I have long since learned to view my experiences in the roleplaying hobby as a series of stops on an extended voyage. LARPing is one such stop that I wasn’t certain I’d make. I’m not completely certain if my aversion was born of societal stigma or an atypical dislike of crowded spaces, or (most likely) a combination of these factors and others. Nevertheless, I never really saw myself going to a LARP event or, if I was eventually pressured into attending, really enjoying it. After a weekend at Dystopia Rising and a fair bit of time to digest the experience, I can safely report that I’m hooked. Allow me to share four cool things that helped dispel my preconceived notions, so that they might do the same for you.
1) Characters Are Crazy, Players Are Friendly
Before I made the trip to Eden, the setting for our local Dystopia Rising game, I felt certain that my main problem would lie with the personalities that I’d encounter. Again, I now feel certain that I was simply suffering from “popular stereotype” syndrome. Still, I could not help but carry with me the fear that I would chafe socially with most of the other players throughout the weekend. While it’s true that my character’s life was threatened multiple times (back-to-back in one instance), I never felt that any personal offense was intended. The other players accurately portrayed a bunch of nutters as one might find in the post-apocalypse, but when the costumes came off and the real people emerged, they proved to be an exceedingly friendly and social group. Even in the midst of the action, I never felt like I couldn’t pause the flow to ask for rules clarifications when needed. GMs and assistants were enthusiastic about the game and helpful at all turns, even when my character met his untimely death on the first night. All of this culminated in a near perfect balance of immersion and ease of play.
2) Getting Involved Is Worth The Risks
In most LARPs, death is not the end. At the very least, it can be very difficult to actually bite the bullet. Resurrection spells, bleed out times, and emergency services prevent your character from being lost forever. Dystopia Rising is no different, and as such each Strain (analogous to Races in other games) has its own Infection rating, which serves as a death counter. You typically lose Infection when you die, and when it runs out, you’re finally dead for good. Since death is not usually final, players are encouraged to do the dumb thing sometimes. Whereas in reality you wouldn’t explore the dark woods to find the source of the gurgling sound you just heard, at a LARP, this stupid decision is instead viewed as courageous. If the worst happens, you’ll be back in no time, be it by the helping hand of a friend or a quick trip to the GMs’ cabin. If you don’t act boldly, you won’t get hurt as often but you’ll have far less fun. That gurgling sound could be the start of a huge plot that draws in tons of other players. Sure, that cry for help could be a trap, but it could also be a generous character that just needs a little first aid. In short, you’re better off trying and dying than hiding in your cabin all weekend. Games are meant to be fun, after all!
3) Sign Up To Be An NPC
If your game allows it (or requires it), sign up to be an NPC as often as you can during your first few games. While it’s important to get into character and start to grow in that direction, portraying an NPC can help you learn the rules of the game and stretch your creativity a bit. New characters don’t often have a lot of plot going on for them. They’re new, after all, and plots often take several weekends to get moving. When you volunteer as an NPC, you immediately get access to a plethora of plots you’d never otherwise see. You get to try out new costumes, accents, and skills. Sometimes you even get to scare the pants off of other players, especially at overnight LARPs. Dystopia Rising has plenty of pathways to the latter, including zombies that get into bed with you and prevent you from crying out for help while they break your limbs. Talk about terrifying! As an NPC, you get to be the source of that terror and provide the sense of satisfaction that player characters will receive when they finally vanquish you.
4) Check Your Inhibitions At The Gate
While most new LARPers will naturally drop their inhibitions when they enter character, it bears mentioning here: don’t bring your preconceived notions and social hang-ups with you to the LARP. Surrender to the character and retain only the most essential social boundaries. Your character may fall in love, swear vengeance against a hated foe, or get caught up in a fanatical religion. These opportunities could pass you by if you have your guard up. Let the game take control and lose yourself in the rush. It was this feeling of being swept up in the narrative that kept me coming back to the rulebook and the website long after the weekend was over, and it’s most certainly what’s going to get me coming back to the campsite.
A special thanks to the folks at Dystopia Rising, both the players and GMs, for helping to craft such a cool and unique experience for me. I can’t wait to rejoin you, and I hope that this article convinces just one person to take the plunge and give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but you truly won’t know if it’s for you until you give it a chance. Happy LARPing!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. He played Ambrose Lamm, a Baywalker Priest of the Sainthood at Dystopia Rising: Eden, and plans to return as soon as possible. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Pic Reference: http://www.dystopiarisinglarp.com/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.