Larpwriting isn’t something you do if you like to sleep.
Last night I lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, with larp problems replacing my usual visions of sugar plums. You see, I’ve recently lost my sanity: I’m going to start a larp at my university. I cycled through setting, story, rules, NPCs, but at the forefront of this bundle of problems was how to gather a playerbase. More than that, I came upon the big question:
How do I instill passion in my new players? How do I make strangers love something the way I do?
Right now, due in good part to being an easy media punching bag and to the vocal minority of those who perpetuate the stereotype, larping has a bad rep. We’re shown as irritating, argumentative folks who live in fantasy because we can’t handle reality and are lacking in social skills. With preconceived notions like that, how does one go about recruiting players to a game? Do I lie, and call it something else, something more palatable to the masses? Do I market it as long-form improvisation, or an extended type of RPG?
It may bring me more players, but I can’t bring myself to call this rose by any other name. I’m far too proud of my hobby, my game, my friends, and my fellow larpers to do that, to treat it as a dirty secret. Unfortunately, my pride and self-worth make this a bit more difficult than if I’d just tweak the facts and trick newbies into falling in love with larping before admitting just what I’d gotten them into.
Perhaps if I could find the essence of what it is to larp, what it is that makes us drive for miles, spend hours creating the perfect kit, invest in armor and weaponry. If I could distill it to its most basic form and create a game around that concept, around the things I love most about this fantastic hobby of ours, I could entice players on that platform.
I can clearly remember the moment I first fell in love with larping. It was the second day of my very first event. The night was dark, with flickering torches casting shadows across the foot-packed dirt, and I knew enough to be afraid of them; the enemy used shadows to move undetectably from one place to another. They could appear, kill you, and fade back into the dark in a matter of seconds. In the dead of night, there were no safe spaces. When they’d first attacked I was in the tavern, and from there was shuffled to a fortified household, then a mad dash to another, where we had been ambushed, surrounded, but not alone: the town’s defenders, a collection of knights, nobles, and rogues, closed us in a circle, while the enemy formed a circle around them.
So there I was: a first-level mage, 6 hit point in a game where veteran players could cause 8 damage, clutching a spellbook in one hand and a knife in the other, with one set of complete strangers determined to kill me and another determined to save me.
That single, terrifying moment. My heart pounded. My mind raced, trying to figure out some way, any way, to get myself to safety. It was fear. It was life or death.
It was real.
How could I miss so simple an answer? I just have to make a larp that’s real! I have to force my players give in to their characters, to the world I’ve created. I have to make them believe what’s happening around them is actually happening. I have to force them to stop thinking as themselves and start reacting as their personae. I need to make them passionate about this odd world and its people, this story I’ve created.
I am so hosed.
How the hell am I going to do that? I can’t make someone’s brain process in the fashion I want it to. I can’t make them be in-character because I say so. How do I create a setting that is so convincing, so immersive, that the players who have trusted me (sometimes warily) to take them on this adventure become people, not just characters? How do I make them bleed, give them something to take away from this larp? I’ve got a story, certainly, but is it good enough? Will they like it? Will it change them at all?
Here I am, floundering to find the answer to two of life’s big questions: how do you spark a passion, and how do you make a large, diverse group of people enjoy the same thing? If I come up with an answer, I’m certain the world’s educators would love to know, but at the moment I’m just as stumped as the greater minds before me.
For those of you who have the same worries keeping you up at night, I’ve stumbled across a paltry few tips for creating and running a game:
- Make a safe setting. I’ve noticed that when everyone’s letting their guard down and having fun, there’s no social expectation to be upheld. We don’t have to be mature adults. We can all play dressup and make believe we’re other, fantastic people for a while.
- Enjoy yourself. Have fun. Your players will take their cues from you. This isn’t to say that all larps need to be light and fluffy; quite the contrary. You can enjoy playing a serious, heart-breaking scene. In fact, your players will take more from these difficult scenes than the easy ones, but make sure they’re earned.
- But take it seriously. If you, the gamemaster, aren’t being serious about the logistics and functions of the game, are being flippant with no one else will be. This is serious fun. You’re the adult in this game: act like one.
- Don’t stifle your passion. It’s okay to let your nerd flag fly, especially when you’re talking to prospective and new players. If they see how much fun you have, how much it means to you, they just might take the leap of faith and discover their love for larp.
I have a few months left, not to find the perfect answer to instilling passion in strangers, but to creating a game that said strangers will (at the very least) not completely despise. They may even take something away from it. That something may be a discovery that larp is not for them, but the larpwright in me, hopeless idealist that she is, is certain that the something will be self-discovery, a greater understanding, and a few hours well-spent. If I can create a larp that gives them just a crumb of what larp has given me, I’ll consider it a success. If I can make a world that is real, even for just a moment, I’ll have succeeded.
I can dream, right?
Do you have suggestions for gathering a playerbase? Have any tips or tricks for making your players interested in the game and take their characters seriously? Join the discussion below!