Over the Saturday before last, I attended two back-to-back meetings, one to address the process of bidding LARPs for Intercon, the all LARP convention, and one to move the process of planning NELCO, the conference on LARP, forward.
Intercon has had the same bid form for years now, even though various aspects of it were less than ideal, and a few parts have become obsolete. A small group of Intercon com members got together to go over the bid form, item by item, and see what could be improved, what might need to be added, and what could be removed.
Specifically, the questions regarding advertising (i.e. using a LARP for advertising, or asking GMs if they are willing to help advertise Intercon at other events) have been removed, as our methods and goals for advertising have changed significantly over the years.
We also discussed a handful of new questions for the bid form. We’ve had some issues with player expectations not matching the LARPs they play in terms of sheet length, so we discussed asking GMs how long character sheets will be and making that information available to players when the sign up. It sounds like a simple change, but it took a fair amount of time to go over the various potential issues, such as how this will affect games that have not yet been written at the time they are bid, and how this will affect games that have character sheets that wildly differ in length.We also talked about whether or not this question should be open format, or if GMs should be given a series of broad categories to choose from (something like “0 to 2 pages”, “2 to 6 pages”, etc.)
Another potential question to add to the bid form was how complete the LARP is. We’ve had some issues with LARPs not being complete before Intercon (sometimes people are scrambling to finish them last minute and players don’t get their sheets in time to do full prep. Some games have also been cancelled last minute due to incompleteness.) Adding this information to the website will allow players whether or not they want to risk signing up a LARP that may not be finished in time.
Both of these additions seems straightforward, though I have some small concern that if we include this information on the website, it will increase the players’ sense of entitlement to certain information. If the information turns out to be faulty, this could upset players more than if they’d never felt entitled to the information in the first place.
A somewhat more controversial change to the bid form was including a question about “weirdness” in a LARP — i.e. how much supernatural there is in a LARP that seems to be historical on the surface, or whether or not there are any major genre shifting surprises. (As one person phrased it, “does your blurb lie to your players?”) This is another issue in which players’ expectations have not been met and thus caused problems.
Personally, as much as I dislike bait-and-switches, I’m not convinced players are entitled to this information, or that Intercon should be getting in the way of GMs who want to try to surprise their players. One of the purposes of Intercon is to act as venue for LARP writers to share their art, even if certain aspects of that art (such as unexpected genre switches) are very unpopular. It’s a thorny, complex issue.
We also talked about one significant change not related to bidding LARPs; the Radisson has new management, and they want to take over food service. One of the awesome aspects of Intercon is that the price of membership is quite low compared to other cons, and on top of that, Intercon also provides meals. We’ve always handled food through volunteers, which helps keep the cost low. The Radisson staff has essentially asked us to pay them our food budget and let them handle it.
I’m slightly leery of this — it sounds great on the surface, in that our costs will be the same, but now we don’t need to rely on a volunteer to give up a ton of their personal time both before and during the convention in order to provide free meals to con-goers. But the Radisson will have to both provide the food and pay hotel employees to prepare and serve it. They might be overestimating their ability to feed us on a budget that has only ever covered the cost of food, and not covered wages for cooks and servers.
If they can do it, that would be awesome. If they can’t… well. We’ll see.
If the minutes of this meeting are shared publicly, I’ll post a link here.
The NELCO meeting came right on the heels of the Intercon meeting. We talked about various proposals for programming, including a single track of longer panels (with longer breaks between them), tables for less formal discussions of narrower topics, focus groups, runs of short LARPs and discussions deconstructing the experience, and a party after hours. I’m particularly interested to see how making the panels a bit more formal (by requesting introductory statements, prepared questions, and putting effort into making sure the panelists represent diverse backgrounds and opinions) will affect NELCO. I’m pretty excited about these proposals. (You can read a brief overview of them here.)
NELCO is actually not that far off (this year, it’s taking place mid-July) and I’m already quite excited to see what sort of panels will be running. I’ve been reading about a number of other LARP-related conferences, and I’m actually a bit surprised references to NELCO don’t pop up a little more often. NELCO was the first LARP-focused conference in the U.S., (unless you count PreCon as its own entity) and it has hosted a slew of interesting academic, informative, and practical panels, as well as a number of enjoyable workshops, and its BYOG program has produced two full LARPs that have both been run a number of times.
I’m currently mulling over some ideas for panel, discussion, and workshop suggestions. You can already send in suggestions via the email address listed on the website, but I believe a more formal call for topics will be sent out soon. So if you have any ideas of subjects you’d be interested to see discussed at NELCO, keep an eye out for that. Even if you don’t plan to attend, there’s always a decent chance someone’s powerpoints and/or notes from NELCO will become available to read online.