Running a game

Should you be brave enough to want to organise a game for The Dark Door, we have provided below a few pointers to set you on your way. The information provided here is not exhaustive and these sections should be seen as a general outline of the key points you should take into account. Please note that events take a lot of commitment and planning, and organisers will find that they need to expend a lot of their free time and own cash in their preparations. The main thing to keep in mind is that staging an event can be very expensive and can start at around £1,200 and go up to as much as £1,500 or even more for a weekend event. Even a one day event can, on average, still be as much as 2/3 of the cost of running a weekend game. You may be lucky enough to be able to get your hands on props and costumes cheaply, but the venues will nearly always put you back many hundred pounds for a small youth hostel type venue, to over a thousand pounds for a large country house or for the more “unique” venues. It has to be pointed out that while for the most part the policy of The Dark Door is to assist where possible with initial deposits for securing venues and perhaps paying the balance where this is due before the event takes places, but that outside of this events are initially organised at your own expense, to be reimbursed once the bookings are received and game fees collected. This is necessary as plan events up to a year in advance and with three games a year The Door would not have the funds to reimburse all expenses in advance.

You should also remember that your game is not guaranteed to be a success. However, should problems arise with the game - unforeseen events causing it to be cancelled or a lack of bookings and it is not possible to re-schedule at a later date - The Dark Door will try its best to reimburse you for any losses. However, funds are limited as many games just about break even without leaving anything over for the kitty, so it may take a while to pay you back. Players will also have certain expectations about Dark Door event in terms of storyline, props and costumes, and venues used, etc. It is important to us that anyone running an event appreciates and can meet these expectations. With all this in mind, clearly committing to running and event is not something that should be undertaken lightly. That said, we certainly don’t wish to cast a cloud over your enthusiasm or put you off, so let us assure you that organising and running a game, observing the antics of the players as they try to fathom your clues, seeing them scream in fright from the assorted monsters (well, not scream exactly) is good fun and worth the pain and effort!

Who can run a game?

You may only run an event if you are a current member of The Dark Door LARP Society. That requirement aside the simple answer to this question is anyone who is prepared to commit themselves to the time, effort and money involved. Ideally, as well as being a member, you should also have played at least a couple of Dark Door games so that you can then understand what style of game the players will expect and how The Dark Door runs its events. If you have not run any LARP event before you would be very much advised to volunteer to crew on someone else's game first in order to get an idea of what it involves and how best to run things. We can also arrange for a “mentor” drawn from our many experience game organisers who will provide help and support for your first event. If you feel you meet the above requirement then you should approach The Dark Door’s Secretary to request the committee’s permission to run your event. The Secretary will advise you if you may proceed and then discuss the arrangements with you and “ slot” you into the events calendar. Most event slots are allocated at least 12 months in advance, and at times you can expect an to join an 18 month plus waiting list.

Health & Safety

As the organiser of the event it is your ultimate responsibility to ensure that the game is run safely for all involved and that any risk of injury or damage to property is minimised. You must ensure nothing in the game represents a threat to the players, crew or the public at large. Safety should always be foremost in your mind when planning encounters, building props and selecting venues. Obvious hazards should be removed, made safe or pointed out to players and crew. However, all those present do of course have a duty of care to each other and players and crew should be reminded of the need for safety and this should form an important part of your pre-game “briefing”.

As well as the safety of the games participants, as the occupier of the site your responsibility also extends to all others who may pass through the area of play - perhaps walking their dog or to ask directions - and you should be alert to anything that might prove to be a hazard to the unwary “visitor”. Please give particularly consideration to the use of blank firing weapons as they can cause powder burns and permanent damage to hearing if used irresponsibly. All hand-to-hand weapons should be "LARP safe" foam/ latex weapons, but remember; they are only safe if used safely.

The Budget

The importance of carefully setting a budget for your game and keeping a track of your outlay throughout the planning stage cannot be emphasised enough. The financial side of your game is as much your responsibility as all the other aspects. Mistakes are costly and if they are down to your own lack of care The Dark Door will not bail you out. Whilst the writing of your story and the making props and costumes may be a lot more appealing to you than spending time calculating your budget, it is important that you treat this part of your event planning with a much care and diligence as all the more “fun” aspects.

The Dark Door does not allow games to be run for personal profit and so the agreement is that where any games do bring in a cash surplus, due to a higher player turn-out or lower running costs than expected for example, then these additional funds belong to The Dark Door. Any such additional funds are then used to purchase props or equipment for The Door, or to replace broken, worn out or lost equipment. On this note if you do have any ideas for equipment or items that you believe The Dark Door should purchase, by all means let us know and we will look into it. When setting your budget you should plan well ahead and research what things will cost, bearing in mind that the little bits and bobs purchased here and there for just a few pounds each can all add up very quickly and collectively dig a big hole in your budget.

Additionally, you also need to ensure that your game is affordable. Game costs are continuingly increasing generally, driven to a great extent by the rising cost of hiring venues, but equally players will have limits as to what they are prepared to pay to attend, and so when planning the your game you should also ensure it will be affordable.

Key expenses to plan for should include:

Venues

- As mentioned in the Introduction venues can exceed £1,000.00, but this is at least the one expense that is very easily calculated in advance as the venue owner will have advised you how much they will charge for the hire. Given the large sums of money involved The Dark Door is usually able to assist with advance payments for venues. That one aspect aside, it is more usual for you to recover your game outlay once the event has been run and all game fees collected.

Props and costumes

- It is not possible to give any firm guidance to as to what you can expect to pay out for props and costumes as such things are of course specific to the requirements of each event. Whether you are buying times readymade or the components to build them yourself, the key here is to do your research and look into what the items are likely to cost. In addition to looking into the cost of those specific items we would recommend that you allow around £50 to £100 for “miscellaneous” expenses.

Food

- As a rough guide you should allow approximately £15 per player for food for a full weekend game. Don’t forget that you will also need to feed yourself and the game crew.

PayPal Fees

- All game places are now booked on-line using PayPal. PayPal charges a fee for each payment made, currently 3.4% of the sum paid, and so The Door does not benefit 100% from the fees collected though PayPal and this needs to be accounted for when budgeting.

Emergency Reserve

- It is advisable to have an emergency reserve of around £100 set aside for any unexpected costs that may arise. These can come about for various reasons, be that from simply miscalculating your budget, a “rogue” crew member spending more than they were authorised to, or due to arriving at the venue the weekend of your event and finding that unexpected circumstances require you to rush out and purchase items that you did not budget for. The important thing with your emergency reserve is that it is just that, an emergency reserve, and you should not be tempted to spend it no matter how confident you become that you can spare the money as the need for the reserve may not be evident until after the game has taken place.

Once you have carefully researched and planned your budget, you then need to decide upon a realistic number of players that you can expect to attend. There are no official limits on how many players you can have at your event, but The Door generally tends towards smaller players groups of around 15. We tend to feel that any more than that can have a negative impact of game play. In addition although we have a history of booking out events, and doing so quickly, the more players you require for your event the more difficult it will be to fill all the available places; please be realistic in your expectations in this regard. You can then divide your total budget by the number of expected players to calculate your game fee. In practice we recommend that you think in terms of minimum and maximum players numbers for this (e.g. 12 players minimum and 15 players maximum), and then calculate the game fee based on the minimum number.

To assist you the Treasurer will usually ask to see a breakdown of your budget and can even provide you with a form on which you can clearly record the expenses incurred. It is not the treasurer’s role to ensure that your budget is correct, that is your responsibility, besides the treasurer will not know you game and so will not be in a position to know what you will need to spend money on. Instead the treasurer’s role here is to provide some guidance to help you to avoid common pitfalls and problems. You should then submit final details of your expenses post game, along with receipts, for reimbursement.

The Venue

This is the first practical part to get sorted. Some may say the story should come first, but it's difficult enough finding venues you can use without having any preconceived ideas that the site must conform to, so it may be best to let the site inspire you. The type of venue you use is of course down to what your events requirements are, but you should ensure that any venue you pick is suitable for a Dark Door event and that it will meet player expectations. In particular venues should be isolated to help with the atmosphere and setting, and also so as not to disturb or alarm nearby neighbours or members of the public. Equally, exclusive access is important since nothing ruins a games atmosphere more than sharing the site with a group of regular holiday makers or another LARP group.

It should also be adequately habitable and comfortable, particularly if the event is being run during the winter and/or will be a weekend event, and should have adequate washing, toilet, cooking and sleeping facilities. Securing suitable venues can be difficult and this has in the past led to organisers cancelling or postponing planned events. As a result when seeking permission to run an event it is a requirement that you must already have a venue in mind and have confirmed with the owner that you may use it and that it is available to you on the dates required. If you need to secure this with a deposit The Door can help out in this regard, subject to available funds.

Venues are a very expensive part of any event and tend to account for around two thirds of the running cost. The cheaper available sites tend to be Youth Hostels or similar, and these may well suit your needs. Some venues may also charge you a fee for each person attending your event, which will mean that the more players and crew that attend the more it will cost.

On a final note, you should treat any venue hired with the utmost respect and consideration. This includes ensuring that the owner is fully aware of what you intend to use their property for and that they are happy with this. You should also respect any restrictions or rules that the owner applies to its use, and ensure that the crew and players are also aware. If any such restrictions will mean that you cannot run the event you as you had planned and would impact negatively on its success, then the venue is not for you and you should seek an alternative.

The Story

The Cthulhu Mythos is a series of allusions drawn from the works of many authors spanning three quarters of a century and as such there should be no shortage of inspiration for your event. Since its earliest days Mythos writers have borrowed from each other and adapted ideas for their own purposes, creating a suitably ambiguous mythology and so allowing you the freedom to use and interpret the various themes, gods, characters and places however you wish. Those who would argue about what an Elder Sign looks like and how it should work, for example, have got it all wrong - the answer to this is entirely up to you and what best fits your purpose. There is no right or wrong way to plan out your story and different people will have their own methods that work for them. Please do note, though, that players can be very unpredictable and the only certainty is that they will not do what you expect, so you should be prepared to adapt your story line throughout the game play.

It is also worth mentioning at this stage that we do not mix genres. While we may have developed our own take on the Cthulhu Mythos over the past two decades, our games are still firmly rooted in the Lovecraft horror tradition. If you were to introduce a squad of Space Marines into the story or use your Elf character from that fantasy LARP event you played the other month, be warned; you will be set upon by veteran Doorer's who will glare and tut disapprovingly!

Crew, Non-Player Characters (NPC's) and Monsters

You will need to gather together a reliable crew to help run your event. Be sure to fully brief them before the game so that everyone knows what they are doing, as this will help the event run smoothly on the day and mean less work for you. Plus, there is nothing worse for players than an absent referee who spends most of the game filling in the crew on what they need to be doing, rather than being around for the players. As part of this we recommend that you involve as many crew members as you can in regular pre-game meetings in order to keep them fully informed and also to canvas views and opinions; a good crew can be a helpful source of feedback and suggestions when planning an event. If you are not all local to each other, or meeting up in person is otherwise difficult, holding regular conference calls using Skype is a great solution.

Props and Costumes

These are a very important part of a game, and although a fantastic creature's outfit or elaborate prop should not be seen as a substitute for a decent story, they do help greatly. How much work or expense you want to put into this is down to you, but be warned you could spend weeks putting together an impressive prop only to have the players fail to follow the clues properly and never use it. On the other hand, there has been something of an “arms race” in recent years where props and monster costumes are concerned, with new standards continuingly being set!

The Dark Door does have a collection of props, masks, costumes, and make-up that has been gathered together over the years, so if you have something in mind you may wish to check with us first before you go out and buy it. Please remember that any items purchased for your event for which you are then financially reimbursed will become the property of The Dark Door. If you wish to retain an item for your own use after the event has been run you would be unable to seek reimbursement for it from The Dark Door.

Food

Unless you want your players (and crew) passing out you should provide some sort of nourishment. Remember that all Dark Door events are fully catered. On a one day game you will need to provide an evening meal and also breakfast for the next morning, while for a weekend game you will be looking at providing 4 or 5 meals, including breakfast on the morning after the game. In addition you will need to keep the players and crew topped up with tea and coffee. Plus no Dark Door event is complete without plenty of cake! For the main meals you will find that most are happy with something quick and filling so not necessary to get too carried away with an elaborate menu, but this is entirely up to you, and the standard of kitchen facilitates at the venue, and players will always appreciate that extra effort. Please be sure to check on any dietary requirements for your players or crew. If you have a large number of vegetarians attending you may find that it is best to do a vegetarian meal for everyone rather than cooking two types of meals.

Food budgets will vary depending on how basic or elaborate the meals will be and whether it is a weekend or one day event, but as a guide you should allow around £15 per player for a weekend, and don’t forget to factor in your crew.

Promoting your game

Your game has been written, props and costumes have been scrounged, made or brought, the venue is booked, you have planned the meals, gathered together and fully briefed your crew, and now you're itching to go. You now need to promote your game and as with all other matters this is essentially your responsibility. You will need to produce a "flyer" detailing the cost, date, and place of your game, along with contact details for any queries. It is important to include a booking deadline and a non-refundable deposit (usually between 25% and 40% of the game fee).

The booking deadline should preferably be set before the date that the final balance for the venue is due to be paid since this will represent the bigger part of your budget, and so will help reduce losses if you have to cancel through a lack of bookings. Early Dark Door events had neither a booking deadline nor non-refundable deposits and organisers would often find themselves let down at the last minute by people who had assured them they would be coming. By then large sums of money had been paid out, which the game fees that did materialise could not cover. The booking deadline allows you to get an early and accurate idea of the numbers who will attend allowing you to adjust your budget accordingly, or if necessary cancel where this would be the cheaper option. The non-refundable deposit is to dissuade time wasters. It is important that you do not accept any bookings or reserve any places on your event until the players in question has paid their deposit.

Space will be made available on our web site for your flyer. We will also email all interested parties on our mailing list. We also recommend setting an “event” on The Dark Door Facebook group page. Links to the game details on our website can also be set up on various external LARP forums. We will also allocate you an email address in order for potential players to contact you direct with any queries, and also set up a section on our forum for information and queries about your game. However, the main responsibility for securing enough bookings will be with you.

You should liaise with the Website Administrator regarding the arrangements for setting up your on-line flyer and with setting the booking dates and deadlines. We now only take bookings on-line through our website and we will need to agree a date for bookings to open with you in advance. This will usually be a Sunday evening as we need to monitor the booking process, especially during the first couple of hours, and you should ensure that you are personally available to deal with any issues that may arise. We will also set up a facility that will email you details of any bookings received including the player and character details, and confirm payment of their deposit.

The initial booking period can be quite frantic and tense with many events, but by no means all, booking out the evening bookings open, with the record being 20 minutes after bookings open!