Last weekend, I had probably the most fun it’s possible to have with 4,000 other people in a field. I went to Profound Decisions’s Empire LARP in Buckinghamshire, UK – and by the Seven Virtues it was a blast! Despite having worked for a LARP equipment company for eighteen months, I’d never actually been LARPing before, so naturally I dove in at the deep end. Empire is the UK’s largest single LARP event, taking place over three days across a sprawling semi-permanent countryside site next-door to Silverstone Racing Circuit. After my head stopped spinning at the sheer enormity of the site, the depth of player-driven stories, and the dizzying possibilities on offer, the weekend passed in a happy blur. Stumbling in on Sunday night, sun-blasted and grinning from ear-to-ear, I had learned an enormous amount, and had an incredible time whilst doing it.
So here is what I learned from my first LARP! Hopefully you’ll be able to learn from what I did right – and the few things I wish I’d done differently.
1. Always Wear Sunscreen
To quote Baz Lurhmann. LARP is almost always an outdoor hobby, and a little prior planning goes a long way toward making sure you can spend your time immersed in character, rather than being too cold to LARP or passing out with heatstroke.
My LARP event took place in the height of early summer, and I checked the weather forecast before I went – wall-to-wall blue skies, with the possibility of rain during pack-down on Sunday. As promised, it was brutally hot. I slathered up with sunscreen, and I made sure that I had an in-character water source (a tankard hung from my belt that I could refill at the water points on site), and I made sure to actually drink as much water as I could (I downed a pint more or less every time I passed a water point, as well as taking shade whenever I had the chance. This meant that I could keep on my feet in-character all day.
However, at night, things got pretty chilly – far colder than I’d have guessed for summer, and I’d have been uncomfortable sitting around firepits if I wasn’t prepared. LARP events tend to go on well into the evening, and so it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Fortunately, my LARP friends had tipped me off to the post-dusk cold, and so I’d made sure my LARP outfit was layered: I could don just a tunic and leggings during the day for maximum coolness, but in the evening I could layer on thermals, a long-sleeved underlayer and a warm cloak as well. Even then, I wish I’d taken more warm underclothes!
TL;DR – Prepare for weather: extra hydration if it’s hot, waterproofing if it’s wet, warm clothes if it’s cold. Take layers of clothing, even if you think it’s going to be warm.
2. Say ‘Yes’ to Everything
Some of the best advice I was given whilst at my first LARP was: if anyone asks you to do something, say yes – even if you’re not sure. You’re guaranteed to find yourself drawn into fascinating corners of the LARP world by being open to new experiences, even if you don’t immediately see the point.
At a loose end at one point, I ran into the Imperial Seer, whom it just so happened was a Day Mage short for a ritual. (Out of character, they explained that I could go to the referee team and re-spec my stats to participate in the activity). After a moment’s hesitation, I remembered my Just-Say-Yes training, and scampered off to stat myself in preparation. Within minutes, I was participating in a magic ritual with a dozen other players in a mystical stone circle, inhabiting the (extremely hammy) role of a bloodthirsty skinwalker whale-person within a stat-buffing vision-quest for a pair of high-ranking Generals.
And you may ask yourself – how did I get here? By saying yes! I’d had no real intention of exploring the magic system, but it was an absolute riot – and something I might incorporate into my game in the future.
TL;DR – Say yes to everything!
3. Do A Bit of Research – But Not Too Much
Some LARP games are truly vast: Empire has been going for almost a decade, and takes place within an ever-expanding world written by three full-time writers and staffed by dozens of ‘NPCs’ – featuring a sprawling religious system, a living mapped world, political systems and almost everything else. You can’t possibly research everything and become a loremaster before you arrive – so you don’t even need to try. Players will be extremely patient with you, and will be more than happy to explain aspects of the game to you. It’s good to familiarize yourself with the world and some basic lore for your first LARP, but don’t feel you need to write a fully-realized character that meshes into every aspect of the world lore.
I deliberately kept my character backstory vague, with a few simple hooks to tie them in (my character was an apprentice Runesmith from the Northspires, connecting him with a few aspects of the game like the crafting system) – but you can always fill your backstory in as you make connections within the game and discover which paths you wish to pursue. People in the real world rarely word-vomit their entire lifestory the first time you meet, so you shouldn’t expect to do so in character! It can be nice to have a character quirk to play off – but often your character might change a lot once you’re actually on the field.
TL;DR – Familiarize yourself with the rules and the lore, but don’t feel you need to bring a fully-fledged character to the field!
Self-care is absolutely critical for enjoying any kind of event, and roleplaying for days on end can be especially draining. In the Empire LARP, ‘time in’ is on Friday evening, and ‘time out’ isn’t til Sunday afternoon – effectively, you’re in character playing, eating and sleeping for 48 hours in a row. You have to put your actual human needs first if you want to enjoy every moment. This means eating properly (Empire had a range of concession stalls serving everything from pizza to burritos to toasted sandwiches – but they were all reasonably pricey, so we took a camping stove and food to last us for most of the time) – and if you find yourself flagging, have a rest. You can always retire to your tent for some time-out, or you can take the weight off with a flagon of rose lemonade at a player-run bar.
TL;DR – Look after your human needs!
5. Throw Yourself Upon The Kindness of Strangers
LARP people are genuinely some of the most open, generous, welcoming humans it is possible to meet. The way that large-scale open-ended LARPs thrive is by facilitating connections between players, and practically every player is happy to include newcomers in their game – if you simply ask, you’ll find yourself running errands for witch covens, sourcing materials for guild artisans or managing the diary of an Imperial Senator (like I somehow did). The evenings at Empire, with fire pits and mead halls and scops telling tales and bands playing medieval-ish tunes are unlike any experience you could possibly imagine – and every group is always entirely welcoming (make sure you bring a few extra beers or snacks to share around – bribery is shamelessly accepted by hungry and thirsty LARPers). Don’t be afraid or intimidated by those who look like they’ve stepped out of a Medieval Fight Club – they’re almost always the softest, friendliest people who will take you under their wing. You’ll come away with dozens of new friends (‘do you perchance reside within the Book of Faces?’).
TL;DR – don’t be afraid of other players! They’re all wonderful, wonderful people.
If there was one piece of advice above all others that I could give new LARPers it’s: don’t be afraid, and be open to everything. You’ll find yourself in smoky backrooms and sparkling crystal caves and towering halls before you’ve blinked. Welcome to the magic, friend, and have another horn of mead or three.