NELCO 2014 Post Event Report – Stuffing

During the second half of the run of Betrothals and Betrayals at NELCO 2014, I was in one of the panel rooms, listening to a presentation called “Stuffing: Making Sure the Game You Wrote is the Game They Get” written and presented by Stephen Kohler, lead GM of Lime Shirt LARPing. Lime Shirts is a LARP running organization that frequently runs events at RPI. A number of the weekend long theater LARPs (Like MasksThe King’s Musketeers, and Once Upon a Time in Tombstone) were run by Lime Shirts, and each one is a monumental task. And the biggest hurdle of running these LARPs, outside of the run itself, is stuffing the LARP. (Or maybe casting, I suppose, depending on how picky the players are!)

Stuffing, for those unfamiliar with the term, is what we call the process of printing all of the materials for a theater LARP and organizing it to be distributed to players before the game begins, typically by “stuffing” sheets of paper (character sheets, “blue sheets,” rules, etc.) and index cards (usually ability cards and item cards) and whatever else might be needed (like contingency envelopes) into manila envelopes.

For some smaller, simpler LARPs, this can be a ten minute process for one or two GMs. For the larger games, like the weekend long events for up to 70 or 80 players, it can eat the bulk of a weekend for large GM team, especially if the game isn’t “boxed” well.

Stephen’s powerpoint is available to read here. By virtue of the prep work that was put into the presentation in advance, and the experience of the presenter, it was probably the most practically useful event at NELCO.

You’d think, having helped a few GMs teams stuff a LARP that I would know most of this and not need to attend the presentation. But for the smaller LARPs, you can cut a few corners and not worry too much about the process, because undoing mistakes isn’t too much of a problem. But for the larger LARPs, with hundreds of pages and possibly thousands of index cards to print and sort, keeping the process smooth and organized can literally save hours of time. Much of the advice in the presentation was geared more towards these larger, more complex LARPs.

Since the powerpoint is available to read (and there will be a video of the presentation available online at some point in the future) I won’t bother trying to summarize everything I learned. Instead, I’ll just share a few of my favorite gems that I picked up at this presentation.

When writing a LARP, keep contingencies separate from character sheets. It’s tempting to write up a character sheet and put the content of each character’s contingency envelopes with each character sheet, but that sort of thing can lead to accidentally sharing information that should only come out during the LARP under specific circumstances.

Have extra power strips (or, even better, power squids) for the stuffing — there are never enough outlets within reach when everyone has the LARP open on their own laptops to consult.

 – Check your collating settings. This one hasn’t come up for me while helping stuff a LARP, but I have given presentations where I printed sheets for the audience, and had the wrong collating settings. You want it to print page one, then page two, then page three, not ten copies of page one, ten copies of page two, ten copies of page three… etc. It only cost me five or so aggravating minutes when I made this mistake, but imagine printing ten pages of rules for 70 players, and then realizing you have to collate them by hand.

Looking over the powerpoint now, it’s a bit more bare bones than I remember (not in a bad way — but a lot of details were given orally), so if you’re interested in the topic, I’d recommend checking out the video when it becomes available online. I’ll be sure to post a link here on this blog when it is.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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12 Responses to NELCO 2014 Post Event Report – Stuffing

  1. idiotsavant23 says:

    I was a little boggled when I saw that someone had scheduled a seminar on this. I mean, you print the stuff, you sort the stuff, you cut up the stuff that needs to be cut up, and you put the stuff in the envelopes. For the last game I ran – a 55-player 3 hour game – it took me an evening. And I was slacking.

    But then reading your commentary and the powerpoint, it seems that you have remarkably heavier paper-loads than I’m used to. How many pages of rules plus character sheet do you normally do?

    • Fair Escape says:

      For the large weekend longs, the paper loads get pretty out of control. Foam Brain, the organization that ran games around RPI before Lime Shirts took over, told me they literally burned out printers on one LARP. The SILWest games were particularly notorious for having tons and tons of widget item cards.

      I’m looking over stuff from Once Upon a Time in Tombstone. My character sheet had 9 pages, and somewhere around 60 people played (with the potential for close to 90 players.) There were four or five blue sheets between one and five pages in length for everyone, and I received two one page blue sheets for Native Americans. There were five rule sheets, each between one and maybe four pages in length. I think everyone got between maybe fifteen and twenty printed index card, and several contingency envelopes.

      To be fair, Tombstone might have been Stephen’s answer to which LARP was the biggest job to stuff, but I don’t think the average weekend long theater LARP is that far behind.

      Also, we did talk some about boxing a LARP, (organizing the materials so others can easily print and run your game) some of which isn’t in the powerpoint. I think knowing how to box a LARP is actually a topic of huge importance in our community. We had a panel on it at a past NELCO or PreCon (I forget) but I don’t remember feeling like it was particularly helpful. I think if Lime Shirts had done that panel, it probably would have been a lot more productive. (Hint, hint, Stephen, if you’re reading this.)

      • idiotsavant23 says:

        What about short-form games? How many pages for those?

        The standard in NZ is a 1-2 page character sheet, about the same in rules/background, and maybe a bluesheet or two of equivalent length or a couple of ability cards. Contingency envelopes are rare. Obviously this makes stuffing much less work. We don’t do the full-weekend format here (or certainly not while I’ve been larping), but I can see how that would lead to much larger workloads.

        • Fair Escape says:

          Lime Shirts is unique in that they’re currently one of the only groups in the area running weekend long theater LARPs written by other people, so much of their advice is written with that in mind, for people who may want to try it themselves.

          One to two pages would not be considered unusual at Intercon, but definitely on the low end of a typical game. I would say… maybe 4 or 5 pages is average?

          Now I’m curious to know how much of this is in my head. Let me try a random sample. At the last Intercon, I played Heirs to the Throne. Character sheet: 3 pages, plus a little. Star-Crossed, 4 pages. Cirque du Fey, 4 and half. Dragon Palace was an unusual boffer/theater hybrid, with 2 pages…and the Iron GM game is kind of an unusual case in which it’s only 2 hours long and is written in one weekend, so they’re typically pretty short sheets…I think mine was two pages.

          Take this with a heap of salt — I tend to be attracted to the type of games that sound complex. Lovers and Madmen, one of my favorite writing groups, have given me two sheets 9 pages in length, one 11, and one 14 in their last four games.

          • idiotsavant23 says:

            Producing other people’s games is a definite skill, and something which its useful to have advice on. Though if its “boxed” right, then all of that advice should be in the GM guide.

            Hmm. Let’s see. From last Hydra: “Exodus 22:18” (not the Mike Tice version) was 2 pages; “BDL one-act play competition” was a 2-page character sheet and a 2 page chunk of a play (which had to be performed; fortunately I had only one line in it); “Insubstantial Pageant” was 4 pages of character, 1 of bluesheet, and 2 of setting, but would have been half that if it wasn’t done using larpwriter; “LARP at a funeral” was 2 pages of character and 1 of background (and was inflated by larpwriter).

            I have a problem in that nobody writes complicated political games for me. But even then, I can’t imagine a 9 page sheet, let alone 14. What would you put on it?

            (One of the reasons I’m so keen on people publishing their damn games is because it lets us see how other larp cultures do it, and reduces this sort of bogglement)

            • Stephen Kohler says:

              Oh, in a perfect world, a boxed game should in fact be runnable with zero involvement from the original writers. I draw your attention to my use of the word “perfect”. 🙂

              But most weekend-long games in particular aren’t “boxed” at all; they’re pulled from hard drives and sent out as is. Which is much better then nothing, of course! Beggars can’t be choosers.

              Minigames are much easier to print and stuff, but that doesn’t mean mistakes don’t happen. As I said in the talk, the impetus for it came from a four-hour that ran at RPI, in which a copy of a character sheet somehow ended up in the wrong packet! It turned out that the sheets had gotten stuck together, and the GMs assumed that they had missed printing the sheet and printed out another copy (which did end up in the correct packet).

              As far as long sheets go, generally they end up with longer and more detailed backstory, and often plot as well. Some writers are more verbose then others.

              Adina: I just ran a panel, and you want me to run another? 🙂 I’ll take it under advisement, although that might be a topic for a full panel, not a talk; I know what I would *like* to see, but I’ve never actually boxed a game myself.

              • Fair Escape says:

                Yes, Stephen, yes I do! I’m not even sorry. 😛

                I do think it would help to get multiple perspectives, and we could totally run another Boxing Your Game panel, but presentations tend to be better prepped and more organized. I’m annoyed I thought of two more panel ideas right after NELCO ended, but there are always future NELCOs and PreCons.

              • Jeff Diewald says:

                Stephen, I offered to let you run The Tales of Irnh at RPI. I’d really like you to play it so that you can do that. Then, having played it, I’d really like you to look at my boxing organization. I bet it’s pretty close to needing no involvement. (Historical note: I’ve written this kind of boxing information from the beginning, because back in the Dark Ages of LARP, I sold my murder mystery games to others to run – and I had to explain how to do so, to people who were going to play a LARP for the first time.)

            • Fair Escape says:

              Interesting! Here, players sometimes express a little disappointment if they’re expecting long character sheets but receive short ones. Longer character sheets often earn the writers a little friendly ribbing, but they almost never receive genuine complaints (as far as I know), and when they do, it’s usually more about receiving long sheets too close to run time.

              How about in New Zealand? Do people people generally prefer the shorter sheets? Are longer ones considered a pain, or a pleasant surprise?

              If you like complicated political games of the four hour variety, I suspect you’d like Lovers and Madmen LARPs, too. (And Blackfyre Rising.) My pipe dream is to run one of them at Chimera, and my slightly more realistic dream is to convince one of the GMs to work with me to box their LARPs so they can be run in other communities.

  2. idiotsavant23 says:

    in NZ there’s a wide consensus that a character sheet should be no more than two sides of A4 (or twice that if you’ve used larpwriter), and ones which are substantially longer are considered a bit of a pain. People don’t like having to carry a huge wodge of paper around with them, or rat through it to find that thing they think they remember. My players were a bit shocked with the amount of material for “Dance and the Dawn”, though forgave it because it was so beautifully written.

    In some cases length is an explicit design constraint. The “Rose and Dragon” writers were told we had a one-page limit, and we worked hard to express the characters concisely. I’m still amazed at how much we managed to pack into them.

    The Blackfyre Rising authors were kind enough to provide me with a copy (well, the character sheets at least; I think I stil need the mechanics), and I’m currently planning to run it at Chimera 2015 next year.

  3. Jeff Diewald says:

    “For the larger games, like the weekend long events for up to 70 or 80 players, it can eat the bulk of a weekend” – Snort… Splutter… Snerk… Ha ha ha ha ha! Amateurs!!!

    Across the Sea of Stars, my 10 hour 25 player Tale-Telling science fiction LARP takes an entire week of long nights to properly stuff by four or five of us each night, and it’s well-organized, with a detailed stuffing list. While it is the game we are most requested to rerun, we call the stuffing “The Week of a Thousand Papercuts,” which is a big reason we don’t run it very often.

    AtSoS fills two 4″ binders with paper. The character sheets run 8-15 pages, because there’s a lot of story in the back story, with details and ideas that take time to explore. There’s imagery and a big Universe to tell a little about. That, and I am genetically incapable of writing a short character. Each character comes with several bluesheets. That’s pretty typical.

    The challenge is in the Tales. During three sessions in the game, the players will step out of their Home Characters in order to tell several Tales from the history of the Universe. Each Tale is a small 10-20 minute LARP for 3-6 characters. The players get a small amount of new material (typically about 3 pages total) with a Tale setting and a Tale Character to read and then play out.

    There are 30 of these Tale LARPs that each need to be stuffed for use in the game, about 10 for each session. Since we have a lot of people wanting to tell Tales, we actually print and stuff each Tale twice – for a total of 60.

    We also stuff at least one GM Bible set of binders, with another copy of the entire game, for reference and backup.

    It’s an amazing game. Players love it, and many rave about it. The Tales are incredibly fun for us to watch as GMs, since the Tales are designed to run without a GM. People love to compare notes about how their version of the Tale ran compared to someone else’s version. They love the variety of Tales in the game.

    See http://home.comcast.net/~diewald/across_the_sea_of_stars/home.html for more details.

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