Publisher: Living Imagination
Series: Twin Crowns
Review Dated: 6th, February 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
It’s a bit of a lie. Rampant sits in GameWyrd’s tabletop RPG database – but it isn’t really. Rampant looks, at a glance, like one of Living Imagination’s Twin Crown d20 supplements – but it isn’t really. It’s not d20 but it does have “A Twin Crown’s Supplement”.
Rampant is a LARP. A Live Action Roleplaying Game. The front cover has a photograph of a bunch of LARPers, in costume and facing off with boffer weapons.
I’ve done plenty of LARP. I did the vampire thing, never with the official Minds Eye rules, but with various custom rule sets and I’ve done sundry fantasy games from the small and exclusive all the way up to the Gathering with thousands of other LARPers. Rampant is different. It’s different from me because as a European the book oozes the “don’t sue us!” disclaimers that are necessary in the litigation culture of the States. It isn’t just the constant reminders to play safe that are different; the whole experience is different. I hadn’t heard the phrase “boffer weapon” before – despite all that LARP experience. You hit other gamers with boffer weapons and in comparison to what I’m used to they’re crude and padded. Swords have squared tips. Clubs, which seem to be more common, are rather like heavily padding baseball bats. More striking yet is that in Rampant all the player characters in the game can summon a magic light and so all the players carry flashlights. Aww. It’s feeling your way around in the dark whilst trying to keep some sort of vaguely defensible stand which must be one of the best things about late night LARPing.
So why is this LARP doing in the tabletop section? It’s a 210-paged paperback which will set you back $24.95. It looks and feels like a tabletop rulebook. It has a tabletop campaign world connection. Besides, GameWyrd’s LARP section isn’t hooked up to feed the review section yet and Rampant is worth talking about.
It isn’t just the front cover which makes use of real LARPers and photographs. They’re used throughout the book although it is only the front cover which enjoys colour. Take a look. I’m often impressed by the effort some gamers put into their LARP costume and often impressed by the costumes themselves. If you’re LARP sceptic, and I think it’s easy to be so, then its hard to imagine what it feels like rounding the crest of a hill only to find a dozen orcs grinning at you. And when the orcs are green, have tusks, ears, snouts and other latex accessories these orcs will look like orcs – at least when they charge you.
Do the Rampant rules do their bit to encourage the all-important atmosphere? It’s so important that they do.
By and large the photographs the book uses are successful. Clearly the Living Imagination team have cherry picked the best photographs they had available and many, if not all, are staged for the camera but they succeed in showing the range of costumes and indeed the range of people who play the game. Gasp. It isn’t just over weight geeks who LARP, you’ve photographic evidence that “normal” people play the game to and, most shockingly of all, some of them are attractive. What the photographs lack is the chaotic thrill of a mass battle.
You don’t need access to the other Twin Crowns books to use Rampant. This rule book – a core rule book, effectively – talks about the religions, the appropriate gods and the economics of the world.
There’s economics and wealth ergo there must be thievery. This is a subject which a LARP must get right, especially if it brings strangers together for pro-longed events. Here’s the summary; if you take an item you have to give it back as soon as possible, either to the player you stole form or an official. You, the thief, keep the item card attached to the physical object. It’s the item card that’s important as it’s this which represents the item in the fantasy world and not the prop brought along by another player. Without the item card you don’t have the item – this mechanic also stops people turning up with exotic looking junk and pretending its all “in game” treasure. Touching is forbidden. No touching. (Sometimes mentioned in rule books here but rarely enforced) This rule makes looting a body a cooperative effort with the body. The dead guy (or otherwise prone character) OOCly hands over the appropriate item cards to the looter. “Ah ha!” I thought, “Doesn’t that make pick-pocketing impossible?” I guess not. These rules make use of a “Thieves’ Clip”, an actual clip which the thief must attach to the other player to successfully pick-pocket them. I don’t think this solution will pass a harsh “no touching” examination but it certainly removes the chances of anyone complaining that another player searched their body rather too thoroughly. This thieves’ clip also puts the physicality back into to the pick-pocketing action. It gets better too, Rampant uses a skill point system and the thieves’ clip copes with this too. Attached to the clip is some stringer, the more pick-pocket points the thief has then the longer the string is. Once the clip is successfully and slyly attached then any item on the target character which the string can touch can be the item the pick pocket took.
Rampant uses skill points to keep everything balanced. LARPing is a physical game, it’s not possible to balance entirely but a bad set of rules can make matters a whole lot worse. If you’re a slow runner then you’re likely to be caught by the bad guys chasing you first – that can’t be helped. If you can’t hit the side of a barn with your boffer weapon then, again, you’re in trouble. In this case, though, skill points can help. Take the “Break Bone” skill for example, it lets you bust up skeletal undead and the more points you have in the skill then the more often you can use the special attack. If neither you nor your friend can land hits very often but if you have the Break Bone skill then you will be better at fending off the skeletal undead than your friend.
The use of a point based character system also makes the application of fantasy races much easier. I’ve a pet hate about fantasy races in LARPs which just can’t be played. You can’t be a giant, I think, because you’re not tall enough. Unless you’re short enough then you shouldn’t consider playing a dwarf. Imagine describing how you saw a tall, red haired, man vanish around the corner – only then to discover later that you actually saw a short, red haired, dwarf vanish around the corner. Rampant’s rules allow people play character races of varying heights and I think they’re too generous. I’m in a minority on this opinion, I suspect. That said Rampant does as well as could be expected in that it enforces costuming requirements on people who play fantasy races. You must have black makeup face if you’re playing a Dark Elf, you must have a beard if you’re playing a dwarf (female dwarves too) and so on. So as long as I noticed the tall, red haired, man vanishing around the corner was wearing a glued on beard then I know he’s actually a dwarf!
This is a rules book. Most of the 210 pages deal exclusively with rules. I think this is an awful lot and I don’t think it’ll be easy to convince your roleplaying reluctant girlfriend to read it and come to the game with you. On the other hand it is much better to have all the game rules accessible to all the players. I don’t much like LARPs with secret rules for feature/special/guest characters. You wouldn’t catch me bringing my copy of Rampant to a muddy field and camp with it for a fortnight of LARPing. If you don’t need the pages of spells, alchemy and bard stuff (live entertainment is a perk of LARPing) then you’re only ever going to use a small portion of the book too. Rampant has an extensive contents section and has a multi-paged index. It should be possible to find rules in a hurry and that’s another important plus point for a LARP.
This is the Fourth Edition of Rampant and it shows. There’s nothing like a LARP with a hundred players all playing at once to show up any holes in the current mechanics and by the time the fourth edition comes along I imagine the authors and designers will have seen and had to resolve sundry problems and obscure twists.
It’s good to see a book like Rampant. I’m all for adding a bit of gloss to the fantasy LARP world. Let’s hope the book attracts a few more gamers into this roleplaying sub-culture. It’s good enough to do so.