LARPer’s Basic Needs

There are a number of basic needs that need to be considered when you’re planning out your LARP.  These might not be the most exciting of tasks, but they are essential.  The first logistical issues to concern yourself with are what aligns with a participant’s basic needs: warmth, thirst, hunger, shelter, trash collection and toileting needs.

Warmth: Is there some kind of temperature control?  Or a shelter to stay out of the wind and rain?  If not, make sure to inform participants beforehand so they can dress appropriately.  Consider providing access to hot drinks like tea, coffee and cocoa to help folks feel warm.  If it’s going to rain, see if your volunteers or participants could bring a couple marquis if there’s no indoor space and presuming you’re allowed to erect such structures.

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GM Cost – Benefit Analysis of Effort

It’s important to effectively use your time when creating entertainment in your LARP.  Your time before game is limited and your time during the game even more so.  This means that the larger the game to game master ratio, the more work each of you have to do and therefore the more people you need to entertain with each ounce of effort.

Are you doing something that could easily be done by someone else?  For example, perhaps you need to set up a laboratory space and you have a cast of NPCs available who can do just that. Simple things can be done by players who arrive early such as putting drinks in the fridge.

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The Sign In Experience

Your player’s first encounter with your game during their very first session will be with the sign in desk.  This section of the game experience is overlooked despite its importance in setting the scene for players – especially new players.  Will they feel welcomed and refreshed?  Or confused and frustrated?  You can make this process smooth or onerous depending on how well you resource the desk and how many volunteers you get.

Each LARP will have a different selection of tasks that need to be completed during sign in.

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Creating LARP Rules Pt 5

Memory Tricks With Rule Creation

Standardise it. The easiest trick with this is to standardise where possible. If green lights means radioactive than I’m sorry but all your green glowies now emit radiation. Nope, you can’t use a green light to show that doors are locked / unlocked. Use a green image instead but don’t make it glow.

Poster it. If you have a mechanics’ work station where all the engineering feats occur, you could frame a somewhat in-game poster describing how the engineering skill works. This way folks can easily see what they need to know at a glance. This can be especially important with mini-games with lots of moving parts like an alchemy station where the ingredients matter. In fantasy games, you could go with parchments, scrolls and small tomes.

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Balancing Act X: Scaring the Players

In a horror game, your goal is to scare the players as much as the characters. First it’s best to create a check-list of what taboos and issues the players are happy / unhappy about dealing with in-game is always a good idea to determine sensibilities before creating the plots. If you upset a player, they’re likely to leave. Besides which, the list of things that affect them but which they are happy for you to include can be great inspiration.

Anyway, here are a number of different horror-related emotions you can evoke:

 This is an easy one. Let them know what’s about to happen and then draw out the time it takes to see the revelation. A PC with a family comes home to find the front door open and a slight smear of blood on the carpet that leads into the bathroom. You can bet he’ll be worried about what’s in the bathroom. When he comes across his wife’s corpse in the bathtub and a photograph of his son at the playground with the words: ‘Come find me’ written on it, you just know he’ll be anticipating the worst as he heads to the playground.

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Balancing Act IX: Death vs Continuity

Horror games are scariest when the risks are high and the odds of success are low. It thrives against backdrops of overwhelming odds, tragic losses, and bittersweet endings. Of course, the regular death of player characters has its downsides. It can erode their attachment to the game and lead to frustration, boredom or humour when they die – die – die again. Plus when the character dies, all that tension, all that connection, all that possibility dies with them and the player must craft it all anew.

So how do you make the risks terrifying without a high character turnover? Well, there’s a number of ways:

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Balancing Act VI: Props

Props have numerous purposes. They assist with immersion, provide additional information, make for fascinating clues, and keep players interested. It’s one thing to be told about the journal that you find, it’s another thing to have an excerpt to read and hold.

Taste.  Food can increase immersion if it fits with with the theme or mood of the game. Tea and cucumber sandwiches provide a mood different from Mountain Dew and Salt & Vinegar crisps. One would work well for a 1920s investigation game, the others would be perfect for a cyberpunk meetup at a hacker’s home. You could even hand out the treats in game as your NPC. It’s a great way to get the player’s to drop their guard and potentially partake of poisoned drink so long as you point out that what is drunk out of character is also drunk in character.

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Balancing Act VII: Flow of Information

When running a horror game, the Storyteller must also pay attention to the flow of information as there’s generally some form of mystery that needs investigating. If you err on the side of caution in giving out information, your players may feel like investigation is akin to pulling teeth. Others play too fast and loose with their clues and the investigation might as well boil down to rolling a dice and waiting for the inevitable information dump.

Too much information can be terrible for tension because shining a light on a monster weakens its fear factor. Too little information can just lead to confusion and boredom. So ask yourself whether certain information needs to be known and, if the answer is yes, give the information piecemeal so that the player’s suspicions start whirring into gear as they fill in the gaps.

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Balancing Act VI: Threatening Nature

All good horror games should plumb the depths of the human psyche and examine the issues that keep us awake at night. They should make us doubt ourselves, our fellow humans, and consider – if only for a moment – what it would be like if such horrors visited us.

Of course, fear is generally an unpleasant feeling and humans have built many defenses to ward against it. So let’s talk about how to up the ante, deal with those defense mechanisms, and keep the monsters scary in spite of the player’s attempts to keep themselves calm.

Laughter is the best medicine for negative emotions. If you can make someone else laugh, you can probably defuse (or at least reduce) their anger, fear, or sadness. Cracking a joke can also alleviate your own negative feelings. So if your horror game tactics are working, you might be annoyed to find your players cracking jokes and making movie references to break the tension.

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Balancing Act V: Playing Environment

The typical image of a gaming group is of a group of friends dressed in casual wear, sitting around a well-lit dining table or a card table on comfortable chairs, drinking Mountain Dew and eating doritoes. This comforting scene of friendship and domesticity doesn’t really lend itself to immersion in a horror game. So, what can you do about it?

Physical Location.
Change it up. You could game in a cramped and leaky shed during a rain storm (who needs audio files?) or in a musty old garage in the dead of winter with nothing but a space heater and some blankets. You could game outside under the stars by the river on a picnic blanket. You can gather around an old desk, seated on uncomfortable chairs or overturned milk crates. You could even just change around your usual room so people are sitting in different spots or the tables are arranged in a new configuration.

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