The Price of LARP

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CW: A lot of discussion of finances, what is “reasonable” to pay for something, and what is “reasonable” compensation for work.


TL;DR: Writing Lit form LARPs takes a long time to do well. That makes them expensive to pay writers for. Which is not to say in any way shape or form that we -shouldn’t- pay writers. But here’s my breakdown of *why* it costs so much, and how that would translate to ticket prices for my group, and why the problem feels intractable to me.


I encourage respectful discussion, including challenging of my claims here, but please keep in mind that I’m doing my best to come from a place of honesty and a desire for transparency around potential pricing. *This* is the post to say things like “all writing should be paid. Players have to foot that bill.”

Keep it civil though. It can be true that writers need to be paid and also that doing so prices many people out of the hobby. I’m not expecting the miracle solution to this problem to come out of this post, but who knows, someone might come up with something clever that takes us a step or two in that direction.


Math Time! Let’s talk about what it would take to pay writers for a weekend LARP of the variety I write (Lit Form / high structure), and how to balance that with financially accessible tickets.

An assumption, which may not be perfect, but I have to constrain the design space somewhere:

  1. $15/hr is a reasonable going rate for both writing and running the LARP.

A couple of observations or extrapolations from my own lived experience:

  1. 1 year of work, averaging 6 hrs a week (which translates to ~2 months at a full time job for each GM.) Is a reasonable estimate of how long a 20 person game takes to write. There is -some- slop in this, but not much, unless your writers are very efficient.
  2. Running a weekend game (Friday afternoon to Sunday evening) is three 12 hour days (includes set up and tear down), + two 8 hour days ahead of time for casting, printing, and assembling game. -> 52 total hours to run the game. There is no cushion in this estimate; it might even be under-estimating.
  3. It is desirable for tickets to be no more expensive than $400. This allows for ~1/4 of my player base to pay more than the base price to help subsidize the ~1/2 who will be unable to afford the game without financial assistance. This will be touch and go. – $300 would yield closer to 1/3 of players unable to afford it, and ~1/3 who could over pay.
  4. If you sacrifice most immersion, venues can be had for ~175$ / person for the duration of the event on the West Coast of the USA.
  5. Other costs for game, like a sensitivity editor, props, and printing costs can be approximated at about $50/ticket. – Things like a photographer are NOT included in this budget, and not considered in this analysis.
  6. Combining 3, 4, and 5: $400 – 175 – 50 = $175 per ticket that can go toward paying writers. To reach a $300 ticket, we could only put $75/ticket toward paying writers.

Cost for a 20 player game:

If a group of 3 GMs writes a 20 person game, and runs it 1x, it is 936 hours of writing time, and 52 hours of run time. This ends up working out to 104 hours per PC. At $15/hr, that’s $16,380 to create the game. Spread among the 20 players, that’s $820 of your ticket. Add in the $225 for other expenses, and we are over $1k/ticket.

If we run the game more than once, to try to reduce the financial burden on individual players to reach our proposed $400/ticket max, I would have to run this game 12 times for a total of 240 people. It is impossible to reach a $300 ticket. The per ticket cost for writing/running bottoms out at $117 because of the increasing cost of running the game over and over.

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My Queer Extracon

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My brand of queer is bi. If that, or any discussion of queerness in LARP bothers you, I request that you stop reading now. I don’t feel like dealing with bigots.


This piece will simultaneously serve as as this year’s role call for Extracon, while also celebrating how many not-straight characters I got to play this year. There are, as usual, spoilers for some of the games. I’ll do my best to hide those under a spoiler tag. Example: <like this one.> You can highlight the text to read the hidden words.

TMF Hope

I GMed this game! If you are interested in a LARP played on a Discord server, HMU and I’ll add you to my list for a future run.

Sanguine

I played Gabby in Sanguine. She is a street hardened, Irish <revolutionary> with soft spots for <her lover, the ship’s captain: Luna, and her half sister, Lenore>. She is, in my interpretation, very <gay>, and I think that makes Gabby the second <lesbian> I’ve ever played, my character from Athena’s Chosen being the other.

Sanguine was a delightful game of impossible choice and unhappy outcomes. It is, as with many games Alison had a hand in, very tightly written, with each of the 6 characters having reason to care about the choices the other 5 are making. It is not a light-hearted game, but neither does it succumb to the temptation to slide from grim-dark to hopeless. It is fundamentally a game about what you’re willing to give up, to protect someone else, or to forward your own dream.

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Schedule your Debrief

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Oh look another year has come and gone, and I haven’t posted anything here. Something, something I’m busy. ❤


Extracon 2021 (an Online LARP convention) just wrapped up this past weekend. Intercon 2020 was the last major, in person event I went to. It was the last time I was on a plane. Almost the last time I saw anybody but my partners and my coworkers in person. The pandemic has transformed LARPing in many ways, and I might even try to write about some of them someday.

Today I want to talk about debriefing after game, and why GMs need to be particularly mindful to include time for it in their scheduling. In talking about these things, I don’t wish to cast blame on anyone for the way things turned out, but I encourage GMs and event organizers to consider it for upcoming events.

First, some terms:

Deroll

Derolling to me is a specific, structured exercise meant to help players separate themselves from their character. By structuring the transition, we help it happen faster, and more completely. This in turn can facilitate identifying bleed (something about the character moves into player experience, or vice versa), and identifying self-care needs.

Debrief

Debrief to me can be structured or unstructured. It is a time to thank other players for creating this shared experience. It is time to have my experience witnessed, and to witness for other people. It is time to separate myself from the character by transitioning from first person to third person discussion of them (in this it serves some of the same purposes as deroll). It’s time to get the missing pieces of stories for closure. It’s time to begin telling the war stories – to forge a more cohesive narrative that retroactively identifies meaning and connection to things we did instinctively. It ultimately helps the experience feel more polished, more complete, and so, easier to put down.

Debrief is really important to me and my experience. I didn’t realize how important until I didn’t have the chance to do it. In one off games, if we run a little long, it’s mostly not a big deal. Most people can stretch their schedule a little bit to accommodate a structured debrief. Folks can bounce between structured debrief and going out for food or drinks or whatever the group usually does. But at a convention, things are a little different

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A Woman’s “place” in LARP

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I’m trying something new. I have thoughts, I’m going to put them out on my blog without spending 3 months dithering over whether the wording is exactly right.


Underlying premises for this discussion:

  1. Typecasting is a problem. It is at least some times rooted in stereotypes.
  2. There are many “isms”. All are problematic. This piece focuses on sexism, not because it is the most important, but because it is the experience can speak to, and currently have opinions about. I draw a couple of distinctions between the experience of men and women. I don’t know what the elegant way is to acknowledge the experience of folks who identify with neither label, while also maintaining emphasis that I can’t and don’t speak for their experience, as it isn’t mine. Leaving them out of this discussion entirely doesn’t feel right, but I don’t know what their experiences are, and as I have zero desire to miss-represent their experience either.

The Questions: Are women excluded from IC positions of power in LARP? What can we do about it if/when it happens?

This question of course takes on slightly different forms depending on your LARP tradition. AS a reminder, I have zero experience with Boffer LARPs, so I’ll be leaving them entirely out of this discussion. I also have zero experience with larps outside of the USA, so everything i speak to below is about how these phenomenon manifest in games I play, in the LARP traditions I’ve participated in.

Further, I speak from my own experience and observations. I don’t mean for this to be the final word on what every woman experiences in every LARP. Instead, I wish to challenge game writers and organizers to consider these barriers and consider if there are ways to do something about them to help level the playing field. Continue reading

Big Bad Con 2019: Please Show Up

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Role Call

First a quick summary of the games I played, and who I played in them.

  • Ghost Speaker – I played a competent, knowledgeable ghost speaker who managed to get her spirit ejected from her body by a vindictive priest from thousands of years ago, but was restored with the help of a very sweet mouse.
  • Canon – This mythology building game (as opposed to world-building) was a really cool experiment. The game is still in play-testing, but I really think the authors have something very cool. I played “Aquain, the merciful rain, who brings life and death.” We established a number of myths and stories about a pastoral archipelago that compose the mythology of an industrializing world.
  • Athena’s Chosen – GM.
  • Search for the Snow Dragon – I played “Emma” a very Pollyanna-like character. She was sweet and hopeful at the start of the adventure, but quickly became disillusioned and frightened. She was the only one to survive the final encounter with the dragon, and is never ever going someplace where it snows.
  • The Siege – In this play set for “Follow,” I played “Scorpion,” a lieutenant of the local prince of thieves. We built a desert city under siege, where the most precious commodity is water, and played through a series of challenges to try to preserve the city. In the end, we succeeded pretty thoroughly.
  • The Dove – GM.
  • Reckoning Eve – (CW: harm to children) In this sci fi skin on “Before the Storm.” I played “Kane” a former space pilot, who had teamed up with two former criminals to power a mech colloquially known as the sword of light. Kane’s children were killed unfortunately, having been trapped on a swarm ship that was destroyed in the invasion, but in the end we were successful in repelling the invasion, and Kane, Smidge, and Rennika slowly salvaged a new life supporting the orphanage Smidge grew up in.

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NWM 2019: Epilogue – Picking up the Pieces; Post Game Reflections

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CW: None


The rest of the evening was a strange blur. Lots of people checked in on me. Lots of people were pleased that the runes were gone, and I was back to normal. Someone, Claire or Tristan, or Harrow, or maybe all of them? Mentioned that the mask with the last rune had been turned over to the Marshals, and that Mom would be arrested if she ever showed up in Solaris Province again. Apparently the last rune was something with a time element that would have really screwed with our ability to remove the curse: Extend my will to the edge of time

I have no idea what my first year at NWM will hold, but I guess it’s time to find out. At least I can hope I remember that I’m not facing it alone.



 

NWM 2019 was, well, a lot. Not all of it was good, but not all of it was bad. Very little of it was fantastically good, or fantastically bad. I met a lot of wonderful new people, some of whom I still keep in touch with. I also met a lot of people who didn’t get it. Folks who didn’t understand, maybe didn’t care? probably just had never thought about the player concerns I have, and in the hustle of game, weren’t able to sit with the discomfort that understanding it would have demanded.

I hadn’t realized until I was writing up this story just how much bleed in I had with Opal. She was supposed to be friendly, calm, and fairly confident/outgoing. The Opal that actually turned up to game was painfully shy, and prone to panicking and running away, and desperate to avoid the spotlight. I, the player, was painfully shy, scared of my own shadow, but also acutely aware of the self fulfilling prophesy that if I didn’t put myself out there, no one would be able to lift my story. The siren song of “but no one could drop me either,” was almost overwhelming. Sometimes it was. Most of the time, one of the many people I’d primed about this situation were able spot it and draw me away from that line of thinking. The quantity of emotional labor this game required made it bone wearying. Continue reading

NWM 2019: Chapter 4 Puppet Strings

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CW: Anger, mind control, mind breaking


The morning was a whirlwind of confusion for me as I struggled to focus in class and resist the ever growing urge to find the mask and put it on. Magical Theory and Ethics turned out to be a surprising blessing. With no one who knew what was going on in the class, no one said anything that triggered an acute episode.

Carrying the surprisingly mundane dread of a group project for the quarter, I wandered around campus during my free block. I ran into Janus and Jessie as I idly watched Irwin, Amelie and other members of the cryptic conservation front try to calm and contain trio of hungry wyverns. I got to talking with Janus and Jessie, and ended up with a cactus kitten. The tiny, green, prickly ball had the biggest, cutest eyes. I couldn’t resist. I made a mental note to ask Irwin how to take care of it.

Healing class was surprisingly calming, but mind magic class was crazy activating. We started with a “game” of sorts. We paired up and asked each other the simple question: “No, who are you?” Without mercy or respite until Onyx, the TA, told us to switch. I got paired up with Oz, another first year in Laveau. Poor Oz, he has a lot of pressure on him from his family. My heart ached for him. Unlike Sawyer the day before though, Oz had a little context after our game of “Truth” to be concerned by my wildly oscillating answers. Continue reading

NWM 2019: Chapter 3 Lying in Wait

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CW: Self Harm, emotional manipulation


Just in case what we accomplished between classes wore off unexpectedly, we asked Professor Clatterbuck to not let me leave class. His solution? A paralysis potion. As long as my classmates got their potions right, it wouldn’t kill me. Cheers. Adan, the TA, was not happy about it when he arrived. But my fellow students came through and it was all fine. 

Cassidy was a particular crux. While the other students were focused solely on the potions for the paralysis, Cassidy listened to the things I was shouting at the purple potion, and thought to wonder about the runes on my arms. She and her group put an anti-curse effect on their potion bottle. It nearly worked too I think. It sure did something. My arms itched like hell after that.

Then it was dinner time. Then it was sorting time. I think I may be terrified of the great hall for the rest of my life. I didn’t even get to walk in with anyone I knew (or so I thought at the time) since we had to be in alphabetical order. I kept wondering what they’d say if none of the houses had picked me. I almost tripped on my way up the stairs. I tried so hard to carry myself like an Oxendine – calm, collected, and secure in my power. But I didn’t feel it. And I couldn’t even fake it. Continue reading

NWM 2019: Chapter 2 Resistance is Futile

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CW: Depression, isolation


I wish I could say that I felt better in the morning; but if anything I felt worse. The tiny spark of hope seemed to have fizzled out overnight. I sat alone at breakfast and tried not to cry. Adan, house president for Dan Obeah checked in. Harrow checked in. Those helped a bit; I felt slightly less invisibile. I also got a letter from my mom. The letter was important, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. It told me to talk to Professor Hathaway and get a reading for my future. It was full of mom’s usual passive aggressive-ness, but I’m used to that. It was comforting in its familiarity. There was also this strange, circular rune in the corner. Odd, I supposed, but I didn’t think much of it. That was my first mistake. But the curse breakers tell me that part wasn’t really my fault. My not thinking it was important was part of the spell.

I broke down when I realized I’d left my robes in my room. There wasn’t time to go back without being late to class. I was about to cry when Irwin turned up and offered to let me borrow his. Spoopy Opal in the over-large robes. I barely managed to avoid devolving into hysterical laughter as we hurried off to class.

During third block, Radcliffe and I both had break, so we met up to chat. I was hoping he might empathize with some of my unease. He’d never spent extended time on land and maybe he could understand how much I felt out of place. He was the first one to notice a strange, circular rune on my right arm. I didn’t think much of it, until Harrow saw it at lunch and said it looked familiar – like the one that was on mom’s letter. I brushed it off. I shouldn’t have, but I did. It just sounded too ridiculous. I mean sure, random strange runes appearing on my skin? And Trouble said they were mundane based. A curse, yes, but mundane. No way my mom would have touched something derived from mundanes with a 10-foot pole.  In retrospect I should have been worried. Somebody was clearly mailing me curses, but I just… wasn’t. Continue reading

NWM 2019: Chapter 1 Not on Virginia Isle Any More

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CW: Feeling worthless


The trip to NWM was a whirlwind and a blur. I was excited, but also terrified. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure about this whole going away to school thing. I’d never been on my own before. What if I wasn’t good at it? Mom was off on a trip, and dad was planning another party so one of the servants dropped me off. I had a moment of intense embarrassment at the privilege. I didn’t even get to unpack my own stuff into my room. Nothing to do with my hands.  Nothing to distract me from the growing dread.

I walked to the great hall, teetering just a bit on the new heels mom had sent for me. They were prototypes for the new line next year. Purple, because it’s my favorite. Mom had next year’s entire line for one of the high end brands designed in purple, just for me. But standing outside the great hall, feeling the anxiety bubble up inside as the crowd milled, none of that mattered.  All I could feel was a profound sense that I didn’t belong here. I searched for Irwin and Siouxsie. Brief hugs, “we’re so glad you’re here,” and they were gone. Off to socialize and say “hi” to old friends, and group up with House Croatan. So I stood there, alone. And I wondered just how big a mistake I’d made leaving home. 

I might never have made it inside if it weren’t for Nel.  Nel was such a sweetheart. She found me. She saw me. She took my hand, and we walked in together for opening ceremonies. I don’t remember much of anything from the ceremony. It was all a blur of frets and butterflies. I did not appreciate the Chantil Cruz prank either; I had a hell of a panic over it. But I guess I was jumping at every ghost. Continue reading