The Winter of Our Discount Tents

After a recent Shadows of Amun event, I stopped to look at some of the tents the PCs had set up to sleep in, and I was inspired to finally get a tent of my own.

All of the boffer LARPs I’m currently involved with, either as a PC or an NPC, are hosted at campsites that provide cabins and bunk beds to sleep in, so procuring my own tent hasn’t been strictly necessary. But I’ve slept a couple of times in an SCA style pavilion brought by another player, and I think it’s more than worth it. But the pavilion isn’t always an option. I’d like a backup.

I recently happened across an article another LARPer has written comparing benefits and drawbacks of sleeping in tents vs. cabins. She more or less captured my feelings on it, but I still wanted to put down my own thought process on acquiring a tent for LARPs.

The Pros of a Tent include…

…Primarily, it’s quieter than a cabin.

I’m something of a, shall we say, delicate sleeper, and even the slightest noises keep me awake. Not just snoring, but even the creaking of a cabin as someone tiptoes around and the rustling of the nylon shells of sleeping bags keep me awake. Not having to worry about the sounds from other people getting ready for bed, or getting up and getting ready in the morning, would be really helpful for me. Nothing’s worse than being unable to enjoy a long awaited LARP event because you can’t get any sleep. I’ve tried ear plugs and find that they fall out of my ears (I guess I could always try a different brand or something.)

…I can more easily create an in-game space for myself.

It’s typical of the boffer LARPs I participate in (mostly New England Accelerant LARPs) for cabins not to be treated as in-game space. There are a lot of good reasons for this — most have nothing but bunk beds in them, so spending time in them is not particularly comfortable. (And for taller people, there’s often literally no furniture to sit on that allows you to sit up straight.) There’s very little decent storage space (large suitcases often don’t fit under the bunks), so hiding modern things — covering brightly colored sleeping bags, moving all food to non-modern containers, keeping electronics under wraps) is generally not worth the effort. There’s no incentive to go the extra mile to bring sheets to cover stuff if spending daytime in the cabin isn’t comfortable anyways. And if most don’t bother to keep the interior looking in-character, there’s not much sense in a single person putting the extra effort into their own corner.

On top of that, for some of us, myself included, some of getting into costume in the morning (and back out of it) involves actions that can’t be in character (like putting in costume contacts and putting on make-up) so it’s not as though we would be in-character in the cabin 100% of the time anyway.

Which all isn’t to say we don’t have any nice little touches. My cabin mates sometimes hangs colored lights in the cabin for dim lighting that looks almost fae. Some people bring celtic looking tapestries (often from Xeph Ink) to hang around their beds for some privacy and decor. There’s a nice custom made wooden sign on our door, identifying our cabin as The Orchard cabin. Our resident scarecrow lines the edge of his bunk with fake hay to resemble a hay loft.

But overall, it’s still largely an out-of-game space. The pavilion, by contrast, was much more in-game. The floor was covered in carpets. All of the modern elements were draped with blankets, and the camp cots were set up to serve as little couches. The cooler was covered with a blanket and set under a small round table top for serving fruit and tea, and the lighting was done mostly with fake candles. There was also a chest of scrolls and a rod for hanging extra costuming to make the place look more lived-in. All together, it made for a very nice spot to hang out in, and we even hosted some NPC paladins for tea inside.

Of course, this takes much, much more time and effort (and every single inch of space inside a mini-van) to set up and take down, and as I mentioned, it’s just not always an option. But that’s the sort of environment I’d like to recreate, on a smaller scale, in my tent. (When PCing, anyway. For NPCing, I don’t think the interior really matters.) I’m already having fun daydreaming about how I’d like to express my character’s personality through her sleeping space.

…More privacy.

This one really isn’t a huge deal for me. I think by the end of their first few events, most LARPers master the various techniques involved with getting in and out of costume in front of other people, whether it’s knowing how to get dressed in complete darkness, changing inside the narrow confines of a sleeping bag, keeping a sheet tucked around your bunk, doing the put-one-shirt-on-and-pull-the-other-one-off-from-underneath maneuver, or just deciding you don’t care who sees your unmentionables. But there’s something luxurious about having an indoor space to yourself and not having to squirm or contort yourself just to avoid showing everyone your bloomers.

…A space to get away.

Also not really a big deal for me, as I don’t normally feel a significant need to get away from the crowd, though I do know others who like to have a space to retreat to. But it can still be reassuring to have a quiet private space, especially when I get dehydrated.

…More personal space in general. I’m not particularly hurting for space in the cabins — especially when the bunk bed above me is empty, but packing up might be a bit easier if I never have to sort my things out from everyone else’s.

…The cabins are kinda gross.

This might be purely a psychological thing, since the interior of a tent is probably almost as dirty as a cabin after a few uses, but the cabins somehow feels a bit grosser (and they often have mouse droppings.) I’m not terribly squeamish, but a tent still feels cleaner to me.

… Room for a bed that isn’t a camp bed.

The bunk beds kinda suck, even when you get one to yourself. They’re pretty narrow (and lack head room, though that’s a problem for my taller friends, not me) and the mattresses are pretty universally terrible — plastic and uncomfortable. There’s usually no room to spread out your own bedding, so generally there’s no other option.

And the Cons of Tents include…

…Reduced feelings of camaraderie.

I like my cabin mates when I’m PCing, and I like feeling like part of that group. I get to hear more of what they’ve been up to, both as players before and after the LARP, and as characters during the LARP, when we’re sharing an indoor space. When I’m sleeping in a separate structure, I feel a little bit less connected.

…Increased set up and clean up time.

Supposedly, many of the options for tents take only minutes to set up, but it’s still more than nothing. Packing and unpacking will take longer too, especially if I plan to do interior decorating (which will also probably result in more laundry.) It will take more time and effort than sleeping in a cabin. But hopefully, this won’t be a big deal (especially not in comparison to the pavilion.)

…Exposure to the weather.

While the cabin is not exactly climate controlled, a tent will be colder in cold weather and hotter in hot weather. (On bright sunny days, the interior of a tent can really overheat.) And despite what manufacturers promise, there’s always a chance that it will leak in rain or blow over in the wind. But if the weather proves that rough, I can always retreat to the cabin.

…More light in the morning.

Tent’s don’t block light as well as cabins, and the light may well wake me up earlier in the mornings. Or make it harder to fall back asleep.

…No electric outlets.

Not actually a big deal, since I’ll still be able to use the outlets in the cabin, and I don’t really use electricity for anything other than nightlights and charging my phone.

…And then there’s plot.

I don’t know if monsters will be more or less likely to harass people in tents than in cabins, and I’m not sure which I prefer as a PC, but thus far, monsters have largely left sleeping PCs alone. When I’m an NPC, it’s moot.

Altogether, this leads me to want a tent, especially since a cabin is always available as a back up. So I’ve been doing some research, searching for tents online and in a few stores.

Size and shape of the interior is probably my biggest priority. I want it to be comfortable and to feel like an indoor space.

I also want to be able to stand in the tent, so that it can feel like a comfortable in-game space, and not claustrophobic for any activity other than sleeping. That pretty much means it needs to be a “cabin style” tent and not a “backpack style” tent. I also would like my friend who is six feet in height to be able to stand in it, which knocks many of the smaller cabin tents out of the running.

I’d like the tent to blend in with the setting of the LARP I PC, which also leads me to choose cabin-style tents. Ideally, I’d like one in neutral colors, not modern neon athletic colors. And the quicker and easier the set up, the better. I’m sure I’ll be able to find help before and after most events, but I’d like to be able to set it up on my own just in case, and the less time it takes, the more time I can spend helping a LARP staff get ready and clean up before and after events.

Decent sturdiness and weather proofing. This factor is kind of moot, since every tent I’ve seen online claims to be study and weather proof, and every single one has reviews that claim that their tent held up for many camping trips in all kinds of weather as well as reviews that claim it tore and leaked badly on its first use. (And that comes with horror stories about bad customer service reps who refused to offer refunds.) So I don’t really know what to do about this, even though it is important. It’s possible that I could be using my tent as many as twelve times a year if I take it every time I PC or NPC.

Cost. Gee, it’d sure be nice if the tent was cheap, though I get nervous about sacrificing quality. On the other hand, I went to REI (an outdoor athletic gear company) during their anniversary sale, and prices were still outrageous. I’m hoping one of the cheaper brands won’t turn out to be low quality in material and construction.

The one place I’m completely happy to sacrifice is weight and bulkiness when packed up. This isn’t a tent I plan to carry on my back or transport on a mountain bike. I expect to drive it over to the cabin area on the campgrounds, drop it off, and set it up a few feet from where I parked the car. I expect this means my options will be much bigger and sturdier than the lightweight options people use when carrying a tent with them on hikes.

I decided I wanted one before the next Cottington Woods event, which is this weekend. Last week I did some comparison shopping in a few stores, and this evening, I picked out an eight person Coleman cabin style tent. We’ll see how it works out in a few days!

About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing since 2004, in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love trying out all different styles and genres and formats. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, a member of bid com for the British convention Consequences, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US.
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5 Responses to The Winter of Our Discount Tents

  1. As a SCAdian, tents and space can be a big deal. A single camper has a lot more options because all the room is yours, and you don’t need a family size tent. Depending on the specifications, you might even put a pop-up shade over your tent. This can reduce OMG weather problems, and getting baked out of your tent (nylon tents heat up quickly in the sun). And sometimes a pop-up looks more in game than a nylon pimple tent. As I said, from an SCA background authenticity is a thing (by thing I mean goal, problem, and joy)

    I have been back and forth about cabin as game space. In 7V, we didn’t have a central congregational space like a tavern and thus we were encouraged to use cabins as in-game spaces. It was difficult, and some groups did this better than others. In Cottington Woods, that encouragement isn’t there. Combine this with modern conveniences (Keurig!) and high make up characters and the fact that creating in-game space takes work, and this hasn’t happened. It is something of a pity. I’d put more effort into this, but there is little to no payoff, and I’d rather spend the time schmoozing at the tavern.

    Also, we will keep a bunk open for you just in case!

    • Fair Escape says:

      I’ve often admired the appearance of SCA events and LARPs where people take care to have period looking tents. I’ve been thinking about ways to make the tent I got less modern looking — maybe for the next event, I can convince C. to bring one of his pop up tents. I’m trying not to worry too much about it — after all, there’s a modern looking tent sitting by the graveyard in Cottington, and I chose one of the more neutral colored options. And even the sea of modern looking tents in Shadows had a lot of appeal for me. (Well, more like a pond of tents.)

      I would be happy to put in the extra effort if that’s something the Orchard wanted to do, but like you said, there’s almost no payoff. C. literally has no where to sit comfortably because the bunks have so little headroom, and the cabins tend to be far from where much of the action is. And the tavern is pretty nice. (Though I did like the tavern at the other site a bit better.)

  2. Gaylord Tang says:

    I’ve been to games where cabins and private tents are considered fair game for fights, roleplay, and the like. The sleeping/hanging out area is part of a player’s responsibility to characterize in genre fashion. Personal boundaries feel tighter than the Accelerant games I’d been to so far, especially when sleep can be interrupted for combat or other shenanigans.

    I’d been thinking of getting a tent, but wanted one to look like it belonged. Pavillion tents might be out of my range – and also possibly not genre for non-fantasy games. Civil War re-enactors seemed to be a reasonable source for A-frame canvas tents – it’s pretty much a two pieces of canvas, and possibly a door. A Baker tent might work for everything, including a storefront for other characters.

    A dream is to sew one up ( has patterns). I don’t know if my sewing machine can take 55 yards of canvas. Flammability (important if there are campfires) and weatherproofing are other issues; there are treatments that work for both, but push the price back up to commercial tent prices. Probably no surprise there. Someday, maybe.

    • Fair Escape says:

      In most of the Accelerant games I’ve been to, cabins and tents are technically fair game for RP and fights, and many of them have some kind of spell of protection for cabins/tents at night. We have one in Cottington, I just haven’t seen any fighting in cabins or tents, so I’m not sure how much would change without the protection spells. But the hearth witch who usually protects the Orchard isn’t going to be there this weekend, so the risk is there. I think the only time an NPC has gone in our cabin was when a bunch of rats were moving around and leaving notes saying all of the food had been eaten or despoiled.

      That’s a really cool link. if I ever decide to make a smaller tent, maybe, that will be the place to go for ideas and instructions.

  3. Pingback: For Old Lang Syne 2014 | Fair Escape

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