LARP Design: A Designer’s Reading List

Not long back I was chatting with a friend and fellow LARP designer and we came to the conclusion that if you want to design, you’ve got to read various written works as well as play and study various games and systems. What should the discerning LARP designer read or have on their reference shelf (even if that shelf is virtual)? Below is a list of papers, books, forums and other resources which I feel are must reads for any LARP game designer:

Book of LARP
It’s now out of print, but if you’re lucky to find a copy, read it (if not buy it then read it). In short this is a guide to writing and running LARPs written by many popular theater style LARP writers. It’s a very basic book and makes a good primer and entry point for game design as well as covering other aspects of running a LARP, particularly for those who plan to create and run theater style LARPs.
Book of LARP

Shade’s LARP List forums and LARPA forums and resources
Both of these forums are wonderful resources for a LARP game designer and I strongly encourage participation on both. While I advocate participating and reading all the various boards on both forums, each does have a few key ones which a game designer should make sure to visit regularly.
Shade’s LARP List forums – The Organizing LARPs in particular, however there’s also a lot of really good stuff in General Discussions too. Making and Buying Stuff is a good spot to stop if you’re trying to track down costuming, props and other LARP equipment.
LARPA forums – LARP Theory and LARPA General Discussions are must read forums with Logistics and Nuts and Bolts following up those two.

Planet LARPA blog aggregator (and not just because I’m on it)
A write up in the LARPA forums on this best describes what this is: “Planet LARPA is a LARP blog aggregator — the goal is to create a central source for accessing LARP theory blogs on the web.” Some very good, if not the best, LARP Theory writers within the States are included here. It’s worth the read and watching, particularly if you subscribe to the aggregator’s RSS feed.
Planet LARPA

Rules of Play
This is a must read for any serious game designer after they’ve digested some of the other basic bits above. It is a hefty book and a heavy read at a whopping 688 pages, but a good read. While it’s commonly found within computer game design section in bookstores, the principles it discusses are important to any game designer. The MIT Press website shares the following on this book, “Written for game scholars, game developers, and interactive designers, Rules of Play is a textbook, reference book, and theoretical guide. It is the first comprehensive attempt to establish a solid theoretical framework for the emerging discipline of game design.”
Rules of Play

Knutepunkt Publications
These publications are companions to a yearly Nordic LARP conference called Knutepunkt and each publication discusses LARP theory. Since 2001 (with the exception of 2002) there has been a book to accompany the conference with the books since 2003 eventually being released in PDF format for free download. Below are links to the books for each year available:
As Larp Grows Up 2003 (links to a ZIP file that has the PDF book inside), book’s website
Beyond Role and Play 2004 (links to a PDF file), book’s website
Dissecting Larp 2005 (links to a PDF file), book’s website
Role, Play, Art 2006 (links to a PDF file), book’s website
Lifelike 2007 (links to a PDF file), book’s website
Playground Worlds 2008 (has yet to be released in a free PDF), book’s website

International Journal of Roleplaying
I feel that the website for this particular publication does a very good job describing it: “The aim of The International Journal of Role Playing is to act as a hybrid knowledge network, and bring together the varied interests in role-playing and the associated knowledge networks, e.g. academic research, the games and creative industries, the arts and the strong role-playing communities… .
“The International Journal of Role-Playing is a response to a growing need for a place where the varied and wonderful fields of role-playing research and development, covering academia, the industry and the arts, can exchange knowledge and research, form networks and communicate.”
International Journal of Roleplaying

Other Resources
The following are other resources that have been suggested as a must read for a LARP designer:
* Trace suggests The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. Trace shared that “This book is divided by culture (including ‘Fantasy’) and by gender, offering wonderful suggestions and meanings for men’s and women’s names. Each section also has a brief primer on the types of surnames in that culture, including any patterns in their use. This is a wonderful tool for avoiding writer’s block on silly names, avoiding the temptation toward overuse of silly names, and for adding some local color to a game.”
* Conor suggests Age of Propaganda by Anthony Pratkanis. Conor shared the following on this book, “It’s not a book on Larping or Game theory or anything like that – rather – it’s a social-psychology text on methods of persuasion. The man who wrote it wrote it as a guideline to protect people from being easily swayed by the various forms of persuasion that exist… the only protection that he knows of is knowledge of the techniques themselves. However – with that knowledge also comes the knowledge of how to use them to persuade people. It’s a truly fascinating read – and – for anyone trying to weave a story that may or may not depend on being able to manipulate and/or tempt various player-characters with various NPCs, I feel that it’s a very, very handy text.
“It’s also got interesting information on how cults are formed, mass hysteria, and other such forms of social-psychological phenomena for larger populations…all of which I feel are more than interesting for people trying to run a game that may deal with those subjects – or – for anyone trying to represent an accurate reaction of a population (which people running games must often do, as a reaction to PC actions). I’ve personally found it a very useful text over the years.”

It may take you a while to grasp some of the deeper concepts of some of the above items and that’s okay. Also, re-reading things that you’ve not read in a couple of years is a good idea too. As you re-read you’ll find new ways to look at things, concepts that were blurry before may be easier to follow and you may learn new things the next time you read it.

For those that are designing or have designed a LARP, were there any books, sites or other resources that you found that had invaluable information that you feel someone new to designing should read at some point or another?

Next week I’ll be exploring Larp and Gender, a topic suggested by a friend. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at RPG.net (see the link below for this article’s forum thread), write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or visit the Mortalis Games site to see what else has been shared or leave a comment there.

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