Despite only having run one LARP Campaign game, I have learned so much already.
Running a LARP is so much more complex than Game Mastering a tabletop game. You have to create a system, cat-herd players and wrangle up a team that compliments each other. Here are 6 things I wish I had known before starting my first campaign.
- Create a Team that Works Well Together
Take time with this, because once you’ve set it, it’s hard to undo.
I suggest that the size should reflect the number of players you expect to have. For games of 5 players, you could do it alone. After that, I suggest adding one to every 30 expected participants. Of the game I am currently running, Isles (which is expecting 70-100 players at its next game) has 4 GMs, and Elder Scrolls: The LARP (A small game of 10-20) has 2 GMs.
Your team needs to mesh, or you will find problems. Take the time to really talk to each potential GM. They need to compliment each other’s styles, values, and areas of expertise. If you have disagreements, things will fall apart.
Interview people if you must, but don’t ignore this point. It is critical to a game’s success.
2. Don’t Over Complicate Your System
Both games that I currently run are based on already developed systems. Isles is a Dungeons and Dragons 5e based game, and Elder Scrolls is based on… You guessed it, Elder Scrolls.
Beginning both games, I attempted to ‘create’ a system. I attempted to convert games that were designed for pen and paper or video games to a LARP format. Worst idea ever.
A LARP system needs to be easy to remember and smooth. If players are constantly checking a manual and debating rules, you’re doing it wrong. Or you’re playing Vampire the Masquerade, but that’s beside the point.
A solid system should be easy to follow and memorise, as well as balanced. Start small, with the essentials and keep the theme of the game in mind.
I also suggest that if you struggle with math and mechanics like I do, you get a GM that has the system as their area of focus.
3. Your World is No Longer Your Own
This is something that I have struggled with a lot regarding Isles. Unless you are the only GM, you are no longer the sole ruler of this creation. And the moment your players set foot in your universe, it is at their mercy.
I went through the stages of grief when I first released my baby to the world. I got very depressed and anxious when all of a sudden my fellow GMs were making decisions.
Realise that this game is a collaborative storytelling experience, accept that not every decision your fellow GMs may make will perfectly align with what you would do, and let yourself have a good time.
4. Take Your Time
Another thing that I struggle with. Sometimes, the excitement of running your first LARP will take over and you will be driven to post an event on Facebook ‘first game: next week!’ before you even have a plan.
Write out your mechanics, play test them, then rewrite the rulebook. Write your lore, plot your game start to finish, then write the game 1 story. Plan everything you possibly can before posting that event page and opening payments.
When you get to the venue for your first game, you will be so much more at ease if you don’t have to print off your plot documents, organise the coins and figure out check-ins on the go.
LARP may be an improv game, but the GM should always be prepared.
5. Prepare for Chaos
Do not, I repeat, do NOT, attempt to script your game. It will never go to plan. No matter how well you think you know your players, no matter how obvious you make your plot, players will always take your script and read it upside down. Railroading a LARP just isn’t feasible.
Instead, give your NPCs an objective. Let your crew know what they want to achieve and why, and the scene will play out itself. Attempting to predict the ending will make you attempt to see that happen, and you will find yourself trying to control it. This will make players feel helpless, or make yourself feel helpless as the scene plays differently anyway.
You must be ready to improvise in any situation.
My favourite example of this is when a crew member told me ‘he slept with a Lich’. The GM team sat down and said ‘this has to have consequences. What should we do?’ and without thinking, I said ‘his crotch is rotting, the only way he can heal it is Lay on Hands’. This would also have to be my proudest GM moment.
6. Take Control
People are assholes. Drama happens. Don’t let it get in the way of your game.
You will need to develop hard skin, and some people will struggle with this, including myself. But for the enjoyment of your players, you are going to have to make some tough calls.
If someone is giving the game a hard time, you may be asked to ban them. I know it’s hard, but in most situations, you should seriously consider that. Asking a problem player to leave will make your job vastly more enjoyable, as well as your player’s experiences. And if you make your decisions thoughtfully and own your decisions, you players will generally back you up. Most LARPers don’t like toxicity.
So stand up and rule your game with an iron fist. People won’t mess with you if you do, and your game should run much smoother.
Some Parting Advice
GMing a LARP is hard and sometimes brutal. Sometimes you may feel like it isn’t worth it, but let me tell you… There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the grins on your player’s faces as they recount the amazing adventures they have had in the world you created.