9 Reasons to Larp Before You Run a Larp

Run a larp

There are still instances (remote areas, countries without larping traditions) which require of larp enthusiasts to organize events before they larp themselves.

This post is not for them.

This post is for all of those who say “oh, but 100km is too far to travel just to try larping” and “but I can’t afford a $2 participation fee for an event”. (Yup, in Croatia it sometimes does run as low as that, often even lower.) This post is for those who think “but I’ve been running RPGs for X years, I’ll make a great larp organizer anyway – why bother playing before organizing”.

This post is for those who still need an excuse for ignorance.

Hope it finds you all well on this wintry Monday!

#1 You may not really know what larping is, after all

You’ve seen it, you’ve read about it, you know people who know people who’ve done it. (You’ve seen Larp and the real girl – not because it’ll help but because lesbian larpers rock.) Still, are you positive you know what it feels like, for players and organizers alike? You don’t really have to dance about architecture to understand it, but you should at least make an effort to offer the best experience to your players – and if you take one thing from this, please do take this – reading is never the same as playing.

#2 Running a larp is most definitely not like running an RPG session

Some future larp organizers (“game master” is okay, too, but most of the larps I’m familiar with prefer the term “organizer”) think that their longtime experience with running pen&paper RPG sessions is enough to know how to run a larp. (Hell it is.) Though my non-larp gamemastering experience is limited to a few GURPS sessions, most of the comments from experienced GMs who dabble into larping can be boiled down to: you can’t control everything. When you run a regular RPG session, you create the world in other people’s heads (sometimes using someone else’s artwortk and concepts, but still) and, most of the time, you can control the direction of the story/plot, adjust for imperfections and poor planning on the spot, respond to players’ ideas immediately etc. When you run a larp, stuff just… happens. The world is what you see around you, not what your paint with your words. If it’s a larp with more than ten players, you can never be everywhere at the same time. The characters in larp are physical beings, not just paper sketches, and they tend to influence and direct the plot in more ways than you could possibly start to imagine. Is that a bad thing? No. It just takes a different approach for everyone to stay happy – players and organizers alike.

#3 In larp, improvisation is not nearly everything

Sometimes, when people try to get a grasp over the concept of live action roleplaying (ugh, I’m so glad that the acronym is the norm nowadays), they think of it as a scene where every participant does what ever the hell they want, making stuff up as they go along, having fun and not caring much for the direction of their character, their plots or the game itself. Having played for almost four years, let me say that while that’s true for some people, some come to an event with more than a clear idea about what they wish to experience. Sure, at a game you’ll meet some players who prefer the “random” approach, but you’ll also meet people who have been preparing for the game for months, who have practiced their characters in front of mirrors (true story from a friend who once played a character with a stutter), and who take the “serious” approach. Your players will probably fall somewhere between the extremes, but it’s worth to see in reality what people can do when they make an effort.

#4 There’s a little more to a character than her “stats”

Larping characterization varies from event to event, and between different larping styles, but in my experience it usually goes a little deeper than hit points and levels of abilites. When you design a character for a story or an RPG (as a writer, player or game master), you’ll get to use some of her characteristics, but not all (unless it’s a longer piece, sure). In larp, you get to play the character, with your body and mind (for some players who tend to go deeper on the emotional level, soul also seems to apply). Even if you don’t have all the answers about her (her life, political views, morality, past experience etc.), it’s more than possible that you’ll profit from finding out more about her to help the story/plot along, as well as have more fun! If you play a regular character on a larp (someone who’s not “archetypal” or a sketched out memeber of the supporting cast), you’ll see what I mean – every little detail can matter. (Also, it’s a bit harder to play, say, a politician, if you actually have to give the speech, not just make a success roll.)

#5 What’s a boffer? (And does it bite?)

Larping is not all doing – some of it is still simulating (at least in most traditions). When you translate a story into reality, you have to use some conventions and representations – rules, safety calls and props – to make stuff not only convincing, but also fair and manageable. It helps to see something in action before you have to explain to someone what the hell “meta, break and cut” are, how to layer medieval tunics properly or why some larps need detailed combat stats, and some do just fine without them. If you’re thinking of organizing something specific, it would probably be best if you can join a game with similar larping traditions as your ideas – because there are boffer larps, there are latex larps, and then there’s the whole spectrum of modern, educational, artsy, experiemental and other sorts of larps…

#6 Plot, what plot? (Plus a note on pacing)

Even if you have help from a seasoned larper, it’ll pay off if you get to experience firsthand how important plot (or the deliberate lack of it) is for larps. If you want advice from a writer (18+ years of stories, 2+ years of larp scenarios) – larp plot can never be underestimated. Always prepare more than you think you’ll need and hope your players add just enough for the event to be as glorious as possible, but not too much to weight down play unnecessarily. Since larping plots (on classic events there are almost always more than one, oftentimes more than two) come from two distinctive sources, organizers and players at the same time, it’s worth to see in real time how it works, so that you don’t end up as an organizing control freak (or a too relaxed of an organizer, too).

If you’ve already made the decision to try larping before running your own game, let me offer you a bit of advice – try to have fun, but observe, too. One of the things which seem to bother people the most is pacing of the game – and while you’re out there, at your first larp or your tenth (but the last one before you run a larp yourself), try to notice the elements the organizers use to help the game along. During ingame time, when did a certain artifact enter play? When did the planned faction meeting take place? When did the shit hit the fan on a certain plotline? More importantly – did it work? And, even more important – now you’ve seen it, would you do it differently?

#7 Logistics

There’s a reason larping gamemasters are called organizers – they literally have to organize stuff. If you’re starting out with a shorter chamber larp and you’ve got the space (or a friend does), you probably won’t have to bother with stuff like meals, parking space, sleeping arrangements, terrain fees etc. (Just make sure the little larpers’ room is in order!) If, on the other hand, you want to start with a bigger event, you’ll have to not only find the venue, but also make sure you use it to its fullest to help the game, to keep the owners happy and your larpers fed, watered and unfertilized (larpers love functional bathroom facitilies). Then there are entry fees, propmaking, site setup… you know, organizing. Find out how others do it so you can keep what you like (the best of them will offer help wholeheartedly if asked, too) and change what you don’t.

#8 The specificity of larping roleplay – it’s worth to see the masters in action

One of the things (there seem to be many) which are the hardest to explain to people who’ve never larped in their lives is the roleplaying aspect. Judging from #2 and #4, you’d say I presume you’ve already been an RPG gamemaster before you set out on the vast ocean of live roleplaying – but, nay! (It’s just that people oftentimes make that transition, especially in geeky Croatia.) It’s easy to explain the technicalities of larping (you go there, you do that while acting as that character), but really acting as another person, doing stuff someone else would find logical and important, portraying an imaginary person in the flesh… well, there’s more to characters than stats, but also more than their biography, their costume and their actions. It’s their believability. If you can participate in a larp game with really great players, you’ll see how it’s done – not because that’s the way to do it (not all of us can bring others to tears with our acting capabilities), but because great players help create a great larp. You don’t have to be one of them to organize a game (though it does help – especially if you end up as a member of the supporting cast yourself), but as a new organizer, you deserve to see the best in action.

#9 It’s always great to meet potential players

Where else would you find larpers for your game? (Other than in Facebook groups and on your fabulous website with all the relevant information, of course.) Even if you’re organizing an event in a relatively remote area, some people will come and play no matter what, just to support you (or a fledgling larp scene). It’s what’s currently happening for the co-alpha and I’s one day Astra larp spinoff (in Croatian). If you make connections at a game, maybe the players will tell other potential players about your idea and they’ll contact you directly. If you’re making a specific larp for a specific type of audience (like a fanlarp), it’s a great idea to ask around experienced larpers to find out who might they know who could be interested in joining…

Bonus reason (like you needed more): Pick your own inspiration

It’s easy to get inspired by larps you only read about (in my pack, we’ll always have the Monitor Celestra), but reading is not the same as seeing, and both of it can’t compare to doing. It’s a fine line, when you go down the road between plagiarism and inspiration (if you cite your inspiration and create the bulk of the larp’s design, you’ll probably be fine), but drawing inspiration from other people’s games is more than okay. What if you’re interested in a horror larp, but you have no idea whether it’ll work? Other than long, lonely nights with Google, you can try to find a horror scenario in you vicinity and see for yourself what works in creating a spooky atmosphere. (You’ll literally feel it on your own skin – if the hairs on your arms stand up, yup, it’s definitely something worth using in your own game!) Other people’s games help with multiple plotlines, too – there will always be better larp writers out there, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to play in one of their larps.

And if you still need convincing, well, let’s just say it’s easier to blame someone who’s never tried something than someone who has just misunderstood something. (Don’t make me resort to desperate measures like comparing larp to Twilight, thank you very much.)

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