Newcomer's Guide to the Realms
By Robert Traynor

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the Realms! It's a fun, magical place, one filled with glory, beauty, song, enchantments ... and you. This booklet is a "quickstart" guide to getting on your feet. It doesn't replace the rules, and it's important that you learn them completely, but this will do for now.

The Realms community are a helpful lot. If you came here with friends, they can steer you in the right direction. If you didn't, ask if anyone can recommend a group or a mentor that can help you out. Most groups have spare weapons you can borrow for the event, and may be able to include you in armies or quest teams. Some might spot you a few gold to put "money" in your pocket.

Since this is a live role-playing event, your character has the abilities you do in real life. If you are personally agile and have good stamina, you have the tools to be a good fighter. If you are stealthy and dextrous, you can be a good thief. Magic alone is dependent on the game system for degree of skill, but even so a player with a flair for ritual and lore does better than one who doesnít. Unlike in the real world, age and sex don't matter nearly so much - an archmage is a force to be reckoned with, even if his player is ten years old, and anyone foolish enough to scoff at a female knight will go straight to the afterlife wondering from where that sudden burning pain came ...

If you come from another LARP tradition, whether it be NERO, a Vampyre game, Legends, Amtgard, what have you, welcome! Youíll find our strengths (decentralization, low cost events, freedom to choose) offset our lack of a powerful central organization. Do be aware that we have rules with which youíre unfamiliar or which contradict your own outfitís customs - legal head shots in combat, for instance. If we were to play in your home tradition, we would expect to follow your rules, and youíll have a better time of it in the Realms if you follow ours.

You don't need an elaborate character background to start out - just pick a name and dive right in! Grab a weapon, take up magic, enter a tourney, join a questing team, and - as we all did once in our own turns - you'll be on the path to glory.

ROLEPLAYING

Roleplaying is the art of living a persona that isn't your own; improvisational acting at its finest. We all adopt personas - warriors, dancers, wizards, priests, rogues and many more. All you need to start is a "fantasy" name and a notion of what you want to portray. Imagination counts; calling yourself "Conan the Barbarian" or "Morgan La Fey" will be jarring to others and won't impress many.

Roleplaying involves staying "in-character" (IC), which means doing and saying everything as your character would do were the Realms actually ďreal life.Ē A barbarian won't use flowery language or wear lace cuffs on his sleeves; a refined sorceress won't eat beef with her bare hands and probably won't wear a leopard-skin loincloth. Play a role comfortable to you. If you don't think you can pull off playing a seductive exotic dancer or a bloodthirsty assassin, try a concept you can play - and if you're stuck, pattern yourself after a favorite literary figure. Don't worry if later you find your role stifling or there's another one you realize you'd prefer. Changing characters is easy, and the rules permit more than one character (though only one per event) for those who like occasional changes of pace. In time, acting IC will become second nature, as you gain more of a feel for what "you" are like.

Work out a "history" - where you're from, what you did before you took up adventuring, what your goals are. Keep things straightforward. One of the persistent sins committed by newcomers is concocting backgrounds as bastard half-elven half-demon half-dragon half-dwarf (yes, I know that's too many halves) exiled princelings with Dark Curses biding their time until they can regain their thrones. After the first dozen of these, it gets rather old ... and, just FYI, three of the four highest-ranking active monarchs in the Realms are former commoners without a drop of noble blood.

Respect the roleplaying of others. Not everyone is a good guy, not everyone holds to "human" moral codes, not everyone plays the way you would in their shoes (maybe the sorceress wants to let her hair down in wearing that loincloth!) ... not everyone is even sane! The essence of the game is portraying characters who aren't ourselves or who might not be what others might choose to play - and backstabbing scoundrels can be sweethearts in real life. Learning about the characterizations of others will give you hints about how to roleplay your own part.

Be aware, however, that sinister or insane characters make enemies quickly. Feel free to play a villain, but don't be upset if the good guys take sword against you. If you do try out an "evil" character, keep a low profile early on, until you can gain enough power to throw your weight around ... which is, after all, sound advice for anyone.

We use the term "out-of-character" (OOC), which includes real world discussions and modern references. Some eventholders ban OOC conversations or references to help maintain the illusion of a fantasy world (the IC term being "witchcraft"). Even if you're at an event that doesn't specifically ban OOC discussions, avoid them anyway - it's jarring to have to ignore the computer chat over at the next table while youíre trying to plan a night assault. OOC also refers to information you-as-player hear that your character doesn't. This can even form part of your background - you might decide your character has werewolf blood in her. You know this, OOC - but your character does not, until she discovers the awful secret! Ignore OOC knowledge you learn that your character could not reasonably know.

COMBAT

Fighting is central, whether in war, questing or in tourneys. We fight with padded foam ("boffer") weapons in combat simulating sword fighting. There are stringent standards of weapon construction - do not make your own without consulting an experienced weapon maker!

Combat is straightforward. A weapon strike to any arm or leg disables that limb, after which you must let it hang limp if an arm, or hop if a leg - youíre "wounded". A weapon strike to the head or torso is a killing blow, and you must fall down "dead" until you are raised. There are numerous safety rules and combat principles you must learn, including:

  • Marshals: They're the referees. Listen to what they say and do as they say. They have the power to pull people who violate the rules from combat, and will do so if they must.
  • Lightest Touch: Weapon strikes must be light, and baseball swings or full-force jabs are not allowed. - "Hold": Whenever you see an unsafe situation, yell "Hold". Whenever you hear "Hold" called, freeze in place. The marshals will signal when it is safe to fight again (with the cry "Lay on!"). It is against the rules to discuss strategy during a hold, and rather gauche to chatter as well.
  • Off Target: The face and throat are "off target," and you must not aim at those areas. Breast strikes on females and groin blows are less than honorable, and should be avoided, although weapon strikes there should be counted. A strike to any hand which is holding a weapon is "off target" too.
  • Real Steel: Don't carry real life weapons or knives, or other dangerous objects into any situation where there's a likelihood of combat.
  • Illegal Contact: Charging at your foe, so that he has to jump out of the way to avoid a collision, is illegal. So is shield bashing, wrestling, grabbing of weapons or any contact other than weapon on weapon or weapon on person. Unlike in some other games, there's nothing illegal about hitting from behind or on the top or the back of the head.

A shield can deflect weapon blows. The function of armor is to take one or more "free" hits, after which it is damaged, and can't take blows again unless it is "repaired". Armor has to look authentic, whether it takes the form of a leather jerkin or a chain link shirt.

"Wounded" characters may be healed by a simple spell many spellcasters know. A "dead" character must lie still until he is magically healed, although he can be dragged to a place of greater safety. He can't speak or move on his own - he's dead, after all! - and when raised, he'll have no knowledge of how he died. All characters must wear a "scalp," which is a representation of the soul, and if it is taken from your dead body - usually involving "destruction" of the body by means of repeated weapon strikes after death - resurrecting you becomes far more difficult.

It's important that you be trained to fight if you intend to take part in combat ... and even quiet wizards will find themselves in a battle from time to time! Not only will you learn safe fighting, but boffer combat is a martial art like any other - the only way to improve is with regular practice. Many groups hold weekly practice sessions. Attend these if you can! You can get in a lot of fighting outside of events, and get feedback from experienced warriors on what aspects of combat you need to improve.

MAGIC

Note: The following is a basic (and simplistic) explanation for those considering sorcery for their characters. ALL Realms spellcasters are responsible for knowledge of the magic system, in especial their own spells, weapon restrictions, learning and what is required of them. Players who misuse their spells cannot claim ignorance as a defense, and so I strongly urge that anyone becoming a mage obtain a copy of the Omnibus to the Realms, the official rule book, which contains the complete magic system. Realms magic is organized into ten "Paths" or disciplines:

Healer: curative magics; Channeler: "priestly" magics; Alchemist: transferable potions; Sorceror: combat magics; Necromancer: undead control; Seer: information magics; Blacksmith: repair magics; Abjurer: protection and dispelling; Thief: "roguish" skills; Shaman: nature/animal magics

If you learn a single Path of spells (a maximum of six spells) you may use a wide range of weapons - a "Light" weapon restriction. If you go beyond that to learn a second Path (or learning the same Path twice, which has certain advantages), you may wield up to a 3' weapon - a "Medium" restriction. If you go on to learn a third Path of magic, you may only wield a dagger - a "Severe" restriction. Learning takes a maximum of three events per spell, which may be shortened for the first two Paths of training through electing a more limiting restriction than strictly necessary. Wizards may also choose to wear armor, at the cost of the highest spell in each of the Paths they elect to learn.

You must learn spells from someone who knows them, which sometimes requires you to join a guild teaching the spells you wish to possess. Each group has a different set of rules and spells taught, with which students generally must comply. There is great flexibility in which spells a mage is eligible to learn, and you can cross Paths (at a penalty) or learn Regional Magic, a "wildcard" spell.

Each mage must keep a spellbook, which he must have on his person in order to cast spells. The book includes lists of his spells, when learned and from whom, weapon restriction, and how his spells are cast, including required components and incantations. Some spells require the mage to have a spell focus, an artifact through which he channels his power, such as an item of jewelry or a staff.

Most spells have "components" required to cast: verbal, a chant of a specific number of words; active, hand-gestures or motions; and material, physical substances needed. Generally the components required for each spell are the same used by the player who taught you the spell.

Success in magic is heavily dependent on roleplaying. In terms of incantations and components, the minimum requirements to cast spells are usually modest, but successful mages use far more complex rituals than strictly required. People are impressed by spectacle - Realms sorcery is no different. Seek out the more prominent ritual mages and observe how they do it ... and furthermore, they can give you valuable tips on how to use magic and what kinds of magician are most useful.

Most eventholders require that spellcasters "preregister" a list of their magics before the date of the event, and the rules require that owners of magical items do so, every time. Mages must check in with the marshal in charge of magic at the beginning of each event, who'll inspect their spellbooks to see that all is in order and inform the players of any unusual changes to the rules for that event.

CUSTOMS

As with any community, the Realms have evolved its own customs. Here are a few tips:

  • Respect is earned. As with anywhere else, newcomers are the low men on the totem pole, and you won't be leading quest teams right off. It does take a few events to prove yourself; don't sweat
  • Practice courtesy. Polite speech and showing respect to others will help a great deal. Assume that anyone called "Sir Bevan" or "Duchess Alianora" are VIPs and treat them respectfully, unless you enjoy making powerful enemies. Many oldtimers have been around for several years, and get justifiably upset with a newcomer at his second event who tells them how they should be doing things.
  • Learn who's who. Hand in hand with the above, it helps a lot to learn who the movers and shakers of the Realms are, both in and out of character.
  • Practice honor. Honor is everything. Backstabbers and deceivers lose respect fast, and no one wants anyone in his party, guild or group who can't be trusted. Those who deal by the letter and not the spirit of the law suffer the same fate. This isn't to mean that you can't play a blackguard ... but prepare for the consequences if you do. Realms' game rules are on the honor system, and players are expected to honor the game rules whether they're being watched or not and regardless as to whether their characters are lowlifes.
  • Play "in" character. We try to maintain the illusion of the high fantasy environment. Blatant flip-flops in and out of character, modern references, or treating people as other than their characters is discouraged.
  • Ask questions! It's better to ask than be ignorant, and none of us expect newcomers to magically know everything without being told. The official authorities at an event are the eventholder and marshals, and should be consulted if you've any questions, especially if specifically concerning that event. People will recommend experienced players who can answer questions.

SOCIAL SYSTEM

Many have titles of nobility, ranging from Lord and Lady to King/Queen. The benchmark of a titleholder is that of vassals - followers sworn to your personal service. One tradition suggests the following numbers required for certain titles: Lord - 3, Baron - 6, Count/Earl - 12, Duke - 25, Prince - 40-50, King - 80-100. There's much debate about the totals, though, and the safe way to go is with another tradition: you can get away with anything you can back up.

There's nothing illegal about claiming you're a dispossessed Countess, but without vassals or great personal prowess, few will take your claim seriously. However, if you show up at every event with twenty followers over an extended period of time, no one will argue if you call yourself a duke. In time. No one has ever been sneered at for claiming a title lower than their entourages might permit.

There are many groups, some with great power, and joining one can ease your way. Still, there's no hurry - you aren't required to pledge to a lord at all, never mind right off. Take your time and find the right group rather than joining at your first event, only to discover you can't stand your lord or that the groupís ideals differ from yours. Moreover, some lords take a dim view of vassals bolting simply because they got a better offer - personally, I donít go out of my way to help oathbreakers - and others refuse to accept switchers who may prove equally disloyal to them! Some groups are (IC) at odds or even at war with others, and it's uncomfortable to be on the other side of a battle from your friends.

There are other common titles. Knighthood (Sir/Dame) is a rank of merit, while 'Guildmistress' is an example of a position. These titles are specific to their orders: someone can get into far hotter water falsely claiming to be a Knight of the Eternal Flame than by claiming to be a prince. Don't just call yourself a knight; instead, work towards earning the title from one of the existing orders. You'll have a better time and people will see that you deserve your rank.

QUESTING

The essence of heroic fantasy is the quest, where bands of gallant wanderers seek out glory and treasure! Quests take place to further the plot, to recover the soul of a slain comrade, to find a lost artifact, or simply out of sheer fun. They take place in many venues - forest, halls, battlefields, even in winding dungeons, filled with death traps. Nighttime quests are popular, and occur during most camping events. Questers often face powerful monsters and hideous traps. Away from the healers in the camps, magics are swiftly depleted. Many parties have all been slain, far from any succor. A quester must be prepared, and not only with weapons and magics, but with hiking basics. Wearing sensible footwear and clothing appropriate to the season helps, as does carrying a small waterskin. Dose up with sunscreen and insect repellent in season! In the case of night quests, get plenty of rest beforehand - they run as late as dawn!

Quick wits are a must. There are riddles to be answered, puzzles to be solved, and lore to gather. Not every monster will fall to a sword, nor every situation require brute force. Packing gold and trinkets with which to bribe monsters is a plus. Even so, many quests have been solved not by the adventurers in the field, but by the sages and loremasters in the camp, deciphering ancient runes and casting divination spells ... or even by enterprising adventurers who merely ask the right questions of the townsfolk or make the right friend at the right time!

Most parties are made up from the same groups. Teams seek a balance of characters - a party without both a skilled front line fighter and strong healer is committing suicide - as well as trustworthy comrades. Offering your services as a (free) mercenary can often get you onto a team; if not, seek out other freelancers and create a new team of your own.

As much as anything else, the great thing is to keep your nerve. Night quests in particular can be frightening for newcomers. If youíre unsure why youíre there, hook up with someone who does. If you canít, you can still maintain a battle order and act with common sense. Donít forget your combat skills - yes, I know the blood dripping monster is screaming blue murder as it rushes at you, but you can still hold your weapon in a combat-ready position, prepared to defend yourself and your comrades to the last. Confidence is contagious, and will see you through difficult trials.

TOURNEYS

Competitions form a large part of Realms activities. Most events stage a wide array of tourneys, and some popular events (and the majority of single-day events) are completely based around tourneys. People compete to show their prowess, gain experience, and win prizes ... and, incidentally, your performance in tourneys at your first few events go a long way towards getting noticed.

Combat tourneys are usually in weapon forms - short sword, bow, two-handed sword, and the like - and are single or double elimination. Team and pairs competitions pit groups against each other, often with unusual rules. Non-combat tourneys include board games, problem solving and scavenger hunts ... as well as light-hearted ones like neck kissing or Best Bodice contests! There are arts competitions which include storytelling, singing, brewing and garbmaking. You'll also find mixed competitions - thieves' and champions' tourneys - where several different trials go into determining a winner - the Realms' equivalent of the decathlon.

The marshals will announce signups and starting times for each tourney, as well as any peculiar rules for the matches before they begin. During weekend events, most tourneys take place between noon and dusk (and if youíre fighting all day long, donít forget the sunscreen!). Be on time - being stuck in the middle of a quest is no excuse for missing the finals of the one-man melee tourney!

MONSTERS AND NON-HUMAN RACES

Monsters are a hazard to every quester and warrior. Most often, people portraying monsters (or NPCs, for "non-player characters") wear masks, face paint and/or distinctive clothing, by which they can be identified. There are many types, including:

  • Orcs & goblins: tend to be slow, stupid and uncouth; no extra powers.
  • Faeries/"Fey": unearthly and capricious, sometimes with strange powers and even stranger goals.
  • Trolls, gargoyles and ogres: carry bigger weapons, often have armor, and often recover from wounds or even death at a remarkable rate. Sometimes carry boulders to throw, the merest touch of which is death.
  • Undead: can only be struck by certain weapons, and may have strange abilities.
  • Demons: sometimes have high armor protection or supernatural powers.

The tougher the monster is, the more likely it has armor, regenerative ability, better weapons, or invulnerability to normal weapons. Eventholders also tend to have the better fighters play the tougher monsters. You don't always have to fight, though - many monsters can be bribed or cajoled, and some just want to live in peace with the rest of us! And unsurprisingly, the NPCs some hothead advocates murdering are the ones with the vital information to solve the quest ... Eventholders always look for people to play NPCs, and sometimes give discounted admission to events to players who do so. This is a good opportunity to get your feet wet and look at things from the other side of the sword.

Non-human races not only appear as NPCs, but dwell as characters in the Realms. Elves are the most common of these, and may be identified by their pointed ears. Drow - dark elves - also abound, ebon in hue, thought by many to be evil. Werecreatures live among us, as well as humans with tinges of strange blood: demonkind, troll, forest born, dwarven, godlings. The game system provides no special benefit to non-human characters, but nonetheless they add their color and mystery to the Realms.

MONEY

Gold abounds in the Realms. Questers (and looters) find hoards of treasure. Merchants trade in it; adventurers use it to buy magics - and many simply use it to "keep score." Numerous currencies are issued by various groups or lands. Most take the form of small metal disks, often with printed stickers for identification. The most accepted coinages (there are numerous others), as of November 2000, are:

Creathorne Silver - minted lead coins with a shield and an 'Ií (20 gold)

Phoenix Gold - small silver disks with blue/gold (1 gold) or blue/silver (5 gold) stickers

Rowans - small brass coins with a whorl and a punched hole (10 gold)

Vanguards - taped packets of ten small silver disks with blue/silver stickers (1 gold)

Most denominations are 1 gold pieces, although 5-gold and 10-gold exist. There are also silver pieces, ten silver usually being worth one gold. The more prized issues are backed, meaning that if you accumulate enough of any one currency, you can trade that number in to the issuer for goods, weapons or services. The older "old gold" or silver pieces - blank pieces of roofing tin - are not backed, and while they're still used as a medium of exchange, many mercenaries and merchants either won't accept them or will heavily discount them. Issues and worth of coins fluctuate - if you're in doubt as to what a coin is worth, ask the merchants and the gamblers!

What can you do with gold? Much. There are merchants at many events from whom you can buy useful items - magical elixirs from alchemists, armor and weapon repair from blacksmiths, food and drink from the taverns, garb and jewelry from the various shops. With gold, you can hire mercenaries to guard you on your wanderings, try games of chance with the gamblers, or bribe wanderers for information to aid you on your quests.

GARB AND GEAR

We wear many varied costumes. Armor, tunics, cloaks, jewelry, coronets, knights' belts ... all help to get more into our personas. Few of you will start with ready-made medieval garb, of course, but it isn't tough to come up with makeshift clothes that will work. If all you own are T-shirts, pick dark ones without slogans. Wear moccasins or plain dark sneakers rather than flourescent Pumps. If thereís a length of loose fabric around, cut a hole in the middle and belt it with a rope tied around the waist. That and sweats constitutes perfectly good beginner's garb.

Want to upgrade? Look through the attic for costume jewelry, old belts and boots, adaptable Halloween costumes, peasant dresses and blouses, and ethnic clothing. The Salvation Army and thrift shops can have many inexpensive treasures. Ethnic or New Age shops sell fantasy-looking garb and accessories, sometimes cheaply. You'll want more than one set, at least a plain set for fighting and questing and a fancier one for feasts and courts.

If you can sew, ask the people wearing the really fancy outfits; they'll be able to help you with patterns and advice, or will know who can. Some take commissions to make costumes to your order, sometimes as cheaply as $15 for a tunic or $25 for an Arabic-style cloak, and there are purveyors of ready-made garb and costume jewelry, which can be had inexpensively or even for Realms coin.

Clothes make the character. Some of the most respected people are the best dressed ones. It's easy to tell a wizard in his robes, a Gypsy in her flowing dress and bangles, a mercenary in her plain armor and gear, a prince in his court garb. Dressing your character enhances your play. (Psst - do me a huge favor and avoid all-black? Yes, Iím aware black garb singles you out as a cool, dangerous dude, along with the three hundred other people trying to appear to be cool, dangerous dudes. Humor me?)

Your character will need equipment. You can pick up simple wooden bowls and platters for feasts at the self-same Salvation Army or thrift shop for as little as a quarter apiece. Plain tin flagons can also be had. You may want a belt pouch or satchel, especially if youíre a wizard, to hold treasure, quest tokens, spellbooks, spell components, or other necessary items (like car keys!). Military surplus medic and ammo bags are well suited for this purpose, and can be had at the same army surplus stores which sell cyalume light sticks, the only IC-legal light sources at any Realms event. Donít forget weapons! Weapon makers can make them up to order for you for as little as $10.

In the summer months, overnight camping events are very common. It would take a booklet as large as this one alone to discuss camping basics, but the bare minimum is a dome tent (as cheap as $20 for a 5' x 7'), a sleeping bag, a mattress pad, insect repellant, a small cooler for food, and any toiletries you might want. Donít forget a flashlight. And yes, it rains. Get a can of silicone sealant for the tent seams, and run a plastic tarp from ground to ground over the tent. Yes, you can get a LOT more in the way of camping equipment - it takes me, on the average, at least a full HOUR to unpack my car and set up camp - but Iíd never dare camp without that much minimum gear.

LEGALITIES AND SAFETY

We strive to provide a safe, welcoming environment. Obeying real world laws and being a good neighbor not only helps to ensure we all have a good time, but that the landowners and townsfolk will welcome us back.

Issues such as underage drinking, sexual harassment, vandalism and OOC violent behavior seriously affect eventholders' ability to have a fun event - never mind any at all in the future. If you do run into a serious problem along these lines, seek out a marshal or the eventholder at once - don't hesitate. They'll deal promptly with any such situation. Likewise for safety risks. Our safety record is excellent, even without taking into consideration all the hazards of a rough and tumble sport with night quests in forests. Common sense goes a long way towards reducing risk. Inform the marshals or the eventholder if there's a dangerous situation.

Being a good neighbor means policing your site. Don't leave garbage behind, dig fire pits, or work any real harm on your surroundings. The classic rule is to leave your camp in better shape than you found it. Staying within the bounds of the site, not trespassing onto neighbors' land, not loitering on adjacent roads ... all help convince skeptics that we're responsible and safe guests. It's also good policy not to make a nuisance of yourself in camp. I freely admit that I remember the bunches who habitually whoop it up at 4:30 AM at events, and who refuse to keep it down so people can sleep. They're not on my list of people I'll go out of my way to aid.