My third panel of the day on Saturday at NELCO was “Beyond the Con: Booking LARPs Outside of Conventions“, a panel about finding and reserving locations for running theater LARPs. Conventions like Intercon, and the smaller university cons like Time and Dice Bubble, Festival, and SLAW, provide a great service for GMs by booking space for LARPs — you can be a prolific GM in the local community without ever having to deal with this aspect of running LARPs, but not every GM can or wants to run their events at conventions.
University function space has the major advantage of being free, and it’s usually a simple matter of going through a student club to request space, and there no contracts to negotiate. The major downsides, beside the typically limited type of space (usually classrooms), one often has to deal with non-LARPers wandering through (I’ve run into a fair number of prospective students and their parents on tour during theater LARPing) and whatever regulations the university has.
One of the panelists was on the hotel search committee with me for both Intercon and NELCO, and we learned quite a bit through the process. The model by which the hotel primarily makes its money is actually a pretty significant factor in whether or not it’s likely to offer an affordable contract for a LARP. We came across hotels whose primary business was renting out as many room nights as possible, and the function spaces were there to boost room night sales, hotels whose primary business was renting out function spaces for events, and renting out rooms was secondary, and hotels whose primary business was its catering. The hotel’s primary business will affect what kind of contract they offer, though most hotels would prefer to sell you all three — room nights, function spaces, and food. If your LARP is centered around a meal, that last kind might be a good bet. If you expect most or all of your attendees to stay overnight at the hotel, you’ll want to find a hotel that really wants to book room nights and will offer discounts on function space for every room night sold. If you expect few to none of your players to stay at the hotel, hotels that focus on renting out function space are your best bet, though even that can be challenging, as LARPs tend to require a lot of square feet per participant. For example, a LARP for 20 people might run in a room that can host 100 people, if they’re seated in rows and listening to a lecture, and the rates for renting the space will reflect that.
While searching for hotel function space to host a LARP, it’s best to start early. Hotels often book out their function spaces months to a year or more in advance. The winter season, excluding the time around the holidays, is often cheapest because it’s the slowest time of year for the wedding industry. (Which is part of why Intercon runs in late February or early March.) And while negotiating a contract, remember that their sales person’s estimates on cost are pretty much guaranteed to be significantly lower than the final numbers. And the closer a hotel is from food options and public transportation, the more expensive it is.
For large LARPs where the players will sleep at the hotel, it’s a good to find a hotel that just fits the number of participants, or close to it, and not just to avoid non-LARPers walking through the spaces. The more rooms that aren’t occupied by LARPers, the more a hotel will want to hold back on function spaces because they’ll hope to bring in another event on the same weekend to rent out the remaining rooms. (A few hotels we looked at during the Intercon search had enough function spaces for us, but the hotels didn’t want to offer a contract that included all of the them because we didn’t expect to rent out most or all of the guest rooms.)
The panel also talked a bit about the idea of designing a LARP to fit an available space, vs. finding a space and then designing around it. A lot of LARP organizers begin with one or the other (though I’m sure many end up with some combination and compromise along the way. I suspect with one shots, it’s generally LARP first, location second, and most theater LARPs in the local community are written with fairly minimal set requirements, while boffer campaigns probably begin with writing, but then as the staff learns their site, starts writing content with various locations of their site in mind. But the NELCO panel advocated a bit for intentionally using simultaneous approach — begin the search for a site at the same time as beginning the writing process, and adjusting both the writing and expectations for what kind of sites are available and what they have to offer as you go.