I wrote a thing on Facebook, wherein I said:
So almost no-one writes about the practical how of running Vampire as a LARP, and very few people are stupid enough to do it more than once. Which means everyone has to make the same mistakes over and over again, and that leads to cliches, usually from people who haven’t run vampire before.
I further noted that I’ve run I think 6 now – if we allow “Vampire LARP” to broadly mean: a serial LARP, comprised of multiple roughly 3-hour game sessions, taking place in essentially, a single-room environment in a broadly modern-day Urban Fantasy setting, running monthly for a period of years. I know plenty of people who’ve run a lot of LARPs, but I don’t think I know anyone quite as mad as I am. So I thought I’d write up some of the lessons I’ve learned. Starting with the most obvious one.
Your LARP Is What Happens In The Timed In Space
Obvious lesson is obvious. But I’ve run LARPs where IC correspondence in between sessions was a huge part of the game, I’ve attended more than one LARP event where a majority number of the players timed in, and then spend the event in a corner with one of the ref team running a quasi tabletop session for them, as their characters left the time in space to go and interact with some element of the setting not present in the room, and to this day, I run LARPs where putting in a downtime between sessions matters.
But I think it’s important to define them as being outside the LARP, because they’re not “live”, and they’re neccessarily constrained to a small subset of the players. The more emphasis they get, the more energy is drained out of the shared space, because the game’s focus is split.
All of these things happen for two reasons, that one-off or large event LARP has an easier time avoiding:
- The characters need something to talk about and the relevant dramatic conflict isn’t representable at short notice in the timed in space.
- The status quo at the start of event #2 needs to be different to what it was at the end of event #1 and so on.
If one or both of these things isn’t true at least most of the time, the characters will rapidly stagnate – they’ll find a status quo that works for them all, and they’ll stay there. Thresholds vary depending on the exact players, and the specifics event to event, but my experience is that even a group of players who are very capable of generating interpersonal conflict and drama between themselves need fuel to do it with, and if you as a game runner don’t provide them with fresh things to disagree over on a regular basis, the energy will start to drop.
My own personal rule of thumb is that I will generally only allow a session to go by without throwing new “fuel” into the room if the previous session was so jam packed that I actively want to give the character space to find a new equilibrium. Most of the games I’ve run have had one, maybe two sessions like that, but they’re rare.
So it’s not that these tools are automatically bad (although they’re a long way from the only ones a game runner has, but I’ll come to other options another time), but rather that a LARP ref needs to be very aware of how they’re used. My basic rule of thumb is if a player is spending more time on these activities than the minutes of action they generate in uptime, then they’re probably counter-productive.
(So for example, if a player has to spent fifteen minutes filling in a downtime, then what they get as a result needs to generate (at minimum) about five minutes of IC conversation between three players in uptime. Or y’know, a fifteen minute monologue, or something.)
Obviously, this isn’t a mathematically hard and fast rule, because no-one’s standing around with a stopwatch. And some players will take longer over downtimes, some because they want to, because they simply struggle with them, etc etc, and y’know, sometimes, mistakes get made. Something I think will generate game just fails to do so because the player’s not interested, or because there’s something else going on. Honestly, if the latter, it’s definitely not the end of the world – if the players are able to occupy themsevles with something they’re having fun with, then job’s a good’un as far as I’m concerned.
Which leads me on to a topic for next time: what, exactly do I think job of the ref is in Vampire LARP?