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How to Run a Live Action Role Playing Game

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A Live Action Role Playing Game, or LARP, is quite simply a role playing game where instead of sitting around a table playing on a board, you dress up and move around and really get into character. Here are some useful tips if you want to be a LARP Game Master.

General Rules

These may seem a bit harsh but they will help your LARP run efficiently.

  • Always take your time in preparation. Your players won't die if they have to wait a little while, and the fewer decisions you have to make on the fly, the more smoothly things will run. When in doubt, tell the players you'll get back to them and make good on that promise.

  • Benefit from those who have gone before; ask advice from other LARP Game Masters.

  • Communication is essential. Use all the tools you can - telephone, the postal service and e-mail.

  • Encourage your players to be honest in their relations with you.

  • Players will do practically anything for experience points. Use this to your advantage.

  • A web page is cool, but not essential. If someone volunteers to make one, ask for a portfolio of other websites they have built before deciding. If you have a web page, take the time to link to as many related sites as possible, as that may garner you new players.

  • It is not a sin to delegate duties. In fact, it's essential. There is no such thing as 'too many assistants'.

  • Your assistants are volunteers and thus deserve more slack in terms of deadlines and quality than a paid professional would receive, so don't push them as hard as you would a paid service. However, if a volunteer is making constant mistakes and degrading the quality of the game, let them go as soon as possible.

  • The point of this is to have fun. If you're not having fun, you're players won't either. Try to keep your temper.

Before You Announce the Game

Take your time deciding on your mythos, setting and character needs. Wait until you are ready to answer your players' questions. Once you announce the game, you will be swamped by inquiries and may not have the time to make a cool, well-reasoned decision. Decide upon your game mechanic and establish how you wish to keep track of the players' characters and assemble it before you accept any concepts from your players. Decide what structure suits you. You could have a pre-game meeting a few days before, where players can spend their experience points and ask questions. This is often useful for a large, high-maintenance group. If your's is a weekly game, a newsletter is pointless, but a newsgroup might prove useful.

Announcing The Game

Word of mouth is all well and good, but use all options open to you. Get the word out to local gaming and comic book stores, gaming conventions and other LARPs in the area by distributing flyers or e-mail. Some stores will only take 3x5 inch cards for announcements, so take the time to create a neat, printed card. It will attract more attention and be easier to read than a hand-scrawled announcement. Don't forget to include all contact information on your ad, and any special conditions of the game that might affect a player's decision.

Running the Game

  • Take the amount of preparation time you have budgeted for and double it. Doing your preparation ahead of time is much more relaxing than arriving at the game with things 'almost done'.

  • Estimate the amount of supplies you'll need - from cards, to stickers, to bits of string - and double it.

  • Arrive at your game site as early as possible, with as many helpers as you can muster.

  • Ensure your players understand the purpose of your assistants and use them. The chief Games Master should not make every decision, nor even the majority of them.

  • If your game-mechanic is particularly obscure or difficult, you may want to consider running a 'Newbie School' prior to game-time. If your system is both obscure and difficult, ditch it.

  • Have a sign-in sheet or other method to get the current contact information for every player at every game. Creating an 'Experience Sheet' at the end of the game works well. If the player doesn't fill it out, then they don't get any experience. Unsurprisingly, there's about a 98% return rate on Experience Sheets.

  • Encourage your players to bring food and drink to share. Hungry gamers are cranky and unhappy gamers. Ditto for the Games Master.

After the Game

Try to take a day to relax, before you jump into the grind again. Take the phone off the hook, turn off the computer, or just go out of town for a while. You deserve time off. Once you've recovered, get a newsletter or post-game e-mail out as soon as possible. This is part of the 'communication is essential' rule. Meet with your assistants and dissect the game. Find problems and solve them as quickly as possible. This includes plot problems, logistics problems and player issues.

As Time Passes

As your game progresses, encourage your players to develop their characters and then reward them for doing so, and try your best to integrate that into your chronicle. Understand that, even while you encourage your players to develop their characters, you cannot give your LARP players the same degree of individual attention that they would receive in a tabletop game. If you try to dedicate that level of attention to 20+ players, you'll go nuts and nothing else will get done, either. There are several games that have a special Games Master whose sole job is to review and critique character backgrounds.

Don't be afraid to make changes - to your logistics, your game system, or anything. If it's good for the game and for you, then do it. Of course, be wary of changing things just for the sake of change. All the LARP Games Masters have made the mistake of trying to re-invent the wheel.

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