How To Find the Right Game

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Today, we look at two questions. First: How do you figure out what you enjoy in a game? 

Rick McCoy recommends researching games before playing, and trying to get to know the larp troupe outside of the game:

Talk to people before playing the game. Get a sense of the style of play before you actually make a commitment. Talk to an Advocate from groups such as LARPA or the LARP Alliance. But do try everything, if you can. You might be surprised at what you thought was lackluster or boring turn into an element of the game environment that you relish every time you play.

Elements you might enjoy in a larp are similar to what you might get out of a tabletop game (if you are so inclined), an MMO, a murder mystery. Note that just because you enjoy something in game, doesn’t mean it has to be in game. You could love to roleplay, be at a Battle Game, fighting your heart out and role playing the heck out of your character – taunting other fighters, being true to the character you created.

Also note, you can’t judge a genre or style of game on one circumstance. There is a chance that the one time you try out a Vampire game, that the Players  are welcoming, explain the rules, and you’ll have a great time and fit right in. There is an equal chance that you will try it out, only to be ostracized or feel alienated. Roleplaying might have a lot to do with how a larp group interacts with you – if possible search out for the rare hang outs that happen between events. Fighter practices, a dinner or summer picnic outing – most groups have social interaction outside of the game environment. Taking the time to get to know people is the best bet to raise the odds that you’ll find a group that you fit into. The one guy that decides your cool enough at the dinner party might become your Mentor at a Vampire event…the young woman who taught you how to swing foam at a fighter practice will recognize you at game and might come to your aid when you most need it.

 Cast a wide net, and remember that it’s OK to leave a game, Jeramy Merritt says:

Start by trying everything and being open to things you might not have thought of before.  For first time weekend larpers, I’d suggest NPCing your first event for this very purpose.  During the downtimes ask if you might be able to go out as this race or this class so you can get an idea of where you fit in.  If you come to PC, don’t build a brooding antisocial outsider and complain that no one wants to be around your character.  Ask questions, find out where you fit in, and always say yes to opportunity.

On the other side, it is possible that a game just doesn’t work for you.  If you hate pickles, you shouldn’t force yourself to keep eating pickles until you like them; I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work.  You should be having fun, if you aren’t having fun, find out why.  Part of every game is making your own fun, but the game should facilitate that, and you shouldn’t be relied upon to make all of your fun.  If the game isn’t providing that for you, and it is possible that even a well run game won’t do it for you, then you probably shouldn’t be there, and moreover you shouldn’t force yourself to be there.

Mike Young and Aaron Vanek recommend post-game analysis as a way of figuring out what you like. Mike Young:

Oh, it takes years and years of experience.  There are many people out there who just want to have fun without knowing what that means.  Every time you play in a larp, analyze what works and what doesn’t work.  Then go from there.

Aaron Vanek:

These answers rarely come to me as they are happening; it’s almost always upon reflection, hours, days, or even weeks later. I’m usually to busy being “in the moment” as best I can to reflect on the moment. I want to squeeze ever last drop out of the fruit before I taste it to see if i like it. I try to spend time to reflect on the last larp. I mull over what happened, why I did what I did, what I could have done differently, what I should have done, what was cool, what was not, etc. It usually involves cocktails bending my wife’s ear (though she often plays as well). So I don’t know if a larp or larp group isn’t the right fit until after at least one event.

Think about the kind of community you want to be a part of, Sarah Bowman advises:

I look for players that enjoy in-depth character development and who believe in staying in-character as much as possible. While more sily, light-hearted games are occasionally fun, I get annoyed when players break character too often or attempt to dispel emotional intensity. I like games that provoke conversation, thoughtfulness, and emotional impact. Plot-centric games tend to interest me less. I also dislike “hack-and-slash” games, where the “point” of the game is to kill things and level the character.

I also tend to dislike player-versus-player conflict, unless diffused properly by out-of-character socializing. In my opinion, some players enjoy role-playing as a form of power trip or abuse fantasy. While I do not find anything inherently wrong with this mentality, I feel that the community as a whole and the players within it should be treated with respect out-of-game. Lately, I bow out of games where I do not feel emotionally safe with the other players. If in-character events are weighed as more important than out-of-character relationships, something in the game is broken, in my opinion.

So, now that we’ve got a handle on what to look for in a game, How do you know when a game or group isn’t the right fit for you? 

Trust your gut, says J. Tuomas Harviainen:

If I start feeling that I am not enjoying the play in that particular group or game, I either try to negotiate the problems away, or I leave the game. In my experience it’s mostly a gut feeling, an instinctual reaction, which can rise from many smaller factors. Sometimes it’s because I can’t stand the way some other players play (especially a lack of commitment to preserve the illusionary reality of the game tends to annoy me), sometimes because the game masters aren’t doing a proper job in plot design. Both are rare experiences for me, but they do happen. My personal pet peeve are players who can’t separate character actions and morals from their, or my, real ones.

Most importantly, remember that games are supposed to be fun. Michael Pucci:

If you go, and it’s fun… you have found it.  If you go on a regular basis and it feels like an obligation, then you need to try a new character or a new game.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Are you having fun?  You don’t play a game to make money (unless it’s gambling), and you don’t play because you HAVE to.  If you’re not having fun, stop playing that style, or that game.  Some things can be addressed – character concept, minor rules issues, or the people you are hanging out with.  Others, such as the theme for the overall game or the physical location, can not be changed as easily.  Don’t force yourself to be miserable.  Don’t be a Drama Llama about it, but do what makes you happy – that’s the point of playing.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Groups come and go, and the same goes for a figuring out if you fit with a game. if you go to a doctor and say “doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the Doc replies, “Well don’t do that.” If you aren’t having fun with a game, don’t do it!

But if you want to like a game and are having a hard time settling in, talk to the GMs, go to the Storytellers. It’s their job to help YOU have a good time, why do you think you’re paying them? In my experience as a GM, I would much prefer a player come to me with a problem than sitting, sulking and then leaving when I could have fixed it. Use your resources and if those resources are scary, talk to a friend and they might be able to help you get past the scary ST. Be active with you enjoyment, don’t just sit back and wait to be served. That’s just lazy.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at


Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

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