Advice for First-Time Roleplayers

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, from running a first game to organizing a convention. It’s not easy to try something new, but with the right advice, maybe it’ll be a little easier.

Today’s advice is for first-time roleplayers.

UPDATE: New advice from Anna Westerling and Emma Wieslander, posted 10/1/2011

Stay calm, says Anna Westerling:

Take it easy and enjoy. Meet new people, talk to them and explore. And don’t be worried that you are a bad roleplayer: because it is your first time, people will be understanding, and help you.


Emma Wieslander lays out the logistics:

Remember that it’s a story. In a table game this means: You animate the character by talking. If you’re silent nothing happens, but also that if the other players don’t get room to say animate their characters, you’ll only drag some zombies around and it won’t be fun for anyone. Say: ‘I  go there’, or ‘I take the object’ in a first person but don’t say ‘I say:’, act! Say what your character are saying to who he/she is saying it. If it’s unclear what NPC you are talking to say ‘I face so and so’ and then say what the character says.

If it’s a larp this means that you have to remember that you, as the leading actor, in your characters story have a responsibility to make that specific story happen. Also remember that the more you allow yourself to feel, the more the story will come to life. Remember to de-role and ask of your organizers how they are planning that so that you know where to go after the game.


Play where everybody knows your name, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Play among friends.  Playing amongst strangers is hard, because they don’t know the REAL you – they may think the persona you are playing is the real person, even if they know it’s just a game (First impressions and all).  Being able to play with other people you already know enables you to share the joy of role-playing that much more when you’re OOG [that’s out of game, for you luddites] and back in the real world, talking about it.


Explore your own personality, Jeramy Merritt recommends:

Find an aspect of your personality that you have always wanted to explore and invoke it.  The real world expects you to be someone, and most of the time you expect you to be that person too.  It is hard to change people’s expectations of you.  But at larp you can be whoever you want to be.  You can explore parts of yourself that you might otherwise be scared to show.  And it is cool, because you are in an environment that promotes oddity, where people are expected to play various roles.  The best larpers are always playing some aspect of themselves.


When in doubt, just introduce yourself, says Mike Young:

The most important skill in LARP is your ability to introduce yourself to a stranger.  If you can do that, you’re golden.  And if you aren’t having fun or are bored, talk to the event organizers out of character.  That’s why they are there.


It’s OK to be scared, according to Sarah Lynne Bowman, but try to take risks anyway:

Everyone is terrified their first time. Many experienced role-players feel fear even years into the hobby. Do not let fear stop you from participating. Take risks. Role-playing games provide safe, imaginary spaces where you can act outrageously or daringly with little-to-no social consequence. Enjoy the freedom!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Identify the staff of the game or experienced players and ask for help if you do not understand something. New players add a certain vibrancy to the game that seasoned players appreciate, so they will generally want to help you. On some level, though, you must be able to ask for help to receive it. You can also learn a lot by simply observing.

Try to contact the organizers in advance and discuss your character concept. If you have a strong sense of character and some understanding of the game world before arriving to the first session, you are more likely to feel involved. Think about what parts of yourself you’ve always wanted to express, but never had the opportunity. Be experimental!


Relax! Avonelle Wing reminds us that we’re all natural roleplayers:

There are out-of-practice roleplayers.  There are unwitting roleplayers. but I’ve never actually met a truly first time roleplayer.

Why is this? Because most children played roleplaying games  of some sort, even if the adults in their world didn’t say “oh, susie! johnny! what strong acting! what powerful plotlines! how gripping your themes!”  Seriously. Cops and Robbers? Combat without a resolution mechanic. House? Collaborative storytelling.  Fort? Campground larping
for the pre-school set.

Who didn’t play Lava Monster on the playground, or spin elaborate tales about the monster under the bed with his younger siblings? Every child who ever shoved Ken’s plastic self into the passenger seat of Barbie’s Corvette so she could drive them to the chapel to get married has roleplayed.

First time roleplayer my foot.


Aaron Vanek advises preparation:

Don’t be afraid. You’re not on stage, no one is going to boo you. You probably don’t have to remember lines. GMs and other players will almost always help you remember the rules. Do some prep work, as best you can. Ask yourself three questions about your character to think about–some of this is probably provided by the GMs:
1. Where did this character come from? (backstory)
2. How did they get to where they are now? (what is the character’s personality)
3. Where does this character want to be? (what is their motivation? Why do they do what they do?)
Any answer you can give will give you something to fall back on if you are at a loss on what to do or say.

Take breaks! Not just from any battles, but from role playing itself. It is very difficult for anyone to say in character for four hours straight, especially during the down times–and there will be down times.


It’s OK to leave a game, Amber Eagar reminds us:

If you’re not having fun within the bounds of the rules, it’s okay not to return to that game. While you may find a certain genre or style of game more to your liking, don’t ignore all the others because you may just find a surprise gem in there somewhere, or learn something about a style that may just interest you.


Michael Pucci says to try out different games to find the one you like:

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are new, and to ask for a hand getting into game.  Gaming is as much about getting together with your friends as it is actually playing the game… so if you walk in letting people know that you are new they will more than likely help you get involved and understand the world.  Understand that gaming is an entire world, and that you will need a little time to catch up with everything that is going on.  Don’t completely judge the hobby on your first experience, but like anything, try different games and different groups until you find one that feels like ‘home’.


Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

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.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi 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.

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.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

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.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

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.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

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