(redirected from LARPs.HowToRunALARP)

What you need:

  • A copy of the LARP
  • Enough people to run the LARP (henceforth referred to as the DMs). Our LARPs can usually be run by two DMs, but check the LARP notes.
  • Enough people to play in the LARP (henceforth referred to as the players)
  • A venue (preferably one where you will not be disturbed, or cause undue disturbance)
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Any props which are too difficult for players to provide themselves

What the DMs need to do:

At the beginning:

  • Book the venue
  • Send out an announcement to their friends, and collect sign-ups
  • Make, buy or arrange to borrow any required props

In the middle:

  • Get up-to-date contact details for players who have signed up
  • Cast the players who have signed up in whichever roles seem most appropriate for them
  • Send out character sheets with costuming and prop requirements
  • Make sure that everyone has received all their LARP-related correspondence

At the end:

  • Buy food and drink
  • Bring food, drink, props, possibly nametags and possibly character sheets to the venue
  • Arrange / decorate the venue
  • Possibly provide a one-on-one face-to-face briefing period before the LARP
  • Hand out props and/or nametags to each player
  • Deal with last-minute crises without having a nervous breakdown
  • Run the LARP, which is really the easiest bit.

What each player needs to do:

  • Make a firm commitment to show up, and ideally take responsibility for finding a replacement player if something comes up later
  • Read their character sheet carefully, and ask questions in the briefing or in an email if anything is unclear
  • Print out their own character sheet or arrange to have it printed; possibly make own summarised notes
  • Make an effort at costuming and providing props
  • Play in the LARP.



For small and medium LARPs, it is customary to provide a period of a few hours before the formal start of the LARP during which each player is given all the necessary LARPing equipment and also given the opportunity to ask questions about their character. During this time the DMs usually also set up the venue.

Because only one person is usually briefed at a time, players are told to arrive at any time during this period. Once everyone has arrived and been briefed, the LARP can start.

If the briefings take too long, the LARP can end up starting and ending very late. Also, it isn't very much fun for the players to wait around outside the venue for hours. To make briefings go smoothly, it is recommended that:

  • The DMs arrange specific staggered arrival times with the players, so that everyone doesn't end up arriving half an hour before the LARP is supposed to start.
  • Players don't leave reading their character sheets and asking questions until the day of the LARP. DMs give players the opportunity to ask questions by email or phone.
  • If the LARP has a large cast, there are no pre-LARP briefings at all.

Character sheets

Visible character sheets break suspension of disbelief. Some DMs insist that players should learn their characters well enough not to have to bring their character sheets to the LARP at all. In a less formal LARP it should be permissible for players to bring their character sheets with them and discreetly consult them when nobody is paying attention. It's considered poor form to spend the whole LARP flipping through your character sheet, especially during in-character conversations—but sometimes you really need to check a vitally important fact. If it's taking a long time to find it, try asking a DM.

Something we have never actually implemented but would like to try is printing character sheets as A6 booklets, so that they are functional and compact at the same time. In theory those should be easier to flip through inconspicuously than A4 sheets which have been stapled by one corner and rolled up or folded several times.


Nametags can also break suspension of disbelief, unless there is some in-character reason for everyone to be wearing a nametag. On the other hand, suspension of disbelief is also broken when players struggle to remember complicated science fiction or fantasy names when their characters should be familiar with them. Or if they are initially unable to tell who is who when their characters know each other very well. So this is a bit of a trade-off.

The presence of nametags also makes it easier for DMs to keep track of who has been briefed and received their props.

Food and drink costs

It is customary to collect a per-player fee to cover food and drink costs (partially or entirely). Decide what kind of food you want to have at the LARP and how much of it you're willing to subsidise, and work out the cost to players from that. Normally the fee is nominal (R20 - R30) and the food ranges from chips and coke to finger snacks and wine—but LARPs which include an in-character dinner have been run at a higher cost with a real-life thematically appropriate dinner provided. If you're going to do that, make sure the players are aware of the increased cost when they sign up, and plan how you're going to provide the meal well in advance.

It is also customary to waive the LARP cost for first-time LARPers, to encourage them to try something new and weird.

Combat and other oddities

Most of the LARPs written in Cape Town are known in other parts of the world as "theatre-style" LARPs because of the emphasis they place on story and character interaction over combat. Other styles of LARPing can have complex and involved combat systems (something like live D&D!) but in theatre-style LARPs the players mostly resolve their goals by walking around and talking to other players. Combat and other actions which require the mediation of a DM are intended to be rare, and are usually resolved with a relatively simple mechanic—rolling one die, drawing cards, or rock-paper-scissors. Sometimes the DMs take into account relative skills. To be honest, mostly we just wing it.

I recommend simple die rolls in situations where there is a skill difference between characters or when a character is attempting an action which is not being opposed by another character. Best out of three paper-rock-scissors can be a great way to resolve duels between characters of equal skill—it's something the players can do themselves, and it builds genuine tension and excitement.

In complex, chaotic combat scenes DMs often call for a "freeze" (sometimes using a bell, whistle or something else that makes a loud and annoying noise)—all players in the LARP are simultaneously instructed to freeze in place, stopping whatever they were doing. The combat is then resolved in slow motion, and everyone involved is given a turn to state their action. Of course this is very disruptive, and draws the entire LARP's attention to an event which may realistically not have been visible across the room. It isn't always necessary—sometimes a combat event is sufficiently contained, and the players involved sufficiently disciplined, that it can be resolved without disturbing neighbouring conversations.

In theatre-style LARPs, combat should never be resolved by real physical contact.

LARP duration

Most Cape Town LARPs run for about three hours. Sometimes an "ending" event is written into the LARP; sometimes this is just enforced by player expectations.

If a LARP still looks in full swing after three hours have passed, consider letting it run longer (if there are no in-character obstacles). But be on the lookout for large numbers of players drifting around aimlessly or sitting around and chatting—that's usually a sign that the LARP has run its course and it's time to wrap things up.

It's a good idea to give the players a ten- or fifteen-minute warning—this will give everyone the opportunity to finish what they're doing, and may inspire a final burst of activity in a LARP that's sagging a bit.

The debriefing

At the end of the LARP, it is customary for the players to take turns summarising their characters' goals and what they did during the LARP—revealing unrevealed secrets and resolving unresolved plot points. The DMs reveal any information that was not known by any characters, or just overlooked by everyone. The remaining snacks are eaten—sometimes players are too busy talking to eat anything during the LARP, unless there is a scheduled in-character mealtime!

If the LARP writers are present, this is a good opportunity for the players to give feedback about the LARP, which may be incorporated into future runnings.

Running with scissors

This may seem silly, but it can be a good idea to mention in your LARP correspondence that you disapprove of players bringing dangerous weapons to the LARP and waving them around. It may be blindingly obvious to you and almost everyone you know, but we've heard stories.

These have always been our guidelines (included or excluded depending on the setting of the LARP):

  • Absolutely no real firearms. Not even ones you're sure aren't loaded.
  • With the sole exception of the extremely old and non-functional duelling pistols the DMs have hanging up on their wall.
  • If you bring something which has a sharp blade, keep it securely sheathed. If you ever unsheath it, do it carefully. Do not ever mime stabbing people with the unsheathed blade.

Etiquette for players

First, observe the rules of normal etiquette. They haven't gone away just because you're pretending to be a different person. What degree of roleplaying intensity is OK really depends on the other players and how well you know each other. It's hard to specify any hard and fast rules for establishing acceptable boundaries, but try to use your common sense: don't touch someone you wouldn't normally touch, and perhaps tone down your in-character verbal abuse if it's directed at a timid first-time player who doesn't know you at all.

There are also some LARP-specific rules of etiquette:

  • It is customary not to try to kill another character within the first half of the LARP—that wouldn't be very much fun for the other character's player, and the DMs will usually fudge things to keep him or her alive.
  • It's considered poor form to drop out of character excessively-- but it's not the end of the world if players who are friends occasionally share an out-of-character joke.
  • LARP food can be fair game for in-character drugging and poisoning, but it might not be—ask the DMs how they're handling it if your character has cause for concern.

Tips for bored players

LARPs run on the exchange of information. Many people have a tendency to play their cards close to their chest, and only reveal their secrets to people they really trust if it becomes really necessary. Sometimes it's possible to overdo this, and end up sidelined from events you should be involved in because you haven't told anyone any of the important things that you know. So try to be more open. It may backfire horribly if one of your new confidants turns out to be your secret enemy, but at least something interesting will happen.

Sometimes a LARP character just hasn't been given enough to do, or enough leverage to achieve his or her goals. If you suspect that you're playing a weak character who has just run out of plot points, do something unexpected. Set yourself a new goal. Take an interest in someone else's problems. And be sure to give feedback to the LARP writers.

Some LARPs are designed to be more fluid than others—the in-character event which has brought the characters together in one room can be something which is not anticipated by their character sheets. In a LARP like this, all the players are expected to be more spontaneous and set their own goals. DMs running freeform LARPs should tell players this in the briefing—players who expect a checklist of goals in a LARP like this may end up feeling bored and frustrated.

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Page last modified on January 20, 2011, at 01:47 PM