8. Thirteen (more) tips for larp organisers
Based on the positive reception for my previous blog post — titled “13 tips for larp organisers” — I decided to follow it up with a sequel. It may not be as interesting as the original (sequels seldom are), but on the other hand, it might strike a nerve somewhere anyway. So with no further ado, I give you “13 (more) tips for larp organisers”)
- Try to figure out what you want to say with the larp. Are you trying to showcase how morality can be expensive in harsh conditions? Do you want to experiment with gender roles? Is your ambition to create a believable orc village? You don’t have to have any grand artistic or political vision. You’re allowed to, of course, but even if you don’t, it’s nice to figure out what you want to communicate with your larp. Anecdote: When we did Krigslive VIII (a 400 person war larp set in a mythical 1176), one of our main goals with the larp was to get good press for larp in general. Also thanks to Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis for suggesting this tip.
- Try to figure out why you’re doing the larp in the first place. Many confuse this with the previous point. I’d argue that they’re quite often separate, and being realistic about the why can save you from a lot of trouble (especially with yourself). Are you doing this because you’ve made a drunken promise at 4 am and now feel obligated to fulfill it? Is someone paying you, and your professional reputation is on the line? Did you figure that you’d have a better shot at hooking up with that cute Elf Prince if you made a spin-off larp about elves where he gets to play an important character? My larp organising career has seen me do projects for the weirdest of reasons. Lying to myself about why I was doing them didn’t help that much. Anecdote: One 200 person fantasy larp I did, was because a close friend of mine said “Claus, we’ve made this awesome group of 20 players, and we’re going to create the coolest larp group ever. And you’re going to make the larp we’ll play at. Either you can announce it yourself, or I’ll do it on your behalf, and we can see how much your reputation suffers before you get people to understand it’s not happening.”
- If you’re going to lie, don’t get caught doing so. This tip goes for more than just organising larps, but is critical here. I’m not saying whether you should lie or not in general — that’s up to your morality, not me — but I’m saying that it’s plain stupid to lie and get caught. Anecdote: When we did the larp “Vaterland”, and people asked for why the price was relatively high (150€ or so), we told them that the player costumes had cost a lot of money. That was accepted by everyone (as far as I know), since people got awesome costumes from head to toe. It wasn’t true, though, since we’d gotten them dirt cheap, but it gave us some budget to spend on other stuff that we found important and the players might not have agreed with as readily (like 20 nazi banners for a bunker fight scene).
- It’s smart to think about what the players will actually DO. When I hear enthusiastic organisers-to-be talk about their new project, they often talk about the world, the props, the characters, the themes or the grand vision. One of the first questions I always ask is “If I was a player at your larp, what would I actually DO?” Playing a monk in a monastery larp sounds cool, but what does a day at the larp consist of? Will I be cooking the food? Will I be sweeping floors? Will I spend 4 hours alone in prayer? Tell me what I’m going to do, not just who I’m going to play. Anecdote: At one of our teen comedy larps in the Hjerte rimer på Smerte (“Heart rhymes with pain”) series, we had a player who played the character “The Dark Prince”. The characters had no description except for their names and a short inspiration video for each, so he had nothing except the title. It turned out that being a dark prince sounds a lot more cool than it actually is, if you have no idea what to DO as a dark prince. He was bored to death, most of the time, and only afterwards realised why.
- Short film clips are priceless when trying to explain larp to non-larpers. Words are great. Pictures are even better. But nothing I’ve come across beats video as a medium to explain larp to the unsuspecting public. Showing people what scenes from larps look like is the easiest way I’ve come across on making them understand. Oh, and an extra tip in that regard: Unless you’ve caught an especially powerful scene on camera, turn off the sound and add music or voice-over instead of dialogue. Most larp sounds like bad acting, but if you have music playing or someone explaining what’s going on, it seems much cooler. Anecdote: The College of Wizardry video that has a million views on youtube works because it shows exactly what’s going on; people pretending to be in the Harry Potter universe in a real castle. Simple, but powerful.
- Players will always do the unexpected. I heard this presented back in 2002 at a five-part talk on larp organising by Norwegian larper Peter Bøckmann, who (somewhat smilingly) called it “Bøckmann’s Law” or something like that. He was right, though. Leave players alone, and someone will try to do something crazy. Someone will try to use the fistfight mechanics to have ten peasants ambush a demon with their firsts (and expect to win). Someone will start kicking huge (and surprisingly hard) pilates balls at the zombies who are storming the gym. And someone will not have told the organisers that they’ve kept part of the explosive stash they brought for the larp — and use it when the nazis attack the base, scaring the shit out of the organiser in charge of safety. Anecdote: The three above all happened. And how did the demon react, you might wonder? After getting mad at the peasant players for the ridiculous idea, the player of the demon ended up leaving with the words “Anyway, I’m offgame. I was just trying to find the werewolf.”
- What’s normal in your larp culture may be unheard of in others. This one is one of the real killers when you do larps for a broader audience. In some larp cultures, physical contact without asking first is a no-go and everyone knows it. In others, you can expect to be slapped or kissed by people you’ve never met before. Maybe even at the same time. You can’t see your own blind spots (that’s kind of implied in the name), but you can be aware of the fact that there probably are some. Anecdote: When I played my first American weekend-length boffer fantasy larp in 2002, my first ingame encounter with another player started with him asking “What do I see?” It turned out that many players played characters that looked significantly different from what the players looked like (including panthers, 4-foot gremlins and plate-armoured death knights played by guys in black t-shirt). I hadn’t realised that, and just answered “Um. Me, I guess?” because I wasn’t aware of the “What do I see?” tradition.
- There’s a big difference between “larp” and “your larp”. This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to larp and media representation. Very often, larp organisers will talk about their larp as if every larp was like that. “In larp, you have build points”, “In larp, you fight with boffer swords” and my personal favorite “In real larp, skeletons take half damage from arrows”. It’s perfectly ok to talk about what happens at your larp. In fact, it’s pretty cool. But unless you’re a living larp encyclopedia, I advise some caution on sweeping statements. Anecdote: A few years ago, an American web TV series called “Realm of larp” came out. It was a lot of fun, but one of the most hilarious things in it was the introduction, which included the quote “It’s a beloved pursuit of millions of people all over the world, all struggling to fulfill their quest under the always watchful eye of the game marshal.” Yeah, not so much in my neck of the woods. ;-)
- If you work with open budgets, be prepared for a lot of discussions. Personally, I’d advise on closed budgets, but that’s a choice. One thing that’s certain is that, if you decide to have open budgets that anyone can see, not only will you (most probably!) have debates with your players about them — you’ll also end up in heated arguments with people who never had any interest in going to your larp anyway, but just have opinions on how you use your project’s money. That can be pretty tiring in the long run. Especially since most people have no clue when it comes to larp budgets. Anecdote: I was once in a discussion with a player about the amount of money we charged for transport to the larp. When the player used the argument “But if I borrow my parent’s car, it costs a lot less then what you want me to pay!” I stopped listening.
- Rules only work when people remember them. This comes as a shock to a lot of organisers of rules-heavy games, I’ve found. They seem to have the idea that the fact that the rule is there means that everything is as it should be, and sometimes forget that if you’re a new player, it can be pretty daunting to remember all the rules of a 80-page rulebook. This isn’t to say that rules-heavy larps are bad, but that they’re harder to access as a newcomer than ones with few rules. Just pretending to be a different person takes up a lot of mental capacity the first couple of times, and if you also need to remember complex rules, it’s quite a barrier. Anecdote: The coolest spell I’ve ever had someone cast at me during a larp was called “Justice!”. I had no idea what it did, so I went offgame for a short moment and asked the player of the priest casting it. Apparently it meant that every innocent I’d killed, I lost 2 hit points. That was a pretty cool spell effect, but not really that self-explanatory from the name of the spell. Needless to say, I dropped dead immediately.
- Extra cables and batteries are a life-saver. This may seem extremely non-larp-specific, and that’s because it is. It’s still relevant. When you bring cables for your laptops/smoke machines/lights/etc., bring spares. Bring spares for the spares. Bring extra batteries when you can, and bring enough so that you can lose stuff. Because trust me; when the spaceship simulator laptop runs out of power or the smoke machine for the demon-summoning ritual eats through batteries like it was a demon of its own, your spares will save both experiences and friendships. Anecdote: Too many to count. So much pain.
- If you take responsibility for people’s food needs, pray for strength. This isn’t really larp-specific either, just good advice in general for anyone doing events. If you ask people what food allergies and preferences they have, they will expect you to take those into account, and some will be hopping mad when you fail to do so. If you tell them what food you’ll be serving so they can make an informed choice and take their own precautions, they’re much more likely to see their dietary needs as their own problem rather than yours. You can be nice about it, but you’re really saving yourself a world of trouble by being clear on this. Anecdote: I sadly don’t have a good anecdote about this that’s fit for the public eye.
- Remember to get some sleep! Don’t stay up till midnight to write lists for your blog, when you have to get up at 3.30 am to fly across the Atlantic to help your friends pull off one of the most ambitious larps in US larp history. It may seem like a good idea, but I can promise you that it wasn’t a smart one. Anecdote: I can still get a little over three hours of sleep, if I manage to fall asleep soon!