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May 2008

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  • To LARP or not to LARP -- that is the latex-covered question
    by Lorna Cowie

    It seems like I've just been kicked into the year 2008. The first few months flashed by without me blinking, and I have been solidly reminded by our LARP organizer that it is THAT time of year again!

    LARPing for me is now part of my lifestyle and I can't imagine myself without at least one aspect of it around me. It's not just a hobby, but an obsession -- and a profession that has filled my house (including the attic and shed) with various pieces of fabric, fur, weapons and everything else we call 'kit'.

    Perhaps I should start from the beginning...

    LARP and the meaning of

    LARP, or LRP as some people prefer, is Live Action Role Play. Imagine that you are reading your favorite book or playing your favorite game. Now, take this and imagine it in real life outside of the book or console. You have the character standing before you in all their glory, but there is one thing that differs. Instead of having a storybook to follow, the action is free flowing and the characters can do whatever they wish (though there might be consequences...)

    So, you have your characters. These can be from any universe, any world, any time or space that the Writers of LARP have invented. You can be from old war times or medieval -- or from the future, where an apocalypse has happened and you are just trying to survive. The world can be based on real history or drawn from the depths of fantasy. Personally I prefer the fantasy LARP events, as it's always fun to see a cute elf and tease them about their ears (Yes, they even wear latex elf ears, perfect for flicking!)

    Races are wide and varies in the world of LARP. It becomes rather scary if you sneak through a forest only to be pounced on by a half-man, half-lion, I assure you. Many of the basic Races in LARP are easy to comprehend. Think of Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. You have Elves, Humans, Dwarves and Orcs, all of which can be divided into further groups.

    Elves, for instance, can be of the wood or forest, sea or mountains. Dwarves can be deep tunnel-digger clans or high mountain-mining families. Humans (as you know) can practically live anywhere, but are they peasants or nobles? Do they live in a high tower in a castle, or a shack by the sea? Are they military or magic user? Orcs are known to be rather stupid, yet fight ferociously. Who do they follow, and are they friend or foe? You can have almost unlimited scope from the four basic race groups!

    In fantasy the only limit is your imagination... literally. When it comes to races, as long as you are prepared to act like your character should, dress and fight like your character should, then you will have an enjoyable time as that character.

    So you have all the good guys. Who plays the baddies, eh?

    LARP is made up of two groups. One is the players, usually called the player base. These represent the people who have come to play the LARP itself and are there to have a good time... though they are not necessarily the good guys.

    The other group is made up of the Crew. These people are dedicated and tireless and spend the whole event running around and making sure everyone is having a good time. They will play the enemies should your characters run into conflict, they will play the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) who will aid or hinder the players in their adventures, either giving out vital clues or misdirecting them. They will also be the referees.

    Referees are vital to LARP itself. For example, if your character gets injured, then you need medical attention. If the medic doesn't arrive quickly enough, will you die or do you have the will to carry on? The referees are there to aid in any out-of-character questions involving using your character's skills, overseeing the event, answering questions and generally keeping the event running smoothly.

    There would be no LARP if there were to be no Crew.

    But... but... You hit each other with weapons!

    Yes, we do, and for many people it is the most enjoyable part of LARPing. There is nothing more satisfactory that smiting the mighty foe with your comrades. In LARP the weapons themselves are not made of wood or metal, and cannot be lethal (unless you misuse them).

    Weapons are made of many different substances. In most cases (such as for a sword) the weapon would have a latex core, like a long thin solid tube running the length of the weapon and stopping an inch or two from the tip. This provides the stability of the weapons so you aren't just waggling a piece of rubber and foam around. Surrounding the core (and often intricately carved) is high-density foam that provides the bulk and shape of the weapon itself. This enables the weapon to be used in combat. When wielded correctly it doesn't hurt to be hit by the weapon nor will you endanger someone's life when you use it properly. On top of the foam you have the latex layer. This is usually many layers of liquid latex that have been painted over the foam to give the weapon a realistic look: a sword might be painted in dark grey, its edges lightly given a brush of silver to look like it is reflecting light, ornamentation upon the weapon might be picked out in lighter shades of silver and jewels would be colored to look like jewels. The final result of all this work would be a beautifully crafted realistic sword.

    As you can imagine, there are many types of weapons available in the world of LARP, ranging from swords and LARP-safe bows (arrows with foam tips to prevent you from actually killing anyone), staves and wands, daggers, hammers, maces and axes. These are usually the basic fantasy LARP weapons, but the list is ever expanding. You can even get LARP latex frying pans, bottles, skulls and limbs for fantasy and fire extinguishers, life rings, gongs, planks of wood and even chairs for the more futuristic LARPers who like to fight with anything they can get their hands on!

    Don't think that guns are missing out. A wide range of guns are available to LARPers (flintlocks, cannons, blunderbusses and shotguns etc). All come with a special mechanism that enables a cap to be placed so that when you pull the trigger, the cap fires and it gives a realistic shooting sound, just with no bullets!

    What do you mean 'sensibly'?

    In LARP everyone has to be sensible. You are usually never allowed to hit another person on the head or face with a weapon, even if the weapon is made of foam and latex. It�s best to avoid aiming for the groin area of a man -- they do not tend to appreciate being hit there. Safety is the most important thing to think of in LARP and other people's health is paramount. It would do no good poking out someone's eye with a tip of a sword.

    All LARP events have first aid officers that will make themselves known to everyone at the beginning of the event. These people have trained properly and completed courses in first aid and are officially allowed to deal with accidents. It is wise to make sure you know who your first aid officers are. Even if you don't need them yourself during the event, someone next to you might get injured.

    When using a weapon you will need to learn how to pull your blows. This means that when you hit with a sword, you are not hitting with the full force of your strength and weapon. It usually means that as soon as you have done your dramatic swing at the enemy, you allow the weapon to touch the other person just enough so they know that they have been hit before you stop completely and pull your weapon for another strike.

    It often takes some practice, and common sense is needed. If in doubt, get another person to demonstrate upon you so you know how a hard blow feels compared to a pulled blow with the weapon you are using and practice, a LOT, with your friends. In our LARP system we usually practice in the mornings to ensure we get that extra edge in when fighting in combat and it is always enjoyable to watch if you don't wish to participate in the fighting itself.

    How can magic and things that don't exist be part of LARP?

    Here is where you let your imagination run wild. Magic in LARP is a beautiful thing if you have a good imagination. Spells can be cast, portals can be opened, demons can be summoned and earth can be moved. When it comes to magic it is vital that you keep your mind open.

    A magic user will have a range of spells that will enable them to aid in the adventures. The spells would be created by the Crew and you will need to memorize them! Take a wizard, who has a simple fireball spell and is approached by an orc who wishes to kill him. The wizard would raise his hand (in a mystical fashion like all wizards do, don't you know) and give the command for a fire ball. He could simply call out 'Fire Ball' or he could make it a little more flowery with 'I summon the element of fire to aid me! Fire ball!'. As long as the orc is in the correct distance of casting the fire ball and had no magical protection, the orc would then be hit by the fireball and react as if he was.

    Um... So how does one react to being hit by weapons or magic?

    Acting is vital in LARP. As you are not actually hit with a huge axe that could chop your arm off, or by a blazing inferno that can destroy your clothes or hair, you need to act as your character and pretend that it actually happened. Your character has basic stats that are based on the rules of the LARP system you are playing. So if you aren't wearing any armor and someone comes up and stabs you in the stomach, you need to react as if you have been stabbed through the stomach. You take off a wound or hit point from your characters health and make sure you find a medic before you bleed to death upon the floor!

    So you have to dress up as your character?

    Oh yes! This to me is the most enjoyable and fulfilling part of LARP. You get to wear fancy dress even though you are an adult! Your costume is vital to your character and how you wish to portray them, and getting the smallest details correct will soon become an obsession. To start with, you have to consider the period or time your LARP is in. You need to research the timeline to make sure that what you will wear was actually invented in those times. Fantasy LARP offers much more freedom in this area, for who knows for sure what an Elf would wear?

    I make my own LARP costumes and I base them upon what I would feel that character would wear. My Shaman of the woods and forests is dressed in cloth rags and pieces of fur: living off the land is vital to her so she wouldn't care for fancy silks or elegant gowns like my Noble Lady would, who most certainly would not be seen in rags, I assure you!

    It is the finer details that bring LARP to life, and it is your involvement that makes the story happen. Just remember, what happens in the story is what you decide and do with your character. Even the simplest of things like wearing an ornate pendant necklace can change the history of LARP, for if you didn't wear the necklace then the man walking past you might not have admired it and complimented you, thus striking up a friendly conversation that could one day lead to him saving your life.

    Where do you stay and sleep?

    A LARP event can range from just an evening to a full-on week or more. This will depend on what system you are joining. The one I attend usually runs for weekends or long weekends, so Friday to Sunday or Friday to Monday, though we do have an event called the 'Week Long' which runs for twelve days solid.

    We stay on a campsite in Wales and wherever we place our tent is home. People go to a lot of trouble to decorate their camp area to reflect their characters. Noble Elves might have banners up depicting their family or a table might be placed for guests to visit and talk. Dwarves might have the odd barrel or two and lots of tankards. Lanterns and fires are lit at night to protect all those within the circle of light from the nasty shadows that might want to eat you.

    Bells can be hung from trees to give a delicate chime in the wind to protect from bad spirits and incense might be lit to produce an alluring scent to the unwary. It's a chance to decorate your own personal area that you will be residing in for those days and nights you are at LARP.

    There are varying degrees of how realistic you wish to be. Some people bring medieval-type tents and set them up with a fire outside to cook their dinner, whilst others might only wish to have a small modern day tent for practicality's sake. Both are accepted and when you are in-character, you learn to turn a blind eye to a modern-day tent in the background. It is about finding a balance between your comfort (because after all you paid to attend the event) and how you wish people to see your camp.

    Personally, I have a modern day tent in which I sleep in but I decorate my tent and my own camp area with things my character likes, so I have wood wind-chimes and bells in trees and colored lanterns for night time and a banner for my Shaman of the woods depicting her clan. People will know that it is my camp and ignore the modern tent.

    Some LARP systems are stricter, though, and will not allow any modern equipment to be used, so check before hand to make sure.

    I don't get it. Why do you do it? It sounds stupid.

    I go to LARP because I enjoy it. It is like anything that takes your mind from the present day and age and gives you a break from reality. For one weekend a month I am able to forget that the house needs cleaning (though I will have to do it when I get back), I can forget that all my worries and troubles exist and live for that time in a fantasy world where characters exist and interact with each other. Think of how much you enjoy a good book, film or computer game and then you know what it feels like to be involved in LARP and open your mind to the unlimited possibilities of what you can do in a make-believe world.

    That sounds cool! I want to know more and see examples.

    Well, I was going to show you anyway. Here is a link to the website of the LARP that I attend, which will help you understand the world of LARP further.

    Thank you for listening to my fanatic ramble!

    Lorna Cowie is a crazy LARP loving latex sword wielding fantasy portrait artist who prefers to run about in the forest where she can be a 'real' shaman than sit inside on a nice day. She can be found in Deviant Art and, of course, Portrait Adoption. Oh, she is quite old, likes chocolate and has two mice. Go figure.
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