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Designing a LARP: Part One

by Frances Moritz

Planning a good one-shot LARP (which is what I hope to do) is an extended process. At a very high level, you need a main plot, lots of subplots, character backgrounds and goals, a setting, and an excuse for all the characters to be there (which may be the same as the plot, but not always).

The setting is Munchkinland, from The Wizard of Oz, shortly after Dorothy's arrival. But this Land of Oz is a mix between The Wizard of Oz, Wicked (both the book & the musical), with a bit of "what if" thrown in. In this world, G(a)linda Upland and Elphaba Thropp (aka The Wicked Witch of the West) were roommates at Shiz, as established in Wicked. But at the point when Elphaba tells Glinda "Come with me. Think of what we could do... together," the world changes.

Note: There are spoilers for Wicked in this article. There are not, as much as I can avoid it, spoilers for the LARP.

Glinda teams up with Elphaba to lead the Student Rebellion, also known as The Witches' Rebellion, against the Wizard of Oz. With the backing of the Upper Uplands, the Winkies, and the oppressed Animals, the Wizard's powerbase is reduced to the Emerald City. During the rebellion, Elphaba's father, the Governor of Munchkinland, passes away, leaving the position to Elphaba's sister, Nessarose. (Munchkinland remained neutral during the Rebellion.)

Our players are gathered here today for The Funeral of Nessarose, after the terrible accident in which a house, carrying a young girl named Dorothy and her small dog, landed on Nessarose in Munchkinland. Family members, schoolmates and leaders of various nations within Oz are arriving for her funeral. They will also be charged with determining Dorothy's fate and selecting the next Governor of Munchkinland.

LARPs are typically written for larger groups than tabletop games, with all of the characters being created by the GM. I'm aiming for twenty to twenty five characters. Right now, I have eighteen, all of which are characters from either the books or musicals. Since I'm short of my character goal, I'll have to refer back to my reference material the script for The Wizard of Oz, Wicked, Wicked, The Grimmerie, a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hit Broadway Musical, and Son of a Witch. My preference is to use existing characters, though I have a couple ideas for extras if I need to create some.

Each character needs a background, a reason for attending the funeral, and a goal. Each player should have enough character knowledge to get into the character, but not so much that the player feels overwhelmed. A specific goal or set of goals will give the player something to work towards, and a feeling of accomplishment if they succeed. The last thing you want are idle players... they can be an unexpected source of chaos. (And you want to plan for your sources of chaos, rather than have random ones.)

Costuming can be an issue for LARPs, particularly if there are required costume pieces for some of the plot points. In this case, I'm not taking the costumes into account for the plot; I'm considering them an added bonus if people choose to wear them. What about game mechanics? Most LARPs of this type are social affairs, which reduces the need for mechanics. In this case, I'm not anticipating any combat, so I won't be worrying about game mechanics. And I don't have to worry about magical combat, because according to Wicked, once a spell is cast in Oz, it can't be uncast.

Last, but certainly not least, are game props. At this stage, I'm only concerned with the ones that have plot value. Toto, who will be represented by a plush dog, doesn't have plot value in this LARP. But Elphaba's book of magic, The Grimmerie, does, as do two matching green bottles or vials. My addition to the plot-oriented props is a scrapbook. I can't tell you whose it is though... that's a spoiler.

Next time, I'll take a look at the public knowledge for all the characters. Hopefully I'll have twenty-five by then.

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