LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. It's like role playing, but instead of sitting around a table and describing what your character is doing, you generally actually get up and do it (or act it out.) Think of it as cross country improv theatre.
LARPing has multiple sub-genres. In America, these include Boffer (which generally includes actually swinging padded weapons at one another) and Theater (which is generally based around pre-written characters accomplishing social and political goals, with combat frequently represented by abstract mechanics. Theater LARPing also goes by a variety of other names.) It should be noted that most boffer games also include a fair amount of roleplaying and that logic puzzles also play a large role in both types..
In Europe, LARP usually sits between these genres, mixing character development and role-playing with combat. Weapons are far more realistic than their American counterparts, manufactured using latex-covered foam, or harder, unpadded plastic in some systems; consequently, the style of combat includes taking care not to hit too hard; some variant on "Pull your blows" is a standard rule.
In Democratic Russia, LARP is often indistinguishable from historical reconstruction, not that anyone but hardass living-history types tries to enforce the distinction much. There is a huge sliding scale, from theater RP, where the absolute worst thing that can IRL happen to you is a rubber knife somewhere uncomfortable, to buhurt-style faintly-story-driven mass violence, broken bones included.
The main distinction of ex-USSR LARP scene lies in players' attitude. Around one third of the players treat it as combat sport with lots of DIY. Other two thirds are composed of teenage counterculture wannabees who are in it for the chicks, said chicks, escapists (mostly teenage, though there are quite a few more mature players) and plain old Fantasy fans.
Ex-USSR LARP Weapons are made from aviation-grade glass-fiber plastic, running-track rubber, duraluminum, reforged leaf springs, PVC piping and hardwood, with repurposed sports implements and furniture parts considered a thing of shameful past and frowned upon. Likewise, armor has evolved from cardboard, wood and plastic to complex sets of canon-accurate gear tailored to a specific setting, historically-accurate getups brought over from living history and historical combat (which are either past or future hobbies of more than half of LARPers around this parts), sports\hidden armor kits, replicating the construction pinciples of ballistic armor with DIY-store materials, and wide use of fencing, motorcycling and other off-the-shelf protective gear.
Worthwhile games are either multi-day (up to a week) forays into the wild, far from any civilisation, with a large part of baggage being vodka (no, really - and this applies to LARP wordwide, not just Russia!), or sizeable social events with elaborate costumes and convoluted plotlines held in university ballrooms.
Settings are often some variant of the standard fantasy setting (of varying levels of "yeah, we nicked this straight out of The Silmarillion"), possibly with a dash of Alternate History, or taken directly from a popular RPG.
LARPs have their own set of common tropes, including some form of Closed Circle or Enclosed Space (which give players an excuse to stay in game even if their character's smartest option would be to leave) and Time Travel (regardless of genre.) However, the largest LARP events (sometimes called "fests", for festivals), who host thousands of players, occur on large swaths of land, which gives players space to flee while remaining in the game.
LARP, especially boffer LARP, is considered one of the easy targets of nerddom. This is mainly due to the widespread popularity of the "Lightning bolt" video on YouTube, which features boffer combat in all its anarchic "foam weapons and spell packets" glory. Strangely, LARP makes an easier target among nerds than outside of geekdom. The occasional small-press article on LARPing is usually sympathetic, and Role Models, while pointing out the inherent goofiness of LARP, still treats it as a great way for people to socialize and build confidence. On the other hand, the "Lightning bolt" video is usually circulated around message boards and geek-oriented blogs, often as a way of saying, "I may be a nerd, but..."
In several European countries, LARP is viewed in a different light. Especially in the Nordic countries, LARP is increasingly considered Serious Business. While your milage may always vary, LARP is creeping into the realm of the mainstream. For example, there are more Danish kids participating in LARPs (often school or daycare related) than there are kids in football clubs and a popular LARP-show is aired on Danish national television (and exported to Sweden) . The inter-nordic "Meating Point" or "Node" convention in particular strive to advance LARP as a medium in many ways, and serious academical papers on LARP is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.
Real Life Examples
- AIR Maelstrom - An alternate-earth Steampunk-themed LARP based in Atlanta, GA, by lead writer G.D. Falksen, lead designer Chris Dodson, and many others at Hatboy Studios. Makes use of nerf guns as well as traditional foam swords, but also features robust economic and social systems for those not as keen on battle, and is well balanced between different player interests. Storylines are set up by the staff but players are highly encouraged to participate in the storymaking process. Also, airships!
- The Darkon Wargaming Club
- Dystopia Rising: Takes place after a Zombie Apocalypse
- Accelerant - Formerly the nTeraction system, and forms the core ruleset for several New England-based LARPs (a few of which are listed below). Developed by Robert Ciccolini.
- The Calling
- Seven Virtues
- Knight Realms: A high fantasy LARP which owns its own 200 acre camp  in Sparta, New Jersey. It rents the land to other area LAR Ps including"
- Dystopia Rising
- Realm of Adventure
- The Wayfinder Experience, a mainly upstate New York based LARP camp. Falls somewhere in between Boffer and Theatre, depending on the camp.
- Westfinder, a rules-lite LAR Ping community in California's Bay Area.
- Epic Adventuez , the Philadelphia offshoot of the above two
- Lorien Trust/The Gathering - one of the largest in Britain, it is a High Fantasy system using high-quality rubber weaponry.
- Curious Pastimes - Originally the same gameworld as the Gathering, there was a split after disagreements between the organisers. Now very different and more deadly, whilst still being the same style of LARP.
- Maelstrom. Another British fest system LARP, run by Profound Decisions.
- Minds Eye Theater: The White Wolf LARP system. Organizations within the system include
- The Garou Nation
- Isles of Darkness
- One World By Night
- Beyond the Sunset
- NERO (New England Roleplaying Organization) - Originally one system, but internal schisms have resulting in NERO International and Alliance, formerly NERO Alliance. This system or ones inspired by it are what most Americans think of when asked about Fantasy LARPs.
- Besides the Alliance other LARPs springing from NERO include
- LIONE (L Iving Imagination Of New England) Rampant
- SOLAR (Southern Organization for Live Action Reenactment)
- Besides the Alliance other LARPs springing from NERO include
- The Realms - a New England-based community-run fantasy boffer LARP. Website here.
- Squadra Dei Falchi Di Gradara (Band of the Hawk of Gradara) - an Italian fantasy/medieval/renaissance/steampunk kitchen sink LARP set in the eponymous town. Unrelated to Berserk
- Systems Malfunction: A small science-fiction LARP played in/around Westchester County NY. Unique in that it emphasizes both Boffer & Spacket combat and Theater-style role-playing & goal structure.
- "Murder mystery games", either at parties or special dinner events, are a semi-mainstream variant.
- Treasure Trap - One of the oldest LARP groups in the UK, beginning in the 1970's. The original system is now defunct but student spin-offs are still running in Durham and Cambridge.
- IFGS: The International Fantasy Gaming Society, inspired by the Larry Niven and Steve Barnes Dream Park series.
- Skullduggery A medium sized LARP based in the south east of England who have been featured on British TV several times, most notably when Dara O'Brien tried his hand at LARP for the Tough Gig series.
- The Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA is not a LARP and calling it one is bound to press someone's Berserk Button but deserves mention here because many of the roots of LARPing lie in it and there is substantial membership crossover. The same goes for Renaissance Faires.
- Model United Nations has been described—including on its page—as LARPing in suits and getting away with calling it "an educational activity." In all fairness, MUN involves a lot less fighting between characters.
- Krigslive("War LARP") is a Danish Warhammer-inspired LARP series currently nearing the 7th game. Examples here and here (this troper in center of pic 21 :).
- Conquest of Mythodea, Germany's largest recurring LARP, possibly the biggest in the world.
- Drachenfest, the second largest annual event i Germany.
- Labyrinthe, a high-fantasy system run mainly in Chislehurst Caves for literal dungeon-crawling.
- Tol-Galen, a mid-low fantasy LARP system native to the channel Islands and parts of Manchester, with themes varying by chapter. The Guernsey chapter's setting is quite possibly the most pop-culture saturated LARP in existence with an unusual atmosphere that bounces between tongue-in-cheek comedy, genre deconstruction and in many cases psychological horror. It uses the same equipment and maintains some links with the Lorien Trust system mentioned above. It operates via tavern evenings (In-depth, noncombat/combat-lite sessions that focus on intrigue and character development) and adventures (sessions at various sites with a heavy focus on combat and puzzle solving, usually working through scripted encounters in a linear or branching order, mainly due to monster crew constraints. Overall gameplay is NPC/plot-crew driven and skirmish based.
- Otakon has a Theatre-style LARP which has been going on for decades.
- The second arc of Powers, "Roleplay," deals with a college LARP group that pretend to be superheroes (in a universe that actually has superheroes) complete with "calls to action" from the rooftops. Things start to go horribly, horribly wrong...
- The movie Sydney White has the title character, an Expy of Snow White, rooming with "seven dorks" one of whose hobbies is this.
- One of the mentored kids in Role Models is a LARPer. The movie's central plot, a pair of adults learning to be less cynical and enjoy life more, reaches a critical point when one of the men decides to blow off a court-date in order to join in the kid's LARP and help him almost win the big annual free-for-all. He even admits to one of the game organisers that he'll probably be back some time.
- The Nostalgia Chick points out that Sarah from Labyrinth is a LAR Per, and manages to get in a little affectionate bashing while doing so:
Chick: "She seems to be the loneliest LARPer in town, and that's saying something for her social skills... or acting skills, for that matter."
- Darkon a documentary film chronicling the club of the same name.
- The Wild Hunt is about a fantasy LARP (a Canadian group, so more like the Russian style) where jealousy and personal issues between the players result in things going hideously wrong. Some folks view it as the Mazes and Monsters of LARP, but the LARP setting has little to do with the conflict, which is all about a relationship triangle.
- Monster Camp, another documentary this one of the Seattle branch of Alliance.
- The Knights of Badassdom which is about LARPers who accidentally summon demons into the real world and then have to battle them.
- The Larry Niven and Steven Barnes series Dream Park
- In the Dresden Files short story "It's My Birthday Too", the action takes place in a mall that's been rented for a LARP very similar to Minds Eye Theater. Ironically one of the people in it is Thomas, Harry's brother who is a vampire.
- Honor Harrington is a member of the SCA, though her branch deals with reenacting the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her skill with present-day pistols becomes a plot device in Field of Dishonor and Honor Among Enemies.
- Many founding members of the Portland Protective Association in S. M. Stirling's Emberverse series were originally SCA members.
- A super hero LARPing group appear in Season 1, Episode 12 episode of Bones. Booth and Brennan each compare the other to one of them (specifically to the victim of the week).
- The victim of the week was found by a group of LARPers on a convention-run game in The Princess & The Pear.
- One of the Geeks in a season of Beauty and the Geek. In fact his was the pairing that won that season.
- The Winchesters are accused of being such in Supernatural.
- An episode of Good Luck Charlie titled "LARP in the Park".
- A group very similar to the SCA features in an episode of House
- Glen, a LARPer and the nephew of the title character of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman is a recurring character and in his debut episode runs the episode as a LARP. Because it's a kids show however there's no physical conflict, just a series of logic puzzles (which are also often featured in real LARPs)
- iCarly: Aruthor (Spencer's 'avatar') and Aspartamay's (Jack Black's character's 'avatar') battle, combined with spoofed references from MMORPG like Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft.
- Anya in Degrassi is a LARPer. She even gets her boyfriend to join in on it.
- In an episode of Series/Castle Rick mentions a group he once researched for a book that roleplays fairy tale charcters, although none of them appear in the episode, which revolves around women being murdered and found dressed up as fairy tale heroines. Another episode features a "zombie run".
- In Transhuman Space this is how Lunar kids spend their time, since they can easily reform Lunar City's smart buildings into whatever environment is appropriate, and don't have realtime access to the Earth-based Net games.
- Tai of Questionable Content combines this with Flashmob for interesting results.
- Geebas On Parade is all about this and is based on the experiences of creator Jennie Breeden in both NERO and SOLAR. Her half-orc character has also appeared in her other strip The Devil's Panties.
- The protagonists in Weregeek participate in a Minds Eye Theater vampire LARP and, less often, a fantasy boffer LARP. In one arc they also inadvertantly stumble into a horror LARP without knowing it.
- PvP has an arc where the magazine's staff decides to engage in a boffer LARP as part of a company picnic. They end up sharing a park with Civil War re-enactors, which leads to some "who's dorkier" tension.
- And then they run into some Trekkies, and a pie fight breaks out.
- Some of the trolls in Homestuck enjoy an "Extreme Role Playing" system called FLARP, which tends to have much higher risks and potential real-life consequences than normal LARPing. Most of them stopped rollplaying after couple of them had "accidents" and the game descended into a downward spiral of revenge that left one of them crippled from the waist down, one of them blind, one of them lacking one eye and one arm, and one of them dead. Later revealed to be an odd example of Generation Xerox – most of the trolls are basically FLARPing as their own ancestors.
- The cast of Something*Positive have spent plenty of time engaging in various LAR Ps, predominantly Steampunk-esque ones. In fact, some of the popular minor characters (such as Spooky) appear almost exclusively in the LARP-related arcs.