What is Larping: A Guide To Foam Fighting.
Updated: Aug 27
Photo By: http://www.donaldhuston.photo/
What is LARP? What is LARPing? What is Foam Fighting? What is Boffering? What is Battle Gaming?
The hobby has been known by many names, you might have heard about it from a friend, watched a YouTube video, or seen it featured in movies such as “Knights of Badassdom” or “Role Models.” If you have found yourself on this page chances are that you're interested in learning more about LARP or curious at the least. Here we will try to break down the world of LARPing to help you get a better understanding of the game and why you should join.
Let’s start with some basic definitions of the lingo used in most LARPing circles.
L.A.R.P. - Is an acronym. It stands for Live Action Role Playing. Some groups will say Live Action Role Playing game or they'll turn it into a verb called LARPing. It's a blanket term that describes any role-playing game (think more Dungeons & Dragons, less Final Fantasy) that is enacted live in person by the players. Each player usually takes on the role of a single character (PC or player character) along with staff members representing other Non-Playable Characters (NPCs).
The Official Wikipedia Entry Can Be Found Here.
Foam Fighting - Also known as “boffering,” “foam combat,” or “battle gaming” is the act of using foam-built, padded weapons in martial combat. This allows players to battle one another during LARP games and events. This is generally done inside of “combat LARPs” or “boffer LARPs” as not all live-action role-playing games include this physical combat aspect.
Boffer - This is a general term to describe a specially made foam weapon used by “boffer LARPs”. These are normally built by layering different densities of foam over a PVC, fiberglass, or carbon fiber core and finished with a cloth cover. This can refer to foam swords, spears, daggers, etc. Normally these foam weapons are built to a single LARP’s ruleset in order to allow for safe physical combat between players.
Some examples of common "Boffer" weapons in the Dagorhir/Belegarth style.
Latex Larp Weapon - This refers to a specific type of mass-produced, molded foam weapon made with latex rubber. These weapons are often painted with a glossy latex coating. These weapons are generally lightly padded and so require players to use less force, as the weapon can be unsafe during harder contact and fighting. Latex weapons also generally have very little support at the tip and, therefore, do not lend themselves to thrusting safely.
Examples of some latex weapons from Calimacil one the largest LARPing gear supplier.
More examples can be found at www.calimacil.com
Garb (Larp Costume) - This refers to the (sometimes required) themed clothing that is worn to different LARPing events, representing that particular game's theme or time period. Many of these products are hand-made by the LARP's community members and vendors. Some garb will also include functional leather and/or metal armor.
Some examples of mass produced larp outfits and clothing.
Theme - This is the fictional setting or time period the LARP takes place, many are medieval fantasy but they can range from steampunk to spaceflight. The level of immersion into these themes can also vary greatly from LARP to LARP.
The Many Different Types of LARPS
The Game of LARP vs The Sport of Battle Gaming.
To help further break things down for you let’s talk about the difference between LARPing and Battle Gaming. Here you can see a diagram of the different LARPing organizations as the term LARP refers to a very wide spectrum of hobbies and past times. The most notable differences being the level of combat and the level of role-playing the game requires. Live steel fighting is a very different pursuit than basic cosplaying, for example. Many larping organizations can be just as separate.
Unfortunately, everything gets grouped together as “LARPing” in the same way that Candy Crush and Grand Theft Auto are both technically “video games”. In order to give some more clarity to their unique rulesets and play styles, some "harder" fighting and less role-play heavy organizations such as Belegarth, Dagorhir, SCA, and others avoid using the term "LARP" to describe themselves and instead prefer terms like "sport" or "Historical Reenactment".
While there is some room for overlap in the terms, most LARPs can be broken up into three basic categories: Foam Fighting LARP, Role-Playing LARP and Theatrical LARP.
Foam Fighting LARPs also known as Boffer LARPs or Battle Gaming, will have little to no role-playing elements outside of foam weapons and medieval garb. These are treated more like games of sport in which teams will fight in live combat without the use of character sheets or abilities. These battles are generally not tied to any larger plot or story. Normally a boffer organization’s general rule-set will be mostly used to clarify when an opponent has been defeated or a point has been scored. Multiple team matches will be played using various game types, some types changing the number of lives, while others add goals or objectives to the fight that outline the match-winning conditions. Usually, this includes simply that the last team standing wins. These battles are often known as “ditching” or “ditch battles.”
Role-playing LARPs will normally entail some tabletop role-playing elements such as character sheets, item cards, experience points, etc. Most of these games focus more on the story-telling aspect of role-playing, using a gamemaster, staff, and props to engulf the players verbally and visually in another world. Many of the heavier live-action role-playing games include lighter physical foam combat but the ones that do generally have a more robust larping rule-set including magic, abilities, effects and hit points. Many times these games will make use of foam boffer weapons, but due to the lighter nature of the combat, they will also allow the use of latex LARP weapons as well. Unlike battle gaming or boffer LARPs, the combat here is not the main focus but simply an extension of the story.
Theatrical LARPs offer all the roleplaying with no actual physical boffer combat. Instead, the fighting and challenges are resolved with the use of skills and abilities on a character sheet. Plots and storylines are created by the storytellers and players are to act according to their given or created characters, not unlike a large improv group. In-game items, weapons, and experience are awarded to players similar to a tabletop role-playing game. Props and costuming is often used but not always required.
Themes and Events
There is a LARP for everyone! Do you want to be a member of high society and also an undead vampire (no glitter required)? There’s a LARP for that. Do you want to try living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland surrounded by zombies and raiders? There’s a LARP for that. Do you just want to be yourself and use padded weapons to beat the crap out of hundreds of people? Heck, there are a couple of those LARPs as well and everything in between. The moral here is that if you don't find yourself enjoying a particular LARP, be it because of theme, or level of combat and role-play there are always other options out there, and if you keep trying you will likely find something that is a perfect fit for you.
Most LARPs will take place during weekly, or monthly, games/practices. These will consist of a smaller number of local players from the area, normally lasting a few hours. The more role-playing heavy and theatrical LARPs will run smaller plot and storyline quests with combat as required by the story, and the harder foam fighting LARPs will generally practice combat training and run various boffer games such as “Kill the King” or “Capture The Flag.”
Then, annually or quarterly, the larger LARPing organizations will run huge multi-day events/campouts on a state or national level with hundreds of people in attendance. This is where the real excitement of LARPing comes from. These huge LARP events will bring in people from all over the country and normally include a number of food and craft vendors, music, feasting, and very lively nightlife events.
For the role-play heavy and theatrical LARPs the players will stay fully immersed "In Character" for the entire length of the event. Designated “Out of Character” areas are set up throughout the event to allow players to take a break from the role-playing experience. These events will generally include major plot events for the story. Guest NPCs, special items, extra experience points, in-character feasting, and more.
For the more Foam Fighting heavy side of things, there will be huge unit battles with multiple teams and hundreds of fighters all weekend long. Similar to certain matches in some Olympic sporting events. A various number of tournaments will be run for the different foam weapon types, as well as other special events such as assassins tournaments. Players generally will not be “in-character” or conduct any role-playing outside of these battle games.
Visit Our Event Page For More Details and To Find Larping Events Near You.
LARP is a fantastic way to make new friends, learn new skills and find the warrior within yourself. No matter if you choose Theater of the Mind or a Boffer League or some shade in-between, your goal will always be to just participate. Take some time to find the right fit for you and we know you'll be thrilled with the adventure you embark on.
If your looking for a little more information on LARPing check out the following books published on the subject.
The Arts of LARP - by David Simkins
The Modern Nerd's Guide to Larping - by Lizzie Stark
Leaving Mundania - by Mike Sciandra
P.S. "How to Get Started Larping" & "Larping Organizations Breakdown"
Blog Posts (Coming Soon!)
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