So, you’ve just met someone who’s into LARPing and has invited you to join them. You might be tempted to call it cosplay. Don’t do it!

LARP (Live Action Role Play) and cosplay are not the same thing, though they do have some similarities. Before you offend your new friend, let us briefly explain the differences between these two forms of dressing up in costumes so that you don’t make any faux pas in casual conversations.

What Is Cosplay?

For most people, the easiest way to explain cosplay is like this – you know those conventions like Comic Con where people go to them dressed up as their favorite superhero or character from a movie or television show?

That is cosplaying.

Cosplay is putting on a costume to mimic or recreate the look of an existing character.

Here’s what it’s not:

  • Cosplay does not involve any combat.
  • You’re not really doing any role-playing with cosplay.
  • It’s not a game.

It’s all about dressing up in a costume to look like a character.

Still confused? Check our list of the best female anime characters to cosplay for further understanding.

As you can see, cosplay is as much a form of art as it is dress up. Cosplayers put a ton of time and care into their costumes so that they are the best version of the character that they can be when in costume.

Some cosplayers really go all in and act like the character, but in-character pretending isn’t as required in cosplaying as it is in LARPing.

Another interesting thing about cosplaying is that there are often cosplay competitions at events where the cosplayers parade like a fashion show to see who is the best cosplayer of the bunch.

At a cosplay competition, the participants are judged on things like:

  • Accuracy – are they true to the character they’re representing
  • Presentation – do they present as the character, both in style and mannerisms
  • Performance – do they work with the audience and does the audience enjoy them?
  • Crafting – how’s costume in regards to functionality, originality, quality, and detail

Cosplayers typically are pretty serious about their craft and put in a lot of time to get their costume and mannerisms just right.

What Is LARPing?

I think the easiest way to explain LARPing to people who are unfamiliar with it is like this – it’s a bunch of people who get together to dress up in certain roles to play a game.

Still sounds confusing, right?

Honestly, it is kind of confusing at first, so let’s dig into it a little deeper.

LARPing is an outside role-playing game where people play various characters as part of an overall plot of the game and work toward an objective to advance the story of the game.

LARP typically involves the following:

  • Role-playing a character of your own
  • Acting in the role of that character
  • Sometimes there is combat (with padded weapons)
  • An overall plot, which often includes a quest or other objective

With LARPing, you are dressed up in a costume but there’s not a ton of focus on the costume, like there is with cosplay. There are no costume competitions for LARPers.

The characters in LARPing can be designed by the player or by a Game Master. The characters have to fit with the genre and theme of the LARP event.

What cool about LARP characters is that as the story advances, so do the skills of the character. Each LARPer keeps track of all their character data on character sheets – including their XP points, which are earned throughout the game just like in a video game.

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LARPing even has it’s own in-game currency so that players can level up and upgrade things like skills and weapons.

LARP vs Re-enactment: Is It The Same?

Now that you know about LARPing, you might be thinking something along the lines of, “oh, like those Civil War re-enactment groups.’

Well, not so fast there. LARP and re-enactments are definitely not the same thing.


Because re-enactments are based on real events and real people, with a defined outcome, while LARP has original characters and stories.

Another difference is that re-enactors typically use real weapons instead of the padded and blunt weapons used by LARPers.

Here’s another way to look at it –

Two hundred guys who get together to do a Gettysburg battle are re-enactors, but two hundred guys getting together for an elves vs wizards battle are LARPers.

Cosplay vs LARP Explained By Fellow Geeks

If you’re completely new to all of this, then you still may have some questions. So, let’s look at what some other geeks have to say about the matter.

According to Nyokun, “LARP has it’s own world setting. Kind of like live-action D&D. You pretty much create, dress, and act as your own character based on how that specific world works.”

“Cosplay is more re-creating a pre-made character (with a few small exceptions in the video game and internet culture) and trying to emulate how that currently existing character is designed.”

“Really, the only major difference is between pretending that you are someone that you made up versus pretending that you are someone that someone ELSE made up.”

According to AshofRebirth, the real difference between the two are the weapons.

“When you’re making props for LARP you need to be sure you can hit someone (well, depending on the specific LARP) with your prop and not hurt them. Seriously. So the weapons are usually made out of some kind of “Larp-safe” foam.”

“For Cosplaying props.. they just need to follow convention rules, which are usually “If I hit someone with it, the item /will/ break”. So that’s why live steel or metal are almost never allowed. But you can make it out of foam, wood, cardboard, whatever pleases you.”

At the end of the day, AshofRebirth breaks it down like this – “Cosplaying is more of a visual art form. It’s made purely to be a presentation. LARPing is roleplaying; a performance art even, where costuming is involved in it but not a main core.

Another cosplay fan, dizzymonochrome, notes the differences between the two as follows –

LARPing is a game (there are various established games of various genres), with settings, rules, terms of play, world and character creation, and all sorts of systems and structures.

Cosplay is freeform and whatever-the-hell you want to do or be. There is no structure to cosplay. The only thing that makes cosplay cosplay is wearing a costume. That’s it.

As you can see, the two have a lot of things in common, but are more different than they are alike.

top image credit: Bastian,Flickr, CC 2.0

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