An Introduction to Live Action Roleplaying

What is Extreme Roleplaying? 

Imagine a virtual reality in which you are transported into a fantasy movie like the Fellowship of the Ring, Conan the Barbarian, or Willow. Imagine that you could become a character in that movie, but without a script. Imagine that you could be a hero in the struggle against evil for a day. Imagine that you could feel the pulse pounding excitement of a fantasy adventure without real danger. Imagine the feeling of magic at your fingertips. Imagine yourself fighting hand to hand against savage foes, with victory decided not by dice, but by your own skill. Imagine a world created for you to adventure in, as complete as possible. As real as possible. No dice. No computers. Imagine… that you do not NEED to use your imagination…because it is all there before you. Also called “LARP” (Live Action Roleplaying), Extreme roleplaying is a hobby in which you portray an imaginary character, “Live”, as though you were an actor in a movie, but without a script. To put it more simply, it’s about picking up a (padded) sword, and heading out into the woods to enter a fantasy world complete with props, sets, and actors for a day or weekend. 

How is Combat handled? 

Combat is a sport, in which you swing specially constructed padded swords and other weapons at your opponent, while trying to avoid being struck by them. It is not a particularly “Realistic” simulation of sword fighting, but it is fun, safe, exciting, and easy to get into. 

Does it hurt?  

When conducted properly, no. The weapons used are very safe, but they can sting or bruise when used with too much force. Hits to the head and other vulnerable areas are not allowed. Anyone causing another player pain is breaking the rules, and will be in big trouble if the problem persists. Poorly constructed weapons are another problem. Some people have encountered LARP combat with heavy swords poorly padded with too much duct tape, used with too much force, and found it painful and intimidating. Mystwood combat strives to avoid this. Even the most delicate person should be able to participate in combat in (relative) comfort. 

So is it like Martial Arts? 

Not really. It bears little resemblance to things like Kick boxing. Since the objective is NOT to hurt (or even bruise) your opponent, real life combat skills are not as helpful as they would be in a real fight. However, many of the principles of the martial arts apply, and anyone trained in Martial arts should have no problem mastering LARP combat.

How do you know when you’re dead?

Mystwood uses a “Hit Point” system. For example, a certain character might have 5 Hit Points. They could be struck with a sword 5 times before being taken out. If they were hit by something that did 3 points of damage, they would subtract this from their total, and have 2 Hit Points left.

I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Lee. Do I still stand a chance in combat?

Absolutely. LARP combat is a sport, and like any sport, there are those who are very good at it. However, it is a sport that is easy to become competent in. A few weeks of practice are enough to enable most people to hold their own. The weapons are light enough for just about anyone to use, so you don’t have to build up strength, as you would have to in order to wield a real sword. Since you aren’t really trying to hurt people, large folk can actually be at a disadvantage, since they present a larger target, and get no benefit from their generally greater strength. Teamwork and tactics are often more important than raw skill and fitness.

This isn’t a movie where extras attack the heroes one at a time to be conveniently slaughtered, leaving themselves wide open. Two fighters working together can defeat most single foes, and anyone can be defeated by a well-placed attack from behind.

What about Magic?

Magic is simulated in a variety of ways. Some spells work automatically- the person points at you, and says the effect of the spell. Most, though, require that the magician throw a “spell packet”, a basically a birdseed bean bag (hacky sack sized), at you. If it misses, the spell fails.

Is combat the only thing going on?

Not at all. Combat is exciting, and plays a large role, but an equal emphasis is placed on roleplaying characters, costumes, sets, special effects, the “story” of the game, challenges of physical skill (such as leaping from platform to platform), or mental ability (solving puzzles), entertainment and feasts.

Do I have to wear a costume?

Yes- you wouldn't want someone in khakis and a Metallica t-shirt wandering through a "Star Wars" movie set, would you? However, costumes can generally be borrowed from the game if need be; though it’s better to find your own.

What are “PCs” and “NPCs”?

PC stands for “Player Character”. A person who participates as a PC plays a single character for an entire event- a hero or heroine of the story. The player creates a “Character”, who has various skills and abilities defined in the rules. Such characters are the central focus of the story, and the action revolves around them. Think of them as the main characters of a movie. As time passes, Player characters progress and gain power and experience. 

NPCs are “Non-Player Characters”- the extras, crew and cast of the game. During an event, an NPC will play many roles, often enemies of the PCs. Thus in a fantasy game they might be peasants, marauding brigands, wise sages, winsome maidens, foppish rakes, or hideous monsters. 

These NPC parts are assigned by the game Staff, the people who actually organize the event, and NPCs must play the part assigned as best they can, until it is time to receive a new one.

What’s the difference between Mystwood and a Renaissance Faire?

A Renaissance Faire is a large production, which most people go to watch. An extreme roleplaying event is generally much smaller and there are no spectators- everyone is involved in the action. Another difference is that Renaissance Faires stage choreographed battles between professionals, often using steel weapons, while LARP combat is unchoreographed, with NO steel weapons allowed. Everyone at a LARP is “in game”, and you are a direct participant in the action, not a spectator. You don’t watch the goodly knight thwart the evil sheriff- you do it yourself, or try to anyway. There is no script, so success or failure depends on your skill, cunning, teamwork, and luck. There also aren’t large numbers of people trying to sell you stuff.

So there’s an ongoing story?

Absolutely. The “Player Characters” continue from event to event, learning more about their world, learning new skills, gaining new abilities, encountering new and old friends and enemies, and generally living a fantasy adventure.

How does Mystwood compare with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)?

Though they often appeal to the same sort of people, the experiences are very different. The main differences are twofold: 

First, LARP combat is much less demanding, and consequently, not as realistic as that of the SCA. On the plus side, that means you can do a lot more of it. 

Second, in an Extreme Roleplaying LARP you are continuously “in character”. The goal is to create as complete a world of sight, sound, touch and even taste as possible. There is also an ongoing story- things happen to the PC s, events transpire, choices are made. The SCA on the other hand, works to recreate historical arts and situations rather than a fantasy world.

What does this have to do with vampires? 

Almost nothing. “World of Darkness” or “Vampire LARP” is a different, related hobby. Each has its own merits, but they have relatively little in common beyond the idea of roleplaying. There certainly are Vampires in Mystwood, but they exist as foes and monsters!

What does it actually LOOK like?

Costuming and effects could be compared to a “B grade” movie- and they are getting better all the time. At Mystwood, all inhabitants, monsters, and other creatures wear costumes, often quite elaborate. A variety of masks and makeup are used to simulate non-human beings. Clothing is worn that is appropriate to a fantasy world. The Village where the game takes place is specially constructed as a “set” to appear as a fortified settlement from the past. Other “sets” are used for ruins and tunnels. Music, fog machines, light, and other “special effects” are also sometimes used.

Who can play?

Anyone 14 years of age or older who can follow the rules, especially the core safety rules, may play. You may be asked to present some proof of age. Younger players are sometimes allowed on a case by case basis. Persons under 18 years old also need parent’s consent.

What are the benefits of LARP?

Live Action Roleplaying is an exciting and demanding activity that often brings great personal growth. The athletic challenge of sword fighting helps build fitness and often appeals to young people who don’t enjoy traditional sports.

Success requires practice, focus, and discipline, much like a traditional martial art. Most live action roleplaying adventures require teamwork to overcome a variety of challenges, not unlike “Outward Bound” activities.

There is also a great opportunity for social growth, as people of a variety of ages and backgrounds come together in a way that is all too rare today. The need to create one’s costume and gear is a way to exercise artistic talents and craft skills. Every participant is valued for their contributions regardless of their age. 

Success in a difficult battle, solving a complex puzzle, or leading others to victory are great self-esteem builders. Unlike computer gaming, live action roleplaying takes place outdoors, has physical, social, and emotional benefits computers cannot provide.

Are there safety concerns?

Like any contact sport, there are risks associated with live action roleplaying. Injuries are rare, but they do occur, almost always from falls in rough terrain. Good judgment in running and jumping is the most important safety skill.

The padded swords, properly constructed, are extremely safe. If your child trains at home, you should be sure that they are following Mystwood safety standards for sword construction and for sparring. No attacks to the head, no body contact, no pushing, wrestling, punching or kicking, no “baseball bat” type swings, and no more than 3 swings before a break. Sparring should take place on a level surface free from obstacles. Following these rules will help keep your child safe as well as ensuring that they properly prepared for Mystwood events.

Is there supervision for young players?

Mystwood endeavors to provide a safe, supportive environment for all participants. No drugs or alcohol are allowed at any event, and high standards of courtesy and safety are required. However, neither MASI nor Burgundar LLC provides supervision of any sort, and should not be thought of as a “camp” or daycare activity. Mystwood is primarily an adult organization. Young people that participate are expected to be mature enough to take care of themselves.

Age limits for events generally vary from 14-18 years old minimum, and ultimately it is your responsibility as a parent to determine if your child is mature enough to participate safely. A good rule of thumb is “Would you be comfortable with your child spending a weekend camping with friends?” If the answer is yes, then they should be ready for Mystwood events.

It may be a good idea to accompany your child to an event. This will give you a better idea of what an event is like- and it is also a great family activity. Another alternative is to start with an afternoon of adventuring, rather than a full weekend event. Anyone under 18 must have a waiver of liability signed by a parent or guardian, found at the end of this book.