Longer format theatre-style larps

The usual format for a theatre-style larp in New Zealand is short form: two or three hours. In part this is driven by the length of convention slots (so that’s why we normally go three hours rather than four), but it also seems to give a tight, high-impact game. However, there are longer formats used in other countries: the US theatre-style scene started with weekend-long games, and they are still run infrequently in the US and UK. And I know there are 8 hour games run in France, because @shetland translated and ran one (The Train Will Whistle One last Time).

There’s some obvious benefits from a longer format. You can get the quiet moments as well as the dramatic ones, giving time for introspection, IC entertainment, or just the sense of being in the character or the setting. The down side is that the game takes longer (and in Wellington the demand seems to be for short games rather than longer ones), and the risk of boredom. You need some content to fill the extra space.

So what does that content look like, and how do you keep it all from happening too quickly so the players wrap it too soon? I’ve seen mentions of background influence mechanics / microgames to generate events and let players change the plot landscape, time-consuming mechanics, enforced waiting (e.g. for travel, which also gets you quiet moments), or even explicit pacing directions. What else can you do and how does it work?

Having played maybe… 15 weekend theater LARPs… I can talk a little bit about methods I’ve seen.

A lot of them divide the LARP into time periods (usually five, Friday evening, Saturday morning afternoon and evening, and Sunday morning) and have mechanics reflect that. (For example, you might have an ability that can only be used once per time period.) It encourages pacing on the part of the players – they might hold off on trying to complete a plot until they can use their abilities again. It also enables GMs to introduce small (or large) but expected changes. For example, a number of them distribute money and other resources at the start of each new time period.

Scheduled events – things like “we’re holding a poetry contest from 2:30 to 3:30” or other in-game performances, formal debates, scheduled duels. Sometimes they’re less public and only known to a few PCs (“a shipment of supplies for the enemy is coming in at this hour, at this ambushable-location.”)

General, non-plot activity options – some LARPs provide space where people can try culture activities. For example, providing the materials and rules for historical board games (or sports, if you have the space) or materials and instructions for art projects. For example, Shogun provided spaces where players could enjoy a game of Go or try some origami.

I think the best way to make this sort of thing successful and appealing to players is to make sure there’s a set-aside space that is comfortable to just sit in (some LARPs have made this stuff available but not a space and it’s up to players to find somewhere that isn’t too awkward to be in.) while also not being too cut off from the main game. Players may not consider it a viable option if they’re likely to miss out on important stuff because they got absorbed into a game or project in a side room and are too far from the main space to be reliably kept in the loop.

mini adventure/quests/activities – a few LARPs had little… events players could pick up and play out whenever they liked. For example, Siege of Troy had a room set up with tape and piles of envelopes on the floor, where players could follow the tape paths and have mini-adventures (sort of like Choose Your Own Adventures) at each of the locations. Later runs introduced some limits to how often they could do it (like… twice per time period) because some players were just in there all the time. Introducing some costs and potential losses is another way to keep players from just absorbing all of the loot and rewards for success. Sometimes some of the adventures are only available at certain times, like… after the stars right on the Equinox or whatever.

Tales of Pendragon had time periods where players just picked one short Tale after another – not unlike mini-LARPs where they temporarily take on the roles of the characters in the story, and they could take as long or as short as they liked on each. There were also mini-games to represent players going off on hunts and such.

War games – some LARPs have wargames running throughout, with set times for turns, players looking over a map and sending orders for movement of troops and supplies, and GMs returning with the result, or players play out the battle scenes, either through a board game mechanic, or allowing players to temporarily take the role of troops or resources on the field. (One LARP had a single battle scene where players still played themselves, but basically as a piece on a giant board game.)

Timed releases of information – a lot of shorter theater LARPs basically front load the LARP – all of the information is there somewhere at the start, and players have to figure out how to access it, by getting it from one another (or the environment.) Weekend long LARPs often have new information seeded into the LARP over time – things like a newspaper that gets printed once a day, telegrams coming in, or new stars appearing in the sky enabling people to interpret them and act accordingly.

I have seen some amount of enforced waiting, and generally, people aren’t a big fan if they can’t do anything else in the meantime. If you’re a chemist creating new chemical compounds, telling players they have to essentially sit in their lab space and do nothing (or just mime mixing chemicals) for ten minutes is basically just frustrating the player – if you want to introduce the ten minutes as a balancing mechanism, let them start the process, and then do what they like and return after ten minutes to obtain the results. It won’t slow the pace of the overall LARP as much, but making players just sit and wait can really suck for the player.

I’m not sure about explicit pacing directions… is that like, “we recommend you don’t confront your enemy and demand a duel until Sunday morning”? Something like that has come up in a number of weekend theater LARPs, but it’s usually something like a moratorium on killing that ends Sunday morning. Duels always end in injury until then, but on Sunday morning, they can end in death. Or bad guys have escape abilities that always let them jump out the nearest window that stop working as of Sunday morning.


More “you should have your duel on Sunday morning” or “break off your engagement with X by 3pm Saturday”. So telling you not just what your goals are, but when you should aim to complete them. Its a variant of fate play, and it was used in de la bete in an effort to escape Aristotelian Curse.

(Quick response as I’m off to Hydra!)

(Have fun at Hydra! Or more likely, I hope Hydra was fun!)

Hydra was great - my report (and those of other people) is here: Hydra 2018 thankyous and war stories

The list of things to do in longer larps is really useful, and something we can point people at if they’re trying to design one of these things. I can also see how you can use these techniques in a smaller way in short-form larps (lots have timed information releases or scheduled events, a couple have used TWINE, and there’s a subset of larps which involve dancing). Sub-larps isn’t really a thing here - I ran Tales of Irnh a few years ago and people loved it, but it isn’t widely known. But having been sent the BTL games from Across the Universe, I can see how you could do them in the right genre (e.g. a Star Trek holodeck).

@Fair_Escape has covered most of the points I can think of, but boredom , and more often player tiredness can be problem in longer games.

Many people I speak to experience a energy drop during the Saturday afternoon session.

I haven’t written any long games yet ( We just planning on starting writing one ), so any criticisms of the writers should be taken with a pinch of salt

That session is quite difficult as a lot of big events seem to end up timed for the evening session to prepare the big finish on Sunday. Also Saturday night is often ( in about 1/2 the games I’ve played) a themed formal party which I find helps boost the energy. Another issue is a lot of small side quests seem to happen is this session, which reduces the amount of players in the main game area to interact with can be more limited. But it varies from game to game. I had more than enough going on in the recent Shogun game that it wasn’t as much of a problem. Shogun was one of the few weekend games I’ve played which I so much to do, I felt bad about not getting stuff done, rather than not having anything I can do.

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This. I’ve never met anybody that had a good way around that.

The accepted strategy in combat-oriented events seems to be to just go with it and wait for things to pick up again towards the evening. (There’s always an attack happening just as you’re sitting down for dinner. Always. Not that I’m ranting or anything…)