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LARP: Live Action & Real Problems

First Things First

by Jason Hosler
Dec 30,2004


LARP: Live Action & Real Problems

by Jason Hosler, Raging Gargoyle Games

First Things First

There are many things that must be done before you can ever even hope to run your first LARP event. Some of these things are listed below:

The necessity of those last two may be debatable as startup costs, but you can never have too much advertising for your game. This column will deal with the first two items on this list.

Before going into depth about the various decisions that have to be made, a moment or longer should be taken to look at your motivations in creating a game. Running a LARP is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Liken it to running a very dedicated convention two or three times a year, if not monthly. A successful LARP requires one, if not more, highly dedicated person to direct it and keep it moving. It has been my experience that if there are a couple of people that work together to keep each other applied to game, it becomes much easier to stay focused on making the game as good as possible.

Decide on a Game system

There are really only two ways to go with this decision: License an existing system or develop your own. Each, of course, has its pros and cons.

On the plus side of licensing a system, you have a radically shorter development time, especially if you license a system you are already familiar with due to personal experience. You also gain the benefit of using a system that not only has had at least a few years of playtesting, but a fair number of players are already familiar with it. One of the most difficult aspects of attracting new players to your game will be getting them comfortable with the conventions of the system that you are using. If you are using a system they have played elsewhere then it makes the job of getting them to try your game that much easier. The downside of licensing is that you will have to enter a licensing contract with the copyright holder of the system you want to use. The terms of this contract will vary somewhat, but it will include, at the very least, a statement of license fee and will usually grant the copyright holder the right to review your game at random to ensure that you are not doing something detrimental to their intellectual property. Dependant on who tightly the copyright holder enforces their rights, this could mean that all of your plotlines and story arcs must be reviewed by the copyright holder before you can use them. Sometimes this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as some LARPs will franchise out their system and then encourage players to play in multiple games (NERO is famous for this). Unfortunately the license fee puts a potentially severe drain on the money available for actually running the game. Also most license agreements prevent licensees from printing copies of the rulebook, so you have to order them from the original copyright holder. Dependant on which rules system you are trying to license there may be some difficulty in getting the owner of the license to agree to allow you to have a license. In my case I had to actually run several games (for free even) to show that we were serious about running a quality game, before we could get down to serious negotiations about acquiring a license. Some licenses also allow the copyright holder of the system to have a say in how much you are permitted to charge for an event. My best advice about licensing is to treat it like any other legal document: Read it very carefully, and if you can afford to, have a lawyer look it over for you too.

Writing your own system also has several points to the good. The most pertinent being that anything you design in the system is your own intellectual property and you don't have to pay anyone for the right to use it. Also if you design your own system, you can build it to dovetail perfectly with the game world you want to develop. When dealing with someone else's system you will either have to follow their structure or print supplemental rules that cover the situations in which your system deviates from the standard. When dealing with a custom system that you have developed it is also easier to add new rules without worrying about conflict with existent rules. On the bad side, a custom system may have huge gaping holes in the gameplay that you are incapable of seeing until it appears in play. Also, since a custom system is brand new all incoming players realize that they will have to learn a new system in order to play. This can greatly increase the difficulty in recruiting new players to the game. With a custom system you also have to worry about arranging a printer for the rulebooks and arranging playtest events and similar overhead just to make sure that your system is viable before you present to the public as an open game.

Decide on a setting, and available play locations

As any experienced GM could tell you, developing the setting for a game is never a trivial matter. If you are using an established system it is likely that some, if not all of your setting is going to be defined for you. NERO, for example, has a good deal of its setting predefined. Races, classes, why magic works, etc. are all defined in the rules of the game. Even with all of this there is still a significant amount of the setting that needs to be defined. What are the major local towns? Significant areas? Who is the local nobility? What is it about this area that makes it interesting to travel through? Again, some of this may or may not be defined by your system. However, in most cases, local franchise campaigns are allowed to make some changes to suite their storyline. Of course, if your running your own system you don't have to worry about getting permission to introduce a new race when your story dictates that it should happen. The setting, and even a lot of the gameworld's history, must be dictated by the game system that you are using. One of the most tempting things to do when writing plots is introduce villains capable of feats that no one has ever seen before. Extreme caution must be taken when introducing a new mechanic to make sure that it doesn't violate the existing rules of the game without good reason.

Aside from the overall setting of the game world, one should also take into consideration the physical locations that you plan to play at. Most games starting out will stick to single day events, usually running three to six hours, or so. This opens up the possibility of using city or regional parks. Most medium or large urban areas will have parks with picnic areas that can be renting or reserved for minimal costs, if anything at all. The negative to using a public park is that it is PUBLIC. This means that you will have to plan to play around and/or through mundanes that, at the very least, will not want to be involved in game. A useful, if cautious, step when planning an event to be held in a publicly accessible area is to notify the local police and let them know who your group is and what you are going to be doing. In the year and a half that I have been actively running my game we have never had a problem with the police being called in, but I always contact the police before we start playing in a new area if we have a good chance of encountering mundanes.

It has been my experience that most mundanes will be willing to stay out of your playing area as long as you take the time to make sure you aren't intruding on their public space. Occasionally you may even get a couple that will stand and watch your game as it goes on for awhile. The best policy to deal with mundanes that I've seen is to just basically ignore them when at all possible. You should have a member of your Plot committee designated as the Mundane Liaison, and it is that person's responsibility to make sure that the game doesn't intrude on the mundanes any more than necessary.

Next Column

We'll dive into organizing your business structure and Plot committee and building up your prop/weapon inventory.

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