LARP Weapons - Taking The Edge Off Reality
The world of LARP brings its players deeper than ever before into realms of imagination first explored in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. And much like those early role-playing gamers, LARPers create a character, come up with a backstory, and equip their player for high adventure. But this is no paper doll on a screen, like the classic computer RPGs of old. And it’s much more than a slot on your character sheet in D&D. This is you, your body, your armour, and your weapon!.
Why LARP Weapons?
Central to any great roleplaying experience is a sense of immersion. It’s what most of us are looking for when we pick up the d20, control pad, or take to the hills with our friends, armed to the teeth with non-lethal weapons. And that’s an important point. While having our gear look as realistic as possible can keep us immersed in the game world, we don’t want to hurt anybody.
So there’s a bit of a conflict of interest here. We want our historically lethal weapons to look real - and we want to commit to swinging and thrusting them with force. But we also want them, by way of careful design and construction, to avoid hurting our friends in battle.
“Tis his character I hate with every fibre of my being - not Steve!!”
Keep It Soft - Keep It Safe
This is why a whole niche industry has sprung up around our hobby. Making weapons that look convincing, can stand up to the rigours of battle, and won’t hurt us or our opponents is no simple task. A real, historical weapon is, after all, a force multiplier - something designed to main, hurt, and kill other human beings. This is not what we’re after. Nor is this HEMA, where though safety measures are taken, the intention is to closely recreate true historical European combat. LARP is primarily about losing yourself in a fantasy setting and having fun. The frenzy of battle is where this fun lies for many - and it’s hard to enjoy a good frenzy if there’s a chance our weapon could truly hurt another participant.
Foaming At The LARP - Weapons Without Bite
Using a material that compresses on impact, doesn’t splinter when broken, and can’t take on a sharp edge is paramount. Some of you may remember epic sword fights by the pool with those tubular float aids that look vaguely like lightsabers from your childhood. Well, they’re not a bad start when thinking about how to make safe weapons for LARP. The foam used in these “pool noodles” has many of the properties we’re looking for.
There are a number of problems though. The rigidity, durability, and handling properties of a hollow tubular piece of foam are nothing like a real weapon. We could flail around endlessly without getting any real feedback on hits to our opponent or ourselves. To get the best experience, we need something that more closely mimics the properties of a real weapon.
LARP may not be as competition-focused as HEMA, but we still want to be able to keep score, play by the rules, and demonstrate our skills with a weapon that does them justice. LARP weapons use high quality, closed-cell EVA foam - totally different from the cheap pool noodle stuff. But even with this better grade foam, there needs to be more substantial, weight, stiffness and flex in our weapons.
Hard Core Roleplaying
To make this possible, the core of our weapon must be made of something much more rigid than its exterior. High-quality foam weapons are often built around a fibreglass and resin core. There are a few key benefits to using these materials. Fibreglass is relatively lightweight, durable, and has flex and weight properties closer to the kind of high-carbon steel that would be used in the construction of medieval-style weapons than a pool noodle.
These flex/vibration properties also really help us to know when we’ve registered a hit on our opponent, or them on us. Fibreglass has high tensile and compression strength and extraordinary impact resistance. Taken care of properly, these weapons should last a long time.
Safety And Durability In LARP
A key safety feature is that the core in fibreglass LARP weapons won’t shatter and splinter like materials used in cheap LARP weapons. If a quality LARP weapon’s core breaks after years of use, it snaps at a single point - and doesn’t splinter into many smaller pieces that could potentially harm another player.
The tip of the fibreglass rod inside the weapon is often reinforced with braided fibre or kevlar to prevent it from bursting through the foam when thrusting. Some manufacturers now use an injection moulding process, which creates a more robust bond between the core and the foam around it.
Latex And Foam - A Perfect Storm For Larp
Safety is definitely a key concern, but we still want everything to look as real as possible to help with immersion. This is where cheaper foam comes up short. It can be difficult to achieve a realistic-looking finish on a weapon made entirely of lower quality foam (especially in cheap LARP weapons).
This is where latex comes in. Latex is a kind of rubber that can be coloured, tinted, and worked to produce a finish that is much more convincing. It can also be mixed into, or bonded to the exterior of foam weapons as a top layer, bringing the overall cost down, and keeping all of the safety features that foam offers.
While we did say that latex can achieve a finish that’s near impossible on cheap LARP weapons, it’s important to note that some manufacturers have stepped up to the plate when it comes to providing quality equipment for those with a latex allergy. Using a type of polyurethane foam, many companies have created latex-fee LARP weapons that look as good, if not better than, their latex counterparts.
Flight Of Fancy
While realism is a concern, it’s a very specific kind of realism. We want our weapons to look genuinely intimidating, and handle in a reliable way. But, in LARP, we aren’t beholden to any particular period of history - or even pragmatism when it comes down to it. Fantasy is fantastical, after all. And if you want your weapon to have lines and curves that don’t make total, practical, real-world sense - no-one is going to stop you. Having fun, deepening immersion for yourself and other players, and making a more visceral connection between you and your character is what these props are all about.
LARP Swords - Blunted Edge Tech
Most of us picture swords when thinking about a typical fantasy setting. They occupy a unique place in modern culture and fiction - part brutal, historical weapon, part symbol of nobility and honour. And certainly, for the purposes of self-defence, a sword is a practical choice.
People may carry spears, poleaxes and large heater shields into battle, but a sword, either one or two-handed can be strapped to your waist and taken on an adventure. Knights, mercenaries, wagon guards and soldiers all carry swords, and they’re often seen as the mark of a true, professional fighter. LARP swords are versatile weapons on the battlefield and take true skill to use well.
LARP Daggers - Striking From The Shadows
The dagger occupies an unusual place in the fantasy pantheon. In reality, the historical dagger was probably more of a utility object/last-ditch sidearm than a dedicated weapon. But the fantasy genre has given us the dual dagger-wielding rogue, capable of rapid movement and dealing out damage at an incredible rate - thus making up for their weapon’s lack of inertia and range. And to be honest, despite the harsh reality of fighting a spear bearer with a dagger - this actually kind of works when it comes to LARP.
Typically in LARP, the focus is on “touching” rather than “hitting”. And because LARP daggers are smaller and lighter than other LARP weapons, with careful use of feints and timing, a skilled dagger wielder can defeat any foe. LARP parrying daggers are made around a fibreglass core which ensures they are safe and rigid enough to perform well in combat against larger weapons.
Throwing Down With LARP Weapons
Throwing daggers (and their equivalents from other cultures) are both a fantasy trope and historical reality. A close-range weapon with devastating force, the thrown dagger has been part of human warfare and hunting for thousands of years. LARP variants can offer the same balanced, predictable flight path as their lethal counterparts, but are constructed in such a way as to make them safe. Typically, a LARP throwing dagger is made from coreless, closed-cell foam. These weapons are short enough and used in such a way that they don’t require a rigid core. The same tends to hold true for other, short throwing weapons like shuriken and kunai.
LARP Throwing Axes
A throwing axe is usually longer than a throwing dagger and more suited to secondary use held in the hand. To achieve this feel and get the right balance, LARP throwing axes often use a fibreglass core in their handle - like parrying daggers and swords. This core must be sufficiently covered by foam so that the weapon is considered safe to throw.
History is full of agricultural tools converted into weapons, and axes were often chief among them. Technically speaking, any axe made for combat is a battle axe, irrespective of its head shape or handle length. Both large, two-handed axes and lighter more nimble one-handed axes were common during the medieval period and renaissance. In LARP, much like in real life, some warriors favour the lighter, more nimble one-handed axe, while others prefer a larger, heavier two-handed weapon with better range.
The flanges, knobs, and spikes on the heads of maces developed as an answer to the increased protection afforded by plate armour and mail in the medieval period. No matter how sharp an edge or point you keep on your weapon, if your opponent is wearing full-plate, you can still struggle to inflict any damage whatsoever. Real maces were designed to dent or penetrate even the thickest armour and inflict damage to its wearer. But LARP maces, while scary to look at, are designed to do exactly the opposite. Their symbolic and heraldic use in real-world ceremonies may explain why maces are often the weapon of choice for fantasy paladins, geomancers, and white mages. And, depending on the rules you play under, there may be some benefit to using a mace against the undead.
The war hammer also first made an appearance in history as a way of countering heavily armoured foes. The hardness and curved design of steel armour meant that both swords and battle-axes could only inflict glancing blows - often ricocheting off. Hammers, with both curved and flat sides to their heads, could deliver huge concussive blows to heavily armoured opponents, concentrated into a small surface area. This has a devastating effect, even when the armour doesn’t completely break. Quality LARP hammers look every bit as intimidating as the real thing, but thanks to their fibreglass core with injection-moulded foam padding, they are as safe as the rest of the LARP armoury.
The spear is one of mankind’s oldest, simplest and most elegant weapon designs. Its applications for hunting and warfare are apparent just from looking at it. One of these benefits carries over quite clearly into the LARP world - range. The ability to hit your opponent whilst not getting hit is the key to victory in any combat scenario. Pair your spear with a shield and you join the ranks of perhaps the most common infantry loadout in all of history. Of course, LARP spears use the same construction and safety features of other LARP weapons. Though, as with all thrusting weapons, different organisations will have different rules. Longer spears may come in two pieces, which screw together via a metal thread.
History, fantasy, and historical fantasy (think Robin Hood) all depict the staff as the weapon of choice for warrior monks, priests, friars, holy people, and wanderers. The staff is, after all, just a large stick. A stick made from carefully selected wood, with a specific thickness and grain pattern then possibly worked and treated to finish. A staff was something innocuous enough to be carried by a common traveller, but in the right hands - a lethal weapon. Staffs give you speed and put a large area of your opponent’s body under threat. LARP staffs are made with a fibreglass core which typically stops several inches below the foam tips of the weapon. Larger staffs may be of two-piece construction, threading together in the middle.
LARP shields and bucklers are used to deflect and absorb incoming blows just like they are in real combat. Most LARP organisations will have rules regarding shield size to keep the playing field as even as possible. The truth is that shields are a huge advantage in combat, but not everyone wants to use them - either for roleplaying reasons, practical reasons, or a mix of both. Most LARP shields are made of hard, closed-cell foam and are thankfully much lighter than the real thing.
Sturdy And Safe
Back in the early days of our hobby, having a wide range of safe, beautifully made, LARP-specific weapons commercially available would have sounded like a dream. Thankfully, decades of passion have gone into creating the kind of tactile, visually stunning, and safe weapons we see today. Getting the right one for your character doesn’t have to be about practicality and optimised combat. But if that’s your thing - there are enough weapons out there for you to dial in an absolutely perfect fit for your fighting abilities.