Riddles of Foam – Light LARP combat philosophical musings (part 1)

note:  This is in the context of light-contact LARPs (NERO-clones, Accelerant-mutants, IFGS, and the like).  It’s not applicable to medium-contact LARPs such as Amtgard/Belgarath/Dagorhir in a direct sense.

Let’s get some axioms out of the way.

  1. LARP combat is settled by foam 9 times out of 10.  There’s a lot of reasons for this, mostly because you can just deliver so much more damage, cheaper and faster, with foam sticks than any other medium (archery, thrown, spells).  Being good with foam is the first, last, and the middle about being a excellent LARP combatant.
  2. Defeating somebody with foam is an entirely different visceral experience than anything else in light-LARP combat.
  3. Winning at foam is not a fencing duel.  It’s frantic and fast.  You are going to get hit, but winning at foam is about having a high ratio hitting compared to getting hit.
  4. Tactical formation and coordination of the “troops” is very hard to accomplish for both NPCs and PCs.  Acting as a team player rather than an individual is very effective as a result.
  5. By design, LARP combat is not fair.  One side is going to be underpowered and/or outnumbered.  Capitalizing on this fact is devastating.
  6. There are weapons (and weapon combinations) that are better than others in the aggregate.
  7. LARP combats are designed by staff to challenge.  Player success at LARP combat is rewarded (err… punished) by numerical escalation.

Each of these points can be boiled into philosophies, and it’s these philosophies can you can use to become a better LARP combatant.  I’m gonna call these the “Riddles of Foam”, simply because Conan is awesome.  Each of these riddles corresponds to these points above.

The First Riddle of Foam

“What rules the battlefield?”  “Foam”

Most folks understand this quickly, but it’s an important point to make nonetheless.  Any given fight is going to be settled with foam, unless there is an overpowered spell or other effect in play.  If you are building your character to be a combat character mechanically, you do it with foam in almost every rules system.  More importantly, any significant increase in your skill with foam is the best magic item/power-up you can get.  It’s also just more fun to be good with foam.

The Second Riddle of Foam

“What is best in life?”  “Killing with Foam”

If you defeat somebody with a point-and-shoot, a thrown packet, or an arrow, there is little impression of skill on your part, or a lack of skill on the victim’s part.  Note, I did note that it’s an impression, and I fully acknowledge that you can be quite clever and dexterous with ranged kills.  However, there’s little skill on the victim’s part to counter that, only mechanical game counters.  Kills with ranged, as a result, often leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, especially the testosterone set.  (see my previous post on being an awesome NPC).

If you defeat somebody with foam, there is now definitely an impression of skill.  If you use crazy OP mechanics (“I swing 52, magic, silver, potato, disarm”), then it’s just as empty as a ranged kill.  However, if you kill because your ratio (see riddle #3) in the next post, both you and your opponent know that your larp-peen is large.

In addition, these kills tend to be a lot “cleaner” socially.  Folks will argue/clarify/pause over something like “can my Valduvian Evade skill be used to counter your Taco Barrage?” in pretty much every combat in LARP till the end of time.  They won’t argue when you cleanly and evenly just hit them four times.  They simply have to take it.

The Third Riddle of Foam

“How does one succeed with Foam?”  “Hit a lot, don’t get hit”

There is a concept in online-shooters of a Kill Death Ratio.  Foam has a similar concept, and I’m going to call it Foam Hit Ratio.  This is how many hits you can score for every hit scored on you.  Take the time to keep a mental tally of this ratio when you are practicing, so you are aware of it.  Don’t dwell on it, good or bad, since that accomplishes nothing.

There only two ways that math will allow us to improve that ratio.

(1) Hit people more often.

(2) Get hit less.

Method #1:  hitting people more often — how NOT to do it

There’s a lot of folks do something early in their career as LARP fighters.  They figure out that they can just rush inside of somebody’s guard, often taking a hit on the approach.  They then proceed to use their body, shield, or off-hand weapon to exclude getting hit while they hammer away at their opponent.  I call this the “noob rush” as a result.  This technique is usually semi-legal, depending on the safety rules of the organization (usually just skirting rules about rushing, weapon pinning, and/or proximity).  Nevertheless, it is effective at getting your ratio up.  The noob rush is a dick move, capitalizing often on body mass, intimidation, and physical power.  The noob rush ends up hitting fast, and in the same hit locations, resulting commonly in calls of “machine-gunning”.  It also only works well on other noobs.  Experienced folks will call safety and/or machine-gunning on you fast.  I’ve on several occasions just pushed people off me while doing that, as I’m not a small guy, and made it clear it’s not happening again.  The noob rush also ends up with many ignored hits, and resultant bitterness from both the rusher and the rushee, since I know I’m more concerned about my safety when you semi-tackle me, than anything else.

Method #2:  Get hit less — how NOT to do it

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is very rare to see a new fighter embrace the idea that they will simply protect themselves.  They don’t see the efficacy of the idea, and therefore don’t practice it.

What some shield folks will do is “turtle”.  They hunker down under the shield and occasionally snipe out with their weapon.  I’m not necessarily against this concept, as long as it doesn’t turn into the inevitable shield rush that follows.  When your back leg is also your sword hand, you almost are required to push your shield into my face/weapons in order to hit me with that sword.  That’s a dick move (see above), but an extremely common technique.  It’s pretty much 98% of the techniques for Amt/Bel/Dag, since they invariably fight in that fashion.  Yep, it’s effective for getting one hit in, but it’s horrible for getting more than one.  Do it to me, and that shield hits me, I’ll call shield bashing, not take your one and only hit, and proceed to foam murder you.

Doing Both #1 and #2 at the same time — How you should do it

I have an alternative technique to all this, and it accomplishes both points #1 and #2 quite well.  The technique is what I call “3-tap”.  A 3-tap works like this.

  • Hit somebody, either with an opener, or a riposte.  This is “tap #1”.
  • Immediately be moving back to guard as part of tap #1.  This is part of the motion for “tap #1”, not an afterthought.
  • Hit them again, but in another location.  “tap #2” .  Frequently, you are stepping laterally on this, taking advantage of body positioning of your opponent.
  • Again, you are already moving back to guard as part of the motion.
  • One more hit, in another location.  “tap #3”
  • Back to guard, but also with a reset and retreat back to long range.

There’s a lot going on here, but I’ll try to go over the main principles to 3-tap.

  1. You are using the energy of your attacks, and your blocks effectively.  Each you your hits should be a snap that bounces off your opponent.  If it’s blocked or not, that energy is bringing you back to a general guard position.
  2. The general guard position is exactly that.  It’s generally having your elbow touching your ribs, and it’s generally having your point towards your opponent.  The main benefit is that your weapon is rapidly back into position to attack and defend.  The weapon coiled with energy from your elbow.  It’s at your centerline, which makes the distance your weapon has to travel to the next attack or block the shortest distance possible.
  3. You hit different locations for a few reasons.  First, it’s much more likely when you are hitting somebody as fast as a 3-tap can be that they will register the blows and actually take the damage delivered if you hit different locations.  Second, your opponent is probably still moving through a failed parry on the previous hit, leaving another location open.  That’s why you are doing lateral steps on the 2nd and or 3rd hit.  They likely moved to counter or block that first tap, exposing their flank (usually their right flank, so you step left).  Now you can easily tag them in the back or ribs with tap #2.
  4. The reset and retreat are important.  First, it’s just courtesy to your opponent, and gives them the opportunity to do their math.  Second, staying engaged and continuing to hit leaves your opponent few options.  Most folks will step into you in these situations, since they have lots of experience with the noob rush.  Stepping out and resetting before they do this is better for everybody involved, and makes you a much cleaner fighter.  It also means you don’t get hit even once, which is unlikely if you get countered with a noob rush.
  5. This is style/weapon neutral.  It applies to whatever you are using.

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