Monday, 20 May 2013

A very interesting insight into the history of american and european LARPs

This came to be on a larp thread in /tg/.

I am merely saving it on a better platform.


Heh. Last thread went on account of it's participants going to sleep- I was out around 1AM EST US time.

Annnnyway: Visuals. Why do they matter when we can just imagine the guy in a tabard and facepaint as an orc? Heck, where does that point of view come from?

I've found that where it comes from is, quite simply people who've never experienced it. When you're used to riding horses at a full gallop, it's a rush- but when you get on a motorcycle the first time and start going a mile-a-minute, it's a unique experience. Both are a speed rush, but the second one just gives you that "goin' fast" feeling at a level the horse can't.
Most US LARPers are used to the horse. It's all they have to ride, it can get you there, and it's fun when you kick it into gear. You've got your boffers, you've got your basic costuming, and that's how they ride.

By comaprison, the "internal combustion" age of LARPing started in England in the late 80's, spread rapidly out from there, and ended up a standard passed from one group to another that now extends from there to the outer edges of what used to be the Warsaw Pact. Along with it came never really having the foam-fighting lot that shit all over the idea of actually dressing up for hitting each other with plumbing supplies. And instead of D&D, the big gaming influences were...Warhammer.

I've seen pictures of late-80's/early 90's LARPers from both sides of the pond. They look almost identical. But the later influences rapidly change that. Pic related, this kinda thing is our "common ancestor" LARP-wise, before environmental issues changed- and wouldn't look out of place in some countries today where LARPing is just getting started.

US LARPers had their influences come from what was around them- foam-fighting groups and the SCA, plus the ubiquitous Renaissance Fairs that are pretty much a USA thing. Foam-fighters insured that the boffer would remain the dominant LARP weapon pretty much forever, and refine that into the kitespar-feather-club ultralights to boot. SCAdians helped make sure that armor would be functional before looking good. D&D meant that a high-magic system was the big draw, that a guy in a robe was dangerous on account of being a walking rocket launcher with beanbag missiles-o-doom (at least until he was out of spells, then he was a useless piece of meat). Cheap and thrifty and doing as little as possible was considered a virtue- and even the combat systems often evolved along those lines, rendering armor that took time, effort and/or money relatively useless vs. magic- a lot like D&D fighters vs. D&D mages, when you think about it. What good costuming did come along was from people who crossed their LARP with their Renfair/SCA garb whoring/con costuming -but since those people were used to social situations where the guy in fugly combat armor was having dinner next to the lady in fancy dress, it carried over to LARPing. In the US, you can still see it to this day- women tend to have a higher visual standard by far than the guys do...unless the lady in question is dressing up the guy.

Meanwhile, overseas you're getting completely different influences. A combination of medieval era re-enactors (the equivalent US ones are busy playing 1700-1800's era wargames and barely make a blip on the LARP scene) and FX-minded folks (the UK's ranks for "holy shit, that's an awesome monster" gear include notable FX guys who did BBC work from the 80's onwards) drive a demand to get rid of the boffer weapon. They come up with the first latex weapons and suddenly, you have multiple crafters trying to outdo each other in making awesome-looking latex weapons. Costuming already has the support of said re-enactment types, and the stronger FX-maker influence also means you see much more of what the US would call "cosplay" getting into the mix- not only do you see more realistic armor getting into LARP, but you also see "wonderflex" and other theater-style prop armor bits and accessories going in alongside the latex weaponry they're busy hitting each other with in the woods and caves (and occasional old castles).

In addition, the fantasy gaming system in Europe that's big isn't D&D. It's Warhammer, with it's strong visuals and a much more "melee matters and does the hard work, magic is for special stuff" view of things. The "lightning bolt" as US LARPers know it never takes off, with more point-and-shoot and considerably less of it being hurled around. And standards being much higher, the visuals...well, they end up being up there as well.

US LARP ends up following along it's ancestor's lines- small "chapters" and groups all over the place that rarely get together. EU LARP tends more along the lines of re-enactor groups, happily forming the first "festival" LARPs- games easily approaching 1000 people, then later nearing 10,000 with the international fests like Drachenfest. The closest US equivalent are the SCA (Pennsic being most notable and of similar size, with smaller multi-thousand-population "wars" scattered around the US along with similar slightly smaller efforts from Amtgard/Dagorhir), but LARP size in the US generally stabilizes at the "small group" level, falling from a maximum of 300 or so in the early 90's to a mass scattering of 150 or less in the modern day. Indoor (convention/Mind's Eye Theatre-aka-vampire-LARP) games sit at much the same levels, only without any real continuity most of them simply come and go and make no long-term impact- but are actually more common than the outdoor LARPs for a fair bit of time thanks to the ease of venue and relative informality of play. To whit, you can find a vampire LARP in pretty much easy driving distance over much of the US. (Good luck with that overseas.)

Meanwhile, as the European LARP scene is developing, the US one pretty much falls into a near-stasis for over a decade. PVC boffers are still common, but the more competitive begin to experiment with kitespar and other similar supplies to create something that hits faster and safe by US standards. The UL weapon begins to show up in significant numbers, but to this day this pic wouldn't be out of place at your average US LARP event.

It's worth noting that it's not ALL totally frozen in place in the US. The first cracks in the ice actually date back to 2000 or so, when you started seeing a very few latex weapons imported over, along with the occasional group of folks that had started with European LARPing and brought that mindset over to the US. In addition, a certain amount of backlash develops over the years, dribbling out new, small games on a regular basis. Most of these end up being near-clones of the old 1990's style games, but the occasional group innovates or forms more rules-light systems. Accelerant is the most widely used second-generation rules system, but individual examples exist up and down the East Coast in respectable numbers. While relatively unpopular, there's even attempts at science-fictionish or post-apoc games: in the US, an early example is the Future Imperfect events run by Mythical Journeys, one of the more creative offshoots of the 1990's LARP fantasy generation that's still active to this day. Games like Freefall or Dystopia Rising are more recent additions to the list, along with attempts to build Fallout in LARP format. (and it's notable that such efforts are oft mirrored overseas, up to and including a long-going 40K LARP in the UK, or at least one truly badass Fallout LARP in Russia.)

While it's notable that the oldest LARP orgs in the US are AWARE of what it's like elsewhere, it's not something that gets brought up much until very recently. A good chunk of NERO's bigwigs ended up at Mythodea back in 2005 (and proceeded to botch horribly a copycat event in the US shortly afterwards, utterly souring Mythodea's staff towards reaching overseas), and the occasional US LARPer makes the trip over to the UK/Germany (military types, commonly) and gets a taste of how they do it on the other side of the Atlantic.

There are no serious producers of latex gear in the US. Zero. Calmacil is Canadian (and go figure, you have Biccoline and such there, along with stuff that'd easily resemble US games as they've always been), and 99.9999% of LARP gear in the US is repurposed in some fashion- from Ren Faire costumers and pouches and such through imported LARP-safe weaponry from the EU or Canada, and since imports are oft marked up + the US penchant for "thrifty" (read: cheap as possible) gear...the well-equipped LARPer is a rare bird outside of long-established games, and even then the competitive bent of many of them encourages and allows for people to put the good-looking sword down, grab a UL club-sword and feel socially better about it cause they chose effectiveness over actually wielding or wearing something that looked neat- because performance still rules in most parts of the US over anything else. (Except cost- it'll either be cheap, or it'll be effective, but rarely does the idea of "gee, I'm wearing pickle barrel armor and swinging a kitespar dicksword" trouble the US gamer.)

The smaller group sizes and standards also means that just -getting- a business with a viable market is difficult at best- meaning the hordes of small business types that pop up in the UK or Germany along with the bigger ones (like Mytholon or Atlier) simply never find ground to take root and get started. Their equivalents in the US resell EU gear.


By comparison, you'll see plenty of SCA merchants and armorers- which means it's actually far easier to find functional 14-16ga metal armor sold than 18-20ga LARP-style armor- and likewise, even leather (or plastic!) After all, they're more established and have been needed (since minimum standards for SCA require it) for decades longer, and even then are so in demand that most have weeks or months worth of waiting list. Likewise, you can even find boffer-makers out there that sell a steady stream of their product- but because latex is in much lower demand, you don't see it being made domestically in the USA.

What would bring US visual standards up higher?

AVAILABILITY. And that's not just "Oh, we can sell stuff we got overseas.". Personally, I think it won't happen until someone in the highest-density LARP population (that is, New England->PA) actually starts the equivalent of a Skian Mohr, Having a LARP, or similar one-tent-vendor style actually learns how to make proper production of latex weapons that are soft enough to regularly pass US (who tend to be more sensitive towards harder weapons) game standards- and starts going around selling working-man's weaponry to the populace.

Because frankly, there's good odds nowadays that you could end up ordering a weapon from overseas, bringing it to an event and having it fail. Grats, you're out $100- oh, and heck, you never even got a chance to hold the thing or test swing it a few times to see if you liked it. Hope it looks good on your wall.

Likewise less expensive LARP-grade armor. Most people into armoring are immediately snagged by the SCA, where they're able to sit there banging out SCA-grade armor with a guaranteed demand....much less the machined, basically "munition-grade" armor you can find stacked by the dozens at a German LARP vendor!

1 коментара:

Ivan Zalac said...

Insightful! I always enjoy reading comparisons. Also, nordic larp made some impact recently (Mad about the Boy was played, Limbo is planned etc), and there are several very interesting projects such as Dreamlands in California. Check it out :)

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