21
June 2018

GM Corner

As a larp designer, I struggle with the concept of transparency in game design, or how much I should reveal about the game design process. In business branding in general as well as in larp, there are pros and cons to announcing concepts (and selling larp tickets) before you fully develop the process. The determination about the level of transparency can be a very personal one for the designer (and/or design team) – and one that can affect your larp’s bottom line.

transparency in game designIf you debut a design concept without full documentation, you may come under fire for having unanswered questions, or for having no clear strategy about certain topics – everything from inclusion to rules systems, safety issues, and even the types of characters participants can play.

(more…)

Jun 19, 2018

Larp participants are often taken aback by the ticket costs. From the perspective of the larp organizer, ticket pricing often leaves a tight margin. Let’s take a look at what causes the sticker shock – and what organizers can do to be transparent about the reason for the larp ticket pricing.

As both a game designer / organizer and a larp participant based in the United States, I empathize with every side of this issue. As an organizer, I’m discovering that profit margins are usually slim with larp, and breaking even on expenses isn’t even always a result planned in to some blockbuster larp efforts.

As a participant on a budget, sometimes I feel entirely priced out of the hobby, even at local games. In my country, the cost of goods and services rises, but the income unfortunately does not – and it’s really starting to impact what people are able to spend on nonessentials. (more…)

Jun 12, 2018

Written with Joe Hines

A LARP can be an experience, a work of art, a competitive game, or all of the above. A LARP can last for four hours or four days – but one thing most LARPs have in common is feedback. Participants usually change, even in a small way, as the result of a LARP, and often times they want to provide their thoughts on elements of the game such as rules, setting, logistics, and other features.

As an organizer, it’s a lot to handle. As a player, you likely want to provide feedback in the spirit of helping the community. Every now and then, the feedback process is a point of further frustration for both player and staff member(s).

Here are some considerations and tips for managing feedback – and for sending it in.

Personal Branding and Methods of Contact

In a niche like LARP, personal branding is crucial. This means upholding an upstanding reputation not only as a ‘brand,’ but as a person in the community. LARP can involve a lot of trust – after all, you’re trusting a LARP organizer with physical and emotional safety to a degree – and the personal branding required in a comparatively small community helps defend against missing stairs and ripoffs.

Even the most successful professional LARPers haven’t had an easy road to success, and somewhere along the way, they’ve built their professional statuses on their personal successes.

In this industry, most game designers are immersed in their own worlds frequently, and that means a cross between the personal and professional brand. This is what we do for fun, but it’s also what we do as a business in many circumstances. Nonprofit LARPs also live and die based upon their organizers’ reputations. And when worlds collide, it gets a little overwhelming. Designers might get messages on as many as ten separate social media channels and email accounts at a time.

LARPs, LARP organizations, and in some cases, organizers often have their own separate Facebook channels for connecting with fans. There’s a process for answering questions. Most LARP organizations aren’t very big, though – and that means everyone knows that the fastest method of communication means pinging a designer or organizer directly. This can lead to overwhelm for the organizer and inconsistent response times for the player base.

Designers should be clear about their preferred channel of communication, especially if they aren’t the only one monitoring an inbox.

Designers can also:

  • Post messages about availability
  • Delegate responsibilities to other team members
  • Ensure their game organization’s site provides their preferred method of contact information

Designer tip: Feedback isn’t limited to post-testing and post-event. If you’re willing to be transparent about your game design process, you can ask your players questions about their preferences as you design. This can help you avoid some problematic issues or simply structuring things against their preferences – and they’ll come up with features or problems you haven’t noticed before.

Participants should be respectful of everyone’s time and remember that organizers don’t always have time for an impromptu one-hour conversation, especially if they have families, freelance work, or day jobs. No organizer is simply that: even full-time designers and organizers fulfill other roles in their lives.

How to Provide Feedback

Game organizers should provide one or more clear channels for feedback, such as direct email or player feedback surveys. Like other media, LARPs get criticized, and game designers and organizers should expect that. Similarly, they should also prepare for praise (something that’s also difficult for some of us to accept).

Organizers should structure the feedback form to prompt persons to enter both positive and negative feedback.  “What was something you liked?” “Where can we improve?” “Was there anything you did not like?”

To track trends in feedback it may be beneficial to request “star” ratings (like one through five) that when averaged together give you a view of how things have changed over time.

Designer beware: It is easy to listen to those who shout the loudest, but that may not serve the community as a whole. Make sure you check in with your trusted advisors when you need to check your perspective.

Participants should respect the method(s) of communication set out by the organizer, provide criticism in a constructive fashion, and refrain from slamming a game organizer on social media if a private resolution is possible. Lastly, balance your criticism by mentioning a few things you liked about the event.

Specifically, How To Issue Negative Feedback:

Inevitably something will go wrong during your larp experience. Either a rules call will not go your way or a scene will have been written badly or a participant will be disrespectful or any number of other things. Sometimes these bad experiences are singular and sometimes they are the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Either way, you may feel compelled to complain and you are right to do so. But there are multiple things you can do to turn your complaint into effective feedback.

Step 1: Identify when is the proper time to complain

  1. The majority of larp event issues can be solved at the event with the appropriate staff member. By quickly fixing small problems, bigger problems can be avoided.
  2. But if the problem is not an immediate problem, then perhaps you can wait to bring it up until between events when the staff can focus on the issue while not also trying to run the event.

Step 2: Identify the appropriate person to complain to

  1. If there is an identifiable person who made a mistake, and you have a good rapport with them, perhaps you should simply approach them directly.
  2. But if the problem is more systemic, or you do not have a good feeling that your words will be heard directly, seek to find an official method to complain first. Is there an event feedback form or email address? Perhaps a player advocate or a listed safety staff member you can start with? Use what is provided first.
  3. Failing all of that run right out to your favorite social media and accuse everyone of being horrible people in a vague post… no, I’m kidding of course, do not do that. While it can be tempting to use your social media soap box as a means of venting it can cause more problems than it solves. Rare is the social media post that contains all of the necessary context, clear explanations and list of names of persons involved sufficient to solve the problem.
  4. Failing all of that, is there a senior player, mentor or trusted friend whom you could talk to privately about the issue. Perhaps they will know how best to navigate you through the process of finding the right person to complain to.

Step 3: Explain the complaint

  1. Be prepared to clearly articulate why you are upset. This may require that you talk the problem through in advance so that you know what it is you are actually complaining about.
  2. Try to phrase the complaint without being accusatory. Saying things like “Your game is terrible” will only make people defensive and tend not to hear what comes next. Instead use “I” words. “I felt that this scene could have been better if the fake blood didn’t get in my eyes” or “I was caught unaware by that rules change and the ensuing conversation destroyed my immersion, the scene, and made my event less enjoyable”.
  3. Be prepare to name names. This is not the same as throwing anyone under a bus, but if there is a staff member who was present then they can help clarify problems that perhaps were either strictly situational, miscommunications or they can identify participants who were there that you do not know their real names. Complaints about people who behaved badly are especially important to have names or at least descriptions and witnesses.

Step 4: Listen to the reply

  1. You have said your piece. Now you need to potentially wait for the staff to investigate. They may come back with an explanation or an apology or with other questions. Be prepared to participate in the process.
  2. Decide if the response to the complaint is sufficient or if it misses the point.
  3. Reengage with the staff members if needed. Escalate it up the chain of command if that seems like the better option.

Organizer tip: Does your game get a lot of feedback? Create a simple spreadsheet and log the feedback. Establish a required turnaround time for your response to feedback and strive to meet that goal. Additionally, the players should expect you to have a process for handling feedback. Make sure you have one in place before you even receive your first complaint.

Personal Safety Concerns

For most organizers, personal safety concerns are paramount. These should be the primary design decisions as well as the most important. From testing through after-LARP bleed, designers and organizers want to know immediately about any physical or emotional safety concerns.

Designers need to make this expectations clear and maintain a receptive attitude. They shouldn’t blame the participants or make them feel bad for bringing up a safety concern, even if it is a critical flaw.

Participants should report any problems as soon as they can safely and comfortably do so.

People Over LARPs

At the beginning of New World Magischola events, the organizers express: “People are more important than LARPs.” That includes various aspects of LARPs, such as immersion and even game rules that don’t directly relate to safety and consent. By valuing our LARP communities above any one aspect of any game, we are able to take more risks and put safety first.

When it comes to issuing feedback about safety and consent, LARP players and game staff often face unique challenges (which can hopefully result in making our communities safer). Certain conversations may take longer – and may even need to go through legal channels to protect you and the game organizers.

The LARP feedback process differs for every game, and there are varying points of view on whether the organizer-player relationship is that of service provider-customer, especially when the games are nonprofit and volunteer run. Regardless, LARP communities should work together whenever possible to encourage feedback intended to improve the community – and help it evolve.

What types of feedback processes do you have in place at games you run or play? Tell us what works and what doesn’t in the comments.

 


Joe Hines lives in Sterling, VA, USA, with his family. With two decades of experience at multiple larps, quite often on staff, he has embarked on the journey of forming The Lost Colonies LARP with a small core of staff to express their new vision for the larp experience.

May 31, 2018

When I volunteered to put together a comprehensive safety and consent document for Dragon Thrones, I had something specific in mind: a way to present players and game masters with a specific set of guidelines and policies that would enable us to take our role playing to the next level – centering physical and emotional safety. I aimed to include workshop outlines and a discussion of bleed in a way accessible to new LARPers and veterans alike.Dragon Thrones Wedding

What I encountered instead was a wider need: I had to address competition very specifically. The Game Theatre bills Dragon Thrones as a “LARP hybrid,” as the event includes a MegaGame, escape rooms, mead tastings, performances, night missions (which involve Jenga towers), and other entertainment. They’re right to set this expectation – even though immersion permeated a surprising amount of non-LARP elements at the first Dragon Thrones event, it included an ambitious gamut of entertainment.

I first attended Dragon Thrones during its July 2017 debut in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA. I served as a GM for the Ardmore team and went on to run digital events for Dragon Thrones players in my own system.

I used my standard safety and inclusion policies for the online events, as well as out-of-game signaling. During online events, I encourage players to communicate via Discord, especially when we’re streaming our sessions. This ensures participants can check with the GM and and each other regarding consent, scene planning, and more.

(Please note that this is not an academic article in nature, and my observations are subjective and based upon what I have seen as a member of the Dragon Thrones community and as a years-long participant in international LARP community discussions online.)

Each Game’s Culture is Unique

By the time I offered to create this documentation, I had an in-depth sense of the gaming culture at Dragon Thrones, as well as the backgrounds of the participants. DT includes new gamers, renaissance faire goers, and experienced role players – a diversity of experience that strengthens the game.

I quickly learned that while I can use (and credit) safety techniques used in blockbuster LARPs and salon games in North America and internationally, every game has its own culture.

And competition is an unapologetic facet of the Game of Thrones-inspired Dragon Thrones.

In international conversations in particular, a focus on competition is often looked down upon for several reasons:

  • It is associated with the culture of the United States, and competition in LARP is often seen as an expression of an attribute acted upon negatively in an international socio-political context;
  • Competition in games (even outside of LARPs) often results in hard feelings;
  • In some parts of the United States, competitive LARPing is affiliated with fantasy boffer combat games perceived as heavy on combat and light on role play (this is accurate only in wildly varying degrees)

When you have a LARP hybrid inspired by a book and television series that is quite literally cutthroat, it’s understood that house-versus-house competition is serious business.

There is no way you can simply transplant best practice safety mechanics from other deliberately inclusive and empathetic gaming cultures to a deliberately competitive game without addressing competition; furthermore, it’s disrespectful to individual LARP communities. Each has its own culture which will evolve over time.

Campaign LARPs and Competition

Like any event in its first run, Dragon Thrones 1 (DT1) needed some improvements. The upcoming second and third games (as well as the online missions I ran) have evolved as a result of player and GM feedback and the adaptive nature of the event team. When it became immediately clear that Dragon Thrones would have multiple events, most community members (including me) assumed we’d reprise our initial roles.

This felt pretty natural, as someone whose LARPing career originated in the land of monthly fantasy boffer LARP campaigns prevalent here in the Northeastern United States. I’ve also had some limited exposure to other LARP cultures though – and in the Nordic LARP community, it’s common for people to play the same LARP again, but as a different character.

This has created some confusion and tension in communities like the North American New World Magischola (in which I am also a devoted participant), where players wish to play through their characters’ experiences at wizard school, sometimes to a degree that feels in conflict with the game’s Nordic roots.

In NWM and its predecessor, College of Wizardry, characters are grouped into houses that compete against each other. Feedback on this has been mixed (and likely varies by run), though I understand it’s generally accepted in both the European game and the North American one.

For Dragon Thrones, though, the instinct to play the same character has always been very much assumed by most involved.

Dragon Thrones wonderIs this problematic? Maybe. In discussions I initiated (asking for help!) about this topic in LARP Sanctuary, LARPers BFF, and North American LARPers BFF Facebook groups as well as on my personal page, participants noted that bleed and competition in campaign LARPs is worth addressing. Unlike a one-shot LARP, unresolved emotions that linger (positive or negative) can carry on indefinitely as players portray the same characters.

From my experience in a campaign setting, having played the same character for over five years, I certainly feel that this risk is real. Yes – you’re getting together with your LARP family as often as the game plays. But yes – in-game animosities can become out-of-game, or they can linger in a way superimposed onto the player, even permanently. To this day, I’m still thought of in my local LARP scene as bearing particular attributes of a character I no longer play, even when those attributes do not apply to me.

Add in the very competitive nature of a campaign event like Dragon Thrones, and it becomes very necessary to address the topic of competition with the community.

Online Gaming Culture, Communities, and LARP

Anyone who participates in any form of gaming online understands how online communities facilitate communication – but also bring with them a set of challenges. Some groups traditionally experience negativity and exclusion in gaming communities, especially online. As one of two female GMs at Dragon Thrones, I’m acutely aware of this, even though I have been welcomed, included, and supported in my efforts every step of the way.

The Game Theatre, its GMs, and its players post the kind of hype and information you’ll see in many LARP communities: cool costuming suggestions, clean jokes or puns about the game world, and just general enthusiasm for the setting. It’s a really positive place to be.

However, we also have those discussions about the game world and its politics. They might start out as a question, but end up as a conversation that rolls into an in-game conversation. This nebulous transition from player to character is often simply an eagerness to role play and negotiate or antagonize: but there’s a danger in it due to the competitive nature of the game. The meta elements of the event structure, particularly the MegaGame, leave me a bit concerned about whether this flippant transition might occur frequently at DT2 in January.

Dragon Thrones WyndonThis requires a specific measure of communication on the part of community members – and their buy-in – all of which I will address in the safety and consent documentation (and will likely continue to refine in its updates).

Do you think competition should be a necessary part of safety and consent documentation in a game like Dragon Thrones? Continue the discussion in the comments! 

Disclosure: As mentioned in this post, the author is affiliated with The Game Theatre as a game master and consultant for Dragon Thrones. She has attended events in exchange for her work and has been compensated for running online missions in the Dragon Thrones setting of Cambria.

All images courtesy of The Game Theatre and used with permission.

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Mar 16, 2018

Editor’s note: The below post was written by Matthew Oostman and Ron Leota. What they give you is a succinct description of their game, the world they created and the creative process involved in implementing the game.

What they only hint at is how quickly this game, that only runs twice a year, is blowing up, selling out months in advance and breaking nearly all of the expectations of it’s participants. I expect to see big things coming out of this game in the months ahead!

Spite: A Science-Fiction LARP is a twice per year high-immersion/low-rules live action game. Our events center around factions working within a humans vs. aliens scenario set in a near future Earth shortly after a full-scale invasion.

When we began writing Spite about 3 years ago we wanted to bring a unique LARPing experience to the Pacific Northwest. We are both avid LARPers and enjoy many types of games but there were some genres and styles we had not seen locally or at least hadn’t seen combined into a single game.

We were inspired by a number of local LARPs. LAST Games’ Zombie and an assortment of “European” LARPs were a big influence with their simplistic rules and once per year models. High-immersion games like World of Oz and Shadow Accord influenced our decision to make a fully WYSIWYG game. Alliance and Devia were also big influences on our combat intensity and economy.

One of the things we wanted to build when creating Spite was a supportive LARPing community. We celebrate our role as many of our players’ second or third LARP. It’s our hope that we can encourage players from all over our area to try out other games and share their knowledge, skills, and props as much as possible.

Our model for Spite has always been to run a limited number of events per year in an underrepresented genre. Initially we considered a zombie survival game with a sci-fi twist, however Dystopia Rising, a nationwide franchise zombie LARP, established a local chapter and filled that niche. Rather than compete with another local game, and keeping true to our desire to run something unique, we decided to continue developing the rules and reworking the story.

After some brainstorming we came up with a game about humanities struggle versus a race of intelligent humanoid insect aliens: the Dromanae. Things fell into place quickly as we wrote the world and finished the rules. We really found the genre we were looking for that would provide exactly what we wanted: a game with a low entry-barrier but with a ton of room for elaborate costuming.

Roughly six months ago we ran our first game and we were blown away by the support of over a hundred attendees at the event and the level of immersion they brought with their game play and their own stories. We just ran our second game at a sold out Camp Kirby. This has pushed us to look at much larger sites for future events. We both look forward to the future of Spite and appreciate the amazing staff and players who make it all possible.

-Ron Leota and Matt Oostman Spite Game Runners / Creators

You can read more about Spite, and interact with the community, in their public Facebook group or you can read all about the game, it’s rules, themes and everything else on their website: www.spitelarp.com.

All photos courtesy of William Myers.

Have you been to Spite? Chime in down on the comments and tell us about your experience.

 

Does this game sound fun to you? What makes an event worth attending? Is it setting? Rules? Community?

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