As I begin this blog post, it’s been a little over 24 hours since the first event of my LARP, Steam Legends, ended. I’m still sore all over my body and my brain is still fried from the stress, but it was all worth it. I learned a lot from the experience and I would like to share what I’ve learned, or learned again, with all of you.
But first, here’s a little about what my game, Steam Legends, is all about.
Steam Legends is a combat LARP with a steampunk fantasy setting. Aledir, the nation that Steam Legends takes place in, won a war against an army of undead that nearly overrun the country. The thing that turned the tide of war in Aledir’s favour? The invention of firearms capable of penetrating heavy armour and the undead’s natural defense against other weapons available at the time. A year has passed since the invading armies were defeated and the nation is still rebuilding, especially in the eastern provinces. But since that time there has been a technological boom as a result of how successful firearms were.
The Out Of Game Setup and My Anxiety Revolving Around It
I procured a permit for one of the picnic shelters within High Park in Toronto. There was a washroom building nearby, a water fountain, a few short trails around and a small grove area. However, there was also a major road on one side of the area, and a giant playground on the other (which would have been AWESOME to play in, as it looks like a big castle, but it was swarming with small children). Most other LARPs play in a private area, but this was High Park on a Saturday with great weather. LARPs and the general public usually don’t mix, so one of the big fears I had was someone not participating in the game disrupting it in some way. Another fear was bystanders being hit with nerf blasters. Yeah, it’s nothing lethal, but if a kid walking by gets hit in the eye, there’d be hell to pay.
As for the design of the game, the intention of the game is to place an emphasis on exploration and camaraderie. Because I anticipated the game would likely be played in a small area for a while, I placed a majority of the exploration in the crafting system. Steam Legends is a game where players craft their own spells, rituals, steam contraptions, and potions, learning what works and does not work as they go. While this gives a great range of customization, this could also lead to being told “no” a lot, which is something that can turn a player off very fast. That was another worry.
And, just generally speaking, I was worried because all of this could have just fell apart instantly. The players could have defeated the plot within the first hour or two, or get frustrated and leave to do other things in High Park (like play in the playground I mentioned). I’m not married to any rules I’ve written, but I hate to disappoint those coming to be entertained.
Everyone had a great time! There were some hiccups, but for the most part there were no major complaints that hampered the game. Here are a few highlights for you:
- Just before the game started, we took the players to a place nearby, which was also in front of the playground and a major hub of public foot traffic. I thought this could be a problem, but instead many people were friendly. The players even took the opportunity for a photo op from a few people in the area!
- A group of players took the opportunity to write and trade spells, which kept us busy writing tags during down time. More on that in a bit.
- Because guns are available in this game, we had a group of bandits with guns, and we had ourselves a fire fight. This was new to many of the people there, as Steam Legends is one of the few LARPS in the area that allows NERF blasters to a great degree. But despite that, and the fact it nearly wiped out the players, it was one of the high points of the day. Someone even flipped a table for cover!
- The players liked the fact that they could come up with their own solutions to problems that occur. Specifically, they liked the mechanics for writing their own spells and magical rituals.
Of course, not everything went according to plan, and as the day went on many of the flaws in the system were exposed. Here are a few things I learned, or learned again, from my experience running my first LARP event:
If You Stat It, They Will Try To Kill It (Even If They’re Not Supposed To)
One of the big enemies the players had to defeat was an undead treant (big tree person, but zombified). When they first encountered it, they were supposed to flee because it was too powerful to overcome. Their NPC guide even called a retreat when he shot the treant and it called Minimal (it took 1 damage as opposed to what was called by the attacker) from a damage type that normally works on undead creatures.
However, they still tried. Eventually they took the hint, but it took a while (and a few teleport spells from the NPC) to do it. It was a small complaint a few had about the treant, but it was intentional, not because we wanted to kill all the players with it, but because it gave them an opportunity to plan a strategy to kill it, which added role-play and allowed the players to come up with their own conclusions and solutions to the problem. Still, players don’t like to lose, so it had it’s pros and cons.
While I’m proud of our item creation system, it comes with its drawbacks. Much of our downtime was used just keeping up with the group’s mages coming to us requesting tags for new spells they’ve developed and shared. We ran out of spell tags near the end. It’s clear that we need a system that’s not as tag heavy in the future. Especially when there are more Engineer and Chemist characters, as they share a similar mechanical framework.
One of the things I wanted to do with Steam Legends is have a crafting system that was not only necessary, but fun. Many LARPs pay no real attention to their In-Game economies, but we keep a solid eye on it. In addition, the mechanics in place for designing new spells and contraptions will keep the crafters busy as they come up with new things to create, keeping them entertained while we’re busy plotting more encounters or just eating lunch.
However, this leaves anyone without a crafting skill with nothing to do, and there’s only enough RP between characters to be had. I have a plan for this, but it will take a while to implement In-Game, and even then it might not work.
As the writer of the game’s rules and In-Game lore, it’s really me that’s at the top of the totem pole. But everyone needs help, and while I did delegate tasks to those helping me (whom I am extremely grateful to), even they came to me when they had trouble answering the questions players had. I learned that I can’t put the workload all on myself, and need to train those acting as game marshals better so that they can answer the questions players have, as well delegate more tasks to those working behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean you should be a slave driver or pawn your responsibilities on everyone else, but you can only do so much by yourself.
There were a few other problems with the mechanics and other things, but nothing that can’t be easily corrected. I had a great experience, and I look forward to running my next event! When that will be, I don’t know, but right now I know that I can pull off a LARPing event of my own creation that people enjoy, and that’s what counts.