Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why LARP Is Not For Me

I have tried LARP.  It is not for me.  It is a great medium for other people, and I have several dear friends who love it.  But, I just cannot get into it.

There is a trend among tabletop gamers to really look down on LARPers as "weird" and "socially deviant."  I find this baffling, given that we are all gamers.  Not only do we pretty much look the same to outsiders, most LARPers are also tabletop players.  So, this post is not one of those.  Instead, it is a look at some of the things that make LARP different from tabletop, and how those things are a turn-off for me.

A Bit of Background

I do want to give you some notion of my experience with LARPs, so that you know where I'm coming from.  I don't have a lot of experience, due to not enjoying them very much.  When I was in the SCA many, many moons ago, the group I was in actually ran most of our events like LARPs, which eventually evolved into boffer-style LARPs.  So, that gives me four to six sessions of boffer-style.  I've played in two L5R LARPs and one Spycraft LARP at GenCon (on three different years).  Finally, I was in the Camarilla (the official Vampire LARP) for about a year and a half, attending monthly games and three or four conventions.

You ARE Your Character

In a LARP, you are physically acting out the actions and speech of your character.  (Depending on the type of LARP, this may or may not include combat.)  You walk around, poke into things, and talk to people.  In many ways, it is the ultimate in "show, don't tell."  For most people, this is the heart of the attraction for a LARP.

It really gets under my skin for two reasons.  The first is that I get very self-conscious.  When I am portraying a character at the tabletop, the layer of description forms a barrier that I can use as a mask.  I can be aggressive, or charismatic, or even evil.  In a LARP, I don't feel that mask.  I can't maintain the distance between myself and my character.  As such, my natural introversion and insecurities kick in, and I don't want to talk to people.  (Pro tip: LARPs don't work when you don't talk to people.)

The second is that I feel that the system is not only secondary in a LARP, but almost completely irrelevant.  My time in the Camarilla began with the introduction of nWoD.  With the new ruleset, people were discussing the changes to how characters worked and whatnot.  I rapidly came to the conclusion that there was no reason not to build a combat monster, unless you wanted to build some kind of arcane monster instead.  I had built a social character, as I wanted to engage in the social game.  Never once did my social stats come up in play.  The sheet was only pulled out for either physical contests (since the Camarilla doesn't have any boffer-style rules) or magical contests.  All social and intellectual tests relied almost 100% on the player's ability in that sphere.  I don't particularly like RPGs that test the player's skill in the first place.  But, in this case, it was almost universally the case that the characters as depicted and their interactions had nothing to do with the system or the points they had spent.  The RPG had completely lost the "game" part.

Um, Hey, Can We Talk About Me Now?

A tabletop game is typically around 4-6 players to a GM.  A LARP is typically 20-30 players per GM.  Now, admittedly, this is largely because the LARP focuses on player-to-player interaction, in which you don't need a GM.  Player vs. environment is always present, but generally only involves a small portion of the players present.

For players who are engaged and aggressive, this is generally okay.  They can make their own stories move among the other PCs.  When their stories reach a certain level of penetration, they begin interacting with the prepared plot, and the player gets the attention of the GM and the other players.

For those of us who are not engaged (due to inexperience, mostly) or not aggressive (see remark above about introversion), we are pretty much reduced to spectators.  Sure, I've had more experienced players work to pull me in to plots.  And I've enjoyed "right place, right time, right skills" connections.  But, those are frequently the exception, not the rule.  I get fifteen minutes of spotlight time out of a four-hour game.  And even then, I'm generally on the edge of the spotlight.

I am not entirely blaming LARP for this.  It is a medium where you make your own fun.  I just don't have the knack for doing that in a LARP setting.

Playing Dress-Up

I think I discovered a while ago one of the biggest reasons that LARP doesn't appeal to me.  I don't like wearing costumes.  Getting all dressed up just holds no fascination for me.  I don't do it for Renn Faire.  I don't do it for Halloween.  It's just not something I get into.

I noticed at one point that a lot of LARPers are seriously into costumes.  Not just for the LARP, but for Halloween, for cons, for parties, and sometimes just because.  And not just cosplay, but also getting kitted out in a dress or tuxedo or whatnot for a fancy night out.  Part of what they love about LARPs is specifically the chance to put on someone else's skin.

In thinking about it, I also realized that a lot of gamers who look down on LARPers are also the type of people who aren't interested in costumes.  They are history majors, not theater majors.  Their wardrobe is very consistent, whether that be T-shirts, flannel shirts, or polos.  They will spend two weeks trying to think of a Halloween costume that basically just involves the clothes they normally wear, with maybe a single accessory.

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