Why you should be careful about generating hype
LARP is hard to define...
As LARP designers we often get intensely passionate when putting together new projects. We have this brilliant idea on how to tell a compelling story and we can become so caught up on our own enthusiasm that we forget to take the time and communicate clearly on what exactly it is that we're creating.
LARP is a difficult thing to define, even for the most articulate among us. Mostly because LARP is many different things to many different people. Countless chats with strangers at the supermarket and awkward talks with family have taught us that putting this amazing hobby into a simple definition that is easy to understand... is an arduous task at best.
Even so, there is still a responsibility we have as designers to clearly communicate what kind of experience we're creating for our players. We want our players to be excited and hyped for the upcoming adventure, but we don't want to set the wrong expectation. If the details of what our LARP actually is become left up to interpretation, you may find that players are showing up to play in something completely different than what you're actually running.
Let's imagine that you recently binge watched the entire series of Carnival Row, and like many other Larpers said "Damn I wish this was a LARP." So you think, why not! I'll run a Carnival Row LARP. You're so excited that you immediately start scribbling down notes and ideas. You throw together a three page vignette about a day in the life of the characters in your LARP and post it to Facebook with the tagline "Carnival Row LARP, coming soon!"
At first glance this might seem like a harmless act. I mean, you can run your game however you like right? And you're just getting started, so you've got time to figure out the details later. You just want to tease your audience and see who'd actually be interested. And for many of our potential players... you had them at "Carnival Row".
Now you've got dozens of potential fans ready to throw money at you! One player is a huge fan of lovecraftian horror, but is curious what the combat mechanics are going to look like. An avid cosplayer is putting together a steampunk pinterest board for character ideas. Meanwhile another player is excited about exploring the socio-political aspects of this historic victorian analog, and their 13 year old brother wants to play Rycroft and already has the hat.
The only problem is that all of these people are expecting you to run completely different LARPs, and many of them are likely to be disappointed.
You're ill-prepared for the hardship that lies ahead. There is more here than you can fathom. And while you go about your little life, so sure that this world still belongs to you, some dark god awakes. - Carnival Row
Setting expectations and communicating gets the right players
So you're saying Hype is bad?
Hype isn't a bad thing. Inspiring players to be excited for your LARP is paramount for selling tickets and keeping your events alive. But as much as it seems counterintuitive, you don't actually want to run a LARP for everyone.
Creating an experience that caters to such a wide range of interest that literally anyone would want to play is unlikely to allow you to tell the kind of story (or create the kind of game) that you want. Instead it's best to be true to your own vision and communicate it clearly so that the players that actually enjoy your kind of LARP are the ones that end up attending.
Now that doesn't mean that you need to have every detail ironed out before you tell anyone about your LARP. Nor does it mean you can't change the details later. The best LARPs are those that give room for collaboration and are allowed to evolve and grow. You simply need to accurately address some of the key questions that players will have when deciding if they want to attend. As long as you're honest and clearly communicate your intentions, you're likely to get the right crowd to buy into your idea.
Below you'll find a list of some of the things I feel are important when communicating about your LARP. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is any one single thing necessarily more important than another. Some genres or game types may require more or less information. You might not be able to answer all these questions right away, but they are definitely things to consider. What is important is that you are clear and forthright in defining your LARP and answering questions your audience will have when deciding if it's the right LARP for them.
Although it's often overlooked, every LARP has its own set of processes and rituals for preparing and running their event. It's important to help your players know what is expected of them and how they can get involved before, during, and after the event.
-- Are there pre-game workshops or gatherings?
-- What does setup and teardown look like and when does it start/end?
-- Once the game starts, is there a plotline? And how do the players get involved?
-- Are there scheduled in character events? Player organized events?
-- Are there after game gatherings or a debrief?
Providing guidelines for designing the characters your players will be portraying is important when empowering them to create stories within your world.
-- Are the players making their own characters, or are they written for them?
-- How and when do they submit their characters?
-- What roles are available for their characters to take on?
-- What are the kinds of goals or motivations their characters should pursue?
Story and Setting
Most designers assume that players require a lengthy setting guide to understand the story. And there is always room to add more detail and nuance to your setting. But when advertising a LARP you only really need to focus on four things.
-- What is the genre for the setting?
-- What can their characters do in this space?
-- What's the main conflict in the story?
-- What should they expect to happen?
Depending on how complicated you intend to make your game mechanics, this may end up being the hardest part of your design. But you don't need to finish everything right away. Just share your intentions for the rules so players know what you're trying to achieve.
-- What type/style of LARP are you running?
-- Will there by combat?
-- How is conflict resolved?
-- Where can players find and read the rules?
-- What at minimum must they understand before playing?
-- Are the rules beginner friendly?
It might be hard to share the logistics of the events while the LARP is still in the early days of design. Although it might not be necessary to nail down these answers before you first advertise your LARP, you'll definitely want to figure them out and share them before selling tickets.
-- Where? When? How much?
-- What does my ticket buy me?
-- Food and sleep?
-- Will there be access to amenities like power, water, and toilets?
-- Who are the event staff and how do I contact them?
-- Is the event insured, and what rights are retained or waived?
Requirements and Restrictions
Communicating what players can or can't do is extremely important for not only setting good expectations, but avoiding conflict between players during the event.
-- What are the costuming and prop requirements?
-- What, at minimum, must players do before attending the event?
-- Where can players learn about event safety and required Code of Conduct?
-- Are there restrictions on age?
-- Is the event accessible for players with disabilities?
-- Do players require previous experience?
But what about my three page vignette?!?
Well in my opinion, creating more "in universe" narratives is a great way to get players excited for the story you're telling. You shouldn't have to stop sharing creative stories or building the hype just because you want players to make informed decisions.
Just make sure your fun fluffy creative writing is not the only thing you're telling your audience about your LARP.
Oh and let me know when tickets for "Carnival Row the LARP" go on sale.
I'm so here for this.