GM Tips Our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week, storytelling games within online games, so this week we are tackling LARPs

The blessed storytellers who are insane enough to run for thirty or six hundred players, at once, started somewhere. It began when their number of players outgrew a single table; try as we might, fitting twelve people in my kitchen is impossible. For others, they began their roleplaying game career in a live action game and are still invested in that community today.

Live Action Roleplaying games, or LARP, come in a variety of flavors these days. Your classic boffer LARP consists of hundreds of people camping out in the woods for an entire weekend. Weekly Vampire: The Masquerade games offer regular drama, corporate team building exercises (do you have a better term for Sabbat Games of Instinct?), and late night shenanigans. Even more, full immersion LARPs have become something of a vacation for gamers, allowing you to spend an entire weekend doing what you love, while event planners tackle everything from food, lodging, and entertainment.

If there is no LARP where you live, and getting to one isn’t feasible, this guide can help you get one started. Even if you only start with eight to nine players, I’ve seen games grow from a small amount to large flourishing communities—but everyone starts somewhere.

Find Your Dungeon

Unlike a tabletop game where you can paint a location with nothing more than honied words, a good LARP game requires a physical location. Hosting an event for ten to fifteen of your friends might work out of someone’s house, but even that requires logistics (and raiding those post-Halloween day sales for props). When you get a large number of players, you’ll probably have to charge a site fee, and spend time booking and reserving rooms.

Plan this about six months out from your projected game date. Look for community centers, parks, or even local businesses that seem to be slow. Pairing up with the owner of Clued-In Escape Rooms allowed us to host an event with a built in-dungeon experience. Local campgrounds often have lodges available for rent that are cheaper than booking a conference room for a hotel. But if you can afford a castle for a night… go ahead. But do not sell yourself short on the amount of time it takes to secure a location; it is not something you do the week before. Once you have the location, you’ve gotta set the mood with props, decorations and begin planning an event that fits within that space.

Create Mini-Games

There is a golden rule of thumb that you want to average one storyteller for every ten players in a LARP game. This doesn’t always end up the case, but even that ratio can strain a storyteller or assistant. Remember that the bonus of LARPs is the storyteller doesn’t have to be every character in the game. Player-to-player interaction should be the primary focus of the chronicle. Yet even with a main storyline, plenty of staff members, and player interaction, you will still have unwanted downtimes.

This is where your crafty puzzle friends come into play. Scavenger hunts, physical props to solve, or even clever riddles from the Book of Nod or a wizard spellbook are great ways to engage players and further the story without active storytelling. Even if you think that your event is special, and you won’t need some side games, stop yourself; make three and be happy. Your players will appreciate it.

The LARP Checklist

When running a tabletop game we’ve got our usual checklist: Character sheets, encounter building, map, pencils, guidebook on funerals, food, minis, and schedule. Give or take a few items. If you’ve never run a LARP before, here is a quick bullet point list of things that you might find handy.

The LARP (Stop Stressing) Checklist:

  • 6 Months Out:
    • Get a location (sooner is better)
    • Start advertising the game. A lot.
    • Get your main staff lined up. For now just plan on 1 storyteller/assistant for every 8 players. 1 NPC player for every 10 players as well to drive the narrative, and 1 mini-game for every 15 players is a good benchmark. You can change this as you dial in your attendance.
  • 4 Months Out:
    • Confirm with anyone who said yes the first time. Advertise some more.
    • Pay, beg, or bribe with food a trusted person (like a close friend) to handle check-ins/administrations.
  • 3 Months Out:
    • Pre-build characters for as many as you possibly can.
    • Print handy item cards and in-game power effects (people hate carrying books)
  • 1 Month Out:
    • Go through your list of confirmed characters. Find one loud, boisterous person, to handle announcements and play a role that is, well, loud.
  • 1 Week Out:
    • Prepare envelopes for each player containing information. Give this to any player confirmed in attendance.
    •  Go visit the site again a week beforehand. Make sure everything is lined up and you don’t need to cancel or relocate your event.
  • 3 Days Out:
    • Pack up your decorations and site dressings and verify you’ve got what you need. It’s also a good time to scrounge up any spare costumes for friends with limited wardrobe or creativity.
  • 1 Day Out:
    • Double check your storyline and staff members to make sure that nobody came up with a mass combat plan. Verify again that nobody has any intentions of causing a mass combat. Do not do mass combats your first LARP. Avoid them at all costs.
  • D-Day:
    • See that planned start time you have? Scoot that back 30 minutes early in the morning for your players, and still get to the site on time. It will take longer to set up than you planned. If it didn’t….well, you’ve got a break for a food run.
    • Breath. People will start showing up and eager to play. Remember that you’ve had a plan all along.
    • 3 part-acts work best for the actual event. Your intro will go down, then you challenge the players’ expectations, and let the players resolve that in creative ways. You’ve planned this months ago, so it’s smooth sailing…unless:
  • Late D-Day:
    • Is someone crying in the corner? You’ve gotta address that. Not your staff. You.
    • Whatever ending or plan you’ve come up with is likely thrown out by now. So rewrite the end to fit your players! It’s their game as well.
  • Post-Game:
    • Sit back, relax, and have fun. Listen to all the stories that people have come up with. All the things that you didn’t see or even knew happened. There will be tons!

I’ve got a few more bullet points on mine that involve late-night food and adult beverages while wrapping up the evening and planning the next event. Even if your schedule is weekly events, monthly, or once a year—this little checklist seems strangely relevant each time. Putting on a LARP event can be a fantastic way to grow your local gaming community, meet new people, and build a world together that isn’t possible in a tabletop setting.

If you have any experience being a LARP storyteller or would like to see more LARP based articles, let me know in the comments below!

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Featured Image:  Epic Empires 2013 (Epic Empires runs yearly in August)

Image Credits: Legend of the Stars by LARP Adventure ProgramDystopia Rising Washington, Geek & Sundry

Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.