LARP Design: Play … a lot

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be several columns/articles on role-playing providing my views on game theory, design and general advice for those who run or play LARPs and feedback is welcome and desired. This first column is less on theory or design and more general advice. Weather you’re designing your own system or volunteering for an existing group there’s one key thing that a friend told me who once managed a LARP group: Play.

Often times an individual gets so caught up in their project or whatever volunteer work that they do that they forget why they started doing such in the first place: To return something to the hobby they enjoy. They key word there being enjoy. Why should an individual who is taking time to give back to the hobby take time to play? A few reasons:

  • Fight burnout – A player is able to keep refreshed much more than someone who is constantly working to provide the entertainment for them. An individual who has a healthy balance of playtime and volunteer time is able to give back to the hobby while still remaining an active participant; rather than become so burned out that they step back, perhaps for several months or even years at a time, if they don’t outright leave the hobby.
  • Remember why they enjoyed the hobby in the first place – Remember when you were new to the hobby? There you were, most likely a player at your first game. Your character sheet not yet destroyed by the Mt. Dew spills and being scrunched up in a folder, book or between the living room couch cushions and your dice had yet to get scratched and beat up from use or abuse in that maille/chainmail dicebag. You were full of energy, ideas and ready to hit the ground running and make big things happen. Then something happened and that excitement started to fade into jaded reason as they took on GMing job after another or other volunteer work. I’ve seen that happen far too many times (even to myself) and found out that it was because often times an individual loses sight of why they enjoyed the hobby in the first place: Creativity, expression, storytelling, socializing and so much more without all the added work. It’s those things that’s important to remember and that being a player can help revive that.
  • To help keep a perspective on things from a player’s view – Often times as we dive into more and more volunteer/GMing work we can lose sight of what it’s like to be on the other side of the GM screen/plotbook of doom: What issues a player faces to what kinds of challenges invigorate players vs. frustrate them to what expectations a player has of those who volunteer to GM or help run the games/gaming organization. This is valuable to have, particularly if you’re designing a game system or in an influential out-of-character position in your gaming group. Players make up the majority of any group be it a 5 person gaming group or a 2,000 member hobby organization. If you can’t keep a perspective on what the vast majority of your members need, want and expect then you run a greater risk of making poor decisions that will negatively impact the group/organization.
  • To get ideas and learn by doing – By playing in different games outside your own you gain the chance to see other ideas and concepts at play. Perhaps from this you might get an idea that you could use in your own game that would better enhance your game and add to the enjoyment of your players. Perhaps a different game has found a way to streamline a system so that it runs smoother. On the flip side, you may learn why something that looks good on paper fails to perform when applied in the game setting be it a particular game rule or the way an organization or group works. Reading various rules systems and other design related written works will only teach you so much. Whatever the reason, getting out to play will only make you a stronger game designer and/or game organizer.

Remember that just because you volunteer time to help the hobby or plan to in the future, that does not mean that you are expected to go into player celibacy. Hardly the case. There may be some limitations on the amount of player interaction you can have with the group/organization you’re volunteering in, however I’ve never heard of one who told their volunteers they couldn’t play at all.

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