You can read all the background and help on specifics, or you can skip to the question and answer it in general, if you feel you have good general advice.
As at least one of you knows, I am running a Mage: The Ascension Live-Action gamein the DC area (College Park, MD). I have about 20 players, many of whom were begging for a Mage LARP. There had been 2 Mage LARPs previously; one a year long epic campaign (with many table-top scenes and 3 STs) and the other a short serial that had 3 episodes (more of an adventure style game, where the PCs had to solve a problem, kill the bad guy, etc). I was heavily involved in the first, and it went well. All of these LARPs have been low-budget, troupe play affairs. We typically keep organized through diligence, e-mail, simple computer applications, and paper filing, not high budget stuff like bringing a mini office to game, building computer databases, or customized web tools.
This current iteration of Mage LARP, Book of Ashes, is the least epic of the three. The plot is simple: The PCs are in mostly pre-organized cabals and a few disparate tradition mages who have come to the DC area a mere three months after the destruction of the local chantry, the Ash Sepulcher. The Sepulcher was the second most powerful chantries in North America. It had called an all hands prior to its destruction, calling in favors and allies from all over the world. Every mage that came to its aid disappeared or died when the Technocracy raided it. The chantry also had a high Arcane rating, which served to help the Technocracy cover up nearly every trace of it. The PCs may follow any course of action they wish, including ignoring the past and starting over anew, looking for clues to the mystery of the Sepulcher, searching for lost artifacts and old contacts, or anything else they'd like. There are many plots, but there is no major linear plot.
The players involved in this game are drawn mostly from two groups. The smaller group are relatively new to LARP, mostly tabletop players, but love Mage so much they got into LARP through the previous two games. The larger proportion of the players are the College Park troupe, who mostly came into LARP through a local low-budget college Changeling MET LARP that ran from 1998 through to 2003-ish. I cut my teeth as a LARP GM with that game, and it passed through many other hands. It's a typical pattern, I understand, of college LARPs to be blase about organization, loosely plotted, and involve a lot of adventure elements to engage the players. Players often missed games, and attendance varied wildly over semesters, years, or even weeks. Between game participation also waxed and waned, mostly based on a few players who were highly motivated despite the lassez-faire ethos of the game.
When these players and the Mage players started LARPing together, the plots got more epic, and involvement and motivation increased as a result of the excitement of moving from more of a chronicle-style "we meet on alternating fridays because that's the ancient custom" sort of play to an epic campaign in the classic tabletop style. The success of Rain Delay, that first Mage LARP, is probably tied to so many different factors - transient and stable - that it's hard to explain. The second Mage LARP, Star of Dreams, was run by overall less experienced LARP STs from the Mage contingent whose experiences had been mostly in tabletop games until Rain Delay. It only had 3 episodes mostly because the STs had too many life commitments. Their player base was shrinking as well, possibly because the games were more like high-magic, high-weirdness tabletop games with more players, but there may have been other reasons.
Now, Book of Ashes is a far less epic plot, with less weirdness. Consequently, we're running with required rote cards, and dynamic magic only between games. Player characters are also slightly less powerful (we didn't let them get away with as much, plus the no dynamic magic thing). However, these things don't seem to be a problem. The players have mostly matured over the years, so that by now they accept the sacrifice of personal power for more fair play between them, more interesting plot, and a different scale of play. Whereas Rain Delay had spirit realms, gods, black ops missions, hermes portals, and HIT marks, Book of Ashes mostly just features a bunch of mages politicking over coffee in a power vacuum, investigating a recent mystery, and seeking mortal contacts. None of this seems to contribute to the lack of between-game involvement.
Between Star of Dreams and Book of Ashes was a game based on Hunter: The Reckoning (called Reckoning), but only loosely, using the Rules to Live By system. Player interest in this game dropped off quickly, partly due to game problems (the cancelled every other game, leaving the game running every 8 weeks, and unreliably) and partly due to lack of player between-game involvement. The GMs, having been running and playing "high concept", high budget, games such as these got fed up with how little the players seemed interested in the game, but they perservered until this past January, when we had a game with 4 players (with 3 GMs, it seemed sad). Reckoning was far more organized, high-concept and high budget than anything else these players had seen, unless they had been to cons or done one-shot games. One of the theories of the Reckoning GMs is that the local players weren't ready for it, even though they toned it down (so it only cost $5 a game, and didn't demand complex costuming, or weekend-long games for instance). Reckoning required a little more commitment, involvement, and dedication than the lassez-faire Changeling games a lot of the local players grew up on.
One of the reasons I decided to run Book of Ashes despite this, was that the local players who were so uninvolved with Reckoning were very into Mage, and the Star of Dreams game's head GM was having trouble running tabletop games for them all. Most of them were very excited when I decided to run Book of Ashes, even knowing it would be less epic than they had been used to. Another reason I decided to run BoA was that I wanted to help build the local LARP community back up, so that games like Reckoning could have a better shot. Book of Ashes is not really high concept - it's a basic "elysium style" game like most local Vampire LARPs. It's not connected to OWBN or anything. It's not high-budget at all. It's short duration (one evening a month), and held at a hip coffee house (for the moment), not a fancy site. Attendance is not required, players do not have to RSVP, and since it is free, they don't have to pay in advance (which tends to secure players better for more expensive games).
A major goal was to run exactly the LARP the local players could flourish in, in the setting they wanted, with a system I could handle with minimal ST help (thus the rote card requirement), and, when the community got stronger, it might be more accepting of (and involved in) high-concept games. This is especially relevant because of the 20 or so players, most are recent college graduates, seniors, or juniors - all 20-somethings. They're in that transition time where they will soon (if not already) have the money and time to engage in high-budget high-concept games. The primary goal, of course, is to run a damn fine Mage LARP.
There has only been one game, but we dropped some good plot on them, and they have the ability to get some power. We responded to all three e-mails we got since the first game, but there were only 3. The IC board just went up yesterday (everything is organic, with minimal NPCs, so the IC board is PC run). It's not the end of the world that the game got relatively little attention over the past month. It was exam time for many of the players, for instance. There are a few signs that this low level of involvement might continue, but it's by no means guaranteed. I'm not throwing in the towel yet, but I want advice on how best to get them to get involved, especially over the summer.
The question: How do I motivate these players to participate between games?