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For an upcoming LARP event we want to introduce a horde of demonic/otherworldly/non-human opponents that our players will have to fight at some point.

Due to how we are organised we, the organizers, will provide costumes for NPC-characters. Meaning that our 20 non-humans call for some 20 costumes that we have to make/buy. (Single motivated NPC participants might still provide costumes of their own, but we can't rely on most of them doing this...)

Now, of course we'd like the costumes to be as awesome as possible, but naturally our resources - both time and money - are limited. Meaning that while it would be great to go for a set of cosplay-quality costumes, that is just not possible.

How could we create costumes for opponents that look as non-human as possible without either spending very large sums or investing weeks/months into single costumes?

I'd be very grateful for input and ideas from people who have experience creating single/multiple costumes on a budget.


Our requirements:

  • Here, horde means some 20 opponents, i.e. 20 costumes.
  • The costume should be at least somewhat combat-ready (European LARP / foam weapon combat).
  • We'll be using the demonic horde mostly at night (but in places where torches etc. provide lighting)
  • It'd be great if the costume would make the wearer look non-humanoid (but I guess this generally involves a lot of effort in costume-building...)
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  • \$\begingroup\$ You do not have to put LARP in your question, there are the tags for. \$\endgroup\$ – ruedi Jan 6 '17 at 15:46
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For preface purposes, you should know that I've been LARPing for 15 years.

First and foremost, your question is difficult to answer because although you've stated some criteria about your demons, you haven't said what you want them to look like. That aside, there are a few things that I can advise you with. I am making the following assumptions based on your original post:

  1. 20 costumes for 20 players mean that all 20 are playing the same thing. There's not a Balrog, a succubus, a lemure, and a 17 other types of demons. Thus you want all the costumes to look pretty much the same.
  2. You're playing in weather that is suitable to bare skin or at least you have a crew willing to go balls out if needed.
  3. Your club has extremely limited funds so the cheaper the better.
  4. Costume changes after the demons show up are not needed.

Given that there's a horde, it is extremely important that you do not break the immersion by having your 20 cast members come up with their own unique costume. If one person's wearing a felt mask, the guy next to him is a wearing paint, and a third has a latex mask, and they're all supposed to be the same thing, your players are not going to recognize that and you'll just have confusion.

The cheapest costume for what you're proposing is using red acrylic paint with makeup pads to prevent clumping (assuming you want red skinned demons). Go full on with this and paint faces and any exposed skin to make it clear that players are not dealing with humans. If you got some hardcore people willing to go bare chested, paint the whole torso.

From there, you can scale up depending upon your budget. For example, glow in the dark body paint around the eyes can be used to give that nice aura of menace. Fake horns can be as simple as a costume shop provided you only use them in the dark so that they're just adding to a silhouette. Those persons willing to go bare chested should be further accentuated with additional paint, maybe pentagrams or other occult symbols.

If you want to do things with stuff like wings, you can, but it won't look good if you're restricted by both time and money. The cheapest thing I can think of for that is to use coat hanger wires to shape what you want and then drape a trash bag over it, binding it all together with tape. This will probably last for just the one event. You will be counting on the darkness to keep this from looking like crap. If you elect for this, attach it to someone who isn't bare chested because I'm not sure how you would hook it onto them without it being obvious.

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This depends a lot on whether you have more time or more money. If you are going for "as awesome as possible" I would recommend masks - face paint is easier but looks commensurately less good.

The best way I know of to lay hands on cheap masks is to shop for them in the week after halloween when everyone is selling costume off cheap. Failing that if you have time rather than money, it is pretty easy to make them - you need a bunch of plaster, a head blank and modelling clay for sculpting the mask and some paint and latex. None of the stages of construction are very difficult and you will find plenty of good tutorials online, but they take a while because everything needs to dry.

If you do make a mask, be careful that eye holes are larger than you think you will need and take off the chin altogether so there is plenty of space for monster crew to breathe and for those with beards to have beards. A bit of face-paint before the masks go on will cover over the gaps more than sufficiently. Unless they are full head masks ( which are often awkward and uncomfortable ) it is worth pairing them up with hoods, which are easy and inexpensive to make.

In terms of costume the best thing you can do if you are planning to run more than one event ever ( or even if you're not ) is to make up a set of basic, cheap, machine-washable robes in dark fabric. These can be adapted in a lot of different ways and provide a reliable base-layer for different costumes. Combine those with different tabards or over-layers for quite different effects. If you need special designs or heraldry on your outfits painting it on is the easiest way to get it there- a painted shield or motif on a tabard allows you to identify one group of NPCs quickly and easily with minimal customisation to kit. Robes also have the advantage that they will cover up any jeans, Metallica t-shirts and other traditional monster-crew gear.

These cost money and time and it's worth checking you can't pick up some costume online for less than the amount you would be spending on fabric - sometimes things turn up second hand that are absolutely suitable - but if you do make your own stuff it should last you for many events, which makes for a reasonable up-front investment.

To make your monsters less human you can use foam structures under robes to create a more strange body shape as long as they are reasonably spacious. Shaping up some pipe lagging or similar over the monster's shoulders or similar will change their shape and the way the robes move with them, there's a lot you can experiment with here.

It is worth getting your materials together ahead of an event like this and with your organisation team spending a weekend making outfits and planning out other aspects of the event. Having people in one place allows you to set up a production line and it's a great opportunity to plan things out.

For customisation/decoration it is also worth doing a circuit of local thrift stores or charity shops - you can often find old fur coats, belts and other things that can be used to customise or decorate NPC outfits.

Finally, if you have a monster crew of 20 you are very lucky, but bear in mind some LARPer constants in your planning:

  • Firstly we are a flaky lot, so don't be surprised if you have fewer than that. If I had 20 people absolutely guaranteed to come I would make the good kit for fifteen and have spare parts ready to make slightly half-assed kit for the other five. If I ended up with enough monsters to fill the good kit I would be happy.
  • Secondly we are very flimsy- among your monster crew anticipate that you will have at least one person who is unable to take the field in any combat situations and at least one person who will be unable to wear some element of the kit, being allergic to latex masks, face paint, claustrophobic in a hood or whatever else. Consequently design your encounter so you have a few human thralls, mercenaries or similar for those who can't fit the generic costume.
  • LARPers are often very enthusiastic about the hobby and happy to help out- if there are any other established groups nearby it is worth talking to them about what you have in mind, unless you have some deep and ancient rivalry, obviously. You may be able to borrow kit or monster crew in exchange for returning the favour with them.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP has indicated they have both time and money constraints. Your primary idea involves creating latex masks, which by your own admission is time consuming. This answer would be improved if you gave an idea how time consuming. I expect this to be crucial as you're proposing at least 15 masks and they may have to be made in shifts based on craft space limitations. You also mention that there are tutorials online, but don't link any that you'd recommend which would help the OP to not have to figure out your intent. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 6 '17 at 20:28

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