[Rant] Publish your damn game!

This has been stewing for a while, and I’d originally planned it as something for an “hour of the rant”-style presentation if we ever saw a kiwi larp theory conferance. But in order to avoid becoming the focus of a “publish your ‘publish your damn game rant’ rant”, here it is:

Publish your damn game!

New Zealand has a very productive larp community. Looking at the major cons - Chimera, Hydra and KapCon - New Zealand larpers have written over 120 original theatre-style larps in the last five years. That’s a tremendous output. But what’s scary is that only about 15 of those larps have been published - made publicly available in some fashion, whether free on the web or for sale on a site like RPGNow. A few more circulate among authors and GMs as part of an informal re-run trade, but most of the larps we write are never seen by anyone other than their authors. And the result is that a lot of great games are never replayed because they’re stuck on a hard drive somewhere.

The scary thing is, New Zealand is comparatively good at publication compared to other countries. A rough analysis of the (US-Northeast centric) LarpResume database last year showed that out of 500 non-NZ games, only about 40 had been published. The UK has a thriving larp community, but only Freeform Games and the Peaky collective publish anything. As for Australia, a country with one of the earliest claims to have invented larp, I’ve never seen a single one published since “The Freeform Book”.

Globally, from the rpg.net wiki, about 200 larps have been published. A lot of those are from the Irish, and a bunch more from the Nordic community. And a lot of them are falling off the web.

So, if you’re a larp author, I’d like you to publish your damn game. It doesn’t have to be professionally, or for money (as if there’s any in larp publication anyway). It can be as simple as sharing it on Google Drive, or hitting the “publish” button on larpwriter. But please, make your game available.

Why publish?

Why should you publish? Here’s five reasons.
[li] Ego-boo. There’s nothing like the feeling of finding out that your game has been run and enjoyed on the other side of the world.[/li]
[li] It helps you nail down the runtime details. We keep a lot of information about this in our heads, which means that if we want to re-run a game after five years, we might have forgotten it. Getting your game into publishable shape means writing it up so another person can run it - and that other person could be future-you. It also protects you from losing your game in a hard-drive crash (something which has happened to far too many larps)[/li]
[li] It helps the global larp community to grow. New larp communities often need a supply of games to become established (and then they start writing their own). Access to published games helped make the NZ larp community the success it is today.[/li]
[li] It helps us learn from one another as a community. There’s a lot of different ways of doing theatre-style, both in the big-picture (framework-games, scene-based games, pop-larp) and in the nitty-gritty (mechanics, plots, staging tricks). Seeing how other people do it - what they do right, and what they do wrong - is a major driver for improvement and innovation. Publishing your game lets people learn from it, and improve theirs.[/li]
[li] Its a waste not to. Seriously, you spend months writing the thing, and its only going to be run once or twice, and then rot on your hard drive forever?[/li][/ul]

How to publish

Like I said above, you can just put it on the web. If you like, you can pretty it up, spend hours on graphic design and put it somewhere like RpgNow - but there’s no money in it. The market for commercial larps is vanishingly small, and basically limited to curious GMs.

As for how much work it is, if you’ve run your game, you presumably have character sheets and rules all sorted. So what you need is a set-up and run-time guide for the GM, and a props-list. I like to add a blurb, cast-list and costuming guide, but they’re not necessary.

Your larp doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. There will always be something you can tweak. But if its runnable, then its publishable, so go ahead and do it.

1 Like

Okay :slight_smile:

I’m keen to publish Robin Hood, but its just finding the time to make it all other GM friendly and pretty… but is definitely a goal this year :slight_smile:

I’d really like to see that - its a great game, which deserves wider circulation.

I’m actually quite torn about the prospect of publishing: while I love the prospect of getting work out to a wider audience, there’s something quite security-bringing for me about actually retaining control over the work. The games that I write, when I rerun them I work tweaks to bring it into line with what I think the audience will want out of the experience. I’d really struggle to cede that control over to someone else, when I’m filled with doubts about whether anyone that took it would be interested in keeping it in line with a particular (and, I’ll admit, pretentious) vision.
Would I ever find out? Probably not. But that doesn’t necessarily stop me from feeling like one of those authors that gets fanfiction sent to them by their adoring fans.

I have a non-interventionist GMing-style, which means my “creative control” basically ends the moment I start handing out character sheets. So I’m really not that fussed if its someone else handing them out instead.

Whether you find out depends on whether you vanity-google your games. I do :slight_smile: People talk when they’ve run a game, and while its not always positive (The Devil’s Brood appears to have been a total flop in the US, for example), its still interesting seeing how other people have run a game, and whether they’ve identified the same problems you have.

I have some of the same control issues that Russ talked about above, but having had a game of mine run by other people helped with it somewhat - Thom and Mel ran my Fleet St game for VUW games club. I heard it went well. I’m sure I missed information in the notes I sent them and I’m sure they improvised well to cover the gaps. My vanity outweighs my desire for creative control - having people I’d never met come up to me and go “You wrote Fleet St! I had so much fun!” was really cool :smiley:

I’m also indebted to everyone else that’s handed me a game to run. People I’ve never met, whose games I’ve tweaked and changed and adapted (Mary Celeste runs very differently in NZ than the documentation stipulates…)

My big hang ups in publishing are the visual aspects. Layout and prettying are not my strong suit and I’m not comfortable publishing a scrappy looking product. Also if anyone is willing to read through my finished game write ups and tell me if I’m missing any vital information for the GMs, that’d be neat :slight_smile:

Would there be interest in a game publishing backstage forum for writers working on publishing their games to share resources, motivation, proof reading, etc?

Yes :smiley:

One of the biggest things that stops me from publishing my larps is; what do I write for the GM who might run this that isn’t me? Just because I think something is important to know about the larp, doesn’t mean it is, and doesn’t mean I haven’t left something out. I worry that if I miss something in publication that I might hear a run of the larp went poorly because I left something important out.

Read-throughs and also a re-run by someone who knows you and is willing to give feedback can help iron out these kinks.

When I wrote up Tesla’s Wedding I nicked, with permission, the intro from The Bell and used it as a template. I had to diverge quite a bit in the end, but it made a good place to start. There were nifty sections like What to Do Before the Game; What to Do on Game Day; What’s Going On…

And yes, it was exhausting to write up (it’s a thirty-player, dense game), and no, I’m not expecting much in the way of sales… (sigh). At least it’s pretty.


Lest I sound too much of a downer, finding out that someone on the other side of the planet wants to run one of your games - that’s a real swell feeling there.


The Bell ran at a con in Italy a while back - chambercon.wordpress.com/edizion … rcon-2013/ Any other games that may or may not have been considered for running in trans-geographic locations at this time are not being jinxed.

So I’m in the camp of people who do publish their games. And yeah, Idiot’ right - there’s no money in it, but the egoboo is grand. And I’ve ended up talking to people from all over the world because one of them read one of my games and wanted to talk to me about it.

To give people some idea about the time investment involved, I would typically spend about as much time editing and polishing a game for publication as I spent writing it, but then I do edit and incorporate feedback from running the game and talking to people afterwards, and I like it to look pretty. (And it’s a creative task that I find relaxing, so it’s not wasted time for me.) Also, the time I put into thinking about how the game went, and trying to write it out for someone else to understand, and getting feedback from someone who found gaps or misunderstood what I meant is a great learning exercise for me, and I think it helps my subsequent games go better. I’ve definitely seen more barebones games published by overseas people that were perfectly playable, they just maybe used default word processor settings and had relatively brief game notes. You don’t have to write an epic if you don’t want to, is what I mean.

Layout and graphic design is something that you can acquire skills for by taking a stab at it and learning as you go - it won’t look as good as a professional’s work, but if you’ve got a reasonable eye it won’t look terrible either. I use actual play photos (with permission) and sometimes source pictures from internet libraries which have open source or Creative Commons Commercial licences (Flickr will let you search by licence type, for instance, and openclipart.org/ is explicitly public domain.) And there are really generous people in this community who find logo design and graphic design fun who help people out if asked nicely. Ditto for editing and proofreading help.

What I would put in the game writeup is:
Introduction - what the game is about, it’s tone, how many players, set dressing, props, and costuming considerations
Timeline - things to do before, during and after the game
Game Mechanics - describe how the rules work. You may have your game played by someone who’s never seen your rules family before, so take the time to be clear and unambiguous
A summary of the game plotlines (and anything unique about the setting)
Discussion of different things that might happen in the game depending on what the players do (this is the interesting feedback part - other people who’ve run my games have had very different player actions. It keeps things interesting.)
Printing Guide - if it’s more complicated than “print this file”, like if you’ve got a lot of handouts or need X copies of some documents and some things go to specific players
Credits - playtesters, people who gave me editing or design help, image credits etc

And then I’d include files of the character sheets and any printable props. A trick I got from Ryan is to have the character sheets as separate electronic files so that it’s easy for a GM to email out to players, and if you’re feeling keen you could have another file which amalgamates them to make printing easy.

One final thing - publishing on DriveThruRPG is it’s own kind of fiddly (you have to get a publisher’s agreement signed, and learn the uploading interface which isn’t hugely intuitive). Would it help people out if NZLarps set up a game repository for people who want a simpler upload route and don’t want to ask for money for their game?

Seconded. While PDFs can be split up, its a pain. Better to make things easy on people (and better still to give them an editable format as well so they can tweak the game if required)

This idea has been kicking around for a while, and I’d like to see one. I’ve just had to chop all the 404s out of the rpg.net wiki list of free larps, and its a shame to see stuff fall off the net like that.


If you’re wanting to publish your game, if you’ve published your game, if you want to help people publish their game or are just interested in how it happens, we now have a discussion forum! You can add yourself by clicking the link above :slight_smile:

For some reason I can find the group but can’t figure out how to get into it/ask to join, help?

Here’s the link again:

diatribe.co.nz/ucp.php?i=gro … membership

  1. Click the circle to the right of “Game publishing”

  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll see “Join selected”

  3. Click “Submit”.

That will add you to the group, so you should see the forum in the “Backstage” area.