People call it content, I call it toys. It’s a less sterile name.
If larp is a sandbox, anything we bring into the sanbox is toys. Stories, items, abilities, events, etc. Surprising amount of people thinks that a good organizer just provides playing space and decides on the rules, while the rest of the larp depends only on players and “if you’re not having fun, you’re not playing it right”. Of course, that’s true to an extent. But, you can’t expect people to suddenly become extroverted entertainers just because they changed their clothes from regular goth to space goth. It’s still an event for geeks and similar types of social outcasts. They could use some help. And let’s be honest, do you really trust your players that much?
In my own anecdotal experience, of all the larps I’ve been to, the overall best ones (fun for all players, not just a select few) had enough toys for everyone. Not just that, a lot of ruined larp fun (“random” killings etc) that didn’t happen due to meta-game revenge came out of player boredom i.e. lack of toys.
Being proud of your ruleset, setting or venue is nice, but they can hardly be ruined with more toys, better toys and some extra toys just in case. Your larp always needs more toys.
Let’s list some types of toys
I hope we’re all clear that toys aren’t just items, but let’s start with items, just to confuse the unclear people. Items for larps can be built, bought or even found. Items also have a random chance to spawn incredible side stories or frustrated internet shitstorms.
Magical items and cursed items
Your tipical artifacts, things with extra abilities. Anything from light sources to poisons. They can be found, lost, traded, stolen, lied about, hidden, spent and possibly destroyed.
A lot of larps try to introduce money, but sometimes not a lot of people bother using it. Regular valuables can not only replace money, but with a right amount of greed and misinformation, a simple necklace can easily become a MacGuffin.
Things that neither give extra power nor value, but add to the story and feel of the game. Books, musical instruments, banners, posters, tapestries, drinking cups, computer screens, etc.
Non-playing characters. The bane of all wysiwyg fanatics. They can either be redressed players, docile organizers or, in extreme cases, hired people. Yes, most of these roles can also be given to players, but sometimes you need to improve your larp with a character that most people would soon get bored of playing, or an expendable character that isn’t supposed to stay for long.
Characters specialized in fighting with players. Villains, faceless hordes, predators, thieves, etc. If you make an intense medium-sized larp that everyone enjoyed and you didn’t use monsters, I’ll consider you an expert.
An excellent NPC to bring even more toys into the game. People who come from alien places bringing alien things, strange shops that disappear when you want to ask about your recently bought cursed toy, strangely smiling acquaintances that claim they can get you anything for the right price, bartenders, slavers, etc.
In a way, they are the opposite of traders. People looking to hire players for various reasons from getting a MacGuffin to killing a character. They can serve as quest givers, trouble makers, or even as providers of extra information and other toys.
Electro-antimagic pulse of spell killing, radiation disease, random mutation, invulnerability, incredible strength, amnesia, loss of speech, etc. Everyone loves to hate these. Maybe it can spread or switch from person to person. Whatever they are, they are strange, but fleeting. Enjoy them while they last.
Like conditions, but they last as long as a character lasts, or until she pisses off a raging organizer.
It’s like an item, but can be copied. Terrible power and terrible danger follows them. Wield with great care. Watch out for lie detectors.
Yes, it’s that irritating catch-all term for “my character wants or needs to do this thing it’s doing”. Having a lot of those, but pretending that you didn’t actually make any is perfect for all sides of the “do we need quests?” internet battlefield.
Camps, caves, temples, rooms with special conditions, mines, mystical old trees, carboard walls that look like actual walls, but breakable by superstrong characters etc.
Did I miss anything?
Drop a comment after reading. I can always add more to this text 🙂
Extra advice on using your toys
Just dumping a lot of toys into a sandbox is nice, but when you let the children in, you might notice that the biggest assholes among them band up, take a maximum amount of toys and then break them one by one while laughing at the other children.
Spreading your toys across the sandbox
Never put all the toys in one place. You probably know what players or characters are coming to your larp. Adjust accordingly
Public quests, common knowledge, epidemics and similar things everyone gets. Be sure nobody misses them.
Soothsayer’s tent in one of the war camps, special weapons for members of a specific corporation, suicide squad’s most important MacGuffin, etc. You can make one for each group or make one for the group that tried the hardest last time. Or the group that lags behind. Making the toy useful for any group can sometimes help make the game more fun.
A toy made for a person, but not a specific person. Very nice personal touch for a specific player, as long as she doesn’t notice it wasn’t actually made for her personally.
The hardest one to do because players are unreliable. They can miss the event due to sickness, lazyness or assholeness. Their characters could die too early or go in the completely unexpected direction. But, if you manage to mke a good toy for a specific character or player, it’s one of the most wonderful (and sometimes sinister) gestures an organizer can make.
Timed and triggered toys
Never spill all the best toys right at the beginning. The “holy shit this is awesome” effect of a toy can easily become stronger if it is uncovered later in the game, or as a part of a big finale. You can never have enough spare toys that get triggered by expected or unexpected events. If you need a trigger you can rely on, our day/night cycle has been pretty consistent for the last few billion years.
In case of death
People die all the time, especially if they are characters in larp. Depending on the type of event, many players could get bored or angry if they lose their character too soon. You might also want to spice your deaths up with unexpected consequences. Toys triggered by death can include resurrection toys, spare characters/costumes, extra monsters, ghosts, plague from too many corpses, necromancers that raise dead into zombies, etc.
Toys as rewards
While I like spreading a lot of fun to all the players, those that try harder should get something extra cool. Better character stories, more successful adventures, finishing your quest, being nice to a hobo npc… a lot of things can trigger a reward.
Someone is falling behind other players or having a lot of trouble
If everyone’s going swimmingly with their quests, but a few people are completely stuck, you can say that the larp is not a good fun for them and they should head back home right now and never come back to your awesome event made only for cool people. Or even better, you could prepare some toys to help out. The choice is up to you.
Someone is bored or off-gaming
Humor turns to meta, meta turns to off game and suddenly everyone forgets about being in a magical world of space Amazons because they really need to explain their opinion on a Mad Max character. Meta and off-game mindsets can spread faster then flu and gossip combined. Find common sources and prepare some toys to handle them, either as punishment or as a tool to pump in enough fun(tm) to pull them back into your world.
Shit happens. Quests get ruined in unexpected ways. Weather changes. Important characters or players can be lost. Your grand finale can get cancelled. I’m not saying that you should prepare a whole extra emergency larp, but it wouldn’t hurt to get as close to that as possible.
Locks & keys
Two separated toys that can be melded into one triggered uber-toy. It’s a risky uber-toy because nobody guarantees that those two toys will ever meet. But, if they do, the feeling that players get might have some similarities to sex. If you want to play it safer, there is no need to have only one lock fit only one key. Depending on the type of toy, a lot of things can be locks&keys – locating a specific object, finding a fellow agent, getting a password for an unknown gathering, finding an expert basket weaver to fix your magical item, battery-operated items without batteries, etc.
This is also an excellent way to try and connect newbies to veterans.
Jigsaws vs. riddles
People often mistake these two, but the difference is huge. The problem with riddles is that they can be solved by a person either within five minutes or never ever. It’s really hard to improve a larp much by implementing them, but if you have a good idea, try to experiment and notify me of your results.
Jigsaws, on the other hand, often require a well calculated amount of time and, more importantly, you can dose them as you please. If enough pieces are missing, every new piece increases the chance of a jigsaw being solved. Find X people that hate each other, give each a piece of the puzzle, see what they can do with it.
Best toys are the ones that can be shared with other kids
Having an ability is nice, having a secret is also nice. But is this player’s ability bringing any fun(tm) for other people? Is there an easy way for a secret to be uncovered by others? Remember, if a tree falls in the woods, but it’s not in the playing area, nobody heard it and nobody cares.
Many toys can be reused in other larps and by other organizers. Share your toys with other orgs and feel free to steal some good toy ideas for yourself. Information is to be shared, otherwise it dies in terrible pain.
Toys can get broken
There’s people that get or make up an extremely convincing reason for their character to break your toy. I’ve seen quest givers die and important artifact buried in an unknown location. Hell, I once lost an important piece of a two-piece artifact because part two looked like a piece of garbage that accidentally got stuck to part one. Never depend too much on a single toy and always have a backup plan.
Make all your toys pretty, especially items
More importantly, make them idiot-proof. If your larping area is also a local dump for old cans, don’t use an old can as a quest item. If you have a great proclamation from a space-god, don’t scribble it on a post-it with a pencil. If you have time and will, try to match the design of all your toys, it gives a great sense of familiarity. If a player picks up an item, he should be worried about in-game consequences, not wondering if it’s really a larp item or not.
Making scarcity in a toy-rich world
Your larp needs more toys, but watch out for saturation. Kids can get bored of always playing with the same toys, toys that are too similar, or if everyone has completely same toys. Make as many toys feel as special as possible. Encourage players to make some of their own toys or maybe even toys for someone else. Discuss toys with others.
And remember, even if you make so many toys for the larp that a lot of them were left unused, nothing is stopping you from making even more toys for the next larp. If you don’t use it, give it to someone who would. Sharing is caring 🙂
Not an organizer?
If you know that it’s a larp that completely lacks toys, you can make some yourself. People secretly making impromptu quests for friends can really save someone’s boring larp. Giving away your item or buffing a noob is a wonderful gesture. Paying a character to do something for you makes you uber cool and can really help someone out if they are lost or bored. Help out. There aren’t that many larps and most of them aren’t too good. If you have good ideas, even as a player, you can show them how it’s supposed to be done instead of bitching. off-gaming or yelling how you’ll make your own, much better larp.
Everything written or drawn in this article is cc0 public domain. Steal all the text, expand on it, publish it further. Not linking the author is allowed, but frowned upon. If you have any suggestions or complaints, feel free to leave a comment. If you want more of my ramblings, read my previous post about larp that has nothing to do with this one.