125. Road Trip larp, Part Eight: Runtime Gamemastering

/This is the eighth part of the series on the Road Trip larp project. If you want to start from the first post, it is #116.

When running a larp, there’s always the question:

Sometimes they’re busy behind the scenes, solving practical or emotional issues. Sometimes they take an active part in forming the larp, by using NPCs and/or planned events. Sometimes they play the larp along with everyone else.

For Road Trip, we were three organisers; Ashley, Jeff and me. We played characters, but also took care of offgame planning and coordination. Ashley and I drove in the offgame car, and only played the larp when we were stopped – at hotels, bars, roadside stops, attractions, etc. Jeff sometimes drove with us, but most of the time he was with the band.

We divided ingame responsibility according to offgame responsibility. Jeff was in charge of the band and the music – so he played Kelsey, singer and guitarist, and the band’s internal coordinator. Ashley was in charge of hotels, travel and food, which meant that ingame she became Suzette, the tour manager.

And me? I was in charge of characters, game design and actual gamemastering. The role of Rick Stevenson, music video producer and filmmaker, gave me the ingame authority to keep things moving and to boss people around when needed.

But what did we learn from all this? This series follows a Ten Lessons Learned format, and I’ll dive into that now. Here are Ten Lessons Learned About Runtime Gamemastering in Roadtrip.

  1. Having GM characters works very well. When we organise College of Wizardry, I never have a character. Instead, I’m hidden behind the scenes. Here, I very much a character and wasn’t hidden at all. It’s just so much easier when you can interact directly with the players.
  2. Getting to play was also amazing. Another reason I’m extremely happy we chose to have characters is that we got to play as well. Road Trip was one wild ride, and while I didn’t get the full player experience, I got to have many unforgettable ingame moments.
  3. Having an offgame car was smart. It meant that Ashley and I could do coordination without being hampered by our characters. It meant that we could recruit NPCs on the fly, change the route without being in the earshot of players and have a ton of inspiring conversations about the future.
  4. It was useful to be able to control the tempo. With 22 participants in total – including the three of us – it was pretty easy to constantly take the temperature of the larp. Did we need to stop for a break? Was there room for an improvised scene? Did we just need to drive for a while?
  5. It’s a bit like herding cats. Getting 22 people on a road trip to behave more or less as you want them to is hard enough. Add the larp element to it, and it got complex pretty fast. Patience is a virtue, it’s said, but here it was a neccesity. And with the rolling nature of the larp, doubly so!
  6. Road Trip was insanely flexible to run. The players didn’t know where we’d be stopping until the morning briefing. They didn’t know what the venues looked like, or what extra stops were planned on the way. This gave us crazy freedom to freestyle; a bit of an organiser dream for me
  7. The documentation became a playmaker. Often, we have to hide our cameras as best we can. Here, they were front and center, and gave alibi for a number of GM decisions. Interesting landscape? Let’s do a photoshoot there. Cool ritual? We’ll film it for the band documentary.
  8. Transparency is cool, but so are surprises. Most of the larps I do are very player-controlled, and our task is to help set the stage and let loose the dogs of war. Ok, the players, but you know what I mean. Here, we slowly “revealed” the larp to them instead, and that worked really well.
  9. An event like this needs a lot of GM’ing. Our 1917 larp Fairweather Manor is run by a tiny team, and has around 130 players. If we’d been the 50 we’d planned for, this would have been crazy to run with just three people. A 1:10 GM rate will work well, I think, but not too much over that.
  10. I had the time of my life. It was nothing less than a mind blowing experience for me personally. I would have loved to play the larp, but getting to play/organise was also pretty damn wild. Runtime GM’ing requires a lot, but it was also fulfillling as hell. 10/10, would do again.

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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