Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.
Since we’ve already looked at how to create a fun larp character, today, we look at the question: How can a player develop his or her character during a larp?
Get in touch with your character’s flaws, says Geoffrey Schaller:
In a campaign, the best approach to developing your character is to start the game with them being incomplete. If you’ve already determined everything about them, there’s no where left for them to go, no room to grow or change. Start your character young and flawed, and resist the urge to resolve those flaws too quickly, or you will find the character is no longer fun to play.
For a one-shot, it’s harder, as what you are handed to work with, and the constraints in which you do it, are much more limited. Look at the session as a whole, and determine the theme or point of the game, and let that be your guide.
In-game failure is a virtue, Michael Pucci thinks:
Character development relies heavily on being aware of the world around you, and allowing it to affect your character emotionally and mentally. Allow your character to grow friendships and enemies, to win, and most importantly, to fail. Some of the best stories come from a character failing and dealing with picking themselves back up off the ground. Don’t be afraid to show a full range of emotions while playing so that your character can develop his or her own emotions that exist outside of yours. It is easy to act like nothing bothers the ‘ultra heroic character’ however it takes true role playing skill to actually show weakness, character flaws, and negative personality quirks.
Jeramy Merritt says your character should want something:
Goals. Find something you want to do as your character, and work toward it. Whether you succeed or fail matters little, so long as you have something that keeps you going, it will inform much of how you play your character.
Consider the overall dramatic arc of your character, and take metagame steps to achieve it, Anna Westerling advises:
I usually strive after some kind of dramatic curve for my character. A beginning, some conflict and then a solution about how the character will move on. To achieve this, meet with the other players before the larp and plan what you are going to do and what conflicts will happen. Of course this sometimes doesn’t happen, because you get pulled into the larp, but you can also go off-game with a few fellow players to check up on each other. How are we doing, are we achieving our story, and can we help each other? This so no one is left behind, and ends up feeling that they didn’t get a good larp. Towards the end of the larp I also usually try to find an ending for my character, to figure out how s/he will move on after the larp is over.
Practice good improv (say “Yes and…”) says Mike Young:
Use the improv theater techniques of listening and building. That is, pay attention to what is going on in the world around you and then allow your character to grow by reacting to it.
Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, suggests Kate Beaman-Martinez:
Obviously what I play is greatly affected by setting. I generally poke around the rule book to see whats there and find a combo that fits. Over the years I’ve figured out where I land (generally a good person who likes to help others) and I try to push the envelope on my comfort zones.
Make sure you’ve done your prep, say Aaron Vanek and Sarah Bowman. Sarah Bowman:
Two things are crucial for me when preparing a character for a larp, either one-shots or Campaign-style: backstory and costuming. Once the character enters the game world, however, anything goes. The character changes and evolves as a result of interactions within the game, sometimes dramatically. Interactions with other players and with the game universe forces that sort of change, providing the stimulus for actions that may or may not have been built into the original character concept.
I do my best to make a three-dimensional character that has strengths and weaknesses, flaws and virtues. I try to always give my stereotypical good guy characters an unpleasant quality, and my stereotypical villains something admirable. The characters I want play, fun or not, should have three parts to them:
- a background history that explains where they came from, i.e., the events that occurred in their life (birth, family, friends, education, occupations, and traumatic or beneficial incidents)
- a personality that shaped and was shaped by that background and events. It’s one thing to say “My parents were killed by barbarians before my eyes” and another to say “I spent the rest of my life honing my combat skills to exact revenge” and another to say “I dedicated my life to the dark arts to bring back my parents and all the others the barbarians have slain to take their revenge on them” or “I used any means necessary to rise to the top of army command and now will lead my forces against the barbarians” or, “I retreated from the world and stole what i needed to survive. I trust no one and make no friends or allegiances for fear anyone I really care about will be taken away from me leaving me with that devastating pain I felt years ago.”
- finally, this character needs to have concrete goals that motivates them and gives a thru-line to hook the larping to.
My road trip analogy is:
- a character’s background is the make and model of the car
- the goals or motivation is where the car is going, the destination
- the personality is how you drive to that destination–fast, slow, nonstop, visiting detours, comfortably, stylishly, or belching poison behind you, hazardous to anyone behind you?
During the larp itself, developing my character isn’t my goal, acting and reacting as the character to what is presented is my goal. If that leads to character growth, great. If not–but I feel that I stayed true to the character–that’s fine.
J. Tuomas Harviainen and Rick McCoy remind us that many character developments happen naturally. J. Tuomas Harviainen:
The character is, without actual play, just empty words, and idea on paper. It starts naturally developing as soon as it’s brought into play (in a pre-game workshop, or the actual game), through interaction with other characters and the game world. So when I play, I add bits and pieces of what I encounter into the “facts” of that character. The only rule I follow, really, is that nothing I add should contradict what was originally given to me by the organizers as facts about that character.
Most characters will have a chance to evolve and develop during a campaign game. It’s natural. As the story progresses, your character’s experiences accrue. Even if you are just a writer that comes out every game, and don’t interact much with anyone, you would be noticing everything around you, and the evolution of the story from event to event will be the backdrop for how your character reacts to the game environment.
Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.
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.
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 bookNordic 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.
– Have at least 3 character goals. Of these, at least one should be something short-term that can be achieved / progressed within the event (e.g. gain a boon over another vampire), and one should be long-term / unobtainable / philisophical (e.g. retain humanity). These can include internalised goals.
– Pick 2 or 3 personality traits. (e.g. curiousity, faithful) This give you an easy handle on the character at first, and internal conflict arises when they conflict.
– Pick a core theme (e.g. society) to explore with the character, one that fits in with the general themes of the setting / event.
I love it — very practical.
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