My Gen Con Pilgrimage

Gen Con is big. Really, really big. Bigger than any other convention I’ve been to. And although I walked around the convention center and at least four hotels over my three-day stay, Gen Con is so tremendously huge that I know I missed many sections of the convention. More than 45,000 people were there. It is big. BIG. Get it? VERY LARGE.

Just look at how many people came to the costume parade…

 

For this reason, the con felt impersonal at times. A simple trip into the buzzing vendor’s room nearly blew my introvert spoons. Fortunately, I had two home bases — the Games on Demand area, packed full of indie tabletoppers ready to run games for you…on demand! And the Metatopia play  test area, run by Double Exposure, who also runs my local NJ gaming cons.

The one place I could reliably go to for quiet and solitude? The women’s bathroom. So nice to be able to do that.

The People

Praise the great old ones for sending memorable people to Gen Con, because they helped me navigate the huge space. For example, this giant balloon dragon helped me remember where I was in relation to the vendor’s hall. And for a little while, after I first arrived, I navigated by remembering where the pan-Spiderman cosplay league was posing for photos, and where the Renaissance a capella group performed.

There were many wacky outfits — cosplay and otherwise — but really, black is the go-to outfit of choice for gamers. Black t-shirt, perhaps with some joke on it, black pants, and let’s say, visible tattoos. Kilts are also big for dudes — utili-kilts on regular people, but plaid ones for the storm troopers.

Steampunk! Rennaisance! Ghostbusters! This convention had it all.

Also fun: the city of Indianapolis has clearly embraced the con. The food trucks outside the convention center featured gaming-named dishes, for example, “Grilled Cheese: the Nomming.” The bars outside the convention featured wait staff in superhero costumes. Even the homeless panhandlers got in on the action. I definitely saw a sign about an evil paladin dropping someone’s wealth level to zero.

Gender

After arriving at the con by my lonesome, I wandered into the cyclopean vendor’s hall and this assaulted my eyes:

It made me feel like running for a mumu. I wondered whether this is what this convention and culture expected me to be — available for the male gaze, posed like a porn star, garbed in a farcically impractical adventuring outfit. I hoped that this was not the lens that would be applied to me. I don’t think the image would have made such an impression, except it was the first thing I saw at Gen Con, which in turn, was my first big convention.

As a woman at a gaming convention, I expected to be in the minority, so I don’t know why this sort of fan service slapped me across the face. All I can say is that I ran away from this game-playing area and toward the Dungeons & Dragons booth, in hopes, perhaps, that the giant spider lady would protect me with her evilness.

Save me from the male gaze, spider lady!

The Games

I tried out several indie roleplaying games at the  Games on Demand area.

Mouse Guard — in which you play mice adventurers protecting mice villages from the horror of snapping turtles, snakes, and other beasties. Great game design — the permissive mechanics make sense, support game play, and allow for a lot of creativity. But I have esoteric tastes in roleplaying games (it’s a personal failing) and found the game slightly too crunchy for me. I’d totally play it again, though, if I had an enthusiastic group.

Dungeon World — I played in two late-night rights, facilitated by the lovely and talented GMs Jason Morningstar and Jim Crocker. The game has mechanics simple enough for even me to grok, but complex enough to make things interesting. D&D-style adventuring at its most approachable.

The Tribunal — a larp about totalitarian oppression. Mechanics-light, roleplay-heavy. Tense. Serious. Awesome. I want to run it at a local con.

Fiasco — one of the best games of Fiasco I’ve played, thanks to excellent co-players, including game designer Jason Morningstar. The four of us collectively ruined a wedding. We played a sociopathic spendthrift bride, her unstable cousin with tragic gaydar, a bisexual bounty-hunter groom with a cash-flow problem and his hapless agent/ex-lover, who was desperate to get his cut of the new TV deal.

I also playtested a new jeepform game by Emily Care Boss. It was awesome and intense and everyone should be awaiting its release with baited breath.

The Panels

I gave a couple talks that garnered small audiences, full of people who asked really good questions. I went solo on the first two, about how rules-heavy boffer larp reinforces traditional American values (based on my essay in States of Play and some blog content), and about Nordic methods for roleplaying romance.

I teamed up with designers Jason Morningstar and Emily Care Boss on the third talk, an introduction to Nordic larp, with a big assist from some wonderful Finnish people who attended. Morningstar recorded the hour-long discussion, and you can download an .mp3 here. The sound quality degrades at certain points as trains rampage over our panel room.

And be sure to check out the rest of Jason’s awesome talks, available for download at his +Google page!

Nordic Larp in the US?

The coolest thing I learned at Gen Con is that there’s a group of larpers in Wisconsin trying to make a Nordic-style medieval campaign game. They showed up at my panels and even swung by the Leaving Mundania signing down at the Indie Press Revolution booth in the vendor’s hall.

The full awesomeness and detail of their costumes cannot be seen with my cell phone camera.

 

These folks are from Last Hope Larp in Wisconsin. They are interested in getting in touch with some Nordic larpers from the boffer scene to find out how those games work. One of our core discussions, at the panel, revolved around immersion and monsters. Apparently, the game is trying to move away from battles with NPCs as an end in themselves, and has created an NPC race less for combat and more as a source of mystery, to the consternation of some players.

Their rules set is very short for US larp — only about 45 pages.

The Souvenirs

I picked up a few awesome things, a copy of Marc Majcher’s Twenty-Four Game Poemsan awesome booklet of super-short games (less than 1 hour) for two to five people that can be played with minimal prep using stuff I carry in my purse anyway. Get there.

I also nabbed the second volume of Stone Skin Press‘ new The New Hero anthology, a collection of stories. And of course, an advance copy of the new Dominion set for my Dominion-obsessed husband.

But the hands-down winner for best souvenir (for cheapness, uniqueness, and portability) is definitely the moustache monocle, a handy way of transforming myself into my douchebag hipster alter-ego, Joshua:

 

Some Other, Slightly-Less-Good Photos for Your Pleasure

Batman Villain Cosplay

A pop-up gameshow I saw a  couple times that looked like fun. Here, the contestant has 90 seconds to sort the audience by height. And he does it!

Folks spent a long time building elaborate structures out of cards. Then later, as I understand it, you could bid to throw coins destroying the towers. Profits went to charity. This photo is only partway through the construction.

The outside of the lonely convention center after it was all over.

Link Love: Larp Conventions

Shout out to some of the world’s larp conventions. This list would be way longer if I included all the general gaming conventions that offer larp as part of the fun; I tried to keep it to just the larp cons here.

Conventions for talking about larp, meeting larpers, and occasionally larping:

Mittelpunkt — The German Knudepunkt held in January near Frankfurt.

Solmukhota 2012 — This year’s Knutepunkt. April 12-15, Finland.

Odraz — The Czech Knutepunkt, in 2011 it was in April.

WyrdCon — the American Knutepunkt. June 21-24, California.

Larp Symposium 2011 — The Italian Knutepunkt (use Google translate to read it) held in October.

GNiales — The French Knutepunkt held in November in Paris.

 

Conventions for larping in larps:

Chimera — August convention in Auckland, New Zealand

InterCons — conventions sponsored by LARPA that focus on theater-style games. In DC in September and Massachusetts in March.

DREAMATION and DEXCON — General gaming cons with a larp presence in New Jersey. DREAMATION runs in February, DEXCON runs in July.

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

Ars Amandi: The Post-Coital Review

On Saturday at METATOPIA six brave souls — two men and four women — tried out Ars Amandi, a Nordic game mechanic for simulating romance and sex in a larp. I think it went pretty well.

The Mechanic

In a nutshell, Ars Amandi allows players to touch permitted zones (arms, shoulders, sternum, upper back, neck below the ears) using permitted bodyparts (hands, arms, neck). Experienced practitioners say it’s all about the eye contact, and the rhythmic breathing, which allow couples to dial the intensity up and down.

I based my workshop on the detailed account that Swedish mechanic creator Emma Wieslander sent me. The workshop operated a bit like a dance class, with participants swapping partners after short sessions. I functioned as the square-dance caller, telling people where to go and what types of touch or emotion to explore during each segment. While they explored, I watched and kept neutral music on in the background.

The Workshop

At first, we limited ourselves to just the hands, and the pairs rotated until everyone had “met” each other. Folks tried out active and passive roles with their eyes closed, then with eyes open. The permitted zone expanded from hand to elbow. Then, instead of taking on active or passive roles, couples mutually explored each other’s hands and forearms.

During this first leg of the workshop, the participants laughed and talked with one another, across couples, almost incessantly. All the chatter helped them diffuse the tension in the room, but it also helped them ignore the intimacy of touching someone else’s hands. At first, their touching was tentative and very unsexy — they simply tried to touch every different part of their partners’ hands. But by the end of this first phase, they were touching each other with more liquid strokes, and were experimenting with different hand positions. Still, the chatter was protecting them from really going for it emotionally.

During the second phase of the workshop, they graduated to the shoulder. We had discussed the clavicle and neck as a zone of touch, but not everyone was comfortable with that, so we stopped at the shoulders. I forbid talking and enforced it, with the almighty power of the “shh.” For the first few rounds, there were still some nervous giggles, but the air in the room subtly changed, becoming more charged. They tried moving around each other, touching their partners’ arms from behind. They tried breathing more sexually. At first, everyone tried out the novelties incessantly — lots of eye contact, lots of heavy breathing, lots of walking around each other, arms folding together and apart like some swing-dance move. Very quickly, everyone backed off of the new additions, using them more as a garnish to the lovemaking than as its substance. Later, they mentioned how far a very small amount of eye contact goes toward increasing the intimacy.

As the workshop progressed, the sessions between partners lengthened, and we tried playing scenarios — storybook romantic love, oppositional and angry love, a one-night stand, the casual sexual opportunities of a long-term relationship. By this point, each of the participants seemed to have developed a signature style, a method of playing Ars Amandi unique to themelves. The dynamics between different couples differed quite widely, even when I didn’t give them anything specific to play — I saw innocent flirtations and intense, fraught bedroom scenes. Some pairs touched each other with slow tenderness, some almost danced together, others seemed both exploratory and ashamed at time. Beautiful love scenes unfolded.

The Response

Afterward, we all sat down and talked about the mechanic and its possibilities. Here are some of the observations that came out of that discussion:

  • All of the participants felt surprised at how intense the mechanic felt — no one had been prepared for that — and everyone mentioned how exhausted they were after these two and a half hours. People were also surprised that the technique felt so “hot.” A couple folks said they’d be bringing it home to their significant others.
  • As a group, they said they really enjoyed this technique and asked when it might be used in a larp and how this technique might play out in a five-hour convention larp setting. Sadly, I didn’t know the answer to either of these questions. I figure you’d have to require workshop attendance before a game, and I didn’t know whether convention-goers would be willing to give up two slots of time (one for the workshop, one for the larp).In terms of running an Ars Amandi larp, I’m no game designer, but I’d borrow and run someone else’s shorter scenario, if such a thing existed. However, most of the Scandinavian Ars Amandi larps I’ve heard about lasted a couple days and had really complicated staging unsuited to a short convention game. So, Nordic people: are there shorter Ars Amandi games out there?
  • We had some lively discussion about costuming possibilities — velour opera gloves (kinky!) — staging possibilities — wouldn’t chopping celery in the kitchen make for a great, handsy set-up? — and made lots of jokes about everyone being arm sluts now.
  • The participants felt that as the workshop became more intense, everyone got better at enforcing their own limits, typically in a non-verbal fashion. People said things like, “you showed me how you wanted to be touched,” and “you could tell when someone wasn’t comfortable with a specific move.”
  • While the workshop proceeded without interruptions, during the debrief, a couple people tried to walk through our room, despite the signs I’d put up. This led to some interesting discussion — one participant said that she wouldn’t have cared if someone watched the workshop, but that now, in this moment, while talking about her emotions, she especially didn’t want an outsider in there. Several people echoed her feeling, testament, I think, to the power of this mechanic.
  • Some interesting discussion about whether an Ars Amandi game could have a “non-combat” equivalent. Many stateside boffer games, for example, allow players, either by choice or by necessity (in the case of children) to wear a non-combat headband. If you’re wearing the headband, that tells other people not to hit you with boffers. Instead they call their damage from a distance. Would this work in an Ars Amandi game?
  • Ars Amandi ettiquette. A couple people thought it would be fun to write up a little sheet advising hand-lotion, getting the grit out of your fingernails, and gum. At least one of the ladies sighed longingly after another’s manicure. If only she’d known it was going to be so intense, she said, she’d have done the same.
  • General improvements: I could make the workshop better by limiting talking earlier on, introducing a safe word or a specific motion that people could use to ask their partners to back off, just as a fail safe. I could also have done a better job of letting people know when they were about to change partners — several people (very politely) complained that my abrupt cuts had resulted in coitus interruptus. I needed like a one-minute warning method, or a “3-2-1, stop.” Also, a more formal warm-up game might have helped diffuse some of that initial chatter.

Not enough Ars Amandi in your life? Tune in on Wednesday for an interview with Emma Wieslander, creator of the technique.

Thanks to the folks at METATOPIA, Double Exposure’s new awesome game design convention, for making space for this. Rob Donoghue has a really nice description of what the rest of the convention was like.

Advice For First-Time Convention Organizers

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

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

Cater to your audience, according to Aaron Vanek:

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

 

Establish a chain of command, says Avonelle Wing:

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

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

 

Remember the volunteers, according to Michael Pucci:

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

 

Budget extra time, Geoffrey Schaller says:

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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Advice for First-Time Game Designers

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

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

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

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

 

Anna Westerling advocates working smarter, not harder:

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

 

Emma Wieslander has a hundred-point method:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Think critically about other games, says Amber Eagar:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Check out your competition, Aaron Vanek advises:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other First-Time Guides

Advice for First-Time Roleplayers

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

Today’s advice is for first-time roleplayers.

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

Stay calm, says Anna Westerling:

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

 

Emma Wieslander lays out the logistics:

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

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

 

Play where everybody knows your name, Geoffrey Schaller says:

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

 

Explore your own personality, Jeramy Merritt recommends:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

First time roleplayer my foot.

 

Aaron Vanek advises preparation:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other First-Time Guides

Advice For First-Time GMs

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

Today’s advice is for first-time GMs.

Geoffrey Schaller says to keep it fun:

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

 

Juhana Pettersson reminds you of human needs:

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

 

Keep it simple, Jeramy Merritt advises:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Delegate, says Amber Eagar:

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

 

Michael Pucci reminds you to think about story arc:

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

 

Avonelle Wing has a check-list:

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

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

 

Aaron Vanek recommends research:

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

 

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

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

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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!

Well-organized make believe

<em>Philadelphia Inquirer</em>, September 10, 2008On most days, chaplain Mark Ford works for the forces of good, counseling drug and alcohol addicts at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, a nonprofit Christian social-service organization.

But late on a Friday this summer, Ford became “Pope Frig’emall,” a chaos-worshipping cartoon priest bent on bringing evil incarnate to his world.

Feature on LARP for the Philly Inquirer that includes some audio and few characters who may appear in the book.

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 2008