Live-action-role-playing at the South London Warlords
The Warlords as a club is now well into its third decade of existence, one of the major keys to its continued success is the willingness of its members to explore new facets of the hobby. While starting from "conventional" tabletop gaming, the club, with the advent of Dungeons and Dragons and Traveler has also embraced role-playing as part of its mainstream, and lately the national craze of customisable card games has also made a large impact in the activities of the club.
Back in 1987, a group of Warlords and their friends started "Live Role-playing", that is taking part in a role-playing game where the players physically participate in the game by personally "play-acting" out their part or role in the game. Since the Warlords are a military-oriented group of people, these games often contain combat in some form. Originally we started with electric water-pistols, if your face got wet, you were hit, then graduated to an electronic game system called "Lazertag" by a company called "Worlds of Wonder" marketed in the UK by the toy giant Mattel.
As time progressed the more technically aware of the Warlords continued the tradition of innovation by modifying the weapons, improving their efficiency many times over.
Of course, the combat resolution system does not make the game. The Warlords have explored many genres in the hundred or so games weve played over the years. The main direction of the games has been Science Fiction, in some respects necessarily due to the nature of the Laser tag system, the military of today does not yet use battlefield energy weapons, weve been doing it since 1987.
We have explored a good number of Science Fiction sub-genres such as Aliens (a perennial favorite), Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and Battletech. Also we have created a vast number of custom universes with specific backgrounds suited to the particular game in question. Not content with exploring Science Fiction, we have also played contemporary games (Vietnam, Cold-War Europe etc), Horror (Cthulhu) games, Gangsters and also Westerns, the notorious Cowboy games.
So what exactly is Live Role-playing and Laser tag in particular?
As mentioned above, Live Role-playing is the play-acting out a role in the game, be it as simple as a squaddie, or as complex as an ambassador sent to negotiate the release of a spy. You are generally given a briefing at the start of the game, which tells you your character's background and motivation, how you achieve your character's goals is usually left up to you. What Lazertag brings to this is the ability to resolve conflict in a realistic but safe and painless manner. Other methods of Live role-playing combat resolution systems can involve hitting each other with rubber swords, using airsoft BB guns, and simple honour systems, and while many members of the Warlords have participated in these over the years, Laser tag represents the dominant interest in Live role-playing at the club, probably at least partially due to it's inherent advantages of range, accuracy and safety.
How it is played?
Every player wears a sensor on their head; this can detect incoming fire from any direction and is less likely to be obscured by clothing or obstructions (such as trees) giving the opposition a fair chance of hitting you. In general this sensor can receive up to six hits before sounding a "dead" siren, at which point you fall over "unconscious". Depending on your characters various attributes you may pre-set your sensor so different characters are knocked out after a different number of hits are received from someone elses (hopefully) weapon. For example, if you are willing to go to the trouble (and believe me they are uncomfortable) wear a helmet and flak jacket in a military game you will get two or three more hit points than someone wearing a baseball cap and Bermuda shorts. Once you are unconscious, you either bleed to death after about half an hour and return to a muster point to potentially be recycled into the game as another character. If a designated "medic" player reaches you within the critical half hour they then operate a game mechanism to restore your hit points, usually with some kind of physical penalty (reduced hits, Arm in a sling, blindfolded, that kind of thing). Of course the actual situation varies according to the game in question.
Does anyone else do this?
Laser Tag is not the sole province of the Warlords, there are a variety of groups up and down the country who all play more or less compatible games. The hobby as a whole has its own annual convention organised by a group called "The Light Brigade" and a national gathering called Drop Zone organised by a committee comprised of representatives from many of the clubs.
What do I need to join in?
Well initially you need to be over sixteen, enthusiastic and have about £20-£30 to spend. The Warlords can loan you all the equipment you will need initially, although players who play several games often acquire their own equipment (which is usually customised to complement the role or style of play favoured by the player in question). Games usually cost between £15 and £20 to actually play and are open to anyone, Warlords members of course get a concessionary rate. Players of these games are covered by the club third party liability insurance in case you cause any advertent damage to someone elses person or property, damage to you or your property is not covered, we encourage you to investigate personal accident insurance, but the club does not provide this. After that you need to get to the game, which is often in out of the way places, so a car is an advantage, but lifts can, of course, be organised. The majority of events are single day although we generally try to have at least one weekend long event per year.
Where can I get my own kit?
Standard combat fatigues are available from almost any military surplus store or on the High Street, although High Street reproductions are often more expensive and not as durable as the genuine article. Prices vary wildly so it pays to shop around. In Southeast London, "Mad Mikes" at Lee Green and Greenwich Market on a Sunday are good sources. Don't forget, some camouflage patterns are designed for fighting in specific environments, desert camouflage may look good, but in an English woodland setting you stand out like a sore thumb. Guns and Sensors are somewhat harder to source as manufacturing ceased on these items over ten years ago, so second hand shops and boot fairs are your only option for original stuff, however some people including the Warlords resident technical genius Dave Bodger are now making and selling small quantities of both guns and sensors, so dont be discouraged. N,B. to complicate matters in 1998 Tiger Toys released a new range of "Lasertag" branded toy guns which are not compatible with the 1987 Worlds of Wonder kit used by the Warlords and most other clubs - Don't get caught out.
How does it work?
Laser tag uses the same technology as your TV remote control. If fires a coded pulse of infrared light (out side the spectrum visible to humans) which causes the detector to react. Enhancements to weapons have included rapid and automatic firing as well as lens arrangements to focus the infrared into a tight beam for greater range (100 to 200 meters is about average for an assault weapon). Other game related enhancements such as ammo counters and limited ammo have been added so the games consist of more than just hosing the opposition from a great distance.Tactics and Strategy.As mentioned above, energy weapons have their own unique properties and limitations. Good range, no windage, effectively unlimited ammunition. They also have disadvantages infrared is light so it can be reflected by shiny and not so shiny surfaces. What appears to be good cover can be infrared transparent and nice flat leaves that are full of water reflect IR very effectively. Most of us carry a short range pistol in addition to a long arm so when in confined quarters we dont shoot ourselves with our own weapons.
Come and join in......
So If you fancy finding out what its like to lay an ambush, negotiate a minefield or negotiate with the Klingons, why not give Lazertag a try. Come and join in and of course you never know what you might run in to.....
For more details contact the Warlords Live Role-play Coordinator either via the South London Warlords, PO Box
SE26 4YQ or email to LRP@salute.co.uk This article is © Tim Atkinson April 1998 with updates by David Harvey September 2000, published on the Warlords Web Site with permission.