How to make 100 different NPC’s

Let’s say your larp consists of 20 players (on a good day). You have a budget of whatever you can scrape together. You have some basic skills, such as building weapons, simple sewing, basic construction… But with limited garb and resources how do you make varied NPC’s? How do show the players what monster they face with verisimilitude and without expensive garb? How do you make that disposable hoard come to life? Here is one simple thing you can do to make 100’s of NPC’s, with the basic skills you already have.

The simplest, the best, the most versatile thing you can do to better your larp… Make masks. Don’t try and make 100 masks all at once, make them 5 at a time. And what is the cheapest, most modular, most craftable, most creative way to make masks? Cloth Masks a few at a time.

1.) Make a template.

You’ll need some measurements, which means that a cloth tape measure will come in handy. If you have a metal tape measure that will work too. Unfortunately I did not make (and don’t have good pictures) of the original template. But the thumbnail should give you the idea of how to make your own.

2.) Make masks for NPC’s at your upcoming event.

Make 5 masks for your next event. Good first candidates are green masks for goblins. Undead masks come in handy as well, use pale colors for those. Don’t forget to make a few bigger than you, and a few smaller. You never know who’s head you’ll have to cover. Experienced (or amateur) sewers will tell you, sew the seems inside out.

3.) Make masks of a different color at your next event.

Produce 5 more masks. The color of the mask is meaningful. Green masks (regardless of shade or hue) are  goblins. Pale blue are Ghouls. White are always Skeletons. Players will come to associate certain colors with certain types of creatures. Spend some time considering the color pallet you want to use.

Pale Blue Mask, with black yarn hair and red mouth: A Ghoul.

4.) Add some details.

You may feel that using specific colors only for certain common enemy types is limiting. Once the players are used to the basic mask types you can start building a visual language of monsters by adding details. There are many details which could be added to convey meaning. Yarn hair of varying colors, craft foam eyebrows, craft foam tusks, different colored mesh for the eyes, etc.

Aqua Blue Mask, foam ridges, black yarn hair, big foam teeth: A Sea Troll

Make sure the details are big and obvious. And include garb as well. By the way, the guy who came up with this idea, and made every mask in all these pictures, is the guy facing the camera in the shot above. Handsome, ain’t he; decked out in his chicken bones and fishing nets. Come to think of it, he’s also the Ghoul in the snow. And here he is as Old Man Winter (the guy with horns on the left) in the picture below. He used these masks A LOT.

White Mask, White wig, open cell foam horns: Old Man Winter

Masks like these are very versatile, pretty cheap, and you can be endlessly creative with them. The real trick is not trying to make all of them at once. It’s too big a task. Make only the ones you need, when you need them. But keep expanding them over time. They pack down much smaller than latex masks, and cost much less. With some cloth, craft foam, yarn, practice and time you can make masks for any sized hoard.

Current Gear

Here’s a look at my garb and armor at the moment. Let’s walk through each piece, and take a look at each. There are pros and there are cons to the look and the use of each item and there are plenty of areas where things can be improved. All this can be found in this gallery, if you just want to see the pictures. Tons of pictures below the jump!

Base Layer
If you’re going to a larp for the first time, this is pretty good to wear. There are no labels, and only one small logo. The shirt is a knit Old Navy 100% cotton shirt. Cotton is a relatively modern material. Linen or Wool are the real period materials. But Cotton is the oldest material still mass produced and therefore relatively easy to acquire. If not right off the rack, then check thrift stores, salvation armies, and consignment shops.

The pants are work out gear. They are a modern synthetic material and should be the first thing to be replaced. They have one small logo, which gets hidden by armor. If you game system forbids modern materials, you probably won’t get away with these pants for long.

These two items are vastly better than most new players bring to the field. They are fine for a first year player, and will go unnoticed on the battlefield. Even if the next layers aren’t added, a new player could get away with these pants and shirt, and perhaps a tabard thrown over for their first few events. Anyone with any interest or ambition in larp should be able to replace these items with much better looking gear within their first year eventing.

Armor Layer
This layer is the one that needs the least work (paradoxically its the most fun layer to work on). All leather, all hand made and appropriate for all kinds of different time periods. The hauberk is riveted leather scales, which was constructed by myself (the leather scales can be purchased, punched, then riveted together). Not shown here are the chain mail sleeves I’ve added. The gap between the gauntlets and the shoulder left a big patch of upper arm unprotected. This took relatively little experience, and was fairly cheap. The comments I get at Ren Fairs are priceless.

Also added some Leather Greaves on the lower legs this year. Purchased those through Amazon of all places. Hand made in India by one of the historic replica companies. They really protect the lower legs from rocks, stumps, and my own clumsy combat. Great to have and look good too.

Added are a decorative belt, also hand made. A knife and sheath (you can tell I made that myself), and a World War II ammo cartridge case as a pouch. Although thoroughly modern the cartridge case looks as though it jumped right off the page of a D&D adventure. It looks great, and therefore passes where I play. But if you play strict period, it’s not going to work.

Two latex one handed swords, purchased from Craigslist (an amazing find)! They look amazing, function well, and last for years. Until Oct 2013 I owned 0 latex weapons. Now I have 3, and really would rather not go back to boffers (but still do all the time). These things are expensive! Expect to pay $70-80 US, plus shipping and handling for one sword. You can build boffer swords for $5 a piece, or buy them for $20 to $30. Not cost effective, but tons of fun.

After larping for years, you tend to end up with things. Like this small collection of bizarre shields. Classic heater style on the left (too small for me), Giant Foam Scarab Beetle in the center (which is my main shield). And a buckler on the right. The buckler was a fun build. Press board, with a trowel handle.

The Future
Now looking objectively at these pieces they could come from a viking raider/farmer. So to further that look, the shirt would get replaced with a Viking Tunic. Picking all black may be fine for the armor, but not for the cloths. A natural color tunic, and probably brown color breeches would round out the look. The shield would have to go. Although it’s tons of fun, it really does not say ‘Viking’. So it should get replaced by something more appropriate.