Entry updated 31 August 2018. Tagged: Game, Theme.
Term used to describe a form of Role Playing Game in which players physically act out their parts, as opposed to speaking them in the manner of a radio drama. An actual environment (for example, a castle or a city) is used to stand in for the game's fictional setting. Two main forms exist: those in which physical actions such as combat are enacted using padded weapons and similar devices, and those in which a set of symbolic rules (or simply the judgement of the Gamemaster) are used to determine the outcome in such situations. Games of this latter, more sophisticated, type are sometimes known as "freeform" (especially if there are no explicit mechanics, and gameplay concentrates on conversation rather than combat), or "interactive literature" (a phrase generally reserved for games bearing a strong resemblance to improvisational theatre, with the Gamemaster acting as the director). Such freeform games were prefigured in G K Chesterton's short story "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown" (in The Club of Queer Trades, coll 1905); as in that work, these events typically take place in urban environments rather than the isolated fields and medieval buildings used for the more physical form. Games also vary in whether their central concern is with resolving dramatic conflicts between characters (an approach often associated with the "interactive literature" branch), or with encouraging the main players to cooperate against physical obstacles and opposition from "bit part" characters controlled by the Gamemaster (a style often used in games where actions are resolved physically). Early participants generally focused on physical combat and adventures in high fantasy settings, including both the members of the amateur "International Fantasy Games Society" in the US, named after a similar organization described in Larry Niven and Steven Barnes's novel Dream Park (1981), and the customers of Treasure Trap, a commercial venture which opened at Peckforton Castle in the UK in 1982. The freeform approach is a later development, but early examples were run publicly as early as 1983 by the US "Society for Interactive Literature" at the science fiction Convention Boskone 20.
Most Live Action Role Playing (or LARP) games are either Sword and Sorcery or contemporary urban fantasy, though some are set in worlds belonging to other literary genres, including sf. The nature of the form means that written records of events are rare, and in general not especially representative of the spirit of the enterprise, while the systems used are often created by the Gamemasters and distributed only to the players. However, some commercial rules have been published, including Cthulhu Live (1997) (see Call of Cthulhu), Passion Play (1999) (see Fading Suns) and the popular Mind's Eye Theatre line set in the World of Darkness (see RPGs), beginning with The Masquerade (1993 White Wolf) designed by Don Bassingthwaite, Graeme Davis, Tom Dowd, Mark Rein·Hagen, S P Somtow. [NT]
- Ian Livingstone. Dicing with Dragons: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982) [nonfiction: includes a contemporary description of Treasure Trap: pb/photographic]
- Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003) [nonfiction: Chapter 33 includes a description of a World of Darkness-based game which ran in New York City from 1995 to 2000 under the name of "New Found Order" (later "Seasons of Darkness"): hb/Katie Salen]
- Mike Young, editor. The Book of LARP: Live Action Role Playing (Vienna, Virginia: Interactivities Ink, 2003) [nonfiction: collection of articles on the theory and practice of LARP, including several sample games: pb/photographic]
- Lizzie Stark. Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games (Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, 2012) [nonfiction: well written personal history of one woman's experiences with the form: pb/Rebecca Lown]
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