Warriors & Mercenaries

Sometimes fighting against evil is not a choice, but an imperative.

LORE

Warriors & Mercenaries, LARP character Icon

What defines a warrior? Is it the mere action of going to war that makes one? Or is it a state of mind, a set of skills, a profession?

Warfare has seen many types of combatants over history, from the lowly levied troops, militias, and conscripts to more professional soldiers, standing armies and permanent retinues. But even the best trained and most minded soldiers usually don’t go out of their way to find war. They fight when duty calls, they fight when they have to. Running toward conflict, seeking battle in times of peace, that’s what a mercenary does. Among all the warrior types, mercenaries stand out as the ones that not merely live war, but live for war, which might make them the greatest of them all.

History is filled with dozens of mercenary groups. Warriors of fortune, sellswords, corsairs, and private military bands were used since Antiquity.

Still, some of the best known examples can be found during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with their famous mercenary companies influencing deeply the way we now represent mercenary groups in fiction and LARP. There were the Genoese crossbowmen, the Swiss pikemen, the French Routiers, the Italian free companies, the Varangian Guard, the German landsknechts, and the Gaelic gallowglass, to name only a few.

Surprisingly, in times of great conflict and instability, mercenaries were often seen as more trustworthy than local soldiers, less likely to be corrupted, to succumb to desertion, or be turned by political pressure. As professional warriors, changing sides mid conflict was bad for business, and as long as money flowed in their direction, they could be trusted.

Characters

The calling of the mercenary may not be as noble or romantic as the soldiers that fight for their nation, or the resistance fighters that rise to protect their homes, but it would be a mistake to reduce it to mere greed and bloodlust. Mercenaries were often veterans of more traditional armies, people that owned a skill and found it wiser to leverage it than to bury their weapons and start their life over, surrounded by civilians that had no idea what they went through. In a way, some mercenary characters may be trapped in a tragic life of violence, knowing nothing else, and still needing to put bread on the table like everyone else.

In other cases, mercenary life is a matter of tradition, a warrior society often looking kindly on individuals that prove their worth in battle, and grow wealth and prestige doing so. Those mercenaries are following a respectable career path, at least from their perspective, and may be confused to hear that fighting for payment is somehow considered dirty or lesser. After all, aren’t most soldiers paid or compensated in some way? What is so different with being paid by a foreign nation or a third party in a conflict? Similarly, mercenaries can also be idle professional soldiers, and lend their services with the sanction of their suzerain as a way to enrich the nation, and keep the troops battle ready. It was especially common within the population with disproportionately large militaries, for reasons of culture or necessity.

Mercenaries were also often simply exiled combatants, defeated in war and escaping into a foreign land to flee capture or execution. These characters may still be motivated by the lost cause they used to fight for, picking contracts that place them against their ancient foes, or playing the long game and growing stronger and stronger until they can return home and ignite the embers of war once again. From freedom fighters, to loyalists trying to restore a former dynasty to power, these characters can be very interesting to explore, navigating their ideals and the immediate needs of mercenary life. In LARP, you can take inspiration from these simple historical facts to make more realistic and believable characters or groups.

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Costumes

In LARP, a mercenary character will generally look like a battle-hardened veteran. No shiny full plate or fancy armor should be worn, but rather rugged, practical gear that can be worn during long marches. A mercenary is no noble knight, has no squire to get into their armor, and often needs to perform field repairs on their equipment. For fantasy, that will mean that thick leather armor becomes a great option in combination pieces of plate and chain armor, providing this scrappy look of mismatched pieces, as if the warrior replaced broken gear with freshly looted protection. Put on a gambeson, a leather breastplate, a mail aventail, and plate pauldrons; that’s the kind of set you are expecting from a mercenary. In any case, some armor is a priority for any mercenary; it’s what elevates them above mere bandits or militiamen.

As for accessories, living around battlefields means that our sellswords are always on the move. A gourd, some utensil set, a tankard, and a bowl all fit that theme, with the pouch or strapped bag to carry it all. A light scarf to protect the neck from armor abrasion is also a classic of soldiery life since the times of the Romans, if not a headband to soak the sweat and keep it out of your eyes in combat. Looted items of value like jewelry or colored clothes can also be worn by some mercenaries as displays of wealth and success, and well as to keep their wealth safe and close.

Weapon wise, the mercenary gears up for the battlefield. They are not carrying weapons for self-defense, but for warfare. What that means is that single handed weapons are either matched with a good old shield, or backups for when your real fighting tool is not an option. Warhammers, maces, and axes make for great pairing with a shield, while a sword is always a versatile choice. If being a defensive shield bearer isn’t your cup of tea, go big and grab a two-handed weapon like a polearm or a greatsword. You will quickly appreciate the extra reach in large scale combat. Any weapon should be a simple and brutal instrument, nothing fancy or heavily decorated.