Practice makes perfect

We normally write this blog in swedish, but as the larp Last Will was an international larp we want to make this information accessible to all our participants.

This is a breakdown of the changes between the first and second run of Last Will. It will include changes in the sign-up procedure, design, information to the players, workshops and also situational changes that greatly affected the outcome, for the players and for us organisers.

Sign-up procedure
For the first run we had the rule of “first come, first serve”, meaning that what got you a spot at the larp was a quickly completed sign-up form. When both the sign-up and payment system failed at setting the correct limit of participants the timestamp on the form was what decided if you were in or out. Because of the failing technical solutions we had to return the money and explain to ten persons that even though they had managed to send in a form and complete the payment procedure they did not get a spot on the larp. Several of those we had to give these news were our friends and the situation really sucked. It was an extremely stressful and demoralising experience for us, even if we were happy about the big interest in the project.

When it was time for the second run we really didn’t want to go through that experience again, so instead we kept the sign-up open for 48 hours and after that gathered to draw lots for the spots. We also drew lots for a reserve list of 14 people. This so that those high up on that list could know that they had fairly good chances of getting a spot anyway and if you were low on the list or not on it at all, your chances were fairly slim and then you would most likely choose to plan something else for that weekend. For us the experience of drawing lots was a lot less stressful and it was also better for our participants who had plenty of time to fill in their sign-up form and think about their replies. This had the added bonus of making the casting procedure a lot easier, as people had had the time to write more about what kind of experience they were after (more on the casting procedure in a separate post later).

A surprising difference was also that we had more drop-outs for the second run, several in the following week when they got the message that they had gotten a spot and we now expected payment. We are still a bit perplexed about why this was so, but with our reserve-list we managed to fill those spots without too much hassle, if still some extra work.

Casting in process
Casting in process

Design
The design changes between the two runs were actually very few, but for some at least, perhaps quite significant.

One change was the sleeping times, for the first run we had divided them to be a first slot of 3 hours and a second slot of 4 hours. When we announced this to our participants we got some quite strong and negative reactions, some even considered dropping out because of this. As organisers we were quite surprised about this; we had stated in out vision, one of the first text available on our website that: “As a player you can expect a physically and mentally quite demanding larp. In the design of vulnerability, you might need to sleep rough (but you will get to sleep), eating nasty food (but you will not go hungry)…” But I guess thats just one of several examples that you can never be clear enough in your information to your players. The reactions after the first run was mixed about this particular thing, but I think slightly more negative than positive, so we did decide to adjust it for the second run. Instead of 3 + 4 hours of sleep the players got 2 + 6 hours, so one more hour in total and also one period that was longer, which probably did a lot for those who needed some time falling asleep. But the division of sleep still helped with the things we wanted; to let the players feel a loss of control over their own lives and to loose some perspective of time. It was also good for us organisers to get some more sleep. If not six, then at least 4-5 hours. It helped a lot when it was time for the de-brief and cleaning.

We changed the safe words from ”cut” and “brems” to “green” = ok, “yellow” = this, but not further/ cool down a tad bit, “red” = break the game, I am not ok and “black” = please increase. To have an increase word was requested during the first run, so we added it for the second run. However, I don’t know if it was ever used during the game. Green could also be used as a question if you wanted to check if everyone in a scene were ok.

For the second run we wrote down in-game rules for Jericho, to make it clear what rules to follow and break and what could happen if you did. We did this as there had been confusion during the first run as to what was status quo and what was outside of the everyday life in Jericho. We also created some soft whips that could be used for punishment during the second game, and they seemed to be used quite vigorously.

Another detail that we changed for the second run was that we added Organizer Comments to the order slips that went out to the players during the game. Through those comments we could clarify the purpose with the order, define if it was essential to start a plot or if it was optional and should only be carried out if there was time and interest in that play.

We also added a character for the second run, a fourth security guard. This as we had seen that the security guards had quite an intense time during the first run, and not only in a positive way, but so much that they had little time for their own story arcs and role play and spent a majority of their time creating play for others. We hoped to get a bit more balance within that group by adding a character, making them four and thereby able to work in shifts. Without having a complete analysis of this, the initial impression is that it did indeed work better for the second run. This addition also enabled us to split the administration, now being 12 instead of 11, into three working teams and make them prepare routine and a history before the larp. This hopefully gave tighter relationships and play for the admin team in the second run.

solin ring

Information to players
This area is for me personally the one that I feel like I learned the most from. I think, and can also confirm by looking at our mail history, that we almost doubled the amount of information we sent out to the players before the larp between the first and second run. While a lot of the information might have been available at the website or something we would talk about during the workshops, it really helped that we had pushed the information to our players more than once. Naturally, knowing better what we would need to tell our participants before the second run made it easier for us to structure the information and repeat information that we considered crucial or easily missed. And apart from just pure information I also think the regular emails helped managing the expectations ahead of the game. My impression is that the players for the second run felt safer, already when they showed up for the workshop-day and that they had spent more time talking to each-other, preparing their relationships and team-play. While we did tell our players to do this ahead of the game for the first run as well, and many of them definitely did, we pushed this a lot more for the second run. We also gave them more tools for it in the form of questions about their different working relationships that we wanted them to sort out prior to the game. I think and hope that this is a learning that I can bring with me to any other larp I organize in the future.

Workshops and debrief
For the second run we did some changes in the workshop schedule, listed below:

  • We made sure to introduce ourselves better and talk a bit more about the theme of the larp initially.
  • The Ars Mandi workshop was shortened by 15min to be a total of about one hour.
  • Slightly longer lunch, spent talking with the team
  • The Ars Marte workshop was divided into two parts. 45min with everyone and then another 45 min for fighters and trainers while the others talked in their professions groups.
  • By request from the first run we added a 30min oppression workshop.
  • By request from the first run we also talked through what was status quo in Jerico, what the rules where and what could happen if you break them.

So the difference in content was not huge, but I do think that some of the information and exercises we added did a big difference. But perhaps an even more significant difference could be gained from the fact that we got started at 11.00 instead of 16.00 for the second run. So while it was almost the exact amount of time spent doing workshops, we and the players seemed a lot more rested for the second run. And perhaps it was that we were more rested, or because we had already done it all once before, but it felt like the workshops for the second run worked better. We felt safer and calmer and those feelings seemed to pass on well to our players. We ended the workshop-day for the second run on a very good note. I can’t really say for sure anymore about the general feeling that day for the first run, I think it was quite good as well, but we organisers were a great deal more exhausted that time.

The debrief was quite similar for the two runs, the general difference was again that the organisers (and perhaps a majority of the players as well) were more rested and therefore more focused, patient and calm. We had also realised that despite being less exhausted, we would probably still not be able to take in feedback on the game then and there, and told our participants. Instead we asked them to give us their stories but wait a few days with any feedback. We did another clever thing in setting ourselves to make waffles to our players and asking them to tell us some of what they had experienced while they waited for their waffle (we served a luxurious breakfast during the debrief as the food served during the game had not been plentiful and in some cases hard to stomach). This meant that for the second run we got a much better idea of the state of our players and got to hear some of what had happened during the game. This was really great and important for us. After the first game we felt in the dark, and in many ways still do, as to the sum of experiences and emotions that our players went through.

lastwill_vofflor_lisaHEkbom
Photo: Lisa H Ekbom

 

Situational
The first run was held on the 15-17 of August, two weeks after the medieval week in Visby and 1-2 weeks after we organisers had our summer vacations during which we had been traveling, or spending most of our time out in the sun rather than in front of a computer. This meant that there was a lot of small and big things left that needed to be done in the days just prior to the larp. So by the time it was time to meet the participants, we organisers were already exhausted.

The second run was held 2-4 of January, this meant that we organisers had had a full week of rest and good food during the Christmas holiday before we had to start preparing for the larp. And naturally, we had less to prepare as many of the props could be re-used. So while the week leading up to the larp was spent on preparations, it was done in a sane manner with time to spare and plenty of sleep. This made a world of a difference for the energy and patience we could meet our participants with, and I do think it affected the net result.

Group Dynamic
One gut feeling I have of the difference between the two runs is that during the second run more players seemed to go all in when it came to oppressing each other and I think did the whole difference for many players in getting the experience they wanted. As an organiser I feel a responsibility to try and create a safe atmosphere and trust among the players for them to dare to go all the way. And because of many of the changes mentioned in this blogpost I think we managed that better for the second than the first run. However, once the game starts it’s pretty much out of our hands and up to the players to create the experience for each other.

lastwill_abandon hope

Expectations
Another personal theory based on nothing else than my gut feeling is this; it is my impression that while not all, still a good portion of our players for the first run entered the game and workshops with very high expectations based on the hype that preceded this larp. And while the hype helped us secure some awesome players even when we had very late drop-offs, it did not give us more time or money to help us make this larp all that it could be. Rather I think it made us feel very pressured to try to excel beyond people’s expectations. And then made us feel very down when we felt that we hadn’t. We did our best, we did quite a lot, and yet it didn’t really feel enough. The three of us felt quite down after the first run, to the extent that we almost didn’t set up the second one.

We did though, and I am very glad for it now. I think both the players and organisers entered into it with more sane expectations on ourselves and each other. That combined with the experiences and improvements meant that the second run really seemed to hit the spot for a majority of our players. And the love and appreciation we have received afterwards have made us feel like it was all worth it, those 18 months of work.

Of course there were players who seemed to have a great experience at the first run also, that told us so and shared their love and appreciation. And most likely there will be those at the second run who perhaps didn’t really get the experience that they wished for. I don’t think you can ever get 100% player satisfaction for any larp. But the truth is that love and appreciation is the fuel that makes an organiser able to work on and set up a new larp. And at least I now feel that, given a time of rest first, will be able and willing to do it all again.

Love and misery
/Annica

lastwill_cheers

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