Guide to Running a V:tM LARP

I’ve run Vampire LARPs for about 10 years on and off since 1995/96 so I’d like to think I’ve had some experience in doing it.  Here is the culmination of the lessons I’ve learned.

Guidelines

1. Remember the phrase, “Put it in Downtime Orders”.

On the surface, this just sounds like a delaying tactic but it is very important to have everything in writing in an email.

For a start, the precise wording used by the player can be crucial (of course, try to balance any tendency to be pedantic with fairness) in what they both do and don’t say.

All the storytellers will get a copy of it (assuming they are on the ST mailing list or have access to the email inbox) so that everyone knows what is going on

It’s easier to be fair to all players. By doing the orders in a structured way it is harder for any one player to dominate the time of the storytellers and therefore gain an advantage over the other players.

It gives you time to think about it and to discuss it with the other storytellers. This means you can better work out reasonable consequences for the player and how what they do will affect the other characters.

It reduces the tendency for players to pick and choose an ST depending on what they want to accomplish.

Sometimes, the ST is just not in the correct frame of mind for dealing with players, especially at non-LARP social occasions or when drunk. It’s better to get them to send their in Orders than to make a bad decision that has to be dealt with later.

2. The head ST should try to avoid countermanding the decisions the assistant STs have made.       The players needs to have confidence in all the storytellers and if the head ST doesn’t trust their assistants why should the players? On the flip-side, assistant STs should keep the head ST informed of the decisions they have made and recognise that the head ST has the final word on everything.

3. Treat all players with equal respect. Yes, that even includes the stupid ones and the ones you don’t like. In fact, it’s possibly more important for the respect to be equal across all players than it is for the level of respect itself to be high.

4. Be in it for the power.

If you aren’t in it for the power then find something else that will keep you going when you’re getting all the shit and everyone is complaining.

5. Recognise that you have a large responsibility as a storyteller. People are putting control of their dreams, fantasies and imaginations in your hands. Let them exercise their imaginations and do things that they could never do in real life. That includes all ideas from the silly to the power-hungry egocentric ones.

6. Let players play powerful concepts

You can afford to let in the occasional Assamite Sorcerer or Follower of Set. These game-balance-risking concepts are hard to play and require a lot of effort and secrecy from the player. In reality, players just don’t have the patience to see their ideas through or aren’t satisfied with the character because they can’t use their power in front of everyone without getting killed. Very rarely someone makes these concepts work and the result is worth the risk. Basically, if your game is working correctly, in-character politics should limit the effectiveness of any of the super-powerful concepts.

As a guideline, don’t let new players play non-Camarilla clans until they decide if they want to stay with the game and until you get an idea of how they roleplay. Limit how many non-Camarilla clans to about 10-15% of the total characters.

7. Don’t play your own character

This is for a number of reasons. Most obviously, there will be a conflict of interest. At a minimum, your character has an immediate advantage over everyone in that you are only one with a full understanding of the setting.

Secondly, the players will not be able to forget that you are an ST and that will alter their roleplaying. Most people will assume that your character is more powerful that it actually is and will defer to you more. Alternatively, they could overcompensate in the opposite direction.

If you are one of those people who immerse themselves in the character then you could just give yourself a headache as you continuously jump in and out of character. Worse case you start doing ST calls as your character.

8. You can get away with only 1 storyteller if you have up to 15 people but as a guide go with 1 storyteller per 10 players.

9. The absolute minimum you need to do to run a successful LARP is turn up on the night, assign XP and do downtime orders once a month. You can get away without writing plots or having NPCs because players will make up their own plots. Any extra work you put in is a bonus and will be appreciated by the players (even if they don’t consciously notice).

10. Get used to the fact that players will ignore almost all the story plots you create.       Even the ones you hit them across the head with. You could kill one character a month for a year and all they would still only hide and hope it all went away. The plots mostly likely to succeed are ones which directly affect characters and even then they mostly go nowhere.

The plus side of this is that you don’t actually have to create plots for the players to be happy. Just do some occasionally so that they think that you are doing some work (otherwise they start complaining).

11. The mystery of the magically appearing plot… not only do you not have to create plots… sometimes they create themselves out of absolutely nothing.

12. People like their characters to make a difference in the world. Don’t take that to mean that your city has to be the centre of the apocalypse and the characters have to save the world.       There are better ways to do this:

  • Make their actions show up in your monthly in-character newsletter. Someone invests in an area? Do articles about companies moving into that area. Someone takes over a gang? Show an increased crime rate. Anything that risks the masquerade should definitely go in the newsletter.
  • Make their actions affect and draw in other characters. For example, one character plays an assassin. Another asks their underworld ghoul to get a mortal killed. So ask yourself what is the chance that the ghoul will contact the assassin character to do the hit? Also, look out for people trying to get influence in the same areas.
  • Send out rumours. If a character buys a lot of heavy weapons then anyone with Underworld Ties might hear that a shipment of guns is coming in – even if they don’t know the buyer’s name.
  • Keep everything left over from what other characters have done, even though the character is dead. The player is still alive and is always amused when their booby trapped haven blows someone up. NPCs are especially useful to keep around – recycle what you can.

13. Your best tool is your big, wooden spoon. I.e. stir things up amongst the characters (not the players) when you can.

14. 10 o’clock Monster. Must be avoided like the plague. If you find yourself doing this then stop. Zero storyteller-generated plot is better than the same one every game.

15. Resist trying to control players or characters. It never works and you’ll just end up frustrating yourself and alienating the players. Don’t kill characters just because they have high stats. In reality, people will have worked hard for those stats and the higher they get the more paranoid they’ll be about losing them.       If you are working out consequences properly for their actions then the powerful characters won’t use those high stats unless it’s an emergency.

16. Don’t let the rules system affect the roleplaying. Vampire games are all about the social interactions and politics and numbers just aren’t flexible enough to deal with it accurately.

17. Have a sense of humour… you’ll need it. It may slowly turn into a wicked and twisted one but at least you’ll have a laugh. If you can’t do evil, maniacal laugher then practice a smug, knowing smile.       Don’t take yourself or the game too seriously.

18. Get the other storytellers to deal with your significant other’s experience, Orders and rules calls. Nothing loses respect faster from players than seeing the ST’s partner getting away with murder (or diablerie).

19. Keep your setting and your rules calls consistent and fair. Once you make a decision then try to keep to it with all players/characters from then on.

20. Don’t go back and re-write what happened if things fuck up if you can possibly avoid it.       Once something happens, mistakenly or otherwise, then people naturally react to that and all their character decisions are based on what they experience. It is extremely difficult for people to go back, redo all their actions and decisions and forget about what shouldn’t have happened. That’s assuming that everyone affected would hear about the rewrite in time.

For example, character A overhears a conversation where character B uses Dominate on character C to find out a secret. A tells character D, who then realises that that B had used Dominate on them in the past and starts a plot that ends up with B dead. Now, character C had forgotten his character sheet that day. Later on he realises that his generation was too low and B could not have Dominated him and thereby obtained the secret. C goes to the ST who rules that the Dominate did not happen. B is a good enough roleplayer so manages to pretend that he couldn’t get the secret. Of course, neither C, B or the storyteller know that A overheard so B will still die – even though it should never have happened.

If you can safely re-write things then go ahead, but be aware that it might not work properly. It is better to justify what actually happened if it limits the number of people affected even if the reasoning is a little dodgy.

21. Don’t try to please everyone… and don’t make decisions just to please your friends, either. Make decisions that make the game run better and smoother. You are always going to annoy somebody but if you keep everything consistent and interesting then everyone will keep coming.

22. Judge how well you are doing by the number of players you have and how regularly they keep coming back. Listen to complaints and suggestions from players but you’ll just depress yourself if you take their complaints to heart.

23. Be the boss.       The head storyteller has the last word… listen to everyone else’s words first but recognise your authority and don’t let others bully you into making decisions you’ll regret or have to go back on later. Players are like children and animals… let them away with something once and they’ll keep doing it.

24. Save all the emails you get sent. Especially Orders emails. You never know when you’ll need to look back on it.