Mad About the Debrief

Photo Credit: Eleanor Saitta

Thanks to First Person Entertainment (creators of Doomsday), and along with awesome Americans Jeramy Merritt, A. George, Emily Care Boss, and Sarah Miles, and awesome Norwegians Trine Lise Lindahl, Margrete Raaum, and Tor Kjetil Edland, I helped bring a Nordic larp to Connecticut at the beginning of October.

In addition to organizing, I also played the game, filling in for a player who went home sick. Both roles – that of player and organizer – shaped my experience of the game. And here are a few thoughts:

 

BACKGROUND ON THE GAME

The Mad About the Boy larp took place in a dystopian future, three years after all the men on earth (well, the people with Y chromosomes) died.  We played the game with an all-women cast, organized into trios.

The trios were applying to be part of an artificial insemination pilot program run by the US government, an experiment to decide who would have access to sperm from the sperm banks.

In the first act of the game, a Committee of four people appointed by the government evaluates each trio for motherhood. In the second act of the game, the last man on earth comes crashing into the program, and the women must decide what to do with him.

If you want to read more about the plot of the game, check out the sign-up page. You can also find out more about this Nordic larp thing, and how it differs from other sorts of larp here.

Part of the challenge for the organizers was to present the Nordic style of roleplay to a US audience of mixed experience and to condense what is usually a three or four-day experience into about two days — Friday night through Sunday afternoon.

In keeping with this style of larp, we spent the first part of the game workshopping, helping players understand the setting, develop their characters, and get to know the mechanics. At the end of the game, we held a formal debrief where people talked about their game experiences.

 

THE EMOTION OF LOSS

The guided meditation on the loss of men was the most powerful part of the pre-game workshop for me. We lay on the ground and imagined – as ourselves – where we would be on a usual Wednesday morning when all the men started dying, what we would do and where we would go.

From reading other player commentary, I think this felt powerfully intense and powerfully sad for most of us. I imagined watching men die in the coffee shop where I do most of my writing, then walking to Rutgers, where my husband works as a scientist in a mostly male office. I imagined opening the door to his research pod and seeing him and his colleagues – our friends – dead on the floor of that windowless room.

I had to open my eyes at certain points to dial down the intensity.

And yet, for me, this visualization provided my best in-game experiences. The physical memory of sorrow came out whenever men were discussed. When I met the nuclear family triad, which included Thomas, a trans man, he casually asked me if I’d had siblings. “Yes,” I said. “I used to have a younger brother…” and then I stopped, choked with tears.

The moment surprised me – the tears were involuntary, a reaction of the character, not of mine, making the moment as thrilling as it was sad. Although I didn’t talk about my younger brother in game – his existence recounted in a brief line in my back story, his loss made the disaster personal to my character – it felt unbearably sad to imagine, not just that he was gone, but that the quality of his mischievousness and energy had vanished from the world. Later in the evening, the group would recount stories about this at the party. It was not the last time I choked up in character.

That moment, small and unexpected, was among the most powerful of the game for me, and it felt so private and intimate that it took me days to talk about it.

The moment colored my game, making clear to me that in addition to being a game about women and their relationships, Mad About the Boy is also a game about loss. Later, after the last man entered, I could only stare into the fire. Another character, Christine, who had an unrequited crush on mine asked me, “You look so sad. Why are you sad?” No matter what we did, he was going to die before his time. So I kept quiet.

 

THE FRIENDLY LESBIANS NEXT DOOR

My trio, the lovers, represented a polyamorous triad of women in a love relationship reinforced by business ties. Alex ran a club on the lower east side, where Jo tended bar and sang, and Vicky, my character, worked as an electrician.

My trio had a certain amount of romantic instability written into it, and my co-players and I talked about playing on that and decided we would. Although we’d agreed on this method of play, in practice, we didn’t end up pursuing it. Instead, we quickly became the friendly stable lesbians next door, and at one point the Committee even told us we were models for the new order – they felt children with parents who loved each other romantically would be better off –and asked our characters, in game, to mentor another group.

Thomas and Linn teach Veronica to dance.
Credit: Eleanor Saitta

Naturally, since we ran a nightclub together, we decided to liven up the depressing environment on the three-year anniversary of the disaster by organizing a party after dinner. One character hosted, and people got up and told fond memories of the things men used to do. Of course one of the artists, a prima donna actress, did a burlesque dance featuring a flag stolen from her conservative cabin-mates.

Afterward,  we danced to hits like “It’s Raining Men.” The dance floor provided some interesting roleplay as characters taught each other to dance, while others played out flirtation, jealousy, and romance.

LIBERAL BIAS

 

Introducing the Conservatives

The Norwegian larpwrights wrote the game to take place in Norway. But Norway is culturally different from America, and a post-apocalyptic Norway is different from a post-apocalyptic America. For example, Norway is pretty small and it seems reasonable to assume it’d have similar borders after the apocalypse, but would the US survive as one big country? The US team updated the libretto to better fit our cultural setting – the Professionals probably wouldn’t have a fishing fleet, for example – a construction company fit better. But in general, we tried not to change relationship dynamics within individual trios, or between different trios. (Original libretto is available here.)

We had more players than in either of the original Norwegian runs, so we persuaded the larpwrights to write three new characters, a set of conservative women from New Bedford, Pennsylvania.

The conservative trio, as it turned out, proved to be a lightning rod for thought-provoking play. Out of game, our player base skewed liberal and had some preconceptions about the characters in the trio that created fascinating play.

The Committee’s Contentious Decision

On Saturday night, the Committee gathered everyone together to let us know that the Muslims and the Conservatives would be getting babies. Before the announcement and with rumors that the Muslims would get a baby but the Conservatives wouldn’t, one of the Muslims pled with the Committee to overlook their own bias and give a baby to the Conservatives.

The Conservatives received a baby because the Committee had realized that it was discriminating against the conservatives on unfair ideological grounds. Interesting, since the Committee had searched for a reason to disqualify the Conservatives, that their apparent liberal perspective caused them, in-game, to recognize their own bias and apply a corrective lens.

Later, the Conservative and the Muslim trios bonded over feeling ostracized because of their religion – people had responded to them with pre-set expectations. It was interesting to me that this feeling of ostracism should have affected the two groups that our cultural narrative often pits against one another. And fascinating that this experience, combined with both trios’ respect for religion in general, should have made them friendly with one another.

The Committee’s realization of its own liberal bias against the Conservatives was in itself interesting (though later it came out that they felt that higher ups in the government had mandated a baby for the conservatives) – and it served as a metaphor for the rest of us.

Liberal Assumptions About Conservatives

After the game, the members of the Conservatives talked about how they’d been treated by the other players. As a member of the Lovers, I’d had little interaction with them, but of course, when we met, I felt I could see disapproval of our romantic arrangement on their faces. And we made sure to roleplay our relationship in front of them. Apparently, we weren’t the only trio to do so – even undemonstrative trios not linked by romantic relationships roleplayed the physicality of their relationships through Ars Amandi in front of the conservatives, even if their trios weren’t particularly physical otherwise.

During the debrief, a particularly telling moment for me was talking to one of the conservatives’ players and hearing that she had felt positively inclined toward the Lovers, accepting our arrangement as a necessity, of sorts, in the all-lady post-apocalypse. That created fascinating guilt in me – I had made the assumption that they’d be prejudiced against us, but in fact, the prejudice worked in the other direction. I know I’m not the only one who had this realization.

So that was surprising and unexpected – recognizing that liberal assumptions about conservatives are as damaging as assumptions that run the other way.

AMERICAN VALUES AT PLAY

How the Meta-techniques Translated

We took a bunch of Americans of varying levels of game experience, ranging from experienced larpers to total noobs, and exposed them to Nordic larp. So, did the form of the game make them into Nordic larpers, or did it reveal a quintessentially American style of play?

The answer, as with so many complex questions, is a little of both.

In addition to the Nordic pre-game workshops, the game also employed meta-techniques, ways of breaking the narrative to heighten the drama. (Read more about the mechanics used here.)

If I had to pick a winner out of all of the techniques we tried out, it’d be the black box, a room with lighting and sound that exists out of place and time at the larp. You could go there to play possible or actual pasts and futures, or dreams and fantasies. For example, my trio had a teenage friend who came to our club and performed standup. We started wondering what her conservative grandma would think about her act, so we went and found her trio and asked them to play out our imagined scene for us.

In general, the workshop and black box helped people play in an emotionally intense way, I think, mainly by providing context for in-game action that deepened emotion. Game mechanics influence game play by structuring interactions between the characters. Give them lock pick skills and they will pick locks; give them a black box, and they will play backstory, creating emotional context. The black box in particular also seemed to encourage collaborative play, as players often set black box scenes for each other.

So I feel that we came halfway to the communal play that seems emblematic of Nordic larp, at least from the descriptions I’ve seen and read. Since this form of larp was new to most of us, it was hard to negotiate meta-gaming, the practice of talking out of game to your scene partners about what direction the game might take. Particularly since that aspect of Nordic larp seems at odds with the idea of total immersion, that you’re in game as much as humanly possible. And yet, for me at least, taking time out for black box scenes enhanced my experience quite a lot. And feeling encouraged to talk to my trio partners about how comfortable each of us were with physical contact, for example, helped make me feel safer in terms of roleplay.

I think that workshopping, and the black box are techniques that could easily be exported to many other sorts of US larp.

Unused technique: The Bathroom Wall

I also learned about a meta technique that we did not use from the Norwegians, inelegantly dubbed “the bathroom wall.” Sometimes, in Norway, people take photos of their characters, print them out and stick them on the bathroom wall, where people are often nominally in game anyway. You can write out of game messages to other people on the photos – “ask me about my father” or “my charm bracelet is not what it seems” or whatever. Then, if I have a lull in my game, I can check the wall, and find something else to play on, seeking out that player and asking her about her father, or bringing up the topic of fathers in general. My possibly erroneous sense is that this technique first appeared in medieval fantasy games. It seems like an exportable technique that I’m dying to see used somewhere, by someone.]

US Equality: Everyone Gets a Baby!

The first act of the game had very little visible surface action – we waited to be evaluated by the Committee, and got to know the other applicants. For me, at least, still waters ran deep, as the saying goes, and I felt very emotionally engaged in the game and involved in relationships, both with members of our own trio, and in terms of our relationship, as a group, to the rest of the groups present.

I’ve talked about how the core US value of equality affects larp in other places, and I saw this core ideal affecting the game here too. The Committee, the in-game government representatives, decided on Sunday morning that every trio would get a baby, a decision that ensured that each trio was treated equally on the surface, a decision that circumvented the Committee’s own potential personal preferences, and suggested that the right to reproduce is a fundamental human right. They clearly arrived at this decision after considerable debate. I think it says something intriguing, both in and out of game, about cultural values of equality and the much-touted equal playing field. My trio couldn’t believe that the Artists – an ad hoc group of ladies who wanted to film every minute of the kid’s life from birth until death – made the cut.

As a plot twist, however, this decision ramped down the delicious conflict that had simmered since the previous night’s announcement that the Muslim and Conservative trios would receive babies. And since we were all getting babies, it also altered our relationship to the last man, who rushed in shortly afterward – no trio now required him as a resource for sperm. And I think that helped many of the characters see him as human first.

What’s Our Default Behavior?

In the Norwegian runs of the game, the last man’s appearance kicked off a town hall meeting about his fate.

In the US run, it kicked off concerns of security. As medical staff got the last man comfortable, the Committee took charge, immediately exiling prospective birth mothers to another location to keep them safe from potential disease, and sending the armed outside to guard against the band of women that might be following him. When the last man refused to deal with the Committee, a new band of leadership quickly emerged and decided to get him off the premises, ending the game.

As I watched this dynamic unfold, it reminded me of power and status dynamics I’ve seen unfold in other games. The weekend plot hook appears. Some people take charge and send other people away. Then scheming happens and there’s a surprise ending.

Something about the appearance of the last man read as “weekend plot.” And as a group of American gamers, I think we fell into a familiar pattern. Our hive mind went, “Oh! A problem! We’ll solve the shit out of this.” And solve it we did, in under three hours.

During the debrief, it came out that several different sets of trios had different individual plans to get the last man out and away. Some people wanted the play to continue on longer – the party spiriting away Isak had plans to open the play back up to involve more of the players.

I felt comfortable ending the game where it ended – we told the players upfront that once it seemed like we’d made a decision about what to do with the last man, they’d play the music that ended the game. With so many plans and intrigues at play, I felt that the individual plan carried out wasn’t important – it was enough that one of the fragmented plans succeeded. Many people had the same idea – to spirit away the last man to an undisclosed location. Though only one of these particular plans came to fruition, it felt like the group objective had been achieved. That we resorted to plotting and planning and hierarchy seemed like a thematic resolution to our group dynamic, if not to the plot point itself, and to me, establishing that order felt like enough of an ending.

I don’t want to privilege one style of play over another here – I felt the end of our game was a perfectly valid and interesting end, and though it was unsatisfying to some of the participants, then that dissatisfaction is part of the bleed, perhaps. I found it interesting because it revealed our inclination or our willingness to accept hierarchy so long as no great wrong was done. I know my trio, gun-less though we were, would have leapt up to defend Isak’s humanity if we thought it had been under real threat from the government.

 

DEBRIEF RESPONSE

 

We did some formal debriefing – meeting in various sizes of groups over a couple hours to talk about what aspect of our characters we’d take home with us, and what aspect we’d leave behind, our most meaningful moments, etc. We talked about what real-world dynamics we saw in the game, and how we might bring the things learned in this space back out to the real world.  We also gave everyone debrief buddies – designated partners to talk over the game experience with.

During the debrief, Trine, one of the original Norwegian writers, told people something like, “You think we’re being excessively conscious of your feelings now, but we know from experience that you’ll feel differently in a few days.”

People were surprised how much their emotional involvement continued.

The day after the larp ended, the group’s floodgates opened, with people writing in to ask if they were the only people still emotionally affected by the game. There was a flurry of activity on the email list, and I had many personal exchanges with other players.

For me, I had a double larp-hangover. As a player, I was sorting through the emotional experience of play. As an organizer, I had to deal with feedback through that lens of emotion, and through the fog of a cold I had caught. For more than a week, I felt emotionally raw, unable to accept kind words about the game as praise, and unable to accept critique – even reasoned critique – without a disproportionate emotional reaction.

From the email list, I also have the sense that the game created a community that will yield future collaborations. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens.

We asked male staff members to dress as women during the game, in order not to disturb the frame of the game.Credit: Liz Rywelski

 

OVERALL

 

Considering that this is one of the first such game run in the US, and that the organizers had a whole slew of things to translate from a Nordic audience to an American one, I think the game went pretty smoothly. Of course, nothing’s perfect, and we could have done a better job with a few things — communicating with the player of the last man, including an opt-out mechanism towards the end of the Ars Amandi workshop, and meeting a few more times in our organizer group. Other people may have had different views of the experience, but all things considering, I’m satisfied with how the game turned out and the response from the players has been largely positive.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

 

Others Write About Mad About the Boy

Linn’s player’s real time debrief on StoryGames.

The Last Man’s debrief on StoryGames.

Organizer Jeramy Merritt’s take.

One of the Wealthy Women’s players writes about her experience.

I’ll link more here as they appear…and there’s some official documentation in the works too!

 

This Week in Larp: Web Series

Larp is blowing UP y’all. Two new webseries have arrived. Realm of LARP is a reality series released via the Nerdist YouTube channel, and will launch next week. In the meantime, they’ve got a teaser that explains what larp is:

This same week, Larry the LARPer, a cute show about a hapless hero who just wants to larp, also made its debut. (Hat tip to Larping.org):

In larp news locally (NJ-CT-PA), the sci-fi game Doomsday — run by several of the wonderful people who helped me produce a Cthulhu larp for my book — kicked off its campaign.

And in other roleplaying news, Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games, creator of Fiasco, my favorite RPG, has a Kickstarter up for his new game Durance, a game about a dystopian future penal colony.

Finally, y’all can catch me at Wyrd Con in Costa Mesa, CA this week at a variety of events. I’m giving a talk on US larp as metaphor for American national values, and running a couple jeepform games and an Ars Amandi workshop. Of course, there will be copies of Leaving Mundania available too.

Leaving Mundania Bonanza

From my May 30 reading at WORD in Brooklyn.

Since I last wrote with an update on Leaving Mundania, the book has been cooking in the media. I’ve been podcasted, broadcasted, filmed, questioned, and written up in a variety of awesome outlets, both big and small. In case you missed one:

  • My radio-crush Brian Lehrer, who covers NYC for the local NPR station, interviewed me last Friday…and we took calls from listeners! The tape is available here.
  • According to the June Vanity Fair Fanfair feature, “Lizzie Stark valiantly throws herself into the sword-swinging world of live-action role-playing games in Leaving Mundania.”
  • I’m batting like 100% in geek parenting media. Nicole Wakelin interviewed me on Wired.com’s Geek Mom podcast, while Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf wrote up LM for Wired.com’s Geek Dad blog, noting “Stark not only did her homework, she got an A+…The book is full of insightful and expertly written commentary by someone who knows of which she speaks.”
  • Over at Tor.com, Shoshanna Kessock writes, “That Leaving Mundania is both well-written and well-researched is no question. The book is gaming scholarship at its best and most accessible, easy to read and heart-felt.”
  • Eugenia Williamson over at The Boston Phoenix ran a really nice interview.
  • The Good Men Project posted an excerpt from the book.
  • Kirkus Review has finally made their write-up public. “Rich, unexpected and compelling…Stark’s keen observational skills and crisp writing style successfully cut through those hackneyed stereotypes to reveal the very real people who are drawn to deeply imaginary worlds.”
  • Unshelved had some nice things to say, even recommending LM to a churchgoing friend with conservative views on roleplaying games.
  • On Examiner.com US larper Rob McDiarmid called the book “the most complete and accurate description of the hobby and its community to date.”
  • Fringe ran a tongue-in-cheek interview. So did Footsoldiers of the Apocalypse.
  • French larper Thomas B. says “Lizzie Stark blew my mind” and claims LM deserves a spot in “the Holy Trinity of Larp Books.”
  • American larper and Doomsday organizer Jeramy Merritt, who appears in LM, spills the beans on how to access the secret personal attacks chapter.
  • Modern Myths posted video highlights from my May 12 reading at their Northampton, MA store. There are four clips in all, and the latter ones dig into some fascinating audience discussion.
  • NYCers can catch me in Brooklyn at WORD tomorrow at 7pm, reading with James Higdon (Cornbread Mafia) and Andrew Blackwell (Visit Sunny Chernobyl!) reading from their books on pot and pollution, respectively.

Some folks have been asking for the ebook version of LM. It’s available from IPG.com, Barnes & Noble, and Google.

When to Retire Your Character


 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.

Living forever gets old fast, so today we look at the question: How do you know when it is time to retire a character?

Mike Young:

When your story arc has ended.

Aaron Vanek:

When I get bored of playing it. This might be after one night, or one year.

Know the signs that it’s time, says Kate Beaman-Martinez:

It’s difficult to know when it’s time to retire a character, but there are signs. One is that you don’t have any more stories to left to tell about her. I have played the same character for almost a decade now and I am finally closing the chapter on her as PC and turning into an NPC. Its taken a long time for me  to realize that she was done and it was hard letting her float off into the sunset , but I knew that I had learned all that I could from her and it was time to move on.

Keep it fun, Geoffrey Schaller advises:

[Retire] when you’re no longer having fun playing them.  If there’s nothing new to do, to explore, to challenge you – if the act of getting into character no longer holds joy for you – it’s time to move on.  You and your character are in a relationship, and if it gets stale, it can end, like any other.  That relationship needs to be maintained, like any OOG one.

Remember that it’s OK to retire, because larps are stories, not simulations of real life, Jeramy Merritt reminds us:

There are three reasons to retire a character.  1.  The character isn’t fun to play.  If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you should be, and maybe it is just time for a change.  2.  You’ve stopped having anything to work toward.  If you’ve lost character momentum, you’ve likely lost the character.  3.  You’ve finished your story.  This is the odd one.  Most players think of their character in much the same way they think of themselves.  Let’s say the entire goal of your life has been to get married (trite I know, but stick with me).  And let us say you accomplish this goal and immediately kill yourself because, well, you did what you set out to do, not really anywhere for you to go from here.  Silly right?

That I think is the problem players have with retiring characters, they mistake the lives lead in game as simulations of real life.  While in some ways this is true, the difference between a character and you, is that you can get married and just retire that character because you’ve completed your goals.  Retirement doesn’t mean always mean death.  In the best cases it just means that the story you wanted to tell with that character is over.  Larping gives you the opportunity to tell a story, and a story isn’t the same thing as a life.

Michael Pucci says trusting your gut:

When you feel your character’s story is over, then it is time to either retire or shelve a character.  There is no one definitive time to say a character should be retired… often time it is a gut feeling that you have.  If you feel burnt out on a character you should try shelving the character, or working with the ST staff on introducing a new aspect to the characters role play.  However if you feel you have ‘lost that loving feeling’ for a character, then perhaps it is time.

Sometimes, external factors like injuries play a role. Rick McCoy:

In a campaign based setting, death can come for your character before the story is done with. In the case that this doesn’t happen, most players want to stay the duration of the campaign. The story is not done, after all. But sometimes, there is a want, even a need for a change…You are the fighter, the tank, the go get em’ combat monkey. But you recently threw your hip out at the last game, and the amount of injuries you’ve sustained (hell, you’ve been this a while) is substantial. You are no longer cutting it. Time for a change – but the character is too proud to back down…maybe one last glorious charge at the next over-nighter, and start working with the Plot team for a new character concept that won’t push your physical limitations as much?

You are the the archeologist – working for a mercenary outfit hasn’t been so bad. In your trips across the dark areas of Africa, and the ancient rain forests of South America, you’ve been able to see much that your colleagues back home are furiously envious of. But in all the escapades you’ve been in, when the worse that can go wrong does – you’ve always been so amazed at the gunmen in the group. You even started to ask one of them to train you in using his handgun, and you are quite good at it. But your character concept is optimized for other skills, and so your real world skills offer little benefit. Now the inventor of the group – he could surely do your job?.. and the last game the party was almost wiped by large apes that came from no where…maybe you’ll talk to the storyteller of how you could retire and bring in a new sharpshooter…

Retiring a character doesn’t mean saying goodbye for every, Sarah Lynne Bowman says:

You’ve asked probably one of the most difficult questions for Campaign-style play! Sometimes, when I think a character has run his/her course, hit a rut, or is no longer interesting, the character evolves in a way that completely surprises me and gets a second wind. I find that my characters are reflections of fragments of my personality, so even if a character has been “retired” for several years, they may resurface in other games with new insight, direction, or growth.

Endings are less important for me than moments within the game over the course of the character’s tenure. Other players feel the need for their characters to have a clear and decisive end before they can move on, either as “in retirement” or through a “good death” — in other words, a meaningful and fulfilling ending to their life. Even when my characters “end,” they still remain part of me, as if they were stuck in a sort of suspended animation, so they tend to pop back up in different times and places. This phenomenon is especially common since I’ve been a Storyteller regularly; so many personalities — both PC and NPC — have evolved through my game play that they emerge at surprising points in time.

Make your death meaningful, suggests J. Tuomas Harviainen:

In Nordic larps, we rarely play to win, so if it’s a dramatically suitable moment and won’t rob me of too much playing time, the character can “retire” by dying in a manner that contributes to the game. I very rarely play in campaign games these days, so I don’t encounter the need to actually retire a character that often. In such cases I have asked myself “would it be logical for this person to stay in this place? and if the answer was a definite no, I have retired that character, while he or she has in-game left town.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.

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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.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

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

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.

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.


How To Find the Right Game

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.

Today, we look at two questions. First: How do you figure out what you enjoy in a game? 

Rick McCoy recommends researching games before playing, and trying to get to know the larp troupe outside of the game:

Talk to people before playing the game. Get a sense of the style of play before you actually make a commitment. Talk to an Advocate from groups such as LARPA or the LARP Alliance. But do try everything, if you can. You might be surprised at what you thought was lackluster or boring turn into an element of the game environment that you relish every time you play.

Elements you might enjoy in a larp are similar to what you might get out of a tabletop game (if you are so inclined), an MMO, a murder mystery. Note that just because you enjoy something in game, doesn’t mean it has to be in game. You could love to roleplay, be at a Battle Game, fighting your heart out and role playing the heck out of your character – taunting other fighters, being true to the character you created.

Also note, you can’t judge a genre or style of game on one circumstance. There is a chance that the one time you try out a Vampire game, that the Players  are welcoming, explain the rules, and you’ll have a great time and fit right in. There is an equal chance that you will try it out, only to be ostracized or feel alienated. Roleplaying might have a lot to do with how a larp group interacts with you – if possible search out for the rare hang outs that happen between events. Fighter practices, a dinner or summer picnic outing – most groups have social interaction outside of the game environment. Taking the time to get to know people is the best bet to raise the odds that you’ll find a group that you fit into. The one guy that decides your cool enough at the dinner party might become your Mentor at a Vampire event…the young woman who taught you how to swing foam at a fighter practice will recognize you at game and might come to your aid when you most need it.

 Cast a wide net, and remember that it’s OK to leave a game, Jeramy Merritt says:

Start by trying everything and being open to things you might not have thought of before.  For first time weekend larpers, I’d suggest NPCing your first event for this very purpose.  During the downtimes ask if you might be able to go out as this race or this class so you can get an idea of where you fit in.  If you come to PC, don’t build a brooding antisocial outsider and complain that no one wants to be around your character.  Ask questions, find out where you fit in, and always say yes to opportunity.

On the other side, it is possible that a game just doesn’t work for you.  If you hate pickles, you shouldn’t force yourself to keep eating pickles until you like them; I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work.  You should be having fun, if you aren’t having fun, find out why.  Part of every game is making your own fun, but the game should facilitate that, and you shouldn’t be relied upon to make all of your fun.  If the game isn’t providing that for you, and it is possible that even a well run game won’t do it for you, then you probably shouldn’t be there, and moreover you shouldn’t force yourself to be there.

Mike Young and Aaron Vanek recommend post-game analysis as a way of figuring out what you like. Mike Young:

Oh, it takes years and years of experience.  There are many people out there who just want to have fun without knowing what that means.  Every time you play in a larp, analyze what works and what doesn’t work.  Then go from there.

Aaron Vanek:

These answers rarely come to me as they are happening; it’s almost always upon reflection, hours, days, or even weeks later. I’m usually to busy being “in the moment” as best I can to reflect on the moment. I want to squeeze ever last drop out of the fruit before I taste it to see if i like it. I try to spend time to reflect on the last larp. I mull over what happened, why I did what I did, what I could have done differently, what I should have done, what was cool, what was not, etc. It usually involves cocktails bending my wife’s ear (though she often plays as well). So I don’t know if a larp or larp group isn’t the right fit until after at least one event.

Think about the kind of community you want to be a part of, Sarah Bowman advises:

I look for players that enjoy in-depth character development and who believe in staying in-character as much as possible. While more sily, light-hearted games are occasionally fun, I get annoyed when players break character too often or attempt to dispel emotional intensity. I like games that provoke conversation, thoughtfulness, and emotional impact. Plot-centric games tend to interest me less. I also dislike “hack-and-slash” games, where the “point” of the game is to kill things and level the character.

I also tend to dislike player-versus-player conflict, unless diffused properly by out-of-character socializing. In my opinion, some players enjoy role-playing as a form of power trip or abuse fantasy. While I do not find anything inherently wrong with this mentality, I feel that the community as a whole and the players within it should be treated with respect out-of-game. Lately, I bow out of games where I do not feel emotionally safe with the other players. If in-character events are weighed as more important than out-of-character relationships, something in the game is broken, in my opinion.

So, now that we’ve got a handle on what to look for in a game, How do you know when a game or group isn’t the right fit for you? 

Trust your gut, says J. Tuomas Harviainen:

If I start feeling that I am not enjoying the play in that particular group or game, I either try to negotiate the problems away, or I leave the game. In my experience it’s mostly a gut feeling, an instinctual reaction, which can rise from many smaller factors. Sometimes it’s because I can’t stand the way some other players play (especially a lack of commitment to preserve the illusionary reality of the game tends to annoy me), sometimes because the game masters aren’t doing a proper job in plot design. Both are rare experiences for me, but they do happen. My personal pet peeve are players who can’t separate character actions and morals from their, or my, real ones.

Most importantly, remember that games are supposed to be fun. Michael Pucci:

If you go, and it’s fun… you have found it.  If you go on a regular basis and it feels like an obligation, then you need to try a new character or a new game.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Are you having fun?  You don’t play a game to make money (unless it’s gambling), and you don’t play because you HAVE to.  If you’re not having fun, stop playing that style, or that game.  Some things can be addressed – character concept, minor rules issues, or the people you are hanging out with.  Others, such as the theme for the overall game or the physical location, can not be changed as easily.  Don’t force yourself to be miserable.  Don’t be a Drama Llama about it, but do what makes you happy – that’s the point of playing.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Groups come and go, and the same goes for a figuring out if you fit with a game. if you go to a doctor and say “doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the Doc replies, “Well don’t do that.” If you aren’t having fun with a game, don’t do it!

But if you want to like a game and are having a hard time settling in, talk to the GMs, go to the Storytellers. It’s their job to help YOU have a good time, why do you think you’re paying them? In my experience as a GM, I would much prefer a player come to me with a problem than sitting, sulking and then leaving when I could have fixed it. Use your resources and if those resources are scary, talk to a friend and they might be able to help you get past the scary ST. Be active with you enjoyment, don’t just sit back and wait to be served. That’s just lazy.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.

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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.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

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

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.

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.

How To Create A Fun Larp Character

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. Today’s question: How do you create a character that is fun to play in a larp?

Know thyself and thy game say Mike Young and Michael Pucci. Mike Young:

What I try to do is figure out what I want out of the larp.  Do I want adventure? romance? sitting around roleplaying?  And then I try to create a character that focuses on that area.  I work with the GMs and the other players to make sure that the character works well with the larp.

Michael Pucci:

A lot of what makes a character fun for a player concerns what it is that the individual player is looking to get out of their gaming experience. Some people enjoy characters focused on action and adventure; some people enjoy social manipulation and politics. Making a character that will allow a player the opportunity to have dynamic social ties, become involved in the aspects of gaming you enjoy, while still offering the opportunity to grow with the character almost takes a degree of self analysis to understand what it is that you want to take from a gaming experience.

The second step is to ensure that this basic want that you have for your gaming experience fits in the game you are going to. If you want a high adventure experience then a politics heavy socially driven larp may not be your best choice. Similarly, if you are looking for a complex social and political dynamic then a game that focuses more on ‘monster of the month’ than social dynamics probably is not the game for you.

Lastly, while networking with other players is a great way to have fun at a game, many gamers fall into a common trap. Oftentimes newer players will completely base their characters history and drive for coming to a game on the background and interactions of another already established player. While an established character can do great things for introducing you to a game, if the character you design is dependent on someone else, then you can quickly find yourself without purpose, drive, or reason to exist if the established character is missing or preoccupied.

 

Larp is a social venture, so for the love of Cthulhu, don’t roll up an introverted character, say three of my experts. Geoffrey Schaller:

Ultimately, you are at the game to have fun as yourself, as the player.  Larping is also a social activity – if you want to have fun being alone, you shouldn’t be playing a larp!  Make a character that interacts with other people, either friends you already have, or new ones you’d like to make.  Part of the joy of the game is meeting, and working with, new people – both IG and OOG [tr. in-game and out-of-game] – and exploring those relationships.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Make someone you can sustain. Seriously. Not everything is playable. For a first-time larper, don’t make the mistake of rolling someone who is quiet and or shy unless you plan on breaking that barrier in some way. Pick something that will get your character moving so you aren’t stuck at the inn wondering why no one is talking to you. Take a personality quirk and blow it out of proportion. You have to take responsibility for your own enjoyment. If the concept makes you giggle, you may have hit character gold. Run it by some of your friends and see if it’s something that could be fun to play with.

Rick McCoy:

Don’t create an introvert. Not unless you want to have zero interaction at game. Unless other players are somehow forced in some way to interact with you, your character’s aloofness in game will work against people being able to interact with you.

If you have the opportunity, plan ahead and create a character that is attached to either the theme or the in-game environment of the larp. Think and plan the character’s dynamics within the environment. Making the character interesting with unique history or personality traits that you hand craft make that character enjoyable to play. This won’t work with all larps, but would work for many including those with an ongoing campaign setting.

Come in with a group! Create a group dynamic that allows you to trust and support the group you come in with. Not to dominate, but to support each other. A sense of knowing someone has your back allows you to feel more natural and at ease in a game environment, and the group dynamics you create prior to (the group is a seasoned group of mercenaries that have several years campaigning together, etc.) and during the event help with the enjoyment you will get roleplaying.

 

Create a round character — someone with social relationships and psychological complexity — and stand out from the crowd by creating conflict, say Sarah Lynne Bowman and Anna Westerling. Westerling:

Think of three things. First what would you like to play, what does your instinct tell you would be fun? If you have a clear vision of or a feeling for a character that you want to fulfill it usually works out great.

Second, in what social context/story will your character function? If everybody else plays shy, it might be a good thing to play an outspoken character. Make a contrast and create action. Another example is if everybody is pro-revolution, it will be more fun for all if you are anti-revolutionary and create a conflict to act upon.

Thirdly, make sure your character has meaningful relationships, family, people they care about etc. Because it isn’t fun to be alone, and when the larps evolves you can react to what happens to your loved ones.

Bowman:

For me, the most important component for my larp characters is psychological depth. I need some form of backstory in which I establish my character’s motivations and previous relationships in order to get into the headspace of that individual. I also must establish his or her position in the socio-cultural strata of the world. When/where was the character born and raised? Does the character hold a high or low place in society? What are the character’s formative experiences? What does the character wish to accomplish? Sometimes, these goals may remain vague, such as, “my character wants to have a stimulating conversation.” Other times, the goals may be more explicit, such as, “my character wants to avoid her former lover at all costs to save face.” Generally, though, my character motivations and goals evolve through interaction within the game world. If an intriguing puzzle is presented, for example, I may feel compelled to attempt to solve it; alternately, my character may remain completely disinterested if psychologically motivated in another direction. Establishing a basic psychological framework, in way or another, is key for me to feel immersed.

 

Even though it’s a larp, be yourself says Jeramy Merritt:

Don’t start building a character by giving yourself traits that you don’t have in real life.  Larp is acting, and while you can fake it for a while, and perhaps some extraordinary people are good at faking it and remaining genuine, for most of us, something that doesn’t feel like ourselves will end up being fun to play for about two hours before we want to retire the character.  Creating a good character is all about building on aspects of yourself, exaggeration rather than fabrication.

Or, don’t be yourself, says Aaron Vanek:

What is fun to me is always challenging myself to play someone new or different than what I’ve played before. I love to fluctuate between Goebbels and Ghandi, or Caligula and Jesus the Christ. I also enjoy playing historical figures, or modeling my character after them, because I enjoy the research.

It’s sometimes easier and more liberating (fun, I guess) for me to get into the head of someone else and ask “What would they do here?” as opposed to playing myself–even an idealized version of myself–and doing what I would do.

 

And finally, J. Tuomas Harviainen tells us, combine the big three vectors of character — motivations, traits, and social bonds:

Given that I nowadays write mostly mini-larps that can be run by anyone, I strive to create an optimal balance between memorability and information. Effectively, I try and write characters that are as short as possible (so that the player can remember it all) yet contains as much playable material as possible. By combining strong character motivations, some easy-yet-fun-to-play personality traits, and good connections between the characters, I believe I can facilitate interesting character play. Note the emphasis on “interesting” – I do not believe that all larps should be fun, but I believe that all should be interesting to play.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.

__

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.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

Other First-Time Guides

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 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!