I just had my first real try at ruling a larp.
It was a big, scary challenge to portray authority and be responsible for the experiences of everyone else, even if just in part. I’ve gathered some of the things that I learned worked well for me, so you can be inspired for when you are the one wearing the biggest hat.
I was asked to take the part of Second at Coven. This meant being being one of the three people in charge of a coven of emotionally unstable teenage witches with colossal cosmic powers . The game can best be described as a sandbox with the transsiberian railroad going straight through it. And being one of the engineers trying to drive through a sandstorm of drama, spells and feels.
The game was nordic larp, but with a lot of meta-rules and fictional lore to keep track of as well as a packed schedule of planned events that required a lot of going offgame to sort things out. This is itself was a huge job, but I’m more fascinated by how things went in regards to keeping charge of and interacting with the rest of the players during runtime.
We were three at the top: The Supreme and her two Seconds. I had the part of “The Authority”, the one who was big on rules and order, doing everything right and creating respect. So I needed to find my biggest presence for when it was necessary, but also find a way not to isolate myself. I did a couple of things, more or less intentionally, that I think really worked well to create respect. But also things to soften up and be some people could, and would want to, play with.
As a “recovering introvert”, someone who has been so agoraphobic as to avoid grocery shopping for fear that the cashier would talk to me (No, I’m not finnish), this was a big challenge and ultimately an even bigger achievement. I’m not sure how much space I naturally take up these days, but I can say that I am not the most experienced at taking centre stage. So this is mostly a list for those of us who need to work with that. Those of you with natural leadership charisma can hopefully learn a trick or two too.
Never walk alone
It is nearly hopeless to try and be in charge on your own. At the very least you need to make sure people know that you are the one in charge before play even starts. Stand up and be heard during the workshop or briefing.
If you possibly can, get more people to be in charge with you. This is especially good if you can have different approaches or styles of authority, so there’s something to respect for everyone. And back eachother up, for fucks sake! I’ve seen too many fractures come in the way of the fun, sometimes even from offgame.
Make sure that the big lump of players really think it’s going to be fun following your lead. It’s no fun if they’re not enjoying it and they’ll ruin your respect in no time.
Get the right tools
For yourself, you need to find a way to channel your inner strength in an immediate and loud way. I’ve found two distinct ways for myself: The deathglare and the doomvoice.
I got the deathglare from Brudpris, I can hate so hard with my eyes that people just cringe down and shut up. It’s pretty handy for handling individuals.
Last Will helped me develop the doomvoice, where I drop my voice a few registers into the bass and shout from the depths of my torso. I can shut up a whole crowd with that one. And crush puny human individuals.
The doomvoice also helped me make my in-fiction tool of magically killing people quite terrifying when I roared the meta words at my victims.
But most important is trusting myself when using them. Your confidence is the thing that determines success.
Go big or go home
As soon as possible you need the other players to see and learn your power. Get their respect early. At Coven we started play with most of the characters arriving as scared and confused juniors, so it was easy to shout them down and get their respect. A small pre-planned demonstration of power during dinner also helped a lot. We managed to establish our authority after that.
Make breakable rules
Part of the initial crushing of the newbs was reading a long list of rules aloud to the, with threats of fire, should they be broken. But we’d also told everyone that those rules were entirely there so there were some to break if the rebellious ones wanted to. They would not be strictly enforced except when it would be fun for everyone to do so.
Enforce the important bits
Two rules were important offgame for everyones experience, so those were enforced with great zeal. The rest only when people obviously wanted to be punished for disobedience and troublemaking.
Don’t get bogged down in keeping everything in check. One rule stated that grievously harming another witch must be punished by fire. Someone came up to me and complained about being stabbed and burned, to which I just looked at him with dead tired eyes and asked if he was GRIEVOUSLY harmed. He saw that there was no help and I got to play on more important stuff.
Break them yourself
The most famous rule my character had made. was “No personal relationships. No. Just no.” It was famous because the two Seconds had the world’s least discreet secret romance. It made it possible for the other players to have their cake and eat it. Both feel fear about doing wrong and also just not giving a fuck, depending on their proclivities.
Reveal the human
This was also part of making my character human and flawed. He wasn’t someone superhuman that you couldn’t approach, but you still had to listen when he raised his voice. I had a lovely moment of pettiness with his peers, where he cursed someone who had pissed him off for example.
Give an out
One of the magics players could use was one that commanded others to do something. It was super handy for not ruining awesome scenes without undermining myself. The victim always had the choice of whether the spell succeeded or not, but pretty much I let everything through when I interrupted someone’s illegal activities. No point in stopping obvious fun.
I’d like to see if I can find something similar in a less magical setting. I wonder what would work…
You break it, you buy it
This was the most common response when people came running to us with their troubles. Turn back the responsibility for getting things fixed. We gave them prepared rituals and advice if they wanted, but people had to fix their own problems. Never get caught fixing people’s stuff or it’ll drag you down.
I’m a firm believer that anyone is capable of taking on any role, with enough practice and preparation. Roleplaying is way more fun when you push yourself to play something challenging and explore who you can be. I have had all of my best experiences just outside my comfort zone, that one step further than I would think I could go. This was no exception and I hope you get the chance to do the same.
In conclusion, my tips are:
- Find your personal style of authority.
- Be open offgame, explain how you want the other players to respond to you and when it’s important that they obey.
- Make sure you have play where your authority is not a factor.
- Use your strengths only when you need to, but then go big.
- Create openings for those below you to take charge of their own stories.
- Have fun with it!