How To Organise A Horror LARP Weekend

There follow thoughts about role-play but it’s largely intended for people who already role-play. I’ll probably do an entry about role-play for people who don’t at some point but this may not hold your interest if you don’t.

I got to play this weekend. It’s a very different perspective. I’ve GM’d a lot of table top, I’ve been a Yellow Sign Ref for several years, I’ve put together a couple of Fantasy Live Events and I’ve written murder mysteries for non-LARPers.

Due to this I’ve been thinking about how you go about putting together a LARP, or murder mystery etc.etc. A lot of what follows are the usual procedures which have been followed in the Yellow Sign rather than stuff that’s only come out of my head. All of it is what should happen in ideal circumstances of course.

The Player, Directed Player and Non-Player Divide

I like to be fuzzy with this divide as I think people get the most out of events they put the most input into whether this is writing your character or deciding how to play it. However the differences tend to be in whether the characters are going in cold, knowing only about their character, knowing something about others or having plot related goals or being a ref plant solely there to get the players into a particular piece of plot.

What I Mean By Plot

I should point out that in an event there should never be only one plot. I suspect most roleplayers will divide things into plot and personal plot, so I would say that there should be opportunities for personal plot to be furthered within the event, as well as there being a main plot (usually of supernatural means) and ideally a mundane plot overlaying.

Organisers and Numbers

This is dependant on how many players, directed players and non-players you have. The more players, the more organisation and refereeing a game needs, the more non-players then the less referees with directed players being in the middle of that depending how directed they are or need to be.

As a rough guideline I would suggest that for an event run in a hands-off reffing style you should have between one and three refs who only ref and do not have other duties (ie. catering, providing non-player roles). A total number of refs should equal around one referee per every four or five players (including directed and non-players). However, the more refs the better your organisation pre-game needs to be. I would suggest that more than seven refs (and thus thirty-five players) and you’re really pushing it for an enjoyable event for everyone!

I am aware that Fantasy Larp Events run with a great deal many more players etc.etc. however I am focussing on horror events with hands-off reffing.

Hands off Reffing

Hands off reffing is used to describe role-play where the players are largely left to their own devices and the refs hole-up somewhere providing occaisional events. Players wanting to do plot relevant things should go and tell a ref first and then go and do it rather than having a ref being constantly with them.
One of the best ways of doing this is having an accessible ref-bunker with a ref sat there all the time (not the same person this should be alternated!), a ref needs to be available all the time so players are not left wandering around wanting to do something and not able to do it.

All refs need radios for this sort of style of reffing unless the event space is very small indeed! A group of players may well turn around and want to do something which requires greater ref input – of course depending on when they want to do this and where, refs may be busy at that time putting together a monster prop to come on etc.etc. This can be solved by telling players to go and role-play it but that it will take x amount of time or requesting that players do the particular thing at a particular place or time later. This should be requested in a manner requiring roleplaying on the part of the players rather than gaining a grumpy ‘well the refs told us we had to do this!’

Preparation, preparation, preparation

If you’re going to be hands-off in reffing style then every ref needs to know the event BACKWARDS (helps if you know it forwards too!) and this requires a lot of prep work. Players will always throw you curve balls as refs and only by knowing the scenario and characters involved will you be able to come up with solutions that satisfy players and refs.

If you’re running a weekend event and you don’t want to be busy every night of the week in the run up then you should try to take about a year in preparing for it. A good weekend event can be prepared for in six months if you’re all prepared to put in the time and effort but in non-exceptional circumstances no less than this time should be allowed!

Everyone on the ref team needs to know what is expected of them and when. Deadlines are very definitely necessary and if they’re met in plenty of time then it can even be a reasonably relaxed run up.

Sample Timetable:

(This assumes an already prepared system)

Month 12

Think about possible plot. Put together an actual proposal/pitch for the plot/
plot idea you’d most like to run with. Discuss plot ideas with team as well as vague notions of props you’d like to build or cool set pieces that might be fun to include. Note these down somewhere that everyone has access to and can review.

Month 11

Each member of the ref team to pitch a plot idea to the others of the ref team. Each pitch is discussed, questioned and critiqued. The prop ideas and set piece ideas that would seem to fit in can also be discussed in the context of the plots.
(To do it this way you need to be comfortable with the idea that your pitch is not going to be taken on wholesale but rather torn up and rewritten by the rest of the team).
By the end of the month a solid plot needs to have taken shape though it doesn’t need to have all the details worked out.

Month 10

Each member of the ref team to take on responsibilities for particular aspects of the event.
Logistics (including transport of players, refs, props etc., booking of venue and catering), Communication (writing up minutes, making sure updated versions of plot are accessible to all members of ref team, making sure up-to-date contact details for players are maintain), Budget (all the money looked after as well as knowing how much has been allocated to which bit of the event), Plot (making sure that the plot is written up to deadline and is as comprehensive and comprehensible as possible, creating the plot timetable), Characters (making sure characters are written up to deadline and are as comprehensible as possible), Props (knowing what props need to be made and making sure props are created to deadline and within budget), Sanity, Magic and Skills (working out what sanity, magic and skills checks the plot calls for and ensuring the effects for these tests are written up in time)

It should be noted that refs taking on responsibility for these areas don’t do all the work themselves but rather make sure that the work gets done, organsing prop-making with others for example.

Month 9

Plot should be solidly formed and decisions can be made about how many players, non-players etc. are needed. Budget can be worked out.
Plot should be finalised enough that a pitch can be made for players and money can begun to be taken.

Month 8

Logistics – Venue should be booked, Catering should be booked/organised

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