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 Masks, The 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.