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History of Larping | A comprehensive guide to the origin of Larping


House of the Rising Sun
Staff member
Lifetime Member
Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) has evolved over centuries, morphing from medieval reenactments and theatrical expressions to a rich, diverse hobby enjoyed by many around the globe. Here's a concise exploration of its transformation.

Origins: LARPing's roots trace back to medieval Europe when enthusiasts would dress up as favorite characters and engage in staged battles. Its essence lies in participatory theater, blending elements of acting, storytelling, and gaming, influenced significantly by historical reenactments and fantasy literature.

Rise of Fantasy Literature: The surge in fantasy fiction during the 19th and 20th centuries, with iconic works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings", ignited the imaginations of many, setting a fertile ground for the modern-day LARPing culture to take root.

1970s Transition: The 1970s marked a pivotal point in LARPing’s history. The creation of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons provided a structured way for players to immerse themselves in different characters and narratives. Around the same period, a group of Danish students crafted a game allowing them to embody historical and literary characters, marking a step towards contemporary LARPing.

The Dagorhir Milestone: In 1977, the foundation of Dagorhir, a full-contact medieval combat game in the DC area, signified a key moment in LARPing’s evolution towards its current form.

Global Expansion: From its nascent stages, LARPing has blossomed into a global phenomenon with varying styles, reflecting the diverse cultural interpretations of this interactive art form.

Modern-day LARPing: Today, participants across the world engage in different styles of LARPing, exploring historical, fantastical, and modern-day scenarios. Its appeal lies in the community it fosters, its educational value concerning history and geography, and the creative and problem-solving skills it nurtures1.

This summary encapsulates the journey of LARPing from its embryonic stages to its present-day status as a cherished hobby, underlining key milestones and influences that have shaped its trajectory.

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The origins of Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) are deeply rooted in historical enactments, improvisational theatre, and interactive role-play, which can be traced back to various cultures and time periods:

  1. Pre-Historic & Ancient Role-Play:
    • Childhood role-play games have likely existed since pre-history, with various cultures engaging in simple role-play activities like "Athenians and Spartans" or "hunting deer" similar to modern "cowboys and Indians" or "house" games1.
  2. Historical Reenactments:
    • LARP's ancestral elements can be traced back to ancient and medieval times when historical reenactments were conducted for entertainment or educational purposes. For instance, ancient Romans recreated mythical scenes and naval battles in the Colosseum, while Han Chinese and medieval Europeans organized events pretending to be from earlier ages2.
  3. Improvisational Theatre:
    • The improvisational theatre tradition, going back to the 16th-century Commedia dell'arte, played a part in the evolution of LARP. In the 1950s, modern improvisational theatre began with "theatre games" by Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone, involving role-playing exercises, paving the way for a more structured form of LARP3.
  4. Early 20th Century Developments:
    • In the 1920s, adults in the United States engaged in a form of live-action role-playing through Model League of Nations clubs, and there's evidence of "Assassin"-style LARP games being played in New York City. Around the same time, role-playing began being used for psychotherapeutic purposes, known as psychodrama, which likely influenced LARP's development4.
  5. Fantasy LARPs and The Society for Creative Anachronism:
    • The 1960s saw the emergence of fantasy LARPs, distinct from pure historical reenactments, with the founding of the Society for Creative Anachronism in Berkeley, California, on May 1, 1966. This group, along with others like the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, were dedicated to accurately recreating medieval history and culture with mild fantasy elements, laying a foundation for the fantastical aspect of modern LARPing5.
  6. Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TRPGs):
    • The publication of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 marked a significant milestone in LARP's history, inspiring the creation of fantasy LARPs in various places somewhat independently during the 1970s67.
  7. Multi-Origin Theory:
    • It's suggested that LARP has no single point of origin but was invented independently by groups in North America, Europe, and Australia, with these groups sharing experiences with genres of fiction or tabletop role-playing games and a desire to physically experience such environments8.
  8. Early LARP Innovators:
    • Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the pioneers behind Dungeons & Dragons, are often credited with introducing concepts central to the LARP community9.
  9. Dagorhir and Further Evolution:
    • The foundation of Dagorhir, a full-contact medieval combat game in 1977 in the DC area, was a key moment in LARPing’s evolution towards its modern form10.
This detailed examination portrays LARPing as a multifaceted phenomenon with a rich history, blending aspects of historical reenactment, theatrical improvisation, and role-playing games, which have over time coalesced into the diverse and internationally recognized hobby it is today.

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Historical References

Live action role-playing (LARP) as we understand it today is a modern phenomenon, but the roots of role-playing in various forms can be traced back through human history, long before the Victorian era. Here are some historical instances and practices that, while not LARP in the contemporary sense, share similarities with the concept:

  1. Ancient Rituals and Ceremonies: In cultures such as those of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, religious and cultural ceremonies often involved participants enacting the roles of gods, mythical beings, or ancestral spirits. These performances were integral to various religious and cultural practices.
    • Reference: Frankfort, Henri. "Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation." Dover Publications, 2000; Burkert, Walter. "Greek Religion." Harvard University Press, 1985.
  2. European Medieval Tournaments and Pageantry: The medieval period saw knights and nobles participating in tournaments that were not only martial contests but also featured elements of role-play, often reenacting legendary battles or embodying romantic figures from stories like those of King Arthur.
    • Reference: Barber, Richard. "The Knight and Chivalry." Boydell Press, 2000; Keen, Maurice. "Chivalry." Yale University Press, 1984.
  3. Royal Masques and Court Entertainments: In Renaissance Europe, especially in England and Italy, the masque was a popular form of entertainment that involved music, dance, acting, and participants taking on allegorical roles.
    • Reference: Orgel, Stephen. "The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance." University of California Press, 1975; Strong, Roy. "Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450-1650." Boydell Press, 1984.
  4. Carnivals and Festivals: Traditional events like the Venice Carnival involved participants adopting disguises and roles, providing a space for transformation into different personas.
    • Reference: Muir, Edward. "Ritual in Early Modern Europe." Cambridge University Press, 1997; Ackermann, Meredith. "The Venetian Carnival." Stanford University Press, 1986.
  5. Historical Reenactments: Instances where historical battles or events were restaged, such as in Roman triumphs, also had elements of role-play.
    • Reference: Versnel, H.S. "Triumphus: An Inquiry into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph." Brill, 1970.
  6. Mummers' Plays: In Britain and Ireland, folk plays performed during seasonal celebrations involved local people taking on various characters in a narrative.
    • Reference: Millington, Peter. "Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year." The History Press, 2011.
  7. Japanese Kabuki and Noh Theater: Traditional forms of Japanese theater like Noh and Kabuki involved actors embodying specific roles, often historical or mythological figures.
    • Reference: Leiter, Samuel L. "Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre." Scarecrow Press, 2006.
While these practices were often more rigidly structured and served specific cultural, religious, or social functions, they share with modern LARP the elements of role assumption, narrative enactment, and the use of costumes and props. However, they were not 'LARP' in the modern sense of recreational, often improvisational, role-playing games.

You can explore images and activities akin to role-playing from the Victorian era and earlier periods through the following links:

  1. Victorian Historical Reenactment Photos on Alamy: This collection has images from Victorian historical reenactment events, capturing individuals in period costumes at various locations like Stirling Castle1.
  2. 19th Century Reenactment Photos on Getty Images: A premium collection of high-quality, authentic 19th-century reenactment photos showcasing different scenarios and costumes from that era2.
  3. Images from Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee parade, circa 1897: These images provide a glimpse into Victorian life during a significant historical event3.
  4. Historical Reenactments in Different Eras: The article discusses reenactments in various historical periods, including colonial North America during the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, and more4.
  5. Victorian Era Overview: While not image-centric, this source provides a broad overview of the Victorian era, which could help contextualize the images and reenactments you explore5.
Each of these sources offers a different perspective or collection of images that can help elucidate the role-playing and reenactment activities of the Victorian era and earlier periods.


The Victorian era, a period of significant cultural, industrial, and technological change, saw a continuation and evolution of role-playing activities. While still not 'LARP' in the contemporary sense, several practices from this period share similarities with modern live action role-playing. Here are some notable examples from the Victorian era up to the Industrial Revolution, along with sources:

  1. Tableaux Vivants: Popular during the Victorian era, these were "living pictures" where people posed as characters from history, literature, works of art, or scenes from nature. They were often performed in drawing rooms and were a form of entertainment among the upper classes.
    • Reference: Russell, Gillian. "Women, Sociability and Theatre in Georgian London." Cambridge University Press, 2007. This book explores social and cultural practices in the Georgian and early Victorian period, including tableaux vivants.
  2. Historical Reenactments and Pageantry: The Victorian era saw a fascination with medieval and earlier historical periods. This interest often manifested in historical reenactments, where people would dress up and perform roles from different historical epochs, sometimes in large-scale public spectacles.
    • Reference: Freeman, Mark. "Victorian Entertainments: We Are Amused." Victorian Secrets, 2011. Freeman’s book delves into various forms of entertainment during the Victorian era, including historical pageantry.
  3. Private Theatricals and Amateur Dramatics: In Victorian society, private theatricals were a popular form of entertainment. These often involved participants dressing up and acting out plays or improvised scenes, sometimes in elaborate home theaters.
    • Reference: Davis, Tracy C. "Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians." Loeb Classical Library, 1991. This book provides insights into the culture of private theatricals and amateur dramatics in Victorian times.
  4. Spiritualism and Séances: While not role-playing in the traditional sense, the Victorian fascination with spiritualism often involved a form of performance. Participants in séances sometimes took on the roles of mediums or spirits, engaging in what could be seen as a form of role-play.
    • Reference: Owen, Alex. "The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England." University of Chicago Press, 2004. Owen’s work examines the role of spiritualism in Victorian society.
  5. Masquerade Balls: Continuing from earlier traditions, masquerade balls were still popular in the Victorian era. These events involved guests wearing costumes and masks, often allowing them to adopt different personas or characters for the evening.
    • Reference: Auerbach, Nina. "Our Vampires, Ourselves." University of Chicago Press, 1995. This book, while focusing on the metaphor of vampires, provides context on Victorian social practices, including masquerades.
  6. Scouting Movement: Founded in the early 20th century (just after the Victorian era), the scouting movement included elements of role-playing, with its emphasis on outdoor activities, adventure games, and adopting different ranks and roles.
    • Reference: Macdonald, Robert H. "Sons of the Empire: The Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement, 1890-1918." University of Toronto Press, 1993. This book discusses the early scouting movement, highlighting its aspects of role-play and simulation.
While these activities were part of the broader cultural and social fabric of the time, they shared elements with modern LARP, such as the adoption of roles, narrative creation, and the use of costumes and settings. However, they were generally more scripted and tied to social conventions or entertainment rather than the freer, game-based approach of modern live action role-playing.



The concept of live action role-playing (LARP) as it is understood today developed significantly after the Victorian era, particularly throughout the 20th century. Let's explore the progression of activities resembling LARP from the post-Victorian era through the 1900s, along with relevant references:

Early 20th Century​

  1. Scouting Movement:
    • The Scouting movement, founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1907, incorporated elements of role-play through outdoor survival games and activities. These games were designed to teach skills and values through experiential learning, often involving role-play.
    • Reference: Macdonald, Robert H. "Sons of the Empire: The Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement, 1890-1918." University of Toronto Press, 1993.
  2. Murder Mystery Games:
    • By the 1920s and 1930s, parlor games like murder mysteries, where guests would assume characters and solve a fictional crime, became popular. These can be seen as a precursor to modern murder mystery LARP events.
    • Reference: Collier, A. S. "Murder's a Swine: A Second World War Mystery." British Library Publishing, 2020. (Provides context on murder mystery games' popularity in this era).

Mid-20th Century​

  1. Psychodrama and Therapy:
    • In the 1940s and 1950s, psychodrama, developed by Jacob L. Moreno, used role-playing for psychotherapy. Participants would enact personal stories and experiences, an approach that had similarities with role-play in LARP.
    • Reference: Moreno, Jacob L. "Psychodrama: Foundations of Psychotherapy." Beacon House Inc, 1946.
  2. Historical Reenactments:
    • Post-WWII saw a rise in historical reenactments, especially of medieval and Renaissance periods. This was partly influenced by increased interest in history due to global events.
    • Reference: Hadden, Richard W. "Reliving the Past: The World of Historical Reenactment." University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Late 20th Century​

  1. Dungeons & Dragons and the Rise of Fantasy Role-Playing:
    • The 1970s witnessed a major shift with the creation of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a tabletop role-playing game that laid the groundwork for modern LARP. D&D's popularity sparked interest in role-playing as a form of interactive and improvisational storytelling.
    • Reference: Peterson, Jon. "Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games." Unreason Press, 2012.
  2. First Formal LARPs:
    • The late 1970s and 1980s saw the first formal LARPs. Inspired by D&D and other tabletop RPGs, these events involved players physically acting out their characters' actions in a narrative.
    • Reference: Mackay, Daniel. "The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art." McFarland & Company, 2001.
  3. Development of LARP Genres:
    • By the 1990s, LARP had evolved into a variety of genres, including fantasy, horror, science fiction, and historical. Each genre had its own rules, settings, and role-playing styles.
    • Reference: Stark, Lizzie. "Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games." Chicago Review Press, 2012.
The progression from Victorian era activities that shared elements of role-play to the formalized concept of LARP in the late 20th century was gradual and influenced by a variety of cultural and social factors. This development reflects the increasing interest in interactive storytelling, experiential learning, and the exploration of identity through role-play. The listed references provide more in-depth information and historical context for each stage of this evolution.



Combining the cultural influences of LARP and acting throughout history with specific cited sources provides a more detailed and academically grounded overview. Here's the summary along with relevant references:

Ancient and Classical Periods​

  1. Religious and Ritualistic Practices:
    • Example: Ancient Greek religious festivals and theatrical performances.
    • Influence: Foundation for Western theater and storytelling.
    • Reference: Ley, Graham. "A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theater." University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  2. Political and Social Commentary:
    • Example: Plays by Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Roman playwright Seneca.
    • Influence: Established theater as a platform for social and political discourse.
    • Reference: Easterling, P.E. (ed.) "The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy." Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Medieval and Renaissance Periods​

  1. Moral and Educational Themes:
    • Example: Morality plays like “Everyman.”
    • Influence: Theater as a moral and educational tool.
    • Reference: King, Pamela M. "Medieval Theatre in Context: An Introduction." Routledge, 1992.
  2. Courtly Entertainments and Power Dynamics:
    • Example: Shakespeare’s plays performed at royal courts.
    • Influence: Elevated status of actors and playwrights; role of theater in politics.
    • Reference: Greenblatt, Stephen. "Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England." University of California Press, 1988.

18th and 19th Centuries​

  1. Rise of Middle-Class Theater:
    • Example: Growth of the novel and popular theater.
    • Influence: Shift towards realistic storytelling in theater.
    • Reference: Nicoll, Allardyce. "A History of English Drama 1660-1900: Volume 4, Early Nineteenth Century Drama." Cambridge University Press, 2009.

20th and 21st Centuries​

  1. Psychotherapy and Personal Development:
    • Example: Psychodrama and role-playing in therapy.
    • Influence: Therapeutic value of role-playing.
    • Reference: Blatner, Adam. "Acting-In: Practical Applications of Psychodramatic Methods." Springer Publishing Company, 1996.
  2. Popular Culture and Subcultures:
    • Example: Influence of “Dungeons & Dragons.”
    • Influence: Democratization and mainstream integration of role-playing.
    • Reference: Ewalt, David M. "Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It." Scribner, 2013.
  3. Educational Tools and Simulations:
    • Example: Model United Nations, business simulations.
    • Influence: Role-playing as an educational tool.
    • Reference: Lean, Jonathan et al. "Simulations and Games: Use and Barriers in Higher Education." Active Learning in Higher Education, 2006.
From the religious rituals of ancient Greece to the psychodrama techniques of the 20th century, acting and role-playing have been deeply embedded in the cultural fabric, influencing and reflecting societal norms, values, and transformations. These practices have evolved to serve various purposes, from religious and moral education to political commentary, therapeutic applications, and educational tools. The referenced sources provide a comprehensive look into the historical context, cultural significance, and evolving functions of acting and role-playing throughout different eras.



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Last edited:
The historical references to Live Action Roleplay article has been rewritten and includes all sources and backlinks for those who wish to dive deeper.
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