Previously I wrote about how LARPing, Renaissance Faires, and SCA are related hobbies that often share the same attendees. Building Haunted Houses is another hobby that overlaps. LARPers often like building, acting in, or going to a Haunt. Each activity attracts people who have a love for costumes or cosplay and participating in a fantasy world. In addition to LARPing, I have been building semi-professional haunted haunts for over 10 years, first just in my office at work, but now on such a grand scale that we have to rent space to store our haunt props. In this blog, I will share how I used my LARPing experience to start building haunts and just how similar they are.
The Path from LARP to HAUNT
My first experience with LARPing was with the initial chapter of NERO, now known as NERO Ravenholt. My wife and I were in our mid-twenties with two young children. We had a little experience playing D&D with my brother and a few friends and coworkers. My first staffing experience was with a game called Wildlands, run by Rob Ciccolini. My wife and I both staffed the game doing logistics, but we also created costumes, props, and modules which gave us our first experiences in what it takes to create a great haunt. A haunt has a short storyline plot, at least mine do, similar to a module, tons of cool props, and allow you to dress up in costume. The customers are like our PCs (Paying Customers), the actors are semi-scripted, like NPCs, and Staff create and manage the storyline, props and logistics.
Over the years I have convinced many friends, family, and fellow LARPers to participate in one of my Haunts. I love to create storylines filled with misdirection and gotcha moments. I tend to lean away from creepy, blood and gore, clown scares, etc. and focus more on fantasy creatures like undead or giant spiders, and I love to do something different every year.
There are so many home haunters these days. Over the past few years Home Depot, Lowes, Spirit Halloween, etc.., have made it easy to decorate in a BIG way for Halloween. There are great new props available every year. We bought a few key animatronics and lots of half price, after the Holiday costumes in our early days, but we made many of our props and special effects. I know my time on LARP Plot and needing to get an effect on a budget gave me some wins in our early Haunt days.
Much like running a LARP, there is a lot of planning that needs to be done when building a haunt. It's a year-long activity and I like to joke that we start planning the following year’s haunt on October 32nd. Pre-Covid, we created haunts under the brand WITCHH (We Invent Terrifying Charity Haunted Houses) but for the past 2 years, we have partnered with a NH based charity called S.C.A.R.E (Secondhand Costume Annual Redistribution Effort). SCARE collects costumes and redistributes them free to those in need and offers a no-cost Haunted House experience to ensure that no child misses out on the magic and mayhem of Halloween. Our theme this year is a castle under siege where the main villain is an evil necromancer. The event is called Siege on Spookville.
COMMUNITY begets COMMUNITY
One of the best outcomes from my time building haunts has been the time spent with family, friends and fellow enthusiasts. We have always supported a charitable cause with our haunts and I love giving back to the community but I also get community and camaraderie in return.
My fellow LARPers have helped with construction, prop building, sourcing costumes, and acting in the haunt. Last year after a bad storm pulled down some of our haunt, just days before opening night, I sent out a plea on social media for anyone willing and able to lend a hand to help us get ready, and within an hour they started to show up. We treated it like one big LARP module setup and within a few hours we were back on schedule.
More Costume Roleplay
Regardless of the role type, speaking or non-speaking, costumes play a huge part of a haunt.
Most haunts have multiple live actors in addition to the animatronics and props, scene setters, etc. That sets the atmosphere. LARPers will often spend a lot of time on costuming their characters, it usually falls to the haunt to supply costumes for their actors.
Over the years I have been fortunate to collect over 100 costumes for my haunts. I often buy more than one of the same costumes so that I have different sizes and so that different actors playing the same role do not have to share. Some of my favorites include a dragon, giant spider, a female ghost and skeletal zombie. In a few more years maybe I’ll have enough to set up a rental business in addition to my LARPing, haunted house, and LARP Portal duties. I think my wife just rolled over in her grave at the thought of it...and she isn’t even dead yet.
Just like Ren Faires and LARPs, costume and roleplay are what LARP and Haunts have the most in common. It's another opportunity to escape real-world stresses and gain community.
This blog shared three important ways that LARPing overlaps with Haunted Houses. You learned that the most important draw for most is the sense of community and how attendees love an occasion to roleplay in costume and escape from real-world stresses. It’s October and the perfect time to visit a home haunt and maybe experience it from the inside. Check out if your local home haunter needs an extra pair of hands or put on a costume and make someone scream! It's cathartic.
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