A Beginner’s Guide to LARP

LARPing can be intimidating. You are in an often crowded room full of people you don’t know. They are loud and dramatic. There is a lot of action happening at once and you’re not certain where to look. Or, worse? Sometimes there is no action happening and you are nervous if you have a deep enough hold of your character to fill the silence. For experienced LARPers, all of these issues can be a challenge. For a new LARPer? They might seem insurmountable. I had a request to put out a Beginners Guide to LARPing, specifically focused on more American Freeform styles. So, that’s the intention of this post. But, I genuinely think many of these points can apply to more experienced players and ALL forms of gaming. Also, if there is a tip YOU have, which I’ve missed, please leave it in the comments. 


No One Is Perfect: The idea of ‘doing this right’ or ‘perfect roleplay’ or ‘perfect character’ doesn’t actually exist. Even the most experienced of roleplayers will be ‘doing it wrong’ in someone else’s opinion. LARPing is such a varied, wide spread, and historically conflicting hobby that there is no real one way to do it right. Not doing it at ALL is the only way to get things wrong. So, don’t let your nerves about messing up force you to sit in a corner all night and not take risks. Just tossing yourself into the ocean of characters, discussion, and roleplay is the best way to start. Put aside your ideas of perfect and right. They don’t exist.

Figure Out Your Interests and Pursue Them: One of the first questions I ask new friends in roleplaying is: “What kind of stories do you like to tell?” Once someone identifies the answer to that question, it’s far easier to set them on a path towards plot they will like or assist them in identifying elements of a character they want to pursue. If you’ve never LARPed before, consider this question but more broadly — what kind of stories do you LIKE? What were your favourite tales growing up? What sorts of movies pique your interest time and again? For me, I love noir stories. Once I realized I loved those stories, I had to figure out why. What elements in those stories interested me? It was normally tragic characters, hard choices, and lots of vice. Once I identified those elements, I knew to incorporate at least one of them into every character I developed, so I’d always have a part of a story I was interested in playing. As a new player, figure out what elements excite you most about a story and then make certain to incorporate them into your character. If you are having issues grasping roleplay, you can always go back to those more familiar character dynamics and throw yourself head first into focusing on them, so you are in space that is familiar for you as a new roleplayer.

Talk to Other Players (And Be Honest With Them): While in between game communication and pre-game play shouldn’t be REQUIRED for any game (in my opinion), most games these days have Facebook groups, email lists, or some sort of forum where the players can connect in preparation for game play. If you are a first game player and have the time, USE THEM! Introduce yourself and be honest that it’s your first time doing this. Be truthful about the things that are making you most nervous and ask more experienced players for advice. See if there is anyone else in the game who is interested in the same style of roleplay you want and build some story ahead of time. See if anyone else faced the same challenges you are facing, and how they got through it. Truthfully, I encourage ALL players to be honest with each other about anxieties, triggers, and what they want in roleplay. Whether this communication happens on Facebook, waiting for check-in leading up to a game, or in game workshops (when provided), it will help you get the worst of nerves out before game on.

Wear Comfortable Shoes: Shoes are the ABSOLUTE one place where comfort MUST trump style/costume/period. LARPing is, in general, a physical hobby. You may be on your feet for hours at a time. You may be moving quickly through a space. You will be doing things your body is not used to doing for HOURS at a time. Your feet take the most stress of this physically as they are the smallest points of your body that take the most weight. Even if you are sitting a lot, the times you need to be on your feet are the most stressful. Make certain you are wearing shoes you have worn before, are broken in, your body likes, and are comfortable for hours at a time.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate: NEVER go into a game dehydrated. Even air conditioned, indoors, non-physical LARPs are demanding on a body and often distract us from taking care of our actual physical needs. You may forget to drink for 2-3 hours at a time. At least, if you listen to this rule, you’ve entered game as physically prepared as possible. So, make sure you’re fully hydrated and have eaten something so your body is in peak condition going into a marathon of a game. Then, when you remember, drink water during the game. If you are drinking alcohol? Two things of water to every one alcoholic beverage is a MUST, especially while LARPing. Remind your friends to drink water. Incorporate a water bottle or drinking device into your costume. Use it liberally.

Read the Game Material x2, Take Notes, Ask Questions: If you are brand new to this, I highly recommend you take actual time out to sit down and go over ALL the game material, at least twice, and be prepared to take notes while you are doing it. This means take an hour or two out of your day (maybe take yourself out to dinner or coffee), sit down where you will be mostly undisturbed, and give the material your full attention. On first reading, just take it in, absorb everything you can, try to see the bird’s eye view of the whole game, point of the experience, set interaction rules, and style. Then, on second reading, take notes about things that most interest and most confuse you. Any big questions, keep them in your notes and be sure to ask the organizers ahead of time. By making certain you have an understanding of all the provided materials will give you a far better base start than if you go in completely unaware of what is going on. As a beginning LARPer, you’re going to be nervous. You might as well give yourself as many tools as possible to make you prepared to handle those nervous.

This Isn’t a Movie: You will see other LARPers making crazy elaborate costumes, doing hours long make up jobs, or other things such as prop making that can be incredibly intimidating if you don’t have those skills or that time. It is ALRIGHT. You don’t need to do any of those things. If you LOVE costuming and WANT to (some cosplayers came to LARPing from cosplay, and the costuming is one of the only reasons they are there) then you can do that. If you just want to play something with new friends? Don’t sweat making it big, perfect, elaborate or even ‘impressive’. My rule of thumb is generally: Would this work for a low budget community theater show? If so, then that costume will be fine for your LARP too. Making liberal use of your local thrift stores is the best way to costume for LARP I can recommend. I’ve found things from vaguely medieval looking shirts and skirts all the way to cyberpunk future costumes. Makeup isn’t necessary and 90 percent of LARPs will have low-to-no make up characters for you to play if makeup isn’t your thing. Don’t let other people’s hype and preparation make you feel bad about what you are or aren’t doing.

Have Some Plans: You don’t have to make these plans with other people (but you can), however, you should make plans. Once you’ve read through all the game material, have a character, and you know what kind of story you want to tell, make a few plans in your head of how your character might do that. They don’t have to be big or elaborate, but they are a few good jumping off points if you aren’t certain what else to do. Write down these ideas on a little note card or in your phone. Keep them on hand. Go back to them if you are lost what to do otherwise. If you aren’t certain what these plans might be, I refer you to a previous post I made with some good ideas: The Road to Emotionally Compelling Roleplay.

Get Hyped: Even with all these tips, you are probably going to be nervous. That is OKAY. However, you shouldn’t go into this feeling miserable. So, figure out how to get hyped. What about this experience is exciting you? Do you love cyberpunk and this is a cyberpunk game? Then maybe go rewatch the Matrix! Do you want to get better into your character headspace? Build a playlist for them and ask other players or friends for song suggestions! Spend a bit of extra time at your favourite thrift store looking for the perfect accessory. Write some pre-event fiction! Ask some more experienced friends for their most exciting LARP story to date and hear about what gets everyone else excited for LARP. Look at cool photos from other events! In short, find some things that will help excite you about the experience and do them in celebration of this new thing, not in fear!

Make a Packing List and Share It: Even a one-day LARP will need some gear, packing, and preparation. If this is your first game, make a list ahead of time so you know you have everything. Once you have your list, share it through the game’s communication forms. Not only might people realize you missed something, but you will help other players realize things they have missed. The communal packing list planning thread is one of my favourite LARPers helping LARPers things I see in our community.

Be Comfortable: For a first time gamer, I don’t recommend pushing too out of your own comfort zones. This includes physical and mental issues. Physically? I recommend making certain your costume is something you are comfortable wearing, comfortable moving in, comfortable being seen in around other people, and is appropriate for the weather/your gaming space. You’re already taking a big risk being here, why should you push yourself in a way that will be more miserable? Mentally, I recommend playing themes or characters which will be in a familiar zone for you and not diving into LARP to fully ‘break’ yourself emotionally in the first game. There is plenty of time for tears in the future. Right now, figure out how you enjoy playing and how this hobby works in action before pushing the limits.

Don’t Hold Back: That being said, if you are finding yourself enjoying it and want to press harder, go deeper, work on a more elaborate costume or something else? GO FOR IT. Don’t hold yourself back or be scared to take a plunge just because you are new. If you find something where you really want to dive in, go ahead. Simply don’t feel the pressure to dive in over your head if you’re not ready for it.

Find a Physical Difference: When building a new character, I try to think if one difference in physicality from my own body to their body. For my main character Moira, who was suffering from awful nerve damage, it was that she squeezed people’s hands/arms a lot because she couldn’t feel them with her fingertips. I have another character who walks with a far more own, swaggering stance than my own body. It is a very British acting technique, but it works well, building a character from the outside towards the inside. By figuring out what is different about that character’s body, and physically practicing it, you can then start getting into a different headspace.

You Don’t Have to Be an Actor: I wrote a longer post here about not worrying about acting or even the perfect reactions to LARPing. I recommend you all read it. The Meyerhold Acting Techinique and LARP. However, trust yourself just to react to things in the moment and don’t worry about whether your reactions were wrong or right. There is no wrong or right. Just get into telling a good story and let your instincts lead you. Trust me, we’ve all been playing pretend since we were KIDS. If we could play house (or whatever your preferred childhood fantasy game was) when we were 5-6 years old? We sure as hell can do it as adults now. Let your inner child out, relax, and have fun.

(Bonus Tip from Chris Frueh) “The most helpful thing for me was to just try things. It’s intimidating if you’ve never LARPed but maybe just try it as a more physical version of DND. Once you’re there, find what excites you and build on that. I adore flawed characters that are forced to make soul-breaking choices and I had to take my “bundle-o-stats” character that got me in the door and build reasons why he does things. Once you know why, the emotions will come in time.”


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