(Featured Photo by Ericka Skirpan, from Velvet Noir, the City’s Last Night.) Without new blood, our beloved hobby of larp is going to die. I know my knees sure as hell aren’t going to last, are yours? But there’s a ton of new stories to be told and, in a market with ever increasing financial pressure, we cannot sustain with just our current community.
I wish I had a magic formula to attract new players to larps and, while it’s probably a mix of good marketing, not billing ourselves as ‘larp’, and the theater community, this blog isn’t about that. This blog is about how we keep them once they are here. For every new face that shows up, I’d roughly say only 20-30 percent stay. There’s a plethora of reasons people leave, but I think with some basic adaptation, we can make trying out larp entirely more comfortable for new players. I need to give a huge thanks to Brigette Feathers for talking me through this and lending a lot of these ideas after her first experience larping with Velvet Noir.
What NOT to Do with New Larpers
Ask If They are Having a Good Time: This is, apparently, the number one question new players get. Both during a game and after, people are so excited to show off/share their hobby and how happy it makes them! However, many first timers haven’t even had a chance to process their own experience, might be feeling overwhelmed, and will feel guilty communicating to someone if they are NOT having a good time. The more often they are asked ‘are you enjoying this?’ the more guilt they feel if they are not. It’s awkward to tell a group of strangers that you aren’t figuring out how to fit in and this isn’t as fun as they make it seem. Putting pressure on them to feel GOOD about things can actively create worse feelings. Instead, engage with questions about their character, specifics of their experience, or simply ask if they need anything to help settle in more. After the game, saying things like: “I know these experiences can be overwhelming and you might be feeling a lot. If you want to talk about it, I’m here, but there’s no pressure…” can be far more welcoming to a new player than the obligation to feel positive about things.
Ask About Their Newness: While it’s okay when games announce/ask who here has never larped before, so informed players can better support them, it quickly becomes overwhelming and alienating to the new player when a dozen people come up to them asking: “So, this is your first larp?!” Or any of a dozen versions of that question. It further emphasizes the fact that they are different but also puts pressure on them to perform, to enjoy themselves, or to be friendly to an overwhelming amount of new people. Absolutely try to include them, but instead of focusing questions on their newness, why not ask how they found the game, what they like about the themes, the genre, or their character?
Compare Larping to, Well, Larping: A new player often has a lot of questions. When trying to explain to them things about the game, comparing it to other games is completely unhelpful. However, even using other gaming terms is also going to go over their heads. Slang like: “Oh, this is rules light so you should have it really easy,” or “Freeform games tend to be more accessible,” means nothing to someone who has never participated in a game with rules or a larp before. Take a moment to think about a new player’s question and do your best to respond with terms that reference utterly nothing about gaming itself. If nothing else, ask the new player what frame of reference they DO have, actually take time to listen, and then you know the best place to start when describing what your game is about.
Flock to Them in Large Numbers: If two or three people are already talking to a new larper (either in or out of character), maybe don’t join the gang unless the new person seems particularly gregarious. Larp can be incredibly overwhelming and the pressure to perform increases the more people present. But, if you see them sitting alone, definitely go engage to at least check in on if there is anything they need.
Force Them to Engage No one should be forced to do anything they don’t want to do: be that warm ups, workshops, debrief, or go on a plot they don’t want to go on. While you should leave the door open to all these things and statements like: “We would enjoy having you in…” are fine, no one should be obligated to do any of these things just because they’ve shown up. Listening to a rules and safety debriefing is different than forcing a new player to actively participate in workshops, plot, or something where they have to personally engage consistently instead of watch and figure out their comfort levels.
Things You SHOULD Do with New Larpers
Assign a New Player Contact: If you have a lot of first time larpers, having a specific staff member who is there to help guide them through their experience, listening to questions, concerns, adapt things as needed, and get them to a safe place if things become overwhelming is a wise idea. That way, the new player knows a specific face made to bring problems instead of being worried that they will be insulting someone by telling them this new exciting thing isn’t that comfortable for them.
Give Them a Small, Experienced Group: In faction based larps, this is easier, because the break down of the large player base into smaller, more manageable factions gives a new player a home base that means they aren’t drowning in a sea of unfamiliar larpers. If you are a game without factions, it’s worth getting a small group of experienced and comfortable volunteer players to make character ties with the new players. Let them know that there is no obligation to use or explore those ties, but it’s a comfortable place to fall back if needed. While making those ties, it gives the new players another few ‘friends’ who can help them if things are going wrong.
Give Clear Direction: Because of the overwhelming nature of being new to larp, some new players will have no clue how to ‘do it all’, what they should do first, or how to pick between. Often even old players can feel overwhelmed with so many things going on (I’ve been in more than one game we called ‘Crisis fatigue the Larp’ as a good example.) Therefore, giving your new players 1-2 clear, simple goals that they can follow is a good way for helping them find focus in a sea of choice paralysis. These goals can be developed in a new player workshop, faction workshops, or with your community manager. Bonus Level: Make the new player goals something that ties into the themes of the larp so they can deeper explore the story without being overwhelmed with what is the ‘right’ decision.
Listen to Their Feedback: Whether it’s right after the game, or when they’ve have time to process, make certain that if a new player is willing to engage in feedback about their experience, you actively and respectfully listen. Just because they don’t have the experience many of your fellows have doesn’t mean their feedback isn’t valuable. In fact, I find new player feedback to be the MOST important, because so many of us have developed a blind eye to issues as we’ve been doing this for so long. Getting a set of brand new eyes and seeing the flaws through them can bring your game to an entirely higher level. Not to mention, it makes the experience better for any other brand new folx who will come in the future.
So, to all the new larpers out there (especially my fresh faces from Velvet Noir and Armistice Arcane: Kingsford Chronicle), welcome! I know this can be overwhelming. I know people around you are very excited. You might never want to try this again or might have found your new passion in life. Either way, we’re so glad you’re here. Please, work on asking for the things you need — whether that’s some room, boundaries, no forced positivity, or MORE engagement — and I promise you that us old timers will work on giving it to you!