their questions, their enthusiasm and their ideas. Stuff needs to change to have a shot at lasting, and one of the ways larping changes and evolves is by constantly attracting new (and awesome) people. You can literally never know who you’re gonna meet next – or which of your own friends may think of joining, and how they’ll react. (Fresh blood, yum!)

#4 Larp enthusiasts. There’s larpers, there’s GMs, there’s larp theorists – but there are also larp enthusiasts, people who not only larp, but also think about larping, ever trying to understand it better, even if they don’s publish anything or join public discussions as such. We’re lucky, in Croatia, to have quite a few people who take larp just seriously enough to make an educated effort at making the experience better for themselves and their co-players alike. Some of the random discussions I’ve had over coffee (you already know how it goes, over here) were, plainly put, mindblowing, and I can’t wait to see what larping will evolve into next. Given some ideas I’ve heard over the years… (Yay!)

#5 Drinking buddies. There was a time… well, you know how it goes. You share amazing experiences with amazing people and, amazingly enough, after the game is over, you end up at an amazing place (or a larper’s lair) with lots of cheap booze. Well, it’s happened often enough. It turns out, great co-players can be great drinking buddies, too, and I can only be sorry to have switched cities away from the greatest concentration of my co-players. (You guys are awesome. Just saying.)

Photo by Vesna Kurilić (Izgon/The Exile, Croatia, 2013)
Photo by Vesna Kurilić (Izgon/The Exile, Croatia, 2013)

Three / Larps

#1 Delicious settings. Well, duh.

#2 Flexible game rules. When someone comes to me and they’re like, here’s the 500-ish page rulebook for a great game you should join, I, being a polite larper librarian, suppress the instant urge to smack them on the head with the said rulebook. Instead I just go, sure, let me take a look and I’ll get back to you about that, yeah? Yeah. The “you can do what you can do” rule system (concentrating on making stuff believable and fair play) works perfectly well for me, and any time I’m involved in writing the rules for a larp, it mostly goes like “here are the important meta words, don’t be afraid to use them” etc. It’s one of the things which keep me larping, the improvisation and shared storytelling aspect.

#3 Ingame challenges. They may be designed for the characters, but the players get a lot from them, too. It’s that feeling of never knowing what’s coming next, what problem you will have to solve next, and what you’re going to learn in the process. Everyday life may not see you lead armies into battle or face foes who reside within you – well, at least not that often – and larping is great just for that.

#4 Larp design challenges. Going from being interested in larping to larping to writing and running larps is a great process not everyone will participate in, but those of us who do find even more new fun stuff to do with the hobby. Even with tiny chamber games there’s enough work to keep even the most creative individuals interested, and in the end, your only adversary is yourself – in terms of making the next larp even better than the last one you did, trying out new stuff etc.

#5 Theory bitsI feel like I’ve already said more than enough about it here, but it’s still just a start. The same as “larping enthusiasts”, above – endless amount of inspiration. Because you can never know what the theorists might come up with next.

Four / Supporting Craft

#1 Learning. Not many of us would cite “learning” as one of our favourite parts of larping, but it’s one of those things that shyly creeps into your hobby and before you know it you’re listening to a friend as she’s enthusiastically telling you how she dug up stuff about the way the ancient Romans applied their makeup for a high fantasy larp. It’s not just lore, it’s not just history – it’s anything you could possibly imagine. And what better way to learn something other than doing it, nevermind if it’s just for “a game”?

#2 Craft. I’ve no shame in admitting I’m a sucker for practical craft, mostly sewing and crochet. If there’s one place I can use it the way it was intended – to the fullest – it’s larping. And I may be already overusing the tale of the co-alpha’s venture into crafting, just a tiny bit, but it’s really wonderful watching people who have never thought themselves visually creative as they discover and develop something new which comes from themselves. Sometimes, when you really dare to do something new, it pays off in innumerable ways.

#3 Costumes! Whether you make, borrow or put together costumes, they’re something to behold. The last time I had to dress someone for larping, I made three full costumes from scratch during a short couple of weeks, with the co-alpha’s help. Although it was a bit traumatical, I’d do it all over again – just not for the next couple of seasons, thank you very much. Not everyone cares about costumes, but those that do reveal yet another layer of larping fun.

#4 Weapons! Weaponmaking is big among Croatian larpers, and even though I’m not a maker myself, I never fail to drool appropriately when another awesome, homemade piece shows up in play. Even if we are, gradually, transferring to pre-made latex weapons on a national level, someone will always dream of a special kind of sword or shield or whatever and make it themselves, or have a friend make it. Not a lot of hobbies let you create everything, from the bottom of your boot soles to the tip of your sword.

#5 Writing & music &… Bards may be few and apart at random fantasy larps, but they’re much appreciated, thank you. It takes a different kind of courage to wear a bold outfit and, on the other hand, to stand up and perform something in front of people (which is great for larp costuming, bud bad for the musical aspect of larping). Still, writing or learning songs for games, and then singing or playing an instrument ingame… let’s just say there’s a reason people usually go very, very quiet the moment someone starts singing at a larp. It doesn’t have to perfect, it doesn’t have to be loud – but it’s incredible in terms of dragging you straight into the setting.

What have we got there? Picture by Vesna Kurilić (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, Croatia, 2014)
What have we got there? Picture by Vesna Kurilić (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, Croatia, 2014)

Five / The Random Elements of Random (other than these)

#1 Real-time action. It mostly depends on the game runners, but at some larps every tiny thing you as a player do can influence the world around you, as well as the course of the story. It’s not a movie or a tv show and you’re not a spectator – not even if your character falls more into the “observer” category. I’m not sure there are so many hobbies with creative storytelling which offer you quite as much freedom as larping does. (I’m definitely interested to be proven wrong.)

#2 Everyone’s a storyteller. “In larping we’re all each other’s props” is a common saying in Croatia, one I tend to agree with. Every bit of the story counts, even the tiniest ones, and you don’t have to be a designated hero for your part of the story to matter. For a more specific example, I’ll never forget a legend that a friend of mine told ingame at our chamber larp Koliba, weaving the threads of a seriously creepy horror tale in real-time, sounding as though she were some old storyteller lady at a camp fire, somewhere in the woods. The co-alpha and I seriously thought it was a movie plot she had rephrased – being a total newbie at that point and all – but no. She was just that awesome.

#3 Getting to know yourself. As a quick illustration, let me tell you how once I inadvertently played a portion of one of my biggest fears at a chamber larp (the Zagreb run of Limbo – brooding squad forever!). The key was to see how we, as players, would react to knowing we’re dead – or at least try to find out some of the things we feel about death in general. I totally screwed up, making my character’s death story one of the worst things I can imagine happening to someone, so the whole death part didn’t bother me at all. Still, it was one of the deepest emotional experiences I’ve had in larping so far, and it was totally unexpected. Sometimes, stuff people do at larps has a distinctive personal intention; sometimes, it happens totally random. Either way, it counts as introspective – the “seeing a part of yourself played out in the open” kind.

#4 Broadening one’s horizons. It’s not just with story elements, or with meeting people totally opposite than yourself, or with traveling to countries you’ve never been to, just to larp… it’s getting to think like another person, trying out stuff you’d never get to do in everyday life, stretching the limits of your own imagination. You just have to dare.

#5 Random. There was a time… well, actually, in this story there was an artifact, a thing of incredible power, the only thing which could save you from madness unimaginable while you read a scroll that could save thousands of lives. So, to keep it safe, of course, you put it in your robe’s pocket, to wait until the scroll was revealed. At that point (and I, as the one who tells the tale, not the one who had lived it, am not certain why) you take a stroll by the lake, you bend over to look at something, the pocket opens and the artifact disappears into the deep. Later people didn’t believe it had actually happened, having thought it was another one of the GMs’ tricks, but I heard the story firsthand and yes, I can claim it really happened. Shit happens, and random shit happens, too. Nothing is certain, not in life, and definitely not in larping. It’s what makes is that much fun.

Bonus: Family

The majority of this post was written a couple of days in advance, and frankly, it took me ages to write it. There are so many stories, so many people who’ve made an impression, so many anecdotes and awesome memories. Let me finish with another one, a brand new one.

Yesterday, a kid was born to two of our larping friends, one of whom was present for several of the stories I’ve recalled above. Luckily, both the co-alpha and I were close to Zagreb when we got the word because later in the evening, a few of us gathered with the father to celebrate with beer.

Sitting there, in the circle populated by some of the greatest people I’ve had the pleasure of roleplaying with in the last few years, sharing random stories of our own, laughing over the definition of burek and totally random stuff, hearing said friend tell the story of how he became a father just a couple of hours ago – well, it got me thinking. It may not just be friends, or co-players, great storytellers and roleplayers, co-GMs or writers or craftspeople or whatever. Sometimes, we truly make a family, a family with tons of shared memories, a ton of experiences – good, bad and weird – a weird, layered, extremely geeky version of a family, but a family nevertheless. Yes, I might have written something similar, before, and I might have had lost faith in some members of my extended family over the years, but still – family.

Hell, I don’t use the word “pack” for nothing all over this larping blog.

Welcome to the family, M. I sure hope your folks will inspire you to become a larper, one day, as great as they are. All best.


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.

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