We’re often asked if Worbla is suitable for LARP, and it’s been difficult to answer simply because no one on the team has used Worbla for LARP themselves. Ruth from Alhazred’s Ghost blog (no longer online) does does LARP and has given us an excellent writeup for those looking to use Worbla for their kits. To quote
“…if you do it right and avoid a couple of pitfalls, Worbla LARP armour can be fun to make, not overly expensive, completely personalised, and relatively easy to repair…”
Burns, Bad Language, and Boo Hoo: the novice guide to using Worbla for LARP
Just over a year ago, I got back into a hobby that I hadn’t taken part in for nearly a decade: LARP. With no kit of my own, I slung together what I thought would be a quick and easy character concept, put on a dress that could just about pass for costume, and practiced packing my tent in the front room so the other nerds wouldn’t laugh at me when I couldn’t get the wretched thing back in its bag in the middle of a field.
The event didn’t go quite as planned, and neither did my ‘dip my toes in the water and just try one more event’ plan, as I haven’t quit being keen since then, and I’m still playing the character a year and a half later. This of course meant I needed decent kit. There are some fantastic vendors out there, with products that make me squee with delight, but I wanted to take a crack at making something myself.
So I set about researching, designing, scribbling ideas down at lunchtimes at work (and occasionally during more boring meetings). I finally settled on using Worbla; a thermoplastic in common use by cosplayers worldwide. I found YouTube tutorials, sample images without count, helpful hints and how-to’s. I even bought a book. The problem is, all of this material (and I do mean ALL of it) is designed for use in cosplay, and cosplay costumes aren’t used the same way that LARP costumes are. Generally speaking, if you’re in cosplay armour, you aren’t going to get hit. LARP armour needs to be pretty sturdy: you can be pretty certain that you ARE going to get hit, and even though you aren’t meant to get hit hard, it’s going to happen. Eventually, someone will not pull their blow, miss-time a hit or just be a prat, or you’ll want to RP a beautifully delivered crushing blow with a slightly over enthusiastic collapse to the ground. Both your armour and you need survive undamaged when that happens, and when you hit the deck (whether that’s the end-of-event opponent laying you out or just you slipping on wet grass or mud).
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve offered advice to LARPers who are thinking about using Worbla, but are rightly concerned over its durability. Very basically, if you do it right and avoid a couple of pitfalls, Worbla LARP armour can be fun to make, not overly expensive, completely personalised, and relatively easy to repair if something doesn’t go as planned.
WHAT NOT TO MAKE
Worbla is flexible, but can become brittle if that flexibility is removed. It’s also quite thin, which means that larger structures need to be supported to make them workable, which then removes a lot of that flexibility.
I would advise you to stay away from making large or flat structures such as helmets or breastplates, as these may crack or split if shock-loaded with weight (i.e., when you fall on them, or when struck hard), and this could lead to potential injury. If you’re confident that you can create something safely, feel free to give it a go, but I’d personally avoid it, and stick to smaller pieces like bracers and greaves, or using the Worbla for constructing scale or splint mail.
The Rules (things you need to know so you don’t cry, give up, go mad, or all three)
- You’re going to get bored. Making armour, especially the first time round, takes a very long time, and there are huge sections of the construction process which are soul destroyingly dull. I think I only found one tutorial that mentioned the many, many hours that are spent painting on layers of primer, waiting for it to dry, and then sanding it all back off again. Queue up music and movies on any kind of player that you can, because you’re going to need them. If you have Netflix and it’s not already your best friend, it’s about to become so.
- Your house is going to become a pigsty. If you’ve ever done crafting before, you’ll understand this, and it won’t be a surprise. If you haven’t, welcome to a world where you can no longer see your living room floor for paper patterns, off-cuts of thermoplastic, scraps of fabric, and discarded crockery. If you’re like me, then set an alarm to remind you to eat, otherwise there’ll be no discarded crockery, and you’ll be very hungry.
- Make everything at least twice. Start storing light card now; every cereal box and food packet you can reasonably salvage, keep. Use the card to make cheap practise copies that you can alter, draw on, and crumple up and throw away in disgust, all without costing yourself money. Worbla isn’t the priciest thing in the world, but it’s expensive enough that you aren’t going to want to waste it. Unless you have a very clear idea of what you want when you start, you’ll probably change your mind about what you’re doing fifteen times. That’s not a problem, provided you do it during the cardboard stage, and not half way through the Worbla stage. I made a folder on my browser and started storing links to images, as well as downloading pictures onto my desktop as inspirations; if you aren’t certain what you’re making, go look at what other people are doing and be inspired by it. Oh, a bit of a warning though; if you’re not there already, you’re about to enter into a world where you can’t watch TV or movies without looking at the costumes and thinking ‘I could make that, it would look really nice on my character…’.
- When you end up with a pattern that works, keep it, or at least keep a high quality copy of it. ‘Nuff said.
- Invest in good quality brushes that won’t shed bristles all over your work. Rogue bristles are not only amazingly annoying, they can destroy your primer or paint layer if you have to remove them after that layer has dried.
- You are not a professional costume maker. This is supremely important. Don’t expect that the finished article will look like something found on stage at a cosplay convention. You’re not Kamui; your kit probably won’t look as wonderful as you want it to the first time out. Don’t be disheartened, just keep making things and you’ll get a little bit better every time.
WHAT YOU NEED (tools, materials, workspace)
Things you can’t do without:
- Clingfilm (cheap stuff will do).
- Masking tape (preferably a couple of inches wide, but thin rolls will do if that’s all you can find).
- Plain paper to draw patterns on (if it’s used on one side, lined, or squared, that’s fine).
- Sellotape / Packing tape.
- A couple of felt tipped pens in different colours.
- Decent quality scissors that can cut through something thick.
- Card for practise run construction (you’ll go through a lot so, flatten out boxes and store them somewhere).
- Worbla: you can start without it as you’ll need to do the card versions first.
- Craft foam: very cheap if you buy it in the right place. I bought 2mm thick A4 stuff over Amazon, then found A3 sheets in the Hobbycraft store round the corner for a fraction of the price. It’s essentially thin neoprene, which is slightly mouldable under heat.
- Heatgun: mine was £20 from Argos, and runs off mains power. If you get into doing this a lot, you might need something better or more durable, but at least to start with I’m working on the assumption that it’s important to keep costs down. Mine has two settings, 330 degrees Celsius, and 510 degrees Celsius. Generally, I only need to use the higher setting when I’m heating larger surface areas. The lower setting is normally sufficient, especially if I’m working slowly or carefully, which at this stage I do nearly all the time. Heating too fast can lead to the surface of your Worbla bubbling or distorting.
- Workspace: you’ll see recommendations from some people that you need a dedicated workspace with heatproofing, but I managed to make my first set of LARP heavy armour on a coffee table that was about 45cm squared, and coped with having the Worbla heated directly on it without any damage. If the only place you can work is the floor, or the dining room table, then invest in heatproofing, but all you really need is a flat surface that can stand very hot materials for short periods of time. I found that occasionally the Worbla would stick onto the table surface, so you might prefer to put down something like kitchen foil or wax paper first – that’s pretty much down to your own preference.
Things that are useful but not required:
- Tailor’s dummy or a live assistant/victim (roughly the same size as you) willing to sit still for a few hours at a time, or at least someone you trust to draw on you or wrap you in clingfilm.
- Good quality sharp scissors/stanley knife/scalpel for fine detail work.
- Moulding tools (the kind you’d work clay with) in case you want to do anything fancy.
STEP BY STEP
It sounds redundant, but planning is vital before you start making anything. Draw sketches, measure yourself so you know how big things are going to be, and how much of each type of material you’re going to need. Check dimensions, create flimsy little paper copies even if they’re only half sized.
Once you’re happy with the general design you’re making, you’re going to create a template in a way you probably don’t want to tell your parents about. That’s right; you’re going to wrap yourself in clingfilm. I’ll use a bracer as an example, since that’s the basis for the video tutorials. Wrap your lower arm in clingfilm (obviously not too tight, as it’s gonna be on there a while), then cover the film in strips of masking tape so that the whole area that will be covered by the armour is covered by tape. Once that’s done, you can draw the basic shape of the bracer onto the tape. Use scissors to remove the clingfilm from your arm without cutting through the template, check that it looks roughly how you want it, then cut it out. Presto, instant template built to fit you.
Transfer the template to card and use the card version (or versions) to play around with fit, decoration, colour and anything else you aren’t sure about. When you’ve got a card template that works, it’s time to break out the Worbla.
Most Cosplay tutorials for working with Worbla use something called the ‘sandwich’ method, which is where you create a three layer Worbla/craft foam/Worbla arrangement, however the cheaper version is to have a single layer of each, with the Worbla turned over so you can’t see the edges. I used this method on my first set, and had no issues with durability because the armour was flexible enough to bend when struck. It’s this second method that I’m going to detail here, as there’s a lot of other tutorials out there for the sandwich method if you prefer to use that.
There’s a lot of different styles you can use in constructing Worbla armour, and I’ll cover a couple as video tutorials. The first video is a step by step construction of a simple plate style bracer. These videos have no sound (so that they can be viewed anywhere), and include on screen instructions, which are also copied into the video description for your reference.