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Guide: playing a fighter on a larp

Warrior. Fighter. Soldier. Swordsman. They are some of the most popular archetypes played on larps which include combat. This guide will focus on mastering the role of a fighter - especifically in a medieval-ish fantasy setting, but most things could be adapted for other genres too.

In most larps, fighters are actually one of the simpler characters available to play. It takes minutes to explain things to someone who hasn't done it before. This article will NOT attempt to do that. If you're new to larping, you might want to start here instead.

This article is about mastering the role of a fighter, in any way possible. Now, obviously you don't need all of this just to be able to play. But if you are dedicated and want to do your best in your portrayal of a medieval-ish fantasy larp warrior, read on.

I'll divide this post into sections:

  1. Know your character, your setting and combat rules
  2. Fitness
  3. Gear
  4. Ability, acting, specific training
  5. Types of battle
  6. Tactics and strategy
  7. Outdoor skills and self-sufficiency

1. Know your character, your setting and combat rules

This is rather obvious. Learn all that is possible about your character and your setting so that you know how to act. Are you a knight? A bandit? What exactly does that mean in your setting? What exactly can you research that would make it better?

Also, take it easy and focus on tasks at hand. Don't try doing everything by yourself. If you're a fighter, general, political leader, chief investigator all at once, and on top of that you have your own personal quest to solve and chase other secrets as they come by... then you might be overdoing it. Always remember that a soldier who abandons his post to chase plot secrets is not a very effective soldier. Choose few tasks that you want to do, and don't try doing everything at once.

Remember to stay in the tone of the game. E.g. if you do a little bit research, you'll find out that knights weren't exactly nicest people around, and a lot of them could be more Game of Trones-ish than romanticized ideals. Don't bring any potentially offensive play to the game unless the game setting specifies that it's a part of the setting (some heavy subjects including inequality and class violence could also drive the plot). If in doubt what is appropriate/desirable for your intended larp, talk to GMs if it's not clear from the documentation.

If you need extra advice on creating characters, check out this guide.

Whatever method of fighting you use, make sure you know all the rules so that combat can run smoothly. You're doing the fighting. You need to know how it's done and what happens.

For more info: consult your documentation and ask the larp staff.

2. Fitness

Whenever someone imagines a fighter, they imagine a fit person. This means it's workout time. This might offend some people. "Don't tell me what to do, you don't know my life". But please, hear me out.

Working out has many advantages IRL, and if you're currently not working out in any way - consider it. If you're a fighter that is fit, you'll not only look more like a fighter, but you'll also have some important advantages. You'll be stronger, able to fight and play more without panting and tiring, more agile, quick, and simply more functional in every way. Plus, you'll have reduced chances of injury on a larp, while running around and fighting - your musculoskeletal system will be stronger and more ready for shocks associated with the outdoor activity. And even if your larp will not require you to be physically active, you'll still more look the part.

Eat healthier, move more, find an exercise program you can stick with (running, pushups, gym, workout videos etc.) and make it a lifestyle. Change will not be instant, but it will be visible.

More info: at your local gym or on the internet.

3. Gear

Let's face it - fighters need gear. Armor, weapons, shields etc. At most larps, effectiveness of fighters will depend on the gear they have. Getting good gear can be expensive. Most fighters will want a set of weapons and as good armor as they can buy.

Armor has several important functions. It should look cool. It should be functional - well, maybe not to the standards that steel combat uses (unless you use steel combat yourself, but depending on your location chances are it's pretty rare), but it should not maim you if you fall in it and it should be able to protect you even against harder strikes, weapon malfunction and environment (those thorns and branches).

Also - get the helmet. Many larpers ignore getting the helmet, since in many larps headstrikes are illegal. In real world, a helmet is a first thing someone would put on their head - it would have higher priority than chest armor. That's beacuse people tend to feel protective about their brains and faces. Helmets are cool, they look awesome and even if headstrikes are illegal that doesn't mean they'll never happen. Head protection helps a lot - plus you look like you did go an extra mile to properly represent your character.

I'd also recommend another often skipped part - hand protection. Your hand has a lot of tiny, fragile bones in it that can hurt a lot, for a long time when struck the wrong way. Guess how I learned that. Gauntlets might seem uncomfortable, but your hands will thank you.

In the end the goal is to make you equipped for battle - efficiently, safely, and looking cool. Just remember to drink plenty of water - wearing all that stuff will make you dehydrate faster if you don't take care of yourself. You can get the gear in larping stores (if you're having a really big larp, they might sell some stuff there as well), online shops or your local crafty larpers and other artisans. Ask around. Perhaps you can borrow some pieces...

Also, check out this article if you're larping in winter.

4. Ability, acting, specific training

You get better at fighting by fighting. That sentence could summarize this whole section. Now, what exactly this means depends on how combat works at your larp.

In most larps, this involves a certain amount of swordfighting skills, combined with a certain dose of acting and rules knowledge. The balance depends on where you go. Swordfighting skills are best practiced as they are. You might get some synergistic knowledge from fencing, medieval martial arts and/or standard martial arts, but it's not the same - especially if headshots are forbidden in your larp. But footwork, speed, agility, and general watchfulness and mindset usually transfer well. However, best training for your larp fighting is the fighting style you're gonna use on your larp. In some very competitive scenes there are fighters training multiple times a week - if that sounds like your larps, than that is the competition.

Acting is another part - and over here it's more than just the regular RP sort. Being able to take wounds and play them, fake injuries etc. can help you make nice and effective show. On some larps, battle is more about acting than displaying physical skill and winning at any cost. So your training might be more about acting and choreography than getting that hit. Either way, it complements your physical training - you should put yourself in situations similar to those you expect to experience in battle, so you can prepare for them.

This principle applies even to no-touch larps with tabletop-ey mechanics such as Vampire. Buy your ST a lunch (trust me, they love that) and ask them to run a few simulated battle scenarios with your character. Training! :)

5. Types of battle

I'm going to define four different types of combat engagement. All require different skills to pull off well, and you might find some of them more advantageous than others.

Duels are one on one battles. This is where your personal skill - both in combat and acting - is most important. Your focus is on your opponent at all times, and your skills are pitted against theirs.

Skirmishes are battles with several participants. The battle is fluid and dynamic, and combatants have a lot of room for themselves, so they spread around a lot and fight as they manuever, trying to outflank one another. Combat skill is very important for skirmishes, but so is manuevering and trying to find and use an opportunity. Attacking when your opponent is distracted gives you better chances than when they're focused on you.

Line battle is used when you have enough people for it. Lines work very well, and they're hard to break by the other side. You try to sneak in side shots, etc. because everyone is defended not only by themselves but also by their allies. Shield bearers and polearm fighters are the most effective weapon combinations in a battle line, phalanx or another formation. Also, individual fighting skill is not so crucial here unless the battle is simply one line vs another. Participants need to be well coordinated and disciplined, and able to execute manuevers as a group to be truly effective. For a line fighter, being able to stand orderly in line, march in the rhythm, do switches, swaps, pivots, etc. quickly and consistently - can be more important than fighting itself, because when the formation is broken it is vulnerable. Heavy infantry is very powerful here, as archery has less range in larps compared to real life, and there's no actual cavalry for safety reasons.

Ambush works with combat of any size. It's somewhat less effective in larps than in real life (due to differences in weapon use), so after the initial shock (which can be quite effective, and even decisive if pulled out well) they usually end up as one of the other types of battle.

6. Tactics and strategy

As the combatants increase in number, a good commander becomes more and more crucial. A good army can be ruined by a bad commander. An excellent commander will be almost a miracle worker. True, not every fighter aspires to become a commander, or to be in an army where one is necessary. But they should still be aware of their roles.

A good commander should be able to handle his troops well, communicate well, choose appropriate strategy and tactics, be very aware of the battlefield and new developments (soldiers in the middle of the battle will not always see things happening around them), and ensure victory.

There's a lot of stuff to be discussed here. Like with most other sections, having actual military experience (or similar) would be very valuable, and military literature (and classics such as Sun Tzu's Art of War) can be informative and helpful. There are some differences in larps, but plenty of info can still be applied here.

Rick Wynne wrote a good guide (written from IC perspective) about command, which covers the basics (and more) that you should have as a larp commander.

7. Outdoor skills and self-sufficiency

This obviously depends heavily on your larp environment, but most fighters are expected to know outdoor skills and be self sufficient. In most larps this won't be a crucial skill, but it will help a lot.

They will help you remain dry, comfortable and prepared for any situation. They can help you not overpack. They can help you learn to use your current gear as effectively as possible. All of this can have a positive effect on your performance as a fighter.

Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn about knots, woodcraft, making fire, collecting enough firewood. Learn how to stay comfortable in various outdoor situations. Make your costume with outdoors in mind. Bring rope. Also check out this guide about shelter systems on a larp.

Even if you don't need it on your larp, that knowledge might come in useful once - both for you and your character. Remember, self-sufficiency is expected of a fighter - you should at least know something about it if you're playing one.

More info about outdoor skills can be found on internet, during army training, scouts, in hiking groups, survival trainings etc. Outdoors skills can be learned at a lot of places. Pick what you like.

This should cover the basics. Got any more advice? Questions? Opinions? Comment below!


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