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Start a larp 7: Write a larp!

It's been a while since my last article in Start a larp series! Well, I do regard it as nearly complete for purposes of basic instruction. However, recently I found out about an awesome project called Larpfactory Book Project. It's a series of workshops on how to document games and methods used in larp that eventually will result in a book. The project will also result in a website with videos of all the workshop methods and drama enhancing techniques used in the larps, in addition to the game material needed.

One of the first things they made public is a preliminary how-to in writing good larp scripts. This is one of the best articles I've seen on the matter, and it's of great importance if you're writing a single-shot larp which you plan to republish (like I'm doing with some of my single-shot larps, and I'll keep doing it in the future - I'll have these guidelines in mind though). The original article was written by Lizzie Stark, Elin Nilsen and Trine Lise Lindahl, and I'm republishing it here under authors' permission. Here it goes.



How to Describe a Game

There are lots of good ways to describe games, but most have a few things in common:

  • Write for a general reader. This means being as explicit as possible, rather than assuming the person you’re writing for already knows how to run the style of game you’re describing. Your primary audience will be people who want to organize your game. In the case of short games like this, they will most probably have the role of both organizer (running the whole project) and game master (GM - running the game itself).
  • In general, it’s better to describe too much than too little.
  • Describe the tools of the game, as well as how to use them. 

Most people don’t like to plunge into the middle of the river first thing, they want to get a good sense of what kind of river it is, whether it has rocks, how deep it looks, etc. So it’s good to give readers a very brief big picture that frames all the description that will follow.

A good set of game materials, like a good speech, will tell me what I need to know three times. Tell me what you’re about to tell me (Intro), then tell me (techniques and walkthrough), then tell me what you just told me (summary or game master (GM) cheat sheet).

I. Introduction -- Communicates the Vision of the Game

 Tell us what the game is about -- not merely the plot of the game, but the universal themes (teen awkwardness, alcoholism, facing mortality) that we will be playing on. This is your chance to communicate your vision for the game.

May include information on:

  • the setting (are we vampires on spaceships in the post-apocalypse?)
  • the playing style (should I be playing to lose?)
  • the gamemastering style (Should I sit back and not interfere with play? Should I be playing? Should I directly control the game by sending in instructed players?)
  • (background on the game and why you made it, but only if this helps GMs broadly know how to push the game and situate the players.) 

II. How to Run the Game

A. Preparations: What do organizers need to think about before the game, both logistically and in terms of communicating with players. For some larps, this will require two sections:

  • the preparations you need to do well in advance, including physical logistics (location, food, etc) and communicating with players (questionnaires, casting, communicating about the theme)
  • The preparations you do right before the game, including taking money at the site, setting up space, and any workshop sessions.

B. Game Structure. Short description of the larp structure. Are there acts? Scenes? What marks the beginning and end of the game?

C. Game Walk-Through. Detailed description of the game. Let us know not just what to do but why we should do it. This walk through should include:

  • What the GM needs to do to get the players ready (workshop, casting, casting advice, character creation, etc.)
  • A more detailed summary of what is supposed to happen during the game, in the form of a narrative description or a set of scenes/acts.
  • A description of how you know the game ends, and what to do afterwards during the debrief.
  • The role of the GM during the game


D. Methods and Rules. Explain what the tool is and how to use it, giving actual play examples if possible. Might also include tips on how the GM should describe the tool to the player.

(E. Tips, Tricks and Hacks. Tell us about what can go wrong and how to dix it, how to scale the game up/down, adapt it to different settings, etc.)

F. Closing. A little bio for the game writers, plus contact info with an email where people who have run your game can ask lingering questions and tell you how it went!)

III. Game Materials

 These will vary depending on the game you’ve designed. They may include:

  • Character sheets - list of priorities
  • Scene/act/story description
  • GM cheat sheet that re-states stuff from the walk-through but very briefly, like on one page, so I don’t have to go fumbling through the manuscript to know what’s what.
  • Other material depending on the game


IV. You may want to check that this is covered:

Logistics


  • Location
  • Food and/or drinks
  • Scenography  
  • Costumes 
  • Print-outs

 Communication


  • Do you need any special info from the players in addition to normal sign-up procedures?
  • Do your players need any special info from you? (Is it necessary with a special communication platform?)


SOME STYLE THINGS


  • Use active language, not passive. (Hint: if you can add the phrase “by zombies” to your verb and still have the sentence make sense, then you are writing in the passive voice.)
  • Don’t use five words when three will do. The best writing cuts to the chase.
  • If you are writing in English, avoid participles - verbs that end in “-ing.” Often “-ing” verbs can be replaced by simple past tense.* Participles often come with additional helping verbs like “have” and “be.” So, “The players went into the woods” rather than “The players had been going into the woods.” If you’re writing in another language, parallels to this rule probably exist.
  • Formatting Matters. Use headings and bullet points to keep the text organized for the reader
  • Read three times. Read it once for structure, once for content, and once for grammar, and to cut out unnecessary words.
  • Editors rock! Have someone who doesn’t know the project read it over and see if it makes sense.

 * Notice that this sentence makes grammatical sense with “by zombies” added. “Often “-ing” verbs can be replaced by zombies.” You can edit it to, “Often simple past tense can replace “-ing” verbs.” That’s shorter and more clear.

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