Newcomer's Guide to the Realms
By Robert Traynor
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 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.
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.
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"
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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
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
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
- 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
- Demons: sometimes have high armor protection or supernatural
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.
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
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
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
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
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.