What is LARP to us?
Recently, people have tried to describe what an "Intercon LARP", "Intercon style LARP", or a "theater style LARP" is, often with contradictory answers. That's actually not surprising at all, because most people have a relatively small set of samples that they are basing their definitions on. The terms "Intercon style LARP" and "theater style" are often used interchangeably, even though "theater style" is really a subset of "Intercon style LARP".
If you actually look at the LARPs that have run at the northern Intercons alone, between Intercon the Thirteenth and Intercon N, there have been more than seven hundred and thirty LARPs. Some of these have run more than once, or are annual favorites like The Other Other* All-Batman Game, but that still means there are a lot of unique Intercon LARPs.
If you add in the LARPs of all of the other Intercons, outside of the modern New England cons, the number soars even higher. The UK's Consequences conventions may run British Freeforms, but they're also Intercon style LARPs. They add even more to the total count. In New England, you also have to consider the Brandeis Festival of LARPs, which has grown to surpass the size of most of the southern Intercons. There's the SLAW conventions at WPI, and Dice Bubble and Time Bubble conventions at RPI. There are more regional conventions and more regional groups that also run Intercon style LARPs, some of which show up at Intercon, or start there.
That doesn't even begin to consider the Intercon style LARPs that aren't run at Intercon because of time and space constraints. They are LARPs that would be entirely familiar to Intercon attendees, because they are written by many of the same authors. They could run at Intercon, if Intercon had a nigh-infinite budget.
That is an astonishing number of unique Intercon style LARPs.
To be sure, "Intercon style" LARPs is a terrible term, because it carries a connection to the convention around with it, when that might not be true. Sure, many current LARP writers may have gotten an inspiration to write their first LARP from their experiences at Intercon, but there are others who wrote their first "Intercon style" LARP long before they'd ever heard of Intercon. However, for lack of a better term, we'll stick with "Intercon style" LARP for this treatise...
So, what characteristics defines these kinds of LARPs?
Intercon style LARPs can run from a few minutes to an hour or two, to the "typical" Intercon slot of four hours, to longer LARPs that still fit at Intercon of six, eight and ten hours, or even the entire weekend. Originally Intercon was nothing but weekend long LARPs; a schedule full of shorter games was an evolutionary step that came later. Standalone theater style weekend LARPs continue to run, such as Lullaby of Broadway I, II, and III, Tales of Pendragon, Tombstone and many others. The MIT Assassins regularly run ten day long theater style LARPs and have for years; they've been running LARPs even before there was an Intercon. There have even been theater style LARP campaigns. Many Mind's Eye Theater Vampire LARPs fall into this category, as does Dark Summonings (Lovecraftian Horror), Brassy's Men (Victorian steampunk), To Be Continued (genre mashup), and many many more. All of these could easily run at Intercon, with an Intercon audience, if Intercon had infinite time and space, and so fall into the "Intercon style" category.
Intercon style LARPs can run with as few as one player and as many as eighty or more.
Some Intercon style LARPs ask the players to write their own character biographies. Some characters are created at the door, using workshops or some other process. Some character sheets may be as small as three sentences, which can be brilliant (FOCUS) or abysmal (Slave Girls of the Terror Dome). Many character sheets are a page or two. There are others that span ten or more pages. There are amnesia games where you don't have a character sheet to start, and you may not remember who you are until some time in the middle of the game, or not at all. There are Horde style LARPs and Tale Telling LARPs where you play several characters during the span of the game. There are even LARPs where you play a character who's playing a character in a LARP.
Characters in Intercon style LARPs can be human or not. There have been android characters, robots, aliens, gods, rock stars, demons, angels, diplomats, dead people, vampires, werewolves, fae, superheroes, superhero sidekicks, mental patients, fast-food workers, Time Lords, Jedi Knights, stuffed animals, Victorian detectives, post-Singularity software, Dust Bunnies, Lego® bricks, sentient elevators, puppets, cats, and even a cat's hairball.
Players in Intercon style LARPs are asked to improvise their dialog, to present character-written poetry, to sing, dance, and to Shut Up and Play Your Guitar. There are Intercon style LARPs that call for rehearsed and scripted dialog in places. BABUL, a LARP about prehistoric people, does not allow any speech whatsoever.
Intercon style LARPs span every popular genre and then some, in murder mysteries, in improv games, in period pieces, in fairy tales, in odd mashups, in post-apocalyptic times, in musicals with singing, in hard science fiction set in the far future, and in experimental games that defy description. And yes, there are even some Intercon style LARPs set in medieval fantasy worlds.
Some Intercon style LARPs have simple mechanics. Some have complicated mechanics. Some have no mechanics whatsoever. Some use dice, some use rock/paper/scissors, some use simple math, some use card games, some use computer devices, and some even use live combat and boffer weapons to resolve combat, even in a "theater style" game. Some Intercon style LARPs are run by live combat groups with boffer weapons, and so don't fall into the "theater style" of play. Some Intercon style LARPs even use hotel furniture croquet to simulate Internet network traffic.
Some Intercon style LARPs don't have any props. Some use item cards to represent props. Some use actual physical items that you have to carry about and don't fit into your pocket. Some have props with computer hardware in them, so they react to the characters or the environment. Some have props you have to disassemble in order to reassemble them as something new.
Some Intercon style LARPs call for no costuming, where you play in street clothes. Some Intercon style LARPs are costumed with clothing scrounged from thrift stores, or rented from costuming shops. Some ask for significant costuming, where people will go all out to create amazing outfits. Some Intercon style LARPs have even created uniforms for their casts.
Intercon style LARPs games can be played in a square taped to the floor of a hotel room, in a hotel suite, in a hotel function space, at someone's home, on a farm, at a house where they built a two story Mayan step pyramid to climb and a rotating Stargate to walk through, at a campsite, in downtown Boston with people unaware of the game all around them, in cars in a road rally across southern Vermont, or in a real submarine. Sure, many of these couldn't possibly fit into an actual Intercon convention, but they run and behave the same way as Intercon style LARPs — again, it's a terrible term.
Some Intercon style LARPs have no additional material for the game. Some LARPs use bluesheets or greensheets to detail common information shared by some characters in the game. Some Intercon style LARPs have extensive websites filled with background materials. Some Intercon style LARPs provide music and lyrics.
Some Intercon style LARPs are run by a single Game Master (GM). Some LARPs have entire teams of GMs to handle the game. Some Intercon style LARPs run without any GMs. Some Intercon style LARPs call on players within the game to make GM decisions for other players as needed.
Intercon looks for diverse styles of LARPs to present to players. Most fall into the theater style subset of LARPs. There have been UK Freeform games at Intercon, as well as American Freeform games, which are very different styles, despite similar names. There have been NERO, Xanodria and other live combat groups running events at Intercon. There is a long history of Mind's Eye Theater games at Intercon, including the legendarily bad "Fourth Generation Prince of Mt. Laurel" game. There have been Nordic and Jeepform games at Intercon. There are LARPs that use classic methods and systems used by other Intercon style LARPs and there are others that experiment and push the bounds of what people think of as LARP.
LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing, in all its diverse forms and flavors. That's what Intercon is looking for, and what represents an "Intercon style LARP". You can't pin an Intercon style LARP down to some fixed set of characteristics, because, in the long history of Intercon LARPs, there are always exceptions that fall outside those generalizations. That's what makes Intercon LARPs surprising, surprisingly diverse, and a lot of fun.
Now all we need is a better term to describe them.