When you're new, there's quite a lot of jargon to get your head around, so here are some quick definitions for some commonly used terminology:
- Diatribe - Diatribe is an online forum for the larping community of New Zealand. It includes sections dedicated to specific campaigns, regions and general discussion of larping where you can share about costumes or props, genre or scenario ideas, and anything else larping related with the rest of the community. It is a great way to get in touch with the other larpers in NZ, and peruse though all the different games till you find one that suits you.
- GM/ST - Game Master or Storyteller - The Author, Architect or Narrator of the game. They are the organisers and/or facilitators of the story that the PCs are enacting. They can range from having written the scenario from scratch to those who have taken a game written by someone else and made it their own. Depend on the size or genre of the game, it is not uncommon to have more than one GM/ST per game.
- PC - Player Character - A main character, hero or star of the story. Just like a protagonist in a book or movie, they are a fully fleshed out character with a past, relationships and goals. Generally for the entirety of the LARP, PCs remain as this main character (subject to the genre, circumstances and GMs). The 'Player' refers to your Out of Character/real life persona, and the 'Character' refers to the hero.
- NPC/Crew - Non Player Characters - The supporting roles and guest stars, the NPCs populate the world around the main characters. They are directed by the GMs as to what roles they will play, and it is usual for Crew to play several different characters during one game. These could come in the form of villager, local cop, king of the realm, a monster, or even someone from a PCs past. The GMs use them to tell the story. 'NPC' refers to their in character personas, and 'Crew' refers to the out of character group of those playing NPCs.
- IC - In Character - Everything you do or say as your character. Ideally everyone should remain in character during game time.
- OOC - Out of Character - Everything you do or say as yourself. this also includes emergency calls if there is an injury, or potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situation.
- Character sheet - a document which contains all the information about a PC character, including background information and statistics related to the rules system. The statistics may include info on how many hits the character can take in combat, various skills they have, how magical they are, how much money they own etc. When a character is created (either by GM or Player) an up to date copy is given to both.
- Game organiser - The person behind the logistics of a game, such as venue, date, props, catering etc. In some cases the GMs take on this role, but that is not always the case. In larger games it is quite typical to have more than one GM, with some who deal with the logistical side of the game. There are also some cases where the organisation is done by someone outside out the GM team.
- Phys-rep - physical representation - refers to a physical rules mechanic or prop used to represent an action or object that cannot be done the same as in real life e.g. combat (see live combat vs abstract resolution) or magic. Each rule set will have their own phys-reps depending on the genre and rules system they are using (there are a few that are universal). These are usually explained at the beginning of the game by GM but if you are ever unsure just ask. They usually require a varying degree of 'suspension of disbelief' (see below).
- Suspension of Disbelief - refers to an agreement to ignore real world things that contrast with the setting.
- LARP-safe - refers to a prop that has been made safe for live combat. Because its dangerous to use ordinary hard objects to fight with, LARP weapons are made of foam with a sturdy core, and are often latexed to look realistic.. However LARP-safe prop can be made to look like anything as long as it has been sufficiently protected by foam e.g. a chair leg, spade, rolling pin, book etc. Safety is a huge consideration in LARPs so its best to ask for some advice before making some LARP-safe props of your own (as well as great way to get tips on making them look good).
Signing Up for a One-Off LARP Event
So there's a One-Off LARP coming up, and you want to play in it. The first thing to do is let the GM know, usually via email.
Some time after they confirm your attendance, you will receive a character survey, to help the GM in choosing a character for you to play. You may get the survey via email, or it might be an online form for you to complete. It may ask things about what sort of character you want to play, what level of costuming complexity you'll be able to commit to putting together for your character, and if there's anything you would be uncomfortable roleplaying. Often there's a list of characters available, and you can put down if there are any roles you would prefer to play. It's very important you answer the questions as fully and honestly as you can, so that the GM can give you a character that you'll have fun playing. After all, you don't want to find yourself playing a character you hate! And with all that sent off, it's now time to wait for a character.
It's common for you to receive a short blurb about your character before being sent the full character sheet. There's no hard rule as to when you will receive your character sheet, but it's usually within a week of the game. When you get it, take a look over it, and find out all about who you're going to play. If you have any questions, the GM will be very happy to answer any and all of them. It's a very good idea for you to ask the GM about props- find out if they will be providing everything, or if you'll need to find some for yourself.
A character sheet typically contains your character's background and information about their personality, things and people that you character will know, powers and items they have, and some suggested goals to work towards. It's very important that you keep everything on your character sheet a secret before the game- the game will be much more fun for everyone if secrets are coming out in the game. It's also a good idea to try and memorize as much of your character sheet as you can before the game. You will be allowed to refer to it during the game if need be, but doing so too often breaks the immersion of the game.
On the day of the game, you should try to arrive at least half an hour before the game is due to start. This will give the GM time to properly brief you and all the other players. You can arrive in costume, or you can get changed at the venue (but be warned, not all venues will have changing facilities!) The GM will have printed you out a copy of your character sheet, so there's no need to panic about forgetting to print it out.
Playing a character in a LARP
When the game begins, play your character! Try to achieve your goals, do your best to make the game exciting for yourself and for others, and, most importantly, have fun!
Of course, that's more easily said than done. What do you actually do? Well, you talk to your character's friends – and their enemies! Some confrontation will make the game more exciting for both you and your rivals. You can talk to complete strangers, and help other people with what they're trying to do. Remember, there's nothing wrong with lying in character! It's also very important to remember that people will be talking as their characters, so don't take anything personally!
Every character sheet contains some goals, but don't think that you have to complete them! They're not win conditions, they're just guidelines. It can be just as much fun to fail spectacularly as it is to succeed - and it can be just as much fun to go off and do something completely different to your goals. You choose what your character does. Don't forget about your character's skills and powers, because there's no prize for saving them. They're there for your benefit, so make sure to use them.
One-off games, campaigns and conventions
A LARP can range from three hours to a series of weekends over years, with a variety of rule systems. Here are some of the distinctions:
- One-off - quite a self-explanatory name, a one-off LARP is a game and setting that is written to be played once, usually within one day. Often the PC characters are pre-written (see Pre-gen vs make-your-own characters).
- Campaign - refers to a game that continues a story arch over several games within the same system. Generally PCs remain the same character throughout a campaign (unless that character dies or retires), but new PCs can often join in part way through. A campaign can last for as little as six months to as long as ten years (or more!), and as frequently as every week to once a year. The current trend in NZ campaigns is two to four years, with a variety of frequency from monthly to twice a year. A campaign can include two forms of events, weekend games and day games. A weekend game will typically span from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, and a day game will run for 2-5 hours, often on an afternoon or evening of a weekend. Outside of that GMs will sometimes run scenes for select groups of PCs to cover parts of the story happening between games that don't involve all of the PCs.
- Convention - a weekend-long event at which many different one-off games are run. This gives you a chance to try a variety of larps. New Zealand larp conventions include Chimera in Auckland and Hydra in Wellington.
- Game/Event - refers to one of the chapters or segments of a campaign, e.g. one weekend game, or the entirety of a one-off.
Live combat vs abstract resolution
Combat is sometimes a big part of a LARP, and even in those that it is not, most (but not all) systems will have a way of physically representing it, which will fall into one of two categories.
- Live Combat - this combat means that physical conflicts are resolved through sparring with LARP-safe props. All characters in the LARP will have a certain amount of health (often refered to as HP or Hitpoints) and will be able to take a certain amount of hits from an opponent before becoming subdued.
- Abstract resolution - some games, especially those with less of a focus on combat, prefer to resolve combat through a point based system. Often this also involves a random element such as paper-scissors-rock, drawing a card from a deck, etc. After the result has been determined, the Players act out the sequence of events. Some advanced games will have no rules to determine how combat is resolved, and leave it up to the Players to react appropriately.
Pre-gen vs write-your-own character
A character sheet for the game will come in one of two forms, usually applying to all PCs for that particular game. The GM will decide which form will be used in their game.
- Pre-generated Character - this is when the GMs write and then supply a character sheet to a Player. It will usually include the name, race (e.g. elf, alien, cyborg, Italian, etc), occupation, background, skills, and relationships - everything the Player needs to know in order to play the character. Sometimes it will also include a set of goals which can guide your roleplaying, but these can often change once you have started playing, and do not have to be achieved in order for you to enjoy the game. In the case of pre-generated characters the GM will cast the Player in a role they think is a good fit. Sometimes there will be a cast list circulated before the game from which to choose preferences and sometimes there will be a questionnaire to fill out so they can ascertain the best character for the Player. This is a common form of character writing for a one-off LARP.
- Write-your-own Character - this is when the Player writes their own character based on the setting and rules set provided by the GMs. It is in their hands to make up the background and create relationships with other characters in the game (Diatribe is handy for this). The character will then get approved/amended by the GMs before it is played. This is a common form of character writing for a campaign LARP.