Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) is probably the highest level of geek level gaming. That being said, when I first got into LARP (1998), Cos-play wasn’t really a thing that was considered cool. So, dressing up and smacking people with swords was pretty much the highest level of gaming geekdom one could achieve. However, there was, and still is, a higher level of geekery to be had if one is willing to brave such heights. I’m talking about Parlor LARP… I’m talking about Parlor LARP in the World of Darkness to be specific. Parlor LARPs have a mixed reputation, and WOD LARP in particular seems to be well-known more for Goths (or faux-Goths) and badly fitted clothes. That being said, I’ve had some of the best role-play experiences in my life in WOD LARP and I think it is awesome and I hope you gain an appreciation for it from this list. (This post is brought to you as I finish my second LARP character after a 10 year hiatus, and I’m super excited)
1: The World of Darkness Rocks –
The WOD, is one of my favorite game settings. It is a dark reflection of our world, one where monsters really do lurk in the shadows. This creates some interesting dynamics, groups can use their real-world location knowledge to integrate their characters more fully into the world. With WOD LARP, you can also use real-world locations for your games, and if you are adventurous enough even go to those places in character with your troupe. One game I remember with a lot of fondness, we decided to take our small group on a trip through the city of Portland, Maine. We met in the shadow of a Unitarian Universalist church yard, and role-played a discussion our pack of Sabbat (inhuman vampires that have a lot of pent-up aggression) were having. In real-life, we were interrupted by a random person that noticed us hanging out in the church-yard. He joined us, briefly, and we never broke character.
2: You don’t need to learn how to swing a sword –
One of the coolest parts of Boffer or Combat LARPS is that you get the chance to really swing swords at people, even if those swords happen to be foam. That being said, Parlor LARP tends to shy away from such displays of physical prowess. For those of us that are naturally clumsy… making a character actually good in combat in a game like Realms… well… never went over very well for me. The awesome part of Parlor LARP is that a lot of the action stays in the imagination, well placed props and movement help to tell the story, and even the most uncoordinated person can still play a great combat character. That being said, most Parlor LARP is about the story and not so much about the combat, so there are great incentives to avoid fighting with one another, at least physically.
3: The story is the thing –
Role-playing games, when done right, are a great mix of rules and systems that allow our imaginations to fly into the aether. In Parlor LARP, the story is the center of the game. Drama, epic drama often, is the backdrop for the imagination to run wild. Stories in Parlor LARPS are often political, individual driven, and they touch on deep human themes. I’ve seen great costumes and set-pieces lift uninteresting rooms into the World of Darkness creating a deep suspension of disbelief. Inter-personal drama is what fuels the game, and it can become very powerful, very quickly. Often, after a great session, Storytellers will decompress and discuss out-of-character some of the impact of the story from the night. This is something I recommend Storytellers do in table-top as well, but it is especially important in LARP, because the physicality makes the drama all that much closer to the heart.
I know some folks are reading this list thinking, “Yeah, but you can’t touch anyone in a World of Darkness LARP!” That might be true, the rules do suggest limited touching of one another. That being said, with active consent and good communication role-play can occur that includes well-structured and respectful touch. Also, don’t assume an iron-clad no touching rule eliminates the fun of the game. Hardly, the awesome thing is that good players that take their characterization seriously and work hard to suspend disbelief can make you forget that touching isn’t allowed and you still feel the effects of the story hitting you in your brain and heart. If you are in the United States, I sincerely suggest you look up Underground Theatre, if you are interested in Vampire the Masquerade LARPs. They are the organization I’m spending the most time in right now, and I love their games. I’m also a member of One World by Night, and they have a lot of games using the older MET rules around the world.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook, is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment, and is an advocate for inclusive gaming spaces. He's also a father and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.