Suppose my referee friend wanted to send a swarm of bees, bats, crows, or some other small flying creatures at some players. How could he simulate something that'd evoke the right reactions?

The swarm mustn't be solid, players must reasonably be capable of walking through it or batting any solid parts of it out of the way.

The swarm must be easy to represent without too many crew - we don't want to have to recruit 100 mooks with the pitch "OK, so each one of you is a bee".

We don't want to actually kill the players. They're being attacked by the bees, so it must be reasonably possible to swing whatever it is around at them.

They must feel swarming. There must be some capability for a player to be in some way engulfed and harassed by the prop - bits should be crawling all over them as they try to swat it out of the way.

It doesn't have to be easily producible. Much as I'd love a character that can shoot bees out of their hands, we don't need that complexity right now.

It doesn't have to necessarily look much like a swarm of animals - it's fine to say "That guy over there holding the thing is representing a swarm of kestrels", players are usually capable of suspending their disbelief enough for that work work.

Suggestions so far have included circus poi, which have the right effect but could brain someone; umbrellas with the cloth taken off and bits stuck to them, which are likely too short, the players would bump into the ref holding it; and those nice jellyfish puppets, which look and feel absolutely perfect, but are generally on the end of a big aluminium pole.

Any ideas?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 Reusability would obviously be a plus, but I don't think we've any solid requirement on duration yet. I'd love to hear your idea regardless! \$\endgroup\$
    – ymbirtt
    Apr 15, 2016 at 5:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ For answerers, please be guided by the Back it up! Principle the site likes to maintain. As detailed in the blogpost on Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, an answer is more likely to be helpful if you have actually tried it, instead of merely suggesting what might work. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Apr 16, 2016 at 3:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's bad that you need bees... If you ever need dragonflies, you could use: youtube.com/watch?v=zWrIGs7u7eg (but, jokes aside - googling by 'kinetic mobile art balanced' could give some interesting ideas) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16, 2016 at 6:57

10 Answers 10


While writing my previous answer, I realized there's another way...

Regular balloons.

Attached to the end of a stick (a telescoping stick, possibly - repurpose a selfie stick?) a significant number of normal balloons could be held above the participant such that they're engulfed.

Indoors, a small fan could lend them some additional direction, maybe one of those handheld combination fan/water sprayers is about the right size. It wouldn't push them hard (the player would be more "annoyed" than "battered" by the balloons), but it's small enough for the referee to use while wrangling the balloons with their other hand.

Outside, in strong wind conditions, the wind could actually be harnessed to help, by simply moving the control point such that the balloons are being blown into the target - it's actually more useful if there is wind.

A potential downside might be in changing wind conditions, which could result in a ton of work for the referee trying to move the anchor such that the balloons stay on target.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, I think this is the best suggestion so far. Also, there are plenty of balloon shops that can do custom colors and printing, so you could totally get some yellow-and-black striped balloons to rep your bees. (I'd recommend getting yellow print on black, rather than the other way around; you'll probably get better contrast that way, since especially black print will tend to fade a bit when the balloon is inflated. Plus, black balloons are just generally awesome.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2016 at 10:12

When I've seen things like this done it's generally done in a contained area such as a marquee/gazebo/etc.

  • Attach most of the things on static strings hanging from the ceiling.

  • Have a bunch more attached to strings that can run up and down, have a monster with a handful of strings they can pull on to move them like a puppet master. (Attach a fixed string in one corner and a pullable one in the other and you can make it fly across the room, not just up and down). One crew can operate multiple in this way).

  • Have a few others operated by blacked out monsters, one in each hand

As the players go through have refs watching and call for suitable effects if they come into contact with the flying beasties.

A crew of 5 lets you do a decent sized swarm in a cave. For example you might set it up as a bat cave:

1 ref, 2 crew with a bat in each hand, 2 crew each operating 4 bats, 20 hanging bats. This gives you 32 bats in the cave. :)

This is extra effective if you do it at night or can really cut down the light coming in, it makes the strings and crews much harder to see and the bats (or whatever) look much more realistic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This solution seems to me the most effective and visually immersive, but it also shows what a prop and crew-intensive encounter this is. It may be worth asking how essential it is to the story you are telling and whether you might be able to cut this in favour of a higher-impact high cost encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – glenatron
    Apr 15, 2016 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @glenatron Indeed, this sort of intensive setup needs a lot of payoff. IE running the same linear many times over one event for different groups of people or if it is a static hazard that can remain setup and a group of players might need to traverse multiple times with tweaks each time (for example enter through a bat cave, work through caverns, come back to the same OOC location but as a new IC one having converted the bats into fire imps with a bit of red spray paint, then more caverns to finally come back for the final battle and have sprayed some webbing around to make it a spider cavern. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim B
    Apr 15, 2016 at 15:10

First of all, to sell 'bees' you need sound effects ^ ^ There are lots of mp3 players or smartphones out there - you could find (dinamic) + (acoustic horn) + (sound track with buzzing bees) - and - lo and behold - you have sound effects ^ ^.

For better result, you could use more than one sound effect devices, 'attacking' players with buzzing from different directions. Three could create feeling of being (beeng?) surrounded.

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About a scheme above:

You could find fibers and arrange those in a 'salute'. My first figure is a bit schematic - bear in mind that 'salute' must have a 3D shape, not 2D. Your fibers need to strike balance between being flexible and being strong enough to keep a form.

It's difficult to make advice for material: I expect that you live in a country that is situated far from mine, thus local suppliers would definitely differ from mine. Perhaps you could use nylon fibers for fishing lines - depending on thickness and length those could be transparent enough not to interfere with suspension of disbelief of your players. If one fiber of nylon is not strong enough to keep a shape - you could enforce it with another one or two or more.

What you need to keep in mind is that depending on material, that arrangement could be dangerous - for example 'salute' made from steel wires with sharp points would definitely pose a danger for eyes and ears. ^ ^

Thus you should think about a way to prevent damage to eyes and ears of your players. For nylon I would tie a few knots at the end and bake it over fire to make a big blunt end.

To the ends of the 'salute' (black dots) you could attach pieces of black fur - I tend to think those could replicate a feeling of insects' wings touching your face and then flying away. Those could be more detailed than that (add hard elements, add more colors etc.) but that depends on your resources and time.

Then you could combine few 'salutes' to form a cloud. My figure shows 4 with a span of a hand but perhaps that's exaggeration. I think that something like 12 'salutes' with diameters ranging from length of palm to length of forearm would be more reasonable.

Main parts of contraption are quite identical so perhaps with a help of few friends you could organize conveyor for producing those things. Yet I recommend small-scale prototype and at least one full-scale prototype of 'salute' before committing to this endeavor fully. Overall 'feel' of that thing should be 'puffy' and annoying.

'Fishing pole' that is shown in the last figure should be balanced to be used with comfort.

'Salute' would be difficult to use with drones - this concept has a lot of flexible and sticking out parts that would prevent the rotors from spinning, unless rotors are defended by filters.



Alright, I don't LARP, but I am a maker. My first thought is to take one of the lighter current ideas (like balloons or paper) and suspend them with dental floss form a remote controlled micro drone or two. Dental floss is easier to rip through with hands if things get tangled than thread or kite string. Get the smallest micro drone you can find. The micro drones are small and light, so if they crash/fall on player it won't hurt.

The downsides:

  • Smaller drones are susceptible to strong winds
  • They take some time to get used to flying
  • Keep floss away from the propellers
  • Would have to be done in an open area as well
  • follow all of the safety instructions of the drone you buy.

That is a lot of gottchas, but the result should be awesome...

Typically, you can pair one remote to multiple drones of the same kind. This is done by turning on all the drones you want to pair, then the remote and doing the syncing produce (typically taking the lift control all the way up, and back down). This means one pilot can control two or three drones. The balloons (or paper, or wherever represents the bugs) could then be brought over the heads of the players. The players would be able to walk through the swarm, the swarm could follow them, etc.

Added benifit: the drones motors sound a little like bees.


Helium balloons.

Attached to the end of a stick (a telescoping stick, possibly - repurpose a selfie stick?) a significant number of helium balloons could be held low by their strings and pushed or drug into the participant so engulfed.

A small fan could lend them some additional direction, maybe one of those handheld combination fan/water sprayers is about the right size. It wouldn't push them hard (the player would be more "annoyed" than "battered" by the balloons), but it's small enough for the referee to use while wrangling the balloons with their other hand.

Cons include the small chance of accidentally tripping someone with the stick, the loss of control outdoors on a windy day, and the potential expense of buying enough balloons to get the desired effect. (It's been a while since I bought them, but I seem to recall them not being that cheap unless you fill them yourself, which leads to the one-time cost of the tank and occasional refills. Might be ok if you're using them in every session, though.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, I think my other answer is nearly completely better than this one. Helium balloons are great for this kind of effect if the effect is meant to be stationary, though; an obstacle to be pushed through, but maybe not as good for a mobile swarm. Should I leave this answer too, or just delete it and leave the better one? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2016 at 7:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Both are good ideas, please keep them. \$\endgroup\$
    – ymbirtt
    Apr 15, 2016 at 7:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ por que no los dos? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2016 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may not have to buy the tank itself; from what I remember, some (most?) helium suppliers will lend you their own tank (and nozzle), which you have to return within some period of time (two weeks for the company I used, IIRC). Alternatively, there are stores that will sell you "balloon kits" with a bunch of balloons and just enough helium in a cheap non-refillable tank to fill them, but I suspect a pro shop with rental tanks may be cheaper if you need more than a few balloons. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2016 at 10:04

When we've done swarms in the past, we've used dangling foam figures of the appropriate shape off of a flat foam platform at the end of a pole. I run a boffer larp and have at various time needed rats, bats, and giant insects in overwhelming numbers. The platform was built something like a greathammer, with the shaft padded and then a foam head mounted on top. The creatures were then made individually and lightly duct-taped to the bottom of the platform in groups of about 20. Three to five NPC's worked together to give the PC's a truly surrounded and overwhelmed feeling. One of the big advantages was that a good hit to one of the dangling monsters was usually enough to tear it away from the head, 'killing' a member of the swarm.


How about bubbles? They're not as frightening as a swarm of bees, but they make bubble blowers now that use a fan to blow streams of hundreds of bubbles.

The nice thing about bubbles is how unpredictable they are. Old ones keep popping, new ones keep forming, so you don't get used to the presence of a bunch of static objects representing live animals.


Your comment about "musn't be solid" made me think of one thing:

Liquid water.

By adjusting the nozzle, many pipes can be modified to produce a spray of small droplets. While it obviously will not be useful in simulating swarms of kestrels, water droplets are small enough to be similar to bees, and therefore would be useful as a simulant.

Obviously, the necessity of a water pipe (unless you have a strong pump drawing from a mobile tank) restricts the usage to near buildings, but in such situations it should act as a decent simulant of swarms of small insects. If getting wet is an issue, the players can be attired in raincoats or similar clothing (as they also work well as insect repellents).


Smoke, either pyrotechnic or a fog machine, or perhaps cheap safety goggles with spots on them?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to the site! Have you tried using the techniques you've mentioned? How did it turn out? Backing up your answer, according to Good subjective, bad subjective will greatly improve it. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Apr 15, 2016 at 10:37

Throw a black sheet over them.

Edit: By this I mean take a large double bed-sheet, preferably black, wave it in the air so it billows out and throw it over the players. This meets the criteria in a few ways:

  • it evokes a similar reaction to being swarmed by (for example) bats, as they're all around you (I'm thinking of the scene from Batman Begins where the young Bruce gets swarmed);
  • it's not solid, or at least is un-solid enough for the players to be capable of walking through it or batting it out of the way;
  • it's easy to represent without too many crew - it's easier to work with two people but could be operated by one;
  • players would feel engulfed by it. Bits of it would certainly be all over them.

It's also cheap, light and packs away small.


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