How to Plan and Host a Nerf War
I've been getting a lot of requests from people to give them advice on how to organize a Nerf war (or even do it for them). Organizing a Nerf war in your area is often a necessity for many of you who do not live near any of the large regular wars that take place across the country these days. The dream of hosting a kickass Nerf war, which everyone wants to go to is very tantalizing indeed. However many people just don't realize how much effort and work is involved in planning and running a Nerf war, even a small (less than 10 people) one. Larger wars (15-20 and up) are even harder, and super wars (30 people and up) are not only very rare, but take a triumph of organization and diplomacy. Hopefully in this article you will learn the ways of the Nerf war organizer, and perhaps one day your war will become the next LANO.
Part I: Planning
Your job as a Nerf war planner is to ensure that every aspect of the Nerf war; location, time, date, food, water, restrooms, trash, rides, parents, rules, etc is not only planned in detail, but that this plan is communicated to ALL attendees.
This is not an easy task, and it certainly takes more than firing off an email or two. For the purposes of this article we're going to assume that you want to plan a regular Nerf war in your area, and you don't have that many friends who Nerf (meaning you need to recruit more people to come). That said lets get started.
So, you want to hold a Nerf war. Don't tell anybody yet. The first thing you need to do is sit down and map out all of the details of the Nerf war. What you want is that by the time you officially announce your war, all of the preparation (except getting people to come) is done with, and all of the details are finalized. So first you should start with the most basic things, such as where will your Nerf war be held? What you want in a Nerf war location are several key qualities: Cover (nobody likes a big open space), emptiness (you want your location to be as close to deserted as possible, especially of little kids), and availability of amenities (like water fountains, restrooms, and nearby food joints). There is no such thing as a perfect location, but any location which has those three basic qualities should work just fine. If you have no idea where to start looking, take a tour of all your local elementary and middle schools. You don't want to play IN the school, but often schools have cool playgrounds and areas around the buildings which offer good urban settings. Schools also have water fountains outside usually, however on a weekend the restrooms are locked, so take that into consideration. You will NEED available bathrooms. Many people play at parks and playgrounds, these are great except for the fact that they are usually teeming with little kids and edgy parents. Trying to hold a big Nerf war on a popular playground on a Saturday is virtual suicide. Also, and this is important, have a backup plan. Know exactly where you would go if you were kicked out of your usual location. Ideally, you want to have a backup location somewhere within walking distance of your primary. Parents usually drop their kids and leave, so you can't rely on them to shuttle people to a new place. Don't assume you won't be kicked off, because it happens. At the last (April) LANO our usual location was being re-tarred and we couldn't play there, so I had to find a new place to play in the same general area. Don't be too critical of locations though, all you need is something serviceable, not ideal. As long as kids can hide behind something, pee somewhere, and don't get yelled at by other people they WILL have fun.
Once you've decided on a location, you next need to set a date and time. Now often to do this you need to consult the people who you already expect to come. For the LANO's we open a discussion, throwing out a couple possible dates and asking people which would be best for them. If you don't know hardly anyone who could come, set a date yourself. If you have a core group then consult them with some possible dates in mind and ask which is best for them to make it. Handle times the same way. In deciding what time to hold the war you also must decide how long it will be. This can be tricky. If this is your first war, and you know 10 people or less who could come, make it 4-6 hours. If you don't know hardly anybody, make it 4 hours. Trust me, you don't want to risk having a 6 person Nerf war last 8 hours, that would suck. The first LANO was only 4 hours long. These days our standard LANOs are 8 hours, and the yearly Armageddon wars are 9 hours. We do this only because we can count on getting a good turnout, and we have people who come from far away, so we want to make it worthwhile for them. If your first war is popular and everyone leaves wanting more, have it 2 hours longer next time. A Nerf war should never be more than 8 hours unless it's a very special case (like with Armageddons). An 8-9 hour Nerf war is BRUTAL. After 8 hours most kids start to physically shut down, after 9 hours you almost have to carry people out.
If your Nerf war is going to be longer than 4 hours, you will want to have some sort of lunchbreak. This is also a good reason to keep it at 4 hours. For a 6 hour war a lunchbreak isn't ALWAYS necessary, but for anything longer it's required if you don't want people passing out. For most people, eating at the war location is the only option so you will need to figure out how to get food there. One good idea is to tell everyone to bring a lunch, however if you do that you NEED to make sure every person knows this, and also make sure that nobody brings something that will go bad in the sun. Another solution is to have food brought to the war. If you or someone else (like your mom, honestly) can drive, you can go pick up pizza or fast food and bring it back. If you have a good number of people who drive you can consider having everyone pack up and go somewhere else to eat, and then come back. At the LANOs, we all pack up and go to Subway because it doesn't make people sick like pizza tends too. However many parents don't want their kids riding with other people, so you will need to make sure everyone knows about the lunch plans beforehand.
Ok so you've got a location, a backup plan, a date/time, and a lunch plan. The last thing you will want to decide upon before you announce your Nerf war is the rule set. Now you don't need to specify the exact rules in your announcement, but people may ask. Rules are completely up to you but there seem to be two main schools of rules, West coast style and East coast style. In West coast style play, each person gets a set number of hit points (we usually use 5 at LANOs). When they are hit, either by a single dart or a single burst of darts, they loose one hit point and must stop and count out load to 20 before being "in" again. When they loose all hit points they are out until the next round. Usually when someone gets hit, they just walk around, pick up ammo and reload before counting in. East coast style is different. In East coast style each person gets a set number of hit points (usually around 10) but when you are hit you do NOT stop, you just keep going. Also each single dart takes off one hit, so if you get hit by a 4 shot Powerclip burst, you've lost 4 hit points. These wars are much faster paced and can be a lot of fun, but with automatics these days it's often difficult to tell exactly how many darts hit someone. You can take these rules and change them however you want. More detailed rules (such as gun hits, boundaries, ammo collection etc), as well as game types (two team, three team, capture the flag etc) are up to you. Try to make the rules somewhat self explanatory and easy to remember. Take my advice and make eye protection MANDATORY for all players.
Now you're finally ready to announce your war. Make SURE that you are announcing the war at LEAST 3 weeks to a month before it takes place. Kids, and especially their parents, need to get it on their calendars as early as possible. Think of a name for your war, especially if you plan for it to be a regular event. Something catchy but not stupid. LANO for instance stands for Los Angeles Nerf-Out (even though we're really not in Los Angeles, nobody knows where Irvine is), you can think of something creative. The first step in announcing your war is to tell anybody and everybody you know who may want to come. It often helps to set up a temporary web page with all of the details (including the location and directions) of the war. It doesn't have to be anything pretty. You should also post announcements in the forums of this site (Nerf Online) and Nerf Center (www.Nerfcenter.com). If you are feeling brave, consider posting flyers around your school (don't put your phone number on, just your email or the war's website). Now go to bed. Expect a very lackluster response to your war at first, this is normal. Now comes the job of hyping your Nerf war and getting people to come. Put pressure on your friends to come, ask them to tell THEIR friends, talk about it on the forums (don't be annoying) etc. Building up a large Nerf war takes a LOT of time, and you should expect your first war to be very small. Do NOT be discouraged if you only get 6 or 8 people to come, Nerf wars grow almost exclusively by word of mouth. The first LANOs years ago were only 8-10 people, now we get 30 mostly because of word of mouth and notoriety. Check your email and forum postings often, reply to questions immediately and in detail. Aside from these things, there isn't much else you can do. Just don't let anyone forget about the war and allow enough time for interest to accumulate. The last week before the war you should be on a forum posting, emailing, phone calling, diplomatic spaz attack. Try to get firm confirmations from everyone that they will be able to attend. Work with people to try to iron out last minute ride issues, offer to speak to parents. You have to court potential attendees as if they were that hot chick in your class, except when it comes to squishy love notes, you can leave those out. The night before the war get all of your gear (bring as much extra ammo and as many guns as possible) packed up and ready to go. Make SURE you buy 3 differently colored rolls of flagging tape. This is the same stuff that paintball places use, it's a colored non-sticky tape which you can tear strips off and tie around peoples arms to mark teams. This is essential for wars of 10 people or more. You can buy flagging tape at most hardware stores. Once you've got all of your stuff packed up try to get some sleep, you're going to need it. As you lay in bed, repeat this mantra to yourself: "No matter what happens tomorrow, I will keep my cool." Expect stuff to go wrong, it always does...Oh yea, and bring sunblock. A lot of it.
Part II: Execution
Your job as a Nerf war host is to make sure that all attendees have much more fun than you do.
It's the morning of the war! Get the hell out of bed! You will want to get to the war location at least 30 minutes early, but before you get there we need to discuss some things.
People seem to think that once the war starts, the host's job is over. Far from it! In fact it's only just begun. Once you arrive at the Nerf war site, you are no longer that shy geeky kid, when you are hosting a Nerf war you have to assume the attitude and manner of a tiny, benevolent god. In fact most LANO attendee's won't believe this, but outside of LANO's I'm actually a very quiet, relatively shy person. When you're in charge of a Nerf war however, you have to cast this aside. A successful Nerf war relies on having a strong leader who determines what happens. Nerf wars are not a democratic event. YOU are the sole leader of the group, and YOU will decide when you do lunch, what kind of battle is played, and what the teams are. You can't let anybody try to take control of the war away from you, you have to be completely in charge. This is more difficult than it sounds, but really anybody can do it. You don't have to be a natural leader, but it certainly helps. Basically what you want is for everyone at the war to automatically and without hesitation look to you to decide what happens. The way you instill that outlook in them is to keep things moving and to maintain your leadership. You don't want to be an asshole, otherwise people will hate you. A big part of hosting a successful Nerf war comes down to two things: Attitude, and charisma. Remember that mantra that you repeated to yourself last night? Well it's time to put that into action. Expect stuff to go wrong, maybe a good friend of yours won't show, maybe lunch will be late, maybe you'll be kicked off your location, maybe some guy's little brother is annoying the hell out of you. None of this matters, you should never lose your cool and you should always keep your outward expression calm but stern. Never EVER lose your composure by getting really pissed off (you can be annoyed, but I mean don't get screaming mad), freaking out, telling everyone to go away etc. At a Nerf war, all of the attendees look to the leader to determine the overall atmosphere and mood. If you are tense, bitchy and freaking out, then everybody else will be too.
When it comes right down to it though, you just have to have fun, and encourage others to do the same. If you are having a great time, everyone else will too. Don't stress out too much about the little things, or about how you're doing. As soon as a battle finishes, round everyone up and have everyone (including you) pick up ammo. Get into the habit of doing this after every battle, you're darts will thank you. Once the ammo is taken care of round the group up again, tell them what kind of battle you're all going to play, divide them into teams, mark them, and get going again. You should strive to have as little time between battles as possible, you don't want people just standing around for an hour. Remember, every minute your attendees are actually Nerfing is one less minute they're standing around bitching at you. Try to get a bead on everyone's general opinions. Did they like whatever kind of battle you just played? Did the battle play well or did it get lame and chaotic? Have any of them suggested other kinds of battles? Try to give them what they want. If you play say a 3 team war and most people really like it (even if you didn't), then do another. However stay away from just playing the same thing over and over, try to mix it up. If things are starting to lag a bit and people are kind of getting bored, have a pistol-only war. Those are exciting and fast paced since you can travel light, and pistols are close range.
A word about teams· At the LANOs we usually will randomize the teams after every battle. I do this for a couple of reasons, first off when you have different teams each battle EVERY attendee, no matter how good or bad they are, will be on some winning teams and some losing teams, and will therefore have more fun. It shakes things up and makes things more interesting. Changing teams each battle also helps keep the war fun rather than just competitive, since it doesn't matter as much who wins a battle because the teams are going to be changed anyways, so people will focus more on how much fun each battle is rather than whether they won or lost. Often times at the LANO's many people can't even figure out who won a certain battle, much less remember winners of previous battles. This helps keep things fun and lighthearted. If you decide to change teams like this, always choose them yourself and try your best to balance them. Rather than worry about balancing them skill wise (since skill is relative), try to balance them according to guns. So make sure each team has a roughly equal number of losers, automatics, etc. As the war progresses you'll get a better idea as to the skill and capabilities of each participant so balancing teams will become easier.
However if you know that your friends will want to pair off into set teams (perhaps you have two local rival teams coming), then keeping the same teams for all or most of the war can help make things more lively and heated. However you have to make sure that the teams are relatively balanced. If one team wins almost every time, the losing team will not have very much fun. This can also foster heated competition, which can sometimes be fun, but can also sometimes make the war a little tense and unfriendly. The choice of how to handle teams is entirely up to you.
I've already discussed how you should court and treat your Nerf war participants, but what I havn't mentioned is how to treat their parents. Parents of potential (and actual) attendees are usually very nervous about bringing their kids to a Nerf war. The thought of shooting projectiles (and just wait until they learn about Stefans) at their kids makes them a little wary. The best thing you can do is talk to them maturely and honestly. Don't lie about the darts, gun power, etc. Parents will really respect honesty. Tell them about what you are doing for safety (such as mandatory eye protection, etc) and why you are holding the war in the first place. You should be hosting your own Nerf war to give kids a fun outlet for exercise and aggression, and to try to introduce more people Nerf. Your own desire to play in a Nerf war should come a distant second. Always try to meet the parent/s of each attendee and develop a rapport with them. If they trust you and your maturity then they won't hesitate to bring their kids back. You should also never make your Nerf war attendees feel embarrassed about having their parents drop them off, want to watch, etc. Teenagers are always naturally embarrassed about relying on their parents, so try not to make a big deal about it and try not to make anyone feel lame. If parents ask you to do or not do something, honor their wish. For instance if a parent doesn't want their kid to drive with someone else, respect that and don't try to bend the rules, even if the kid himself wants to. If the parent wants you to do something you really can't do (like say they don't want anybody shooting their kid with a homemade), politely explain why that is not possible. If they take offense to this, just explain that you're only trying to make the war fun for everyone.
Aside from parents of war attendees you also must treat all other adults on the scene maturely and courteously as well. This is especially true of parents of little kids who are in the area. Never EVER play on a playground that other little kids are playing on, never kick kids off of a play area to Nerf there. That will only increase tensions between you and other local people, and vastly increase your chances of getting kicked off your location. The main thing here is courtesy. You have to treat everyone in the area courteously, and that means not pissing them off by being loud, obnoxious etc. Tell your Nerf war attendees to try not to curse loudly, remember there are probably little kids around. If you are on a playground or something and someone (whether they be a community center worker, or just a parent) asks you to leave, then leave and be polite about it. You can try to politely and maturely explain to them what you're doing and why, but if they still want you out then get out and find somewhere else to play. Don't freak out about having to move to a new location, remember that kids will have fun Nerfing just about anywhere. Let me give you an example of what I mean by courtesy: At the April LANO we had 28 people, the most ever, and our usual location was being re-tarred as I said and we couldn't use it. So we walked over to a nearby playground that we occasionally play on at LANOs if it's empty. As we walked up we realized that there were two little girls, not more than 6, playing on the rather large playground structure. Rather than just move in and kick them off we all stopped for a minute as I tried to decide where else to go. Then the two girls' mothers called them off the park. We began to move onto the playground and get ready to play and I noticed that the mothers and their girls were standing about 100 feet away just staring at us. I told everyone to hang on and I walked over to them and asked them if the girls wanted to use the playground. The mothers were obviously stunned at my politeness (I didn't LOOK polite with my gun harness and all) and said "Oh no we're all done." I asked them if they were sure and they said yes so I thanked them, walked back and we started playing. Now if they had told me that their girls had in fact wanted to play on the playground, I would of moved all 28 of us to a different place without hesitation. You never know which adult might have a teenager at home who is just getting interested in Nerf, if you are rude to them, they'd never let their kid come to a war. Even if they don't have teenagers, being nice to people simply pays off. It's not uncommon to even have parents defending you and your cause to other parents who aren't so sure. Whenever I notice a adult who has been watching us play for a while I always make a point to go over and introduce myself and talk to them about what we do. So far everyone I've talked to has had nothing but a positive reaction towards us, because we are courteous, we aren't very loud or obnoxious, and we're as safe as possible. Just remember that if you want to be a leader, you have to act like one.
As the war starts to wind down, always stop Nerfing at least 15 minutes (30 if you have 20 people) before the official ending time of the war. You want to have all of the guns packed up and all of the ammo sorted and packed before the end time. Parents hate to be kept waiting after the war was supposed to be over, they like to pick up their kids and go. You should try to have all attendees mark their guns so they can identify them. As for darts, unless you can easily tell whose darts are whose don't really worry about getting them perfectly sorted. Have everyone try to get as many as they brought but remember that many darts are going to be lost, so they should not expect to get everything back. As for you, the host, take what you know is yours and whatever everyone else leaves. Expect to lose fully 60% of your ammo. This is why you made a bunch of Stefans beforehand RIGHT? Right. If anybody leaves any guns or equipment, just hang out to them and try to figure out whose it is and get it back to them. At the LANOs theres always someone who leaves a gun or something behind. Make sure to thank everyone for coming and try to say bye personally to everyone before you leave. Go home, get in the damn shower, and then attempt to position yourself somewhere in proximity to your bed before you lose consciousness. Expect to be sore the next day. I personally judge the "fun level" of a Nerf war by how bad my post-war hangover is the next day. After Armageddon 2001 I moved like a creaky old man for a week and my sunburns were terrible.
In summary, here's what you want to keep in mind while hosting a Nerf war: 1. Keep things moving. 2. Keep the atmosphere light and fun. 3. Be courteous to parents and other people in the area. 4. Expect stuff to go wrong, and be adaptable. 5. Lighten up and have fun, that's why you're here, remember?
Hopefully by following the advice laid out in this guide you will be able to successfully plan and host a Nerf war, and have fun doing it. Anyway I hope you found this incredibly long (10 pages in Word) article helpful. At least you'd better consider how much I've put my delicate wrists through for this. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, rants etc about this article, please discuss them in the Living End forum of this site. You can also always email me at email@example.com, if that's your "thang"...
Looking for a Nerf War in your area? Check out the 2014 Nerf War Schedule. If you're looking for rules for nerf wars and gametype ideas, see the List of Gametypes.
If you're totally new to the word of modified nerf, we recommend that you read How to Make Homemade Nerf Darts and check out the Nerf Mods Directory
On December 30, 2011 links to the nerf wars forum and the 2012 schedule were added.
On August 28, 2012 the links were replaced with the 2012 schedule and the list of gametypes. links to the mod directory and the dart guide were added to the end of article.
This post has been edited by Langley: 28 August 2012 - 06:23 AM