32. Using non-IP IP for larps

The title may sound a bit confusing, but the premise is simple enough. How do you find intellectual property that isn’t in fact, intellectual property? You go hunting for genres where the individual fiction doesn’t matter as much as the collected works of fiction.

George R. R. Martin’s world is extraordinary and beloved by many, and after it became the setting of the incredibly succesful HBO series Game of Thrones, it only got more exposure. Doing a larp in that world is a dream for many organisers, and several have done so already.

I havent, because I don’t want to get burned by IP lawyers. After the scare of talking with Warner Bros legal department (even in a very civilized way, and with friendly words on both sides), I don’t want to repeat that if I can help it. That means no GoT larp from me and my team, unless there’s a deal in place.

Some people have asked me why not just do a GoT-inspired larp? Set in a different fantasy world, but following the same basic formula (rivalries between noble houses, intrigue, sex, blood, etc) and ignore the stuff that probably wouldn’t be relevant for the larp anyway (White Walkers, dragons, and so on).

Sure, it could be done. But to me, what makes GoT so special is the world and its names, its people and its factions. We could easily create new noble houses for a fictional fantasy world that had a GoT-like feel without being GoT. But that wouldn’t be nearly as cool, I think.

Doing a fantasy larp that’s not set in Westeros means that we do a fantasy larp that’s not trying to emulate GoT. Or at least, that’s my thought on the subject for the time being. Who knows what the future will bring.

Now, here we have a different breed of fictional world. It wouldn’t take much to replace the Mad Max world with something that feels quite similar, but definitely isn’t Mad Max. What sets Mad Max apart from other post-apo settings is – to me at least – primarily the visuals and the story. Not the world itself.

Or to put it in other words: I wouldn’t feel any problems with creating a Mad Max-inspired larp that didn’t take place in the specific Mad Max world. Part of that is because the world isn’t so detailed, and we only get to explore a small part of it during the movie. Another part is that some of the basic parts are quite generic. Having a waterless wasteland with weird customs and ruthless dictators ruling over dirty crowds isn’t that distinct. And most of the really distinct stuff (“Chrome”, the vehicles, the old biker women) is either easy to reframe or probably not super-relevant for an actual larp.

This means that I would gladly do a post-apo larp using some of the ideas from Mad Max, without feeling that I needed to import the entire universe. Just as I’d take other ideas from other post-apo movies and books, and when the larp itself came I’m not even sure I’d know where the inspiration for individual elements was coming from.

This one is even more a case-in-point. Especially if you just watch the first movie. Cursed gold. Zombie pirates. Tortuga. Humor and swashbuckling. It’s basically every pirate trope you can think of, and then some. Doing a Pirates of the Caribbean larp would probably feel incredibly close to “just” doing a pirate larp. In fact, I’m sure the two would be hard to distinguish, unless you put in individual characters.

It’s not the setting that makes PotC stand out. It’s the characters, the story and the tone. And if I did a larp inspired by PotC, I wouldn’t be the least bit afraid of stepping on anyone’s IP toes.

If you agree with my reasoning, there are several obvious ways to go about this, if you don’t have official permission.

  1. You can do larps using established IP. In most cases, no one will mind (or even be aware of it). This road isn’t for me, since I want to do big, flashy stuff that might get noticed, but it’s definitely a fair option.
  2. You can do larps being inspired by established IP, but re-skinned to be your own. It’s not hard making a world with five kingdoms and a ton of feuding houses, where magic is real, but rare. It might not be as enticing as the world of GoT, but it’ll probably be pretty great.
  3. You can do larps that are more genre-specific than fiction-specific. Pirates. Zombies. Post-apo. Sci-fi. We know that sci-fi has blasters, while it’s just Star Wars that has lightsabers. We know that zombies shamble and moan, but it’s only in Zombieland that Bill Murray is a character. Davy Jones belongs to PotC. Tortuga is universally piratical.
  4. You can do larps where you accept genre norms and then twist some of them, to make your setting stand out. Make a sci-fi larp about a Muslim colonization spaceship in the 29th century. Make a fantasy larp, where the “zombies” are werewolves instead. Make a post-apo larp where the players play soldiers on a mission into the post-apo part of the world, but the rest is normal. These are examples from my own larp career. Two of them I played. One I organised.
  5. You can do larps where you take the basic premise and completely remake the setting. Doing a Star Wars larp in a 1980's setting might be fun. Force powers would translate well, and blasters and lightsabers could easily become guns and katanas. It might be strange, but also possibly interesting. And the 80's had both a Star Wass program and an “Empire of Evil”, both courtesies of Ronald Reagan.
  6. Finally, you can do larps that take place in settings that are public domain. The Three Musketeers, Les Miserables, 20.000 leagues under the sea… just to name a few that I myself would like to play with. That way, you get all the nice things about using established IP without running the risk of angering an IP holder.

Was this useful to you? No idea. But it helped me organise my thoughts on the matter, and thar’s not too shabby for a bit of blogging. :-)

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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