LARPing comes to Lawrence

You’re enjoying an evening hike in the woods. The sun is setting and the air is cool. You hear a soft rumble, but you shrug it off as thunder, a distant storm. Hiking further, the rumble becomes louder, like it’s headed directly towards you. Then the rumble becomes more like a roar. You hear voices, shouting, even snarling. Then, a group of nine or 10 people emerges, running and shouting. You duck behind a nearby tree. The light is low, but you can see capes, shields, and swords.

Yes, swords.

No, this isn’t a hallucination.

You’ve just witnessed a LARP gathering and the running, shouting, shields and swords are all part of this intricate game that takes imagination to a whole new level.

LARP is an acronym for “Live Action Role Play.” It’s a style of interactive gaming that can trace its origins to the late 1970s. Fans of tabletop role-playing games and fantasy films such as “Logan’s Run” wanted to take their appreciation of those imaginary worlds and recreate them in real life.

“I like to describe it as King Arthur in the woods with a plastic sword,” said Joe Bearden, KU graduate and chapter director of Heroic Central, a LARP organization located in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas.

Its popularity has grown since the ‘70s, especially within the last decade and the release of “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy.

The oldest recorded LARP group is the United States-based organization, Dagorhir, founded in 1977. Its name originates from J.R.R Tolkien’s Sindarin Elven language and translates as “Battle Lords.” According to its official website, “To experience Dagorhir is to grasp at the unobtainable.”

Some LARPs are historical, some are fantastical, and some are set in dystopian worlds of the future controlled by androids. There is clearly an appeal to every nook and cranny of the human imagination.

For Bearden, it’s become a full-time job and passion. He began LARPing in 1992 and is currently working on developing a LARP camp at a site near LaCygne, Kan. He founded a local chapter of Heroic, a national LARP organization, in 2009.

Bearden says participants are mostly college age, but they can range anywhere from as young as 4 to working adults. He says its appeal can be different for everyone.

“For some people, it’s just as simple as liking to fight,” he said. “For other people, it’s about creating a character and seeing the character develop over time.”

For participant Larisa Hines, LARP is a creative outlet and temporary escape from reality.

“LARPing is my little Las Vegas,” said Hines. “What happens in game, stays in game.”

Hines has been involved with local LARP organizations for 8 years. She maintains two full-time jobs that sometimes conflict with weekend-long LARP events.

“I just tell people that I’m going camping with some friends if I don’t think they’d understand,” Hines said.

Both Bearden and Hines are passionate about the characters, the land, and the game. For those who don’t know about it, LARP may sound strange. For them, it adds excitement and imagination, which real life lacks, and Hines is committed to it.

“I’m a LARPer for life.”

—Edited by Maegan Mathiasmeier

  • Updated Jun. 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm