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Writing a LARP Print
Written by Sandra Duggan   
Oct 09, 2009 at 05:07 AM
Sandra tells us how she goes about writing LARPs for conventions and what to bear in mind when you're going through the process.

So you want to write a LARP for a convention?

Writing is possibly one of the toughest things in gaming. Some people might say "naw it's easy", but either these people are lying or they’re bad writers. This is a fact that can’t be denied because to be creative is draining and requires research, thought and possibly late nights.

In saying that, putting together a well crafted game and having it run is something of intangible joy that can only truly be understood by those who have written and run games. So in order to understand this joy pick up a pen and start writing! There are different approaches a writer takes to writing a LARP compared to a tabletop RPG or even a LRP.

An RPG usually takes place over many in-game days, multiple locations and is mostly some high-octane fun all round. RPGs are wonderful fun and allow the writer to really get to grips with the interactive story.

LRPs are usually more linear. They involve weapons and interaction with the environment. To even consider tackling an LRP you should have some safety and first-aid training. Have other people helping out with similar amounts of training and of course some place outdoors but away from the general public to avoid inadvertently going to jail for scaring the bejesus out of people walking their dogs. However, a well thought out LRP with a good writer and staff is something that should be done at least once in your life. If only because it makes you feel like a big kid.

LARPs are something of a middle ground between both of the above. I've always approached LARPs as interactive plays where the cast are all in one place and must interact with their environment in order to somehow work a resolution for their current situation.

One of the most difficult parts of LARP writing is the setting. How does one manage to get approximately 15 people to stay in one place for 3 hours? This is quite a predicament. If you're writing a LARP based off a current system like L5R the inspiration can come from the core setting material. Conflicting factions of a group meeting to discuss terms of a truce possibly? Maybe an illegitimate gathering of outcasts who are trying to topple the established power group? If you read most of the rulebooks in most systems there is plenty of fodder there and established protocols for getting together a group of people in one place.

If you're writing away from an established setting then things are a little bit more difficult. Think what you want your game to be about. Try to find reasons why these people would all be in one place at one time. I should point out here that the use of Deus Ex Machina is perfectly acceptable. However, if you have a player who really wants to get of the situation they will - It's part of human nature after all.

Characters

The next part is the characters. There should always be two things involved when writing up your characters. The first is conflict. Conflict is an essential part of character development and it's essential to make the story interesting and the game lively. Sometimes this can manifest as a person mildly disagreeing with a particular point right through to a duel being played out in the middle of the game. It's also surprising how the players themselves interpret things. Mostly for the better and in a way you as a writer never would have considered.

The second, which is something that many writers forget, is that people need something to do during the game. It's perfectly acceptable to have a small group of super-important characters who have wonderfully crafted elegant backgrounds with a laundry list of things to do and be achieved during the game. However you shouldn't forget about that one person who was last to arrive and gets landed with the character of only a few lines and no objectives. Although if you've done this then maybe you should have spent more time writing up characters and plot. Everyone should have two to five things that they need/want to do. Whether it be seeing somebody fail, stealing an artifact or unmasking the murders of their father, they need to have something to do. Again players will surprise you in how they interpret things and achieve their objectives.

Plot

So characters are written but what about the plot? More than likely before you even put pen to paper you had some key events planned. These were in mind when you were writing the main characters too.

After writing all of your characters you'll see some main events happening character-wise. Whether it's a fight or a theft of something valuable some main events will happen. Since you've written the characters you'll be able to guess how things will go or you can nudge things in the right direction. You simply can't ignore the fact the there will be one or two big events which will happen during any LARP. How you want the game to go will determine the type of plot points you have, and they will range from subtle to overly grand events. As the writer it's up to you to determine what happens and when.

There are two notes to add when actually writing plot for a convention LARP. Firstly, the plot should be intersting and unique. This alone will be a challenge as many things have been done to death. However taking something very standard and adding strange elements can make a dull plot sparkle. It's all about the approach. If the plot is dull people will get bored and just leave. Secondly, the plot should be accessable to all players. The worst crime that any writer and storyteller can make is to construct a wonderful plot that's only for a couple of characters to enjoy. There could be lots of interesting subplots to distract them but people will almost always want in on the big main plot.

Something I should also add here is that when writing a plot in particular for a convention game (although this can go for long running campaigns) try to avoid "railroading" your players. Give them choices that may or may not affect the main plot. After time you should develop the skills that will help you write and run a game which has people chasing the plot without them even knowing it. Remember the game is not for you to feel all smug and superior because people couldn't crack your crazy plot. It's for other people to enjoy and have fun.

Now you've gotten all of the core elements of the game done. The rest is window-dressing but can help.

The Padding

If possible try to get a space that reflects the theme of your game. If the game is political for instance possibly a boardroom, if the game is action based then a gym. It's not always possible to do this but if you can it really adds an element to the game that migt not be there otherwise.

If you decide to go with props you should think about safety involved. For instance if you give somebody a stick you can almost be assured somebody is going to get hit with it. Be mindful that people can be silly and get caught up in the moment. You should try to remain as detached as possible when considering bringing things into the game situation.

And finally...

The main aim of this article is to provide guidelines and suggestions of how to go about wrting LARPs. You'll always find that you would rather do some things differntly and finding your personal style is as important as plot and characters. Once you've run your game ask for feedback on what people thought of things - it will only add to your skills. You'll never please everyone but as long as most people had fun then you can tick the game as a success. Plus, remember one very important thing you're only as good as your last game, so keep writing.


User Comments

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Yes, roleplay just hnpaeps. In a game, rules impede that natural process. The more obvious the rule, the more disruption it causes. The best rules system would be one that is integrated into the natural actions of the character, which is where we are going with The Osiris Sanction. In this game, we build the rules into the game equipment, making them virtually transparent.It is, however, possible to have rules that reinforce the interaction of the players: we can write rules that force interaction, but we can do nothing to force role-playing. As an example, a system of production of items needed in the game can force the interaction of the players with each other. In Asylum, (as Aidrian mentions above), there was an extensive production system a blacksmith needed to buy the raw ore from a prospector to make his weapons and other items. The prospector needed his equipment to travel in the woods, the town needed food produced on the farms, and meat from the hunters. Herbs grown on the farms were in demand for their use in Magic Spells, and so on. These were all roles that the players filled, and if those roles were not filled, the town faced shortages of these things and the things made from them. There was a reason, in other words, for the characters to HAVE to interact, allowing roleplay to have it's best chance to just happen .Ford

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