“Oh, wow, LARP, I’ve always wanted to try that, but I didn’t know how to get into it and I always felt a little intimidated by people playing.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read a version of this sentence. I understand it too; LARP seems a bit overwhelming for people coming from a table-top gaming perspective. Or worse, you’ve got no role-playing experience, maybe a little bit of theatre background, but you really think the world is cool and the idea is awesome, but you can’t wrap your head around how to get started. Now, this article is for those of us already knee-deep in the hobby who might need to stop and think about things from the newbies’ perspective for a few minutes. I’ll give the new folks some quick advice though before I jump into advice for our Elders. Most of this article will use examples from World of Darkness LARP, but it’s applicable I think to a lot of different games.
My advice to you, new interested player, is to find a group, email them, and ask for someone to mentor you. Most LARPers want to help new players get into the game and will bend over backward to help you out. You can also email me at admin@keepontheheathlands if you are looking for a LARP in your area. I might not know of one off the top of my head, but I think I’ve got good LARP Google-Fu, and I’m happy to help.
1) TALK TO YOUR NEW PLAYERS
If I could give you one point of new advice, it is this. Go out of your way to talk to everyone you don’t recognize that walks through your door. This applies to both Storytellers and Players. If you see someone you do not recognize at a game you have been attending for months, talk to them. Walk up, introduce yourself, and ask them who they are. This might seem socially difficult, but it will help both the new player and you SO much. They might ask about your character, tell them what you are comfortable letting them know. Ask them about theirs, and listen for ways you can hook them into your plot. If you are a storyteller, hopefully you’ve had some character creation discussions already, but if you’ve only spoken briefly via email to approve their character, spend 5-10 minutes OOC learning about what they are expecting from the game. Then, if possible, find an established player to connect them to. If you game has an established mentor system, connect them with their mentor. Even if you don’t get to do this before the game starts, do it during and after the game. Try and talk to EVERY new player, it might not be 100% every game, but the more you do it, the better off you’ll ALL be. This is just as important if this player is with a group of other new players, or even a new player with a group of people you already know.
2) GIVE THEM PLOT
Please keep in mind this point is for Storytellers and for Players. In LARP, player driven plot is usually thicker than Storyteller driven plot. This can be hard depending on how frequently the player has gamed in the past, but try and find ways to drag them in. If you are in a position of power, offer them a quest or ask them to undertake a mission for you. If you aren’t, ask them if they would be interested in getting involved in a plot or goal you have. It can be as easy as, “Hey, new Vampire, I’d like you to bring this message to the Primogen of Clan Ventrue for me.” Bam, quick hook they now have to ask who that is, how do I find them, then go through that process, then RP out giving the message, then return. This might take 5 minutes, and it might take 2 hours. At the very least, it gets the new player’s character involved and connected to new people. If you are playing that Primogen, then give that new character another mission. “Hey new Vamp of Clan Nosferatu, can you hide yourself well? Great, then I’ll give you a minor boon if you go spy on Seneschal Toreador for me. Nah, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” This can go on forever, if you let it. From a Storyteller perspective, don’t be afraid to throw new players into the plot deep-end. You’ve got a long-running villain? Have them interact with the new player’s character, drop a few smiles and some suave discussion, and then propel the player back to the main group. That character is now important, they know *something* about the villain that might help everyone else get involved. Or, drop an item in the hands of the new player character that ties them into the plot in a way they wouldn’t know (warn them that other players might react to it) and send them to Elysium. Don’t be afraid to have you plot flow UP, rather than DOWN.
3) BE OPEN AND UNDERSTANDING
Listen to the questions this player is asking. You might not know if they are asking in or out of character, clarify when needed and then give clear answers. Every new player is going to get confused about what one rule or another means. Heck, every new player is probably going to forget what clan is what or some basic setting element. If they say something that seems odd, don’t jump down their throat. Run the scene and drop out of character if needed to make sure the player is on track. At the same time, if a player says, “Oh, I know I messed that up in-character, play it out as if I did.” Run with it. With a lot of groups we want to stay in-character as much as possible, I respect that. However, with new players we need to be willing to rope them into the game and slowly immerse them into the world. Don’t be afraid to drop character to keep them in the loop.
4) NUDGE THEM ALONG
Being a new player is socially awkward. You walk into a place without much idea of who these people are. You might join the game with a group of friends, but it is still valuable to get plot from other people that you do not know. As a storyteller, or a player, find ways to keep getting the player involved. If you see a new player on the sidelines, check-in with them. They might tell you they are fine, taking a breather, whatever. That is fine, but stay with them for a minute more if you can, ask them how their night has been, if they have a question about anything. It’s ok if they say, no. If they have a question, answer it, and offer to help them get back into play if they want to. Perhaps this is a great time to give them some plot?
I force myself to be pretty outgoing when I go to a new LARP. I will stalk you down and introduce myself. I’m not normal. Most people don’t do this. Do what you can to engage new players, grab them, and give them some of your personal plot. If they don’t take it, don’t sweat it. If they do, then you have helped bring them into your game. If someone is weird like me and does engage you, welcome them, talk to them, and ask them some questions. The worst thing you can do as a player or storyteller is to ignore the new person trying to engage you. They are doing so because they want to be a member of your gaming community. Give them a minute or two of your time, if you are busy, ask them to connect with you later and then do so. Good luck with the newbies!
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.