Relationship trouble


One of the best and most reliable tools we have for larp design is the pre-written relationship. It’s a staple of our toolbox, that consistently delivers. It’s great for both authors, to write interesting aspects into the characters and set up drama, and for players to immediately have something to play on with confidence.

A prewritten relationship requires careful casting. With multiple relationships for each character, it can be quite the puzzle. You need to match up the individual characters and players, but also make sure the players on either end are comfortable with each other. Still, it’s easily worth the extra work, in fact solving the puzzle is one of the most fun bits of organizer work out there.

But times are changing.

There are new conditions in larp. First off, people rightfully demand that organizers take safety more seriously, so matching players up comes with higher stakes. And second, the target audience members are often older, with more responsibilities. This means they’re more likely to cancel participation. Even without refunds.

For Brudpris (with around 60 participants) we expected (and had) around a third of the signups drop out at some point in the process before the larp. And Brudpris is a pretty tightly woven larp, with all play focused on small families and needing a high level of interplayer trust. We’d added a layer of safety design where the participants were able to blacklist other participants from being in a close relation with them. So building each family was a tricky proposition.

After the initial casting, when a player dropped out, we needed to find a replacement that would be trusted by the rest of the family, send the character out, get a confirmation and hope everyone was okay, on pretty short cycle. It was time-consuming and pretty draining work and had to be done almost every week for months up until the larp. And every cancellation came with a good reason and a sad story, so there were never hard feelings, just a little less optimism on both ends.

Anyways, this is not about me being a tired organizer.


It’s about asking about what we can do differently. How do we design processes that allow for a dropout rate this high and still give players time with their characters before play? How do we build something that gives the 66% of players, who are on board the whole time, the same amount to work with as prewritten relations have? How do we build the awesome webs of intrigue we’ve gotten so good at weaving, when the strands are continually replaced up until the last moment?

I have a larp idea with a character distrubution not far from Brudpris, but I don’t want to go through the same depressing slog of replacement again. So I want to hear how you’d approach the problem?

Whoever brings me the best idea gets silently judged.

(I also have a pretty good idea for a solution, but it’d work better for another setup. I’ll tell you later.)

2 thoughts on “Relationship trouble

  1. You identify two things that pre written relationships do in the beginning:
    *set up drama (“you are a rival to X because you want to become leader instead of them”
    *explore characters (“you and y had a falling out, can you become friends again?”)

    I think that by dividing story relevant relationships from character relevant relationships, only the former need to be pre-written for the organizers to be able to pre-shape and anticipate the drama and narrative. This would mean that each character has a function in the narrative and that may mean only a single relationship – much easier to cast. Then the character relevant relationships can be developed in workshops before the larp where everyone is in place. What do you think?

    Another way is to design relationships for groups, and let the individual dynamic of the group be developed in a workshop.

  2. 1) Delay casting to reduce the impact of cancellations
    2) Design for redundancy in relationships, so that most characters can play fine even if one of their relations is missing
    3) (half-jokingly) Shame publicly people who cancel and / or “fine” them: if you cancel at larp 1, you’ll have to pay more to play in larp 2 😛

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