I desperately wanted to like Live Action Roleplay, I really did. I used to dream of going to Labyrinthe in Chislehurst caves and would covet the shiny LARP weapons and costumes but there’s certain aspects – at least of the active, physical LARP scene – that just don’t really work for me and spoil the experience. Sure, the immersion is closer to total without too much in the way of rules getting in the way, the experience has much more direct ‘fidelity’ but that can also be part of the problem. Your imagination always outstrips even the best attempts at costuming and it’s very hard to mentally edit out a scout hut and superimpose a gigantic, spired castle. The other big problem I have with LARP is that it stifles my opportunity to play things that I am not. If I’m a ten stone weakling with the physical coordination of an epileptic jellyfish it doesn’t matter what it says on my character sheet, Joe the Kobold is going to beat seven shades of shit out of me and then give me such a continued drubbing that an eighth shade will be discovered in the aftermath.
Nonetheless, I pressed on despite these misgivings and decided to give it a try. That just cemented in my mind that LARP wasn’t for me after I was smacked in the face one too many times and fell knee-deep into a stinking bog in the woods. My refined and comfort-loving sensibility just doesn’t seem to fit with the necessities of serious LARPing and my budget doesn’t really stretch to buying suits of armour I’ll only ever wear once a month.
That’s not to say I’m disparaging LARP, if you can overcome these drawbacks and enjoy it, or even revel in it, then more power to you. It’s just not quite my thing. I’m jealous if anything!
My next encounters with LARP didn’t come along until the salon style LARPs of Vampire the Masquerade and friends. Now, here was some LARPing I could actually get into. With a system base so I could play something that I was not ((though I sympathise with people who have all the scheming instincts of a lobotomised hamster), we were playing indoors, nobody got hit and it gave me an excuse to buy some clothes I COULD wear on the weekends and go out in. This was far more my speed and, considering my extended tabletop group was hitting thirty or forty people at this time the progression to LARP made sense.
For a long, long time this seemed like the perfect solution to LARP for me, it was self perpetuating, big, once we joined The Camarilla fan organisation we were part of a huge international continuity that seemed to contain limitless possibilities. Big mistake. It started out that way and for quite a while it was great, but as with all organisations – especially those filled with creative people – there began to be problems. I’m still a huge fan of shared universes but when you’re trying to get so many different play styles to work together in one place and so many people have different interpretations of the source material then there’s going to be trouble, especially when they insist on ‘one way only’ and end up taking all the organisational positions of power through attrition and the Peter Principle.
The Camarilla died a living death as the result of its own bureaucracy, dogmatism, arguments and takeovers from White Wolf that never bore fruit and the whimpering end to the nWoD and nothing’s really come along to replace it since.
What I took away from my experiences with LARP were a love of props and tactile gaming, an admiration – tempered with concern – for people who enjoy being smacked in the face and a profound sense of frustration at the squandered opportunities that The Camarilla represented to me and how a very few rotten apples can destroy a whole barrel.
The lasting influence from LARP, for me is that – in serious games – I aim for plausibility, a different thing to realism, and – I think – a better appreciation of how plots, schemes and other social interactions actually play out in a social context. Writing plots and stories for live-action games is a very different animal to writing for tabletop games but you can apply lessons from each to each other. LARPs are healthier when they concentrate on external enemies and allow the players to work together more, tabletop games benefit from giving the players latitude to play out their characters and attention to personal plotting.
My LARP experience may have ended badly, but it was worth having.