Starting a Mini LARP Con

After posting about the various theater LARP events that happen around New England, a few people commented that they wished they had something like them in their area. So I talked to Nat Budin, a local LARPer who was instrumental in getting Festival of the LARPs, the first of these small local LARP cons, off the ground. Here are some guidelines if you’re interested in running something similar in your local community.

Space

Most of these events are run in universities, primarily because they are a source of free function space. If you aren’t a current student and alumni groups can’t request space, you’ll need to work with a student. The science fiction/fantasy and/or gaming clubs are probably the best organizations to go through. They’re also good places to find new people willing to try LARPing (that’s how I was first introduced to LARPing.) If your events are open to their members, these clubs might also help cover costs with their funds. For example, WPI requires events that use their function space to pay for janitor services, and SFS (the Science Fiction Society) covers the costs.

Another option for space is to run games in someone’s private home, which has the massive advantage of being extremely unlikely to cancel on you or get double booked with some other event. The downside is that the interiors are unlikely to be as good for LARPing, and you may not have the space to run more than one LARP at a time.

I’ve often wondered about LARPing in public spaces, such as a park, but I haven’t really tried it yet. Some LARPers might be shy about LARPing in public, but if you have a non-disruptive, low key game (or one in which people don’t dress up in weird costumes) it’s an option worth exploring.

And of course, one can rent function space, such as in hotels, but this will probably prevent you from being able to run the event for free.

LARPs

If you’ve got local writers who are happy to run their own LARPs, great. If not, there are a lot of free and low cost LARPs on the internet. The best resource for theater LARPs, that I’ve found so far, is this list. I’ve played a number of them, and my personal recommendations include The Difficult Life of the Costumed Henchmen, The Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste, and Time Travel Review Board. There are also a number of LARPs on the Interactivities Ink website. My favorite on that page is Triple Blind. Be Not Afraid is another great theater LARP available on the internet — not free, like the others, but worth the price, in my opinion.

One of Nat’s tips was to be mindful of content — it may seem obvious but content is king – having good LARPs that people want to play is absolutely necessary for a brand new event.  More established events can get players just on momentum/brand recognition, but a new event doesn’t have that luxury.

Of course, when a GM agrees to run an event, the convention should find out how many players it needs, how long the LARP is (including required prep time, introduction, and game wrap and clean up, if applicable) what its space requirements are, any other unusual requirements (can the convention provide a chalk board, or large tables, for example?) GMs should provide a short blurb for the website describing the game and any pertinent information players may need. (For example, is there an age limit because of mature content or alcohol being provided?)

Sign Ups

Originally, Festival of the LARPs ran its sign ups by having people fill out online surveys, and then someone would assign them to LARPs by hand. WordPress and Drupal are good places to create free websites. This kind of goes without saying, but make sure GMs and players are provided with one another’s contact information — email addresses are usually sufficient, but cell phone numbers help when someone has gone missing last minute.

If you’d like to run sign ups the way the local conventions here do (with the possibility for tiered sign ups over multiple dates and/or gendered sign ups) you can email Nat Budin and ask about the program used for the New England small LARP cons, Concentral. It’s open source and anyone should be able to run it on cheap web hosting.

As a side note, Intercode 2, a new version of the code used for Intercon sign-ups, will be available sometime in the future, and Intercode 2.1 will be specifically designed for the smaller cons.

Nat suggests picking a specific time to open sign-ups and sending out emails well in advance to let people know when it will be. This allows people to plan to be online, giving everyone an equal chance to get into their first choice LARPs. Otherwise, the LARPs will be filled by whomever happened to check their emails first, which can make people unhappy about perceived unfairness.

If you’re thinking of running a mini-con, you probably are already familiar with standard operating procedures in your community, but for reference, around here the schedule usually goes up a week or two before sign-ups, and sign-ups are often about a month before the event. This gives GMs and players time for casting questionnaires (if applicable) and costuming, if desired.

Con Suite

Some of these events put aside a room as the “con suite,” which is often where people leave their coats and bags, hang out between games, and munch on snacks put out by the con. Nat’s personal recommendation was to skip the con suite (or at least the snacks) because it’s often not worth the extra time and effort to obtain the snacks and clean up each night, especially if you don’t have anyone committed to volunteering. And if you do, volunteering in the con suite often precludes people from playing some games.

If you’re dead set on having snacks (LARPers appreciate the quick energy boost they provide, especially when there isn’t time to go out and hunt for food), you can sort of run it like a potluck and ask everyone to bring in a donation or two. Try to find snacks that don’t create a mess and don’t need to be refrigerated. Personally, I like when a con suite includes veggie platters — otherwise, I’m prone to snacking on nothing but junk food all day. I also love it when someone brings a box of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.

If you forgo snacks in the con suite, consider putting together a list of local places to eat, directions to them, and numbers for ordering, and maybe tacking it to the wall where everyone can see it.

Crash Space

If you’re running an event that is one day long (or less) it’s not an issue, but if you run a con of two or three days, offering crash space is appreciated by people traveling long distances to LARP. Crash space at the local cons is done by asking locals to volunteer their spare beds and futons and pull-out couches or even just some floor space in their dorms or homes. Providing information about local hotels on your website is also helpful. For hosts and guests who don’t know one another, it’s a good idea to collect contact information.

Some possible issues to ask guests and hosts about when matching them up to prevent last minute disasters:

– What kind of bedding can the host provide? If none, can the guest bring their own sleeping bag? Do they mind crashing on the floor? (You don’t want guests showing up and finding out there are no spare blankets and they haven’t brought any.)

– Does the guest have any allergies? Does the host’s accommodations have any common allergens? (Such as pets or cigarette smoke?) Any other unusual requirements?

– Does the guest mind sharing a room if necessary?

– Can either the guest or a host provide a ride if it’s too far to walk?

– How early can the guest arrive, and what time should they leave?

Other

Some useful things to include on your website (besides the full date — including the year! — and the full address — including the state, if applicable, and country), include information and suggestions for directions and parking and public transportation options.

Nat recommends starting small and humble — it’s easier to get a small event off the ground and build over subsequent years than it is to try and get a large event off the ground.

Advertising is most effectively done by word of mouth. When using social media, put out a coordinated blast on livejournal/blogs, facebook, twitter, and whatever other accounts are popular in your local LARPing community, and use the local gaming groups’ mailing lists. We’ve used flyers around university campuses in the past, but I don’t know if they brought in any significant amount of traffic.

Including signs on the buildings to let people know they’re in the right place and which rooms the LARPs are in is helpful during the event.

Find out what rules the event space provider has in advance — for example, is drinking allowed? Smoking? Are there likely to be non-LARPers confused and concerned about the LARP? What time does the building open and lock up for the night, for GMs who want to set up early, or players who want to hang out late?

Our local cons often hold what we call a “Dead Dog” (charming, I know) after events, which involves many, if not all, of the participants gathering in a restaurant to eat and talk about the event. If you have a large crowd, ask people in advance if they’re likely to want to attend, and call local restaurants ahead of time to find out if they can handle a crowd of your size. Some restaurants can host large crowds only with advance warning.

Feel free to ask any questions or share any advice of your own, and please let me know if your local community gets a new small convention off the ground. I’d love to hear how it goes.

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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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