Historical Reenactment & LARP: What Are The Differences?

Very often confused or even wrongly associated historical reenactments and LARP don't share much, except that the participants wear armor and take part in fights.

Today we will see the main differences between historical reenactment and LARP. Are you ready? Let's go!

What is historical reenactment?

"Historical reenactment is the reproduction of certain aspects of past events. It can deal with a particular event, a way of life, or more globally with a historical period. To do this, the participants rely on material elements that reproduce those of the period concerned (clothing, weapons, objects of daily life...)"

Its origins go back to the beginning of the 20th century when commemorations with costumes and shows were developed. The Tricentennial of Quebec in 1908 is the ideal example.

But it is important to know that the disguise and the fact of being metamorphosed were part of the cultural life of all. Long before the advent of historical reenactment as we know it today, receptions or parties were organized based on periods such as Antiquity, Medieval or Baroque.

During the last decades, the historical reenactment has taken a lot of importance and there are now several associations and groups practicing it. It is mainly history lovers who have a hobby and who devote themselves to historical reenactment.

Colonial militia reenactment minute man national historical park
Two sword-fighting warriors in a historical reenactment
Historical reenactment with soldiers wearing metal helmets

What is LARP (Live Action Role Play)?

"LARP (Live Action Role Play) is a form of role-playing in which players physically embody a character in a fictional or real world. The environment in which the player evolves is governed by a set of dictated rules that the player must respect"

For some, the origins of LARP go back to the 1930's with what was commonly called murders parties. Organized in the luxurious hotels of England, the objective was to solve a police investigation that could take place over an evening or a weekend.

LARP became popular in the late 70's with the creation of one of the first LARP groups called Dagorhir. Since then, LARP has continued to evolve and there are now a number of sub-genres, from horror to fantasy to post-apocalyptic!

A woman in medieval costume throwing something
Two different factions talking during a historcial reenactment event
Two different factions talking during a LARP event

What are the differences between Lifesize and Historical Re-enactment?

The fundamental difference between LARP and historical reenactment comes first of all from the environment in which the participant evolves.

The environment

In historical reenactment, everything is based on facts and sources. This concerns costumes, weapons, scenery and even elements that are not visible (e.g. underwear).

The main objective is to find the atmosphere and the authenticity of the period or the event which is set up. In LARP, the environment can be real or fictitious but it is not based on any source or desire to accurately transcribe a specific era.

The participants can evolve in a world of heroic fantasy populated with elves, orcs, trolls, and other creatures which is in total contradiction with the will of realism sought by the historical reconstitution.

The characters

This also concerns the characters.

LARP gives the player total freedom to create his character from A to Z (but we will come back to this in the section on how to start LARP). Moreover, your character will evolve during the games. Your character's skills, personality and place in history are not set in stone, whereas during a historical reenactment, you must strictly adhere to the role you play.

No evolution is possible and it is not surprising that during the reenactment of a great battle, you feel more like an "extra" than a character holding a central role.


Finally, the equipment in LARP is designed to be safe and usable in any circumstance.

It is mainly foam or latex weapons that are used. During a gathering, each weapon is inspected and checked to ensure that it meets the safety criteria so that it does not injure another participant during combat. There are different types of LARP and some are exempt from fighting. They focus more on history and character development while other LARP's, such as Practical LARP's, require physical fitness as there is a lot of fighting and the risk of injury is high.

In historical reenactments, the weapons are real and are mainly collectors' weapons. The risk of injury is therefore present and much greater than in LARP events. Of course, safety measures are taken and everything is done to guarantee the safety of the participants. For example, swords are sometimes blunted, which means that their cutting edge is removed to avoid any drama during a fight.

The same is true for firearms, which obviously do not fire real bullets, which must be neutralized before any re-enactment to be in order in the eyes of the law.

How to begin the historical reconstruction

Frame of reference

You will first have to define a frame of reference based on the following criteria:

  • The place
  • The place
  • The culture and other elements that may be part of it (religions, superstitious beliefs, functioning of the society...)

According to the choices you will make, you will have to document and inform yourself in order to have as much information as possible about the period you are going to reconstitute.
Indeed, if you decide to play a Viking for example, a few years can make a difference in the material, the weapons, and the armor that you will wear

The status of your character

Next, you will have to find the status of the character you are going to play as. As you can imagine, depending on the status you choose, your costume or armor may be expensive and may take years to be made. Also, keep in mind that to ensure historical accuracy, you must have several different statuses, otherwise the image you portray will be erroneous.

Here are some examples of status

  • Farmer 
  • Merchant 
  • Pedestrian 
  • Fighter
  • Rider
  • Elite Fighter
  • Lord

The military costume

Last but not least, the military costume! I will repeat it again, but the coherence is the leitmotiv that you must always have in mind. A very simple example, you can't afford if you are a lord to have inferior equipment to a peasant, it wouldn't make sense.

Always try to have a logical approach when equipping yourself, so as not to create inconsistencies that would taint the credibility of your character.

The military costume

You can also attend an event as a spectator. Given the growth of this practice, it should not be too difficult to find one near you. Depending on the country, there are events that attract thousands of people every year:

  • France: The Roman games which take place in the arena of Nimes
  • Belgium: The Battle of Waterloo
  • Netherlands: The Slam Om Groll (the siege of the city of Groenlo) 
  • United States: D-Day, The Civil War Remembrance, The Colonial Faire
  • England: The Battle of Hastings, the Battle of Tewkesbur

How to start LARP

Find your type of LARP

Since its creation, LARP has evolved enormously and many genres and sub-genres have appeared. Whether you are more attracted to fantasy, post-apocalyptic or horrific universe, you will be spoilt for choice to find what suits you!

Depending on whether you are looking for a physical experience or not, you can also refine your choice. Indeed, the Practical LARP requires a very good physical condition because of the numerous fights, while some LARP does not include any fights. They only focus on the narrative and the evolution of the characters, which favors the inclusion of all.

Find your type of LARP

It is now time to create your character! This is the big difference between historical reenactment and LARP and you will soon realize that creating your character is really fun!

To begin, you will have to ask yourself several questions to determine the character's physique and personality:

  • Will my character be human or not? 
  • What is his name? 
  • What does he look like? 
  • What is his profession? 
  • How does he act?

Once you've answered all of these questions, you'll need to focus on the character's backstory to give it more depth and to better understand his motivations and beliefs!

Find an event

This will probably be the most complicated part you will have to deal with. Depending on where you live, it will be more or less easy to find an event near you! You also can use our Larp Locator to help you! 

You can search for events on forums, blogs or other social networks, but also ask your local game stores if any LARP gatherings are being held. If you have trouble finding a LARP event, don't be discouraged, it's worth the effort. Be patient and don't hesitate to organize your first LARP event with your friends, it's a great experience!

Select your equipment

For your first events, it is not necessary to invest a lot of money to equip yourself.

Depending on the type of character you are going to play, the equipment will be different, but overall, we recommend that you get

  • An armor / tunic 
  • A sword/axe (one or two hands) 
  • A shield 
  • Accessories (optional)

If you want to know more, we invite you to read our article: How to Start LARP in 2023


As you can see, although LARP and Historical Reenactment share some similarities on paper, they are two very different things with very distinct purposes.

One is looking for veracity, to transcribe as closely as possible an event or a period of time by relying on historical resources while the other relies on the imagination of the participants with the creation of a story that takes place in a real or fictional universe.

If you are a creative person, we advise you to go for the LARP. This will give you a great deal of freedom both in the creative process (character) and during the events where your choices and decisions are dictated only by your instincts and consultations with your partners.

However, even if historical reenactment does not allow as much freedom, discovering an event in depth and living it as if you were there is an experience that you will not find anywhere else.

In short, try both and make your choice!