R.E.A.L.M.S. - What Went Wrong
1. Entered with preconceived ideas
When we started REALMS, we began with the idea of just "fixing" the things we saw as problems in the larp we were all familiar with. Our failures with the first run of REALMS proves that this doesn't work. In my experiences since REALMS, I've seen that the problems with most larps come about because of decisions made by the people who came up with the system. Without having an eye into this process, it's almost impossible to just make a few tweaks to "fix" a system and make it into what you want. You'll just retread the same compromises and areas that the original game creators made.
When we tried again with a new team who aside from me had no experience with LARPs, we came up with much more creative ideas. Sure, a lot of them didn't work out, but most of the time we could tell what would and wouldn't work right off (and our players were very forgiving with our mistakes). The system ended up with some similarities to the original larp, but by rewriting it from the ground up we ended up with something that was very different in most of the mechanics.
2. No authority in the game design
REALMS was created by three people sitting around coming up with the system. It was agreed that all three were equal partners. While this ensured that everyone would get a good say with their ideas and have them considered, it crippled a few decisions we made. There was no one person who was a final authority on which rules would go in and which wouldn't. This meant that whenever we disagreed we had to come up with a compromise that often nobody was really satisfied with. After it was all said and done, everyone felt that there were a few decisions that would have been better if one or the other of the original solutions had been chosen -- the compromises just didn't always work very well.
3. Not enough focus on recruitment
First off, I believe that in the time it ran, REALMS went relatively well. Spread completely by word-of-mouth, we ended up with about 20 people on the rolls, and the last games had 15+ attendance after a year and a half. On the other hand, I feel that we could have had much more. We came up with ideas of showing up at conventions, posting flyers around gaming stores, and just doing more to get the word out. None of these ideas ever came to fruition (although we did give a bonus to players who recruited other players, which worked well).
This was my first experience running a larp (although I had run some plot actions and minor staff positions beforehand). I had a lot of fun and learned many things about it. It's not easy to start a larp. It takes commitment, resources, and a lot of time. It takes creativity and a willingness to experiment. It takes a good design and a lot of background work. Even then, there's no guarantee of success.
REALMS ran for two years, from 1998 to 2000. It had 22 players on the books by the end. By the time we were done, we had a 30 page well-written rulebook, 30 pages of magic spells, 20 pages of monster stats, and about 100+ pages of background documentation including in-game treatises and essays. A total of about $600 was put into props, staff transport, administrative costs (like printer paper), and other game-related items. Three weekend events and 10 or more single-day modules were held, along with numerous weapon practices, rules sessions, and similar REALMS activities.
REALMS ended when I moved out of the area. The other two staff members also became involved in other activities (we had all graduated from college or were about to do so), so the decision was made to end it. When we said this, our players asked for us to continue the game, which is about the best compliment we could have had from the game. Page 2