Live-action roleplaying (LRP(UK acronym) or LARP(US acronym) for short) is assuming roles, as in usual RPGs, and then physically playing out what the characters do. Usually this is done in private, but some LARPs have taken place in public places. As many different LARP-systems has been developed as RPGs: The forms and rules change dramatically over time and place, as do the genres played.
Forms of LARPs
There is a very large number of different styles of LRP/LARP but they can be divided into two general styles depending on the techniques used to resolve combat/conflict.
aka "boffer style", "LC"
The first major category is live combat games which use specially made safe swords, laser guns and sensors or some similar system to represent combat. They usually have a simplified "hits" system where blows do certain amounts of damage. This can be resolved by trust (i.e. the player keeps track of his damage) or by having a regular "battleboard" where a refereree marks down the damage on a character sheet that keeps track of damage. Games are generally held on private sites (scout sites are popular in the UK).
Live Combat games are generally based around a free-running plot which developes over time where the players play their characters over several "Adventures" and/or freeform events and develop them as they get improve.
In the United Kingdoms LARPs generally take 3 forms: Event LARPs where people gather on mass to play their characters, Adventure LARPs where continuing characters form a party and have an adventure and Freeform LARPs where players are handed dossiers about pre-written characters.
aka "card waving"
This category cover games where combat (when it occurs) is resolved by some non-physical means. Examples of combat resolution include simplified dice systems, action cards or paper-scissors-stones.
Interactive literature games are typically one-shot games. They are quite popular at conventions. Usually they involve a group of people getting individual folders with background on their characters, and cards explaining their abilities and possessions. Players then play that character in the situation set out for them by the gamemaster(s), who introduces new situations and determines results as necessary.
Murder Mystery parties could be argued to be a form of "Intercative Literature".
The games published by White Wolf under the brand name Minds Eye Theater has been influential on the LARP-hobby in the last five years or so. Theese games make use of many props, such as character forms and cards representing the supernaturual powers of the creatures most participants play. Although there is a strict non-physical contact rule "Vampire" games are usually plot bassed and evolve campaigns over several events with long running characters.
The form practiced in Sweden is usually without a gamemaster, and based on an honor system when it comes to rules. Dice are never used, and settings tend to be immersive, with as few anachronisms and out of play elements (off-elements) as possible. The setting and roles are given to the participants by the organizers (often after a dialogue with the player). When the game starts it lives its own life, wholly directed by the players (some predetermined events are often scheduled). A typical game lasts three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and has an average of about 200 participants. Rules are designed for combat injury simulation and normally emphathize roleplaying of damage rather than abstract hitpoints (though this was not always so), featuring either padded weapons or live steel. Each gaming organization uses custom rules, but similarities make this less cumbersome than it would at first seem.
The history of LARPs is shrouded in mystery. However it is possible to list well-documented early examples within the cultures they arose, therefore allowing people to understand the origins of this form of role-playing.
It seems likely, however, that the first LARP was played out in conjunction with the first published RPG (Dungeons & Dragons) in the 1970s, although some extreme free form theater groups may have preceeded that. One of the early organized groups was the Society for Interactive Literature.
In 1982 Treasure Trap was established at Peckforton Castle in the United Kingdoms and this was probably the first combat based Adventure LARP. It set the ground work for future LARPs of this genre and was undeniably very influencial. It closed after 4 years when the treasurer allegedly ran off with the money.
Must find an upto date copy of the rec.games.frp.live-action FAQ and post it here!