Tolkien LARP

So, the Hobbit has finally been released, and with it the continuation of a long and very popular advertisement of our fantastic country-side, interspersed with one of the most popular fantasy stories of all time.

Of course, watching all that fantastic scenery and wonderful costuming (and great compositing, Norm! We eventually spotted you in the credits - they felt as long as that fight scene) is all well and good, but actually playing it would be even more awesome. As the LARPing community in New Zealand, I really feel that we should work out how to run a Tolkien inspired LARP to further this grand tradition of advertising our fantastic countryside in the medium that we so enjoy.

Now understandably there are a few issues with this.

First off we don’t have the rights to any of Tolkien’s stuff. However, we’ve run games on existing IP before, and I believe we can chose a time within Tolkien’s world that avoids excessive abuse of this IP.

Second, fans of the world have huge expectations on what is acceptable cannon etc etc. Also, while there are some dedicated fans quite capable of speaking the languages Tolkien created, it seems to me that it is unreasonable to expect most people to learn them just for a LARP, and so it would be nice to have a coherent reason why some elves might not speak the ‘old tongue’ elvish (i.e. from the age of the world in LotR).

Third, while Tolkien made some excellent analogies for some social demographics he observed, inspiring a huge amount of future fantasy writing, his world is incredibly racist and sexist, which to me feels out of place in this day and age.

With that in mind, I propose something along the lines of the following:

The game is set several hundred, or possibly even a thousand or two years after the destruction of Sauron. This gives the writers liberty to avoid dealing with many IP and congruity issues. It also allows for the demographics to develop somewhat since. By this stage, several notable women can have managed to do some running of things and establish their own power within the social structures of various communities - they can become a notable part of the fiction. Most of the major ‘races’ can have interbred over the years, meaning that everyone is at least partially mongrel. As such, large elf, tall dwarf, and sophisticated orc are all sensible character options. Elves would be descendants from the few that remained behind when all the elves left. Perhaps one slight exception to this might be halflings, with about as many being short as tall. This could then allow anyone under 16 years old and their guardians to play hobbits, meaning that demographic of players can have their own privileged LARP experience in a way that is easier for the GM’s to deliver appropriate plot to, and enable their guardians to participate IC along side them.

The game structure I would suggest would be that there are several dominant power groups who try to entice mercenaries, traders, civilians, crafters, and so forth to their domain, and send off expeditions to appropriate resources and information in order to better their own position. As such, the game would largely be PvP (in the competition sense, rather than the ‘lets assassinate everyone in their sleep’ sense), instead of being a PvE game (a group of players all working together(ish) with non player characters introduced to provide challenges and people to play off).

In terms of venue, I feel this would be worth seeking somewhere isolated and exquisite. As our community is growing we are approaching the size where it could be economically feasible to host a large game in the middle of nowhere and bring in gear, utilities, and perhaps hire buses to bring people from Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, and/or via other centres (depending on location).

Of course, this is a bunch of stuff off the top of my head from the end of the cinema to my living room. If such a project were to go ahead, it would need a great deal of preparation to pull off. I would suggest a team of 5-6 GM’s who meet on a regular basis for a couple of years, going to weekly meetings for at least the year leading up the the start of the campaign. Along side that would need to be IT support, logistics support - particularly someone who can help find us an amazing location, and marketing support. If done right, this could bring international and new LARPers like nothing else - how cool would it be to play a Tolkien LARP in NZ, situated among all our wonderful native scenery!?

So, what are your thoughts?

It’s definitely ambitious. I think the right team could pull it off though. Sounds like you’re thinking along the lines of it sort of being our version of the big annual week-long LARP that attracts a lot of international participants. Is that what you’ve got in your head? I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I would happy for NZLARPS to support it (as long as we’re confident we’ve got ourselves covered regarding IP) - maybe due to scope and moreover the national focus of it, it could perhaps be done directly under the National Committee, although that’s just me thinking out loud.

Perhaps location and/or time of year could be varied, so as to make it set in different IC locations each year. I also quite like your idea of setting it in the future. It would mean that some original work would have gone into the setting, which I think would help with IP issues, as well as perhaps correcting some ‘imbalances’ like you mention, and avoid some of the problems with overwriting what has been published in the books like you point out.

We can start the game in 2023…

In 2023 all J. R. R. Tolkien’s works will be out of copyright in New Zealand.

Unless the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is used to change our copyright laws. :wink:

Or just call the larp Middle Zealand to get around the IP :wink:

8 years… I suppose that isn’t too long.

That’s the original written books, not the movies, so nobody could play Tauriel :mrgreen:

That’s the original written books, not the movies, so nobody could play Tauriel :mrgreen:[/quote]

I’d hope to avoid having anyone play any character from the stories, perhaps with the exception of a couple of immortal beings played as a directed player character (the blue wizards, perhaps).

I’m a big fan of Tolkien’s books, and Jackson’s visuals are fantastic. So I may be in the demographic.

Stuff set long after the canon of the War of the Ring doesn’t really excite me though, I’m afraid. I’d be more interested in something in the classic timeline, but in a gap in the world that Tolkien didn’t flesh out. For example, I read recently that there’s another Elven haven near Gondor (like Rivendell, Lothlorian and the Grey Havens) and the fate of it in the war of the Ring wasn’t documented. Set a game somewhere like that and you could easily fit the style of game you want into the setting we know, while still leaving the outcome uncertain.

Two other thoughts. One is that if you want international visitors its all about venue, and Hobbiton is the obvious place for that. The operators may be open to something, based on past discussions. But there are likely limitations around how it could be used, e.g. It may not suit overnight games which is limiting. So it couldn’t have all the appeal of something like College of Wizardry with a fully versatile venue.

The other thought is quite lateral. What about less of a full larp, and more of a beautifully costumed battle game in the style of Krigslive in Denmark. They organise amazing annual battles in the Warhammer Fantasy setting with different locations, nations and scenarios each time. Jackson’s movies have shown off looks for so many amazing armies and battles, and by focusing on that, say in one day games somewhere like Cornwall Park, a really accessible experience could be created that would appeal to fans and cosplayers as well as larpers.

Or you could have alternate timelines. Many years ago there was a tabletop game run at Kapcon called “Lords of Gondor” where the premise was “what if Galadriel had accepted the ring”. Boromir succeeding in getting the ring would also work. These settings would be somewhat darker, and you’d probably want to kill off all the famous characters to leave room for PCs.

I really like that idea, Ryan. Means we get lots of public exposure, means we can keep venue costs down and focus on the costumes, and sounds really fun.

Cool! Another nice thing about battle games is that it’s an easier commitment, less reading/understanding/creation of rules/setting/characters, which are all things that put off Jane/Joe public. It could still have an aspect of roleplay, e.g. advertised as “roleplaying optional” so folks who find acting scary but love dressing up and/or fighting would feel included. I could help with a website.

So many armies and battles to choose from. Gondor, Rohan, Mordor orcs, Urak-hai, the various elven and dwarven nations. Even hobbits versus Misty Mountain orcs (Battle of Greenfields) or dwarves versus Moria orcs (e.g. in the North Head tunnels). So many battles.

The tactical aspect would need to be fun. Krigslive have some interesting mechanics around that - e.g. if a banner falls then the unit is demoralised and easier to beat. Battle games are kind of sport-like so needs pretty simple rules so it’s obvious if someone isn’t taking their blows.

Hmm, possibly could have some army differences - elves and dwarves are tough but don’t respawn, goblins are really weak but respawn heaps, orcs and humans somewhere inbetween.

So at the moment the idea is sort of like Middle-earth re-enactment. With sufficient knowledge of the world and planning, this could be turned into a bigger game which involves changing the fate of Middle-earth. Of course, this could (and probably will) quickly deviate from the fiction of the original stories, so a whole new timeline will emerge, meaning the people running the event have to work out a whole lot of consequences for this, and later on famous battles may not even go ahead due to changed circumstances. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just worth considering. It sort of turns the books into a board game with various fights roleplayed out instead of decided on a diceroll.

Another option is to run from just as the war of the ring ends. There are a whole lot of dispersed armies, and this could allow for smaller warbands to form and start fighting over key places in middle earth.

One possible way of expanding the forces is to have each force start with a number of banners, with ~10-20 people per banner, and once one banner is taken that warband routes. They then go to the back, collect one of the remaining banners, and re-joins the battle until there are no more banners left. You could even have the remaining banners placed at the back of the battle field so people can gauge how large the opponents remaining army is. The banner can be taken by another person, but not if the banner falls to the ground. Some people might have a special ability of being able to pick up a fallen banner, but only one or two per army and only once per battle. You could also have an extra rule around movement - banners can only move if they have a musician playing or a leader to direct them, otherwise they have to stay put. You could have a few special forces that aren’t under banners - skirmishers and so forth, but they don’t respawn when they die - they form up under a remaining banner instead.

Now I’ve got a mental image of an impromptu army of hobbits with pitchforks, agricultural flails and bags of throwing rocks, fighting off an army of scurvy Misty Mountain goblins. :wink:

I kinda feel that with battle games, you don’t necessarily need continuity. So even if one battle doesn’t have a canon result, you can still run the next battle as per canon. The focus of most participants is probably each engagement.

A single “battle” could consist of a series of engagements, with different objectives each time. E.g. a “hold the pass” scenario where a superior force (e.g. better armed) with no reinforcements has to prevent a respawning but inferior enemy from getting past them through a narrow pass for as long as possible. You could also run a scenario like that multiple times with resets in between, with it getting harder each time - the enemy gets more and more respawns, so it’s only a matter of time before they win out. Replaying scenarios with variations means that even if you die quickly, you get to play again soon, which is good if death is fast (which it usually is with simple combat rules). Then it’s not so much about “who won?” as how long an army held out against increasingly bad odds. That approach could also ensure that the eventual result followed the books, if that matters, while still allowing for victories on either side along the way.

What other scenarios suit live battle games? Personally I like the ones that don’t feel too artificial, e.g. “hold the fort” is more believable than “capture the flag”.

It seems like we’ve moved into the realm of Live Action War Gaming, which I think is neat - its markedly different to any LARPs I’ve seen in NZ to date, with the exception perhaps of SKIRMISH. Indeed, the replaying scenarios idea is very reminiscent of SKRIMISH, and I think it worked well for that game.

‘Protect the non-combatants’ is a classic scenario. ‘Delay until help (eagles, Rohan, etc) arrives.’ ‘Distract the enemy’ - have a small band of elite forces / hobbits with rings / messengers running off to alert others, who need to get from A to B without the large force of the enemy noticing and intercepting, and the much smaller distracting force needs to try to keep the enemy engaged long enough for the small band to get out.

So, inspired by some wargaming concepts, I’ve drafted up something along the lines of the following:

First up, pick a warband type with your friends. Each races has a number of units per banner and possibly some special rules.

Dwarves need 7 per banner, and once per game each Dwarf may resist a weapon strike or Mighty strike.
Elves, Easterlings and Urak Hai need 8
Humans need 9, and may never give up a ring of power and are always tempted by them
Orcs need 13, but can never wear Heavy Armour
Goblins need 20, but can never wear Heavy Armour, take shields, or have long weapons. 3+ goblins attacking a lone enemy can call Mighty on that enemy.
Halflings can have any number, but can only take short weapons and slings / thrown rocks.

Each battle will field a number of banners, of which only as many as there are players to use them can be active in the battle. As warbands rout or individuals are defeated, they may form new warbands under remaining banners and join the fray. Warbands rout when their banner falls. Warbands may only move straight at any enemy they see if the leader of the warband or a Hero or Villain is not in charge of them.

There are a few special unit that do not respawn as themselves, instead turning into standard troops under a remaining banner once they are defeated. The number of these that may be fielded in a battle is limited by the size of the battle and the scenario. These include:

Balrog - 1 per unit - Invulnerable, Mighty
(Dragon - 1 per unit - Invulnerable, Mighty, Spells? - subject to costuming suggestions)
Troll - 1-2 per unit - Tough, Mighty
Wraith - 1-3 per unit - Invulnerable
Nazgul - 1 per unit -Invulnerable, Mighty
Warmachine - 1 per unit - Mighty
Shapechanger - 1 per unit - Mighty, Tough
Warlock - 1-3 per unit - Spells
Wizard - 1 per unit - Spells, Tough? Or just more powerful than Warlock?
Hero/Villain - 1 per unit - special abilities, e.g. Mighty Strike 1/battle, pick up a fallen banner and forge new warband in the middle of battle 1/battle, etc.
Ringbearer - 1 per unit - carries a ring of power
Elite unit - varies - special abilities, e.g. Shield Breakers, or special mission objectives
Skirmishers - X per unit (same as normal warband) - no banner, so are able to operate independently and must be killed off entirely to remove them from the field
Fast units (e.g. horses, wargs, ships) - X per unit (same as normal warband) - start as normal warband, but when it is defeated it may respawn nearby as a skirmish unit instead of going to the back of the field to collect a remaining banner.

So, calls and effects (initial thoughts):

Melee weapons & rocks - hits to limb mean you lose your limb, hits to torso or loss of two limbs mean you are defeated.
Light Armour - Resist 1 strike to protected limb or torso per battle
Heavy Armour / Tough - Ignore all Melee weapons & rocks that hit protected limb or torso
Mighty - Arrows, or melee weapons with this call, damage people wearing Heavy Armour or with Tough. Mighty blows to shields cause Knockback. Arrows count as Mighty except are stopped completely by shields (no knockback).
Invulnerable - only magic may harm you
Knockback - cause you to go backwards a few steps and collapse to the ground
Trip - go to one knee
Shield break? - breaks shields
Cower - forces you to cower and shield your eyes for 5? seconds
Mass X - indicates all nearby enemies are effected by the call
By the Power of Light/Dark… - indicates spell effect is about to be called out.
- indicates magical damage is dealt.

Some extra thoughts - headshots cause the striker and the stricken to both die. This should hopefully cause people to take an active stance in protecting their own heads as well as encourage people to not strike the heads of others.

My brother complained that elves should be tougher or somehow special, rather than just standard units. Perhaps they become Skirmish units when their banner falls? I don’t know the cannon well enough to think of a good number of elves per unit. Dwarves were 7 because of their rings of power and the Hobbit company (14 is important - 2x7! 13 is bad, hence why I made orcs that size). Humans are 9 because of their rings of power. 3 seems a bit small for the poor elves. Maybe 6 (2x3?). Otherwise 8 is a perfectly good number.

After a bit more thought, I’m not sure if I am a fan of combat without any story. Running through scenarios is fun for a bit, but my feeling is that I would tire of it after a couple of games. I am a big fan of more traditionally styled campaigns. However, thats just me.

This got me thinking, however, about a campaign style game combining the two. For this, everyone has a ‘Player character’ that belongs to one of the available factions, and the games for them involve diplomatic, espionage, and social PC vs PC interactions. Throughout the weekend there are set ‘battle’ times - maybe Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, at which point everyone goes to the battlefield and picks up a soldier archetype based on the faction their Player character is from (as per the rules I just suggested above). The battle is then played through, like an NPC vs NPC game. Everyones Player characters are kept safe in with the civilians (or are there protecting them, or are doing ‘special ops’ missions off screen), except that Heroes and Villains are any people who bring their Player Character to the battle - of course, the death of that character on the battlefield is permanent, but they might have some extra autonomy and the chance to rally troops on the battlefield.

Basically its taking the idea of Monstering to the level where everyone monsters at the same time.

Yup battle games are a particular taste so you’d want to be keen on them to organise one.

Personally I would make it less war-gamey than what you outlined above, more based on the stories and movies with fewer mechanics.

Referencing a tabletop wargame suits a Warhammer Fantasy battle game like Krigslive, less so a Tolkien battle game where many of the interested people might be fans rather than gamers.

Excellent points. In which case, perhaps more effort wants to go into creating equipment that looks the part, and simply have a very simple rules set like 1 hit you’re down with a number of respawns. Having a set of dwarf, elf, human and orc shields and helmets should go a long way towards creating a nice visual aesthetic, letting people supply the other props and costumes themselves.