4 Larp Buzzwords that Don’t Mean Anything

We’ve all seen the advertisements for the next best blockbuster larp or the new local game that’s trying something new and different. There are buzzwords that seem like they get used everywhere but what do they really mean? Well, as it turns out, they don’t really mean anything, or at least not how they’re being used.

1.  Immersive

This is probably the most overused buzzword in larp. The idea of Immersion in a larp can mean a variety of things to players and game runners. The very general definition as it applies to larp is:

Immersion (n):  state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption.
www.dictionary.com

Immersive (adj) providing, involving, or characterized by deep absorption or immersion in something (such as an activity or a real or artificial environment).
www.merriam-webster.com

But how it’s used in practice is incredibly subjective one person’s immersive experience is another person’s make-believe game with a child. Sure, the kid could be incredibly immersed in their cardboard fort, but adults tend to need more to fully suspend their disbelief. When game’s tout their “immersion” they are usually trying to talk about how great the costumes, setting, and other visual parts of the larp are going to look.

The problem here is that because it’s such a subjective word to use, it can mean anything a potential player wants (or hopes) it to mean.

2.  Nordic larp

Often used, and most often misused in American larps that want to describe how roleplay heavy their game is. Nordic Larp is (I’m going to oversimplify here) a tradition of culture and roleplay style that comes from Nordic countries. The problem with using this buzzword is that and players that don’t come from this cultural tradition can’t really run a Nordic style larp, as they lack the requisite experiences to do so. It gets misused by Americans (and others) who have heard the term or played a game in Europe and try and bring those ideas to their game.

For more info about nordic larp, check out nordiclarp.org, they have some really cool academic articles on their wiki with some play tested tools to make games better.

3.  Cinematic Experience

This one should be a big red flag for any potential player, especially if the game avoids using the word “Larp” anywhere in their marketing. It’s used to say “hey look how much our game looks like a movie”. But you know what? This doesn’t actually make for a good game. Games that rely too heavily on their visual aspects are almost certain to fall short in other ways.

Also, what does it actually mean? Are players going supposed to feel like they’re in the setting of a movie? Or are they going to feel like they’re on a movie set? Similar to the problems with using “immersion” as a catch all for visual aspects of the game, Cinematic Experience can be extremely subjective, and doesn’t actually promise anything in the way of a 360 degree in-game setting.

4.  American/European style Larp

These get tossed around a lot, usually by players from one continent insulting (or praising) the practices of larpers from the other continent. But honestly, both American and European larps have a massive amount of variety now and saying that one entire continent has a specific style of larp is an ignorant generalization. Typically, players who point to one continent’s “style” of play tend to have very limited experience in multiple types of larps on their own continent.

Conclusion
So, instead of using shorthand buzzwords that don’t describe your game, try actually describing your game. You might not be able to do it as quickly, but quick does not equal good.
Happy larping!

Also, for a fun and somewhat related read, check out this article on tvtropes.org about Meaningless Meaningful Words and how to not make your writing fall into this trap

5 LARP gear, tech, and tips every GM should know about

Game owners have an enormous challenge. They have to produce hours of entertainment on a shoestring budget. As the Larp hobby evolves, Larpers all over the world have also come to expect higher production values in their games. This presents some challenges for Game owners as they attempt to stretch their budgets as far as possible. Here’s some things that might make that a bit easier.

Note/disclaimer: You’ll notice that a lot of these are on amazon, that’s because LARP Box is an amazon affiliate. If you decide to purchase the item on the link we get a small percentage of the sale. Though just like everything we sell, we wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t something we would use ourselves.

 

1.Remote control LED candles

I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen these in more larps, especially “wizard school” larps. Your NPC can have a classroom filled with these and hide the remote in your pocket, wave their wand and “Lumos!” (or the fair-use equivalent). Add some real life magic to the game and impress players while they take a beat to figure out what just happened.

https://amzn.to/2RnpCJL

 

2. Burlap to hide out-of-game areas and objects

Hiding out of game areas and large objects can often be a challenge. Spending a little bit up front on hiding these can really do wonders for your site’s immersion. At about $2 a yard, Burlap is cheaper than most tarps, and has a better look than plastic.

It fits in the genre of both medieval and post-apoc larps and its matte color makes it blend into the background and is easily ignored. It can also be painted with spray paints to give it a camo or woodland look. It’s semi-transparent so it’s not a substitute for actual walls, but it does help players ignore things that would otherwise catch their eyes.


https://amzn.to/2BNyj6v

3. Flickering LED Bulbs

These things are AWESOME. I’ve seen them in a few larps housed in mock-lanterns and they are really impressive. There a bunch of sellers of these and I still need to do some research on who makes the best, but even the cheapest ones are still impressive. LED’s are really energy efficient and they last a long time. They also tend to be less delicate than traditional light bulbs.

 

https://amzn.to/2LHIeyR

There are also some cool lanterns that have a similar effect, though less light produced. I use them in my tent at Bicolline so that I don’t come home to a dark tent at night. I used them the whole week and never had to replace the batteries. They’re not tough enough to use as a mobile light (the ring on top is plastic) but it’s great to have a light source that’s not fire (you can leave it alone in your old canvas tent) and doesn’t require an outlet.

https://amzn.to/2LFDqu5

4. Custom Parchments for game props

Davy Jones’ Locker is a company I know from playing Bicolline in Canada, they make these awesome canvas parchments that are waterproof and nearly indestructible. If you have an in-game prop that needs to be handled a lot, used over and over, and last for months or years, consider investing in some of these. You could also get some prints that you use as item cards or other in-game loot.


They take custom orders and can print in color with lots of detail.
https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DavyJonesLockerShop

5. Rite in the Rain paper

If Davy Jone’s Locker prints are outside of your budget or you only need a printed item for a little while, you should absolutely be printing everything that goes outside on Rite in the Rain paper. I love this stuff, its waterproof and a little tougher than normal paper. You can still write on them with pencil, crayon and non-waterbased inks. AND BEST OF ALL you can print stuff on them on any normal laser printer.

Any prop I make that’s paper I print on this. They also have index card sized cardstock-paper which is great for item cards. If your game prints out character sheets, you should really consider changing over to this paper so a player’s sheet doesn’t melt half way through the game when it rains.

https://amzn.to/2VktudH

I hope some of these are helpful or at least give you some ideas! I’ll probably make a few more of these lists so if you have suggestions let me know.

Enclothed Cognition and the Importance of Costuming

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast called “Business Lunch with Roland Frasier” in which Roland interviewed a man named Todd Herman. Todd Herman is a consultant and life coach for athletes and business leaders and on this podcast he talked about a concept he had developed early in his career of having an “alter ego” to help him be more confident, articulate or perform better in a business environment. A technique he used to feel smarter and more articulate was to wear some non-prescription glasses, kind of a reverse Clark Kent. It might sound silly, but it worked. He was able to overcome some of his own insecurities about not being taken seriously in a business setting.

Later after helping a bunch of professional athletes he realized that he wasn’t alone. Many high performing individuals assume a persona when working or competing and it helps them reduce limiting behaviors and thoughts while also accentuate their traits they need. Todd goes on to talk about 2012 psychology study from Northwestern University by Hajo Adam and Adam D.Galinsky about a concept called “enclothed cognition” . I realized that when I was in college I had also heard about this study in one of my psychology classes (I majored in psychology, now I make larp stuff…anyway). Essential the study comprised of three randomly assigned groups of people, and each group was tasked with completing an attention puzzle, this puzzle:

click for full size

You’ve probably seen this puzzle pop up on social media at least once, and if you’re anything like me it kinda makes your brain hurt. Anyway, so one group in the study wore their regular clothes and completed the puzzle (control group), another group was given a white coat and told it was a painters coat, the third group was given the exact same coat and told it was a doctors coat. Remember, all the groups were randomly assigned, and the only difference between the two experimental groups was that they were told the coat was. The group that was told they were wearing a doctors coat showed a significant increase in their ability to solve the puzzle with less mistakes and in a shorter time.

So, wow, pretty cool right? Well if like me and you’re a psychology nerd and you make costumes for a living then it’s extra cool. It’s not much of a leap to think that when we wear our larp costumes we might not only pretend to think and act differently, but we actually do think differently. My costume definitely helps me get into character, and to stay in character. I think the idea is perfectly summed up by this comic by artist n00b Mama

 

click for full size

When we wear a costume, especially a good costume or one that we really feel is the character’s clothes we can more easily inhabit that character’s life.

So, what if we can harness this power of costume in our larp life, we might be able to harness it a bit in our professional life. Maybe there is a small piece of costuming from your favorite larp character that you can wear in your day-to-day life. A ring, bracelet, necklace or something that is small but significant to you. Adopt a characteristic you admire in your character as part of your real life self, who knows, maybe you’ll be a real life hero too! Unless your larp character is a psychopath, or an emotional wreak, maybe leave those traits in the larp.

For more info about Enclothed cognition, there’s a great video by Extra Credits on this topic as it relates to video games: 

5 Reasons Why Realism isn’t important in a LARP

5 Reasons Why Realism isn’t important in a LARP

JAN 12, 2018 by Bart Brizee, Owner of LARP Box

Look, I love me some high production values in larps. I love making costumes, I love decorating scenes and locations to look cinematic, and I tend to prefer LARPs with simpler rulesets. None of these things actually make a larp “realistic”. We’ve been using the wrong words to describe what we really want from larps, because most people don’t really want a realistic LARP, we want one that looks and feels like the media we consume. Most of the points I’m going to make are in relation to medieval fantasy larps, but are certainly applicable to other genres as well.

1. Consistency, not production value, is more important for immersion. 

Similar to how a person breaking character can ruin a scene, if your setting isn’t consistent it can have elements that break immersion. If you’re in a high production game and can see multiple cars parked right next to the tents, all that work put into costuming and scenery goes out the window because the scene has been interrupted by something that completely does not belong.

Similarly, a game that is mostly players in tabards and duct tape swords can be very immersive, but a player or NPC dressed in a cinematic costume sticks out and will look out of place in the setting. Take “Boxwars ” in Australia, they’re all dressed in cardboard but look AWESOME, but if you walk into that game in your full historical medieval knight kit, its going to look super out of place and detract from the game as a whole.

 

2. Accessibility 

Realistic combat means only large, strong males are going to have fun. This is something that was difficult for me early on to understand, and it’s something that I see new larpers and GMs struggle with all the time. I’m not a big guy, but I’m reasonably athletic and spent some time in the military, so my views are always a little biased and I have to check myself frequently. I tend to automatically favor rules that favor athleticism and competitiveness but might not be accessible to all of my friends. And I check those biases because I want my friends to have fun too.

With the exception of a very small minority, combat systems that favor physical size and strength are far more accessible to larger, stronger people. Real combat is brutal; it involves grappling, pushing, takedowns, and other techniques that leaves many women and smaller men at a disadvantage that would take exceptional skill to overcome. There are some games that have rule systems that try to be more “realistic” such as HEMA, SCA, ACL ,and others, but even these can be simply seen as  high impact sports. Rules of balancing, sportsmanship, and fair play are all in place in most combat systems because, at the end of the day we’re not actually trying to hurt each other.

Even low-complexity LARP rule systems that claim “realism” are not in any way realistic. There is nothing realistic about hitting plate armor with a sword and doing any kind of damage to the player underneath, more on armor later on.

A realistic historical setting automatically puts players that are at a physical disadvantage in a position that is not fun. There are instances where the game runner might want to simulate a realistic setting, but they should ask themselves why this is important to them, and what kind of players their design is likely to attract, and more importantly, what type of players their design is likely to exclude.

There is also the argument that more “realistic” settings require a higher production value in costumes, and this affects the accessibility for those without the resources able to buy costumes for this setting. While this can be sometimes true (such as a game that requires armor) most of the great costumes I’ve seen are home made. So those with any combination of time, money, talent/skill can and do make some great costumes. Without two of those three things, chances are you wont be able to acquire a truly impressive costume. The financials and resources needed for great costumes could be an entire other blog post. Suffice to say, games with higher production values tend to favor those of higher socioeconomic status or those with very flexible work schedules. I fit into the latter category, I know i can carve out a day to work on a costume, a privilege not afforded to those with a 9-5 job.

 

3. Real life involves a lot of terrible stuff.

Sexism, racism, taxes, and lack of personal hygiene are all terrible stuff. Ok…some are more terrible than others, obviously. All are things that don’t make a game more fun and could ruin the game for many.

Sure it might be “realistic” for a king to pass down the crown to the oldest male heir, but why would you need to do that in a LARP? We’re already not being historically accurate, and history had a lot of terrible stuff in it. Why not imagine a fantasy world without sexism or racism? Many larpers use their games as a form of escapism to get away from these exact things. This isn’t to say that games made to specifically explore these topics are not valid, only that games that have them only as setting flavor are using a lazy, outdated approach to creating a fantasy world.

Look I love me some Game of Thrones, but if I’m going to play a Game of Thrones themed larp game you’d better bet I wouldn’t want there to be sexism and sexual assault present in the game. And if you think that those aspects are essential for creating a vibrant believable world, you’re probably missing the point of those stories. We get to create whatever we want in a LARP setting, why restrict ourselves to the same problems our society has?

On a side note, sure it would be super realistic to only use bucket for a bathroom and empty it into the street, but there’s reasons why we shouldn’t do that anymore; it’s dangerous, toxic and ruins everyone’s day, kinda like sexism.

 

4. Historical accuracy goes out the window in LARPs

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Little to nothing about larps are historically accurate, but that’s also just fine.  Look we’re not actually trying to kill each other in a larp, we’re playing a game, so why not just treat it like one? Here’s some great examples of things that we think are historical, but never existed (or at least not much)

  • Leather Armor– Seriously, it’s not a thing, leather was used to make straps, or hold up metal plates, or as a substitute for metal plates. Leather armor, and especially studded leather armor that is using in mosts larps, like the kinds we sell are not historically accurate at all, they don’t provide much in the way of protection from, well, anything. The leather armor trope is basically a hold over from fantasy novels and Dungeons and Dragons. And look, I’m not a hater, keep rockin your leather armor (and I will too, more than half of my armor is leather) but don’t pretend it’s realistic.
    • PS studs don’t do anything to make leather armor tougher either.
  • Canvas armor, or thick gambesons, are historically as good or better than chainmail, but often are not even counted as armor in larps. Seriously though, some types of european cloth armor were extremely effective. Don’t believe me? Just look on Youtube and you’ll see lots of historical gambeson tests against arrows, spears, swords etc. The ones that fail these tests are usually modern costume padded armor, which is mostly for show, not function, which brings me to:
  • Plate armor. Your 18 or 20 gauge plate will not stop much. But historical plate will stop almost everything,  sometimes even bullets (though probably not from modern firearms). There is no amount of hacking with a sword that is going to get through a historical great helm, and that would make for a pretty un-fun larp. Plate armor is also really, really heavy, but since most of us use foam weapons for Larp we don’t need it to be made from historically accurate material.
  • Ring belts are not a real thing, they were basically invented by US SCA and renn fair folks. BUT they do look sweet, little know real fake fact, the more belts you have, the more powerful you are
  • 1000+ years of character types in one setting. Vikings didn’t live in the same period as knights. In most larps we have weapons, armor, and etc., that run the gambit between 1 AD and 1600 AD, but because they fit the genre of the game, it doesn’t really matter. We hand wave these things because its almost impossible to get 100 (or even 20) players to adhere to one specific setting or era. Even the SCA, whose members pride themselves on historical accuracy, has a huge range of historical periods represented. 

 

5. Cinematic not Realistic

So maybe when we say we want “realism” in larp, what we really mean is that we want our  games to look and feel like our favorite movies, TV shows, and video games. There is very little that is realistic about the world of The Lord of the Rings, but it is a great cinematic experience and it’s a setting perfect for a larp. We want our fights to feel and look cinematic, but we don’t actually want to be body slammed into the ground.  Above all, we want our games to be fun and immersive, and sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that painstaking attention to realism can take the place of good game design.

I was inspired to write this piece after playing a game that touted itself as both realistic and cinematic. The rules, setting, and culture of the game were based on what the game designers felt would be most realistic, not necessarily what would make for the best game experience. They made some great choices, but they also made some rookie mistakes that come from being frustrated with games that didn’t meet their bar for realism, Their great choices could not make up for their choices that valued “realism” over fun. Had I been in their position, and had the same level of experience I would have probably made the same mistakes, but having made some of those mistakes in the past I have the benefit of experience, and being friends with some professionals that are much better at game running than I. Larp is inherently a collaborative enterprise, and learning to listen to others -and especially the needs of others- is important.

There is no one perfect solution, but let’s start by asking ourselves why and when realism is  important to us. And when we think of realism, are we really thinking of just a specific look and feel that might come from films or games. Are we making choices that might exclude our friends, and are those choices based on things that make the game more fun for all.  

 

Welcome to the LARP Box Blog!

Welcome to the LARP Box Blog!

We’re going to be exploring some of what makes LARP great, what can make it better, and some of the issues that permeate our hobby. We’ll be talking about game design, costuming, set design, weapons and combat, gender, inclusivity,  and accessibility,. We’re going to have a wide variety of writers from both inside and outside the LARP Box team.

LARP as a hobby is coming to a turning point. Games are now being forced to deal with some tough issues in order to keep up with the times. I love LARP and I want to see it grow. And with all things that we love, we have to sometimes take a step back and look at them critically and look at some of the issues that can be fixed. It’s important to understand that we can both really enjoy something while also acknowledge some of its flaws.

Lets make LARP Better together!

-Bart Brizee
Owner, LARP Box