Flying High with a Larp Safety Net

For every game you’ve played with safety mechanics as a part of the system, I want you to think back to how many times you’ve used them. Chances are, it’s been rare, but not never. I’ve gone through the gamut of safety mechanics from having almost none to having WAY too many. After years of doing this, it’s generally agreed that a sleek few safety mechanics are better than having a dozen trying to prepare for every situation. Essentially, your player base is going to remember what those mechanics are (and hopefully remember to use them) if there are only a few they have to store in their heads at once. 

Even then, time and time again, game runners say we don’t see them get used a lot. This comes from a mix of reasons: 

  • People get caught up in the game and forget
  • The mechanics aren’t baked into the game in a way that is actually useful in a moment of crisis 
  • The game is playing well inside your player’s limits
  • The mechanics break play 
  • It’s just easier to go out of character 
  • Players weren’t practiced enough and forgot how to use them
  • There isn’t a general herd competence in safety mechanics
  • People get scared they will be disrespected for using them

That’s not even a comprehensive list of why we safety mechanics end up not seeing the gameplay floor, it’s just some of the most common reasons. So, if the safeties are hardly ever used, why have them? Ostensibly, we are all mature adults who should just be able to drop character, negotiate a scene (or check on each other) and get back in game as we need. Equally, we are mature adults who SHOULD be taking care of ourselves, sleeping, eating, and emotionally tapping out when it gets to be too much. No one should be our babysitters at game, so why have the safety bumpers on when it should be our job to be our own safeties?

Frankly, because we all know it doesn’t always work that way. And because I don’t want to hurt my friends while we’re all playing a game! While I am also someone who hardly ever uses those safety mechanics, it’s NICE to know they are there. I feel better for having them and knowing we all have that mutual basis of safety lets me play harder because I know people have tap outs if they need them. 

Bare with me through a metaphor here, it’s really what this blog is about. If larpers are trapeze artists, these mechanics are our safety net below the acrobatics act. As long as everything is going fine, we never use that net! We warm up, tossing and twisting slowly, then get into some really wild throws towards the end of the show. We’re able to push our bodies beyond what we’d do in our everyday lives because there’s a net below able to catch us when things go wrong. Without that net, I’m not going to do anything I know might be emotionally dangerous to someone because we don’t have a uniform system of catching each other should one of us fall. We will treat the emotional injuries we do to each other differently in that moment without our safey net. Having a set of rules helps us handle the crisis better for everyone involved.

Sure, it’s better if people use their safety mechanics BEFORE there is a crisis. Slow escalation, ok check-ins, or a nice lookdown to withdraw from a scene that is getting to be too much for you. But they are also there to catch you after the crisis and it’s better to have SOMETHING than nothing and be falling mid-air. Don’t be ashamed to use your safety nets, they are there for a reason, everyone understands that they are there, and it’s better than pushing yourself beyond the limits of your body into injury. Emotional injuries can be just as long lasting as physical ones. Don’t let your friends do that to you. 

Lastly, let’s talk about pre-emptive boundaries (another version of using your safety mechanics.) A dear friend said something to me this year which changed my life: “I don’t trust your yes until I’ve heard your no.” Everyone has boundaries. If we stick with the trapeze artist metaphor, this is like saying ‘No, I can’t train that one-armed trick today because I strained that shoulder yesterday, let’s do something else.’ No one is going to judge you for taking care of your body because of an old injury, the same is true for emotional injuries! Laying down your boundaries when you are playing intensely close with someone is a form of safety mechanics, and one that is worth using. I don’t expect an entire game to remember my specific triggers, but if I’m playing an intensely toxic relationship with a single person, I am going to tell them ‘Please don’t fat shame me in roleplay’ before we ever go into that game together. I’m laying down my safety net upfront, so we never have to go near that old injury in play.

If you’re scared to use your safety mechanics because you think people will judge you, I invite you to realize it’s the exact opposite. By using them, I now know you are the safe kind of player I will engage HARDER with in the future. Safety nets let us do some wild, hard things. Let’s go play hard together.


One thought on “Flying High with a Larp Safety Net

  1. Cthulhu Mom says:

    My first thought was “I love safety mechanics even if I don’t use them because they allow me to play hard”. And then you said that. The part about the “I need to hear your no before I can hear your yes” really has me thinking. I know I have “no”s. This statement makes me realize that I need to figure out what they are so I can communicate them.


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