So, this weekend, for the first time in many years, I played a LARP for a full weekend, as opposed to running one. I found myself lured to a game called Cottington Woods due to it being a brand new LARP that professes itself as a “Dark Faerie Tale” LARP. (We’ve talked about how much I love faerie tales before.) I was intrigued, and I liked the write-up of the concepts on their website, so I decided to give it a try. It was excellent, and I’ll be returning, but that’s not the point of this article.
Preparing for the LARP reminded me of certain things I hadn’t thought of in many years…in other words, how to prepare for a LARP you’ve never played before. I thought this advice might be helpful to people who’ve never played a LARP before, as well as those going to a new LARP. Here then are my suggestions for preparing for LARP-time.
Although most LARPs will make efforts to help you create a character if you show up without one, you’re more likely to get a lot more out of the game if you come fully prepared. Some LARPs will demand that you submit a character and background in advance; Cottington Woods is one of those. Either way, it’s best to be prepared. I know I’m not typical, but I can tell you the names of my character’s parents, where he came from, how he’s spent most of his life.
The flip side of this is to be aware of what you can do and how to do it. When you’re playing in a table-top game, you have rulebooks and character sheets to refer to. While most LARPers carry a character sheet, it’s not kosher to pull it out in the middle of a fight and ask everyone to wait while you check if you have any hit points left. Likewise, it’s best to know exactly what to say to cast your spells, how combat works, and so on.
It’s Not All Fun & Games
How well your basic needs are provided for is surprisingly different from LARP to LARP, often dictated by the facilities the LARP is run at. For example, when we run a game of The Isles, I know we’re playing at Ye Olde Commons. That means, I know we have full food service, excellent showers, very reliable electricity in the cabins, and so on. Other LARPs, including Cottington Woods, play at other locations, so it’s best to know what to expect.
The first CW event was actually last November; it was a one-day introductory event. It took place at a camp which is still unfinished, and their facilities were very crude. There was no food provided, so a potluck dinner was organized. I decided to bring more food to have during the day, and I actually spun this into a scene not unlike the beginning of Schindler’s List. I broke out my food around mid-day and laid it out on a table. Other players kept sidling over, and I would smile congenially, introduce myself (in character of course) and offer them some food in exchange for an introduction. In no time, half of the player base knew who I was, that I was a bard (apparently of some fame), and that I was rather jovial and generous. It made me popular rather quickly. In this case, the lack of a food service really worked in my favor.
Over this weekend, we got to know the YMCA camp that now serves as CW’s home. It’s a lot bigger than the last site, but there’s still no food service. My team and I coordinated meals – who would cook, who would bring utensils, etc. We also proposed a potluck lunch on Saturday to the game populace at large ahead of time. Again, positioning ourselves by the food got us know to a lot of people really quickly.
Another basic necessity to consider is bedding. One member of our group brought really inadequate blankets for the temperatures it got down to. Luckily, we had enough extra amongst the rest of us to bail him out, or he likely would’ve been very sick in the morning.
Getting’ Garbed Up
In a tabletop game, you can simply say, “I’m wearing a cloak, a suit of chainmail, and tall black boots.” When you LARP, however, you need to look the part. You need some sort of costuming, as well as make-up, depending on your character, to let everyone else see your character.
It’s funny to look back 24 years to when I started LARPing and think about costuming vs. what I see nowadays. Back then, you’d get people in tunics made by belting overly long shirts, and most everyone wore sneakers. Now, however, thanks to the internet and a cottage industry of Renaissance Faire & LARP garb makers, you can literally have whatever clothes you like. My own costuming consists of a variety of items, some bought, some custom made for me.
If you’re not playing a normal human, and even if you are, there may be some make-up involved. I’ve seen people in full face make-up (and been one myself – the main NPC I play in the Isles is a bear, literally.) I’ve also seen people with elaborate prostheses – from elf ears to a full kangaroo prosthetic with a working lower jaw. The important thing is to make your character live through your costume and garb.
With the basics covered, you can start to move into more advanced territory. If you are coming with a group of players, you can discuss how you all know each other. In my group, my character Will was once a priest, so I know two others in the group, Mother Meyta and Brother Radsel, from those days. My current musical partner is a young man named Rowan, and that brings in him and his mother/mentor, Great Mother Chickadee. The Great Mother is the guardian of Snowflake, a sheep with dream powers (and, yes, another player character), who rescued Micah and Seraphinite from the Slumberlands. When we met at the one-day event, Will is the one who deduced that Micah and Serphinite had been in the Slumberlands for over 200 years, so he feels faintly responsible for them. He also feels very fatherly towards the naïve and gentle Snowflake, so he has ample reason to be with all of these people.
If you have a good group together, you can do some decorating and prop making for the group as a whole. I provided a glowing Hearthstone for Brother Radsel, as well as a moon and stars chime for our door. Radsel provided the rest of his Hearth, which was very beautiful. Mother Meyta provided a series of decorations for her part of the room, Micah and Seraphinite provided a table that was much needed, and Snowflake created a sheep pen outside our home, complete with her flock. There was no doubt as to who’s home ours was. Next step will be a flag for our group, the Stone Soup Fellowship.
A LARP is like many things – you really do get out of it what you put into it. I went into this event with a much different set of expectations and preparedness, and I had a much better time of it. If you go in with an open mind, prepare and have everything you need ready, and you’ll be in the best position to have a fantastic time.
Do you have any advice for first-timers? Any questions about your own plans for a first time LARP experience? Let us all know.