Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Starting Your Own LARP Group

Note: This is a guest post from Andrew Seiple, creator and owner of Wastelands. Remember, entries are still being accepted for the LARP Ohio Contest.

Hello. My name is Andrew Seiple. I’ve been roleplaying for about 20 years, and LARPing for approximately 15 of them. I started with Vampire LARP, moved on to NERO, and tried various independent LARPS in and around the Ohio area. A few years back I got the idea that led to starting the Wastelands post-apocalyptic LARP, a game that runs roughly quarterly in the western Ohio area. It’s been a hell of a struggle at times, but it’s been very personally rewarding, and I look forward to running it many years to come. But there’s much to do when you want to start a LARP, and I think that by listing a few things that I had to deal with below, folks who want to do their own thing LARP-wise might get a better idea of what’s to come. This isn’t a hugely detailed list, and I am NOT an expert in this subject matter. But I think that it might be of use, so here you go. On to the good stuff…

So. You’ve got it. You’ve got the idea, the dream, the fever, and you gotta try it. You’ve been to NERO, or maybe tried a little Vampire, or done stick-jock time in Amtgard or Belegarth. You think you know how it works, you definitely know when it doesn’t, and you reckon you can do it better! Or differently, or in some way that hasn’t been tried before. You’ve got white-hot mechanics, or a gimmick that’s fun to use, or a plot that would make the late Mr. Tolkien weep in awe.

Or hell, maybe you just want to play a kind of game that isn’t out there yet, and no one else will do it.

For whatever reason, you’ve decided to start your own LARP.

Buckle in, because it’s a bumpy ride…

There are a few things that you need to look at. Call them basic concerns… These are topics that should raise tricky questions, time and again. If you’re not prepared to handle them, then you may want to reconsider running a LARP.

1. Solid Concept: What genre are you working with? What are you doing with it that separates it from other LARPS of that genre? If it’s an entirely new concept, then what can you do to make it fun? If it’s a concept that’s been used before, then what can you recycle from other similar LARPS that worked? Is there a time limit, or are you planning to run as long as possible? Do you have stories already in mind, or are you going for the sandbox method?

2. Ruleset: Are you writing an original one, or adapting from other LARP rules? What do you have to worry about that’s different from other LARPs? What can you recycle? What’s FUN to use? How firm are the rules? How flexible are they? Are you going to be writing them yourself? If not, then can you mod them on the fly, or are you stuck following them to the letter?

3. Money: How much will it take to buy props? How much will it take to rent sites? How much will it take to cover food? How much can you devote to this LARP? How costly will it be to equip your starting NPC shack? How much will printing costs eat up? What kind of budget do you have for props and costuming? Can you afford insurance?

4. Places to Play: What kind of space/functionality do you require to play? Do you require privacy? Electricity? Running water? Toilets? Overnight accommodations? What is your BARE MINIMUM required to run? Got it? Good. Now scale up a bit. Figure out what you WANT from a site. Separate buildings for NPC’s and PC’s? Forest terrain with plenty of paths? Flush toilets? Kitchen, refrigerator, and microwave? Easy accessibility from the highway?

5. Supplies: What will you need in order to run? How much do these things cost? What’s the bare minimum you need for a game? Where can you get these supplies from? Can you get them used at a cheaper price, or do you have to buy them new? How much crafting do you have to do on props/weapons/costumes? How often are you going to have to refresh supplies of various items?

6. Help: Does anyone share your dream? How well do you know them? How reliable are they? What are their strengths? How much time can they devote to your LARP? Are they likely to quit or do other things at some point? How many people do you need assisting you in order to run a game?

7. Participants: How much interest is there for your LARP? How can you drum up more? What can you throw in to keep them happy? How many people are going to attend your game? How much can you charge them? What demographics do they come from? What LARP backgrounds do they come from? Do you think that you will have enough people to cover your expenses?

8. Competition: What other LARPs are around you? How close is their operational area to yours, geographically? What do they charge? How fun are they? What can you bring to a game that they can’t or won’t? How friendly are you with the proprietors and the player base? How similar is their concept to yours? Can you co-exist? How can you keep relations workable?

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the concerns that you’ll have. There’s quite a few other things to consider, but most of them vary immensely depending on your decisions on the base 8 above. If you really want to do this, if you really want to start a LARP, then you have to make a lot of decisions and choices on those 8 things above.

If for whatever reason, you do not feel that you can deal with one or more of the concerns above, then consider working with an existing LARP. If all you’re looking to do is run a plotline, or get your feet wet with a few of the concepts, then this is a GREAT way to dabble. It also has the side effect of getting you goodwill, and becoming known as someone who can handle running LARPs. It will help you gain “Face”.

Face is a topic that’s worthy of a lot more discussion, so I’ll save it for another post. Peace, and I hope to see you across the battlefield at Wastelands someday...


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusJune 14, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    If you had to ballpark some figures...

    Concept to day 1 of game what did it take for you?6 months, a year, more?

    All cost incurred to launch what did it cost? 5,000, 10,000, more?

    I was just curious, I know each game will be different. You laid out a good framework btw.

  2. From concept to day 1, not counting playtesting, took about 3 years. I had to spend two years building up the gear needed to play without breaking my budget.

    Costs incurred to launch... Ballpark $2500, because I'm good at scavenging, have some crafty friends, and our production values are fairly low. Could have easily been double.

    Goes without saying, but unless you can afford to drop a couple of thousand over a year or two, I wouldn't recommend trying to start a LARP. You won't recoup expenses for a good long time, even with the cheapest approaches you can bring to bear.

  3. One thing I also wanted to mention that we tend not to think about is legal issues. How will your game cover itself? Will you file for an LLC eventually? Are you going to go to a lawyer to make sure you're covered and get a waiver drafted? Some camps ask for insurance - how will you handle that? Are you willing to put up your homeowner's insurance or will you try to get event insurance or some other option? It's all fun and games until someone hurts themselves and their health insurance tries to sue you :)

  4. ::Nods:: I debated long and hard about insurance and legal bits and incorporating... But when it gets down to it, I feel that falls more under the baliwick of maintaining and improving a LARP.

    Unless you can afford such things without breaking stride, then as long as your game isn't overly dangerous, recommend getting the LARP going first, then worrying about insurance and other business-affecting matters. If you find that you can't sustain the game after a year, well, you just saved a lot of money...

  5. Well, retaining a lawyer only cost us less than $100 to get advice and a waiver. Not all lawyers are created equal of course, but it seems a pretty small price to pay for the issue. Along with this is determining whether or not you'll allow minors, and the legal ramifications of that, another thing you should probably decide before inviting people to play :)

    Considering that Exiles was investigated by an insurance company before we had anything in place, I STRONGLY recommend getting legal advice and at least a legal waiver before you start the game. If it weren't for our kind and on-the-ball players covering for us, we could easily have been sued. Not all players or insurance companies are created equal, so I'd recommend protection.

    ALSO - we had to have some sort of insurance to rent one of the camps we used. Can't have a game without renting a camp, so I'd say that figuring out how you want to do insurance would be part of the process of starting a larp - obviously if the location you found asks for that. It was just one question we ran into from the legal side of things. Some camps want to put a high rate on your homeowner's, and a larp runner should decide if they're okay with that if they need to do it. We had one camp ask to do $1 mill on our homeowner's, so it was decision time as to whether or not we were okay with the consequences of that!

  6. I gues what I'm trying to say is that if you CAN afford insurance go for it, but if you can't, then don't let it stop you.

    My insurance company turned me down cold when I told them what I wanted to insure, and our profit margins are too low to be able to afford an annual policy with just about anyone worth their salt, but our draconian airsoft safety measures have prevented any injuries since day 1 of game, and our recent LLC conversion means that a successful lawsuit against us would only take out the LARP, not my house, car, savings, or other assets.

  7. Good lists. We hear a lot of our players talk about how they'd be interested in running a LARP. We'd both done plotting before buying our local NERO chapter, but I don't think anything can fully prepare you for actually running a LARP.

  8. Andy, this is Jim (Zicon), wanted to help with the insurance question. There is actually "LARP" insurance, specifically now, and it's rather cheap. In the neighborhood of $500-$1000 per year, depending on the number of people you have at events. It's basically the same insurance you get for kid sports. You can google Larp Insurance and several companies pop up, that offer it.