A live action role-playing game (LARP or LRP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants perform some or all of the physical actions of the characters they are playing within a pre-determined space for a pre-determined span of time. LARP may be considered a form of improvisational theatre.
The two most common ways of simulating combat in LARP are through either physical representation or symbolic determination. Physical combat occurs without interruption in role-play, using “boffer” or latex representations of edged weapons, airsoft or laser tag guns, and similar. A variety of physical combat uses relatively harmless versions of real weapons (blunt steel swords, firearms loaded with blanks) rather than representations. Games using physical combat are often known as “Boffer” or “Live Combat” LARPs.
Symbolic determination relies on players momentarily suspending role-playing in order to determine the outcome of combat, for example by rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors or comparing character attributes. In symbolic combat systems, weapons may be represented as cards or inaccurate replicas. A “no-touch” rule, prohibiting physical contact between players, is often enforced. LARPs which feature symbolic combat may be known as free-form role-playing games or theatre-style games.
All symbolic combat systems, and most physical combat systems, use game rules governing attributes such as character strength, fighting skills and ability to endure physical pain in order to determine the outcome of a combat situation. An exception is honour system LARPs, where players are trusted to determine the outcomes of combat through free improvisation.
Physical representation is most common in, but not exclusive to, LARP styles where combat is seen as central to game-play. Conversely, symbolic determination and honour system LARPs tend to place less emphasis on combat.
Combat resolution is usually indicative of the design philosophy behind a specific LARP system. The same approaches as are taken to combat will often be used for other elements of LARP simulation such as magic, political power, character sexuality, scenery and propping. For this reason, combat resolution is the most widely used criterion for distinguishing between LARP styles.
Some LARP games involve heavy combat with boffers. Although some games have a “No-touch” policy, some other games are wildly violent in terms of weapons combat. Players of these LARP games must learn the old styles of combat in order to stand a chance in the “real” combat they intend to engage in. Practicing is often encouraged when engaging in these games due to the fact that if you don’t practice, you will be beaten fairly regularly. This aspect draws many people to combat intensive LARP games because the idea of taking on a persona that is well versed in the art of sword fighting is very attractive.