Skip to main content

Tabletop and larp - where does one end and the other begin?

Up until recently, it was real simple to separate the two into their own categories - at least in Croatia. Tabletop was played around a table, people were talked through what was going on, and dice were being used to determine a course of action. Larp was when you got into the woods and hit your friends with foam swords.

And while tabletop has always been a rich marketplace - perhaps dominated by D&D (Pathfinder, in the last few years) there were always other options - GURPS, World of Darkness, Fudge etc. being some of the most popular.

Yet larp started monolithical, and everything different was always met by an angry mob of misunderstanding and screams: "That sucks, that's not a real larp!". I could provide a comprehensive list of all instances where this happened, but it would take approximately half of the article. The only constant is that people regularly disagree what larp is.

Let's see a couple of definitions of larp.

"Larp is originally an acronym for Live Action Role Playing, but today it’s used as name in itself. It refers to a type of interactive game or storytelling in which the players assume a role and act as a character within the set fiction. It can be described as theater without an audience or script." - Nordic Larp Wiki

"A larp is a meeting between people who, through their roles, relate to each other in a fictional world." - Dogma 99

"Collaborative pretending with rules" -

Which are, as you might have noticed, much more inclusive than most definitions of larp that a lot of people make up for themselves. And it had resurfaced recently, as I ran two games which were straight in the conflicting part of the Venn diagram on top - they couldn't be placed fully in the domain of another. For some reason, there's been a lot of confusion, anger and resentment - from the people who generally enjoy both styles (or should we say endpoints) of role-play, larp and tabletop.

The two games I ran were Dru - a Norwegian freeform game based on collaborative storytelling - and the continuing Vampire larp. Dru is a simple game, and despite the fact it doesn't self-identify as larp (since it basically has 3 or 5 people talking to each other at all time, without required costuming or scenography), it was understood by many as a simple larp. Heck, they labeled it larp on the last Rikon and nobody complained it wasn't really a larp. However, it's flexible - it could be run costumed and in the actual grove, or around a tabletop (only diceless and without character sheets). It's very much about collaborative story-building and even world-building - something very cool, though hard to replicate in a more immersive 360 larp.

Vampire larp Camarilla Agram uses Mind's Eye Theatre system - and it's something completely different from Dru, despite the fact both sit in the middle of the Venn diagram. It offers character options and powers with mechanics much more diverse than most other larps, and it does so with tabletop-like balance and ruleset. In fact, despite the fact it allows for far more in-person actions than a simple game like Dru, its' tabletop origins are far more pronounced - to such measure that the ruleset could be used to play tabletop without batting an eye.

Yet both of those games allow for representing something not entirely possible in 360 larps - and in fact may improve immersion in some ways previously not thought of. Such as a fact that a player might wear an expensive suit to Vampire, being safe in knowledge it won't get ruined, while they would be much more unlikely to wear it on an action larp in the middle of the woods.

To help define stuff, I'll use the Mixing Desk of Larp - an awesome framework and tool which not only helps larp design, but also serves as an excellent demonstration of what larp can be. I even ran a presentation about it on PoRtaL convention (presentation was about V2 - current version is V3) available here.

Let's check the two events which could be described as in-between: Dru and Camarilla Agram. I'll mark them on the Mixing Desk here:

As we can see, there are plenty of differences, yet some similarities as well: Both games are very verbal, abstract, differentiated and with pretense player pressure. Low player pressure is a hallmark of these games, not much more demanding than a tabletop session (or even less). Both rules-light storytelling and high mechanics support the building of verbal, abstract and differentiated environments (though if you wanted to go high bleed, mechanics will present a difficulty). Yet they paint the world differently - Dru with the vivid descriptions of its narrativism, and Vampire with a broad, yet somewhat defined set of skills, disciplines and other powers.

Dru is not unlike an improv exercise. Vampire will be familiar (and possibly appealing) to all tabletop players who played White Wolf, D&D or GURPS.

Let's compare them with two more larps - Terra Nova (which is a classical fantasy) and Izgon (pervasive urban fantasy), which are totally different from them as they are from each other.

Yet all of these sampled games have similar, describable parameters - and all of them pursue their own goals, none of them wants to be what others are. Because that would truly be a boring larp scene.

So, my suggestion for both players and GMs is to learn to better communicate what a certain larp is about and play for the right reasons. If the communication works, there will be more understanding and fewer arguments. And then, perhaps, people will learn to relax and simply enjoy role-play, with realistical expectations of what they're playing and without fighting about the labels.

Questions? Comments? What do you think?


Popular posts from this blog

The 15 rules of larp

The following 15 rules (warning: strong language) were written some years ago in Great Britain, and have been pretty much generally accepted on the British larp scene. Especially popular is rule 7 - widely known by its number and commonly considered to be the most imortant rule of all (and I agree). Even the biggest British larp forum has taken Rule7 as its name. The rules have been originally created by the Drunken Monkeys and edited by Rick Wynne who added some extra stuff in the explanations to make them more understandable to international audience (it still contains some British larp lingo though), more work-safe and to throw in his two cents. (copy of the original wording is available here ) 1. Don’t play a mighty warrior; play a warrior and be mighty. Don’t label your character. As soon as you say that you are the best swordsman in the land someone will come along and kick your ass. Just get into the mindset of the person and role-play it out. 2. No one cares about you

Mind's Eye Theatre: Werewolf The Apocalypse rulebook review

Available on DriveThruRPG Just under three years ago I wrote a review for  Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade rulebook . It was the first book published by By Nights Studio, and a year later I reviewed one of its supplements - Storyteller Secrets . Now, after a long period of work, after the success of their kickstarter campaign, By Night Studios finally released the full version of the new larp rules for Werewolf the Apocalypse setting. This was preceded by various alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omega slices - each containing a different playtest version of the rules, slowly released from September last year until July this year. First impressions were that the artwork is very cool, and that the book is HUGE. Numbering at 762 pages, that's over 200 pages more than Vampire the Masquerade. But before I start going in-depth, I'd like to mention that this blog's readers come from various backgrounds - and I'll adjust my review accordingly. I assume I'

Larps in EU

Today Croatia has acceeded into the European Union as its 28th state. EU has loads of diverse and different larp scenes and cultures in them. Some of them are local, some are national, some encompass all speakers of a certain language, some are regional, and some are world-famous. Here's a short window into a couple of EU larps and larp scenes, carefully selected and profiled by the criteria of "those I actually visited myself" and "those who bothered to answer my survey on facebook on a short notice", with a dash of "this is like elementary culture you should know". So this is not a full list - not even close - and not even the fully representative one, despite it being the largest post on this blog ever. Even keeping track of the Croatian scene is quite a job and there are still many language barriers around. But hopefully you'll find plenty of new and interesting material here. If you want your larp represented - whether it's battle