Larp Management (Full Moon Special #9)

One of the easiest ways to make your players happy. Photo by Vesna Kurilić (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, Croatia, 2014)
One of the easiest ways to make your players happy. Photo by Vesna Kurilić (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, Croatia, 2014)

Bear with me for a second – after all, I’m an information specialist. (Yeah, its’ what it says on the label – instead of pointing a sniper at you, I’m gonna hit you with random facts and categories.) Do I really want to use such a bombastic term as management? I’ve come to believe I do. The larp I’m currently working on will happen after 8 months of planning. We’ve already got more words in pregame documentation than we’ll ever have in character info and other meta and/or ingame material. Plus, as I’ve said – I’m a librarian. We love to stick labels on every surface available.

When does the switch from “Hey, let’s hold a larp!” to larp management happen?

When you’re working with more people, when you’re making bigger larps, when you have more complex character backgrounds, when you have a bigger timeframe to plan it. And these are just a few of ways to make the switch. It should probably be noted that you don’t have to call it larp management to be doing it anyways – it’s just a matter of scale.

You got any real-life larp management examples?

Well, duh. Take a closer look at any larp above, maybe, 30 people (though some can stay below it and still require some project management methods) and you’ll find exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re into specificity, I base my views on three domestic larp projects – Izgon, The Elder Scrolls Chronicles and Astra. The larps in question have been and are organized by 1 / 7 / 2 GMs, respectively, and as far as I know, all of us have implemented some sort of project management techniques in designing and running the larps. (Well, Astra has not been run yet – but you get what I mean.)

Why don’t we just keep it plain and simple and hobbyist? You speak of volunteer-run larps…

Err, hobbyists take their passions quite seriously, haven’t you noticed? You don’t have to have someone pay you to paint miniatures, do you? Why would you have someone pay you to run a larp you’re dying to do for your own sake, anyway? (Getting paid in larping – at least in the smaller scenes, like the Croatian one – is a totally separate subject, used here just as an example.) The difference between volunteer and professional lies mainly in the money equation – sometimes the amount of time you have, too – and doesn’t imply that either is better.

After all, there’s nothing simple about running a larp, never mind what label you put on yourself as an organizer.

A word on schedules

If it’s a matter of scale, then it’s a matter of schedule, too – and this is where things get interesting. It’s already hard enough to find a suitable weekend for your larp, if you don’t want to clash with any other ones and you want to make sure the target players are able to join (and we’re all already in over our heads regarding our work and everyday lives). You have to announce it to the players early enough, but not too early, and then you have to make sure your location of interest is available on that date. And then there’s the whole “how long does it take to plan a larp?” thing. There’s literally no real answer to that – except “as long as you’ll let it”. A ton of stuff influences the said period, and the only really important parts are that you manage to do it before the larp itself, and that you don’t end up murderously overworked.

A map of personal quests for the first main event of The Elder Scrolls Chronicles larp, WIP phase (made by the GM team, Croatia, 2013)
A map of personal quests for the first main event of The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, WIP phase (made by the GM team, Croatia, 2014)

Which methods do you use?

Let me quote a non-larping, though both creative and very much project-managing friend Nela (regarding free project management software) – A simpler solution than Trello for project management does not exist. Google Docs is not project management. A calendar is not project management. A Google or Facebook group is not project management.

Game masters I know use all of the above, but I have a hunch we’re steadily moving into, well, the project management software (at least the co-alpha and I are). Methods I’ve heard from others include giant sheets of paper stuck on walls in apartments (wish I could have seen that!), drawing character connections in Paint (or similar) etc.

Several different brainstorm methods are used on occasion, too – one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve participated in was a huge whiteboard which we filled with a few circles and doodles and ideas and… (Too bad that larp still hasn’t happened. Maybe 13 GMs for a larp of 80-ish players was just a bit over the top.)

Any suggestions?

…Just a few.

#1 Whatever you do, do communicate enough – because “projects” more often than not mean “teams” – and do not burn yourself out. It’s really not a matter of life or death, unless your daily intake of calories depends on it.

#2 Be ready for changes in pace. One of the larp projects I’ve mentioned – The Elder Scrolls Chronicles – had recently had firsthand experience in what it’s like organizing a larp during summer, when many of the GMs themselves are on vacation and/or unreachable. As fall slowly creeps in, I’m sure the enthusiasm gradually returns – the same thing happened to me with our current Astra larp pre-game preps.

#3 Try to get things really, really good – but not perfect, otherwise you might be stuck in one of those perfectionist loops usually attributed to writers.

#4 Other than that – let’s not panic in the early stages, okay? No one can save an organizer just before their larp’s about to start – but there’s no need to grind yourself into the ground with fear before you even start accepting applications.

#5 If you’re stuck, do seek council from an experienced organizer friend. One of the projects I’ve worked on at one occasion actually got postponed indefinitely (errr…) because of informed advice. (Well, that was just one of the many problems with the concept – but it was still a fun idea.) Sometimes you just have to let things go – and an outsider’s opinion might be all you need to see what’s worth keeping, and what isn’t.

Good luck with your next project! (Careful not to hold it under a Full Moon – I hear people get quite nervous when it’s up in the sky.)

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