Away from the Dinner Table #2: LARP Combat


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.

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.

The no-fighting LARPs (like Mind's Eye Theater™) are by far the safest ones. If you want to be absolutely certain that you won't be sporting a black eye at work on Monday, these are the LARPs for you. Also, these LARPs are very consistent. Your fighting ability is defined entirely by your character sheet, and no actual physical blows will be exchanged. If you throw rock and the other vampire throws scissors, you conquer. It's cut and dried. You'll never have an I-got-you-no-you-didn't argument at a no-combat LARP.

This is boring.

Well, no, it can be a lot of fun, and these LARPs are meant to be mostly combat-free anyhow, so they can get away with having a relatively boring (if fair) way of resolving combat. But LARPing is also about getting your hands dirty and actually doing stuff. You can kill a goblin without breaking a sweat at home. Why bother getting all dressed up and driving for hours if you won't have the opportunity to physically kick some goblin butt?

Unfortunately, NPCs are not your only potential foe on the LARP field. You may also end up fighting other PCs. Y'know how protective tabletoppers can be of their long-running PCs? Well, multiply that by about a bazillion, and you'll get how most LARPers feel about theirs (with good reason-costumes cost more than character sheets). When you get into a fight with a LARP PC, chances are that the player of that PC will do anything they can to keep their PC alive. Sometimes, sadly, this includes *gasp* cheating-the player will engage in "drumrolling" (raining unrealistically quick blows on the opponent) or "rhinohiding" (ignoring damage). When this happens (sooner or later it will), there's not much you can do about it but complain to the staff after the fact. If you're in a well-run game, the cheater will be politely invited not to return. If you're not in a well-run game, vote with your feet.

But there are other ways LARPers preserve the lives of their precious PCs that do not break the letter of the rules. Technically, these things are not cheating, but the people who do these sorts of things are not my favorite type of LARPer. (Email me for an explicit description of such people.) For those of you who want a list of what NOT to do, or who want to be able to recognize a cheese-weenie when you see one, here's a list of tactics that will keep your character alive and keep you in the game (even if it's only on a technicality).

Light Hits: Most LARP rules say that if you touch your opponent with your weapon, that's a hit. This is for safety reasons; nobody wants to get whacked with a full strength swing. It's not much fun. The good part about this rule is that most people still tend to put a bit of force behind their blows, which puts the attacker slightly off balance. At the very least, they'll need to spend a bit of time to recover. Not you, though. You know that a feather touch does the same amount of damage as a good solid thwap, so you ever-so-lightly tap your opponents and never need to recover. In the meantime, the bad guys are putting some energy into their fighting. You can take advantage of the time it takes for them to ready their weapons for another strike and deliver a couple more butterfly kisses. The best part about this is you can accuse your opponents of rhinohiding if you lose anyway.

Overblading: What's the best way not to get hit in a fight? Keep the enemy as far away as possible. If they can't reach you, they can't kill you. What's the maximum legal sword length for your LARP? Make one that long. (If you're less than ethical, go an inch or two beyond the maximum. Chances are nobody will measure. Note-this is actual cheating, and if you're caught, you might get booted. You've been warned.) But it's not enough just to have a long weapon-you've got to use it in the most unrealistic way possible to keep your enemies at bay. Hold it out, point first, waaaaay in front of you, and keep that point between you and the bad guys. Never mind that an actual sword is made of metal and would feel much heavier than your PVC or rattan boffer. The rules say you can have a six-foot sword, and by gum, you're going to use one. Oh, and if someone gets inside your guard? Well, the rules say that a two-handed sword does five points of damage, right? They don't say what part of the sword you need to hit with. Hit the goblin for five with the ricasso, the quillons, or the hilt. (You probably won't be able to get away with using your sword's pommel; many LARPs have rules about that.)

Anklebiting: Swing low! A realistic fighter will concentrate on protecting his arms and torso because realistic fighters know that leg strikes tend to leave the attacker pretty vulnerable. BUT! The vulnerable area is the head and neck-illegal targets! So attack your enemy's shins. You'll almost certainly score a hit. So will your enemy, but it will almost certainly be in an illegal area and you won't have to take the damage. Pretty cool, huh? Be advised, though, that if you keep leading with your head, you may get hurt. But what's a little physical pain compared to losing a PC, right? Also, anklebiting is most effective when coupled with 'special' skills that let you do catastrophic damage on your next hit. Nothing's cheesier than a deathstrike to the big toe, but hey, it's technically legal. That brings us to:

Min/Max: You remember how you tweaked your characters on the tabletop, right? Pumped all your character points into combat skills at the expense of things like literacy and being able to dress oneself? You can do the same thing in most LARPs. Buy damage bonuses. Buy extra Hit Points. Ignore skills like cooking, heraldry, literacy, lore, and languages (who needs to talk to it if you can kill it, right?). Some LARPs even have special skills with names like Deathstrike or Slay or Turbokill-o-matic. Buy as many of these as you possibly can. Then (and this is real cheating, but ever so hard to prove) "forget" how many Instacorpse slots you have. If you're in trouble, use the one you've been "saving." If you get caught, say you "lost track."

Headhunting: You're in a fight, and you're losing. You've got no 'Blazing Blades O'Doom' slots left, no friends are in sight, and your opponent is a superior fighter. What do you do? Swing as hard as you can for your opponent's head, of course. Headshots never count for damage purposes (be wary of any LARP that allows them), but a good solid smack to the noggin will discombobulate pretty much anybody. It may even mess them up enough that you can go on to win this fight with only legitimate blows from this point forward. Your opponent may even have to disengage and go lie down for a while. Either way, the combat is over and your PC survived. If somebody calls you on it later, you can claim "it was the adrenaline." You might get a warning, but you probably won't get kicked out. The only cost of this tactic will be the goodwill of the player you clocked. You may even do your opponent a real injury. If you care more about your PC than about your fellow LARPers, this is the way to go. One caution, though-if you do this too often, you will invite retaliation from your fellows, and you'll deserve it.

Do the Numbers: This is related to Min/Maxing in that it relies entirely on game mechanics at the expense of believable combat. Say you're fighting against someone who's just plain better at boffer combat than you are. What number is he calling when he hits you? Is it higher than the number you call? If so, you'll probably need to use one of the other techniques. If his number is lower, though, you might just be able to soak his hits while you whale on him without trying to protect yourself. Two people just hacking each other without defending looks really friggin' lame, but if you can call enough high numbers fast enough (don't drumroll) you'll probably still be standing when the fight's over. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Now, I don't mean to say that all LARPers are unscrupulous point munchers. Far from it. In fact, in my experience there are probably fewer munchkins on the LARP field than in the basement. It's just that munchkins on the LARP field can cause more trouble for the honest majority. LARPs tend to run largely on the honor system. GMs aren't always there to witness these questionable activities. And often, a munchkin will get his rocks off by turning his questionable tactics on his fellow players. So what can you do about it? Several things.

You can avoid the munchkins. If you want to keep your own character alive, try not to roleplay with known munchkins. It isn't much fun anyway.

You can talk to them. Munchkins like to brag about their characters to feel better about themselves. After the event, when someone tells you about how they won a fight and you know they munched it, say so. Let them know that it isn't cool. They might just stop out of embarrassment.

Finally, you can tell on them. Seriously. People get away with this kind of thing because nobody says anything to the LARP staff. After a bunch of people make the same complaint about the same person, the staff will look into it. If they don't, you might want to find a different LARP.

Most of this is gospel truth.

I only cavil at the head shots, and that only because the system I play in discourages them more than the one thecraichead plays seems to.

One word to the uninitiated: yes, it is swing. Under no circumstances should you lunge, thrust, or poke your weapon at anyone. [yes, Petunia, I know what that sounds like!]


Your weapon has a solid core, that's why. If it didn't have that core it would bend like a banana and be no good to anyone. [yes, Petunia, I KNOW]

If you thrust, there's a chance that the solid core will rupture the foam casing, and that chance gets greater as the weapon gets older. If that happens, you're likely to severely injure / possibly fatally injure your opponent, since most LARP armour wouldn't keep a flea dry let alone protect someone against real damage.

Former fencers should beware. Their fighting style makes them particularly prone to thrust attacks, and I've known few who could break the habit.

I've seen less munchkinism at a LARP than elsewhere, though as thecraichead points out there is some. I think this is because on the LARP field you really do have to have some idea of what you're doing. In a paper & pencil RPG you can be Conan and still be an uncoordinated yutz in real life. In LARP, if you don't have some idea of how to handle a sword and shield, you're dead meat.

One good way of learning is to take up stage fighting. This will teach you a few basic parries and get you used to facing off against an armed opponent. It's also useful because a lot of stage fighting is based on swing or cut rather than thrust. Finally, it really helps you to learn how to pull your blows, (vital skill!), because if you get overenthusiastic and wallop your opponent at full power rest assured your opponent and his friends will get together to whale the stuffing out of you.

Another way is to practice with your LARP weapon out-of-game. Most groups do this, and it's the best way to learn. Always practice against someone who's better than you!

I'm going to miss Renewal this year (sob!). Lack of funds. Anyone who posts here and goes there, let me know how it all turns out, huh? ;-)

Adam G makes a very good point about former fencers at LARPs. I'd go so far as to include martial artists of all stripes. Why? Don't martial artists have _better_ control than your average dude? Yeah, but most of your martial arts teach you how to _actually hurt_ your opponents with powerful, focused attacks. It's not the easiest thing to switch over to just tagging your opponent. It can be done, sure, but there's a learning curve.
Also, if you're a Martial Artist and want to LARP, please keep in mind that your MA skills will not always help you succeed in LARP combat, since most LARPers do not deliver the focused, powerful attacks you've been trained to defend against. If you can account for these things, and switch gears between dojo and LARP field, great. But remember that it's not really easy to do, and it IS easy to let training take over when you're in the midst of a cool LARP combat.



You're right on about the LARP munchkins. I played for over three years in a Vamp LARP and can't even begin to count the number of times I saw/heard of a player cheesing everything in sight to make sure their character would survive. Unfortunately, confronting them won't always do much. The serious cheesemongers just won't acknowledge or see that they are doing anything that might be wrong. When you run into these people, notify the staff and then don't interact with them.


"But remember that it's not really easy to do, and it IS easy to let training take over when you're in the midst of a cool LARP combat."

Thanks, thecraichead. [craic = conversation, natter, whatever, pronounced crack? hmmmm. ;-)]

One final caveat: just because you got hurt doesn't mean the other fella made a mistake.

Case in point. I go with a group of friends, led by Andy. Andy's one of those 6 foot tall 6 foot broad people. He uses a polearm. I don't know if Yankee LARPs are significantly different from Limey ones, but our lot tend to have Big Climactic Battles with large groups of PCs on the one side vs large groups of NPCs on the other. This can sometimes be a grudge match, either in or out of game.

[uninitiated please note: people who play NPCs one minute may also be PCs. It's all part of the thrill. You turn up to be Yorik the Norse Jester, and might end up being Splat the Goblin or Buboe the Zombie for an evening. All it requires is a bit of face paint. However, because we all know each other we also all know that Buboe walloped us really REALLY hard on the nose with his ax, and, oh look, here comes Yorik. Whatever shall we do now?]

Last battle I was one of the Splats going up against our faction. Andy was in his leader spot. Much goblin death ensued, and I respawned time and again along with the rest to charge once more into the breach dear friends.

One complaint I heard repeated was: that big guy with the polearm is really doing damage. He isn't pulling his blows.

Now, I know Andy well. I know he pulls his blows. He takes great pride in being Mr Safety, because, like a lot of other big fellas, he knows how much damage he can do if he really lets himself go.

The thing is, if you're 5 foot nothing and weigh as much as an angel dancing on a pinhead, and someone like Andy hits you, you are going to feel it. This is the whole meaning behind the Live part of the slogan. It's happening to you, just like it would in real life. It's not like tabletop, where damage is just a dice roll. Nobody wants you to limp away on crutches, but that doesn't mean you won't ache for a bit after the combat.

Which goes back to the munchkinism, and reporting of same. Yes, if you're 100% sure, report. People get away with a lot of nonsense because they don't get called on it. That should be stopped.

However, BE 100% sure before you report. Think about it carefully, and don't cry wolf. The Rashomon Effect is in full force at most LARP events. Bear that in mind. ;-)

If you really want to reduce munchkinism in LARPs, why on earth did you fill your article with the best ways to cheese your way through a fight???? Not only are you encouraging munchkins, but you are also recommending that you actively try to hit someone in the head just so you can win the fight. Where I LARP, that is rude, cheating and utterly moronic beyond all belief. I've seen people dislocate knees, get heat stroke, get punched in the face and fall off cliffs at LARPs, but every injury was ACCIDENTAL. If anyone in my game every intentionally swung at someone's head to "discombobulate" them, they would immediately be ejected from the field and probably charged with assault and battery.

Hey there.

Craic=Fun, more or less. Learnt that one in Sligo.

Anyway, yeah, I thought you were playing in a euro LARP when you mentioned the core of your LARP weapons. I am a yank, never played in a European LARP, though everything I've heard about them (and the photos I've seen) is positive. Over here, we mostly use 3/4" PVC (not fiberglass) as our weapon cores, and we pad the bejesus outta them, so thrusting isn't _as_ dangerous. But still. Also, I and most of my LARP buddies who wear armor wear actual metal armor that actually has protective value (and weighs rather a lot, I might add).

And re your point about it not always being the other guy's fault if you get hurt? It's absolutely true. I've seen tons of people duck right into an opponent's well-placed (shoulder-level) swing and get themselves clocked but good. Usually it's no biggie, and the ducker realises what he (or she) did, but sometimes....

The moral? It's good to do a reality check before your get mad.


Sorry, but did you read the whole article? Did you miss the part that says: "Technically, these things are not cheating, but the people who do these sorts of things are not my favorite type of LARPer. (Email me for an explicit description of such people.) For those of you who want a list of what NOT to do, or who want to be able to recognize a cheese-weenie when you see one, here's a list of tactics that will keep your character alive and keep you in the game (even if it's only on a technicality)."

That's all I have to say in response to that.

As for ejecting folks who try this ccrap in your LARP, I say good for you! Such folks _should_ be ejected, as should have been clear to you if you'd read the article in its entirety.

All the best,



To the best of my knowlege, (I don't make 'em), the euros use PVC cores too. LARP weapons, and their tips, just don't last very long. Unsurprising when you consider how much use they usually get!

The worst injury I've seen was the result of thoughtlessness.

We're monstering, and our initial attack decimated the PCs. They had to retreat to a point where they could defend the door. About twenty PCs are trying to hold a similar number of zombies off. It's all close-combat, with not much room for maneuver.

One of the PCs gets out her crossbow and shoots it.

To the uninitiated: it's a low poundage weapon with a great big padded tip. It's not very accurate but it can still throw a dart somewhere between 15/25 feet more or less.

The distance between the PC and her target's face was about three feet, if that.

Since the target was Andy's girlfriend, it definitely wasn't a wise thing to do.

Nobody got seriously hurt, but a word to the wise. It's probably been a while since you ever hit anyone or have been hit by someone. You've probably forgotten what that kind of pain feels like. Which means that you're the worst judge of the damage you do with your swings, so get someone else to give you their opinion before you sally forth into the fray!

Remember, if thou wouldst not have it done unto thee, do not thou do it onto others. ;-)

I'm sorry, but given that each player has paid a significant amount of money to play, I find it difficult to believe that an organizer would NOT be disallowing for random acts of violence in PC vs PC fighting.

I play a game called HeroQuest, It is based in the Bristol/Gloucester area in the UK. All of the characters are members of the Kern Valley Alliance, and they are required by Alliance law to ensure each other's survival.

On the UK weapons issue: The usual standard of weapon is a latex one. The major latex weapon makers all use solid core materials, usually graphite rods.

On thrusting: I don't care how much padding you put on a LRP weapon, it is still very dangerous. I have observed some very aggressive thrusts in LRP fights. It is a big risk for an organizer to allow them, and for players to be exposed to them.

As always, YMMV,


Chris, just as a side-note, not all Larps cost a significant amount of money to pay. For instance, over in the U.S. there is a Larp in Michigan called Kanar which costs $5 a day or $100 per year (They have a 3 day weekend event and a 1 day event each month, and a 9 day full week event per year) For those participants on a budget, they can also pay off their dues by volunteering at a local Renaissance festival. Larp prices vary considerably, depending on whether they are non-profit like Kanar or for profit businesses.

As far as paying to play goes, I play in a game that is based off the KANAR game in Michigan called KanaraK. We allow kids to play as long as they bring their parents with them. We don't charge a dime to play. We play in a public park, and that keeps our costs to nil. We also use a lot of the latex weapons in the game, as well as the usual bioffer weapons, with no major problems yet.

Well, I don't condone the headshot tactic, thats just blatantly dangerous. However, making max size weapons is a good tactic, seriously, if that guys using a 1/2 max size weapon, and you've maxed out on size, then you've got the advantage from the get go.

It's disgusting that you instruct players to take head shots. Any LARP I know that catches you deliberately doing that will have you kicked out and you'll not be invited back.

Oh by the way, Local LARPs communicate with each other (because they share players), you'll probably be blacklisted in more than one place.