The rise of live action

Game of Thrones LARP UK

Image caption Players pose in character for Live-Action Role-play event The Gathering

It's dismissed out of hand by some as the preserve of "geeks" with latex swords, but those who love live-action role-play describe it as a form of interactive storytelling, writes Peter Ray Allison.

Li swings his sword to the left with a roar, striking a deadly blow to the charging pirate, before engaging another black-clad pirate on his right.

Chaos ensues around them, as the Militia Guild battle with marauding pirates. Li's sword hammers on the pirate's shield. Lunging forward, the pirate's sword slashes across Li's chest armour, causing him to stagger back. Snarling, the pirate moves in for the kill, only for Li to step aside at the last second and take him down with a blow to the back.

In reality, of course, this didn't really happen. But in the fantasy setting of The Gathering, held at Derbyshire's Locko Park, it did.

Every summer thousands of people attend live-action role-play festivals across the UK. The largest, with about 3, 000 attendees, was The Gathering, organised by the Lorien Trust.

The rules

  • The game is composed of factions and guilds
  • Factions are like nation states and are labelled 'unicorns, wolves, bears, tarantulas' etc
  • They engage in combat - sometimes with each other, sometimes with other players dressed as monsters
  • Guilds are independent parties - they are neutral and perform specific functions - the Militia Guild, for example, adjudicates disputes
  • Each hit to a limb or chest counts as one point
  • Once a player has suffered a number of hits, their score hits zero and they declare themselves injured or unconscious. They can then be helped by 'healers'
  • Referees are present to make sure that no-one oversteps the rules, to maintain health and safety standards and to answer any questions

Live-action role-play, or Larp as it is more commonly known, sees participants physically playing a character of their own creation. They view it as "interactive storytelling" or free-form amateur dramatics.

The stereotypical perception of a Larp festival is a muddy field filled with nerdy young men squealing: "I hurl my lightning bolt at thee!"

With a fairly equal gender split, the reality of Larp is nothing like this. But, because of such misconceptions, some players do not like to discuss their hobby for fear of ridicule. Those with high-responsibility jobs - teachers, doctors and government employees, for instance - can even worry that misconceptions about Larping might damage their careers.

Players create their characters by spending a fixed number of points on skills and abilities. These include the character's ability to use shields, cast spells that can protect friends or paralyse enemies, or create potions that can heal wounds or cure poisonings.

Most typically based within a fantasy setting, Larp may also encompass science fiction, horror or other genres. One Swedish Larp organisation hired a retired navy destroyer to hold a game based on the Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Larp events vary in duration, from a few hours in an evening to four-day festivals - called fests - held over a long weekend. The numbers vary from twenty players in an evening to several thousand for a Fest.

Media captionFantasy dressing up for live action role play games

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