Leaving the Larp Closet

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Apologies for the pause in Monday larp posts — my site was hacked last Sunday, but now, courtesy of the awesome Daniel Quinn, everything’s back to normal.

Today we’re tackling a thorny issue: how to come out of the larp closet.

While reporting for Leaving Mundania, I encountered many gamers who kept their weekend selves separate from their work-, friend-, and family-selves, often reminding me of “the first rule of fight club” at parties where non-larpers were present. One of them, a nameless larper who wishes to leave the closet at work, asked me to ask my panel of experts for advice on how to make the leap.

Their de-closeting advice requires three easy steps: 

Step 1: Explain it in terms that non-gamers can understand, using analogy.

Avonelle Wing:

I might be lucky, in that nobody in my world has ever been dismissive of larp as a hobby and an artform. Anyway – when I’m shopping for costuming or makeup and need guidance, I tell people it’s like street theater meets flash mob meets cops and robbers for adults, and then I reference the 90’s murder mystery games.  Everybody seems to “get it,” at least a little, and sometimes people bowl me over with their enthusiasm

Michael Pucci:

Finding if the person likes fantasy books, MMORPGs, or even fantasy based TV series helps a lot.  That way when you want to broach the subject of gaming you can mention a story that relates to a similar interest with the other person.  Explaining to people that you go and live a ‘World of Warcraft‘ type environment, or that you do a more in depth version of a ren fair allows people who are not gamers to have a point of reference to your hobby.

We find that the easiest way to come out with Dystopia Rising is to say “You know Zombieland or ever play Silent Hill or Fallout?  Yeah, I spend a weekend a month living in that.  Fighting zombies and camping and the like.  What did you do this past weekend?”

Part of explaining larp is explaining the medium’s variety, J. Tuomas Harviainen advises:

I suggest mentioning some of the more cool games, in a context where they are appropriate, without taking up the word “larp” at once. There is nothing wrong with it, but it does tend to create immediate associations when non-larpers hear it. When I describe a larp, I treat it as an individual role-play work, and can then say that “Others of course like to do the same but in a different fashion, such as fantasy larp in the woods. To each their own style of play, just as there are different kinds of TV programs, but it’s the same medium.”

As Kate Beaman-Martinez points out, the corollary to this step is “know your audience.”

I suggest easing people in. First be aware of what they think of it. If it’s a sweet church lady who might think that your zombie-raising dark mage might really be a cover for devil worship, odds are you should just say that you’re playing a murder mystery dinner party and leave it at that. More times than not I describe it as “cops and robbers with rules on who shot who first.” If it’s your weekly poker buddies, talk about whats cool about it like getting to hit your friends with foam bats or getting to do wild things with your makeup.

Step 2: Once you’ve explained what the tarnation larp is, own it. Because larp is awesome. And eff the haters.

Mike Young:

Just tell them and don’t worry about being mocked.  In fact, I’ve found that you less often get mocked as you do complete ignorance.  They just can’t wrap their heads around larp no matter how much you explain, and some of my family still think that I do some sort of theater thing on the weekends. But every so often you get responses like I did from a completely mundane cousin who had seen larp on a tv show and thought it was really cool that I do that sort of thing.  That makes it all worth it. And finally, anyone who mocks you for your hobbies just isn’t worth your time.

Aaron Vanek:

Show up to work or family’s home in full costume. FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG LOUD AND PROUD!

Seriously though, it depends on who you are coming out to. Here in Los Angeles I say things like “improvisational acting” or “structured communal storytelling” and most people get excited and want to know more. My wife says larp is a “themed improvisational costume party.” I mention that the United States military uses taxpayer dollars to run a larp that trains soldiers before deployment to the Middle East. My analogy is fantasy foam combat campaigns are to larp like super-heroes are to comic books. They’re the most prevalent, the most colorful and flashy, the most recognizable, but they aren’t all of the art form of live action role playing.

Both larpers and non-larpers need to separate the content of larp (World of Darkness or NERO) from the form of larp (the bubble or magic circle of play pretend). I got that concept from page 6 of Scott McCloud’s brilliant (and highly influential) Understanding Comics.

Sarah Bowman points out that owning it helps defy the stigma’s power:

I never felt the need to stay “in the closet” in terms of my role-playing and it saddens me when I hear stories from other people who do feel that way. I understand that role-playing incurs a stigma, but I believe that the best way to dispel a stigma is to provide a good example of someone who does not fit the negative stereotype. I find that most people remember the experience of playing make-believe as a child and think fondly of those days. Also, the ability to play dress up tends to draw the interest of females, at the risk of sounding totally stereotypical. Men like dress up too!

Step 3: Some cool documentation doesn’t hurt.

Claus Raasted:

Show them the Nordic Larp book. :o)

[Lizzie's note: I hear that Leaving Mundania is now available in ebook form and makes a great gift for the non-larper in your life. ;) And also, the Nordic Larp Wiki and Nordic Larp Talks might provide some helpful material.]

But remember, you can’t win everyone over. Know when to fold ‘em.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Be warned – some people carry notions, and others will talk about your hobby to people you don’t want them to – like the CEO of your company. Just like some people don’t get rap, opera, or show tunes… some people don’t get larp.  Know when to explain it, and know when to avoid it, and that gossip travels in professional environments.

Finally, know that the geek closet isn’t as dark and deep as it used to be.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I think that these days it’s become less of an issue. If you look at how often old-skool Dungeons & Dragons is portrayed in TV-series and films, it has become a part of the broader cultural luggage that we all carry around these days. I mean, the founding fathers have all died, and we’re all getting older. The geek shall inherit the earth and so we have. Of course coming out of the closet as a larper can seem to be a *big thing*, but lets face it, people have a lot nerdier hobbies these days, and how often do you get a chance to say “Oh, yeah. I larp. In my last larp I came out of the closet in a dark room at a gay larp.”

 

Read more First Timers’ Guides.

____

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Larp Likes and Dislikes

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Part of enjoying a larp is finding a game you enjoy, but there’s huge variety when it comes to the hobby, so knowing what you don’t like can be helpful. As Claus Raasted put it,”There are plenty of larps that don’t appeal to me, just like there are plenty of books, movies and poems that aren’t really my thing. Larp is a way of creating and experiencing stories – and not everyone likes the same kind of story.” 

In other words, no one sort of larp is “the best,” but some will be more or less fun to particular people. To give a sense of the scope of games and preferences, today the experts answer the question: What sort of larp does not appeal to you, and why?

Mike Young doesn’t enjoy physical fatigue:

As I’ve gotten older, fatter, and slower, pure live-combat larps really don’t appeal to me anymore.  I’ve swung my share of padded weapons, but I have absolutely zero desire to do so all weekend long, camping out in the great outdoors.  I have become quite the fan of indoor plumbing and air conditioning/central heating.

But I’ll play any genre and any style.  I love to try new types of larp just to see what they are about.

Because Michael Pucci desires physical immersion, he loves physical fatigue but theater-larp mechanics:

Wow.  Talk about a question that could gain me some hate mail.

I personally no longer enjoy theatrical style or card pull larps.  I have played and story told for theatrical style larps for just about a decade, and as a whole, these sort of larps are designed in such a way that the system gets in the way of the immersion and enjoyment of the environment.  The breaking of character to resolve conflicts, the reliance on pure mechanics for physically oriented tasks, and the unbalanced ratio of storytellers/NPCs (non-player characters, aka, extras) to players makes for a lacking campaign game.

I want to feel and experience a full range of emotions and events when I am at a game; I don’t want to avoid conflict because the resolution of a physical contest may have me out of character throwing chops or pulling cards from 15 minutes to multiple hours.  I don’t want to wait for half an hour for a storyteller to narrate my experience walking to someplace other than the one room assigned for game, I want to walk the 2 miles to a new location in real life.  I love waking up as a character, going to sleep as a character, eating as a character, and having a full range of all my interactions from my character’s world view.  I don’t think I can get that with a theatrical style game any longer.

Sarah Lynne Bowman  wants the best of  Young‘s and Pucci‘s worlds– a rules-light game that doesn’t feature combat:

I definitely do not enjoy heavy rules-based larps or games focused on combat. Games with excessive rules, in my opinion, take away from the immersion into character and story, which are the aspects I most enjoy. In rules-heavy games, people often spend more time out-of-character contemplating or debating rules than they do actually role-playing. I understand that the gamist-type players find this sort of activity pleasurable, but excessive rules discussion makes my interest in the game instantly wane.

As for combat, I am, by nature, a pacifist, so I never feel the urge to “best” someone else in physical battle. However, many people feel a strong release from this sort of activity, both physical and emotional. Though I do not enjoy these sorts of games, I still play in games that feature these aspects and respect others who like rules and combat.

Avonelle Wing has practical, DIY concerns:

I don’t like games with a steep startup investment – of time, energy, money, materials.  Give me something I can jump right into with what I have on hand, and I’m a happy girl. Games that become a flashy show of who spent the most at the costumer’s or the weapon smith? no thanks.  A game that encourages crafting and creativity? perfect!

Frederik Berg Østergaard wants meaningful stories and creature comforts:

Two things: Any larp that confuses setting for story. That pretty much excludes most vampire larps and fantasy larps. I prefer larp that is ABOUT something. Also I play very badly when I’m cold, hungry or tired, so strike those larps as well. Oh, you can also put actual violence on that list. I don’t like getting hurt.

J. Tuomas Harviainen wants player freedom:

I dislike larps that are so obviously railroaded that they don’t leave room to actually role-play. And I have no interest in attending games where the game masters overrule player decisions in order to push their own inevitable agenda. Fates and such are fine, but telling players they can have an impact while actually blatantly preventing it is boring. Beyond that, I am open to all sorts of larps, and have written them as well.

Kate Beaman-Martinez finds unicorns and goblins boring:

I am increasingly not a fan of sword and board larps, meaning high fantasy. Larp and role playing in general really got their start there. With Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy games, they were the ground floor and to me that feels tired. I cut my role playing teeth on Werewolf: The Apocalypse and for me going back to that just doesn’t give me the role playing jollies I get when I play a modern day supers games or CyberGen.

But in the end, I’ll try anything if I know there is a good GM team or if there is an interesting angle being used.

Geoffrey Schaller prefers noncompetitive larping:

I am personally not a fan of larps that encourage PvP (Player versus Player) activity, without it being a specific, pre-determined, and well-communicated part of the game beforehand.  The point of a larp is to enjoy having fun with other people in a communal environment – if I want to gank other players in a competitive environment, I’ll play paintball, or otherwise be involved in a competitive sport.  The only exception to this is a larp that is designed to be competitive, and makes its intent clear from the get-go, such as warring factions or such – and even then, only if it’s a one-shot.  I don’t want to invest time, money, and energy into a game and character that someone else is trying to bump off.

Aaron Vanek is omnivorous:

I learn something from every larp I participate in, even the horrid ones (learning what NOT to do is invaluable). I want to know how each designer and player approaches and deals with the art–what key are they in, how many beats per minute, what effect pedals, etc. My biggest restriction is my time, so the only larp that doesn’t appeal to me, I guess, is one that would be all weekend long, every weekend, where I play the same character in the same venue with the same game master and other PCs/NPCs (player-characters/non-player-characters). Although now that I wrote it out, maybe “Shawshank Redemption: the larp” spanning decades would be cool…

More game guides for newbies.

_______

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

One-Shot Larps v. Campaigns

 Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Part of having fun at a game is knowing which games are right for you. So today the experts begin exploring their own preferences, answering the question: Do you prefer one-shots or campaigns,* and why?

Their answers, not so surprisingly, were mixed. Let’s hear from Team One-Shot first.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I’m a one-night stand guy. I prefer my women givin’ it up on the first night. A prolonged engagement–while entertaining in its own right–doesn’t get that first-night vibe that is so titillating

.J. Tuomas Harviainen:

I prefer writing one-shots, as I see in them the chance to experiment with ideas that have a lot of short-term potential, but would be boring in the long run. I also prefer playing one-shots, as it’s much easier to book the time in advance. Campaigns have their significant advantages in character development and so on, but they are also risky ventures in that even the greatest of plots may die if one key person is not able to attend.

Claus Raasted:

I much prefer one-shots. If you’re doing a one-shot, you can make decide that all the interesting stuff happens right now. If the world is about to end, the larp happens just at that point. If the princes are getting married, thus re-uniting the kingdoms… then that’s when the larp is set. When you’re doing campaign larps (especially those of the “once-a-month-or-similar” kind) that’s a lot harder. Unless you’re willing to do enormous amounts of work, you easily get into the rhythm of having the in game calendar follow the off game calendar – and suddenly you have wild and interesting things happening to the same people once a month. In the same place often. And after a couple of years, the fiction gets strained… one-shots don’t have that problem.

Aaron Vanek:

I’ve played far more one-shots than campaigns, so my answer is biased. But, I slightly prefer one-shots over campaigns because:

  1.  The majority (though certainly not all) of larp campaigns are fantasy based, which isn’t my favorite genre.
  2. Sooner or later, I will get bored of either my character, the game, or both. I like exploring different facets of my personality; I’m more interested in a broad range of roles than deep exploration of one.
  3. A single event can try out a mechanic or rule or setting and, if it works, it can live on in the next event. If not, it’s gone after one session. A non-fatal flaw in a campaign can linger for months or years.
  4. I enjoy the intensity of one-shots. Since I don’t have to play it safe so that my character will survive to adventure again next month, I can–if the character’s personality has this trait–be reckless and foolhardy. Even if the consequence is death or removal from play, it’s not a huge loss to my ego or all the money I spent on a costume I’ve been improving or adding on to for a decade

What one-shots miss, though, is the ability to savor a slow shift to a character’s personality.

Mike Young:

For me, it all has to do with the amount of prep and work I need to do out of game.  Both one shots and campaigns require costuming and props, but I can reuse them during a campaign.  However, campaigns often require between-game actions and conversations which can take a lot of time.

I enjoy them both, but I think I prefer the flexibility of one shots; they allow for more variety of character.


Several experts were on the fence between one-shots and campaigns, preferring one or the other depending on their specific design goals or desired experience as a player:

Michael Pucci:

Depends on the world and the goal. When I am looking for an intense, action packed, immediate gratification game experience I prefer the one shot event. If I am looking for a deeper emotional investment, political machinations, and long term character growth I enjoy campaign style game.

Since a one shot game has a set time limit to its existence, players tend to play their character to the extreme with little reservation. When you have that sort of environment you can have some incredible role playing experiences with over the top moments that people will talk about for years. The downside, however, is that one-shots don’t offer the same degree of growth and emotional depth as long term campaign style games. You want to see your character grow up, develop strong emotional ties, and change and grow?  You need more than one night’s worth of interactions and events to make that happen.

Avonelle Wing:

I find one-shots more forgiving – you don’t have to live with a mistake you make in hour one for the entire rest of your character’s life, but as a player, campaign games scratch the creative itch more thoroughly for me.When it comes to writing or designing games, hands down, one-shot games feed my soul 100% more than managing a campaign. If you have a power gamer who wants to exploit the system in a one-shot, you only have to manage him for the length of the game. If you have (a) power gamer(s) in a campaign, you might discover that a twelve page rules system explodes to 36 pages to compensate for “well, what does this sentence REALLY mean…?” One-shots give me a chance to play with systems, to write edgy or risky plotlines, explore themes and generally play with the artform, and I am really enjoying that currently.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

There is a certain feeling of ‘do whatever you want’ out of one shots. You can be as bold as you’d like, insane as you like and can explore areas of yourself that you may not necessarily get to play. The other great thing about one shots is that you can test out a GM group or a genre that you wouldn’t normally try without the commitment of a long term game. Gives me a chance to try out a new character type and to role play with people who I don’t normally get the chance to.

There is something about creating a long-running character that really appeals to me; I get to stretch my roleplaying legs when I have a character with a long term chance of surviving. I become incredibly attached to my characters and really throw quite a lot into them. Having a character change from a three line concept to a fully fleshed out person (or elf or alien or vampire, etc.) is a personal joy that I always get from a campaign.

Finally, we’ll hear from the “campaigns rule!” camp.

Geoff Schaller:

I prefer campaigns for the long-term growth and return you get, both in-game from your character, and out-of-game with the other players as the game’s community builds.  One-shots are fine and fun, but are akin to TV dinners to me – I don’t want to make a steady diet of them!  I know other people who love the thrill and variety of many different one-shots, such as those run at Intercon (where you sign up for multiple one-shot games in one weekend).  This is just not my personal style.

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

I played campaign-style most of my life, so I suppose I have a preference for long-term games. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. You can delve deeply into character evolution and explore complex story arcs with campaign play. Also, the connections between players and the community as a whole tend to be stronger, unless the same group also regularly plays in one-shots too.

Long-term play tends to cause heavy investment into the character and attachment to the game, which can be both pleasurable and painful. Long-term play can also put a strain on relationships, since role-playing tends to feature high intensity situations, some of which feel like “life-or-death.” In one-shots, players feel free to be more outrageous and take risks, especially if the game is at a convention where the people involved may never see one another again.

* A one-shot is a game that is completed in one meeting. A campaign game continues the story across many events, which make take place regularly over months or years.

More game guides for newbies.

__________

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

How To Make Larp A Day Job

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention.

Today’s advice is for gamers who want to live the dream, and make larp their day-jobs.

Mike Young provides a reality check:

Are you in a Scandinavian country?  Great!  Are you in the USA?  OK, larp is a niche market of a niche market of a niche market (larp is a niche of the RPG [roleplaying games] market which is a niche of the hobby game market).  The numbers just aren’t there.  Good luck!  You’ll need it.

 

Claus Raasted’s super-secret advice:

Don’t. Unless this is your dream and you’re prepared to do what it takes. Then send me a mail at claus.raasted@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to let you pick my brain, but since a lot of it will be unpleasant truths that need to be addressed (or ignored), I won’t write about it here. After all, your friends might be reading this too. :o)

Rather than run your own game, Anna Westerling recommends applying larp to the real world:

There are plenty of larp-like activities done for profit; you can do team building and development for companies, you can do educational games for schools or you can do PR and event like games for the entertainment industry. Of course, you can make huge larps and keep productions cost low enough to live on what your participants pay you, as done in Denmark with some children’s larp. But all of these options mean you will have to think slightly different about your hobby.  The last option would be to get money from grants, but that will be difficult to live on in the long run.

Other options include becoming a researcher,  working in a store that sells larp and roleplaying gear, or writing and publishing scenarios.

Boil it down to your core mission, suggests Emma Wieslander:

Be aware of what you really are trying to achieve. Is it a commercial game? Make a financial plan. What do people expect when they pay and how much are they willing to? Is it the games or a “community center” that will be the day job?

Is it educational games? If it’s really what you want to do then make sure that it’s the gamist version of education that you aim for and not just a way to do games and make money or you will give people a strange image of roleplaying and you’ll probably get fed up pretty soon.

Also consider  that when you get pay, others will want pay. You can’t expect them to work for free and money has a way of changing dynamics. Be absolutely sure that everyone is game – first.

Forget running it like a commune, according to Avonelle Wing:

Anticipate upheaval and don’t build the success of your organization on anybody’s shoulders but your own.  This is an industry rife with personalities, and the visionary MUST maintain the deciding vote. Do not rule by committee.  A committee of more than two is death to an organization of that sort.  You can have advisors. You can even share the success, but do not fall into the trap of trying to be a socialist organization; communes are a nice idea, but they don’t work.

Don’t lose track of your audience. Listen to criticism and sort it carefully. If you hear the same thing over and over, you’ve either got a vision flaw or a PR problem.  Either way, fix it.

Remember that running a business isn’t always fun, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Not only will you have to deal with the banality of the business putting a constant drain on your will to run the business that used to be fun, you will be dealing with legions of players, who are now customers, trying to pull you in multiple (and often opposing) directions in their attempt to influence your game / product / business.  Unless you can maintain your ideals, visions, and integrity, you are bound to fail.  People skills are essential to success.

Attend to the unsexy back-end of running a business, Michael Pucci recommends:

Take classes in regards to setting up business status, taxes, liability, and growth.  Most people don’t consider how much they can put themselves at risk by making a business out of their hobby without understanding the business side of things.  If you already run a game you at least understand the basics of gaming… however making it a business requires a little more effort.

Aaron Vanek suggests alternative revenue streams:

Consider going the non-profit corporate route, and applying for art grants. Learn how to use Kickstarter. If you design larps, consider boxing them and selling the scenario online. If you make props or costumes, keep the molds or patterns and consider selling those, too.

Amber Eagar says to cater to more than just larpers:

Here in the US running a larp as a viable, full-time job that will provide you with a stable enough income to live on is very, very rare. The hobby has yet to grow and mature like the table-top hobby has to a point where people can make a solid living off of it. At this time, its the support industries that have the larp job opportunities: costuming and prop suppliers and rental locations/facilities; and they all have one key thing in common: they’re able to cater to a wider audience than just larpers.

Approach it like a vocation, says Jeramy Merritt:

Running a larp is a lifestyle, like becoming a priest.  And as with the priesthood you are expected to maintain a public face, to always support your endeavors, even if all you want to do is sleep for a week. Also, most jobs pay better. There are maybe 20 people in this whole country that make a living running a larp, and maybe another 50 (and that is being generous) who sell enough product (weapons, costuming, etc.) to support themselves. The fact is, unless your game is bringing in 100+ people an event, you are probably not making a living off of it.

Here are all the things you have to do to just start up a larp: Create rules, set up a web-site, collect a giant wad of cash, become a business, find a campsite, get insurance, write a plot, convince people that there is a reason for them to pay you to entertain them for a weekend and make certain they have incentive to keep coming back.

____

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

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Advice For First-Time Convention Organizers

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but with the right advice, maybe it’ll be a little easier.

Today’s advice is for first-time convention organizers.

Cater to your audience, according to Aaron Vanek:

Decide on your ideal attendees, and design the convention around them. Realize you will never please everyone, ever. And good luck trying to find a weekend to run your convention that doesn’t conflict with something important and big to at least a portion of your ideal audience.

 

Establish a chain of command, says Avonelle Wing:

Do not rule by committee.  Rule by Committee is the death of personal responsibility.  And of conventions.

Take personal ownership of your convention, and empower other people to act to support the vision.  When there is somebody who can immediately and directly address anything that might go wrong, and a chain of command for escalating concerns to that person/team, you avoid the “That’s not my department” trap that often hinders customer
service.  When decisions require a committee, you get stuck in personality conflicts that will absolutely sink your boat.

 

Remember the volunteers, according to Michael Pucci:

Chances are that people are not coming to your convention because it is your convention, but because of what it has to offer in the way of entertainment and features.  Remember that without the people who run the entertainment, your guests are not going to return year after year.  Treat your vendors, workers, and volunteers like gold… but expect them to do what they say they are going to do.  Also, consider that your greatest form of advertisement is through the story tellers, artists, and vendors that work your convention.  By active decision or not, these people will pass their review of your convention onto other people in the business… and could very well make or break future generations of the convention.

 

Budget extra time, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Be prepared for the fact that, at a very base level, people SUCK.  Anything that involves people to arrange or finalize – scheduling events; printing flyers, programs, or shirts; making hotel arrangements; registration; and (the biggest of all) attendees – will become a nightmare to handle at some point because someone, somewhere, screwed up, and now it’s YOUR problem.  Sometimes, you have a trusted ally that can clean up the mess, or deflect the issue before it reaches you – other times, you need to put on the rubber gloves and do it yourself.  Be prepared, and willing, to do this yourself, or else you will quickly wind up miserable, and possibly worse (in serious debt).

___

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

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How To Assemble A Great Larp Costume

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but sound advice can help ease the way.

Today’s tips cover how to assemble a great larp (or Halloween!) costume.

Geoffrey Schaller recommends starting small:

Take it easy.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!  Start simple, and gradually add to it over time.  “Get dressed” as your persona.  Assuming this isn’t for a cosplay as a specific character, or a one-time event like a Halloween party, you can keep adding bits to your costume each time you wear it.  It’s one thing to hear “Nice costume” – it’s another to hear “Wow, you’re costume’s improved over the past few months – I can’t wait to see what’s next!”

 

It doesn’t have to be fancy, says Emma Wieslander:

Keep it simple, make sure it’s functional for the game and for the location. Ask If you can borrow some of the stuff and focus on a tunic or top that says something about your character. Take real patterns and use them as a base if you are going to sow from scratch. Often you can find stuff at second hand stores and alter.

 

The elusive Liz recommends thrift stores for costuming on the cheap:

I feel it is important for first time larpers to get the best costume they can for the least amount of money.  The easiest way to do this is shop thrift stores.  No matter what genre you are going to be playing you can find something that will work and for very little money.

If you are handy with sewing you can alter the costume to suit your character better.  The other option is the entirely sew yourself a costume.  Patterns will only set you back a few dollars and since you can buy out of print patterns on the internet, you can make pretty much anything you could want.  Though, be warned that higher-end fabrics can cost you almost as much as buying a professionally made garment.

Do NOT buy from a trendy store, the clothing will not stand up to the rigors of larping and costs a lot more.

 

The details count for a lot, according to Anna Westerling:

Accessorize! You can have a fairly simple costume, and then add accessories to put it in the right era of time or to mark the qualities of your character. For example, use a fan if your character is flirtatious, a book if your character is learned or wear a lot of color if your character is artistic.

 

Buy strategically, Avonelle Wing says:

Don’t feel like you have to go buy everything from scratch. If you do buy something new, either buy something with enormous impact, like a flashy wig, a signature doublet or a quirky hat, OR buy items that can be repurposed into your real life or future costumes.

As an example, over a decade ago, I bought two black ballgown skirts on clearance after the holiday season.  I’ve used those skirts for vampires, gypsies, dignitaries, wizards and faeries.  I’ve lent them out, I’ve mended one of them twice.  Since I know I like playing flouncy female characters, this was a GREAT investment for me.  If you prefer playing skulky, shadowy, edgy characters, maybe your splurge is a leather jacket from the thrift store.

Look at what you’re playing.  identify the basic shape of costuming–is it pants, shirt, utility vest? is it skirt, bodice, cleavage? Scavenge your wardrobe and then add the signature piece/color/theme. Going monochromatic is a fast way make a strong visual impact.

For a campaign, don’t commit to an entire wardrobe until you’ve settled into the character and really know what you need.  And don’t sink a lot of money into the costume until you’ve played the character in the space you’ll be in.  I worked up awesome theoretical armor for a boffer game I play. And once I wore it, I realized it needed MASSIVE adjustments.  (Any armor that makes it tricky to use visit the little gamer’s room is suspect at an all-weekend event.  any armor you can’t put on single-handedly? also suspect. Any armor that ends up twisting and bunching up when you break into a jog? Unacceptable.)

Theoretical costuming often falls apart in a physical world.  Test it before you commit to it.

 

Cassie recommends pockets and vacuuming:

The best advice I can give is this: make sure your outfit has pockets of some kind. Whether they’re regular pockets in your pants, hidden ones sewn into the lining, or even just belt pouches, do not neglect the pockets! You may not need to carry your wallet and phone, but larps have plenty of other things you’ll need to keep track of and access easily. Think carefully about what your character might be carrying, besides what is logistically needed (like character cards). You might have in-game currency, potions, item cards, plus small props or tools for your character. You will need a way to carry all of these that does not involve constantly setting them down on the nearest table.

Other practical concerns: If you’re larping outside, you need to take the weather into account. If you’re just starting out, consider wearing a costume that you can easily hide mundane clothing underneath. Later on, you might consider having summer and winter outfits, with some removable outer pieces for those autumn and spring days when the temperature changes wildly. Even if you’re larping inside, hotel temperature control is notorious for being too hot or cold, so again, consider layering your costume pieces.

What kind of larp is it? Is it a boffer larp, where you’ll be running around a lot? Is it a vampire larp, where you’ll be lounging like the sexy beast you are on the nearest couch? Whatever the style, make sure you can move in your outfit in the ways you will be moving in the larp. Wear the costume at least once before you go to the larp, so that you can tell early on if it’s going to be restricting or uncomfortable in any way, or if you’ll need help at the larp to put it on. Something I’ve heard often, and used to great benefit, is to vacuum the house in your costume. If you can’t do that, you have no business wearing that outfit, and if you’ve sewn the outfit yourself the activity will test all the seams.

Last piece of advice: good footwear is key. Larp is all about getting up and moving around, and you will be standing for a good portion of it. Four-inch heels may look great, but if you’re not already used to wearing them for long periods of time, you’re going to spend most of the larp surreptitiously looking for ways to sit down. Practical footwear in solid black or brown is a good choice for your first costume. A good work boot will blend in well with many costumes; ladies, if the larp is going to be inside and requires you to dress all fancy-like, consider wearing dressy flats instead of heels.

If you keep the practical aspects of the costume in mind while you’re planning, it will go further towards your enjoyment of the game than having a pretty outfit in which you can’t actually play. Your role-playing is the star of the show, not your clothes, so don’t wear things that will take your attention away from the game!

 

Think about your character’s mentality, and the game’s setting says Sarah Bowman:

Costume pieces are like power items for your character. Often, when we don our costume, it helps us get more deeply immersed in the mentality of the character. Think about your character concept as you shop, not just what you would personally choose to wear in the mundane world.

If you see another player whose style you particularly admire, feel free to ask them where they shop or if they are willing to give you pointers. Some players even hold workshops for costume, weapon, and prop-making. Most role-players love to help newbies, so don’t be shy!

Spend some time ritualizing the donning of your costume before game. Allow the costume to take you into the mindset of your character. If you are applying makeup or accessories, take your time and allow that transformation to take place both externally and internally. A well-designed costume can help decrease the nervousness you may feel before game, for both you and for the other players.

 

Nuance has a place, but not in a larp costume, according to Michael Pucci:

Don’t be subtle!  Go over the top as you design the costume and think to yourself, “What are the signature items that truly make this character’s costume?”  Every character has something that is key to them, and only them… be it a certain jacket, hat, or walking stick make sure you assign that item to that character and that character only.  That way as your costume changes and evolves, people will still recognize the character by the key costume items.

Make sure your costume is something that you are willing to wear the entire time you are playing your character because players removing costuming bits is on par with girls at a prom removing their shoes.

 

See if your game has costuming they lend out, Amber Eagar says:

I’ve found it common for games to have loaner costuming that they can let you borrow if you don’t have anything at all, though check on this earlier rather than later as you may need to make special arrangements for it.

 

When in doubt, wear black, Jeramy Merritt urges:

Black t-shirt, black sweat pants, black sneakers.  As far as costumes go, it is pretty lousy.  It really isn’t a costume at all.  What it is however is unobtrusive and cheap.  If you don’t have them already, you can probably snag these articles for less than $20.  If you are just going to check out a game, or you’ve never larped before and don’t want to make the investment, this is about as simple as it gets.

 

And finally, Aaron Vanek reminds us not to forget practical concerns:

The three most important things to consider for a larp costume are:
  • mobility – can you move with ease? This is extremely important if you are in a live combat larp with physical action
  • comfort – is it warm enough, too warm, does it chafe, can you breathe in that corset? Remember that most larps are four hours or longer. Can you stand to be in that outfit all day and all night?
  • pockets – seriously, you need a way of carrying character sheets, in-game info, spell components, whatever. And if you don’t have any of that to start, you might get some later on, and you need to keep it on you

____

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Liz has been larping for ten years and her first costume (which was for Knight Realms) cost her $6 and that included shoes.  She didn’t learn how to sew until she had been larping for 4 years.

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Cassie tries to be a modern renaissance nerd, which mostly results in a mess in her living room, a closet dedicated to costuming, and a lot of soldering accidents. She also writes a blog about gaming and nerd culture.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

Advice for First-Time Game Designers

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but with the right advice, maybe it’ll be a little easier.

Today’s advice is for first-time game designers and larp organizers.

Geoffrey Schaller reminds us that there’s nothing new under the sun. And that’s OK:

New ideas are rare.  Don’t fool yourself to think you’ve got something no one else has thought of before – rather, do it better than everyone else.  There’s a dozen CCGs [collectible card games] out there, and hundreds of fantasy RPGs [roleplaying games].  The measure of success is not how original your idea is, but how good the finished product is.  The car has been around for 100+ years – but new, and better – ones are still being made.

 

Anna Westerling advocates working smarter, not harder:

Do what you want. You have a vision and work to fulfill it.  But don’t make it too complicated. If you want a larp set in a castle, it might be enough to find a nice room and a nice table setting to help everyone pretend. Use a video before the game begin to show the castle if that is very important to your story. Minimize your labor — think about what story you want to tell and cut away the extras.

 

Emma Wieslander has a hundred-point method:

Ask yourself: What’s most important. Clothes/Props, Drama/Story, Fun/Mood. Divide a 100 points between them and then use that as a guideline for procentages when it comes to all strategic decisions (what demands on costume, how “correct” the setting should be, how much effort to make characters, comfort, methods etc).

Don’t forget that cold, hungry players that haven’t been able to go to the toilet, generally are uncreative, grumpy and less likely to comply with your great vision of what the game should be.

 

It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, says Claus Raasted:

Lower your ambitions enough so that you’ll actually produce something. I don’t care if your first larp is a five-person game that lasts 30 minutes and is about five mercenaries eating a meal. I don’t care if it’s just you and four of your friends eating a pizza in your living room while pretending to be characters discussing something from a fictional game world. As long as you DO it. The reason we don’t have more organizers in this hobby is because people usually let their ambitions run wild, while their time/energy/dedication/skill/experience stays put.

“Mona Lisa” wasn’t Leonardo’s first piece. Every time you DO something, you get better at it. Even if it sucks. Don’t be dazzled by organizers who’ve done two cool larps and then called it quits. Be inspired by those who’ve had the courage to keep on trying, even though they fail from time to time.

So my advice is simple:
Lower your ambitions.
Actually do it instead of talking about it.
And learn something that you’ll use next time.
But most importantly. Make sure there’s always a next time.

And remember that the easiest way to avoid failing is just to do nothing.

 

Think critically about other games, says Amber Eagar:

Play, a lot. There’s nothing that beats experiencing a game first hand. Get out and nab as many rule books from different larps as you can (many larps offer them as free downloads). Read them. Make note of what you like and what you don’t like about them and then ask yourself why and what you would do differently. Chat with others who design games and ask them their view points and debate (and I mean debate, not argue about) design theory. Lastly, respect those who have knowledge and are willing to share it with you. Their view may not be exactly as you see something because larp design here in the US is a budding field (and everyone will have their own opinions about things), but respect them for helping to pave the way for you and provide you a groundwork they may not have had.

 

Play-test outside your group of friends, Avonelle Wing suggests:

Actually, my advise for game designers is much the same as my advice for GMs.  Prepare, research, explore, playtest.  play to your strengths – if you’re lousy at graphic design, engage a graphic designer. If your sense of color brings you around to Avocado, Harvest Gold and Pumpkin EVERY TIME, get an artist involved.  And remember that somebody who says “that’s isn’t how it’s done” really means “my imagination can’t stretch to conceive of your idea.” Never hear it as “your idea is no good.”

Always go outside your social group for playtesting. My experience is that shared experiences lead to shared assumptions when rules are executed.  You want to make sure that a wide variety of folks read–and execute–your rules similarly and without frustration.

 

Michael Pucci recommends planning for the long-term, and learning to love criticism:

If you aim for where the ball is now, it will be gone by the time you get up to speed.  Aim for something that will be big a few years down the line and you will reap the benefit of being ready to strike while the iron is hot.  Also, understand you will not be able to do this project all by yourself.  Choose your co-workers carefully and by product instead of familiarity.

Understand that the baby you are making is going to be turned over to other people, and in your best interests, they are going to rip that baby apart.  Thicken your skin, accept not everything you do is perfect, and consider all feedback… even if you don’t use all of it.

 

Check out your competition, Aaron Vanek advises:

Research! Know the games market, and the strengths and weaknesses of each part of it: video games, board games, card games, role-playing games, larp games, ARGs, and hybrid combinations between them.
Study every game you can. Not just the ones you love, but the ones you hate. Why is it a bad game? What are they doing wrong?

 

And if you’ve done your research, you can follow Juhana Pettersson’s advice:

For tabletop, I like to stress simple, clear concepts and the importance of making things that nobody else is making.
____

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Juhana Pettersson is a Finnish journalist, tv producer and game designer. He has published three books and been translated into five languages.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

Advice for First-Time Roleplayers

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but with the right advice, maybe it’ll be a little easier.

Today’s advice is for first-time roleplayers.

UPDATE: New advice from Anna Westerling and Emma Wieslander, posted 10/1/2011

Stay calm, says Anna Westerling:

Take it easy and enjoy. Meet new people, talk to them and explore. And don’t be worried that you are a bad roleplayer: because it is your first time, people will be understanding, and help you.

 

Emma Wieslander lays out the logistics:

Remember that it’s a story. In a table game this means: You animate the character by talking. If you’re silent nothing happens, but also that if the other players don’t get room to say animate their characters, you’ll only drag some zombies around and it won’t be fun for anyone. Say: ‘I  go there’, or ‘I take the object’ in a first person but don’t say ‘I say:’, act! Say what your character are saying to who he/she is saying it. If it’s unclear what NPC you are talking to say ‘I face so and so’ and then say what the character says.

If it’s a larp this means that you have to remember that you, as the leading actor, in your characters story have a responsibility to make that specific story happen. Also remember that the more you allow yourself to feel, the more the story will come to life. Remember to de-role and ask of your organizers how they are planning that so that you know where to go after the game.

 

Play where everybody knows your name, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Play among friends.  Playing amongst strangers is hard, because they don’t know the REAL you – they may think the persona you are playing is the real person, even if they know it’s just a game (First impressions and all).  Being able to play with other people you already know enables you to share the joy of role-playing that much more when you’re OOG [that's out of game, for you luddites] and back in the real world, talking about it.

 

Explore your own personality, Jeramy Merritt recommends:

Find an aspect of your personality that you have always wanted to explore and invoke it.  The real world expects you to be someone, and most of the time you expect you to be that person too.  It is hard to change people’s expectations of you.  But at larp you can be whoever you want to be.  You can explore parts of yourself that you might otherwise be scared to show.  And it is cool, because you are in an environment that promotes oddity, where people are expected to play various roles.  The best larpers are always playing some aspect of themselves.

 

When in doubt, just introduce yourself, says Mike Young:

The most important skill in LARP is your ability to introduce yourself to a stranger.  If you can do that, you’re golden.  And if you aren’t having fun or are bored, talk to the event organizers out of character.  That’s why they are there.

 

It’s OK to be scared, according to Sarah Lynne Bowman, but try to take risks anyway:

Everyone is terrified their first time. Many experienced role-players feel fear even years into the hobby. Do not let fear stop you from participating. Take risks. Role-playing games provide safe, imaginary spaces where you can act outrageously or daringly with little-to-no social consequence. Enjoy the freedom!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Identify the staff of the game or experienced players and ask for help if you do not understand something. New players add a certain vibrancy to the game that seasoned players appreciate, so they will generally want to help you. On some level, though, you must be able to ask for help to receive it. You can also learn a lot by simply observing.

Try to contact the organizers in advance and discuss your character concept. If you have a strong sense of character and some understanding of the game world before arriving to the first session, you are more likely to feel involved. Think about what parts of yourself you’ve always wanted to express, but never had the opportunity. Be experimental!

 

Relax! Avonelle Wing reminds us that we’re all natural roleplayers:

There are out-of-practice roleplayers.  There are unwitting roleplayers. but I’ve never actually met a truly first time roleplayer.

Why is this? Because most children played roleplaying games  of some sort, even if the adults in their world didn’t say “oh, susie! johnny! what strong acting! what powerful plotlines! how gripping your themes!”  Seriously. Cops and Robbers? Combat without a resolution mechanic. House? Collaborative storytelling.  Fort? Campground larping
for the pre-school set.

Who didn’t play Lava Monster on the playground, or spin elaborate tales about the monster under the bed with his younger siblings? Every child who ever shoved Ken’s plastic self into the passenger seat of Barbie’s Corvette so she could drive them to the chapel to get married has roleplayed.

First time roleplayer my foot.

 

Aaron Vanek advises preparation:

Don’t be afraid. You’re not on stage, no one is going to boo you. You probably don’t have to remember lines. GMs and other players will almost always help you remember the rules. Do some prep work, as best you can. Ask yourself three questions about your character to think about–some of this is probably provided by the GMs:
1. Where did this character come from? (backstory)
2. How did they get to where they are now? (what is the character’s personality)
3. Where does this character want to be? (what is their motivation? Why do they do what they do?)
Any answer you can give will give you something to fall back on if you are at a loss on what to do or say.

Take breaks! Not just from any battles, but from role playing itself. It is very difficult for anyone to say in character for four hours straight, especially during the down times–and there will be down times.

 

It’s OK to leave a game, Amber Eagar reminds us:

If you’re not having fun within the bounds of the rules, it’s okay not to return to that game. While you may find a certain genre or style of game more to your liking, don’t ignore all the others because you may just find a surprise gem in there somewhere, or learn something about a style that may just interest you.

 

Michael Pucci says to try out different games to find the one you like:

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are new, and to ask for a hand getting into game.  Gaming is as much about getting together with your friends as it is actually playing the game… so if you walk in letting people know that you are new they will more than likely help you get involved and understand the world.  Understand that gaming is an entire world, and that you will need a little time to catch up with everything that is going on.  Don’t completely judge the hobby on your first experience, but like anything, try different games and different groups until you find one that feels like ‘home’.

___

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

Advice For First-Time GMs

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but with the right advice, maybe it’ll be a little easier.

Today’s advice is for first-time GMs.

Geoffrey Schaller says to keep it fun:

Don’t do it out of obligation, or want for the role of GM – do it because you have a story to tell, to share, and to breathe life into.  Nothing kills a fun hobby quicker than it becoming a chore or job you *must* do, rather than *want* to do.

 

Juhana Pettersson reminds you of human needs:

For larp, it’s easy to overlook basics like sanitation and food. Don’t make this mistake. Hungry players are unhappy players.

 

Keep it simple, Jeramy Merritt advises:

Keep it uncomplicated. I am someone whose brain always wants to turn a short story into a novel and a novel into a multi-part epic. I have no ability to keep things simple, but I try my hardest to keep them uncomplicated. A plot can be complex and yet uncomplicated. The way you do this is by making the beginning and ending of a plot uncomplicated, you explain what is going on, what is needed to stop it, and the consequences for not stopping it. The middle is where you can get away with complexity. Make it difficult for the players to solve the plot, but never make it difficult for them to figure out the plot. 

Running a game is all about mitigating failure. You can never plan for everything your players do.  And when you complicate things they tend to ignore the plot and go smoke hookah (sometimes they will do this anyway). On paper, your amazing plot might cause women to swoon but as soon as it touches reality it is a failure. All you can do is plan for that failure, be flexible, have consequences, and make it seem to the players like you had planned it all along.

 

Sarah Bowman believes GMs should care for the well-being of their players:

First-time GMs should be aware of the massive investment they are undertaking, not just in terms of time, but also in emotional and mental energy. The most important qualities for a GM to possess are patience and compassion. If you are short-tempered you are likely to have difficulties with your players.

Have a clear creative vision for your game and communicate the tone, style, and emphasis up front. Do not expect events to unfold exactly the way you imagined and do not get angry at your players for derailing your carefully constructed plot. Role-playing is a co-creative endeavor. Encourage player-centered plots as much as possible. Respect your players’ feelings. You may technically be considered the ‘god’ of your game, but you are actually providing a service, first and foremost. You are giving people the opportunity to play pretend again and express creativity in a world that generally stifles it. I believe that role to be a sacred duty; do not embark upon it lightly.

Give each of your players an opportunity to shine at some point in the game. Do not kill player-characters lightly. Remember that characters are special to their players. If you must traumatize a character for the sake of the game, make sure to apologize to the player out-of-game and reassure them that you did not mean to harm them as a person. Set up events for your players to socialize out-of-game. A little out-of-character connection goes a long way to maintain a cohesive community.

 

Delegate, says Amber Eagar:

If you’re a senior staff member of staff, it’s okay to get some junior staff members and delegate things to them. Matter of fact I encourage it. Also, make sure you’re communicating information with all other relevant staff members. No matter if you’re a senior or junior staff member, remember why you volunteered for this and what you volunteered for and then do it. Don’t be a flake.

 

Michael Pucci reminds you to think about story arc:

Read the world materials you are going to run, and try not to go to epic too quickly. Listen to your players, make sure you have open communication about what they like and what they don’t like, and never underestimate the power of just sitting back and smiling when players find a hole in your plot. Chances are good they will come up with a reason why it isn’t a hole faster than you will. Also, know when to end a story. One of the greatest downfalls of a new GM is having a story that goes on and on well beyond when the story has finished telling it’s tale. Games are like stories: you need to create interest in the beginning, player investment within the first few games, an engrossing story arc that the players help create, and then the end of a story.

 

Avonelle Wing has a check-list:

Ignore anybody who sniffs officiously and tells you what larp is. Or is not. This is art, and if it moves you and moves your players, there is no “right” or “wrong.” That being said, there are things that will really  make your production “pop”, regardless of how you execute them:

  1. Preparation. Sit down and think through the player experience. Remember, players aren’t actors who are being given the opportunity to participate in your great work. They are customers – even if theydon’t pay you.  You are providing entertainment, and you must remember, at all times, that if you’ve created strife out of character for your players, it will put a damper on the in character experience. Paperwork should be ready when folks walk through the door.  Item cards, character cards, backgrounds. Have them ready beforehand. And not the night before, either. Printers break. power outages happen.
  2. Two: Quality control. For the love of all that is holy, be consistent across your documents and copy edit.  If you aren’t the type to notice that your font changes constantly, or that your background documents are full of grammatical errors, enlist help.  Get your buddy’s English major girlfriend excited about the project and ask her to help you. (Then buy her pizza and beer or cook her dinner to say thanks!)
  3. Three: Production Value.  Decorations, props, NPC costumes. They’re all important to immersion. The more you make the outside world fall away, the easier it will be for your players to become immersed in your world. It took me a while to “get” this. and now, I spend a great deal of time figuring out how to add production value at a good Benefit to Energy Expenditure ratio. My personal secret: Scene Setters are great for hiding a space and making it look more in-genre.
  4. Four: There are no rules. If you have no budget for decorations, skip ‘em and overcome that in other ways. No props because the truck they were in disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle? Skip it. If the game is well-written, and the concept is strong, you can run in an empty basement. Yes, this goes against #3, but if you’re going to do it, do it as big as you can. Pick your priorities and really focus on them. If your game NEEDS awesome props, then build those and ignore the ficus tree decorations.
  5. I call this one the “Crew Blacks Rule.” A stage crew wears black so they don’t disrupt what’s happening on stage and break catharsis for the audience when they do come into visual range. Sometimes it’s unavoidable that a crew member might be seen by the audience. Minimize that impact. Never have decision making discussions in public – always create a GM space with a drape or screen, or go into the hallway. Wearing Crew Blacks isn’t a bad idea, honestly.
  6. Avoid NPC TV. Imagine you’ve put the time and energy into building a costume, perfecting a swagger, creating goals and vices and weaknesses. And you show up to discover that 90% of the “screen time” is going to the storytellers or their buddies. Yeah. No fun. Don’t fall into that trap. Use plants – quasi-NPCs who are tools of the gods, and drive your plot, your timing, your character development, but do NOT give all the fun/juicy/public/sneaky roles to staff and buddies. If there’s a ruling body that meets during the game run, let your players BE the ruling body.  You’ll just discourage and stifle the rest of the game otherwise.

 

Aaron Vanek recommends research:

Participate in as many larps as you can, from player to NPC to staffer, gathering as much info as possible on how a larp was written/designed, and then produced. Designing a larp is a different skill than running one, and not everyone can do both.

 

And most importantly, don’t forget to sleep, Mike Young says:

The larp will take longer to produce and will be way more work than you expect.  Be sure to budget enough time for it.  And sleep.  No matter what, get a good night’s sleep the night before.

__

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Juhana Pettersson is a Finnish journalist, TV producer and game designer. He has published three books and been translated into five languages.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!