LARP at Play: Creating a LARP

I’ve spent some good time talking about LARP design and offering some general advice and opinions on various LARP related topics, however I felt it’s now time to give some attention to a topic that’s often asked but finding advice for can be challenging: Creating a LARP.

I think part of this is due to the varied nature of LARP and that the needs for creating and starting up a LARP is as varied as the games out there, yet there are some commonalities. It’s those commonalities I plan to address and should a request be made to go into more detail on a particular point, then I’ll write a separate article on it.

Before you even get started preparing your LARP I feel there are three points you should consider first:

1. Why you want to: I think this is very important to ask because it can ultimately affect the quality of a LARP. A LARP run for egotistical reasons by its organizers will run and behave differently, often detrimentally, than a LARP run because a person loves to run a LARP and enjoys creating fun for others.

2. The type of LARP: The type of LARP will affect the requirements to set it up. A one-shot theater style LARP for a small group of friends will have different needs than a long term, full weekend, live-combat LARP for the masses in order to set up and run the game or games. Be aware of how the type of LARP you plan to run will affect what resources you’ll need in order to put it together and run it.

3. The “audience”: What kind of LARPer is your game going to cater to? Answering this is important because it’ll help you shape your plot, determine how long game will run and when it’ll run and many other factors. A LARP run for children will have different needs than a Cthulhu or fantasy adventure type LARP run for adults. Even the genre can affect who your key audience is. How many people do you intend to run this game for?

If you still feel you’re set to run a LARP then comes the work involved to get it set up, perhaps plot written and characters made and then get it into production. What’s involved here (in no particular order)?

  • System: What is the game’s rules system or will you be creating the conflict-resolution (a.k.a. combat or challenge system) mechanics for your game too. Will you be the designer as well as the organizer? What stuff needs to be in the game rules? PC creation? Special effects or abilities?
  • Time: It’s going to take time to prepare your LARP for play. A one shot, pre written theater style will be easier than a full bore campaign style live combat or a from scratch theater style game. This isn’t something that happens over night. It can take a couple of months to the better part of a year or even more to properly prepare a LARP depending on all that’s involved in its set up. Rush your LARP and it’ll show, give yourself plenty of time. At run time give yourself plan plenty of time for site set up and tear down and making sure all the people that’ll be helping you with running the game are on site before the players to go do a final check and be at their post ready to accept players when they arrive.
  • Characters: Will you be writing all the characters or will others be creating them based on the game rules? If you’re writing them, then plan more prep time because you get to write the PC’s sheets as well as all the background info for them. Yes, if you’re writing the characters you’ll need to provide some background information so people know how you’ve envisioned each character and so they understand how they should portray the character.
  • Plot: What will be happening to the characters? Who or what will be sparking the plot elements? Will the game be world plot driven (controlled by the GMs), player plot driven or a mix of both? Will the plot be created by various conflicts written into character backgrounds or other information handed to the players or events that occur during the course of the game? Exactly what plot you need will depend on your game. Some people like to detail every eventuality that can occur while others do a simple outline noting what may happen and then toss things into the game as appropriate. There is no right or wrong way to write plot, but there are okay and better ways. At bare minimum you’ll want to note what triggers each plot, when different plot elements and NPCs will be needed and key potential outcomes for each plot.
  • Setting: What is the in-game setting and what setting information will the players need to know to accurately portray their characters? Will the setting be one that is pre-created or will you need to sit down and define the setting and the nuances of it? If it’s a pre-created setting is it familiar or common enough that players will be able to understand it with little studying (such as a Firefly based game) or will it be so unique that players will need to do some studying to understand the setting? If they do need to do some studying will they have access to the materials needed to do that studying or will you need to gather and prepare some documentation for them?
  • Location: Out-of-game, where will the game be taking place? A private home or a site you need to rent? If you can, scout the location so you know the layout and space you have to work with and what they’ll allow decoration wise as this can affect the plots you want to run. If you need to rent a location how early or late can you make your reservations? It might be helpful to know if there are other groups (particularly non-LARP groups) who’ve rented space in the area too (such as a large building with several rooms or hotel with several ballrooms/meeting rooms). If there’s a chance of another group and your group running into each other and plan and prepare accordingly by having signs designate areas where it’s okay for your players to wander, for example.
  • Length: How long your LARP will run (and I don’t just mean the number of games in a campaign)? A four hour game will have different needs to prepare for than an eight hour LARP or even a full weekend LARP. They’ll also different costs associated with them. Consider how long your game is set to last. If your game will be a campaign style of game then are you prepared to spend that much time for each game you run (give or take a bit)?
  • Insurance: If you’re playing with just your group of friends you may not need to worry about this. If you end up renting a location for your game, you may need to get insurance. This is also something you should strongly consider if your group grows just beyond your circle of friends.
  • Money: Running a LARP takes money. Exactly how much depends on the LARP and the needs of the LARP. Budget your expenses and do what you can to cut costs. Will you be charging for your LARP or will it be donation driven? If you do plan to charge figure out how much you can reasonably charge. Keep in mind that to many players the higher the price, the higher the expectations from the players in game quality. This topic was touched on in the The “Business” of LARP article, if you’ve not read it yet.
  • NPC costumes: If your game will have NPCs, who is responsible for providing the costuming for these NPCs (most commonly it’s the game organizer)? How elaborate will these costumes be and how many will you need? If you need more tips on costuming, look over the Costuming and You, Part 1 and Costuming and You, Part 2 articles.
  • Decorations and Props: This can include music, special lighting effects, smoke machines, props and even just covering up or removing common room features (like that chair that would just get in the way) and more. Good decoration can help enhance the suspension of disbelief and enrich the atmosphere. What is needed to decorate the game site to add ambiance and atmosphere to the game? Who is responsible for providing this? Just like decoration can help enhance atmosphere, so can props. Having a prop of that really cool Box of Chance beats a 3×5 card hands down. The more you can incorporate props into your game the more immersive it’ll be. Ask yourself, what props will you need for your game? What will be easy to get and what will you need to make from scratch? Is there anything you can borrow from another person?
  • Playtest: If you’re writing the mechanics as well as everything else, playtest the mechanics to make sure that they run well, run smoothly and are balanced. Plan a session or two of your game as a prelude where you test mechanics and work the bugs out, also don’t hesitate to post questions and ideas to LARP forums for feedback from your fellow LARPers or invovle others in the mechanics creation and review.
  • Advertise: Once it’s set you need to advertise your game and get people interested. The article on Recruitment and Retention went into depth on that and is worth the read. Networking is invaluable here for getting new players to try your game, though word of mouth can help too if you’ve helped run or have run quality games before.

If you’re starting your game all from scratch you’ll likely need to cover all those bases. If your game is going to be a part of a larger organization like the Camarilla or The Alliance, they will likely already have answers to some of those points and they become less of a worry. They may also have resources to help you get your game up off the ground, but in return you’ll likely have to agree to certain rules or restrictions (i.e. sign a contract).

Yes, that’s a lot to think about, consider and potentially deal with and that’s where I’d like to share one more thing: Delegate responsibilities. As chief organizer you may have all your fingers in several pies to varying degrees, but have others help you. Your game may have a team for logistics/check in (perhaps with new player liaisons), site decoration, game masters/narrators, advertising and promotion, NPC camp to oversee all the NPCs that are going out as dictated by plot (this also includes all those NPCing for you), and if your game is utilizing its own rules system and will be an ongoing thing a rules team to review and fix rules problems in the system. Exactly what teams you’ll need will depend on the needs of your game and what you identify as needing a team for. Just remember: You can’t do everything, particularly if it’s a large game so you’ll need some other people to help you.

There are several good resources for those wanting to create a LARP in the last article, the LARP Link Dump, particularly in any of the Organizer designated sections. I also feel it’s worth pointing out two fairly recent forum posts related to this subject: Writing LARP (LRP) Games from the LARPA forums and LARP, starting a new group from the Shade’s LARP List forums. I would also strongly suggest you find or purchase a copy of The Book of LARP and read these two chapters in particular: “Pounding the Pavement: A Guide to Runtime LARP GMing” by Gordon Olmstead-Dean and Phil Kelly, pp 35-74 and “On Writing Plots: No Story Survives Contact with the Players” by Miki Tracy, pp 167-174.

The next column will be on The “B” Word – Burnout. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on RPG.net, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there.

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