LARP: What Makes a Successful LARP… and What Kills It
There are several things within the game system of a LARP that can either make it as great as Tolkien’s works or make it fizzle out faster than a botched wizard spell. First off, I’ll list the pitfalls and common mistakes LARP players/Storytellers make that can really kill a game.
Player-to-player conflict is a problem where an issue exists between two players and the difference causes poor roleplay interaction between them both. This can also result in one person trying to constantly kill the other person’s character off all the time, without just reason or cause. This tension can spill onto other players and make it difficult for roleplay. A simple solution to this is to have either both or one of the players leave the game.
On the flip side, there is also Storyteller/Admin internal conflict that can have a detrimental effect on the game. Where two or more storytellers or administration people have a conflict with one another, it eventually begins to affect game play because of the inability to work with others who run the game.
There is also Player-to-Administration personnel conflict as well, where a player has an issue with a specific member of the administration team, or vice versa. The belief that a storyteller is out to get you or deliberately sets challenges too high or that are impossible to overcome are typical.
Age conflicts as well can kill a game, where there are too many players who are under the age of majority, or too many older players. The perception that younger players are inexperienced at proper roleplay techniques can make it difficult to get a decent story line running; just as too complex storylines for younger players can make it difficult to play as well. Generally speaking, players that are younger than the age of majority should have parental consent forms or waivers signed to avoid potential problems.
Too great a story challenge can make players feel inadequate in their roleplaying skills and problem solving abilities. A story challenge that is too great can lead to players becoming un-interested in the game; or lead to the belief that the Storyteller is out to get them personally. Adversly, if there is too little a story challenge, players may believe that coming to a game was a waste of their time, money and effort.
No work done by Admin, like experience records, item cards, even Player Actions can lead to a poor game. This leaves players not only in doubt of the Admin’s ability to handle the paperwork properly, but also leaves them in doubt of actions they have done over down time. Also, if the perception exists that the Admin are not receptive to suggestions or player concerns, the game will begin to collapse. Players need to know that they can go to the Admin or storytellers with a problem, concern or new suggestion without the fear of being dismissed or have negative repercussions to their character.
Poor Player attitude can also lead to a low-quality game. Poor player attitude can include anything from player apathy to loss of interest to general rude behaviour.
This is not to be confused with harassment, where a person takes it upon themselves to do something that would not be considered reasonable to another person when they ought to have known better. Harassment can include all forms: physical, social, and sexual. Keeping in mind, any harassment is considered a chargable offense within the confines of the law, so all effort should be made to remove the offending player(s) from the game.
Unsuitable or unsafe game locations can also lead to a poor game. If your players do not feel safe where they are playing, all efforts should be made to move the game to a better location. While playing in a building that is condemned may be great for ambiance and atmosphere (I once played a “Vampire: The Masquerade” game in an abandoned church), it may not be ideal for safety concerns. The area of town might not be suitable for game play either. Too many people will cause players to become nervous and not play to their full ability, or surrounding persons pestering the players for change or cigarettes can also kill game mood and playability.
A lack of new players can also cause a game to fold quickly, because there are no new storylines than can be created for veteran players. They begin to go through the “Been there, done that” mentality, which means they are not being challenged as players. If there is an influx of new players, the game difficulty will need to be adjusted to suit the level and needs of the new players.
Players unwilling to be “sports” about game play can also lead to a breakdown. Players need to know that they can call on someone, be it an NPC or a PC, to help them solve a problem.
More LARP-Killing Problems
Another thing that can kill a game quickly is too much game play scripting by the Storyteller. Scripting is where the Storyteller does not allow actually game play to occur for specific scenes or allow character interaction. Too much of this will cause players to think that they are ineffective and that they have wasted their time playing the game.
Also, storytellers not taking time to roleplay scenes for players can also lead to a game downfall. The main role of a storyteller is to moderate scenes between players and to ensure that the rules of the game are being followed. Scenes also allow for character and story development as well. If ST’s are not taking appropriate time to do this, players will begin to feel neglected. On the flip side, Players who demand scenes for everything tend to take up the majority of the time with the ST. As a result, the remainder of the group may begin to feel left out.
Lack of costuming can really make a game difficult too. Players who constantly show up to game in a pair of jeans, sneakers and a Metalica T-shirt when the game genre is Fantasy don’t help much in getting everyone into the spirit of the game. Efforts should be made to get all players at least some semblance of a costume, espcially if there are avid costumers in the group.
Players who constantly whine and moan about things not going their way, about being cold, about not having enough game time tend to drive away others or involve that person in the group.
Players or gamers that get into something known as “God Modding” or “Power Hoarding” can also kill a game quickly. God Modders are those types of characters that are stupidly powerful and unkillable; that go about either seducing nubile young women and enslaving them, or killing things in a murderous rampage. Every player likes a challenge, and every player wants to get their character to a level where they’re pretty hard to beat, but going to extreme with it is senseless and immature. It also doesn’t allow for team solving abilities either.
Drug or alcohol use at game can also be a major factor in why a game will stop running. When previously agreed upon, legal, moderate drinking at a private game site is all right. Drinking at a game site that is public is not. Nor is drinking to excess or getting rowdy when drinking. Drugs are a different story. Not just because they’re illegal–they also alter the mind’s level of consciousness. Because of the altered perception, this can be dangerous during fight scenes or walking through the woods. Not only that, stoned people are no fun to be around to those who are not.
So what does a successful LARP look like?
Just as there are many things that can kill a LARP quickly, there are many good things that can keep one running for a long while.
Good player-to-player interaction is always a must. Players who work well together because of personalities, players who realise that it’s just a game, players who are willing to help another player out with costuming, character concepts and rule–these are a must in any good game.
Players who want to involve themselves in storylines or are eager to help find a solution to the “Problem du Jour” are always a plus, as are layers always willing to come out and do some site work to keep the place running.
Costuming is also a part of keeping a good game going. The idea behind a LARP is to set yourself into the world that you’re playing in. Hence, costuming helps with the role of creative disbelief. Seeing people wearing tunics, armour, fighting with boffer swords and even dresses for the ladies always helps in keeping the roles where they need to be.
On the tangent of that, props are also a good thing for a game too. From setting up the Inn to making your own heraldic brooch from sculpy, props make the game that much more alive. Swords and other weaponry can be easily made with PVC piping, some duct tape and a lot of time, but add to the aspect of the game that is seldom seen in table top games. Even props like tombstones and a mock graveyard can add the right ammount of spookiness to a game on a night where the moon is full, and there are dogs howling in the distance. I can’t tell you how many times I’d had the snot scared out of me because of the right atmosphere, costuming and props.
Interesting storylines also keep players interested in the game, as well as allow the players to express their creativity in finding solutions to a problem. Storylines can be anything from “a small child goes missing in a large town” to a full scale war brewing on the borders of your character’s country. They can be completely character/player-driven to scripted stories for each involved player. Storylines can even be derived from an interesting character history or background. Some people deliberately leave “holes” in their character history to give something for the administration or storytellers to work with.
Player adaptability and ST/Admin adaptability are always good qualities to have during the course of a game.
Sometimes the ST’s have specific plots and plans to get the characters to complete a task, but there is always a certain element of chaos within the player body. Players and Admins have to be flexible and adaptable enough that when another player comes up with an idea that is not a part of the storyline, they need to react accordingly.
Great location and multiple locations for game sites are also a good thing for a game. While the same location might be all well and good for permanent fixtures and permanent places within a game, different areas that can be explored by the players for that feeling of adventure are always a good idea. It also keeps players from getting too used to a specific location, thus adding to the element of surprise for both players and admins. Ideally, two to three locations are best, although often games only have one permanent site.
If admins are open to suggestions and player concerns, it makes the game run smoothly. Players need to feel that their concerns or questions are being addressed promptly; it goes a long way for both admin and players to have an open line of communication. It lets Admins keep in touch with what the players want and need, as well as giving players the chance to address concerns such as safety, player relations, and other problems.
Positive player attitudes make all the difference. Some players will even go as far as setting up workshops for other gamers in skills they excel. Leather working, chainmail, costuming, weapon making all can be done at workshops created by players. This goes to enhance player attitude to make everyone feel like they are somehow involved in the creative process. Players who show creativity in both singular RP sessions or in group sessions often add an element of fun to the game; those who are consistently creative with their costuming, weaponry, character creation and other things add variety in games which is often lacking.
One last thing…advertising often goes a long way. The group I’m currently with for Havok!: World of Viathan has done some advertising work for the Lord of the Rings theatrical releases in one of our major theaters. We did a mock battle scene, had costuming pieces, spoke to the general public, even heralded the opening of the theater and the start of the movies. Because of this, our player base has increased slightly, as has our popularity. We even had a local news station ask about our group, as well as give us T.V. time for events like a Halloween Haunted House we ran for city kids at the Zoo. All in all, the advertising has done wonders for morale and game atmosphere.