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Larp

Starting from a blank page

You might be planning to design a larp (or a freeform/semi-live scenario) in a short space of time, looking at a blank page, and wondering where to start. Or you might want to shake up your usual design practice a little with a slightly different approach. This is what I do myself: read on, and see what you think!

Image of a blank page
A blank page, earlier.

Three places to start

I start from one of three places: Theme, Setting, or Experience.

Theme

Theme is ‘what the larp is about’.

  • It might be abstract (friendship, families, alienation, etc);
  • or concrete (attitudes towards capital punishment, living under the threat of AIDS, etc).

If you don’t choose a theme yourself, one is nonetheless likely to emerge during design and play: and it might be preferable not to be surprised by what your players get out of the larp 🙂

Setting

If you don’t have a theme concept in mind at the starting-point, though, instead you might begin with a Setting – which is Where/When, or else Who.

  • It might be a description of the location and/or period (a steampunk dirigible, a remote clannish village, the 17th-century French court, etc);
  • or of the characters involved (a group of former childhood friends now meeting as adults, an unsuccessful hockey team, parents and teachers at a high-school meeting, a couple who are experiencing relationship difficulties, etc).

Experience

Experience is I think a less common place to start from. I was inspired to consider this approach by Peter Munthe-Kaas’s very interesting article on Experience-Focused Larp Design of a couple of years ago. So here you would be asking yourself: what sort of play experience do I want people to have? And again you can be concrete or abstract:

  • Perhaps they could be in darkness, having to feel their way around the space;
  • or they could be in groups of three, each playing different components of one character’s mind;
  • or, more abstractly, they could be under the pressure of having to make an important group decision;
  • or experiencing a rise in emotions towards a wonderful high, followed by a crashing fall and then recovery;
  • etc.

There are lots of different ways to start thinking about Experience, and for some of them a Theme or Setting that fits may be apparent at once; for others it may take longer .

Consider constraints

Anyway, having established a Theme, Setting or Experience to design around, it’s helpful next to consider Constraints. These are outside factors that you will have to take into account in your design.

  • Do you have to write for a particular site, or a particular kind of play space?
  • Does the larp need to fill a specified length of time?
  • Is the number of players (or the approximate number) fixed?
  • Are there physical considerations (temperature, presence of the public, accessibility, logistics, etc) that you have to consider?
  • Do you have a fixed budget for expenditure on props, costumes, effects, etc?

Any of these constraints can require the discarding of an otherwise good design, if you don’t consider them early enough.

How this works in reality

Once I’ve got one of the three basic elements and I’ve considered my constraints, I see if other elements fall quickly into place.

Suppose it’s to be a larp about (Theme) generational family neuroses, and it’s to be run in a black box, over four hours, for 10 or so players, some of whom may have restricted mobility (Constraints).

My immediate thought is of three acts going backwards in time through three generations of an extended family of mixed bourgeois and intellectuals (Setting), exploring how today’s problems may have their roots in the past.

A suitable shape of Experience doesn’t come so readily, so we’ll maybe brainstorm that; or else first develop the concept a little further and see if that helps.

How about you?

I’d love to hear how you go about starting from a blank page. Which ideas come to you first, and how do you develop them? Please do fill in the poll and comment below!

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