LARPing: Fantasy Becomes Reality for Role Players


Dress-up and make-believe have found their way into adulthood in the form of live action role playing. LARPing consists of costumes, storylines, characters and adventures, and is becoming increasingly popular in the Milwaukee area.

Anne Zellmer, an avid LARPer with more than 15 years of experience, is the mastermind behind the Midwinter Gaming Convention, which Milwaukee offers every January.

“The convention offers games of all themes and genres, as well as non-LARPing events such as board games, collectible card games, industry presenters, panels and more,” Zellmer said.

What is LARPing?

“I define it as improvisational theater with an emphasis on character development,” Zellmer said. “Or an ongoing murder mystery dinner theater. Or a soap opera with a fantasy or supernatural twist. There are lots of ways to describe LARP.”

LARPing involves a large group of people and characters. The LARP group plays with a certain theme, such as vampires, medival/Renaissance, werewolves, steam punk, science fiction and more. Each player plays a certain character of his or her choosing, complete with costumes, props and a backstory.

“The goal is to find ways to make the character come to life, to explore their motives and feelings, and to maneuver through whatever world has been created within the game,” Zellmer said.

In the 2008 comedy “Role Models,” larping is briefly introduced when one of the characters, Augie, who is part of a Renaissance-themed LARP group, stands on top of a building wearing a black cape and wielding a foam sword while engaged in “battle” with his own theme music.

Although the scenes in “Role Models” are fictitious and created for comedic purposes, they are not too far from the truth.

“My time with live action role playing begins before the Midwinter Gaming Convention began,” Zellmer said. “I started playing ‘Vampire: the Masquerade’ with the Milwaukee: Nocturnal Rapture chronicle of One World by Night [an international netword of LARPs] in 1998.”

Vampire the Masquerade

Vampire the Masquerade is the most widely known LARP game in Milwaukee. It also has served as a gateway to LARPing for Michael Buhr, a disabled, 17-year veteran to the game. He has even involved his wife, a cancer researcher, into the fun as well.

“I was drawn in by my love of vampires and role playing games,” Buhr said.

Previous to live action games, Buhr was a “tabletop RPG guy,” which means he played tabletop role playing games. An example of this is the ever popular Dungeons and Dragons.

“I got to pretend to be someone else for a while, and [LARPing] felt much more immersive than normal table top RPGs [role playing games],” Buhr said.

Safety Issues and LARP

LARPing is suitable for all ages; however, certain age groups should be mindful of which LARP group they intend on joining.

“World of Darkness games tend to have very dark and mature themes,” Zellmer said. “It is not something I would recommend to anyone under 18.”

Another concern one might have about giving LARPing a try is the risk of injury. “In most of the LARPS I play we have a strict no stunt and no touching policy,” Buhr said.

LARP games that include battle scenes either use foam weapons or simply settle the dispute with “rock, paper, scissors.”

Why Choose LARP?

LARP can be described as a video game that has come to life. Instead of sitting in front of a computer commanding one’s World of Warcraft guild, one can actually live the experiences. Being a part of a group allows its participants to build lasting relationships with one another, get outside and be active in a creative way.

“LARP is a fantastic release from daily stress and a great way to be creative,” Zellmer said.


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