5 LARP Red Flags You Need To Watch For
There’s a huge variety of LARPs out there. Some are boffer games, some use Airsoft, some use rubber bands, and some rely on card pulls or rock-paper-scissors to resolve conflicts. These games allow you to be vampires and werewolves, great heroes of fantasy worlds, cybernetic hackers, and post-apocalyptic survivors.
However, it’s important not to get so caught up in what a LARP could be that you miss potential red flags that it’s sending up.
I’ve been to my share of badly-run games over the years, and while some of these flags are more obvious than others it’s important to take a step back and evaluate a game as clinically as you can. Preferably before you get too invested in it.
Red Flag #1: Phantom Staff
LARPs are, generally speaking, put together and run by volunteers. And because this isn’t their job, and they don’t get paid for the efforts they’re putting in to make a game fun, it’s understandable if staff members have to take care of their real lives first.
But there are limits.
If you find that your emails are constantly getting ignored, or you have to spend the first hour or so of game getting answers to stuff you asked about weeks or months ago, that’s not a good sign. While it might be a short-term issue (the staff email was wonky, there were recent changes in the storyteller staff, etc.), it’s important to ask yourself if you feel the game is responding to your efforts as a player. Because if they can’t reply to your emails in a timely manner, that doesn’t speak well for how the game will react to your needs.
Red Flag #2: Impossible To Locate (or Follow) Rules
Rules are important in any RPG, but they can be doubly so in LARPs as they have to keep players safe while also telling them how their powers work, and how conflicts get resolved in-game. For this reason most LARPs make sure their rules are readily available, and that all players can find them without issue.
If you find your game is being cagey, or keeping its rules behind a paywall, that’s a very bad sign.
While there are exceptions for games that use published rule sets (World of Darkness games, for example, have published rule books), even these games should make efforts to ensure that all players have access to the material they need, and that everyone knows how the gears turn. But if the rules are confusing (or if they’ve been slanted to favor particular types of characters or play styles over others) then you might find that even when you pay your fee and step on the floor that the game will be tough to actually get inside and affect.
Red Flag #3: Lack of FAQ
In addition to the rules for how the game works, a good LARP should have a frequently asked question on its website or social media page where players can get a sense of the game, and answer some basic questions.
Some of the questions you should look for include:
- What equipment will I need to play this game (and will I need to provide my own)?
- What are the age ranges of players in this game?
- Will players need to volunteer for NPC duties?
- What are the banned substances for this site (alcohol, outside food, etc.)?
- What are the policies for reporting problems?
- Where and when will the game be taking place?
- Who are the officers, and how do you contact them?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions (you could probably add, “What does it cost to play?” onto the list, for example), but these are some of the most basic aspects a game should be up-front about. It’s also a good idea to look for policies regarding the game’s intent, as well as the genre and subject matter it’s going to be covering. As those can seriously impact whether or not it’s a game you’ll enjoy, or hate.
Red Flag #4: Dismissive Staff
A storyteller’s job in a LARP is to make sure that everyone has fun, and to work with all the players to help them tell the stories they’re interested in. However, if you find yourself constantly getting told, “No, you can’t play that,” take a step back and ask if this is a game you really want to be a part of.
Particularly if there’s nothing in the rules as they’re written and presented to you as a player that should stop your character from being approved.
Too often storytellers will get stuck in their ways, or allow their personal opinions of how certain things should be to color their rulings and decisions. And even if you have a concept or a story line that they feel isn’t going to work, the staff should work with you to find an alternative approach/option that keeps you involved and invested instead of just sending you back to the drawing board. Approaching staff members shouldn’t feel like you’re bothering your teacher, or trying to ask a babysitter for something; they should be there to help you, and interested in making sure you’re having a good experience.
Red Flag #5: Broken Stairs
For those not familiar with the term, and who haven’t seen “Broken Stairs” Are Something We Need To Address in The Gaming Community, the short version is that a broken stair is a problem player who presents a potential danger. Whether it’s Jerry, who always aggressively hits on female players until they blow up at him and claims he was, “Just playing,” or Charlene who blows up whenever plot doesn’t go her way, these aren’t just players who prefer brooding concepts, or who can sometimes be jerks.
Broken stairs are players that make people around them uncomfortable, and who actively ruin others’ experiences with their behavior.
In many ways, the true test of a LARP is how it handles broken stairs. Do they put the onus on other players (the way you’d warn someone that the third step from the bottom is broken, so don’t step on it), or do they ensure the player alters their behavior, or is no longer allowed to participate (the equivalent of actually fixing the stair)? This can be tough to figure out before you show up, but if you ask around about a game where broken stairs are tolerated (or worse, are part of the staff), people won’t be shy about letting you know it.