Full-Immersion LARPs, Briefly Explained

I flew to a castle and LARPed. Dragon Thrones is a blockbuster LARP held by The Game Theater company along the East Coast at Bryn Mawr College and I took the plunge to try it. If you don’t live down the street from one of these, getting there can be a pricey endeavor, and so in a blind leap as a first time player—I went to investigate.

What follows is a brief guide for any person considering attending, but isn’t sure where to begin or what to expect. With Nordic Style LARPing becoming more popular in America, starting to spread to more than just the east coast, it will be easier for everyone to attend these events.

What Is It?

Dragon Thrones is a Game Of Thrones-esque hybrid LARP that has been running for a year. Eight houses of players all convene upon the Citadel of Mirrors to discuss the future of the realm and vie for individual greatness. Players can choose to focus on an army-board gaming style LARP and command armies, quest in tabletop side adventures, or engage in the Nordic Style full-immersion person-to-person roleplaying. The variety of ways to engage in Dragon Thrones, is what makes this both new player friendly, and a hybrid compared to other full immersion LARPs. Which, if this is your first time, serves as a softer landing pad than going full Nosferatu right off the bat. (Vampire pun intended!)

At the time of Dragon Thrones 3, the cost of the event was around $595 plus travel, costumes, and food surrounding the event. Once you hit the campus grounds, it’s pretty easy to spot the larger collection of other geeks meandering about carrying elf ears or costume bits. Once you are checked in and go through orientation, it’s off to a fast weekend of feasts, meads, and quest solving. You’ll spend the next 2 nights and 3 days racing around, bringing to life the role of a character you created with the game team. In my case, it was Reed Gloucester, the man with nothing to lose, part of the northern Helfarian House.

Getting Involved

It’s common to be nervous or anxious about not wanting to mess anything up in your first LARP. Challenge this wisdom and toss caution to the wind—dive head first in and make the biggest splash you can, even if it’s swimming upstream. You are part of a full-immersion experience and there is nothing to be gained by not participating.

Faction storytellers like Jesse Stills (Helfarian House GM), work all weekend long to cater for their team, storytelling different roles for the different types of players. Dinah Clearwater, a new player Paladin, ran around solving quests and physical puzzles that Jesse had facilitated. Others, like the Helfarian general Malachai, glowered at the war table and played a tactical war game with armies that in turn, would affect our Prince Cadoc. The Prince, in turn, would dispatch his diplomats to earn more resources, to buy more armies. Reed Gloucester was one of those diplomats, and I’d go running back to Jesse Stills to ask questions, favors, or launch a new adventure, starting the cycle of questing all over again.

This inter-connectivity between the games moving parts means that any player can find something to do at any given time of the day. There was a schedule posted for sanctioned events, story missions, nighttime raids, and even some classic tabletop. Even if gaming wasn’t on your agenda, there was live dances, food, and even instructors to teach you ballroom dancing at a formal affair.

For a new player, even knowing nothing about the world, there are ample opportunities for involvement and there has to be; this is part-vacation. Companies like the Game Theater or The Otherworld Theater company rely on attractive immersive events and have to cater to all styles of play, and because they are run by hobby enthusiasts who love their craft as well, they put a lot of passion into crafting an inviting experience and it shows.

Getting Involved

Telling Your Story

Reed Gloucester ended up a very successful diplomat over the weekend; convincing the main antagonist (an Undying General), to seek free will instead of annihilating all magic, while making sure his Helfarian allies profited—and taking a little on the side for himself. The actions of all players are recapped both in surveys and in person with your house storytellers and (in time) will be crafted into a story that sets the stage for Dragon Thrones 4. Looking back on the weekend, I feel proud of my achievements even if to my Muggle-life electrician coworkers it means little. That remains the same with many games we play.

Just like in your local tabletop games, blockbuster LARPs allow you a chance to have an impact in the world setting on a grander scale. Something about the immersive nature of the experience amplifies the stakes and the threats. When the weekend is over and you debrief, you’ll have a community of other people to share your tales with and reflect back on the story that you, yourself, told in this sandbox. This last bit is what I think is the biggest takeaway.

Be it Convention of Thorns, Dragon Thrones, Magischola or other big blockbuster LARPs, all of them are structured with your entertainment in mind. As long as you put forth the effort to be involved, you’ll find yourself rewarded with a personal storyline afterwards. The events may reset year after year, or sometimes they may continue like a chronicle, but I will always remember the vacation where Reed Gloucester nervously learned the waltz before speaking to the God of Entropy.

Have you been to a blockbuster or Nordic-style LARP? List or share your experiences below!

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Featured Image by: The Game Theater and Dragon Thrones.

Image Credits: Rick Heinz as Reed and Calixta Starr as the Oracle

Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.