When I decided I wanted to run a LARP, I assumed the job would be pretty black and white. I would book some events with a camp site, write events, run them, and everyone would get sweet high-fives and come back next month. I knew the job could be challenging and time consuming -- I had written and existed in the LARP world long enough to understand that -- but what I didn't realize is just how many job titles I would be adding to my life, many of which I didn't really know how to do.
If you're thinking about running a LARP, especially a for-profit LARP, here are just some of the hats you end up wearing as you step into your new role.
1. Community Manager
This is probably the biggest job of a LARP Organizer and one that I didn't anticipate the amount of time, effort, and care that goes into it. My good friend and Eschaton Media CEO Ashley Zdeb frequently says that a LARP community exists in the image of its creator, and that means a LARP Organizer has to take very special care in both how they present themselves and how they choose to manage their community. The things that matter to you, both as a person and as a business owner, will absolutely attract the kinds of individuals who attend your game.
For example: I am a queer woman who loves emotional, consequence-based roleplay. The playerbase and team at DR:MA is much more diverse in terms of gender and sexuality than even two years ago, with more women on the team than I can ever recall. We now jokingly call Dystopia Rising: Massachusetts the DR:(A)MA chapter because of how much myself and my player base love intense, challenging roleplay.
How you choose to manage your community, what your actions show is important to you, will absolutely reflect in your players. This is something I didn't understand much when I started and I made some missteps, learning as I went, but a good LARP Organizer should be prepared to step into this role and think about how they want to mold their community and what they want it to represent.
I am not math smart. I am in fact really, really bad with numbers and they are my cursed enemy. I gain no satisfaction from solving equations, budget planning, thinking about spending or taxes. They put me the Oh You're Real Bad At This math classes when I was in college. But I never, ever realized how much financial common sense I lacked until I started running a for-profit LARP.
Site costs, business taxes, 1099 forms, prop budget, living expenses, office expenses -- and that's a for-profit LARP. Even a non-profit LARP has to consider the financial implications of how to run their work, especially in America where receiving funding as a non-profit LARP is essentially non-existent.
I grew up as a poor kid where if you had money, you spent it on your friends and then were immediately broke again -- not great for running a business. If you, like me, have no idea what you are doing with numbers, it benefits to hire an accountant until you have a better understanding of what you're looking at in your day-to-day. Learning how to run a business from the bottom up has probably be one of the most challenging things for me personally, as someone who decided to run a LARP because of story, not money.
3. Human Resource Manager
As a LARP runner, you will be hiring, firing, and mediating a variety of team members, contractors, and employees. If you're running a LARP as a registered non-profit, you'll also be managing a pool of volunteers. I had some experience in hiring from my corporate job, but it feels a lot different when you're dealing with it on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It's part of why Evan, Seed & Sword's COO, took the time to get educated on management and human resources and I can't tell you how much that's benefited us -- both in how to manage our humans and in how to hire them. While you might not want to go out of your way to get a degree, if you don't have experience in human resources and how to bring on the best people for the right job, this is something I would recommend taking a seminar on. Interviewing and hiring is a lot more tricky and challenging then it looks and the interview process doesn't always reveal the best person for the job. It takes practice and know how in determining who is going to help build and maintain your team and your community.
4. Customer Service Representative
Every LARP will get comments, criticism, and complaints. What many of us don't consider is that the person who created the LARP is also directly getting the feedback on their creation and then they have to process and respond to it. For most companies, complaints are handled through a customer service department who are detached from its creation; this allows them to absorb and consolidate feedback into valuable points that can be given to the creator and addressed back through the creation process.
If you are a LARP Organizer, you have to learn quickly how to be humble, manage expectations, and process feedback for their own content in a detached way. This can be difficult, because many of your customers will treat your feedback form as the same they would get on any corporate website, not considering that their friend the LARP Organizer is also the one opening that email. It can be easy to feel hurt, offended, and angry to the point where you might miss valuable, critical feedback a customer might give you.
Learning to detach yourself from your work and give yourself time to process is valuable in providing customer service. Learning how and when to say no, yes, and stick with your guns can be just as difficult, but necessary. You run a LARP for your friends, but you also run a business and learning to balance that is something that I am still doing to this day.
If you make a LARP, how do you make someone show up to it? How do people find out? What are the key points and features of your LARP that make it different and appealing to everything and everyone else out there? These are the things a Marketer does and these are the things you have to learn. I don't think I have ever met a LARP Organizer who is a truly good marketer because we haven't been taught how to do it. I have the benefit of being part of a network and we learn from each other. Hype videos, kickstarter-like drives for pre-registration, photos, word of mouth, and college advertisements are some of the techniques I eventually learned through trial and error but I still wouldn't consider it good by any means.
Learning how to package and sell your game is important because that's how you are going to pay your bills. If you buy a table at a con to advertise your can, what's going to attract them? What's your elevator pitch? Why do you matter? These are the things you now have to consider as a LARP Organizer when you advertise for your game. A wrong misstep could waste resources, attract the wrong people for your community or game, or make for unsatisfied customers.
6. Event Planner
Before I ran LARPS, I was a Bridal Consultant -- a wide and exciting world of checklists in order to plan the perfect day. An Event Planner is there to think of the things you don't think of while you are preparing for your special day -- or your special LARP. It's not just big things either, but small stuff. Pens, paper, ink, food, scissors, office supplies, medical supplies. Now that you run your own LARP, you're going to have to manage your event before it starts and make sure you and your team have everything you need to do your job successfully.
Checklists are truly your friend in this case -- or, if you are lucky, you have a Coordination Director to help obsess over the details while you obsess over story. I am by no means an organized person, so this is a job that I am much better suited to pass off to another person who will make sure that if I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off that the rest of the game is running smoothly. If you can't hire someone for that, then it's time to learn to build yourself plenty of checklists and back-ups to make sure everything is going to be ready for your event.
7. Team Manager
Unless you are running a small game, it's not going to be just you behind the wheel. I have a team of about 25-30 players behind Dystopia Rising: Massachusetts who choose to take a different role at game. In addition to that, I have ten contract writers at any given time who I help cultivate, manage, and provide feedback to. I'm lucky in the sense that I actually enjoy managing people, delegating tasks, and attempting to create a well-oiled LARP execution machine, but if it's your first time being a LARP Organizer it can be hard.
The urge to micromanage something that is your baby can be fierce. Not knowing how to solve interpersonal, scheduling, or performance issues can feel like the end of the world and can cause larger problems if you don't handle them. This is especially difficult when your team might consist of your friends, or even your loved ones.
This is another thing I would recommend taking a seminar for. It's useful to learn about different personality types, how they're best motivated and rewarded, and how to resolve conflicts. It's something I still take classes and learn about in order to build a better team for myself and my company. If your team, contractors, or employees are unsatisfied, your game will not run smoothly at the end of the day, and it's worthwhile to put the time in and invest in educating yourself.
Okay, so this one might sound weird, but it's a real hat and it's hard to wear. Before I became a LARP Organizer I was dumb ol' Kelsey who liked to whack people with swords, make fart and dick jokes, and had no problem talking to anyone. But becoming a LARP Organizer makes you "famous" on a relative scale. People want your attention, acceptance, and acknowledgement. People might be intimidated or afraid of you, even though you haven't changed at all. This was probably one of the harder and more disappointing things for me. I had to change how I roleplay and interact with others at game because I was now in a position of power in my community and it changes how people feel they can work and speak with me.
Being conscious that you are now someone people might be afraid of saying no to, that people might be scared of, means that you might have to cultivate another personality when dealing with folks who might be your customers. I've changed the kinds of characters that I play and I try to speak very carefully and thoughtfully with those in my community so I don't run the risk of putting someone in a position that feels uncomfortable. It's disappointing and saddening for me sometimes -- some days I really just want to make dick jokes and hit people with sticks -- but taking care that people now think you are important and are a "celebrity" has an effect on your interactions.
And there are more hats.
The longer you work as a LARP Organizer, the more Hats you seem to collect. The best you can do is see which you can wear, and think about which you might be able to pass off to someone else in order to free up some breathing space for yourself. Our hobby is our work is our passion, and making sure you don't burn yourself out under the weight of all those hats is just as important as making sure you're doing a good job with the ones you do have.
And you do look good in a hat, after all.