When Things Go Boom in Larp (5×5 #8)

Well... yeah. Photo by Vesna Kurilić & Ivana Delač (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles II - Soulburst larp, Croatia, November 2014)
Well… yeah. Photo by Vesna Kurilić & Ivana Delač (The Elder Scrolls Chronicles II – Soulburst larp, Croatia, November 2014)

(Yeah, yeah, now I’ve got Leelo’s Badda Big Boom! in my head too, thank you very much.)

The three weeks I’ve not written a word for the SnW blog had me writing 3-4 articles for work per week, on average, prepping and playing the second TESC larp event, sewing absolutely no seam I can recall and banging my head against the wall over neglecting my favorite website (y’now, the skirty wolfy one).

Unfortunately, tiny implosions in the publishing schedule of a larp blog ain’t all that can go wrong in larping, and since it’s a Monday, and a first Monday of a month, too… knock yourselves out!

One / Pregame TNT

#1 Giving up before you’ve tried (boom effect: 100% for all)

The “giving up before you’ve tried” larping boom can affect players as well as organizers, and it’s one of the saddest larping pitfalls out there. It may be as simple as never trying larping in the first place, or failing to organize a great event because you thought you weren’t good enough to pull it off. (Don’t get me wrong – some people aren’t good enough, especially when it comes to emotionally heavy larps, but you still have to try something to know whether you’re going to be awesome at it or suck spectacularly.)

#2 Not enough applications vs. too many applications (boom effect: 25-90%, depending on the organizers and the game design)

Having too many people apply for an event can be as bad as having too little – it all depends on the game and its organizers. Sometimes things can be adjusted, put on a different course, written again from scratch – but sometimes, events get cancelled… I’ve yet to hear about a larp being cancelled due to too many applications, but I do know of larps who took on more players than they could manage only to suffer the consequences.

#3 Space, terrain and territory issues (boom effect – 40 %)

In Croatia nowadays, it seems many people either larp in one specific location (which portrays different settings for separate larps) or struggle as to where to hold their games. Larping in the great outdoors, from what I hear, it can be a total disaster, too, just to coordinate stuff with the terrain owners, split the cost effectively and prepare the location to serve as the perfect background to just the thing you’ve got in mind. And then there are floods

#4 Player cancellations (boom effect – 25-80%, with a note to mind the difference between pregame and midgame cancellations)

Recent experience with both co-GMing a pervasive larp and playing a bigger fantasy larp (TESC II) had me thinking how to adjust things best to compensate for missing players (and characters), and I still haven’t come up with an universal solution. Maybe the problem is that there are no universal solutions, and we all deal with missing links on a case-to-case basis, organizers and players alike. Just make sure not the fit #1 of this list simply because people cancelled.

#5 Life happens (boom effect – infinite)

Last minute shit laced with trace amount of TNT, work-related shit, injuries in the week before the larp, the all-too-familiar occasion when the printer breaks down just as you’re printing the on-site riddles less than an hour before the game… sometimes it feels like Murphy likes larpers even more than the regular folk.

Two / C4 in the Organizers’ HQ

#1 Plot, what plot? (boom effect – 1-100%)

We’ve all seen DMs and GMs in regular RPGs who improvise on the spot, producing a wonderful, complex and vivid pen and paper session. How many larps have you played which rely on improv only…?

#2 Not enough of plot (boom effect – up to 80%)

Plot, plot… recently it seems to me that it’s all about the plot. Extra plot, in case your players rush through what you’ve got prepared way to early into game. Subplot – actually, make that subplots – you’ve got waiting to push into the game when it starts slowing down. (Virtual lifesavers – trust a writer.) When it comes to extra bonus plot, intended to spice things up, improvisation can be your friend – just make sure not to rely on it exclusively.

#3 Communication issues (boom effect – 50-90%)

If you’re a one person band, communicating with yourself shouldn’t really be an issue (if it is, you’re looking for help in the wrong place). But, if there’s more than one of you (which is a thing I’d strongly suggest if you’re taking on bigger events), you have to take special care to communicate stuff clearly and peacefully between yourselves in order to minimize the boom effect. If you don’t… well, total larp implosion sound familiar?

#4 Matters of style/personal differences (silent boom effect – up to 75% or more)

Not two people in the universe view larping as the exactly same thing (nope, not even live-in partners who organize larps together) and the end result of a GM team’s design should be something which fits all of you. (Oh, yeah – it was an Astra experience.) If it doesn’t, and you don’t realize it early enough, you might tear the larp apart without even as much as a hisssss of slowly defusing wet TNT.

#5 Crisis management (boom effect – 1-80%)

Midgame triage and crisis management is something GMs don’t seem to think enough of in advance, at least in my last two larping experiences (yup, including the GMing one). If you can’t keep your cool under fire, if you can’t stay polite to your players even when they’re shouting at you (or mocking you), if you can’t stay professional until the game’s over – well, you might want to reconsider your choice to run a larp in the first place. Sure, we’ve all got our ticklish spots and imperfections, but crisis management is something you should definitely be able to do well if you want to earn your spot in the organizers’ HQ (and keep it).

Three / Landmines in the Field

#1 We’re only human (boom effect – inconceivable)

Whatever you’ve got planned, whatever anyone’s got planned for the larp, it’s not going to happen the way you’ve imagined it. Nothing in life ever does – and that’s the fun of it!

#2 Storyline twists (boom effect – up to 50%)

Larps which rely in a bigger part on interlaced character, NPC and background storylines are bound to end in knots from time to time, and we can’t alway untangle them in time to finish the game in style. Since we all know there’s no perfect larp design, we just have to be ready for it – for players forgetting bits and pieces of their characters’ background, for random story elements not to enter play at all for whatever reason etc. Improvise, work around it, play along with snippets of new, midgame ideas and have fun nevertheless.

#3 Weather issues (boom effect 20-99% – luckily, quite rare)

When larping in the great outdoors, everyone should be prepared to handle at least a little bit of rain and extreme sunlight – possibly even at the same time. Still, if you’re going to an event famous for its regular heavy rain, you can minimise the boom effect by simply preparing for it. (We’ve got one recurring event just like that in Croatia – I’ll let you know what it feels like playing it once I dare join it.)

#4 Pacing gitches (boom effect – up to 60%)

Pacing gets a special mention both because it’s something we’ve struggled with a lot, before and during Astra larp, and because I’ve seen it blow up more often than not at other larps. Since larp is a live game, the GMs can never quite pace the plot as they had planned, and since we’re all playing at the same time, intersecting our separate efforts in one big ball of action sequences… Too fast can be as bad as too slow, and larpers eventually learn to compensate for both. (Sometimes.)

#5 Random elements of random (boom effect – quite variable)

Some people call it coincidence, but I still prefer the random elements of random – it covers a lot more stuff than one can fit in a single, simplistic word. Life happens, human reactions happen, stuff gets lost, stuff gets found (when it shouldn’t), someone gets ill, someone gets drunk, and no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. As long as we all stay sane and safe, and as long as there’s enough crisis management on the GM part, many things will never escalate. Those which do… well, boom!

Four / Torpedo Relicts Between Submar-err, Players

#1 Ancient blood feuds between players (boom effect – up to 40%, sometimes more)

Being relatively new to the Croatian larping scene (even after a little under four years, I’m not afraid to say it), I have had the pleasure of missing out on most of the legendary blood feuds between seasoned players – but we still get some aftershocks from the time before time was time. On the other hand, new feuds are forging even as we speak, and not all of us are civil enough to stop our apparent dislike of another player from hurting the game. If you’re just starting out on a local scene, you should probably check if there are people who can’t stand each other and, even more important, be sure to avoid them if they meet in play. If you’re one of those involved in feuds, I would be very grateful, for the sake of all involved, if you do your best to play along and keep the fights for after the game – and preferably somewhere really far from me.

#2 Exes (boom effect – up to 15%, unless the players are creative and seriously set to destroy each other’s experience)

Remember axes and exes from this post? In the three plus years I’ve been larping, I’ve never seen (or recognized – which is a totally different matter) exes deliberately destroying the game for each other, but you can never be sure. All I know is that larpers are a tight knit community – and that things tend to get ugly even among players who never dated each other. Be careful not to get in the way of those who did. Just in case, ‘s all I’m saying.

#3 Cliques (boom effect – up to 60% or more)

The lone idea of writing about cliques makes me yawn all over the keyboard. Let’s just say that it’s not worth it. It’s just not.

#4 Overreacting (boom effect – up to 45%)

Coming from an experienced overreactor (ummmm…), just… don’t. Whatever it is that got you so heated up, it probably a) didn’t happen in the first place, at least not in the way you think it did and b) isn’t worth ruining the larping experience for both yourself and all those caught in the blast around you. If, on the other hand, you’re caught in someone else’s overreacting explosion, do your best to avoid the epicenter of the blast, find the calmest player in your immediate vicinity who’s able to handle them and get the hell out of their way, even if they’re a slow burner. You’ll thank me later.

#5 Misunderstandings (boom effect – up to 50%)

Misunderstandings are one of the biggest pitfalls in human interaction in general – side by side with shortsightedness and general insensitivity (but I’m not one to judge – unless it’s ruining my larping experience). It’s hard enough to communicate clearly when we all feel and talk through our personal private lenses (and we’re only human, as if things weren’t complicated enough), but during the game… things get, you know, really loud and explosion-like. If you find yourself in a middle of a misunderstanding (or something suspiciously similar to one), take a deep breath, step back, relax and retrace the steps which brought you here in the first place. You’ll never solve anything talking through your rage or hurt feelings – and sometimes things really are solvable just if all the involved parties calm down and talk.

Five / Improv Homemade Bombs in the Players’ Minds

#1 Power gamers (boom effect – up to the organizers)

Power gamers are a player subdivision larping has inherited from first person shooters and the history of the human race. Fortunately, survival of the fittest isn’t a common theme in collaborative storytelling (at least not where I’m from) and Neanderthals and the Cromagnon both have good chances of making it to the end of the game. Still, power gamers are as resilient as roaches, and you’ll run into them from time to time. When you do, trust the organizers to handle them to stop them from infecting the game on a larger scale, and whatever you do, run the other way the moment they start shouting out their best Tarzan impressions at you. It’ll probably be safe to return to the spot later, after they’re safely on their way via lianas.

#2 Bleeders (boom effect – up to 30% for the explosion, slightly more for the implosion)

Coming from a self proclaimed bleeder, I know we can be a pain, too. Bleed – mixing the emotion of a player with that of a character, and vice versa – complicates things, especially if neither the players nor the organizers know how to deal with it and when playing along with people who have no concept of emotional investment in larping whatsoever. If you’re a bleeder, watch yourself, act on time if you go too deep and avoid larps with too big emotional expectations. If you’re playing alongside someone who’s into bleed, make sure not to cross your own larping limits, whatever they might be – but also try not to spoil the moment, both for yourself and for them.

#3 Ficus players (boom effect – 30%, boredom effect – infinite)

If you run into a ficus player, give them some water from time to time to prevent them from withering away. If you’re a ficus player… hey, I’m talking to you, why are you…? hey, you! Yes, you! Come o’er here! Are you gonna start playing yet or what? Hey, you can’t just…! Oh, you know what – never mind…

#4 Triggertime (boom effect – personally up to 90%, for the game mostly nonexistent)

People have totally different views on triggers, trigger warnings and personal limits, but in my opinion it’s always better to be safe than sorry. (Especially since one of my most intense and intensely bad larping experiences involved myself unknowingly hitting someone else’s huge personal trigger I should’ve seen from a mile away.) If you have issues, be aware of them and responsibly let the GMs know if you think it might be a problem. If it’s a bigger issue, let someone whom you’re playing with know, too, so they can be there for you if the need should arise. If you see someone get hurt emotionally in a game, be it a co-player or your player if you’re running said game, don’t just stop and stare – help them out as best as you can, ’cause sometimes it’s the personal implosions which hurt us the most…

#5 Post Larp Depression (boom effect – delayed to after the game, up to 20% or more)

We’ve all seen it, many of us have felt it, too – PLD is a bitch, especially after a seriously enjoyable game. I’ve basically said what I’ve got to say about it here, and I just hope you find your own way to deal with it. Whatever you do… don’t take it out on your roommates or colleagues, be it people, animals and/or plants. It ain’t really worth it. Most of the time, there’s another larp waiting just around the corner…

Five by Five is a regular feature on Skirts ‘n’ Wolves, which runs on the first Monday of every month. I’m a huge lover of all sorts of lists, and larp-related ones fit right in. Come to think of it – got a great larp list idea? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment or an e-mail.

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