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I play live action roleplaying games (LARPs), where myself and the players around me adopt actual physical characters.

I've had a problem in the past where I hold a gun and want to shoot someone, but don't have their attention. Probably trying to shoot them in the back or something. If I shoot them, they have very little way of knowing and don't really have time to reasonably respond. This breaks game immersion, and is a serious problem.

This problem isn't restricted to guns. If I want to punch, shoot, kick, perform spiritual magicks on, slap, or otherwise nonvocally interact with someone when their back is turned, they might not (read: probably won't) get the signal.

Short of shouting at them "Hey, snotface!" to get their attention before shooting them, how can I let them know so they can respond appropriately?

In order to be a successful solution, the signal must:

  • consistently telegraph successfully; while some error rate is expected in LARP, the solution needs to work pretty much always. It doesn't make sense and breaks character when people don't respond rationally/logically.
  • not break the atmosphere; for instance, no running up to them and whispering "I'm about to shoot you"
  • not break character; I can't do anything my character wouldn't, besides basic game mechanics, that would cause me to have to break out of character to execute
  • allow for sneaking; it won't do to shout "Hey, snotface!" if I'm trying to sneak around
  • allow for selecting one target of many; if a group of people are walking together and I shoot one of them, that person and that person alone needs to know I've shot them
  • allow for many people to be aware of the gunfire; imagine the sound of a gunshot, and how others would respond - this needs to be consistent with that
  • work on low-tech and low-budget; I don't have access to anything except guns that make a clicky noise (basically cap guns dry firing), so something like paintballs are out. By low-budget, I would like to aim for something reusable (optimally) that's no more than $5-7 per person - if it's not reusable it'd better be pretty dern cheap

This works great if I have their attention and brief eye contact - just point, shoot, and say "bang." But what if you're not paying attention? How do you know that I've shot you?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keeping our site Good Subjective, Bad Subjective in mind, please only answer if you've LARPed - random hypothetical guesses are not welcome. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 28 '14 at 12:18
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You could also consider Nerf guns. They won't require eye protection like paintball and airsoft guns do. Projectiles are cheap and guns seem to be in a similar or lower price range compared to a latex sword.

A blue and bright orange Nerf rifle

With some creativity and a splash of paint their bright colour schemes don't need to break immersion (although I would advise against "open-carrying" real-looking toy guns):

A Nerf Maverick Mk-2 repainted in a steampunk color scheme, with added gauge and scope. The orange "safety" ring on the barrel is still showing.

The only drawbacks are limited range (especially outside, in windy conditions) and the need to collect your projectiles after firing them (although you could try making your own biodegradable nerf darts).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that in Australia, the law is kind of strict about the business end of a fake gun remaining orange; Painting it as in the second photo could lead to the gun being confiscated. It's fine if you paint the entire thing except for the orange bit right at the end of the barrel, though. Or so I've heard. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 29 '14 at 6:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ A squirt gun might also work, though it might be a little more immersion-breaking. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Aug 29 '14 at 14:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I need to add an important point to the "won't require eye protection" thing. The Nerf modding scene is kind of insane, and people (like me) will eventually turn up with souped-up death machines that sound like swarms of bees. A couple of people using small pistol-form nerf blasters is probably fine, but if your system evolves to a gigantic pew-fest turning over thousands of darts every event, eye protection starts becoming more and more important. \$\endgroup\$ – ymbirtt Jul 5 '17 at 7:51
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You have contradictory requirements

I feel that there is nothing that fits the whole list that you are proposing - many larp groups have tried, and in the end you must choose to go either with the simulation way, keeping in character; or with the roleplaying way where game mechanics involve obvious out of character actions.

Simulation is expensive

One option to deliver a shot is by delivering an actual hit. The problem is that all the reliable ways of doing so seem to be out of your budget - it's airsoft, paintball or lasertag with the laser detectors. Airsofters and others have long tried to make it as cheap as possible, and it doesn't go any lower than it is. In addition, involving airsoft or paintball (even for a single or few characters) generally would require that 100% of players and GMs wear eye protection at all times as part of their costume, which has to be included as part of the LARP setting to keep the atmosphere suitable.

Fake mechanics are OOC

If you don't actually get hit by a shot, well, then you won't get your criteria of not breaking atmosphere and having the target react as intended. There are gameplay mechanisms to do so, however the more effective they are (as in, telegraph successfully; allow for features such as sneaking or target selection) the more obviously fake they will be.

For example, the old approach of simulating ranged wizard spells by throwing soft objects would also work for such shots. Put a hand catapult on a pistol-like handle - something like http://www.bladesandbows.co.uk/vitesse-catapult-200-p.asp or homemade equivalent.

For sneaky long range effects, involve a GM that can "invisibly" walk to the target and explain that they have been hit by a sniper from unknown direction. Or the great suggestion of using mobile phones to deliver targets info - it's clearly OOC, but it's functional.

Clearly OOC mechanics are probably okay - LARPs can work if there's a very clear distinction between the IC and OOC actions, it's better than if OOC actions look almost like IC and you can confuse if some event has or hasn't a game mechanic effect.

In the end, you'll have to choose, it's generally a tradeoff between proper atmosphere and theatrics versus cheap&functional gameplay mechanics.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ that slingshot is exactly what I was thinking. Using soft objects an keeping the velocity low, it should fit all of the OPs requirements \$\endgroup\$ – deltree Aug 28 '14 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @deltree well, I'd be afraid that soft low velocity objects can be unnoticed if it hits your clothing from behind, resulting in no reaction or turning around and looking wtf was that (instead of understanding that you've been hit) - it's a way to adjudicate hit/miss, but the OP scenario of being hit while unaware would need to be tested in practice. \$\endgroup\$ – Peteris Aug 28 '14 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @deltree Indeed. As a member of the SCA, even a much harder shot than what you are talking about can be missed if you are not paying attention. Our arrows leave bruises the size of paintball bruises, and yet sometimes people do not notice if they are not paying attention to the archer (say, engaged in melee). \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Campbell Feb 23 '15 at 5:02
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Collude With Your Target

Before the scene begins, inform your target that you're going to shoot them at some subtle cue. If there's a competitive aspect to your game, you need to trust your target not to metagame and avoid it.

You lose your target's OOC surprise, but everyone else will be caught off guard and probably rather unsettled by the sudden noise (yelling "bang!" or "gunshot!") and having the target just topple.

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It seems you have already thought about paintball guns. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative I would recommend an airsoft gun.

enter image description here

Whilst doing a quick browse I found them under 10 bucks, if you search really hard you can probably end up somewhere in your budget range.

I especially like that once you have the gun, the bullets come really cheap so it is quite reusable.


If you are really worried about safety you could use protective glasses, but telling people not to aim for the head should go a long way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is actually a really good option. You can't miss being hit by one of these, but they fly slow enough that they don't do any damage, not even bruising. \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Aug 28 '14 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a regular airsofter I must heavily stress that if you're using any kind of airsoft weapon everyone involved MUST wear eye protection; it only takes one accident and you've lost an eyeball. One of my friends was nearly blinded while mucking around with his gun in his room and some of these things fire extremely fast. You are also in danger of losing other things, I've chipped a tooth and a friend had one of hers literally blown in half. Before using airsoft weaponry consider ALL the safety!!! \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Aug 29 '14 at 8:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll also add that you definitely get bruised by these things; I can personally attest to this as will anyone else who's been shot by one. \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Aug 29 '14 at 8:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: Suggesting airsoft guns and saying that you don't need to wear eye protections is a HUGE NO in my book (source: Ex airsoft player, current LARPer) \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Aug 29 '14 at 15:05
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Acting

There is literally only one things that fulfills all of your criteria - and that is, good stage presence.

Being able to single a person out of a group with body language, being able to take an imitated action with a stage prop and run with it, these and other things in your list are improvisational acting skills.

You want to be talking to an actor about this, not roleplayers. They have already found the limits of this sort of interaction by extensive, skilled repetition and innovation - you are trying to reinvent a wheel that is rubberized, air pressured, and rolling down roads all around you at this moment.

What you need is not a magical prop, but rather players able to read and put forth cues like 'I am shooting you' 'I am being shot' in a relatively skilled manner - ergo, run classes. It's usually not hard to find someone with serious improv experience in a larp group - a few quick lessons in how to accept cues will not only improve the 'shooting' situation but also the play experience in general.

Stealthy Sniping

If someone gets suddenly sniped by a hidden sniper, that's not something you can solve with improv acting - or a prop. That sort of thing should be handled by a GM handing the player a note, a text message on a mobile device, or a cue card waved at them from 'out of scene'. You can probably create more byzantine methods like trying to hit someone with a nerf sniper rifle or something but, none of that sounds likely to work.

The Argument Against Interactive Props

At no point will a prop that can simulate some of the effects of a gun firing (pop gun, airsoft gun, laser pointer, nerf gun) not break versimilitude without still leaving significant amounts of mystery as to what is going on. Actions like 'killing someone with a pistol' or 'paralyzing someone with a spell' are or should be rare enough in a larp environment that automatic associations between laser pointer = I just got shot will not happen, and the reflexive moment of 'hey is jim pointing a laser at me' and looking down at chest to see who he's pointing at etc will interrupt roleplaying in a significant manner.

Airsoft weapons also will drop into the uncanny valley of versimilitude - too similar to real thing to be taken as an iconic representation, and not similar enough to 'seem real'. Nerf guns are designed to look as non-gun-like as possible, even painted. Plus, both of these options have the problem of accidental injury. And missing, unless you are playing a boffer larp, will leave people thinking you just intentionally shot Bob when you meant to hit Jim.

To my knowledge, including the suggestions in the answers to this question, there is no good prop option that does this for you. It's a skill, that you have to learn and apply. That is the sole good option until we start rolling out AR goggles for roleplaying.

Calling Attention

Having an associate pop an inflated paper bag, or firing a cap gun, while you brandish a 'weapon' at the person you are 'killing' is a good audial cue. As is shouting 'hey, you!' and then shouting 'bang!'. You'd think this sort of thing breaks versimilitude - in my experience it does not. In the context of a roleplay, a story, your brain accepts onomatopoeic sound effects far more readily than unfamiliar objects like nerf guns as constituting 'a gun'.

Again, also, player awareness of others 'entering the scene', maintaining 'scene space', and 'walking for attention' etc these are all improv techniques used to create a story out of nothing that you can very easily repurpose to a larp environment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you had experience with this working well in a LARP, where not necessarily everyone is looking around and etc? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 29 '14 at 1:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep. You work in audial cues, time your entrance into the scene, also be aware for people entering the scene, etc. It's all improv acting techniques. There's ways to approach any situation like that. It's a matter of 'putting in the energy to do it' and 'knowing how to do it'. But from the multiple downvoting it's clear people prefer the 'wave around big nerf guns with a chance of causing injury and utterly ruining any versimilitude' options, so whatever. @doppelgreener \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Aug 29 '14 at 2:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ After the edit: can you include your experience on these points in the answer, per the GS/BS guidelines? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 29 '14 at 3:34
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When I was playing a game we called "SWAT" We used toy guns with laser pointers taped to the side of them, It almost always required two hands to be on the weapon (Even a simple pistol) and the results were almost instant without the hassle of being out of character or doing much other then shining the light past their head into their field of view. and even at distances of more then 100 feet we were scoring kills on each other

However this is an extremely honour based system and often times a cheater wouldn't "Call their shots" so you really have to be in the game to appreciate getting into fire-fights without the use of Airsoft, Paintball, Or even nerf and would often cost us less then 5 bucks to make a pistol or other simplistic firearm (2 bucks for a toy gun and another 2 bucks for a laser pointer from a pet or dollar store)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Was this a private game among friends or a game open to others? How was the risk of getting a laser pointer in the eyes handled? Were there waivers to sign mentioning it? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 10 '15 at 15:13
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I moved from Fantasy LARP back in the 1990s to Lazer Tag and have never looked back. It's cheap, reliable and safe (as long as you don't try to use laser pointers!!). Generally used for Modern or Sci Fi scenarios it has the big advantage that you can try almost any genre you like that involved using a gun. I have played and Run everything from Aliens to Dr Who (frankly the list of 'games we have played' is quite long).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you discuss more how Laser tag apparatus will solve this problem? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 23 '15 at 1:12

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