Larpers are regular folk from all walks of life. The common thread is that we love this kind of interactive fiction. Many larpers are also really into movies, books and theatre, and some enjoy other interactive forms like tabletop roleplaying and computer games. Some larpers also have interests like history, acting, costuming, prop-making or writing fiction. It's a creative crowd, but you don't need any particular skill to try larping. The larp community is friendly and we love it when people try larp for the first time, so if there's anything you need just ask and someone will help.
Am I too young or too old?
Some larps have a minimum age of 16 years, but others are open to young people - just ask. You're never too old to larp.
How does it work?
You might be imagining people standing around wondering what to say to each other. So where does the story come from? The answer is that the organisers design a situation where interesting things are likely to happen. For some larps the organisers write all of the characters, with lots of reasons to interact. For other larps, the players make their own characters and the organisers design an environment that will provide challenges. As a player, all you have to decide is what your character would do in the situation you find yourself in. All the other players do the same, so that the natural result is a big tangled web of actions and consequences, creating multiple narratives that together form one big story.
Are my costume and roleplaying good enough?
It's all good. Everyone understands that new larpers may have basic costumes and be shy. So just do your best, let people know you're new, and feel free to ask for help. Some larpers will be happy to lend you gear or offer advice on how to do things cheaply, so it's worth asking on Diatribe if you can borrow something. Even if you can't get any costume together, you should still come along, as something can often be sorted out on the day. Costume is the icing on the cake, it should never stop you playing.
Will I look silly?
Do you look silly at costume parties? It's the same deal, and once you get over that it's heaps of fun.
What if I do it wrong?
You can't do it wrong. It may seem like there's a lot of stuff to learn, but just remember that you aren't expected to get everything right the first time. You'll certainly make mistakes with the rules or setting of a larp when you're learning, but everyone does that and it's not a big deal. We were all new once, and we know that it takes a while to absorb everything. It may take one or two games before things really click.
What should I do at a game?
Whatever you'll enjoy! Everyone likes different aspects of larping. You might enjoy portraying your character's personality, trying to achieve their objectives, or just socialising in character and feeling immersed in the fictional situation. There's really no right or wrong way.
How do I break the ice at the start of a game?
Most of what you do in larp is talking to other characters, so try approaching various people and roleplaying with them. If you're a shy person, try not to worry about the normal social nicities around talking to strangers. It's your character who is doing the talking, and talking to strangers is a normal situation in most larp scenarios. If your character has goals then you could try to achieve them, which will probably also involve finding other characters who may be able to help you. Once you get the ball rolling and get to know some characters, it gets easier. Don't worry about "wreaking" the game, your contribution will be valued whatever it is. If you're really having trouble knowing what to do, ask the organiser or another player for suggestions. Everyone understands that new players may feel shy at first.
People are yelling at me. Help!
It's okay! What happens in a larp is fictional, not real. Best friends may play arch-enemies, strangers may play married couples, and so on. Of course, your adrenaline might still really kick in. That's okay, you can just play off the buzz and respond as you think your character would do, perhaps yelling back or getting upset. If you can't deal with something, just drop out of character and let people know. It's fine to explain that you're not comfortable, nobody wants to actually upset you.
Should I be trying to "win"?
If you enjoy yourself then you've won, even if your character "loses". Your character might die horribly, but if you have a great time in the process then it's all good. Diving into conflicts that you might win or lose can be a lot of fun, but if you don't feel like starting any trouble at first that's okay too. It can take a while to get comfortable with the feeling of being at odds with other characters - although sometimes conflict will come to find you, ready or not!
What are character goals for?
Some larps provide you with a character with goals. The purpose of goals is to encourage interaction between characters. For example, if you're playing Sherlock Holmes and another player is secretly playing Moriarty, then there is a lot of fun to be had trying to uncover who he is through detective work, while he tries to mislead you. You might have a fun scene if you uncover him and attempt to have him arrested, or you might not find out until afterwards that he was the guy who was subtley mocking you throughout the game. However things turn out, you'll often have fun interactions with lots of characters while you try to achieve goals. You're not confined to the goals on your character sheet. It's your character, so play them however you want and invent new goals if you like.
What are the rules for?
The purpose of rules in a larp is to help players figure out what happens when characters are using special skills or in conflict with each other. Let's say you're playing Sherlock Holmes again, and the rules of this particular larp say that if you get in a fight, you first play rock-paper-scissors to see who wins, then act out the fight without touching each other. The winner can knock the loser down for five minutes, or take an object. You've discovered that Moriarty is a woman, and she's holding a bomb that she has set. You say "I'm attacking you", then play rock-paper-scissors. You play rock, she plays scissors, so you've won. You act out struggling over the bomb so that other players can see what's happening, then she passes it to you and runs off. Now you just need to find someone who has the skill to disarm a bomb!
Do all larps use rock-paper-scissors?
No, every larp has different rules. In a few larps, there is just a guideline of "use your common sense", so that players decide by consensus what the outcomes of their actions are. Some other larps use simulated weapons, such as foam swords or Nerf guns, to determine what happens if a fight breaks out, and that's known as "live combat". These weapons are soft, for the safety and comfort of participants, and there will be plenty of people willing to help you learn how to use them if you'd like to try that style of game. Not all larps involve situations where fighting may happen, but many do, just as many forms of fiction involve conflict.
What if players can't agree on what happens?
If there is a dispute between players, you should ask one of the organisers of the larp to act as referee and make a ruling on what happens. Sometimes the organisers may also make announcements that something has occurred. For example, they may approach you and say that one of your items has gone missing, perhaps because another character has picked your pocket, and take it off you. Or they might make a general announcement that there has been an explosion at a particular spot and everyone nearby is dead, because a character has set off a bomb. If you want your character to do something that isn't in the usual rules, approach an organiser and ask them about it.
What kinds of larp are there?
That's a big question. Many larps have fantasy, horror, futuristic, and historical settings, but larps can cover every genre you can imagine. Some larps run just one time and last a few hours, and you'll be provided with a character. Others run over a whole weekend, and you get to make your own character and play him or her several times a year in an ongoing setting. If you think there's a gap in the market for some new and wonderful kind of larp, then once you've gotten the hang of larping you could try writing and running one yourself!
Sounds great. How do I get started?
What if there are no larps near me?
If you can't travel to where larps are being run in New Zealand, why not run your own? There are lots of scenarios available in various genres, many of which are free and only need a handful of players. Have a browse through this list of larp scenarios and download a few to see if they suit. If you'd like advice on running your first larp, ask on the New Zealand larp forum Diatribe or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be very happy to help you get started.
I've got more questions, who can I ask?
We've set up a Facebook group especially for new people who'd like to find out more. Join the group at facebook.com/groups/whatislarp and ask away!