LARP, or Live Action Role Play is a great deal harder than your average tabletop. And it’s not just harder on the players, who have to suddenly figure out how to actually do (or at least represent) all the rad things they previously only described their characters doing.
It’s a lot harder on the GMs too.
See, I’m on staff for a LARP called Gothic: The Lion Age up in Seattle. And while I really can’t think of a better hobby than helping to run a full scale immersive experience for almost a hundred people every six weeks, the logistics of it are a bit tough for a staff of 8- especially when we suddenly have to figure out how to actually portray the monsters and bosses we would have previously only described.
It doesn’t help that we’re running this, not out of a living room stocked with soft drinks and snacks, but out of a summer camp in the middle of the woods. It’s a lot harder to make clouds of fog when I don’t have access to electricity. In addition, any monster that I create has to appear realistic, impressive, and be able to interact with the players… which usually means that it has to be able to be attacked and attack back. It’s a bit more difficult to build a seven foot tall quadrupedal bird monster when I’m concerned about whether or not its wings are properly reinforced and padded to be safe for LARP combat, or whether I can stand back on my stilts enough to climb a hill and chase someone. I also am nowhere near a hardware store at our game site, so that if something breaks in the middle of game jury-rigging with whatever I have on hand is the name of the game.
It’s a learning experience, to say the least. Especially since, before this, the most I had ever done was makeup for zombie walks. See, I’m not a professional, I’m an enthusiastic amateur. In fact, if you’re coming here for advice from a professional monster maker or makeup artist, well, I have some YouTube videos I can point you to.
What I am, however, is the kind of person who has always wanted to make a backpack puppet, but didn’t really have a chance to do so until I came on staff. I like building complicated machinery out of my small one bedroom apartment, and get a gleeful joy from changing into something frightening that I can use to jump out of the shadows and scare the crap out of my friends. And, as that, I’m happy to share some of my experiences of the last year and a bit- so at least the rest of you can learn from my trial and error.
I wasn’t joking about that quadrupedal bird monster by the way, that seven foot tall creature had precisely the effect I wanted when I loped out of Logistics: from across the lake I heard a “oh what the F*CK is that?!”
But while I got the reaction I wanted out of it, I learned several things about how I need to improve it in the future. I’ll talk more about how I actually created the beast in a separate article, but what you can’t see in the picture above is the fact that I’m balancing on air trekker jumping stilts and leaning on crutches that I’ve made into wings. This was a great way to get height, but incredibly physically intensive. When combined with the limited airflow from that bird skull mask that made it a difficult costume to run in. And, despite padding the wings at a later date, I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to attack people with them.
This left me with a slow, plodding monster that was easy for PCs (player characters) to gang up on and surround. This meant that the encounter with the creature went much faster than I expected it to, as they surrounded it and beat it until it ran out of its calls and had to retreat back to its master.
Things I learned:
- Airflow is incredibly important. Surprisingly, breathing is something you need to do as a Storyteller.
- While wandering monsters are good, sometimes it is better to control the space that your creature will appear in.
- Black mesh covering the eye holes is great for appearance, but makes it even more difficult to see in the dark.
- Sometimes adding an extra two legs (I leaned on the wings as I walked), actually makes you have worse balance While the stilts would have been easily able to handle most of the inclines and stairs, the addition of wings that slid on certain surfaces actually made me less stable and considerably slower.
- Make sure you have an exit strategy for what will happen when the encounter is over.
I’ve noticed the black mesh problem before. Several of my costumes either involved eyeless monsters, as seen below. In both cases I found that while it was easy to see out of these costumes in lit rooms, once I got into the dark of the woods it was difficult to get around:
Something else I’ve noticed with a couple of my creations, of course, is time. With that bird monster it was only out in play for about a half an hour before it got beat, and while that was great for a boss that might return in the future, I’ve found that that time is pretty average with monsters that are corporeal enough to get hit with a sword. This means that while I’m capable of making monsters and creatures that are rotting or have significant other additions:
I don’t usually do it. These can take upwards of 2-3 hours to do right and that’s not something that is really possible in a LARP where five thousand things are happening at the same time, and where the creature I’m creating is only going to be on stage for about a half an hour at most. In general, the best monsters should take me about a half an hour to get into at most, which means that much of the time I’m going to go for masks or costumes rather than things that require makeup- at least until I get better at stagecraft.
When it comes down to it though, monster costumes for LARP need to be easy to get into, and provide enough sight, mobility, and airflow to actually be useful. Basically you need a costume that you can put on quickly and then do a brisk jog in without damaging it, yourself, or your players. Easier said than done, right?
I’ll go into some of my more elaborate creations and how I made them in the future, but until then let me know if you have any particular questions you’d like me to answer in the comments. I’m happy to help!