LARP at Play: Doing Your Homework, Part 1

Before I get into the meat of this article’s subject, I wanted to share a couple of things I touched on last article, but I wanted to announce again:

  • Guest Columnists – I’d like to offer a chance for guest columnists to take the spotlight. Do you have a LARP related topic you’re really passionate about and want to share with people? Be a guest columnist! All I ask is that the topic be broad enough that it will appeal to LARPers from many games/genres/styles and your article be in the 500-1,000 word range (a bit over or under is okay). Send an email to webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com with your topic proposal and if chosen you’ll have a chance to take the column spotlight. I’ve already gotten a couple of exciting ones that will be borrowing the spotlight later this year (no, I’m not going to spoil the surprise).
  • “Ask a LARPer” – I’d like to take the column on a slight detour every so often by using an article to answer a reader question or two, rather than just write on a topic. Send a LARPing related question you have to webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com and if it’s chosen I’ll devote an article to answering it.

This article’s subject matter will be spread over three parts (yes, I’ve got that much to say). This article will focus on creators and designers, the second part on organizers and staff members and the last part on what homework a player should do before going out to game.

I realized as I looked back at the articles I wrote last year and some of the comments that graced the articles that there’s a lot of insinuating you should do your homework, but I never came right out and said it. Do your homework! There, I’ve said it. But what do I mean by doing your homework?

I realized I’ve shared this before, but before you even get started writing or creating your LARP there are three points you should consider first:

  • Why you want to: I think this is very important to ask because it can ultimately affect the quality of the game. A LARP that is created or designed for egotistical reasons by will likely run and behave differently, often detrimentally, than a LARP that is created or designed because a person loves to run a LARP and enjoys creating fun for others.
  • 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. Be aware of how the type of LARP you want to create will affect what resources you or others will need in order to put it together and run it.
  • The “audience”: What kind of LARPer is your game going to cater to? Answering this is important because it’ll help you sort out what you should concentrate on during the design or creation vs what are lesser details. 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 this game to be run for?

In one of my earliest articles I wrote that “whether 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.” While I discussed why playing in games is important and good, just playing in games isn’t enough. Play and study other games from other genres and styles, not just the genre and style you plan to create. Many LARPs offer their rulebook as a free download at their website. Grab several. Read them over. As you read over these other rulebooks or play in different games ask yourself “What do I like and what don’t I like from these other LARPs and why?”

Beyond looking over other game systems and playing in different LARPs you should read some books, blogs and forums (and participate on some forums too). While not everything you read will be 100% relevant to every aspect of your project, it’s amazing what good little tidbits you can find and come across. You might want to talk with other LARPers (and LARP designers and creators in particular) to share ideas and learn from others and their experineces. Most LARPers I know don’t mind sharing some tips, tricks and things they’ve learned if they know you’re serious about wanting to learn from them and their experiences.

Before sitting down to design your rules, decide what kind of player you want your game or ruleset to encourage and attract, what expectations you’d like your game or rules to set and then create accordingly. As Monte Cook shared during a game design panel: Your rules set player expectations. The rules are not just about how to play the game, but how to play the game. If the game is a live-combat battle game then the combat section should comprise a significant portion of the real estate in the rule book and be located further up toward the front of the book, otherwise it shouldn’t. You want your rules to stress what they really should stress. These expectations can even be the style of player that you want the game to eventually attract. A game that is supposed to be an immersive social and political game may very well bore someone who would rather just beat up monsters and vice versa.

The biggest thing you should keep in mind: Don’t design in a vacuum. Outside influences can be a boon to the design process and learning from the experiences of others can potentially keep you from making a fatal mistake. Knowing what you want your ruleset or game to encourage in the way of setting expectations can help you direct the game or rules creation in a direction that promotes those attributes or expectations in the game.

Do you have anything else you feel a game designer or creator should consider before diving in? Words of advice you’d share with someone just jumping into this for the first time? Other thoughts?

The next article will be Doing your Homework, part 2. 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, 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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