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What Really Happens At A LARPing Convention

What you need to know about Dexcon, a raucous, five-day roleplaying game conference.

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A tabletop role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons requires little physical action besides rolling dice or moving figurines around on a board. In live-action role-playing (LARP), participants move around and converse in real time, rather than take turns. It's like Second Life come to (real) life. And Dexcon 15 — a gaming convention held over five days last week at a hotel in New Jersey — is a LARPer's dream.

While Dexcon also plays host to board game and tabletop RPG enthusiasts, it's the LARPers that are the most fascinating. Roleplaying requires players to assume the identity of a fictional character and progress through a narrative. The stories they play through are controlled by the Game Master (GM), who is responsible for explaining where players are in the story, how their actions play out and the consequences thereof, and providing other details. At their core, roleplaying games are improv that require its participants to interact with and rely upon each other and to be resourceful and strategic.

Take wargaming, which is done with miniatures in an arena. Most of the participants brought their own, handmade sets. The wargaming room was also home to a large 50-by-20-foot arena where larger models could fight it out. A massive "Warhammer 40K" battle that began at noon showed no signs of stopping by the time I left the convention six hours later.


Another LARP was set in the universe of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which served as a prequel of sorts to the TV series. The organizers wrote out detailed personas and skill sets for all of the players and then set them loose. Pretty soon, LARPers were chatting with each other and forming alliances. “You lookin’ for a ship?” asked one LARPer whose character was named Doc Banyon. “I got ships that can go all the out past the Outer Rim.” Some players showed up in full browncoat gear while other were slightly more relaxed about the affair.

Another LARP, “Ex Arkana”, involved magicians attempting to solve puzzles. It combined LARPing with the structure of a collectible card game, so while players were free to perform whatever actions they could think up, whether or not they succeeded at those actions was dictated by their numerical skill levels. Throughout the game, a character was thrown (“thrown”) against the wall and charred to a crisp, players got frozen in place, and demons started entering through one of the room’s doorways. “There is a smell of sea water and metal that has filled the room... And chunks of demon blood,” the game master narrated.

While most of the LARPers stayed in character, adding accents and small character affectations at will, they seemed okay with breaking to help other players out with rules or follow what was happening. In other words, they took it seriously but not too seriously. One player, Daniel Lapidow, explained that appeal of roleplaying is that “You can do whatever you want.” Lapidow, who is 20, said that he got into LARPing about three years ago and does it pretty frequently, and that he initially was introduced to RPGs by playing Magic: The Gathering in 7th grade and then working his way up to D&D and then LARPing.


Here are more photos from Dexcon 15:

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