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As the question says I'd like to know what the advantages and disadvantages of using a prop for magic spells are.

I'm specifically interested in the idea of throwing bean bags at people, and why it isn't done more often.

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The cheese is strong in this one... </dark/booming/voice> </joke> – Sardathrion Jan 24 '12 at 21:32
Don't think this qualifies as an answer...Cause a thrown bean bag can really hurt if you toss it hard enough. On the other hand it's fun to pelt people with bean bags. See: – mirv120 Jan 24 '12 at 22:04
@mirv120 It's an answer, though it's up to the community to determine if it's a helpful answer or not... – Pureferret Jan 25 '12 at 9:22
I'd rather to defer to someone who's LARPed tho – mirv120 Jan 25 '12 at 15:39
@mirv120 I don't think he's talking about firing bean bags from shotguns. That LARP might be a bit too exciting. – C. Ross Jan 25 '12 at 19:34
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I've never LARPed, but I think I can still offer some input on this issue. If I'm totally out of place with my ideas then just disregard :)

I can imagine why using projectiles to represent spells isn't done very often. Using your beanbag example, it is very un-spell-like:

  • When you throw (cast) the spell, it can be dodged, blocked, deflected, or caught. Some fantasy settings may support this (catch = counterspell?), but many do not.
  • After it's been thrown, there's a physical object lying on the ground that anyone could pick up and reuse. Or to "recast" the spell you'd need to go pick it up. This deviates strongly from the concept of a magic spell.
  • Even if you consider fired projectiles unusable and all the beanbags lying around are "out of the game," you are still creating a tripping or slipping hazard.

I think props could be used to represent spells, but you'd need something different than a thrown projectile.

For a fantasy setting where a magic user has a finite, replenishable resource than can be consumed to cast spells, I would recommend a super soaker where the water is your mana and you verbally communicate which spell you are casting.

For those with "memorized" spells that can only be used once, I'd suggest water balloons of different colors.

Obviously these suggestions are suited more toward outdoor fair-weather play. For indoor or colder settings there are air cannons that would work nicely.

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Whoa whoa whoa whoa there! A supersoaker? Have you ever tried to get the rust out of steel chainmail? If people are putting effort into physreps ( and those are the people who make a system look cool ) that would be a really unpopular choice. – glenatron Dec 9 '14 at 14:04

This form of 'prop use' is actually found fairly frequently in 'boffer' LARPs. If I had to guess, its not used in 'no-contact' LARPs because of the aggressive action (and potential for injury) involved.

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I think it depends on the form the LARP is taking. In the system I'm part of, we assume that the spells are mind affecting, therefore you can't dodge them (so no need for the bean bags) - BUT the spells can be resisted due to personal conditioning or personal heritage.

Some examples used in our system:

  • Elves have natural magic, therefore they are used to it and they can "resist" a single spell.
  • Some mercenaries have been around magic to "suffer" the effects, so they can resist a spell
  • Mages would recognise the effects, therefore they can resist a number of spells at the cost of their concentration on other spells.
  • Certain races are immune so some spells don't work at all, but they can't resist others
  • Some knightly orders are either trained about it or are given protection from the gods, so they are immune to things like Fear.

I assume the reason why bean bags are used is to keep track on the spells you have. In our system, mages have to prepare spell cards, which are ripped when a spell is cast. You learn to keep a tally in your head of what power you have left. But, since we don't have "magic missle" or "fireball" in game, we don't need projectile magic spells.

The style of LARP system you're part of would govern whether spell packets are required.

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Welcome to the site, Space wolf! Nice answer! It does focus on ways to resist magic more than how/why/why not to use 'spell packets' (good phrase for it though). I have heard of spell cards being used; they sound handy. You wouldn't happen to play Fools and Heroes do you? – Pureferret Jan 26 '12 at 15:24

Both of the systems I've LARPed in (NERO and SOLAR) use spell packets to represent spells, which are basically small bags of cloth filled with bird seed:

Spell packet

They have the following advantages over beanbags:

  • They are light and small enough not to hurt when thrown
  • You can keep a bunch of them on hand
  • They are small enough to not present a terrain hazard

Typically when we cast a spell in these systems, a verbal component is required. Packets aren't labeled, they just represent the energy you throw after you recite the verbal.

There are numerous sites with instructions for making them, but I'll add a link to one of them here.

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I've seen especially any kind of 'ball'-magic represented via props. F.e. a simple tennis-ball surrounded with a thick layer of silicone or thick cloth pieces filled with sand. Other magics are harder to simulate, but I've also heard about streamers and similar used.

Bean-bags (with only knowing what I heard about them in TV) do not sound like safe device to throw at people mid-battle. If you gonna throw something make sure that it can't hurt the player no matter where it hits, or make sure that the player knows what's coming his way (and he's fine with that).

To come back to your question, the big advantage is that you have something visual and physical players can react to. The big disadvantage is that you can run out of 'ammunition'.

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