Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics. Today’s question: How do you create a character that is fun to play in a larp?
Know thyself and thy game say Mike Young and Michael Pucci. Mike Young:
What I try to do is figure out what I want out of the larp. Do I want adventure? romance? sitting around roleplaying? And then I try to create a character that focuses on that area. I work with the GMs and the other players to make sure that the character works well with the larp.
A lot of what makes a character fun for a player concerns what it is that the individual player is looking to get out of their gaming experience. Some people enjoy characters focused on action and adventure; some people enjoy social manipulation and politics. Making a character that will allow a player the opportunity to have dynamic social ties, become involved in the aspects of gaming you enjoy, while still offering the opportunity to grow with the character almost takes a degree of self analysis to understand what it is that you want to take from a gaming experience.
The second step is to ensure that this basic want that you have for your gaming experience fits in the game you are going to. If you want a high adventure experience then a politics heavy socially driven larp may not be your best choice. Similarly, if you are looking for a complex social and political dynamic then a game that focuses more on ‘monster of the month’ than social dynamics probably is not the game for you.
Lastly, while networking with other players is a great way to have fun at a game, many gamers fall into a common trap. Oftentimes newer players will completely base their characters history and drive for coming to a game on the background and interactions of another already established player. While an established character can do great things for introducing you to a game, if the character you design is dependent on someone else, then you can quickly find yourself without purpose, drive, or reason to exist if the established character is missing or preoccupied.
Larp is a social venture, so for the love of Cthulhu, don’t roll up an introverted character, say three of my experts. Geoffrey Schaller:
Ultimately, you are at the game to have fun as yourself, as the player. Larping is also a social activity – if you want to have fun being alone, you shouldn’t be playing a larp! Make a character that interacts with other people, either friends you already have, or new ones you’d like to make. Part of the joy of the game is meeting, and working with, new people – both IG and OOG [tr. in-game and out-of-game] – and exploring those relationships.
Make someone you can sustain. Seriously. Not everything is playable. For a first-time larper, don’t make the mistake of rolling someone who is quiet and or shy unless you plan on breaking that barrier in some way. Pick something that will get your character moving so you aren’t stuck at the inn wondering why no one is talking to you. Take a personality quirk and blow it out of proportion. You have to take responsibility for your own enjoyment. If the concept makes you giggle, you may have hit character gold. Run it by some of your friends and see if it’s something that could be fun to play with.
Don’t create an introvert. Not unless you want to have zero interaction at game. Unless other players are somehow forced in some way to interact with you, your character’s aloofness in game will work against people being able to interact with you.
If you have the opportunity, plan ahead and create a character that is attached to either the theme or the in-game environment of the larp. Think and plan the character’s dynamics within the environment. Making the character interesting with unique history or personality traits that you hand craft make that character enjoyable to play. This won’t work with all larps, but would work for many including those with an ongoing campaign setting.
Come in with a group! Create a group dynamic that allows you to trust and support the group you come in with. Not to dominate, but to support each other. A sense of knowing someone has your back allows you to feel more natural and at ease in a game environment, and the group dynamics you create prior to (the group is a seasoned group of mercenaries that have several years campaigning together, etc.) and during the event help with the enjoyment you will get roleplaying.
Create a round character — someone with social relationships and psychological complexity — and stand out from the crowd by creating conflict, say Sarah Lynne Bowman and Anna Westerling. Westerling:
Think of three things. First what would you like to play, what does your instinct tell you would be fun? If you have a clear vision of or a feeling for a character that you want to fulfill it usually works out great.
Second, in what social context/story will your character function? If everybody else plays shy, it might be a good thing to play an outspoken character. Make a contrast and create action. Another example is if everybody is pro-revolution, it will be more fun for all if you are anti-revolutionary and create a conflict to act upon.
Thirdly, make sure your character has meaningful relationships, family, people they care about etc. Because it isn’t fun to be alone, and when the larps evolves you can react to what happens to your loved ones.
For me, the most important component for my larp characters is psychological depth. I need some form of backstory in which I establish my character’s motivations and previous relationships in order to get into the headspace of that individual. I also must establish his or her position in the socio-cultural strata of the world. When/where was the character born and raised? Does the character hold a high or low place in society? What are the character’s formative experiences? What does the character wish to accomplish? Sometimes, these goals may remain vague, such as, “my character wants to have a stimulating conversation.” Other times, the goals may be more explicit, such as, “my character wants to avoid her former lover at all costs to save face.” Generally, though, my character motivations and goals evolve through interaction within the game world. If an intriguing puzzle is presented, for example, I may feel compelled to attempt to solve it; alternately, my character may remain completely disinterested if psychologically motivated in another direction. Establishing a basic psychological framework, in way or another, is key for me to feel immersed.
Even though it’s a larp, be yourself says Jeramy Merritt:
Don’t start building a character by giving yourself traits that you don’t have in real life. Larp is acting, and while you can fake it for a while, and perhaps some extraordinary people are good at faking it and remaining genuine, for most of us, something that doesn’t feel like ourselves will end up being fun to play for about two hours before we want to retire the character. Creating a good character is all about building on aspects of yourself, exaggeration rather than fabrication.
Or, don’t be yourself, says Aaron Vanek:
What is fun to me is always challenging myself to play someone new or different than what I’ve played before. I love to fluctuate between Goebbels and Ghandi, or Caligula and Jesus the Christ. I also enjoy playing historical figures, or modeling my character after them, because I enjoy the research.
It’s sometimes easier and more liberating (fun, I guess) for me to get into the head of someone else and ask “What would they do here?” as opposed to playing myself–even an idealized version of myself–and doing what I would do.
And finally, J. Tuomas Harviainen tells us, combine the big three vectors of character — motivations, traits, and social bonds:
Given that I nowadays write mostly mini-larps that can be run by anyone, I strive to create an optimal balance between memorability and information. Effectively, I try and write characters that are as short as possible (so that the player can remember it all) yet contains as much playable material as possible. By combining strong character motivations, some easy-yet-fun-to-play personality traits, and good connections between the characters, I believe I can facilitate interesting character play. Note the emphasis on “interesting” – I do not believe that all larps should be fun, but I believe that all should be interesting to play.
Kate Beaman-Martinez has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.
Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.
J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.
Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.
Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.
Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media. He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.
Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member. He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.
Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.
Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years. His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.