Afloat on the Isles – What Goes into Running a LARP – Part 2

Having reminisced about how I got into LARPing, and how I find myself back once again getting ready to launch a new campaign of the LARP I helped develop from the bottom up, I now look ahead to how we got where we are now. As I write these words, it’s the day before our event begins, but by the time you read it, it’ll be over.

Again, I’m specifically talking about ongoing campaign-style LARPs. Some of these details are valid for one-shot LARPs, but not all of them.

Rule Number Six…There is NO rule number six!

Well, this is pretty basic, but a LARP, like any other kind of game, needs rules. There are plenty of LARP Rules books that’re commercially available, such as Cthulhu Live, the NERO Rule Book, and so on. There are also rules systems that’re available out there for free, such as the Accelerant system, which is the basis for the Isles. These rules systems may not exactly match what you wanted, in case you may find yourself developing your own rules, such as the rules I’ve developed for a one-shot Lovecraft-inspired LARP I’m running later this summer. But it’s important to have a rules system and to get it into the hands of your players.

When The Isles was first created, there were several attempts to write a new game system to support it. Ultimately, it was decided to base it on the Accelerant system (at that time called nTeraction) with some modifications to support our specific magic system concepts, a scholar skill suite, and other items.

The rules for many LARPs, including the Isles, are not static. They’re a living document that evolves and changes over time. In the first campaign, as we discovered that there were rules that needed tweaking, we had our Rules Committee look at them. Some rules were changed, some discarded over time. And we added rules. When the story started, Magic was a ritual system, with no actual damaging spells. Over time, and through a deal with the Fey, some players learned how to throw magic to hurt someone. This was a significant change and required a whole new rules system to support it. Now, in the new campaign, this new kind of magic, referred to as Invocation, has spread, and any player can learn it.

I’ve Got a Barn, Let’s Put on a Show

It may be possible to write and run a LARP all by one’s self, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. All of the LARPs I’ve been involved with have had a staff. Staff in the Isles comes in four great flavors…general staff, rules committee, plot committee, and NPCs. Bear in mind, these tend to overlap, and some of our staff are player characters as well.

Our General Staff are folks that make sure that the non-plot parts of the game run. We have our tireless General Manager, Chris, who makes sure the bills are paid, works with our accountant, is our liaison with the location we use (more on that later), works between the rest of staff and players when there’s an issue, and so on. We have staff that makes costuming for us. We have staff that figures out where everyone’s staying in the various cabins. We have staff that check-in players when they arrive. We have EMTs in case there’s a medical problem on site…

Our General Staff are mostly player characters, this campaign. In the last campaign, Chris was also the head of plot. It’s one of my goals in this campaign to make sure he has a good time with lots of exciting plot for him to enjoy…or be tormented by, depending. ;)

I’d mentioned our Rules Committee above. Besides correcting things that don’t seem to work, they also consider proposals by players for new rules, work out how certain new concepts proposed by our plot committee can work in the framework of the game and more.

The Plot Committee, which is where I’m to be found, works on…well..plot, of course. Not only do we consider events that will occur at each weekend, we consider how each weekend fits into our overall story goals. As an example from the last campaign, we had introduced an item at the Fey Market…a Spirit Lure. I had an idea for a spirit called Penance who would wander into town, attracted by it…but there needs to be more. Who was he? Was he a danger or could he be a help? We eventually decided he was one of the scientists who’d worked on an Apocalyptic weapon called the Cleansing that had caused some of the havoc in our campaign (including changing things from tech-driven to magic-driven.) Since the players were fearful that they were about to face another Cleansing device, he was able to get them info about what it looked like, how it could be destroyed, etc. Another member of the committee thought it would be a good way to tie into a spirit character he was playing, and my one-shot idea became an important part of the ending of our campaign. That’s the kind of brainstorming that really shines when you work by committee.

NPCs, or Non-Player Characters, if you’re not familiar with the term, make the world go round, and we’ve been blessed with some fine ones. You can have great rules and a scintillating plot, but, without NPCs, it all falls flat. Now, I play NPCs throughout our weekends…I played the spirit Penance, for example…but I’m just one person. Our games tend to have large casts, and the plot committee can only do so much. Luckily, we have an excellent system where we can work with other games using the Accelerant rules, allowing people who work as NPCs for us to earn experience points for their characters in those games. Likewise, our players can work as NPCs for their games and earn experience points for their characters in our games.

There are, of course, a few NPCs that just enjoy doing it. My friends Kody, Ryan, and Kate are only involved in our game so far. They come to hang out with us and because they enjoy fighting, playing the various roles, and so on.

Location, Location, Location

This seems so basic, but you really do need to have a great location to play your LARP. A good LARP needs places for players to sleep, places for players to congregate, a place for the NPCs and staff to prepare out of sight of the players, a place for adventures to happen, and so on.

I remember in the days when I was first playing NERO, we played at various boy scout camps. Then we bought our own camp, and that was fantastic. The Isles has been been incredibly fortunate in that we have an excellent relationship with a facility in Charlton, MA called Ye Olde Commons. Owned by LARPers, it’s a camp converted for LARPing facilities specifically. It has numerous cabins for players, a huge tavern area with a full kitchen and a real bar, two huge buildings for running adventures in, as well as acres of woods for all kinds of encounters, a big field, just begging for rolling field battles, and so on. I’ll happily plug them:

Prop It Up

I’ve done a whole article on props, but nowhere are they more important than in a LARP. You can’t just describe an object in a LARP – it has to exist. We can’t just say “There’s a swirling interdimensional gate”, we have to show it.

Amongst the props I’ve put together for this weekend, I’ve accumulated numerous bottles, beakers, and test tubes for the alchemy lab, a real anvil and some fake fireplaces for the forge, numerous decorations for the Chapel, including altar clothes, a chalice, and a wooden wall-hanging all featuring a triquetra theme, costuming and weapons for Father Isengrim, the main NPC I’ll be playing…the list keeps expanding.

Need a Break

Well, gentle readers, I’m actually needing to stop now, because I have to get ready for LARPing! I hope this article has given you an idea of how much work and how many resources go into running a good LARP. Next week, I’ll be planning on telling you how it went. In the meanwhile, if you have LARP-oriented questions or comments, keep ‘em coming!

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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