When we were young… a post mortem on live action role playing

May 12, 2010 at 8:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments
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When I first heard about L.A.R.P. (live action role playing) I was under the impression that it was just a bunch of crazy nerds going out into the woods and throwing fake lightning bolts at each other. I was so amused by this that I even talked George into renting a L.A.R.P. documentary called Monster Camp, which actually ended up being a very entertaining and insightful film. I say “insightful” because the director, through the examples of the people he followed, delved heavily into the concept of escapism. There was a lady who said she larped to escape the reality of being in a wheel chair, a single father who was addicted to World of Warcraft, a software programmer at Xerox, and many others. I was surprised at the wide variety of people who attended these events. For some of them, larping was just a healthy activity where they could get away for a weekend and hang out with friends… for others, it was just another drug helping them avoid neglected responsibilities in their real lives.

The other concept the film touched upon was one that I’d been curious about for quite some time: being able to enjoy make-believe as if you were a kid again. I remember going out into the backyard with my friend and our younger sisters and just playing for hours. I remember we pretended that we lived on an island, and we’d invent various scenarios. One time we said that “bad guys” were going to invade the island and we’d have to prepare traps and other defenses… Another time we decided that winter was coming so we gathered “supplies” and fortified our shelter. We had this tree in our yard that was slowly dying, it was hollow at the top and rainwater collected there. It wasn’t just water though, it had magical powers of restoration that could cure my sister when she got some mysterious island sickness. We didn’t make her drink it of course, but we climbed to the top of the tree just to obtain the water so she could pretend to drink it; after which she was immediately healed. We played this for hours… I even put Megaman 2 on hold so that we could play… and my NES-time was severely limited back then, so that was a BIG DEAL.

In middle school, I was talking with my friend Tara who still had a sister in elementary school. At some point we were like, “hey, remember when we used to make stuff up?” We both agreed that it was the most fun thing in the world, and then questioned why we hadn’t done it lately. “Would we still enjoy it?” we wondered… so we went into the yard with her sister and attempted to make up scenarios and play as we did just a few years prior… but it just wasn’t fun anymore. It was a sad realization; for both of us I think.

After that, I never had fun playing like that again. I had forgotten how.

But after watching Monster Camp it suddenly occurred to me… these people whom I had been imitating in jest, who go out into the woods dressed as elves and mages, throwing lightning bolts and using healing potions… these people remember how. They remember how to have fun playing like we did as kids. And at that point, I became intrigued with live action role playing. I became intrigued with the adults who were actually able to suspend reality in order to relive that fantasy that all children experience and invariably forget once they grow up.

So I decided to write a LARP. Well, not a real one… there was no battle system or throwing of lightning bolts… but there was a story with characters who had latent conflicts, a central objective, a giant feast with plastic gold goblets, and a handful of mini-games. Oh, and one of our characters had to pretend that he was raised by bears.

As this was the first time I’d ever run an event of this nature, I found that there were definitely some kinks that I’d want to iron out if I ever did this again (especially in terms of how late everyone ended up having to stay awake). But beyond that, I was amazed by how many people came dressed in creative costumes, got into their characters, and seemed to actually have a good time. I don’t think we quite reached the level of “suspending reality” in the way that the people from Monster Camp did, but that’s okay. For now I’m just focused on creating an environment where people can come and have fun, play games, and goof around for a few hours.

Perhaps someday though, I will remember.

laura shigihara, george fan, dylan librande
me (yes, Laura Shigihara loves head ornaments, haha), “Emperor” George, and Dylan

We were all wearing our costumes when we went outside in the middle of the night to do an “Alchemy Relay” that culminated in dropping mentos into diet coke.

Preparing the mentos…

The players were discussing clues… (At Norolond, who left behind a black pouch with a ninja star, bay leaf, and black sea salt inside?)

Dan (the Imperial doctor), Lindsey (the head of the Economic Council), General Tod (head of the Military Council), and Zita (head of the Dragon Riders)

Theresa… she holds an annual robot fighting competition called “Theresa’s Mech Wars”

I think the plastic gold goblets were my favorite part.


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  1. Interesting! I just recently got into a discussion with my coworkers this morning regarding what tabletop RPGs were and it slid into what LARPing was. To check my feeds and find you talking about it was an interesting coincidence.

    I’ve been tabletop gaming since I was in middle school a very long time ago. And online roleplaying for about the same amount of time. I tried my hand at LARPing here and there but I’m a little too shy of a person most of the time and get easily embarrassed when asked to act quickly. Improv not my thing!

    Having gamed for so long it catches me off guard sometimes when I realize that not everybody who also shares my other hobbies (video games, comics, novels, scifi/fantasy, etc) hasn’t had the same experiences. I found it really interesting to read your introduce and viewpoints of it.

    I would love to hear if you run your game again in the future, or even the details of how you ran this game.

    • I’ll definitely make sure to post more about it if we ever do another one. We’ve actually been throwing around ideas for improving the gameplay (things like giving each individual person an objective that is separate from the central one, allowing the enemy faction the ability to know who their allies are, etc.). I might even do another entry with details about how I ran this one 🙂

      “I tried my hand at LARPing here and there but I’m a little too shy of a person most of the time and get easily embarrassed when asked to act quickly. Improv not my thing!”
      ^Ah, that’s the thing that makes me so curious about people who larp! I think all kids have the natural ability to make things up and have a fun time doing it. But then at some point, something happens… we forget how to make things up, we become too self-conscious or embarassed about it, etc. I really want to find out how to “unlock” that part of me that could just go into the backyard and play for hours without thinking twice about it 🙂

  2. For the Conallian Empire!

    • Hahaha… Yay, it’s General Tod Eleros!! We just noticed on the side of the wine bottle that it said “product of Western Avislan”… that was so cool 🙂

      • Oh man wish I was there! The dinner looks like so much fun. There’s this other movie about LARPers that came out a few years ago, called “Darkon,” that looks interesting. More the Braveheart/battle side of things instead of court intrigue.

        • Hi Anthony ^_^ You should totally come if we ever have another one! That Darkon trailer is pretty rad… it seems like some of those people are really into their roles (and are good at giving pre-battle speeches)!

  3. Looks like fun! I’m glad I never grew up! You have some excellent friends, too.

    • Does that mean that you have larped before? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience with it! And yes, I’d have to agree that our friends are pretty awesome 🙂

  4. Hi Laura!!! Just stumbled upon your blog.
    Really love your “Zombies On The Lawn” song!!!
    Hoping that there’s Plants vs Zombies 2 in the works!

    • Thank-you porcupine! I’m sure there will be 😛

  5. Im like you too i like rpgs ( not rocket propelled grenade launcher)

    • That’s cool. Which ones are your favorite?

      • Adventure Quest Worlds the new game made by Artix Entertainment,non rpgs are Plants vs. Zombies (duh!),Red Alert 3,World in onflict you will choose and play 3 factions:Soviet Union,USA,NATO.Thats all. 😛

  6. What an interesting perspective on LARPing! I never thought of it like that, but you’re totally right… all of us have LARPed at one point or another when we children! What a great night that must of been, you and your friends look like such fun and interesting people.

    • Thank-you, I think our friends are fun and interesting too 🙂 I thought it was really cool that they put so much effort into their costumes. One of them was playing the role of a steampunk robotics engineer/inventor, so he came with wires hanging off of him and all these various devices that he built! Let me see if I can find that picture… (I don’t think he’s pictured in the ones from the original post)

    • This is the steampunk robotics inventor… his family was also really creative (his son had this crazy sword, and his wife had this journal that she was taking notes in… I wish we got a picture of that, hehe)

  7. Ooh, who made the feast? And what kind of food was it?

    • My friend Jacky (who incidentally played the Imperial Chef/secret bodyguard of the Emperor) and I made the main feast, and then several of the guests were also nice enough to bring food and drinks to share. Hm… where to begin… there were 3 different salads (a capresse, a red and yellow bell pepper salad, and spinach with candied walnuts), roasted veggies, garlic potatoes, old fashioned beef stew, turkey, artichoke dip and guacamole, lots of bread, cheeses, fruits, strawberry shortcake, cookies… it was yummy 🙂 I’m really thankful to everyone who helped out or brought something, because I’ve not had too much experience cooking for 16 people in a home kitchen! It was fun though!

  8. I just listened to your Dr. Zomboss theme on the piano, and it ROCKS! I must have replayed it maybe 20 times now. My son is taking piano lessons (he is 8) and he told me to tell you that you are “a very good pianist.” Keep up the great work! And wow, what a creative party!

    • Thank-you Emma 🙂 Aw, tell your son I said thanks too!

      • Oops! I noticed that my letter eight turned into a smilie face with sunglasses on, haha… I meant to say that my son is eight years old. And yes, I will definitely tell him 🙂

  9. Ooh, that’s a great idea! I never even heard of LARPing before. I’m more of a J-pop nerd than a video game nerd. I have done things like that, I just didn’t know that was what it was called.
    I want to host an event like that with some friends! It’s an awesome idea! (and a chance to use the cardboard sword and shield I made!)
    Can I ask how long it took you to plan this out? It looks very elaborate. I want to have an idea of how long something like this takes.

    Now off to go start writing the background story and characters for my event! ^__^

    • You should totally try it, it’s a lot of fun! ^_^ Hm… I can’t recall exactly how many hours I put into writing the story, but the entire Word Doc (including character bios, story synopsis, public information, history, etc.) ended up being about 25 pages long. I worked on it here and there in my spare time. And of course it can be much shorter too. In fact, shorter is probably better so that you don’t have to ask your guests to memorize so much information beforehand.

      A lot of time was also spent putting together props (a map of all the territories, tokens that were labeled to represent troops from either the Empire or the rebel side, decorations, etc.)… that was fun though. Oh, and if you want to serve dinner, it takes some time to plan out the menu and prepare the food. Of course this is probably the most flexible part of the event… you could even turn it into a potluck or just offer snacks if you want to save some time.

      You’ll have to let me know how yours goes! Also… you mentioned that you’ve done similar events, I’m curious to hear more about that!

    • Oh, and if you are ever interested in ordering decorations/props online, we used Century Novelty. They had some good deals, and were able to ship things to us on time.

      On the contrary, make sure you stay away from Party Cheap… they are awful! They screwed up our order; even though we paid extra for shipping they forgot to send it out on time, so the order didn’t get to us until two days after the party 😡

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