Monday, November 3, 2014

Running a LARP: Ticket Sale Deadlines

There's always a bit of a balancing act on how close to the game start that you allow people to purchase tickets.  Some games will still sell tickets even once game has begun.  Many allow purchases at the door.  Others want a few days notice so that they know just how many characters to print and prepare.  The amount of time you allow for ticket sales depends upon three main points:
  • Logistics (i.e. will you have people at the door who can sell tickets and for how long)
  • Alliance Demands (i.e. will you need time to alter sheets to remove unselected character references so certain players aren't stuck with goals relating to unplayed characters)
  • Game Style (i.e. will significant alterations need to be made to the plot to accommodate a highly reduced player number)
On the other hand, making it easy to buy tickets for as long as possible will result in (generally) increased ticket sales.  This isn't a guarantee.  Nothing is.  You could have a dozen players arriving at the door with cash in hand or no players buying any tickets for a couple weeks prior to the game.  You won't ever know the difference between gunshy or procrastinating players and a literal absence of further interest.  That's just how it goes.

My particular one-shot vampire LARP is logistically capable of selling tickets until the LARP begins but not during it since those on the door will also be coming in to play.  Therefore it is possible to sell tickets until the 1.00PM "Registration Desk Closes" time.

On the other hand, my LARP is small enough (30 players) that each character has goals largely relating to other characters rather than simple factions - generally because characters are from different eras so plain old covenant allegiances are more fragile.  Therefore I need enough time to print sheets and change goals that relate to unselected characters.  While I can *do* this at the last minute, I *can't* wait until the last minute to get these character documents into player's hands.  Giving players' draft documents with goals relating to thus far unselected character names highlighted may help, but they will want the complete version at least a few days (ideally a week) prior to the event. 

So that certainly encourages bringing the deadline up to a week prior to the game start.  Anything less means that players may end up with isolated characters who aren't written into anyone else's stories and while a few players can work with that, many wouldn't find it any fun.

Finally my 30 player LARP crosses a player number boundary.  Every LARP has a requisite number of players required to work well in their particular style.  Generally small groups work better for plot-heavy, skill-heavy and NPC-heavy module-style play while larger groups work better for self-sustaining games with a strong socio-political backbone. 

Think about it in party terms.  If you have a six hour party with ten guests you'll get a chance to have a real conversation with each of them but may need to have other activities and things to do to keep everyone entertained for that degree of time.  A 6 hour party with 30 players will be largely self-sustaining and any attempt to push that number of people into particular activities will be halting, irritating, and involve many delays.  You can do little side activities here and there to entertain small groups of interested party-goers but you shouldn't have anything too scene stealing among those little activities else you risk splitting the party completely.

It is a sliding scale, of course, but until you get between 15 - 20 players you really can't expect the party to sustain itself just based off character clashes as there aren't enough people to cause interruptions, misunderstandings and complications.  It's just too damn easy to cooperate and resolve issues in small groups -- which is why most workable teams are relatively small.

At present I have 10 players, which is a tidy number and 33% of total ticket sales, and there is still another five weeks to go.  However if the number doesn't increase by much, I'll need to adapt the plot so that a smaller player base will work out - which means creating additional props, puzzles, traps and NPCs.  This will, in turn, drop the player limit to 15 as a sudden influx of 8 players would make this new plot style unworkable.

Most LARPs get around this by setting a clear player minimum and then simply cancelling the game if that minimum isn't made.  This is a cleaner option as it means you don't need to have successive deadlines (unless you've got a pricey venue, that is).

I'm personally wondering if I can instead throw in an additional deadline ... if we don't get 15 players by BLAH date, then the player limit drops to 15 and we go with the different style of LARP.  Of course since most players are a bit nervous about leaping into games that might not work out, this might discourage a number of on-the-fencers and therefore create a self-fulfilling prophecy where we won't get any further players.  Who can say?

If the LARP does push over the 15 player mark before that deadline, I can work on the original plot lines and keep things looser and easier to handle for the larger group.

Any thoughts or comments on that?  How would you feel if a LARP were to declare that they would drop the player limit and go for a more adventure-style game should they lack the numbers for the other game experience?  Would you prefer a simple cancellation?  Or how would you work around it as a LARP organiser?


  1. I can't speak to LARPs specifically, but some general thoughts.

    I feel like if you laid out from the start that the event style would adapt to the number of players, it shouldn't be a big problem? It should be fairly intuitive that different styles work best with different group size, and it might actually be reassuring for people to know that the organizers have considered how to handle this and prepared for it. It's generally more worrying to me if people are stoutly insisting to the last that you'll have a full orchestra on the day, rather than saying that they've also prepared to do the show with a pianist or a string quartet as appropriate.

    Maybe the key here is to present these situations as two alternative outcomes (big group, small group), rather than as a goal with a fallback? I think that's fair enough, because you can equally intend an event to be for 12 people, but find 20 are interested and look for ways to incorporate them. Bigger isn't always better.

    That being said, your situation is a bit different because the adverts are already out there, so it's harder for this not to present as a fallback. Well, it is, right? You could try something like: "We have 10 players right now, and are on course to run a mixed game of adventure and personal plot. If we exceed 15 players by X date, we'll run a looser game to give more room for interaction and player-driven play. Otherwise, we'll cap it at 15 so we can finalise preparations and hand out character information without the risk of last-minute changes. Inter-character hooks and goals will be a significant part of the game, making it hard to incorporate additional PCs at short notice, so if you're interested, don't leave it too late."

    Note I have cheekily framed this as "if we DO get more than 15" rather than "if we don't get as many as 15" because this reads to me as more postive. Like you said, I think coming across as pessimistic can turn people off surprisingly easily. You want to sound confident: we have this planned out, a big group means game A, a smaller group means game B, no worries, you'll have a good time either way.

    Apart from anything else, I suspect whoever comes will enjoy the game more if it's had a confident tone throughout, whereas if you come along feeling a bit pessimistic it's more likely you won't enjoy it.

    1. This is true. Funnily enough we have 3 GMs and 2 people who can assist with rules and dice so it'll be a very well-served small game if we run it. Is it cheeky of me to almost be more eager to have a smaller game? At present I'm thinking 12 - 15 would be ideal as I love taking a more active hand in things. :P

      Having said that there's plenty of entertainment value in my 30 player plans. Enough secrets and goals to keep everyone occupied and I have a few tricks up my sleeve to galvanise further complications as well.

      So yeah, definitely happy either way.