Toward a Larp Organizers’ Bill of Rights

We talk so often about player safety, and so seldom about organizer safety.

As an organizer, I don’t feel safe. In organizing larps, I’ve experienced far more vitriolic reactions than I have in any aspect of my career as an author or journalist.

I can barely talk about organizing the US run of Mad About the Boy because I spent the next six months as a target of social media rage. I can barely talk about it now. It makes me feel shaky and breathless, with a desperate fluttery feeling–my flight or fight response activating. I rarely discuss it publicly; I am afraid of reigniting that rage.

For writing this blog, running blog posts, and being vocal about my love of Nordic games, I’ve been called, in varying combinations, a status-conscious gatekeeper elitist bent on the destruction of all other forms of larp. I am introverted and am easily overwhelmed by too many new people. But if I don’t embody an extroversion I find exhausting and deleterious at events, I fear whispers that I am a snobby asshole with an opinion of herself that is too high. Self-care can come at a high price.

I’ve had men’s rights activists, feminists, racists, and social justice-y types yell at me about games on the internet. Occasionally, three or more of those groups will be angry about the same game. Sometimes, it’s one or two people who didn’t have a good time at an event shifting the whole narrative about it. Sometimes, I genuinely fucked up, but malice and forethought is attributed to my mistake. People with a problem only rarely decide to talk it out with me directly.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship with the roleplaying community. When things are going well, it’s beautiful–the world needs more collaborative art projects. When things go badly, it takes a steep toll on my mental health. This community dynamic has a chilling effect.

There have been moments of apology too–truces and heartfelt emails. But this feeling–that I don’t know what will set which corner off, and that I could be subject to abuse at any time and place, possibly abuse that will just continue indefinitely on the internet, has has taken a real toll. If we let unlimited internet rage be the price of entry to organizing larps, we will lose existing organizers to fatigue, and we will have trouble enticing the new generation.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. My organizer friends whisper about this atmosphere in corners, but never talk publicly about it, for fear of backlash.

I do think the ability to render critique is necessary to any robust arty community. Critique makes games better, makes the community more inclusive, and for many people, is part of the fun of experiencing art. But giving and receiving it is a skill.

The Player-Organizer Contract

I believe organizers bear more responsibility for an event than participants do. They need to take questions of group safety, inclusion, and adequate toilets/food seriously. But they are also a large group of underpaid people doing high levels of very difficult work. And they deserve to have their welfare as human beings ensured as well.

One problem is that the social contract between players and organizers is poorly defined. As an organizer, I am responsible for fostering some group community, taking reasonable safety precautions, and exposing people to a good story. Am I also responsible for meals? Broken legs? Ejecting people who aren’t bad people, per se, but who aren’t socially savvy? Ending rape culture? Racism? Homophobia and transphobia? Is it reasonable to expect a larp event to be able to take on all of that?

The progressive in me says that we must try, and that we must constantly strive to improve, even though we are ultimately destined to fail on some level. The pragmatist in me reminds me that, though we try, we are destined to fail. One event on its own cannot possibly overturn millennia of various forms of oppression. (Several thousand events, each striving in its own way, on the other hand, might).

Sometimes problems arise that I am not equipped to deal with. Organizers wear many hats. They manage finances, secure contracts, write characters, invite participants, and so on. At times, we are also expected to be psychiatrists, community organizers, and judges, well, it’s no wonder so many of us end up overwhelmed. At best, as an organizer, I have the power to model community and eject people. I can give you a bandage or a friendly ear. At worst, I am overwhelmed with making sure there will be character sheets and food, and can’t keep up with much else.

Whether you are one organizer, or a whole team, there are human limits to bandwidth.

Given the implicit limits of being an organizer–that is to say, being a fallible, and sometimes weak human being–hearing your failures put forth in harsh language bounced and re-shared all over public forums without so much as a head’s up can be shredding.

Towards a Better Contract

I don’t have the solution. But I would like to open a discussion about the player-organizer dynamic for the sake of both parties.

For players, we have developed a safety toolbox that is used to help people opt in and out of games according to their own limits, though of course, this is a work in progress. But as organizers, once you’re in, you’re in, and we have few tools for enforcing boundaries.

As another organizer once told me that while wearing an organizer hat, they do things they would never do as a player. If someone shows up to the blackbox wanting to play a sexually violent scene from their back story, and you’re the only one around, you get in there and participate because you would do anything to make the player experience better.

This probably makes for some great play experiences, but also disturbs me with the lack of our regard for organizer boundaries of sanity.

Maybe making the player-organizer contract more clear is simply a matter of asking organizers to state outright what they can and can’t provide. Maybe this means developing some herd competence when it comes to critique. Maybe you all will have some other brilliant ideas in the comments section.

A Toolbox of Organizer Safety

Just as we’ve made safety tools for use by players, we need to develop some to protect organizers. Here are a few ideas, spurred by my own experiences, as well as some online discussions in various larp fora.  I’ve collected them into a bill of rights. They are a starting point for discussion, not a mandate or a complete list of techniques that will work in all times and places. The numbered sections give a few examples of how to put each larger right into practice.

Organizers have a right to some buffer time and space after a larp.

(1) Wait until you are off site to start game critique.

If I invited you to dinner, you wouldn’t talk about how terrible the food was until you left the house, right? Same thing goes for a game experience. These days, posting on social media is basically the same as talking about it too. Reading live-posted critique of your game while it is still running really sucks.

(2) Give the organizer at least half as much time as the event lasted to recover before you start posting critique.*

Running an event can be hugely emotional for organizers too. Most games have many moving parts that take up plenty of mental bandwidth. It’s easy to forget something. Many roleplaying events also operate on the basis of volunteer labor. Depending on how reliable your volunteers are, you might end the event more or less stressed.

It’s harder for an exhausted, stressed person to hear your critique. They need space to, for example, sleep for the first time in three days, or sit in a dark room away from people for an hour.

Games also affect the players strongly. Part of the reason we all love roleplaying is that it puts you in an altered state, and returning back to normal can take a little time. To quote Ron Burgundy, I often find that after a larp I’m in a “glass case of emotion”–it’s a delicious state of hysteria, but often not the best foundation to launch helpful critique from.

Organizers have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.

We’re human beings. Not monsters.

(1) Vent privately to friends. If you’re still mad, reach out to organizers directly.

We all need to vent sometimes, and that’s cool. Venting is about discharging that special rage, rather than trying to evoke change. So use your friends and close support networks to blow off steam.

If you’re still mad after the storm passes, reach out to organizers privately to at least give them a chance to resolve those emotions and to try to fix things. When you bypass these steps and vent publicly, you’re humiliating them, and that’s not a good basis for getting your concerns addressed, moving forward. Plus, if you don’t bother to reach out to them, how will you have a dialogue?

(2) Pause before posting public critique.

It feels good to write things in the heat of the moment, but sometimes those same things can be hurtful, not just to those written about, but to the community dynamic. Good critique is passionate, yes, but it’s not mean. In some ways, the audience of your critique is not just your friends and the game organizers, but all the potential organizers lurking on your feed. They won’t want to make stuff if there is a culture of meanness to organizers. Write all you want while you’re feeling strong, but wait until you’re calmer and read it over before posting.

(3) Use the compliment sandwich for critique.

This is a super basic creative writing workshop technique. Very few things in life are pure horror. Certainly, no one pours weeks of work into making a deliberately terrible larp or freeform experience.

So start with something nice, put your critique in the middle, and end with something nice. This helps the organizer hear your criticism because you are attributing good intention or motive to them.

In general, attribute best motives to the organizers until proven otherwise. This is the difference between asking someone “So why are you such a terrible person?” and “Hey, I noticed that you talked over Sue in workshop, did you mean to do that?”

(4) Be part of a bystander intervention movement.

When you see threads on social media that are devoted to tearing people down, intervene. Write a few nice things about the event, and remind others that the organizers probably had good intentions. Fight the impulse toward total negativity. Emailing the organizers a few kind words directly can also go a long way toward helping them feel OK as well.

Organizers have the right to have an identity separate from their work. And to get things wrong sometimes.

Sometimes, we make games with provocative premises to generate discussion. When making your critiques, do not assume that because the organizer designed a game with a provocative premise, that the organizer also holds those beliefs. No one thinks Agatha Christie was a murderer because she wrote about murders. Same thing goes for larp designers. As mentioned above, we’re bound to fail when we try to solve the world’s problems, and we’ll sometimes fail our own communities because we are fallible.

(1) Understand the scope of an organizer’s political power.

We live in a flawed world full of big and thorny problems, and if we knew how to solve them in games, then we’d know how to solve them in society. There’s classism, racism, sexism, and many other -isms out there. We should always strive to better address these issues, but it’s impossible to do a perfect job of addressing all of them in every game.

Organizers have a responsibility to engage with tough issues, and players have the right to critique those efforts, but I think all parties should go into these debates with the understanding that whatever we can do within a larp is likely to be fairly limited. It’s necessary, but often Sissyphean work.

(2) Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

Larp is a generative process of failure. As Beckett once wrote, “Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Offer suggestions for improvement rather than perfection. Realize that following your suggestion might result in weeks more work for an organizer, so volunteer to help make it a reality if you possibly can. Want a scholarship fund at your game? Maybe you could help coordinate the crowd-funding campaign and manage the application process.


Sometimes, etiquette must be cast aside. If there is abuse of any kind at a game, it is better to break all these rules than to let an abuser run free, a critically dangerous situation continue, or a person suffer serious harm.

I know you all will have better ideas than these. Please post them in the comments.


*Some Nordic larps use the terminology “week of stories”–participants can share stories of what happened in a larp to their character for a week, but wait to post critique until a week has passed. This has been criticized as dampening player ability to process/publish their experiences, as the urge to do so is often hottest right after a larp, and can be part of some debrief processes. owes its existence to the continued support of many wonderful Patrons. If you enjoyed this post, consider joining the conflagration of awesome people underwriting my blog on Patreon.

15 thoughts on “Toward a Larp Organizers’ Bill of Rights

  1. Phew, how well you put it 🙂
    As a fellow organiser, I recognise what you are talking about. But luckily I have had only a few of the damaging experiences you mention.
    I think I know why.
    I’m very good at showing my vulnerability. Before a game, I make sure to remind the participants that I am not a professional (not in this context), and this is not a consumer/business relationship. This is me entrusting a piece of myself to the participants. It is common curtesy to treat me fairly, and to take my feelings into account.
    When I do wind up bashing heads together with someone over a scenario I’ve made, it’s usually someone I know. Someone who feels that they are close enough to me to “tell me the truth” about what they think. That can be pretty hurtful too, but on most (but not all) accounts, I’ve managed to talk things through after. Because, after all, it’s difficult to keep vilifying someone you know. Much more so than on a forum somewhere on the internet.
    But, yeah. Organizer safety ought to be a thing.

  2. I think some of this is very organizer specific, and maybe even event specific. I love receiving feedback (good and bad) immediately after a game, while it’s still fully in my mind and I’m still excited about it. While most of our games are short, even for the weekend long game that I did run, I loved the immediate debrief session and found it more useful than most of what people sent in later when it was less fresh. I mine social media for people’s thoughts as soon as I’m home. I want to hear everything NOW, the good and the bad. Maybe what we want around this is the ability to state our preferences clearly, upfront so that players know.

    • My outlook used to resemble yours more, Susan, until I had a few bad experiences. Now I am more wary of the whole process. I do sometimes like receiving feedback right after a game, but I also prefer being in control of whether I get it. If I ask for it, great. But I also think it should be OK to not to ask for it.

      I also think there’s a compounding thing as events get longer, and I find it gets exponentially harder. A three day event might take over my life for two weeks beforehand, and thus I might need a day to recover, compared to a four-hour event, which required only an hour or two of prep…

      I like your idea about being clear with what feedback you do and don’t want in each moment. I think it would also be good to make a positive statement about what you can and can’t provide at an event. Being clear about the expectations can help quite a bit.

  3. I’m lucky enough to have lots of activities I can spread my efforts over, and larp is really just something I’ve started running in the last few months, but I find distributing responsibilities helps relieve a lot of the pressure. I love being host to other people running a game. I can take care of the food and hospitality and a lot of the logistics, while someone else takes care of the rules and MCing. Or someone else can bring all the food, so I can run the game without worrying about feeding myself. I also know I’m not the best at maneuvering social situations, so if I can get someone I trust to lead the debrief afterwards it takes a lot of pressure off me. I could even leave to start cleaning up while the players talk privately, if that helps them open up more. Plus, this distribution helps involve people in the game more, gets them more invested in making sure everyone has a good time, and trains people to be organizers.
    This article also touches on a lot of bigger safety concepts I haven’t had to deal with yet, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can before they come up.

    • I agree that having a team of organizers makes a big difference. However, teams of organizers can also introduce feature creep–the more organizers there are, the more participants may expect.

  4. Good article. I agree with lot of this.

    I think that a reasoned private communication to the organiser should come before venting to anyone else. There may be a wider context the player was unaware of. (e.g. an perception of GM fiat that wasn’t actually the case, working around unexpected logistical problems, etc). I agree it sshuld be done once the player has processed properly, not right away.

    That said, there is value in giving feedback mid-event, to see if the organiser can do anything to actually fix it. (e.g. or if they can’t, perhaps find an alternative thing they can do to enhance the experience).

    Good quality feedback can be hard to come by. One campaign I use to play had a policy that members of the large organiser team would takes turns to play an event, so they could keep a player perspective.

    “Organizers have a responsibility to engage with tough issues, and players have the right to critique those efforts, but I think all parties should go into these debates with the understanding that whatever we can do within a larp is likely to be fairly limited”

    This part I think I might disagree with. Organisers do NOT have a responsibilty to engage with tough issues with the don’t want to. If they just want to run a hollywood action game about barbarians fighting orcs and taking the treasure, that’s fine. They do have a responsibiity to advertise the event accurately, and it is fair to critique the event against what was advertised (e.g. if the event was stated as being about marxist themes of class struggle, how well did it incorporate those themes?).

    As for public critique, I’d also make a distinction between a casual social media post, and a properly composed lengthy review piece.

  5. Thanks, Lizzie, for bringing this up. I have been on the giving end of harsh criticism, supposedly driving one larp GM to quit larping (I think that’s an overreaction to criticism from one person, me), and I have also been on the receiving end.

    The one that irks me is criticism of a larp before it has even occurred. When I posted in a SoCal larp forum that I had worked out a system for handling sex in a larp I wanted to run–“sex mechanics”–I was viciously attacked for deigning to create such a thing, and that it would only lead to pain and misery.

    I believe that there should be analysis of larps afterwards, and each larpwright can decide (should decide) when and how to handle that, I would beg, please, please try the larp (or at least explore the available docs) before bashing it.

  6. Great post, Lizzie! As someone who’s previously given you crap for no good reason (though not about events), this is really solid general advice, for both events and other kinds of leadership/spokesperson roles in the games community. It’s too easy and lazy to criticize or demonize people for illegitimate reasons rather than doing the slightly harder but more important work of having real conversations about significant issues. Even running something as low-key as a playtest that goes poorly can be a brutal experience, depending on how it’s received and whether organizers get time to recover. Which doesn’t give people confidence about running bigger events.

  7. I agree with a lot of the points mentioned. It should go without saying that every organizer has all the right to be treated with decency and respect, just like everyone else. I fear that especially in some online communities, some people really lose their grip on what’s acceptable behaviour when interacting with other human beings.

    I am, however, not sure about some of the ways you suggest to direct and control public critique. For example, I often have the impression that a direct, voluntary, face-to-face discussion with the organizers right after the event in a relaxed setting is often the most fruitful, for both sides. When talking directly, many people are much better behaved than when they write anonymously, and much more willing to listen to what the other side has to say. Also, in my opinion, a lot of things that annoy players turn out to be based on tiny misunderstandings that can be resolved pretty quickly when you hear both sides of the situation. But when these stories are traded for weeks along a closed community of friends, and everyone agrees, and adds their own little bit to it, they sometimes get totally blown out of proportion.
    But, as you said, the most important thing should always be: It’s your choice when you want critique, and from whom. I just sometimes have the impression that the more you limit the paths on which critique is allowed to reach you, the more respectful and helpful people you lock out, while the impolite and destructive people will not care and always find a way to reach you.

    Another thing is the “bystander intervention” you mentioned. In some cases, this can be really helpful, and defuse a lot of heated discussions and tricky situations. But on the other hand, there is a thin line between “bystander intervention” and “white knighting”. I often have the impression that unwelcome interventions from people who don’t really have anything to write to the topic itself, but only attack other participants because of their tone, can be the absolute worst thing that can happen to a polite and fact-based discussion. So if you intervent, I would always try to steer the discussion away from topics like who is allowed to talk tho who in which tone, and concentrate on the actual topic in hope of coming back to a more constructive basis

    • I’m thinking of these more as a set of blanket etiquette. Of course an organizer should always be able to say, “I’d prefer to have feedback right after the game…” Right now, the default assumption is that it’s OK to unleash the hell hounds immediately. I think etiquette’s role is to set some ground rules that are observed unless someone states otherwise.

      Re: white knighting. I wouldn’t advocating attacking other participants, but more of a “hey guys, let’s think of the organizers’s feelings here and dial back the comparisons to Hitler” or “hey guys, it’s possible that the organizer wasn’t making you wait around for two hours because he’s a sadistic bastard, but because someone was quite late arriving with the food.” Or, “Yeah, the workshop was really too long, but I adored that ritual we did to start the game.”

  8. I am a larp organizer, but I fail to identify with the issues presented here. Personally, I just feel they are… overly dramatic, a disproportionate response..
    I’ve received my deal of criticism for the larps I’ve worked in; sometimes harsh criticism or insults. But it never actually offended me.
    Perhaps it’s just me, and I am a shallow person. But to be frank: when somebody shout at me on Facebook “Piss off! Your larps are crap!” I don’t feel “shaky and breathless”.
    Rather, I don’t give a damn… or if I really feel pissed off, I might shout back at them “It’s your fault, you are crappy larper” or something…

    • I wonder if there is a gendered aspect to our differing experiences.

      Even if we haven’t weathered the same harassment or responded to it in the same way, we can probably agree that there could be better clarity around organizer responsibility and player courtesy.

      I do find it a bit condescending that you called my reaction “overly dramatic” when you do not know the particulars of the situation.

      • I can only know the particulars you chose to mention. From what I read , it did not seem an extraordinary situation – you talk about social media rage, whispers, activists yelling at you. Unpleasant stuff, but quite ordinary: it’s not like you got called in the middle of the night , or insulted in the street (luckily – just throwing extreme examples here).

        About the gendered aspect: it might be, but in my experience men get at least as much “aggressive, blunt criticism” as women. A woman runs a greater risk to be disrespected, her opinions dismissed and the like; but I would say a man is more likely to be aggressively confronted / criticized.

  9. This is fantastic… but I would say “Wait until you are off site to start game critique” is the only one I have seen an issue with. Some people want ‘live’ critique, especially during testing, and sometimes it is hard to critique lucidly later after the game has moved on.

    “Wait until you are off site to start game critique” is very much a particular type of organizer’s preference on how to give critique, and if we are creating a sample bill of rights, I think we should broaden it. It might be better to go along with, “Respect my guidelines on how and when to give critique.” If the organizer wants it to be private first, do it private. If you want it to be buffered, respect the buffer.

    The section on being part of the solution, actively sharing positive experiences, is spot on.

  10. OK, I finally got around to reading this. Great post.

    From my perspective, one contributing factor to some of the out of control rage directed at GMs originates in the whole idea (more prevalent in tabletop than in LARP, to be sure, but present in both), that the “GM is god,” the GM by definition can’t be wrong and isn’t bound by rules, etc. It’s at the heart of a great deal of resentment—if you’re going to set yourself up as a god, however implicitly, then you’d better damn well deliver a divine experience!

    GMs who present themselves as just normal people doing a thing, probably imperfectly, will always get a whole lot more sympathy from me. Even *if* there are things I don’t think were perfect about a game or experience, it’s not like that imperfection suddenly becomes a huge breach of the social contract from the GM to the players.

    Unfortunately, there will always be some people who will simply take the opportunity to shit on someone’s efforts if the gates of critique are opened. Which, as you say, is why it’s important to have solid rules of etiquette surrounding game feedback. I’d argue that the *lack* of such an etiquette, though, stems from the issue I brought up above.