How much technology should there be in a Larp?


While drinking my morning coffee I clicked through to a few blogs I look at every now and again and was met with a post about photography at Empire LRP. Unfortunately I couldn’t comment on Jeremy’s post, so I figured I’d have a muse about it here. Interaction and replies on social media – whatever next!


For those who don’t know, I run the photography at Empire (and that’s me above, in my cool Empire outfit). I’m kidding of course, y’all know who I am, right? Right? You must do, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading what I write about LRP. If you don’t know who I am, I’m just some crazy chick blogging about taking pictures of people who dress up in costumes and get muddy in a field. And that would be… weird. Anyway.

Lets indulge. WAR RHINO.

Empire LRP - E4 2014 -, now that’s over with (apparently everything you write about Empire at the moment must mention the War Rhino) we can get on with the intelligent stuff. Semi-intelligent. I write about photography, I’m not sure it’s that intelligent.

My presence wasn’t universally welcomed at PD and Empire. I put an awful lot of noses out of joint when I said to MattP ‘we can make this better’. I remember the conversation really clearly. There was an epic battle at the first ever Empire LRP and a moment at the end where the hero’s were trudging back to the Sentinel Gate. I crouched down, lined up a shot and realised that there were about seven or eight other photographers in my picture. I didn’t take the picture. It was a waste of good memory space. So I said to him ‘we can make this better’ at which point MattP explained something about immersion and stuff.

I’m don’t play LRP myself, so perhaps I don’t really get it. But I’ve crewed now with PD for two years and I think I’m starting to figure it out. I would always rather that people came to PD games to play them rather than photographing them. I believe that we have such a great game that no one should want to take time out to photograph it because they’d much rather be playing it. I don’t want six players taking pictures during a battle, I want them to get so much enjoyment out of being a great big god damn fucking hero that they don’t even think about retrieving their camera kit from their car. I want them to feel the electric buzz as they face off against hundreds of Orcs and A FUCKING WAR RHINO!

Empire LRP - E4 2014 -

Sorry, the War Rhino slipped in again.

I know that playing the game is one of the highest compliments and measures of good feedback available to the writers and game designers too. If you’re playing it then you’re enjoying it and we’ve all achieved what we set out to do which is make a fantastic game that people WANT to play.

There’s additional considerations in this world of social media and the interwebz. At Empire LRP have a multi-million word wiki that requires quite serious amounts of imagery to prevent it from just being solid walls of texts. I think when I worked on the wiki this summer we had something like a thousand images displayed on it’s pages. With over a thousand players attending events (and a crew that is several hundred strong) you have to communicate how your world looks. Images are much more effective than words at this task.

Added to that, social media is an exceptionally powerful tool. According to my stats on Facebook, my pictures have sometimes been seen by around 50k people after an event. We don’t have more than 2k attendees so that’s a huge amount of people who are being exposed to LRP through photographs of an event.

Remember what MattP said before?

No words can convince a person that LARP is more than just a bunch of sweaty nerds in cheap costume waving toy swords around quite as effectively as a picture of neat Roman battle lines squaring off against a horde of Carthaginians.

Great pictures can make a huge difference. Other pictures – as was highlighted in the blog post that inspired this – occasionally don’t show the hobby in such a good light. As a crew we want to present the best image of our game that we can to players and potential players. That includes customer service, management, the game world and – of course – photographs.

Empire LRP - E4 2014 -

Jeremy is right though about his observation of players using camera phones and GoPros more and more. During Odyssey we caught a player who had fallen in the arena filming the battle as it happened and a fellow photographer at Empire had to bin a shot of a dramatic execution with awesome roleplaying because another player was shooting the action on his phone. Monsters taking cameras to battle and recording the action has started to become a problem that the ref crew have noticed and we’re going to knuckle down and do something about this next year.

I’d love to ban recording devices from every part of the IC field with the exception of a very limited amount of photographers. However this wouldn’t be a popular decision – there was quite a bit of unhappiness when I put my foot down and limited the number of photographers that could shoot battles. As far as I know we’re the only system who actively put a limit on and polices photographers – but I’d love to hear about any others that do. We just want people to play the game. And we want to make the system as immersive as possible for those who love playing it. That means less camera phones, less GoPros and less photographers.

Empire LRP - E4 2014 -

So a friend went to a different LRP earlier on in the year and I asked him how it went. ‘It was ok’ he said. ‘I liked the game and the setting, but there were way too many photographers’. On further discussion one of the things he brought up was the fact that a photographer had even used a tripod right in the middle of the road in front of the players in order to capture a shot. The photographers at the event had got in the way of the immersion and experience – and that’s not a good thing with LRP, right?

I admit, I take tripods onto the IC field. And I refuse to dress it up with fabric covered legs and scarves because ultimately these things just make you look like you’ve got a tripod covered in fabric and scarves. I prefer to carry my camera and tripod unadulterated because it means that I can be in and out faster, quicker and more safely. But I only use it in situations where I’m not going to draw attention to myself. Like the shot above, taken well after dark as you can see. The only light was the fire and so it was a long exposure on a tripod all the way in order to capture anything. However I got a lovely comment afterwards from my gorgeous fella in the middle breathing fire. He said ‘I didn’t think you took any photos of it. I looked for you and you weren’t there’. In reality I was sitting right in the front row, as you can see. He even stood in front of me at one point and still didn’t see me. I feel from comments like his that I’m getting something right with this LRP photography malarky. Either that or he’s unobservant. The jury is perhaps out.

But some other technology can be jarring in game too, and like the occasional photographer we accept it because it’s for the greater good.

Empire LRP - E4 2014 -

Two of my most favourite refs looking extraordinarily pleased at the pyros they’re setting off. Our Empire ref’s are the best – you give them something that goes BANG or produces smoke and they’ll be happy for hours.

Radio sets are one of those necessary evils required for such a huge game to run. Dozens of them are handed out at the start of an event for everyone from Refs and SFX crew to Egregors. There’s no way to get around the immersion breaking that they cause. ultimately you still usually have a radio hanging off your belt and some kind of black plastic or covert ear piece.

Lots of the crew who wear them in character do an exceptional job at hiding them in their kit. Sometimes with awesome beards.

Empire LRP - E4 2014 - is this not a bit like the cameras thing? We don’t want to completely ban cameras from the IC field because they do – in policed circumstances – provide benefits to the organisers and players.

I had a sweet new photographer with me last event who had not really been to LRP before. One of the parting instructions I left was ‘if you ever need help, just find someone who is wearing a radio’. Radios are obvious. They identify you in the field as being a member of crew who can help you. They’re a great security blanket to have in the game. Sure the radio unit itself really needs to be slipped into a bag or whatever, but having that earpiece provides an easy way to pick out someone who is crew.

There’s always ups and downs to every piece of technology included in the game. I could go on and mention the bar with it’s nice modern cellar technology… but I think I’d be hounded out of the hobby if I suggested that went!

  • PD are by no means the only game organiser to police photographers. Indeed, they are perhaps one of the *least* restrictive systems out there, because if I wanted to turn up and photograph Empire (as an outsider), I can tell from the published policies that I could do so solely by buying a player ticket, and making some effort to blend in. (Battles being the exception).

    Conversely, for literally every system I have ever been to as a dedicated photographer, I’ve been in contact with the organisers first, and they’ve known exactly who might be a full-time photographers at their event. (Of course, these are all events of 250 people or fewer, which makes it both easier and more important to track).

    This makes a distinction between “people occasionally getting out cameras at events” and “people going to events as photographers”, or course.

    • Charlotte

      I did not realise that other systems kept such a tight watch, I’d been given the impression that they didn’t. Perhaps I need to get in touch with a few organisers and see how they run things so that we can all learn from each other.

      I’d disagree that you can just turn up a photograph Empire by buying a ticket – we heavily discourage that as you know. Perhaps I need to revist the wording on the wiki page.

  • Rich

    Having played Empire for the first time, ODC a number of times.
    There have been moments during time in when I’ve seen a player pull a phone or a camera, shrugged, turned to one side and continued to roleplay.
    I rarely see any of the PD camera crew, you peeps are Ninja.
    This fact was really brought home when I saw one of my all time favourite pics of me (does not involve a battle Rhino)
    Simply me and another player having a really intense argument. I didn’t see the shot taken.
    Damn I almost look cool.
    Keep up the Ninjing and the very cool pics.

    • Charlotte

      Pleased you’re enjoying it. Although I’d love to get Empire and Odyssey to the stage where people just didn’t pull out phones or compact cameras at all.

  • Ali (sometimes)

    Hey, it maybe just me but adding refpower adds game for me. Radios are good, tablets are better. Much rather a few seconds of C21 intervening, than the chance your ritual (that you spent hours to get mana participants and coolth sorted for) doesn’t happen because the ref lost the bit of paper? Also, photography is awesome. Don’t listen to anyone who says stop.

  • Hello There!

    Thank you for the reply! It’s awesome to get the point of view of the professional. I’m speculating as a host of really small larp events in NH/MA… So an outside point of view is critical. Thank you. It’s good that immersion is not being sacrificed for the social media photo opp. Old games may be slow to adapt and set expectations, but newer game systems might be more willing to draw a line in the sand with a firm tech policy right from the start.

    One thing that may be really helpful in the coming years is the continued innovation of smaller and smaller cameras. Although the work of groups like Larptronics are focused on integrating artistic performance tech into larp props perhaps they can extend that talent to recording equipment. A nice steady wizard staff for you perhaps? With ever smaller, ever more powerful camera technology getting the camera into the gear shouldn’t be too far off. Hopefully. We shall see.

    There’s also something to be said for ‘active’ verses ‘passive’ recording. Small always on recording may be one thing, and could integrate well with garb, but the line starts to really get crossed when a PC has to extend their arms out holding a glowing bright object flashing away… That is a clear an obvious issue. More subtle are the challenges you must face wrangling a crew of folks armed with high powered lenses who are doing their best to make the game look like it feels when a war rhino charges. Where the balance is, I could not begin to imagine.

    The gopro is about the right size to fit inside a Mimir. Hmmm. Where’s my foam…

    • Charlotte

      Personally I wouldn’t use a camera that is integrated into something else. I put my foot down early on and said that I wouldn’t mess about with coverings that got in my way and so forth. If I want to shoot top quality images then I have to be able to use my equipment efficiently and accurately. If I was forced to use a camera covered in a load of costuming rags, a camera in a box or a camera in a wizards staff then I simply wouldn’t be shooting the kind of images that I shoot now. The shot at the top of this post is how I look when I shoot – albeit with a second camera slung to the other side.

      A weapon wouldn’t be appropriate for us as crew photographers either, because the red and black jacket denotes us as ‘not here’ in the same way as the refs. Why would someone who is ‘not here’ carry a staff or a weapon? Perhaps I overthink it. (At Odyssey I wear game costume and carry weapons, but that is a different setting and we don’t have ‘not here’ jackets. However of course I wouldn’t fight with my cameras on – but when they’re off I’m game.)

      We thought we had a comfortable balance with four photographers to every battle. However I believe that the numbers taking to battle have dropped slightly and I’m going to have a chat with refs, MattP and some players over the winter and work out if we need to drop that number. Some feedback I’ve had after the last event is that there are too many of us again, but I’m not making any decisions yet.

  • Another great article Charlotte.

    As a player at Empire, I find coke cans and plastic bottles far more of an immersion breaker than cameras and radios. In fact I barely register camera’s and radios unless they are being pointed in my face.

    It’s easier for me to mentally block out a camera/ratio as being necessary to the game so meant to be there. You could always explain them away as ‘ancient devices’.

    Not so a coke can, a plastic washing up bowl or a Tesco carrier bag. I see one of those and I think, ‘bah! that was lazy, get an IC cover)

    I have an IC cover for my phone/camera and have managed to capture some nice moments in camp. I wouldn’t dream of taking onto a battlefield. I’ll let the pros with the big lenses and real skill take those shots 🙂

  • D.M.

    My ‘immersion’ is vexed by domestic tech in the middle of things.
    Wristwatches annoy me, I suppose people with them just forget.. I use my phone a lot as a timepiece and I find I’m happier with it left in the OOC field and not really knowing the time IC. Is there a plan for an Anvil town clock? With bells/gong?
    A thing that really vexes me in seeing the collar of a t-shoirt peeking out from under the rest of someone’s otherwise nice kit. Why is it there? Why have so much good kit and wear a t-shirt as well?

    I can blank the big, clearly OOC things. I can blank a 4×4 (although that may not be good thing…) I can (to stay close to topic) blank a person with obvious cameras stood to one side, or stealthing around. I can blank guys in red caps carrying stuff.
    I don’t smoke but filter tips make me twitch where rollups and pipes and lighters don’t.