Whether you’re first in line for the newest video game console or spend your weekends planning out your next Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you know that this is a golden age of gaming. Fantasy fans have access to games on an unprecedented scale, with options for every genre, style and medium. Live action role players create a character to roleplay, and then bring them to life through cosplay, props and imagination.

The Basics

Two people on a grass field fight with swords and shields. Both are wearing metal helmets, and one is wearing a chain mail suit, while the other dons a medieval armor vest.
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash
These two LARP enthusiasts can find the fun in even the most bitter battles. 

LARP, an acronym for live-action role play, is an approach to role-playing games, similar in some ways to Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulhu. The big difference? In tabletop games like D&D, you and your fellow players imagine the events you’re creating together. But with live-action role play you’re out in the real world, bringing your vision to life. You’re not just describing a swordfight, you’re having one—although you will want to make sure to create a cosplay sword that’s safe for LARPing. Dedicated LARPers happily spend evenings and weekends designing costumes, building campaigns and engaging in live-action role play. 

Types of Live Action Role Playing Games 

LARPing is often associated with the fantasy genre. Two of the oldest LARPing games, Dagorhir and Amtgard are medieval fantasy games that have been played for nearly four decades.

Not a fantasy fan? No worries; it isn’t the only genre where a LARPer can thrive. You’ll find brilliant live action role play games rooted in mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, and even horror. In fact, one of the first published LARP systems to become popular in the United States was Mind’s Eye Theater, a horror live-action role playing game that rose to prominence in the 1990s. 

And just like with other role playing games, the only real limit is what you and your fellow players can think of. If the  style you want to play doesn’t exist in a published system, you can always create your own. 

The LARPer’s Toolbelt

So, you’ve decided you want to try live action role play—now what? At the most basic level, all a LARPer really needs is a story idea, a few players with open minds, and a time when everyone involved is available. Dedicated players can dream up even more ways to enhance the realism of their game. Costumes, weapons, props, and even the location that you choose for your live-action role playing can improve your experience and make your game more immersive.

Costuming

Since the goal of live-action role play is to step into the world you’ve built, it makes sense that you’d need a fantastic costume. Cosplay, a form of fashion and performance art where people use clothing and accessories to represent a character, often goes hand-in-hand with LARPing. If you’ve ever dabbled in cosplay, you might already know some cosplay basics, but don’t worry if you’re new to this! 

One of the crucial differences between cosplay and LARP-wear is that costumes for LARPing are designed to be worn while you play. You might think up a few cosplay ideas, create them, take a few photos, and then call it a day. It’s no problem if your costume is delicate, expensive or both. But for LARPing, you’ll want to make sure to build a costume that can stand up to your gameplay, and one that won’t break your heart (or your bank account) if it’s met with a little rain or mud. 

A person holds a metallic green and gold piece of costume armor in one hand, and a paintbrush in another. There is a plastic paint palette with swatches of green, gold, and black paint on the left side of the frame, and a gray and white mat positioned under the costume armor.
Still from Skillshare class, Learn to Make EVA Foam Armor for Cosplay by Emiline F.
Skillshare teacher Emiline F. adds the finishing touches of painting and weathering to her custom EVA foam armor.

In terms of what kind of costume to create, your LARP setting will help narrow things down. If you’re creating a medieval fantasy, you might want to build cosplay armor, or even use applique techniques to turn a thrift store find into a piece that looks appropriate. If your LARP idea is  1940s noir, you might consider tracking down a trench coat and a black fedora. 

Whatever your costume, you’ll want to make sure that it’s comfortable, breathable, and ideally washable, too. That way, you won’t have to worry about it while you’re playing, allowing you to keep your focus on the game. 

Weaponry and Other Props

Using real weapons during live-action role playing isn’t a good idea; that would be dangerous, expensive, and possibly even illegal. Luckily, whether you’re looking to build a classic broadsword, a flail, a dagger or something else entirely, tutorials for building LARP-friendly weaponry can be found on the internet. If you’d prefer something pre-made, check Etsy and LARP-centered supply shops like Andracor

You may find yourself in need of other props to add to the immersive nature of the LARP experience. Shields, sheaths, and other weapon-adjacent props aren’t the only items that will enhance your live action role playing. Like costuming, the props you choose will depend on the specifics of your game and can help deepen your connection with your character and other players. 

Location

The right location for your LARP will have enough room for you to play, enough ambiance to imagine it’s part of the world you’ve built, and enough seclusion to avoid distractions.  Nothing will throw you out of a fantasy setting like seeing your neighbor walk by with his weed trimmer. 

LARP sessions are usually played for several hours, so you’ll also want to find a spot with all the things people might need during that time, like a nearby restroom and access to water. If you’re LARPing outdoors, you’ll want to make sure you find a location that’s open to the public—the last thing you want interrupting your game is a trespassing charge. 

No One LARPs Alone: Find Your Community

Live-action role play is collaborative by nature. You and your fellow players commit to the world you’re playing in, and it’s that shared commitment that allows you to become immersed in the story. If you and a few friends decide to get into LARPing together, then you can figure things out side-by-side, learning as you go. 

But if you’re the only person you know who’s interested in LARPing, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, seasoned LARPers are often looking for new players to add to their games, and who knows? You might just make a few friends along the way. 

LARPing Events 

The quickest path to finding other LARPers is to attend a LARPing event. These gatherings take place all year round, all over the world, and they’re full of like-minded people who are interested in live-action role play. If you’re not sure where to start, one of the larger LARPing events—like Dagorhir’s Ragnorak, which draws over a thousand people to Pennsylvania every year—might be your best bet. You’ll find plenty of experienced LARPers at these gatherings, but you’re also likely to be one of many new faces out there. 

Finding Local LARPers

If you’re hoping to keep your live-action role play close to home, don’t worry; plenty of LARP enthusiasts play without buying a single plane ticket or extra tank of gas. You just might need to do a little research to find your local community. You can find LARP groups on social media, and local gatherings on apps like Meetup, where open LARP sessions are often posted inviting anyone interested to join. 

Go Forth and LARP

You’ve learned the basics of live-action role play; it’s time to put them to the test. Find some fellow LARPers, come up with a story concept or choose an existing LARP system, put together a costume and head out on location. Don’t worry about getting everything exactly right, or doing things perfectly; what matters is that you unlock a new interest with your imagination.

Create Your Own Cosplay Costume!

Cosplay 101: How To Make a Costume Helmet From EVA Foam

Written By

Dylan Morrison

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