This is a recurring topic in LARP discussion groups the world over: who is considered a non-com and what do we do with them? In the early days of accessibility in LARP the assumption was that disabled players wouldn’t be involved in combat and would be a “non-com” player. Aside from the fact that this term can cause confusion when people also talk about non-com characters, the idea of non-com players can also cause a lot of confusion and consternation.
Traditional UK LARP involves fighting and combat, most often in the form of large scale battles or smaller skirmishes in the woods or even in an IC bar. It’s rare to see a game completely devoid of combat. Most commonly in the UK this makes use of foam and latex weapons – generally not the comically over padded “boffer style” but more “realistic” and skilfully rendered weapons, made with a rigid core surrounded by carved and shaped foam and usually finished with some paint and latex combination. They are designed to be safe when you are struck with them and with good LARP fighting practices shouldn’t cause injury. Of course, sometimes injury does happen and a lot of it is down to the style of fighting employed. We are usually instructed to “pull the blow” that is to only make light contact or to even stop your swing just shy of striking in order to minimise injury. In reality, and indeed in some rule sets, much fuller contact may happen. It is always a risk and one that those engaging in combat agree to when they take part.
Furthermore, combat is often fast paced and fairly physical: you may be charging to meet your enemy, dancing around opponents or locked in for the long haul.
This perspective is what leads to the creation of non-combat rules and designation. If a person is disabled then it is assumed that they won’t be able to or won’t want to engage in combat and are thus designated as a non-com. Usually this designation comes with some sort of rule that means that they are impacted as if they had been in the fight (should a fight break out around them) while allowing them to disengage.
A typical rule may be “the non-com puts their hand in the air and moves to a safe location. Their hit points drop to 0 and they should roleplay as such. Other players cannot strike them”.
On the surface it sounds practical. It keeps people with physical limitations who can not engage in combat for OC reasons a way of handling that in the game. On the other hand it lumps all disabled people into one category and creates a binary state: You can engage in all forms of combat or you can not. There is no in between. You are a combat player or you are not.
What this can lead to is very awkward situations for players both disabled and non-disabled as well as discrimination toward disabled players who are excluded for various elements of the game.
To combat1 this, we need to look at why a disable person may not wish or be able to engage in combat and develop rules and game play that reflects and supports this.
Some of the reasons a person may not be able to take part in combat are:
- They fatigue easily
- They have mobility issues and can’t run/walk long distances
- They have a vision impairment
- They have a condition which is not compatible with being struck with a foam weapons such as brittle bones or a brain injury.
- They use a wheelchair
This is not a finite list and disabled people may be able to add other reasons to it. But when we look at these limitations we see that perhaps not all forms of LARP combat are off limits to all disabled people. A person may traditionally be considered to be “non-com” because they don’t have the stamina or energy to go running through the woods after monsters but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t swing a weapon. In this case we could consider what happens when monsters attack “base camp” the disabled player who can not run, may well be able to stand in one spot and defend a door from intruders. Similarly somebody who uses a wheelchair can still wield a baseball bat (LARP safe of course) in close quarters even if they can’t easily give chase – though terrain permitting some chair users and electric mobility devices might be quite a foe to have coming after you.
If either of these scenarios were in games with “non-com” rules that meant players couldn’t engage at all in combat, then that would take away fun, game and roleplay from those players.
Let’s look at another scenario – a large fest style game with pitched battles between hundreds of players and monsters. It sounds and looks thrilling and can have massive impact on a game. But for those who suffer from sensory overload, with fatigue issues, visions impairment and other impairments they may be out of reach. If battles and warriors are a big part of your game it is effectively saying to disabled players that they can’t take part in that area of your game and results in discrimination.
So what do we do instead of binary non-com rules?
It turns out the answer is fairly simple: you let the disabled player make decisions about their own ability. In practice what that means is that you create a game which recognises a range of different out-of-character abilities and play styles and responds to that. Perhaps as well as having large pitched battles you can also have smaller skirmishes or attacks that take place in an accessible location. Simply by varying the types and locations of combat in your game you open up the opportunity for disabled people to get involved.
There are numerous variations of combat rules which lean more toward staged fights and that look dramatic – for example those which determine outcome by bead draw or stats and then hold a “mock” fight that leads to the pre-determined outcome. This gives a degree of control to the disabled person to allow them to fight in a way which suits their abilities. Consider opportunities for one-on-one fights or duels again that allow a better control of space and movement for the disabled person. Look at where your combat takes place and consider if it is accessible to people.
Additionally the inclusion of different types of weapons including ranged weapons such as guns and bows can include a variety of different fighting styles and abilities.
There are still times when people may need some sort of non-combat rules to protect them from being involved in a fight which is not safe for them. If you have a game in which attacks or violence can happen anywhere then some players may need to be confident they can stay safe – they may be of particular importance to those with conditions or impairments which can be negatively affected by being struck. In this case traditional non-com rules may be suitable especially if there is a visual marker which states clearly to other players “do not strike this person”. However, looking at alternative formats for combat as mentioned above can also reduce the risk: if it is a game where combat can only take place in designated areas then disabled players know not to enter those areas; if all the combat is by stylised, “slow-mo” fights then they could still take part. It largely depends on the game design.
So when designing your game, or even thinking about playing don’t assume that disabled = non-com. Take some time to think about how combat works in your game and what it needs to achieve both in the plot and for all your players to achieve. It only takes a small change in perspective to make your game more inclusive.
1Pun intended. Sorry.