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When I was a kid, we used to play soldiers on a field outside the school. We would make our own toy guns out of wood and make camps, sniping each other in the tall grass. It was a bit like a simplified LARP. However, our hit detection system was completely broken (as they usually are at that age). It basically boiled down to who yelled "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD!" first. I want to see if I can come up with a more balanced system of rules. Here is what I have come up with this far:

  1. Since combat is distanced, interactions can still be resolved vocally. However, problems may occur in team fights when everyone is yelling at the same time and nobody can hear anything.

  2. One could draw stats or perks on ones gun with a black marker, and then say something like [target's name], accuracy stat, damage stat. (For example, "Oscar-8-12!") Of course, it does not have to be those variables; it's just an example.

  3. Stopping in the heat of combat to roll some dice on the ground would certainly break flow, so I thought that hit detection could be resolved by a guessing game or something. If you guessed right with a shot, it would be a hit. However, I can't think of a way to apply stats in that kind of system.

If you have any ideas on how to solve any of these problems, I'd be happy to know. Are there any LARP systems that can resolve ranged combat without breaking too much flow?

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5 Answers

I have no experience with LARP, but a few thoughts spring to mind from military training:

  • I'm not sure how you intend to resolve ranged combat verbally, but here's one approach: Use verbal descriptions of the target. If I'm hiding in the tall grass and I see you walking along in the open, I call out: "Shot! You with the dark green shirt, the black pants, and the khaki cap." When you're the guy walking in the open, it's hard to argue that you haven't been nailed. This approach works better if each person carries an item that can be identified only at close range or through skilled observation, such as a playing card or a bandana of a particular color tied around one calf. The upside of this approach is that it encourages patience, so players will only take a shot when they feel they can take their opponent unawares. The downside is that it doesn't work well when both parties see each other and shoot simultaneously.
  • Casualty cards are filled out ahead of time. Each player gets one. They are often reserved for resolving the effects of indirect fire, but you could use them for small arms combat as well. Perhaps you could have one card for each type of weapon on the field. The important thing is that you have a variety of effects, and that they are randomized and distributed blindly, so nobody knows what they have. When they get hit, they pull out the card to see what happens to them. This is a nifty way of inserting randomness, and you can make the effects as lethal or moderate as you like. It also provides a handy way to introduce medics, if you are so inclined. They need to reach a casualty and perform a series of actions within a certain period of time in order to save that person from "death", for example.
  • It always helps to have as many refs (observer-controllers in milspeak) as possible. When they are close by they can adjudicate disputes, and you can even have them hand out casualty cards, to ensure there is no subterfuge on the part of players.
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If you don't have issue with using the honor system for a good deal of the combat you could make it so "dying" gave you a mechanical benefit later. Say for every uncontested death, once you counted to some number (during which you could potentially be revived) and got back to your main base you respawn and get a point. That point could be used for a couple of things, the main of which would be absorbing a "shot" from someone else so long as you can spout a reason for it quick enough (and have the available point, which is then deducted). You can get multiple points by dying multiple times but I'd probably cap it at 2 or 3 for the sake of not being invincible.

From there the question becomes the hit mechanic. Again, assuming the honor system is sufficient make it so you still shout something like "Bang!" (preferably with name) towards whoever got shot, but you can only do so if you can keep them under your gun for a full "one-onethousand" second count out loud. You could have different guns with different times for firing/hits for death but the basic mechanic would be amount of time and one valid shot = one down or kill.

I think the most important part about making it work is to make it fun for both sides if being able to use anything as a prop gun regardless of functionality is a goal (thus limiting the ability to use actual projectiles). Going down epically can be fun both for the one(s) firing and the one(s) getting fired upon provided doing so gives the latter a greater chance of being the former down the line.

Also as a note, if you want a win condition I would make it based on some non-death based objective like capture the flag. Those falling still hinder their team temporarily because they have to take some amount of time to revive, but then have an advantage later to make up for it and to help avoid conflict over who shot who.

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My answer assumes that you're interested in having a big battle which is interesting to watch and stand in. If you want to have a very well thought-out and strategic battle in the sense of tabletop...skip my answer.

If you want to have a big LARP battle, you need the simplest rules you can come up with, especially if it is supposed to be fun. I think you need to ask yourself if you want a sorted battle with Role-Playing, or a Live-Action battle.

Let me tell you my experience on the battle field: The players do not care for rules anymore if they charge at each other, they want a good time. Especially NSCs are throwing away their stats and health for an awesome battle and finishing. If it was a good battle and fun, no one cares if you pushed the limits of your stats, as long as you did not overdo it, or if you miscounted your health points, or that that blow could never rip of your arm because you still had full health. My experience is that people take damage and play that out and deal with it, wounds are taken serious. Wouldn't be the first time that two people need to carry someone of the battlefield because he took a hammer swing to the feet which completely crushed it...right at the start of the battle.

The basic rules for combat and damage of weapons have been this for all the fantasy LARPs I've been at:

  • One-Handed: 1
  • Two-Handed: 2
  • Bolt, Arrow: 1
  • Magic: Depends on the spell
  • Ballista, Catapult: Just drop dead
  • Everything else you'll be told about (don't you love that sound of a GM whispering into your ear "oh, you're burning by the way")

So for a big battle I'd go with the simplest possible rules: You get hit, 1 damage. If you get hit by something bigger then usual (or colorcoded, though that might be a problem mid-battle), more points of damage or instant drop. Additionally getting hit could inflict wounds, wounds which hurt, render limbs unusable and need to be treated. What you should also not underestimate and can turn the tide of the battle is close combat. Nerf guns might be the best options for this in combination with other usual LARP weapons.

Depending on the size you might want to do some test-runs first. If you're planning to have a few hundred people in there, you might want to get two dozen or so first on the terrain and see how that works out.

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AIRSOFT GUNS

I've played a larp system that was very successful where airsoft guns were used; however these were all experienced airsoft players who had played before and knew not to point blank anyone. Airsoft sites are pretty common these days and I'd recommend going along for a days play before trying this at the very least so you can get an idea of how it goes and site safety aspects, sites may well be happy to host your games and this helps with insurance and the like. This is an excellent system to determine hits for ranged weapons (you use rubber swords, why not plastic pellets, some physical skill is required for contact larps) but it can be costly, but for a weapons based larp I'd chose this every time.

NERF GUNS

A much safer and cheaper route is to use good old NERF guns, I know a 40k larp system that runs using this very successfully; the guns themselves determine the damage (and larger nerf guns for more damage) and a ref oversees the hits if there's any dispute; players get extra "hits" for having armour, being tough and so on. Painted up the NERF guns really look the 40k part as well! Tennis balls are used for grenades.

I've not much experience with lasertag but I suspect this could be used as well.

NON-CONTACT

Failing that if you want a non-contact system I'd recommend refs on-hand for fights to oversee the shooting and give each side cap guns (caps == ammo) or the like; then hits can be determined by the ref spotting and handling random elements using a deck of cards as a simple randomiser, this keeps the players in the zone of the game at all times. The players can also use this method; then if they need to shoot someone they just draw a card (maybe even have them stuck to the the gun as a "magazine") the card will give info on if they hit or not; eg.

Six Clubs
Open ground - Hit
Part cover - Hit
Full cover - Miss

or something like that.

Regardless of which method is used be aware of safety elements (never use BB guns without understanding a decent amount about them and ALWAYS wear goggles or face masks) and in a place where you're not going to cause alarm by waving around toy guns and frightening the public into calling a SWAT team or something.

There was also a previous question about facilities which included "remember your first aid and ambulances."

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BB guns are fun but quite expensive in comparison to the pieces of wood and duct-tape we used back in the day. It's not really what I'm looking for in this question. –  Circusfreak Jul 20 '12 at 23:52
    
No consideration for NERF then? :) –  Rob Jul 21 '12 at 8:20
4  
BB guns != Airsoft guns. BB guns fire metal pellets and you should never use them on others. Airsoft guns are the plastic pellet ones and are fine. –  mxyzplk Jul 23 '12 at 0:23
    
I'll change that then; BB's/airsoft (in my group at least) are interchangeable terms. –  Rob Jul 23 '12 at 7:44
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Throw birdseed packets at each other and if they hit, the effect occurs. A birdseed packet is a five inch square of cloth held over the hand while the finger form an O. The cloth is pushed inside of the O and filled with canary seed (the type without sunseeds). Then tied off with a rubber band. If lost they degrade and used for nesting and food by wildlife.

An earlier version used cornstarch but that was messy

It be made more complex by giving characters defenses that interact with different types of attack.

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it might be quite clumpsy to hold a wooden toy rifle in one hand and throw little bags. at that point the gun is a bit arbitrary so at the end of the day you're just throwing bags at each other. –  Circusfreak Jul 20 '12 at 23:54
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