10 ways to make your larp welcoming to new players
This post is mostly aimed at combat larps, but the principles can easily be applied to just about every genre in existence.
1. Treat new players like customers.
– Give them the experience they deserve.
If you run, own or participate in the management of a larp in any way and you don’t think about new players like customers, you need to start immediately. Before you get worried that I’m trying to turn your larp into a business, let me assure you that I am. Only in the sense that you are providing an experience that people pay for and you should give them the best experience possible. What I’m not saying is that larps that are non-profits are bad and should become profit focused. What I am saying is this: Larpers are coming to have a great experience, you should do everything in your power to give them the experience they deserve. Whether you are turning a profit on your larp or not isn’t the issue. The issue is: are you thinking through every aspect of your game to prove a world-class experience? If you haven’t read ‘The Experience Economy‘ by J.H. Gilmore you should. The premise of the book is that our society has moved through several phases of economies until, finally, we have moved into the economy of providing experiences. As far as I’m concerned larp is at the pinnacle of providing experiences. If you remember nothing else from this post remember this: Your players are customers looking for an experience. Give them the best experience possible. Your larp will grow, be more fun. Guaranteed.
2. Have a welcome committee.
The first step in giving new players the best possible experience is making them feel welcome upon arrival. Most larps have a logistics or sign-in area. This is the perfect place to help players start getting into character and feeling like they’re part of the experience. Your welcome committee can look just about any way that you want, but it should focus on a few things. Here’s a few things to think through:
First, ask: Is it dead clear where players are supposed to go and what they’re supposed to do there?
Second, ask: Will new players feel wanted when they arrive?
Third, ask: How can we get them in game as fast as possible?
3. Simplify the rules as much as possible.
Many larp rule systems are really complex. There are calls, numbers to crunch, races to learn, world history to understand and spell effects to memorize. If you have a complex rule system, then you should assume that new people are really confused and are going to ask a bunch of questions. Instead of expecting new players to read 150+ pages of rules, condense all of the rules down into a one page primer. I know I’m going to get a lot of pushback on this, but hear me out: When a new player arrives to larp for the first time, they’re already overwhelmed. They’ve probably gotten their kit together, made a character and are just worried about their character’s backstory and trying to wrap their head around roleplaying. If you’re really hoping to welcome new players you’ve got to make combat as simple for them as possible. This may mean that some rule systems need to be revamped (it’s worth considering!), but most just need to be made simple so new people can jump into the game, participate in combat and not worry too much about number crunching and listening to 10 different calls.
4. Teach them how to role play.
Let’s be honest: If you have foam combat of any kind (boffer, latex, foam, cloth covered, etc.), then you’re going to attract players who want to beat the tar out of others with said weapons. That’s not bad! It should actually be encouraged, because let’s face it, it’s a blast! But in the downtime, these same players are at a loss as to what to do. These players need to be taught how to role-play. There are tons of resources on how to do this, so I won’t belabor the how-tos, but it should be something that you consider as you plan your event. The main thing here is giving players something to practically do in every situation based on who their character is. Meaning, ‘When “X” happens, how does “Y Character” react?” Simple as that. Here’s a few questions to ask: Have you helped players develop a meaningful back story for their character? Does character development help a player create a personality or just numbers to be used for combat? Does character creation give their character something to do in game?
5. Create a mentor System.
Does your larp have an in-game system for helping new players get acclimated to the society of the game? If you do, move on to the next point. If not, here’s my suggestion, create a mentor system that incorporates new players into existing structures. For instance, do you have factions, societies, guilds, races, families, royalty, groups, clans, etc.? Make it a requirement that players join one of these existing in-game structures and that a required function of each societal structure is to mentor new players in the ways of the game, the game’s history, culture, story, etc. To some this may feel a bit like meta-gaming or interfering with natural roleplaying. I would argue that everything has rules and that the rules should be formed in a way that helps new players get acclimated and existing players are rewarded for taking newbies under their wing.
6. Have a beginner combat lesson/experience/quest at the beginning of each game.
Unless your rules system is so plain and easy to understand that a blind 5 year old could get it, then you need to have a combat lesson for new players at the beginning of each event. I’ve been to many larps that do not have a new players module until the second day of a weekend event. That’s way too long. Schedule a meaningful conflict for the new players to participate in where they fight other people (so they get used to actual combat) and intertwine it into a story of some sort. One idea is to have new players do an escort mission. Have an old man NPC need an escort from point A to point B. Have the old man be a wizened old warrior far beyond combat years and as NPC bandits come to attack him, have him explain the rules as you go. It’s simple, meaningful and if you find the right person to play the old man, it’s hilarious as he throws out insults at the young whipper snapper’s and their poor fighting ability.
7. Bring them into the story.
Most larps have ongoing story arcs that are amazing, rich and complex. Being a new player this can be terribly overwhelming. Especially, when you have no idea why the Demon Lord Xannghein is sending swarm after swarm of undead crabs to attack the local inn. It’s a blast to kill them, but why in the world are there all these undead crustaceans out for blood? Figure out how to tell them what’s going on in game. Here’s a few ideas: Have the town gossip run around telling anyone they don’t recognize all the latest juicy gossip. Have the local bard, minstrel or tavern keeper write a song, poem or spoken word piece bringing people players up to speed. Write the story on scrolls and hand different pieces of the story to new players so they have to find one another and discover the story.
8. Give them something to do throughout the entire event.
Nothing is worse than being bored at a larp. However, downtime is necessary. People need breaks to eat, rest, chat, role play, create conflict, etc. The problem arises when players have nothing to do and nowhere to go for hours at a time. If there’s not much going on at your larp it’s probably a culture issue that needs to be changed by the management and the plot team. Ideas abound on keeping players busy, but whether you’re a small larp or a large one the best way to keep players busy is to keep them interacting with one another. If you’re a ‘Players versus Environment’ larp this can be hard to deal with because the players will be accustomed to only having conflict with what the Plot Team throws at them. My advice would be to introduce elements that cause players to take sides to an issue and then force them to work it out. Most likely this will result in conflict of many sorts. Whatever you decide to do, ask yourself: Do players have something to do the entire event and do they know how to do it?
9. Make them fight!
Why do people come to a larp? To have fun! What’s more fun than using all that kit and foam weaponry to kill foes, vanquish monsters and take down rival factions? Uh… Nothing! There’s a reason why Biccolline, Drachenfest and Conqeust of Mythodea are so popular and we share their photos and videos all over the web. Their battles are amazing and look like a ton of fun! The plot team at every larp should be scheming of as many ways to get people to participate in battle as possible.
10. Make sure your larp is fun and welcoming to new people.
This point is really here to sum everything up. I would highly encourage you to think this through before your next event. Brainstorm. Do a mind-map. Have an out of game meetup with trusted players and plot team. Really work this out so that your game can grow numerically and, even possibly, monetarily. Here’s a few questions to guide your time:
- What about our game encourages fun, roleplaying and combat?
- What about our game discourages fun, roleplaying and combat?
- What do we need to add to our game to make it more fun by encouraging roleplaying and combat?
- What do we need to subtract from our game to make it more fun by encouraging roleplaying and combat?
- What does the flow of a typical event look like?
- What is good about this flow and what is bad?
- What needs to change to our events to make them more welcoming?
- What are the three things we can change before next event to make it more welcoming to new players?