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I stood in the middle of the battlefield, sweating a little under the chain mail vest I was wearing as protection. The heat was scorching, but the line of orcs came ever onward, and the sword in my hand had never felt so weak and flimsy.
I wondered if this was how I was going to die; impaled on one of the arrows which were flying through the air like grenades, while people hurried past my fallen corpse.
This was no Lord of the Rings film set. This was LARP, and in the blink of an eye, I had transformed from a quiet university student to a brave warrior who was helping the armies of the nations to slay our dreaded enemies.
If you are at all familiar with RPGs, you may have some inkling of what LARP — which stands for live-action roleplay — might be about. Think of a tabletop system such as D&D, then transfer it to the real world. Rather than telling the DM what your character is doing, you act as your character — like an actor in a fantasy movie, but without the script.
Although LARP is frequently portrayed in movies as being a group of young men running at each other with what looks like swimming noodles wrapped in gaffer tape, this is not strictly the case. At the event I went to, there were as many women as there were men and even a few children. The event organisers seek to make their game as inclusive as possible, creating equal opportunities both in- and out-of-character. For example, gender doesn’t dictate what roles you can do — you can be a female soldier as easily as you can be a male healer.
The “swimming noodles”, known as “boffers”, are popular in American LARP but less so in Europe. The other main style of LARP weapon is a latex weapon, made with a fibreglass core. Boffer weapons tend to cause fewer injuries, although they have a less immersive appearance than that of the sword-like latex weapon. Unless it is stab-safe, there is no safe way to thrust with a latex weapon, and doing so can cause the fibreglass core to break through and actually injure someone.
Because of this, the proper way to fight with a latex weapon is to land a blow with the side of the weapon, rather than the tip. Those engaged in a fight will have a number of “hits” which they may take before they enter a grace period, during which they are bleeding to death. When the grace period has ended, the character generally expires on the spot (although some LARP events have slightly different rules for this).
Fighting is not the only thing you can do as a LARPer. Depending on the genre of the system, you can roleplay many different activities — for example leading a religious inquisition, casting a ritual to raise an undead army or even entering politics. The sky is the limit — or perhaps more accurately, the imaginations of both you and the ref (the LARP equivalent of a DM or GM).
Since I began LARPing I’ve been a vampire struggling to adapt to life in the modern day, a street urchin with a penchant for shiny knives, a twitchy monster hunter and most recently, an aspiring noblewoman with the desire to be one of the most highly regarded in the empire.
LARP is so open-ended, it’s an incredible and exciting hobby you will never tire of. Be warned though — if you venture down the LARP road, you will have no shortage of things you want to own. Try and control your buying impulses on this, if you don’t want to be completely bankrupted. They are beautiful but expensive and largely unnecessary.
Tell that to my sword, throwing knife, collection of steampunk corsets, latex severed arm (I have no idea when I’m ever going to need or use this), and large assortment of tunics.