So far I’ve been discussing the experience of role playing, but for me there’s one distinction between tabletop role playing and larping, the tension. In a traditional “sit down” role playing session, players have time to think and react. The game master tells players what is happening, and one by one players choose an action, roll a die, and find out what happened. The fact that every choice has to be processed and resolved by the game master creates a natural staggering, which does not exist in larping.
In a larp (live action role play) session, everyone is physically taking action simultaneously. Players can still pause to think, but the game doesn’t wait. Players and NPCs continue to talk, enemies continue to attack. Fighting is particularly notorious for this.
As a group, the adventurers walk out of town, entering the forest to explore, see what’s out there. They turn down a side path, and suddenly find themselves confronted by an enemy. In real life it’s a person wearing fake animal hides and a rubber mask, but in game, the adventurers don’t know much about this NPC, other than that he’s a troll, or something like one.
They attack, and deal a lot of damage, but he just won’t die. Granted, there are many possible reasons for that. Maybe he just has a lot of health and it’s slowly being whittled down, or maybe he’s immune to the types of damage they’re dealing, or maybe he’s healing himself and no one realizes in the midst of all the shouting and sounds of fighting.
What is clear is the adventurers need to rethink their strategy. But it’s not easy to think while simultaneously using sword and shield to block an attack every couple seconds. Uncertain what to do, the group retreats. But in the midst of the chaos, with everyone calling out their actions simultaneously, no one realizes that one of the adventurers has died.
Relevance to Writing
Stories are, by their nature, a more polished, refined version of reality. They “cut out the boring parts” and make sure everything is just a little sharper than reality. However, it’s easy to go too far. As an author, I may strive to create the sharpest dialogue, the most engaging of conflicts, full of skilled moves and countermoves.
But the truth is every author is going to know what the right choice is, and when a key piece of information is revealed. Characters, and audiences, do not. I wouldn’t advocate trying to craft a character’s dialogue in 10 seconds, which is usually more time than most of us spend deciding what to say. What I would recommend is occasionally “acting out” a conversation between characters, one where you (the author) don’t know what a character is going to say, and try to carry on the conversation in real time.
This can provide a good rough draft for the dialogue of the story, something to revise, while still remaining faithful to the character’s voice. When writing, it’s often easy to craft very strong sentences, but when talking in the moment, sentences are often a little rough, unless I’ve had time to prepare.
For example, if someone asks me about something I’ve previously discussed or thought about, or a topic I have a great deal of knowledge in (i.e. game mechanics), I can rattle off a series of polished remarks. But if I’m confronted with something unexpected or unfamiliar, I’ll stumble as easily as anyone else.