Role-playing is the act of playing the part of someone (or something) in a situation different from your real life. Specifically, in role-playing games players take on the roles of characters and describe, either verbally or through acting, how those characters behave. Role-playing games have been around for millenia, and encompass everything from children’s games of make believe, to tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons, to murder mystery games. Settings for roleplaying games are equally diverse, including complex fantastical worlds, dystopian futures, snapshots of modern society, and even entirely abstract realities.
Many role-playing games take place at a table, with the characters existing on paper, or as models on a board, or even without any paper at all, with players simply sitting around and talking. These games are commonly referred to as "tabletop" role-playing games.
LARP (Live Action Role-Playing, also written as larp) is a type of role-playing where you take on the mantle of your character physically and perform their actions in real life. This has some advantages and some disadvantages over traditional tabletop role-playing. Swinging heroically from a chandelier while fighting a horde of angry goblins might work in your imagination, but actually doing it is another matter. On the other hand, what you do in LARP is a lot more immersive than most tabletop games. LARP takes elements from improvised theatre, tabletop roleplaying and genre fiction, and meshes them together to provide a uniquely immersive experience to players.
LARP games vary in length from a few minutes to over a week, from one-shots to long campaigns (which may last for years and run events are more or less regular intervals), and their settings vary even more. There is scope within LARP to play combat scenes with safe foam weapons, solve intriguing mysteries, rack your brain on complex puzzles, fight political battles, seek revenge, obtain glory, make friends, build relationships, save (or destroy) the world, and so on. What you choose to do depends on the setting and on what you as a player are looking for. Some LARP are more focused on action, with players working together collaboratively towards a shared goals, others are more focused on the individual experience and put an emphasis on immersion and drama. The amount of background rules can vary between settings from very complex to almost no rules at all - not all LARPs have characters with stats and skills that players need remembering.
We run a long-term, regular LARP game (called a “campaign”, usually lasting one or two years), as well as occasional one-shot LARPs, and other events like socials, weapons practices, kit making sessions, and discussion groups.
The main campaign game for the 2019-2020 academic year is Of Alchemy and Magic Obscura (or just Obscura). It's a fantasy game of discovery, intrigue and struggle against the odds where magic and science collide. It has interactives on Fridays (7-10pm) and linears on alternate Saturdays (around 1-4pm) during University term, with times and locations published on our website front page.
Other events, including one-shots, will be advertised throughout the year, so keep an eye out for those. For more details on what happens at the different types of event we run, please look under Events We Run.
The first week is free. Membership to the society costs 5 pounds, and lasts for a year. If you are playing your own character on a Friday night interactive it costs £4 per session for concessions (including students and low income), or £5 per session otherwise, to cover venue costs and drinks. Crewing and attending linears is free. Any costs to attend one-shot events will depend on the venue and will be advertised in advance.
After you have settled in, you may wish to acquire some costume, props or weapons for yourself. We run a free-cycle at the start of the year and many veterans can offer advice on how to build your own costume cheaply (we also run kit-making sessions). Additionally, you can always borrow from our extensive armoury for as long as you wish.
Although it is a University Society, CLS is not just for students attending the University of Cambridge! We are happy to meet anybody who wants to take part or just get in touch to learn more, although you must be over 16 to play. It is not necessary to live in Cambridge to attend - we have players who commute to events from much further afield.
CLS aims to be fully inclusive, so if you are worried that you might have difficulty taking part please get in touch and we will work out how we could help you play. We welcome players with disabilities, and our games are designed with the intention of allowing a wide range of different ways to have fun - for instance, there are plenty of ways to engage without ever taking part in physical combat. For more info on accessibility, see our Access Statement.
It can certainly feel daunting roleplaying for the first time when you don’t know what to expect, but you’ll discover that it’s a lot less scary than you thought once you get started! Don't forget that even though you are in character during events, so is everybody else - CLS is run for the benefit of the people taking part, not for an audience, and people are focused on playing their own characters and enjoying the game together, rather than judging anyone else’s roleplay.
Many people also find that LARP is actually a great way to build confidence. Through role-play one can encounter challenging situations in a safe environment, from which it is always possible to back out. Participants can relax and socialise, explore their creative side, learn new skills (for example pick up an instrument to learn or discover a flair for composing ballads), exercise while having fun, and develop social skills. Ultimately, the aim is to have an enjoyable experience!
For most events we run, you are free to just turn up! If we do run anything where we need to know in advance who’s coming, details will be available on the event’s advertisement.
If you are interested in coming to a session of the main game, feel free to email the refs so that we know to expect you and what sort of thing you might like to do, if you already know (we are also happy to see you unexpectedly, but we may be less prepared!). You don't have to commit to playing a character to turn up, we are happy to welcome you just to talk to you about the game and show you how it works, or you could be part of our crew for the night.
Crewing (or “monstering”) means that the refs will give you a series of different short roles to play, such as political campaigners, mad scientists, assassins, public figures, or terrifying monsters (or even fluffy ones!). There are a range of different roles to suit different people, and you’re not obligated to play any you don’t want to, or aren’t able to. We recommend crewing as a fun way to try out LARP if you are unsure. Of course, if you do want to start playing a character right away you are very welcome, and we can also provide help with writing a character sheet and finding costume that you might need. If you want to chat with someone in advance, try our Contact Us page for details on where we all hang out.
You may wish to sign-up to our mailing list to keep up to date with news from the society.
You don't need to wear anything specific to just show up to find out what we do in person. However, if you are planning to play or crew ("monster") at an event it’s best if you arrive dressed in loose, comfortable but plain clothing. Different events will have different costume requirements (which will be advertised on the event pages beforehand), but plain clothes are fine for everything. Dark plain trousers and a dark plain top (such as a plain t-shirt, or any kind of t-shirt turned inside out) are best, as you can then borrow costume from our Armoury to wear over the top. If you are coming to a Saturday Linear, you should also wear good shoes or boots as the ground may be slippery.
People generally arrive a bit earlier to put on their costume before the event, and there is usually places which can be used as changing facilities.
In order to take part in events, you need to read the Safety section of the website, which explains how to act if someone starts shouting confusing instructions at you and how to stay safe. The refs (or a safety officer) will also take you through this when you first arrive, as well as answering any questions you may have. You might also want to read our Guide To Roleplaying if you have never LARPed before and are not sure what to do.
If you are bringing any weapons of your own these will need to be checked before you can use them.
Once you are ready to create a character you will find everything you need on the Obscura wiki. The pages there will explain the setting and the rules. Good luck! We look forward to seeing you at an event soon - and remember that you can email the refs if you have any questions.
You can come to as many events as you wish to, and stay for as long or as little as you want (eg there is no requirement to attend for the whole of the three hours on a Friday night Interactive and some people leave earlier).
If you are planning to take part in the main long game (Obscura this year), and cannot make it every week, or cannot attend linears, do not let this discourage you from signing-up anyway. Many players attend only occasionally, and this should not hinder your character’s development.
If you don’t want to commit to playing the regular game but are still interested in trying out LARP, check out the website for updates on the occasional one-shots we run or come to have fun with our crew for the main game!
Sometimes people use jargon that can be confusing if you’re new to larp - we have a glossary here with some common terms, and if there’s anything missing from that don’t be afraid to ask!