7. Thirteen tips for larp organisers

  1. Remember that there are many ways to create stories. Larp is awesome when it comes to setting the stage, so that others may have (hopefully) meaningful experiences. It’s pretty bad when it comes to tell a tightly-controlled story that you’ve already decided upon. If you want to tell the story of one interesting person, larp isn’t the optimal medium for it.
  2. Larp is impossibly broad, and is always bursting at the seams. Whenever someone says “This is how larp is”, someone will do something that’s definitely larp, but also definitely not like that — just to spite them. This is especially true in the Nordic larp scene, but by no means limited to it. I’m sure that right now, someone has read the first tip and said “Fuck you, Claus! I’m now doing a larp that proves you wrong.” (which is great)
  3. Fear! To do larps, you need to let go of some of your fear. One thing, that always surprises me when dealing with non-larpers who talk about organising larps is how much control they want. Maybe I’ve just become too used to the chaotic nature of larp to notice anymore, but I’m still astounded at what people are afraid of. Usually, things work out just fine, and trying to control everything seldom works out well.
  4. The internet can help you. Once upon a time, the only way to learn how to organise larps was to go on a spirit quest and find a wise, old mentor who could teach you the eternal truths of larp organising by uttering zen-like statements. Or, at least, that’s how it felt. Those days are long gone. There’s a growing pool of resources available for free online (lecture, books, articles, videos, etc), and a lot of them are quite good. Take advantage of the work other people have done. Even if you’re going to disagree with them.
  5. A multitude of “right ways” exist. There are many ways to start the process that ends up with a larp being played. Some start out with a location and build ideas from there. Some come up with a basic setting, and work from that. Some just have a brilliant idea for a scene, and create a larp around that idea. The nice thing about working from location and outwards is that locations can be hard to get, and once you’ve fallen in love with the idea of a certain larp, it can be pretty hard to let go of the dream.
  6. Learn to spot the difference between organiser and helper. It’s hard to do a complete larp on your own, especially if it involves many people and logistical challenges. When putting together a team for your larp, remember that there’s a huge difference between people who need to decide things, people who take charge of certain aspects of the project, like cooking the food or making the scenography and people who in the end move the tables or paint the fake walls. Having too few helpers will destroy you; moving 50 chairs is no big deal if you’re 5–10 people, but it’s hell if you’re alone. Having too many deciders, on the other hand, will slow a project to a crawl. And having sub-chiefs who have control over one aspect of the project, but not the whole, is great — except when they decide stuff that is deeply problematic for the overall project. So when you’re creating a team, think a bit about what you want from people.
  7. It’s perfectly ok not trying to create new paradigms all the time. You don’t have to invent the wheel every time you do a larp, but you also don’t have to try to invent anything else either. There’s no harm in doing something that’s been done before, but for a different group of people. Just because someone somewhere on the planet has already done a Jane Austen zombie larp doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Being first isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — even though it can be tempting.
  8. Experiment. Try out stuff. Fight the urge to slip into safe mode. It can seem ironic that I say this while looking forward to running College of Wizardry for the ninth and tenth time, but it’s nonetheless something I believe. Mix it up. Do something different. Or at least do something different on the side. Campaign larps can be great, but they also tend to suck all the time and energy out of people, leaving them with little time for variety. Kind of like people with little time and one favorite TV show — except much, much worse. So, to offset that, play around with stuff even though you’ve found a formula that works.
  9. Think larp. Talk larp. Do larp. But also play larp. Organisers who don’t get out and get inspired are doing themselves a disservice. It’s tempting to think “I don’t have time”, but that’s also the clear path to stagnation. Unless you’ve lost your love of playing larps (which can happen, and is fair enough), then take the time to get out there once in awhile. Even if you go to a larp that you really don’t like, it can still be inspiring.
  10. You’re Hitler. Ok, you’re not really Hitler, but some people are going to treat you a little bit like if you were. Especially online. It doesn’t matter that you’re doing something that’s wonderful and amazing and life-changing to a lot of people. There will still be those who think you’re the larp version of a nazi dictator. That’s the price of being a creator. No matter how hard you try, someone will dislike what you do (and maybe even you as a result). Deal with that, and move on. You’re not Hitler.
  11. Larp is deeply personal. Larp is a strange beast, and unlike most other art forms, there is no single “product” that everyone can interact with. People who watch movies of course have different movie experiences; where they watch it matters, who they watch it with matters, when they watch it matters, etc. But the movie itself is roughly the same. For a larp, it doesn’t work like that. It’s a little bit like the old Hindu saying about life as an elephant. Someone gets to touch the long trunk. Someone gets the feet. And someone gets the ass. It’s still the same elephant, but it’s not the same experience at all. So when one person says “This was the best larp ever” and another says “This was the worst larp ever”, what they’re actually talking about is how they liked their part of the elephant.
  12. Communication matters. A lot. A lot a lot. In the end, larps (mostly) come alive because the players make them do so, just like a film actor makes a character description become a living, breathing character. The tricky thing here is that we (usually) don’t have directors standing around telling us precisely what to do. In larp, there’s very rarely any direct direction during runtime, so you need to be that much clearer in the pre-larp communication. Once you let loose the players, it’s pretty smart to have made sure that they’re all roughly on the same page, and that requires a lot of communication.
  13. Lower your ambitions. Now, lower them again. One more time. Keep doing so until you actually start doing the project instead of just having fantasies about it. I’d much rather hear someone talk about a mediocre larp they did, then a brilliant one they didn’t do because it was too hard. Not doing things because you’re too busy/inexperienced/poor/afraid/etc. is very easy. People do it all the time. Peeling away layers of ambition until you reach a point where you actually do it instead? That’s hard.

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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