Away from the Dinner Table
Those of you who LARP in Europe may be surprised to read that most American LARPs (the ones I've been to, anyway) do not use realistic-looking sculpted latex weapons. Here in the US, we tend to use 3/4" PVC pipe covered in insulation foam, the whole thing covered in duct tape. Why on earth would anybody do this? It's easy to make a sword, and boy, is it cheap! Plus, the large surface area of the 'point' of the sword makes thrusting reasonably safe. The downside, though, is that at the end of the day, you're still swinging a length of padded pipe.
It's easy for a LARP staff to see a bunch of players sitting around the town square and think, 'Hmm, they're bored. Let's throw some orcs at them.' This is fun once in a while, but after two or three orc attacks, it gets a little old and a lot unbelievable. Think about it: if your favorite hangout got hit by a drive-by shooting every other week, how long would it stay your favorite hangout? But at the same time, the staff needs to be able to throw a low-stakes, hack'n'slash encounter at idle players every now and then. With that in mind, here is another Away From the Dinner Table low-stakes LARP module. The Critters in the Barn was a modified dungeon crawl. This one is a search-and rescue.
Magic is one of the staples of fantasy role play. On the table top, all manner of wondrous effects are possible; all you need is a good imagination (and perhaps a pencil and a number of measuring devices) and you can create objects, throw fireballs, summon various critters, turn things into other things, and fly. It's not so easy in a LARP.
LARP encounters needn't be combative in nature. They needn't even have any overt conflict. You can have a very satisfying encounter with just a merchant selling his wares. Of course, the interesting part will happen long after the encounter is over.
The watchwords of LARP should be Simplicity, Playability, Believability, Consistency, Continuity, and Consequences. I've mentioned this before. I'd like to lay out the groundwork for some future columns by taking a look at each of these terms and establishing a working definition for them.
If you're anything like me, you get tired of LARP plots that hold the fate of the world at stake. Every battle is not the ultimate battle between Good and Evil; every war is not the War to End All Wars. I mean, seriously: if you have the Ultimate Battle this event, what do you do for next event? Another Ultimate Battle? Does this make last event the Penultimate Battle? This really stretches the limits of believability, and besides, the impact of the Ultimate Battle will quickly wane if you have to fight it once a month for a year.
As a LARPer, I often find myself having to explain my hobby to people who don't LARP. After I've gone through the basics, the first thing many people ask is, "So where do the monsters come from?" This is a much more important question than one might think.
Most fantasy LARPs are meant to be good-against-evil constructs. There is probably room for not-especially-good characters, and even outright dishonest ones. But actually evil characters, well, that's a whole other kettle of fish. If you play evil, the cards will be stacked against you.
A word about reenacting and LARPing: They are not the same. Reenacting is an attempt to recreate an actual era in history. Authenticity is important in reenacting, since if you do something not in keeping with the era you're trying to portray, (wearing sneakers with your toga, for example) you're not doing a very good job. LARPing is not, and shouldn't be, held to the same standards of authenticity for the simple reason that LARPing is trying to create a fantasy atmosphere, not a historical one.
If you LARP, sooner or later you're going to have to resort to in-game violence (or somebody else will) and you'll find yourself in the middle of a combat. Now what? In the real world, you poke or smack (and get poked or smacked by) your enemy until one of you either runs away, surrenders, or is rendered incapable of resisting. In a LARP, though, it's more complicated than that.