Pointiness and You: Considerations for safe non-boff LARP props

Pointiness and You: Considerations for safe non-boff LARP props
Written by Graham of Folkstone

Boffer LARPing means that you are accepting a certain level of risk as nature has failed to make sticks and rocks comfortable to fall on, especially while we hit each other about the head and upper torso with padded sticks. We can, however, do our best to help create a fun and interesting fantasy world while minimizing damage to other peoples’ eye sockets, weapons and our wallets. Mixing functionality with creativity is how you can do just that.

As a community, we rely on the craftsmanship of garb, armor, and small props to make up for the safe but cylindrical bats that make up a good deal of visual aspects the game world. There are a lot of small things that we need to take into account when building non-boff props, like shields and armor with adornments, spell props, and the various pieces of equipment that we wear as our characters. Below are as many of the considerations that I could think of when you are designing something, but don’t let these guidelines stifle your creativity. There are plenty of situations where proper use of an item outweighs the a small amount of “risk” inherent in its design.

Keep it cheap – Let’s face it, boffer LARPing is a sport that is rough on gear. Stuff breaks down, gets slammed into trees, gets tripped over, and gets thrown into the back of your car after a late nightquest. Don’t pour a ton of money into a particular prop that will inevitably break down, unless you are willing to lose it. A lot of props are also Stealable in whole (or need to be returned as Event-Stealable items are), and you can’t always assume that people know how fragile something is or isn’t.

Know what happens when you might step on it – Things happen. Stuff breaks. Glass isn’t a particularly great material because it can shatter and cause a hazard.  Aluminum tubing, for instance, can perforate and become sharp if stepped on. You need to consider what might happen if you drop an item or if it is misplaced and stepped upon in the dark. Things like wood or bamboo tend to break or snap and can splinter, but they tend to remain contained or in a couple of easily moved pieces. Fiberglass can have a sharp edge if it shears, but more than likely you see the pipe crush in a way that breaks the fibers apart and makes the core suddenly flexible by some of the remaining strands. It’s why I suggest having the handles of weapons taped; it reduces damage due to knicks, and keeps breaks contained. You don’t need to worry about any prop being invincible, just easy and safe to move if it’s destroyed.

Know how something might deform if pressed – This is a bit trickier, and has as much to do with handling than it does the actual material. If you have a thin steel rod tucked in your belt for instance, will it bend when it contacts a tree while you are running or will it jab your leg? This sort of consideration doesn’t mean not to use the material (there might be other reasons for that, as in the case of steel), but it does mean that you might need to carry it differently. Will it take a weapon blow if you’re holding it?

How does the prop interact with weapons? – When creating armor or shields (things designed to interact with weapons) make sure that there aren’t protrusions or sharp edges that might hurt the foam on a weapon. Foam, especially when covered in cloth like many modern weapons are, is particularly susceptible to nicks and gouges.  Things not designed to be hit, such as the held prop in Implement needs to worry less about shredding weapons, but it still should be a consideration. Never have a sharp point on the end of things or spikes that come to a point. Rounded nubs can achieve a similar effect without catching weapons.  If you are going to wear the prop on your body, keep an eye out for how it might hurt a weapon if it is braced or held stationary. Because of the prevalence of combat, and how little control you have over your interaction in it, this is by far the most important consideration. Weapons are time consuming to build, and a weapon shredded during an event might not be checked until well after it can do damage to somebody.

Make sure things that aren’t weapons don’t look like weapons – For instance, it is a better idea to leave a wooden staff unfoamed to visually indicate that it is not a weapon than it is to foam it to avoid incidental contact.

Try to avoid props that when worn, would harm your ability to feel shots – This is a bit vague, and sometimes it cannot be avoided. If you have a large piece of wood as a prop, and your character is carrying it strapped to your back, be very careful that you can feel a light tap to your back while running away. It is very difficult, and if you can design around this problem, do so.

Don’t design something that will entangle your fingers – Though some people will disagree with this point for style reasons, things like firm pistol grips on swords don’t work particularly well for small props. It is possible that your prop will get hit when you are holding it, and things entwined in your fingers is a bad idea, even if it looks cool.

Always assume you are about to be hit from behind – A good rule of thumb to think about is what might happen if you are holding the prop in the manner in which you intend and you are hit from behind. You could jump, jostle the wrong way or it could fly out of your hands. As an example, holding a stethoscope to a dead NPC is just fine, but a wooden oak stake made out of real wood might not be.

Don’t mimic the Light spell without having it – Since light is a spell in our system, having something that sheds a large amount of light (such that you could use it as a proxy for the spell), is considered bad game form if you don’t have the spell. If you are planning on using it as an alternate Light component, check it in with the magic marshal.

Foam is your friend – Foam, both open and closed-cell is a pretty well-used material, and if you are clever with it, you can achieve a wide variety of effects. Liquid latex on top of foam provides a flexible cover that can be painted so it doesn’t look shiny like duct tape. When working with foam, don’t use hard adhesives like hot glue or Gorilla Glue as it tends to strip away the advantages of the material. Use a flexible one like DAP contact adhesive. Experiment and ask more senior craftsmen; they are pretty willing to share their knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to ask before you build or use – There are a wide variety and tolerances of alternate designs in the game, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Don’t be dumb – During the filming of the first movie for Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix, Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) ruptured Matthew Lewis’ (Neville Longbottom) eardrum by accidentally poking him in the ear with a wand. It was an accident, and while that doesn’t mean that wand props aren’t wildly unsafe, it just means don’t go shoving them in people’s ears for dramatic effect.

I hope these short notes help people think about the technical considerations of prop-making, so that you can let your creativity enhance the game for yourself and the people around you in a responsible way. If you are an eventholder, and you are designing something that isn’t going to be moved, as in a large prop, then don’t worry about this as much. People know not to strike a spikey-looking altar or a candle that’s actually lit with their sword.

Go out there and make stuff. Have fun.

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