Newbie Rules of combat

An outline to get you started

Right now there are a lot of new players looking to get into larp. If you are too young to attend an existing game, or don’t have easy access to a local larp. Your next best option is to start playing yourself. But if you’ve never played before coming up with the rules from nothing can be a daunting task. This is a refresh of an older post that seemed like a great outline for new players looking for a very straightforward combat rules. Feel free to use this as a base set of rules with your friends.

Hit locations

The body is divided into six hit locations. Left and right legs, left and right arms, torso and head. There should be no strikes to the groin or the face. The area we consider the face for weapon strikes starts at the base of the throat above the collar bone, includes the trachea (but not the sides or back of the neck), the chin, ears, nose and eyes. Do not attempt to make attacks to sensory organs or breathing organs not protected by bone, these are off target areas. Any part of the head protected by bone, are on target areas. To discourage strikes to the face, they are not considered killing blows.

If you hit an opponent in the face, real damage may not be immediately apparent. Do not continue striking. You do not have to disengage, but allow a moment for the other player to assess damage. If they continue combat, you may continue. If you are hit in the face, and you can tell that you are really hurt call “Hold” to stop combat.

Hand on Weapon

Hands and fingers are off limits for striking (to prevent injury to fingers). If your hand is on a weapon, and a strike lands above the wrist (back of the hands or fingers), do not take the hit. Call “hand on weapon” if the opponent appears confused. Wearing leather gloves is also a good idea to prevent injuries to the hands and fingers. Although rare sometimes your knuckles can make contact with a handle or pommel of an opponents weapon and it might sting. Of course any hand not holding a weapon is live and can be struck. Players may not grab opponents weapons. Don’t close your hand around any part of the opponents weapon.

Weapon damage

All weapon strikes do one point of damage, regardless of size or shape. Each limb can take only one point of damage before being rendered useless. Weapons must be dropped, or switched to a different hand. Stop using legs which have been damaged. Players may drop to their knees, or role play the loss of a limb. Players should not use dead limbs as shields, a Strike to a missing limb carries through to the next location.

Once you learn the basics you can start adding armor. If you do so each point of armor prevents one point of damage. More complicated versions of these rules can add game mechanics that alter the damage, but during practice that will most likely not happen. If you are interested in those expanded rules, comment below, and if there’s enough interest, I’ll write a post up for that as well.

Weapon switches

If a limb is struck while holding a weapon, the player may move the weapon from one hand to another before losing the struck limb. This can include the removal of a shield, as long as combat does not stop to do so. Sword and board fighters should practice ditching their shield quickly and safety for their own benefit.

Late hits

Under normal circumstances there are no late hits. Take all hits you feel regardless of timing. This can lead to many simultaneous hits and kills. This is normal and expected (also historic, many fights ended with injury to all parties). Particularly during large melee combats it’s very difficult to tell where hits are coming from so it’s best to simply take all weapon hits. Additionally there is no such thing as ‘friendly fire’. When in doubt take the hit. The social contract we’re creating is one of trust. Violating that trust is detrimental to you having a good time. Remember, it’s only fun if they come back next event. Maintaining an environment where other players want to come back is critical to the game and taking hits is a big part of building that environment of trust.

Blow Strength

Hits should be solid but not painful. Some players may prefer using ‘lightest touch’ rules which is an option, but light is subjective so it may require a Martial to be present to make sure lightest touch is enforced.

As a general guideline take every hit that you feel. If you don’t feel a hit expect to be hit a little harder next time. Before a game, and particularly at practice, take some time to calibrate blow strength. Everyone has different thresholds for what they constitute as a solid hit, taking some time to warm up before play is the perfect time to mention if blows are a little too hard. During play is not usually an effective time to mention blow strength. If you feel someone is hitting you too hard, remove yourself from combat.

When attacking opponents you should use as little force as possible for multiple reasons. You could injure your friends. Striking too hard too frequently will damage weapons. If they are built correctly the weapon will break before a human bone. The more forceful your swing, the more energy you waste. Feel free to swing as hard as you want at a shield, you’ll just get tired. Using minimal force helps you fight longer, and keeps people coming back next week. There are many reasons to strike as lightly as possible, even if you are using ‘lightest touch’ rules.

But, but, but…

Doesn’t that hurt? Not really, and I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to pain. What if someone is hitting me too hard? Then you aren’t taking your hits. If you suspect that they are hitting you harder just to be a jerk, the marshals will remove the jerk. If they don’t notice bring it to a marshals attention. The marshals goal is to make sure that all players are behaving in a way that will encourage others to continue showing up. If a player is behaving in a way that upsets others they will be asked to leave. This is a marshals responsibility, not a players.

Blow strength issues have less to do with physicality then with respect between the two players. Complaints about being hit too hard or complaints about someone not taking their hits indicate there is a lack of respect between the two players. Marshals may pull both players and attempt to work out the trust issue to resolve complaints about blow strength. When it comes down to it, if two players trust each other, under normal circumstances, blow strength is never an issue.

Doesn’t blow strength just go up? Yes. It does, particularly in the heat of battle or from dehydration and adrenaline. In 20 years practicing and playing larp I’ve seen no broken bones, no bruises. I’ve seen vastly more injuries from the terrain than from contact with weapons or shields. You shouldn’t fear blow strength, although it’s a natural instinct to be wary when someone is swinging anything at you, you should fear the terrain. It’s far more dangerous.

Rules of Safety

Strikes are to be Weapon to Weapon, Weapon to body, and Weapon to shield only. There is no body to body contact. Martial arts are not to be used during combat to disarm, strike, or move an opponent. Feel free to roll, tumble, dodge, swerve, etc using whatever personal skills you might have.


Shouting the word “Hold” is a special term which means someone is injured. It specifically means someone is injured. Do not call “hold” for anything other than real physical injury or an emergency situation (fire, flood, earthquake). When a “hold” is called all fighting stops. Any player who is not a designated first responder should not move. First responders will assess the injury, apply first aid, and contact authorities should they need to.

Physical Safety

There shall be no charging. You most certainly may advance quickly on an opponent. However body to body contact at a run is strictly forbidden. The safest way to advance on an opponent at a run is to pick a point 2 to 3 feet to their left or right, and run towards that point. This makes it clear that your body will not contact the opponent.

A better option is to advance without running. Most martial artists will agree that taking full steps during combat is bad for tactical reasons. Taking half steps leaves you less vulnerable to being caught mid stride by an opponent. In larp this also helps prevent situations where two players approach each other in an unsafe manner. In this case good tactics and safety go hand in hand.

Be aware of terrain. Most injuries in larp occur between a player and the terrain. If you are fighting on rough terrain take care to move carefully. Plan your attacks and defense to avoid fighting near cliffs, swift rivers, sharp tree limbs, swamps, bogs and other dangerous terrain. Rocks are particularly treacherous and by far cause the most injury. Avoid fighting on rocks at all times (this is not a rule, just good tactical advice).

Creative Commons License

Please consider this post CC BY-NC license (that’s Attribution-NonCommercial, feel free to remix, adapt, and build upon this work, as long as it’s not for commercial use ). This post describes a system of combat larp as taught to me around 1995. To the best of my knowledge I have reproduced the game rules, without copying any existing game. Let me know if I have inadvertently done that, and I’ll correct it. Thanks!

If you want to see gear that I’ve built check out my Instagram. See the original post here.


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