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145. 10 ways to make your larp look better without spending more

I stumbled upon a debate recently, where an interesting question had been asked by a fellow larp enthusiast:

There’s been a lot of talk about production quality of games, how do you increase your production quality on a low budget? What are some tricks for creating immersive sets, awesome costumes, and effects?

-Colleen Nachtrieb, Larp Haven FB group, 21.12.2017

The discussions that followed ranged far and wide, but since I shared some of my thoughts there, I felt that it made sense to write a blog post about the subject as well.

Because it’s a great question.

How do we increase “production quality” on a low budget?

Here are some tips from me:

  1. Make larps that fit the settings you have available. I usually say that it’s easier designing a submarine larp if you have a submarine, than it is to find a submarine because you want to make a submarine larp. Design for what you have, both in setting and scope.
  2. Contemporary makes for great production value. I’ve run a larp about an advertising agency, high school comedy larps and a larp about dating. By choosing the real world of today as your setting, you automatically get high production value. 360 illusion is pretty easy in the real world.
  3. Design the setting to fit the resources. Post-apocalyptic larps are a classic here. If we’ve got trash, let’s build a world where trash is cool. If we can’t afford spaceships, why not have the villains by dressed in flowing white garments (essentially white cloth) instead of stormtrooper armour?
  4. Make cool stuff awesome instead of bad stuff ok. A scout cabin isn’t that interesting unless you prop it heavily, while a tree can be made into an amazing altar with much less time and effort. When we ran fantasy larps at schools we didn’t try to decorate the toilets to make them less modern.
  5. Create offgame zones in places that feel offgame. If you’ve got a parking lot at your fantasy boffer larp, designate it an offgame zone. Sure, it means people have to fight somewhere else, but they won’t feel de-immersed because someone flees and hides behind a Prius.
  6. Sound is a cheap way to “boost” a location. A boring location with a hidden 50$ bluetooth speaker and a smartphone playing a fitting soundtrack often gets your further than 50$ worth of props. Music shapes our feelings, yet we all too seldom use it in our larp design.
  7. The same goes for lighting. A classroom at a public school isn’t really reminiscent of a monastery. Yet, using dark rooms and controlled light areas, a trio of young Danish organisers made a larp about monks in a monastery in exactly such a space — and it looked damn cool.
  8. Designate zones of play via game mechanics. If the players know that romance scenes happen in the garden and fight scenes happen on the field, the garden can be propped with stuff that might break, while the field can have bombastic music that’s always blaring away.
  9. Change the players’ vision. This one doesn’t work everywhere, but the easiest way to get a Mars sort of feel is to find a place with a lot of rocks and then give all the players red-tinted glasses. It may sound crude, but it can produce some pretty cool effects in the right type of setting.
  10. Get your players drunk. I’ve only done this once, and it wasn’t to cover up the visual side of the larp as much as it was to cover up the general design inconsistencies. But it’s certain that players who are completely hammered are less critical of sub-par visuals. (this may not be a real suggestion) ;-)

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If you want to get into contact, you can find me at clausraasted.dk.

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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