Documentation of Larp Design

Documentation of Larp Design

Background

Working with larp professionally for 10 years has forced me to think a lot about structure, communication and documentation. When writing larps that are supposed to be run multiple times and by multiple people, it needs to be documented.  You then need a language to talk about what that documentation is. What parts does it consist of and what do we call the different parts? This has been relevant for me in my previous job as one of the founders and larp pedagogues at Lajvbyrån and in my new position as part of the Transformative Play Initiative at the Department of Game Design at Uppsala University. Both on a practical level and on a theoretical level. I have also seen discussion about this showing up online in larp communities and I would like to address this. 

Procedural Documentation

As I see it there are eight main design relevant documents that need to be talked about that are aimed at different audiences and have different purposes. These documents can be either finished edited documents or living documents that get updated regularly for example on a web page. You probably won’t need all of them but instead will choose the versions that are relevant for your larp. The first part is the part that is aimed at the players, then we have the part aimed at facilitators/game masters and organizers, and the last part is aimed at the organizers only. I will now go through the different parts and the documents. 

For Players

Player Handbook

The player handbook is all the info that the players need. That means both things that are sent out and info on the webpage. It can include; practical info like time and date, safety info like content warnings and safety person, narrative info like the setting and the vision, dress code info, meta techniques, transparency and so on. 

For Facilitators/Game Masters

A facilitator/game master is someone running the game but not necessarily organizing it. An organizer has more responsibilities that also include things like production. For example a facilitator could be someone running a game in a convention where the organizers would be the ones renting the place for the convention and making the schedule with slots where the individual facilitators/game masters would run games.

In this category we have a number of different documents. You will probably only have some of these since they overlap and sometimes entail each other. Which ones you need depend on your design and who will be reading the documents.

Gameplay Design Document

A gameplay design document contains what is relevant for the players interactions and agency. This would include things like characters (if pre-written), groups, relations, meta techniques,  and what happens during the playtime. It would not include any type of framing such as pre- or post-game activities or any planned activities during off-game breaks mid-game. This is a helpful document to look at the design of the game itself, how it all fits together and what the players will be able to do during the larp.

Runtime Script

The runtime script contains what happens during the runtime of the larp. That is what happens from the players go into character until the game is over. This is without any pre- or post-game parts but including mid-game parts. It also wouldn’t contain characters, groups or relation since that happens outside of the runtime. This is a helpful document to look at what happens once the larp starts until it ends. It could be something that you might want to have available in a game master room during the run. Another reason to have a separate run time script could be that you have a design that has three small larps on a theme that are interchangeable but where the framing for the games are the same. 

Larp Script

The larp script entails what you have in the gameplay document and runtime document and also the full framing including pre-game and post-game activities. So this includes things like any kind of workshops, deroleing and debrief. This is what you would need to have to facilitate/game master the larp. It also includes annotations with comments about how to facilitate/game master the larp and minor preparations like moving chairs, starting a fire or hiding the secret potion recipe. It can be done in different ways from as simple as overarching headings to really meticulous with exact timestamps for every little part. This is a helpful document to cover the whole design from the facilitators/game masters perspective.

Complete Schedule

This is something that is not needed most of the time. It is for those times where you might want to run several small larps as part of a bigger theme but have workshops and other things that are overarching. Then it can make sense to separate out the parts specific to the small larps from the overarching experience. For example, at Lajvbyrån we had a larp experience focused on the industrial revolution for school classes. During one day a school class had lectures, got visits from historical persons and got to play two shorter larps. Everything during the day is facilitated by the larp pedagogues. Half the class will play one of the larps before lunch and then the other after lunch. The other half does it the opposite way around. Both classes have the lectures and the other parts together. Here it was a lot easier to have an overarching script for the whole day with the specific exercises in there and then just a header saying “Larp 1” for the first larp slot but no further info in there. Then we could have one GM running the same larp twice and having the larp script for that specific larp in the assigned larp location while having the overarching script in the main room. In this case each larp would have  its own framing and then there would be a broader, more overarching debrief and after discussion for the full day in the main room with the full class. 

Campaign Design Document

The campaign design document is only relevant for larger campaigns that have many larps running as part of it. Here you have the overarching information that goes for all the larps in the campaign. It can include world info, systems for fighting or economy, what you are allowed to change or not in the setting, visual guidelines, and so on. A lot of the info in the player’s handbook would be found here if you are running a campaign larp. This is a helpful document to have a coherent world but still have many larps run by different organizers. 

Design Document

The design document contains everything you need to facilitate/ game master the entire larp experience.
It includes (Some or all of the following): 

  • The player handbook – or all the info from it
  • The gameplay design document
  • The runtime/larp script
  • The complete schedule
  • The campaign design document 
  • Annotations: Extra comments relevant for running the larp and info like the target audience that might not be relevant for the players. This might also be included in a larp script but is more common in a design document and therefore gets an extra highlight here.

So what is the difference between a larp script and a design document if both contain what you need to facilitate the larp? A lot of the time a larp script is a design document. But as mentioned you might have a situation where you are doing a larger larp experience with more than one larp as a part of it so you also have a complete schedule. In that case the design document would contain the complete schedule and maybe two or three larp scripts. 

For Organisers

Design Bundle

The design bundle contains everything you need to organize/re-run a specific larp. It includes the design document but will also include things like production info, a list of necessary props to have, promotion material, and maybe a budget. It could also include relevant articles about the larp. By giving someone the design document they would be able to run the larp with only this information. This also means the design bundle often is less of a document and more of a folder with multiple documents in it.

Examples

The Hobbyhorse Scenario
by Nynne Søs Rasmussen

This is a 3 hour short scenario larp that is available to print and play. It contains everything you need to know to run the scenario. From in-game info that could go into a gameplay design document like the scenes, to the broader parts that could go into a larp script like workshops. It also contains things that are relevant only to the facilitators/game master like how to game master the scenario and how to prep the room. Since it’s a free form scenario that means the players don’t have to read anything before. That means there is no need for a player hand book. All the players would need would be a blurb, a time and a place but the general info found in a player guide is still available for the facilitators/game masters. Since it’s a scenario larp for one game master it is a larp script as well as a full design document. But since there are no document with more overarching info I would call it a design document. 

Krigshjärta (Warheart)

Krigshjärta is a campaign that has been running for many years in Sweden. Like most campaign larps it has one overarching fictional universe but many different individual larps. It also has many different organizing groups that run larps in this fictional universe. A game design document here would need to include a campaign design document, a larp script for the specific larp, a player handbook and probably annotations. A runtime script or a gameplay design document could be included but are not necessary. Here the facilitators/game masters would probably also be the organizers. But this would not be a design bundle since each run is different and can have very different content and therefore the production parts and the larps script will be very different for each larp. If you would do a rerun of one of the larps, then you would instead create a design bundle.

Just a Little Lovin’ Book

by Anna Emilie Groth, Hanne “Hank” Grasmo, and Tor Kjetil Edland.

This book is actually called Just a Little Lovin’ – the Larp Script. I would say this is not a larp script, it is more, it is a design bundle. It contains everything you need to organize the larp. Runtime design, framing, music, food, sleeping arrangements, articles and so on. It also has a list with checkboxes to tick off as you go along.

Why Do We Need All These Versions and What is the Purpose of Them? 

I would say a lot of the time we do not need to have all of these. Many larps are for example one offs and then you don’t need to put hours and hours into writing a design document that should be understandable by someone else. But for making a larp re-runnable you will need to document all of it in some form. You will probably never need all 8 but will pick what level you need depending on the larp. Many times you don’t need a freestanding overarching script with separate larp scripts for example. But there are also times when it can be very good to have it. Like when me and my colleague were supposed to run a larp while I was working at Lajvbyrån and I got sick and lost my voice the evening before. Then it was super good to have a larp script and an overarching script because then we could just ask someone to read one of the larp scripts and they could jump in. They didn’t need to read or know the overarching script since that could be handled by my colleague that also ran the other larp in parallel.

The reason to separate the player info is because your players should get all the info they need but not more. If you give them all the info it will be hard to find what is actually relevant for them. If you have a plot written about finding a treasure you don’t give them the location because that is what the whole plot is about. The players also might not need to know the exact price of the rentable toilets because that is not what’s important to their experience (even if the fact that there are toilets there absolutely are). Even in games with full transparency not all players need to beforehand read exactly what workshop exercise that will be run pre-game and in what order. That just leads to information overload. And as a game master/facilitator you might want to have some freedom to run different workshops depending on how the group feels and what they need and then it can be better if not everyone has expectations on what should happen. 

On the other hand there might also be information that needs to be in more than one place. Info about the world might be available in many places. This means that you might have to change info on multiple places if you do any changes late in the process which lead to extra work. My experience is that even if it can be a bit of extra work it is worth it. Having a clear structure helps with knowing where to make the changes and each document has a different purpose.

So to conclude, depending on how you interact with the game you will need different information. As a head organizer there is a lot of info that you need that a runtime game master or a player doesn’t need. By having different documents it’s easier to share the relevant information with the right people. 

References

Krigshjärta. https://krigshjarta.com/

Groth, Anna, Emilie, Hanne, “Hank” Grasmo, and Tor Kjetil Edland. 2021.  Just a Little Lovin – the Larp Script. Volvemál Grasmo.

Rasmussen, Nynne Søs. 2018. Hobbyhorse. Available at: https://stockholmscenariofestival.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/hobbyhorse_english.pdf

Cover Photo: Image by KOBU Agency on Unsplash.

Authors

Josefin Westborg is one of the world’s leading designers in edu-larps. She has a background in game design and pedagogy and is one of the founders of Lajvbyrån (previously LajvVerkstaden Väst). She now works as a Lecturer as part of the Transformative Play Initiative with focus on analogue games at Uppsala University at the Department of Game Design. Throughout her career she has met thousands of students of all ages, and run and designed larps for them. She has also been a teacher in game design at both Chalmers University of technology and the University of Gothenburg. She is passionate about designing for interaction, storytelling and learning. When she is not involved with games you will probably find her at the dance studio doing ballroom dancing.
%d bloggers like this: