LARP has grown and changed a lot in the last two decades; it’s been great to watch.
A lot of these changes have focused on the sophistication of the setting. With specialty shops, like Dark Knight Armory, setting up online instead of just in the back alleys of Renaissance Fairs and the rise of Etsy, intricate costumes have become available to everyone with a dream and a few bucks to spend. I’ve watched plot teams venture into theatrical lighting effects and cosplayers teach us all how to do exquisite makeup on YouTube.
All these things add to the game in remarkable ways, allowing players to “suspend the disbelief” with increasing ease and making for awesome games.
I love new technology in the LARP-verse, with one exception, Latex Weapons.
To be clear: What I am saying is that old school “round foam” weapons, made from plumbing supplies and duct tape like these:
are superior to sculpted marvels of modern LARP excellence, like these:
I know, I know, I’m obviously just an old man who doesn’t like new things, but hear me out:
It seems odd to promote a Latex Weapon Maker in this blog, but I’m doing it: Forged Foam makes great stuff.
One of their beautifully made LARP safe long swords (36″ – 48″) will cost you $80.00.
1/2″ PVC: $3.90
5/8 Thickness Pipe Insulation (for padding): $14.78
Duct tape: $4.97
Open cell foam (thrusting tips): Free (scavenged couches)
Sport tape (Handle grip): $2.52
To be clear, the prices above are not for making a single sword, but just for buying the stuff in the smallest quantity available. With all that stuff you could make three long swords and that’s only because you ran out of PVC; what I’m saying here is you can make FIVE SWORDS FOR THIRTY BUCKS.
That’s not all, not only do Latex Weapons cost more, but you need to maintain them regularly or they dry out and fall apart:
This is not a magical process that keeps these weapons pristine forever, this is a treadmill of maintenance you need to preform to give these weapons a few years of life. They will still eventually break down and become unsafe.
Don’t get me wrong, round foam weapons break down too, but I want to point out that YOU INTEND TO HIT THINGS WITH THIS OBJECT; it’s going to break down and need to be replaced, cheaper is better.
Another issue of cost affects the game on a larger level: barriers to entry. LARP is intimidating to begin, with many first time players coming to the game in their late teens or early twenties. As the game moves more and more to Latex Weapons, aspiring LARPers may put off playing due to lack of “proper” weapons and, being young, fail to have the financial wherewithal to get a hold of them. Keep in mind, this is a statistical issue; even if its just fifty bucks on an individual level, increasing barriers to entry at all will have a large adverse effect on recruitment nationally.
lower recruitment = fewer LARPers = less fun for everyone.
LARP fighting, at least in New England Boffer Style LARPS, is a game of tag. That being said I have literally had my hand broken, twice. While a light tap is all that is needed to count the hit, when people get going, hits get faster and less controlled; this is a fact. People can talk all they want about “one second combat” and other systems designed to slow things down and keep fighting more controlled and, pushing up their glasses, point out that “technically people should never be out of control of their weapon”, in my experience that is not realistic.
Latex weapons are denser then round foam weapons and are sculpted in ways to be “sharper” than round foam ever could. The latex coating has less give than duct tape, and a lot I’ve held are heavier than round foam weapons, and weighted badly (which we’ll get into in a minute). All these things contribute to the possibility of injury every time the weapon is swung. We swing these things a lot, thousands of times an event; the odds stack up.
We fight with padded weapons because we don’t want to hurt each other. Latex Weapons are being brought in because they look better, not because they are safer.
If we are prioritizing look over safety, I have a couple real swords that would be great for a truly “immersive experience”.
This one is hard to get into, I’m just going to come out and say it: Latex Weapons are generally not optimally balanced for boffer combat.
This may be considered a good thing by some; I’ve heard people sell Latex Weapons with the tag line “it’s weighted more like a real sword, so more authentic”, this jives nicely with the look of these weapons adding to the overall authenticity of the game, and thus breeds greater immersion, or so goes the thought.
I fully disagree with this concept in its entirety, for one simple reason, authenticity and immersion have no direct correlation. This seemingly counter-intuitive notion is worth a whole other essay, and I’m not going to tackle it in its entirety here , but I want to develop one example before moving on: Haunted Houses.
There is nothing “authentic” about a Haunted House, they do not harken back to another time when the world was fraught with undead horrors and wandering spirits; still people most certainly become immersed in the experience, which can be verified by all the screaming and panic in a situation that is obviously not dangerous in any way. Again, another essay at another time, but take this as some amount of proof that I am not completely talking out of my ass armed only with an opinion.
Back to balance: Round foam weapons are easy to customize.
Generally the rules of any game have weapon construction guidelines and/or rules to operate within. The NERO Rulebook allows a long sword to be 46″ in length with a 14″ handle, if you build that with a kites bar core and kite tape you have a maximized speed stick no Latex Weapon can match. Conversely, spears can be 58″ inches long with a 1 inch MINIMUM handle, which is great if you are looking to spear dance with a blocking weapon that is harder to power through. Can you find Latex Weapons that meet these weight optimized specs, probably not, and if you could they often have a bunch of extra embellishment on them that will throw off the feel.
Customized weapons make for a more intense combat experience, which adds to the game. I know its all the rage these days to move away from the “stick-jockey” mindset, and I agree with that; LARP should not be only about combat, but combat is a part of the game. When all parts of the game are as intense as possible, then players of all styles are as engaged as possible, and that leads to immersion.
Crafting round foam weapons used to be a skill passed down from veteran LARPers to newbies with each new generation. It was a reason to reach out and get involved, to take someone under a wing, to throw a party.
New players would show up with weapons padded in fiberglass house insulation, or with two-handers made with a pipe too small (creating a floppy polearm that could hit people around corners was one of my early mistakes) and someone would have to tell them that the weapon was illegal and then SHOW THEM HOW TO MAKE A GOOD ONE; while this pragmatic knowledge was being passed, a bunch of culture and values got transferred too. There is something special about this kind of community building, you see it in old world apprenticeship programs; the passing of tangible knowledge is a powerful thing.
Now newbies show up with replica “Lucile” Bats or Lightsabers, and they’re safe, so its less a big deal that they are prohibited from using them. This kind of mistake is like wearing jeans to an event, distasteful, but not enough to raise alarms and force interaction; it winds up having the opposite effect, experienced players just ignore the Canadian Knight with the Lightsaber, losing the chance to pass on culture and forward the community, in fact breaking it apart instead.
Weapon making parties were another staple of LARP community that is starting to dwindle because of new Latex Weapon technology. These used to happen at least once a year at nearly every LARP in which I have ever participated. These are open invitation gatherings to make weapons for monster camp en masse, players would of course make some for themselves as well. These gatherings were perfect for getting the community to talk to one another, out of game, about all sorts of things, and work toward a common goal. Alas, now when the plot team asks for weapon donations, people just buy a few Latex Weapons, or get into the complicated and private process of creating their own flat foam latex weapons. Monster Camp gets fewer swords that have to be maintained regularly, are hard to fight with and tend to hurt people; and the community loses another opportunity for interaction.
Note: Alliance SoMI’s Monster Camp has a lot of wonderful Latex Weapons donated by fantastic players who care a lot about the game. We use these weapons to great effect on a very regular basis and I love all the players who have donated these wonderful weapons to us.
#5 I’m an old man who doesn’t like new things
I am. it’s true.
Chad Schaffer is a plot guy and prop engineer for SoMI. He has been playing LARPs of all sorts since 1996. He loves electricity, protein bars and the smell of fear; he hates mushrooms and giraffes.