Monstering: changes in the air

It has been a really long time now since I attended a fantasy LARP. Well over a year, and unfortunately my work and personal commitments this year make the outlook bleak. I missed much of last year due to personal and wedding plans,  and subsequently I’m a bit out of the loop on what is going on in our ‘finely woven webs of magic and belief’! I hope to attend 2-3 events later in the summer though, so hopefully we will have fabulous LARPing weather!

So this rather explains why the blog has remained in stasis for so long, but there are new entries to come! In this entry in particular, I have recently noticed that this year seems to be shaping up to be the year of controversy over monstering. So, for the non-LARPers out there, monstering is basically being the helpers, crew or bad guys in any given event (see my previous post). Monsters traditionally participate in events for free, and recieve small benefits in return: this is where controversy is emerging, as some events are beginning to request small fees from monsters to secure a place, or promising bigger rewards. There are always concerns for organizers about monsters, for several reasons;

1) monsters are a cost

Most sites have a per-person charge, or a scale of charges based on occupancy, so the price of tickets for players will always be directly or indirectly affected by the size of the monster crew. Even for the rare event which is being held on an open site, public liability insurance charges also scale on a per-person basis (usually at 50 participants, 100 participants, >150 participants basis though this varies). Keeping costs for players low therefore will always rely on having an effective and appropriately sized monster crew.

2) monsters are needed

A good quality event relies on good monsters who are experienced, informed and enthusiastic. Including organizers in the category of ‘crew’ here, it is simply impossible to have an event without them. It is also true, however, that player expectations in fantasy LARP are seen to demand fewer low-activity events where little effect can be made on the world, and more open-world events where players have free choice to engage in different aspects of the plot or storyline. These type of games require more props, bigger sites, and more monsters.

3) are monsters motivated?

Following the above very significant points, most participants (whether players or monsters) know that enthusiasm and contribution to the event can weigh much more than money. An eager monster who finds some great costume in a drawer and brings it along, a group of friends who come along as a group and can work well together to portray a military unit or even someone who gets enthusiastically stuck in to whatever job needs doing (even making the tea!) is an incredible contribution to the success of any event. Motivated monster crews are also important to increasing player numbers, because many people get their first introduction to LARP through monstering an event.  Yet this is a completely unpredictable element, which may rely fundamentally on any variety of possible causes, so may be nerve-racking for the organizers! There are little things that organizers try to do to improve motivation, including providing tea, coffee and sweeties, priority bunks, experience for your player character or other incentives, but these often include costs which need to be outweighed by the benefits. And there is always the danger that these incentives might drift into ‘payment’, resembling the feeling of work (see below).


So that explains why organizers might have to deal with conflicting ideas about what monsters should be expected to give or pay, and how much/whether they should be rewarded. Yet there also seems to be a problem for monsters around obligation and enjoyment which overlaps between the hobby and other commitments.

4) How much does it cost?

People volunteering to monster an event may well participate for ‘free’ but may have to pay associated costs of transport, catering, accommodation and equipment. These are the same costs that might be a part of playing the game, but with no guaranteed level or type of enjoyable participation in the game, and less leeway to ‘make your own fun’ these costs may seem more significant.

5) Am I having fun? (is this like work)

As a player, it’s easy to choose your own preferred style of play. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed playing very minor monsters; the squishy one-hit-goblin type who is destined to lose (as monsters are, unlike some amazing one-hit super-goblin players with magic swords I could mention). However if you prefer a competitive playing style, taking on roles where you have no chance of winning is not going to be particularly enjoyable. In addition, many of the other tasks that might be necessary as a crew member can be draining and mundane; too much like hard work rather than fun. Even an unlimited supply of sugar and caffeine can sometimes be a poor substitute for enjoyment.

6) Do I have to be here?

As paper bookings gave way to email and online forums have become wider through social media such as facebook, there is in some ways a stronger sense of a LARP community. But in some places this seems to put a serious (stated or implied) obligation on regular players to participate as monster crew or risk losing their hobby altogether. There is an equally strong tendency to report on events as they happen, emphasising what is sometimes termed FOMO (fear of missing out). Also, a wider reach of advertising about events puts more pressure on players and monsters to attend more events, and increases demand for experienced monster crew (including referees and organizers). This presents monstering as a more serious obligation, as a necessary way to maintain the community, adding a level of pressure which may simply override a decision to participate on other grounds.

These pressures on monsters and event organisers are hardly new. In addition, there have been a number of events in the past which have been so popular to monsters and players alike that these grievances have been shown to be insubstantial. But in the circumstances of rising site costs, rising transport costs, dropping player numbers and more significant ‘real-life’ demands, these problems seem to be getting squeezed from both sides.  Of course, this is only a rough summary of debates I have seen elsewhere and I am only adding a little information drawn from wider debates around conditions of economic life in the UK to spice up the discussion.

What has your experience been? As a monster or organizer what is your best experience of an event? Or the worst?

Comments especially welcome to this post!




8 thoughts on “Monstering: changes in the air

  1. One aspect of the fee/free monstering that I don’t think is touched on here is possibly why a “refunded deposit” model has emerged in some places, which is moving the perception beyond “casual commitment” – a sort of tragedy of the commons risk of event failure. As a monster (without a dedicated cameo/guest starring/named monster role) you can perceive yourself as being one of a cast of extras and therefore your prioritisation of commitments can change in the time leading up to events. “What does it matter if ‘3rd Celtic Warrior on the Right’ or ‘Unammed Villager with Plague’ doesn’t turn up? There will be 45 others to take my place”. If 45 pre- booked monsters take that approach on the day then you are left without an army or a village or in fact an event. So event organisers are starting to place a nominal deposit on monsters to stop the mindset of “well, I don’t lose anything by not turning up” and being able to plan logistics around assumptions made on booking figures that actually represent on the day figures.

    • Wow. Sometimes telling a few horror stories can work wonders to improve motivation, though. Not in a mean glaring kind of way but getting a veteran player / monsterer to talk about that one time almost no one showed up can do wonders to motivate folks. As can ensuring every plague victim gets a name…. Still, something to worry about.

  2. Another couple of things that are evolving the approach to monstering are the small scale infrequent LARPS. One in particular system is well received but only runs about once a year and is an episodic campaign. The perception on missing out on a chance to play is actually a massive drive away from monstering. There are events in the part where I thoroughly enjoyed monstering but lament missing out on the experience of playing

  3. And finally, the ‘social contract’ is changing. In the past in one franchise of a large fest system there was a division between two nations occupying one player group. This cultural divide (whilst problematic) built in a mindset that during the 2 events a year, you’d monster the one that took place in your neighbours nation and play your own. This started to disintegrate when the organisers geared a sequence of consecutive events to one group and the balance if investment to return was skewed to a particular half of the player base.

    This was subsequently exacerbated by inflation of cost which you touched upon above. As we move further and further away from the mindset of clubs and amateurs that was my experience in university where ‘we all pitch in together’ and the low cost incurred, to a higher cost to participate in any form (and on the plus side, a higher quality of event) there is simply that balance of an expensive volunteering experience in a game that is now less a ‘hobby’ and more a ‘professional experience’ or business. Now, the actual money is pretty much all consumed by the expenses of the event and no-one turns a profit, but for a weekend away you could as a monster have the monetary, time, discomfort outlay of an event or you could save all of those expenses. How do you foster that altruism of monstering is a good question.

  4. Ah, monstering. My experiences of fest LARP (which seems to be the general area you’re talking about?) are fairly limited, but I have monstered a couple of a small-scale events, as well as crewed for some horror LARPs and, of course, regularly monster for our local weekly systems.

    Going all the way to a fest generally is a pretty Big Deal financially – at least it always has been for me. Perhaps the Gods of Coin may one day see fit that my bounty is many and £50 petrol contribution doesn’t hurt me so, but between that and food, I’ve found it pretty expensive. I won’t lie, monstering for those events being free is basically the only reason I could do it.

    On the other hand, I’ve never really felt the need for a huge amount of incentive contribution in return. Monstering, for me, is fun. It’s fun to see people and hang out and chat in between roles; it’s nice to get to do a variety of stuff that you wouldn’t usually. I remember very fondly playing a screaming dying tree-spirit and literally screaming in pain for 5-10 minutes straight. It was amazing. Sneaking through the dark and approaching the camp to scare the crap out of them (and die in a couple of hits) over and over was also incredibly good fun, and that’s the sort of thing that really makes an event for me.

    It’s nice to be taken care of, it’s nice to be appreciated – even just in thanks from event organisation and the players at the end. Yes, it’s fun, but it does help when people remember that you’ve invested time and money in order to facilitate their game and their enjoyment.

    Crewing for horror events I’ve also found a lot of fun, if only because scaring the living daylights out of the players gives me the happy. The first one I ever crewed for was pretty small, crew-wise (I think it was me and two others?), so there was less of the chatty atmosphere, but there were books to be read and notebooks to write in, and the location was nice. We weren’t needed hugely often, but when we were it was brilliant.

    For that event, I didn’t actually pay anything. One of the refs drove me up (lacking the ability to drive as a monster can make it harder) and I belieeeeeve I was fed (this was years ago, my memory sucks). Of course the horror events I’ve crewed for have been much more local and therefore things like petrol are less of an arse (although still need considering, especially when monsters are driving themselves and a bunch of other monsters up – it’s not fair for only one of them to take the hit).

    The local Saturday systems I participate in have a credit system. If you play, you lose a credit. If you monster, you gain a credit. If you ref something for your own system, you get two. You still get some people who will try and take advantage to play whenever they can, but most people try to be fair and play and monster fairly evenly. Occasionally you get credit bloat among a few people, but when LARPs are so regular and everyone knows everybody else, you generally get fewer people taking the piss (especially as it doesn’t cost money to play, either, other than the cost of joining the society once a year).

    The system I run, which is fortnightly and alternates between social events and combat events, works on self regulation and general fairness. We ask that players try to alternate between playing and monstering, except in circumstances where there’s something their character is hugely invested in. If we have an uneven split, we prioritise those who’ve monstered more. Again, you get people who monster much more (because their characters don’t want to go out into combat) and people who get a bit cheeky and play all the time.

    Generally my experience is that local systems have it much easier on this one, as people tend to know each other better and so get held accountable. Given the cost for bigger, fest-style events, as well as their rarity (missing one is a much bigger deal when there are fewer per year), it doesn’t work quite as well to just expect everyone to do their time monstering. You just have to hope you have a group of people who enjoy it, and put it out there as something that’s also fun and interesting rather than the annoying obligation that comes from playing.

    Just my thoughts! Like I say, I’ve only monstered two national events, and that was a While ago so I’m probably a bit out of date.

    • Good point on the rarity issue. I think that would affect my choice. Whereas I would be quite happy to NPC / monster at a campaign LARP (not that anyone has ever taken me up on the offer *pout*), I’d be less inclined for the once off Fest-LARP if we ever got one down here.

  5. Thanks both for some really insightful comments. Recent changes have definitely made a difference, though I think that there might be an additional factor as a consequence of cost – a drop in new recruits/attendees. These were often those people most keen to monster and get the hang of a game system before ‘investing’ in a character (as well as their costume and kit). And I think that there has been a bit of a gap.

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