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What techniques do people use at a LARP to provide light at nighttime without breaking immersion? Especially when some players complain about ruining their 'night vision'.

There are some constraints, but I'll try to keep these as unspecific to my LARP group as possible, feel free to edit and add points to the question.

  • Light from spells will have a fixed duration, so sources should be able to be switched on/off or last long enough to covered/uncovered.

  • Fire should be restricted to non-combat situations for safety reasons.

  • Props should at least attempt to look fantasy themed.

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It is interesting to see the great differences between the Nordic LARP communities and their Anglophone counterparts.

I'll give some answers based on my experiences with the Swedish LARP community, and the views on this issue that are most common here.

  • We use very minimal lighting solutions. In-game, if it's dark then it's dark. We usually have tiki torches and oil lamps in our camps, but not much more. Electric lights are rare and usually only used in case of emergency.
  • We don't use special lighting for combat in the dark. With us, immersion trumps safety in most cases. Darkness adds a sense of suspense that is impossible to achieve with other means. Sure, accidents happen, but if people play by the rules and act responsibly there are rarely any accidents more serious than can be handled with a short time out and an apology.
  • Magic that requires light is so hard to get to look good, so it's rarely used. Some extremely otherworldly things such as demons use LEDs hidden in their masks to create some really cool effects, but work only because its so dark outside that you can't see the props.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ So great to hear from a nordinc source. Do the players not have any access to light magic? If they do, how is it achieved? \$\endgroup\$ – Pureferret Dec 17 '11 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Usually, anything of that kind is restricted to scripted GM events as in a spontaneous situation, it is too easy to botch up and thus destroy immersion. I've never seen light magic done at a Swedish LARP, but if I'd do it, the wizard staff example in @Sardathrion's answer would be good (I imagine the actual light source hidden in some cover such as a frosted plexiglass crystal), but keep it restricted to trusted players who you as GM know will handle their combat-unsafe staff in a proper way. \$\endgroup\$ – evilcandybag Dec 18 '11 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Pretty much exactly how we handle lights at our LARP in Switzerland. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Dec 15 '16 at 6:56
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Immersion is trumped by safety.

Combat

You need light. Period. You must have a well lit area or the combat is dangerous. Make sure everyone is aware of the "safety" call. There's nothing you can do but have big lights -- projectors are great apart for the poor sod who is in front of it. You can use filters (red is good, black lights are good) to make sure that you get more of a feel of night time. Filters do work on individual lights (for example colour glass on mocked gas lamps).

Non-combat

Anything is fine as long as you are still safe.  You must have enough lights that it is safe to move about.  Flash lights are good, so are mock up oil lamps.  Do not allow naked flames (torches, oil lamps, petrol lights).  Candles are fine provided that they are set on stable surfaces.  Again, no fighting around candles. 

Charcters' own lights

In a fantasy with magic LRP, I have seen a wizards staff (not combat safe) with batteries and a cluster of LEDs on the top mimicking a light spell. Easy to do, looks great, but you cannot fight with it. It would be easy to do "orbs of light" in the same way. Otherwise, we have jokes of mecha-bushi -- wind up torch, samurai character, call of "wait, I need power" followed by howling laughter...

Note that it is not a mag light, it is a wand of light project…

In non-fantasy or more modern LRP, then picking something appropriate is not hard.

Accidents do happen.

I did experience a LARP where bad light did cause a collision between a (well hidden) BBQ and a leg resulting in an open fracture and arterial spray. Thankfully, there was a trained nurse on site or it might have ended in someone's death. So, safety does trump immersion for me and all those I LRP with…

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just wondering, have you experienced what you write up here in an actual LARP? May I ask where? \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Dec 15 '16 at 7:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin Yes, all those are things that happened to me™. Most of them were in smallish (50-ish people) LARPS set in an oriental themed (Jade Empire was the name, nothing to do with the computer game and there was little to no web presence) which ran for about a dozen weekends. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '16 at 8:22
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Two tips for not ruining night vision (pupil dilation) that are well known in the military:

  1. Use a red filter. Red light does not affect your night vision any where near as much so if you need enough light to perform a close up activity (such as reading) then use a torch with a red filter.
  2. Close one eye. Sounds a bit daft but if you close one eye when in the presence of a bright light then when that light source has gone you will still retain your night vision in the eye that was closed. It's a bit disorientating until you get used to it but works surprisingly well.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note, night vision isn't controlled by pupil dilation but by the chemicals released inside the eye. Normal light conditions break the chemical down very quickly and it can take 30 minutes for it to fully recover. source \$\endgroup\$ – Pureferret Dec 16 '11 at 20:02
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I staff at a steampunk larp that takes both immersion and safety seriously.

For general character use: Most people carry around their own light sources (usualy flashlights or battery powered lanterns), but they mute them so that their lights do not blind others. The mute your light "rule" is especially true if you have something lit by the white LEDs. Colored LEDs are used quite often as an alternative as they do not bother people as much.

For area lighting: In the tavern we use those flame-less candles, a few antique looking lamps, and those little flickering tea lights (players will use these as well to light their cabins). Outside of the tavern a mixture of tiki torches, solar lights, and yellow xmas lights. The tiki torches tend to just be around the outside of the tavern while the solar and xmas lights are used to mark paths and stairs.

For timed light needs: We have creatures in our game who are identified by the color lights they have. What we use are these little colored LEDs that can be strapped to your fingers and have an easy to access switch to turn them on and off. Sadly I do not know where we get them, but they're are not homemade so they are out there somewhere for purchasing.

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My experience at LARP has shown such solutions:

  1. Host your LARP during a full moon. It gives damn a lot of light! Even in a forest. And, conversely, don't host it during the new moon if you plan to play outdoor, or you will need extra lighting for safety reasons.
  2. For places where lighting is expected, like cities, you should use electrical light masked as historical. You may also carry a light source that looks like it is "historically accurate". It doesn't really have to be.
  3. For a fantasy game, you can use a "light crystal" that gives a non-focused light and doesn't blind players.
  4. When a huge combat situation is expected, it is probably going to be watched by game masters (e.g. a castle assault has to be declared in advance around my area). It is a good idea to give them usual flashlights. They just have to avoid hitting players in the face with their rays, which is not so hard when they are not directly involved in combat. :)
  5. If you are, by any chance, in a situation when you can't see anything and already in combat, you can use any source of light, but you are only allowed to light the ground so you don't fall. Try to avoid striking upwards, or you will definitely hit a lot of heads, which isn't good even with foam weapons.
  6. Of course, if the setting is "modern" enough, just use a flashlight.
  7. In any situation when there is a safety concern, use any lighting you have access to! It is a lot better to break immersion than to have a real trauma!
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    \$\begingroup\$ Conversely, do not hold your LARP during a new moon, especially in the forest. It might seem ideal for sneaky types but light sources WILL be required just to get around. Not to mention safety issues like not getting bitten by ultra-venomous things. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Jan 6 '17 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain 1) If you have ultra-venomous things around, it just might be a very bad idea to go where you have them at night. Even a strong flashlight isn't enough. 2) I don't understand why hosting during full moon is bad. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jan 6 '17 at 23:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain Sorry, I have misread your comment! You were totally right. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jan 7 '17 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain Incorporated your comment into my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jan 7 '17 at 16:04
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I'd recommend using blue lights to simulate night, but not complete darkness. Blue light will simulate a moonlit night, and will allow folks to move about and still see without necessarily disturbing the immersion. This was a trick that we used in high-school theater in order to keep the sound board running while not disturbing the rest of the audience.

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I've been on LARPs were two solutions were used:

  • No special lighting: No 'Out Time' lighting was used during play (camp lights and similar were close). People which had the feeling that they were not safe or could not fight safe in these circumstances did not engage into the battle. All others fought with safety in mind, so the battles were slow, blows were soft and people concentrated on their surroundings.

  • Big street-lamps or indirect lighting against the trees: The other solution were big street-lamps near or by the battleground which provided light. Or if a forest is near by, lamps which shine against the treetops and provide indirect lighting.

I don't think that for camp life and 'normal' LARP activities OT-light is needed. Within the camp there'll be enough lamps all the time and if you go into the wilderness you either rely on your nightvision (OT or 'In Time') or carry your own lights.

But I agree that for safety reasons during battle, OT lighting should be provided, especially for bigger battles. On the other hand, in some situations there can't be additional light provided (spontaneous encounter on a field f.e.) were the players have to rely on each other that they know what they're doing. My experience is that players know what they're doing if they going into the battle at night.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Care to explain what OT and IT are? \$\endgroup\$ – Pureferret Dec 18 '11 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pureferret: Ops, sorry, outtime and intime. Though, now that you mention it I don't know if those are generic terms known everywhere. \$\endgroup\$ – Bobby Dec 18 '11 at 18:30
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I have played in and organized some LARPs in Germany and this is my experience:

The Camp: Fires are burning and Garden torches/oil lamps are placed around the camp. Tents are mostly illuminated by candles/oil lamps as well.

The woods: No light in the forest at night. Flames can start fires and electrical light is limited to emergencies.

Open fields: Sometimes players carry oil lamps or torched but those are set aside should an attack occur. Most of the time this happens without time-out. The ones carrying the lights don't join into the fight until those are safely set aside.

Battles: The big final fight during a LARP is sometimes by electrical light pointed at smoke generators. At other times same as the camp. Or magnesium flares on rare occasions.

Flashlights are generally limited to emergencies and sometimes for the mobile toilets. Most people don't carry any but the medics and the GMs have one on them at all times. Chemical lights (glowsticks) are sometimes used to represent glowing eyes or to mark magic weapons and similar special effects.

The safety aspect: When fighting around the camp tent lines have proven to be a much higher risk than open flames. During the LARPs I was at (both as a player and GM) there has never been an accident involving fire and non that was caused by lack of light.

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Buildings

Candle light (either electronic or real candles, depending on the site). In the tavern, the eating area is lit up by the light from the kitchen, but the tavern's light bulbs are off.

Ritual circles use rope lights, and these provide ambient lighting.

Trails

Trails are not lit, except by the moon and stars.

Safety Lights

Players may carry flashlights for safety, but they are typically off unless there's an emergency.

Combat Lights

We try to stage combat in areas that are under the moon or near enough to a campfire. If the night is particularly dark, we just make sure that the area is safe to fight in.

In-Game Lights

Players can use glow sticks to represent "Light Spells" in game. These typically are worn on necklaces and are commonly green (which grants the best color vision at night) or red (which supposedly hurts night vision the least).

Night Vision

After you spend enough time in the darkness, you'll learn that you don't want there to be many bright lights, as they hurt your vision more than they help.

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It's not "Immersion". It's "Suspension of Disbelief".

I think others have addressed the "How to be genre" aspect just fine. However, I've always found this idea of "breaking immersion" quite odd. After all, with boffer larps we're talking about things like hitting each other with reinforced, duct-taped pool noodles or throwing cloth packets full of seeds while calling it damage and effects which is not exactly "immersive".

What we're really talking about isn't immersion but a willing suspension of disbelief. While it's always nice to have more "genre'd" light sources there have only been two real complaints about lighting in the LARPs I've played.

  • There isn't enough light.
  • Bright lights ruin nightvision.

I've personally seen multiple people complain about the lack of lighting after being injured in the dark. I've never actually heard a player complain that the light sources (specifically) were unrealistic. Ever. I have, of course, heard people grumble when rules maintaining a lower threshold of disbelief have been lessened but this is distinct and unless it completely changes the tone of the LARP is usually just grumbling. Even there its important to keep in mind the adage "You can't please everyone all the time." because if you try you will lose players.

All that said, if you accept that players will find a way to suspend disbelief on whatever non-immersive elements are necessary, choosing realism over safety just becomes a great way to get players severely injured or even killed.

My actual lighting tips mostly follow along with everyone else:

  • Glowsticks provide area light without being too bright, which can make them especially good for marking or illuminating dangerous areas. (You can explain them as faerie lights or some similar sort of pervasive, protective magic.)
  • Similarly, you might consider using them (or glow ropes) to demarcate nighttime "in play" boundaries, to discourage people from doing anything too foolhardy. (You can explain them as "wards".)
  • Try to limit light sources to the red spectrum where possible as this really does have a significant impact on night vision.
  • Pick a location with large open areas if possible to minimize safety hazards in general and maximize the effect of ambient lighting.
  • Define separate rules for what are acceptable light sources in different situations. Mostly seen this along the lines of "in play" vs "emergency" lighting but you could certainly use other (or more) categories.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ So have you done this and has it worked out well? If you have, you should say so and talk about it. "I've done this and it worked fine, here's the specifics" is more convincing than what you currently have, which is "I see no reason it wouldn't work" (which is often famous last words, because you do it, and then if it doesn't work you find out why), and you should lead with what's convincing. While it's quite helpful to bring some rigour to the terminology being used, it's a problem that the only sentence answering the core of the question (how to use light well) is not, itself, rigorous. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 6 '17 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ "There is no particular reason" is hardly the same thing as "I see no reason" but point taken. I've edited to be more answer-like. That said I'm hardly the first person to answer a question by saying "You're asking the wrong question." \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Jan 7 '17 at 8:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think at that point it's not asking the wrong question, you're just correcting the terminology they're using to put forward their question with more accurate terminology. Either way it's still a question about achieving good lighting effects. Anyway, I'm happy with the way you're now presenting your answer. You may want to suggest what lighting situations you've personally used that generally worked well and made things safe (and, unavoidably as you point out, caused some grumbling). \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 7 '17 at 17:04

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