Previously, Tor Kjetil Edland and I wrote about some mysteries around the player organizer contract. Today, I offer up the template I’ve developed over time as an event-runner. It’s not perfect, it’s not the only thing that works, and it’s not a one-size fits all document. Depending on what types of events you run, you might want to add, delete, or change sections. But at core, I think you’ll probably want to make sure you cover the same general areas.
This template doesn’t handle every possible facet of the event–you might want to put a section detailing recommended gear and game mechanics elsewhere, for example–but it contains the information you reasonably need to know about social participation. I’ve included some sample text to give a sense of what kind of content could go there.
PRO TIP: Make it readable
Before we get into it, an important word of advice: what matters here isn’t just the content of the social contract, but that the content is READABLE. Readers, especially readers on the web, are notorious skimmers. So consider using these formatting techniques to help readers absorb the info.
- Put the most important stuff up high in the document. The most important stuff is usually the overall vision for the event, including a description of your expectations and the atmosphere you want to create. Even if people don’t read every word of the contract–and many won’t–having a broad grasp of the event vibe helps guide behavior.
- Tone is king. Use “friendly” language–shorter words, a casual tone, active verbs. Strings of long words and convoluted grammar can make you the event come off as rigid and unapproachable. “We expressly prohibit the utterance of anti-gamist slurs” is not as readable as, “We’re all nerds. Please don’t bash other styles of gaming.” And do explain jargon. The journalist rule of thumb is to define the term the first time you use it on a page.
- Use a menu. Menus–either a linkable table of contents or a easy-to-navigate web menu helps readers (a) know what’s coming and (b) find what they need quickly when they use the document for reference. These days, I often disseminate info to participants via Google Docs, which has a great auto TOC function.
- Break up the text with headings. This gives the eye and brain breaks. It’s also wise to put the most important stuff in the headings if at all possible.
- Keep it brief and use links if necessary. A rule of thumb for readability: no more than two paragraphs per heading or five bullet points per list. If you’ve got more than that, try to summarize your main points as briefly as possible and include a link to more detailed information elsewhere.
LIZZIE’S WORKING TEMPLATE
Sample Table of Contents
THE <YOUR EVENT HERE> EXPERIENCE
The social norms and tools in current use.
First aid, how to report, alcohol policy, and what to do in case of emergency.
ACCESSIBILITY + INCLUSION
THE <YOUR EVENT HERE> EXPERIENCE
This is an introductory paragraph of descriptive text about the event. The aim here is to lay out the vibe of the event and to hint at its values.
“This is a three day larp about life in a small American prairie town in the 1890s, using square dancing as a core mechanic. We hope participants will come ready to support each other in play and dare to try new things.”
“<Event name> is a one-day local larp meetup where we will play a variety of freeform games in a private home in a low-stakes setting. Our community values x, y, and z.”
“The ticket price for this event is X. We have financial aid available if you email X.”
“No ticket cost, but we pass the hat to help cover the cost of space rental.”
This is the first half of the “contract” part of the player organizer contract. It’s where, as an organizer, you state what you are providing, followed by the next section, where you’ll state what you expect the players to provide. What you include here will depend heavily on the exact nature of your event and what you’ve decided to provide. I find a very convenient format to be a sentence-long heading with a few lines of descriptive text beneath.
Think of these sections as the “thesis” of your social contract–get the main point across here and go into more detail later. You can link to other pages and sections that contain detailed information on, for example, the food, lodging, or game design.
To avoid overwhelming readers, try to keep each of the “we provide” and “you provide” to five items or fewer if possible.
We provide pre-written characters to you.
This larp features pre-written characters. We will cast you into roles based on what the game needs, and on what you told us on your casting questionnaire. If you are unhappy with or unable to play the role we cast you in, contact us and we will offer you one character change. After that, you will have to decide whether to take it or leave it.
We provide an engaging environment
You can read more about the larp design here <link>. We provide a setting and a simple system of tools you can use to play out your character’s story. You will have a chance to meet other participants and develop stories with them during the pre-game workshop.
We take care of the practicals
We are providing breakfast and dinner, beds and linens for sleeping, and transport to and from the game site. See “practical arrangements” below for more details on all these.
You could also say what the practical arrangements are right here–but if it’s going to take you longer than one paragraph to describe, it’s better to put a longer section down below.
This is your golden opportunity to communicate your expectations to players. The existence of this section also underscores that larp is a co-creative, two-way street.
You provide your own fun
We will give you some tools for playing out your character’s story, but it’s up to you to use them. We encourage you to make bold decisions, fail big, and negotiate with your co-players to get a satisfying storyline. If you don’t know what to play on next, you’re always welcome to come to logistics and take a chat with an organizer.
You provide some labor
Running a larp requires lots of logistics for a massive number of people. And our budget doesn’t fully cover that. So we need your help: we’ll give you one critical setup task and one critical cleanup task after the larp is over. We will love you particularly if you do this task cheerfully and quickly! You will find out more about this on-site.
You provide your own costume and lunch
We’re taking care of almost all of the practicals, but you’ll need to feed yourself lunch most days. And you’ll need to put together your own costume and props.
You agree to read the pre-game materials carefully
We will send you 20 page of background reading on the historical era of this larp. You agree to read these, and to familiarize yourself with our design document. We will also be sending you a series of briefings on how not to get hurt in the decommissioned nuclear submarine we will be playing in, and you especially agree to read those thoroughly.
You agree to abide by our customs and safety policies.
Most of this stuff is common sense. Please read the below for details.
This is important because it communicates that you have customs and safety policies.
This section helps make a group’s social glue more visible to new people. It’s also a great chance to establish some rules that will help forge the culture of the new group. The examples below are typical of customs used at some larp conferences I frequent.
If you’re having a conversation in public, make sure there’s an inviting space for a new person to join–an empty chair, if you will. When a new person inevitably does join you, create a new inviting space again if you can. Make conversational space too–everyone should have a chance to enjoy the conversational limelight.
Catch people up
When someone new joins a conversation, give them a two sentence summary of where it is right now, so that they can understand and start contributing.
The door is open
It’s OK to leave a social situation, game, debrief, or other event if you need to. Maybe you need a drink of water, to check your phone, etc. The door is open.
Make new friends
Sometimes people get nervous in social gatherings, especially when there are people they don’t know. We encourage you to meet new people and get to know them. Maybe you’ll even find a collaborator for your next project!
Need something? Ask.
This includes requests for everything from extra toilet paper to hugs and hand-holding.
Don’t know a term? Ask.
We come from different communities and we aren’t all familiar with one another’s lingo. If you don’t understand a technical term, please ask! Likewise, if you’re using a technical term and you think your conversation buddies might not know it, explain it!
We encourage vigorous discussion and debate. But we ask folks to give one another the benefit of the doubt in any argument (until proven otherwise), and to strive to leave discussions as better friends. Maybe as Best Friends Forever!
Many hands make light work. If you see something that needs doing, like collecting loose bottles or recycling an errant stack of paper, please take the initiative and pitch in. Especially pitch in when you’re asked. We all share responsibility for making this event fun.
It’s a good idea to have a safety policy for two reasons: (1) it helps communicate norms of behavior and expectations to participants and (2) it helps you set up a plan of what to do in case something goes wrong. As an organizer, you should have at least some plan for how you will handle emotional or physical disasters should they arise.
Safety is important to us. If you feel unsafe during the event, please reach out to one of our safety volunteers–X and Y. They are here to support you and keep what you tell them in confidence. They can also help advocate for you to the organizing team (A, B, and C), if desired. You can contact them between <these hours> by calling <a particular phone number> or <visiting the off-game room>. Outside those hours, do not contact them unless it is an emergency.
You’re also welcome to contact any of the organizers directly, of course. But we might be hard to find because we have many responsibilities during the actual event. So your first line of contact should be one of the excellent and friendly people above.
There is a first aid kit available at logistics, and there will be a sober organizer there from 9 am-11pm every day, ready to drive participants to the emergency room if necessary. In case of serious injury or illness, please call 911.
We expect everyone to behave appropriately. We don’t tolerate racist, sexist, sizeist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, or otherwise abusive behavior. We especially don’t tolerate sexual assault and physical violence.
We also acknowledge that abuse often happens in quarters where it is not publicly visible, and that abuse can be committed by beloved community big-shots as well as those new to the community.
We believe victims.
Alcohol in moderation
Some of us drink, others of us don’t. And we must coexist in harmony. We haven’t had any issues so far (to the best of organizer knowledge), and we’d like to continue that trend. And remember, if you do drink, it’s not OK to be drunk during a game.
The alcohol-free lounge is in <location>.
You can go off-game by <making this symbol, saying “off-game,” visiting the off game room, etc.>.
Yes means yes, no means no, and “maybe some other time” also means no.
If you’re here, we assume you already know this. But it bears repeating. You should know that our community takes issues of consent very seriously. When in doubt, always check for enthusiastic consent.
ACCESSIBILITY + INCLUSION
More than any other section in this document, accessibility needs to be a conversation between organizers and participants.
In general, the best thing you can do is speak directly to participants with disabilities early in the event-planning process about what you can do to accommodate them, as disabilities and accommodation needs can be highly individual. Remember that many disabilities are not visible. I also know from experience that the accommodations that are welcome and most helpful may be non-obvious to people without disabilities.
If you’ve already spoken to participants with disabilities about their accessibility needs and you are able to accommodate them, this is a great place to clue other participants in to the new norms. For example, a low-hearing participant might request that people face each other when speaking; it would be totally reasonable to make that the default rule for the larp. Or if you have low-mobility participants, you might ask players planning big events to give you a heads’ up during the game because it might take some extra time for co-players to show up at the site.
Maybe it goes without saying, but you don’t want to disclose individual medical information or single anyone out on the web (“If X has an epileptic fit, don’t call the ambulance unless…”) or on-site during the larp without explicit and enthusiastic permission and consent from the relevant person.
If you haven’t already spoken with players about accessibility needs, either in person or via signup, this section can be an invitation for people to contact with concerns. If you know you can’t accommodate certain needs–for example, if the site is not wheelchair accessible–it’s better to state that up front than to have uncertain players show up on-site and figure out they can’t play.
If your text isn’t too long, you can also add information on inclusion here. Or you might want to break it into its own section.
We welcome friends of all races, classes, gender identities, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. We want to make this event accessible and inclusive. If you can think of a way we can make this event more inclusive–or if you know someone new who would enjoy it–please do reach out.
If you have accessibility concerns, please do let us know in advance via email or the sign up sheet, and we will do our best to accommodate you. One thing to know: the site is up one flight of stairs.
Be specific. In some places, it’s normal for participants to bring their own sheets. In other places, it’s not. What food, props, transport and other accommodations are you providing?
If you are providing food, always ask for and keep a list of food allergies. This is a safety concern that overlaps with practical!
We provide the following meals:
- Friday: Dinner
- Saturday: Breakfast and dinner
- Sunday: Breakfast and dinner
Breakfast is a make-it-yourself selection of fruits, cereals, toasts, spreads, coffee and juice. Lunch and dinner will be catered. We will have vegan and vegetarian options for all meals.
We will accommodate food allergies to the best of our ability, but we need to know about them in order to do so: if you haven’t said so already, please make sure to tell us nowish so we can make arrangements.
Allergies we’re already aware of: peaches, nectarines, plums; soy milk; almond milk and raw almonds; cashews; peanuts; cantaloupe/honeydew and relatives; shellfish; gluten; cilantro sensitivity; MSG; avocado; sulfites; corn; mushrooms; apples.
All the rooms have queen and/or double beds in them. Unless you’ve specified otherwise, you will be placed with roommates who have a similar gender to your own and who are part of the same player group.
You can give a brief site overview, ideally with a map here. This also overlaps a little bit with accessibility. But it always helps to give at least a few people an idea of where stuff is on site.
Johanna Koljonen has some excellent advice on what to communicate to players over on the Participation Safety blog.
Living Games Austin has published its Code of Conduct and encouraged behavior.
Do you have other philosophies about the player-organizer contracts?
Is there a community you think has done this particularly well?
Additional categories you think should be included?
Let us know in the comments.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr’s JD Hancock, under a creative commons license.