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.
Living forever gets old fast, so today we look at the question: How do you know when it is time to retire a character?
When your story arc has ended.
When I get bored of playing it. This might be after one night, or one year.
Know the signs that it’s time, says Kate Beaman-Martinez:
It’s difficult to know when it’s time to retire a character, but there are signs. One is that you don’t have any more stories to left to tell about her. I have played the same character for almost a decade now and I am finally closing the chapter on her as PC and turning into an NPC. Its taken a long time for me to realize that she was done and it was hard letting her float off into the sunset , but I knew that I had learned all that I could from her and it was time to move on.
Keep it fun, Geoffrey Schaller advises:
[Retire] when you’re no longer having fun playing them. If there’s nothing new to do, to explore, to challenge you – if the act of getting into character no longer holds joy for you – it’s time to move on. You and your character are in a relationship, and if it gets stale, it can end, like any other. That relationship needs to be maintained, like any OOG one.
Remember that it’s OK to retire, because larps are stories, not simulations of real life, Jeramy Merritt reminds us:
There are three reasons to retire a character. 1. The character isn’t fun to play. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you should be, and maybe it is just time for a change. 2. You’ve stopped having anything to work toward. If you’ve lost character momentum, you’ve likely lost the character. 3. You’ve finished your story. This is the odd one. Most players think of their character in much the same way they think of themselves. Let’s say the entire goal of your life has been to get married (trite I know, but stick with me). And let us say you accomplish this goal and immediately kill yourself because, well, you did what you set out to do, not really anywhere for you to go from here. Silly right?
That I think is the problem players have with retiring characters, they mistake the lives lead in game as simulations of real life. While in some ways this is true, the difference between a character and you, is that you can get married and just retire that character because you’ve completed your goals. Retirement doesn’t mean always mean death. In the best cases it just means that the story you wanted to tell with that character is over. Larping gives you the opportunity to tell a story, and a story isn’t the same thing as a life.
Michael Pucci says trusting your gut:
When you feel your character’s story is over, then it is time to either retire or shelve a character. There is no one definitive time to say a character should be retired… often time it is a gut feeling that you have. If you feel burnt out on a character you should try shelving the character, or working with the ST staff on introducing a new aspect to the characters role play. However if you feel you have ‘lost that loving feeling’ for a character, then perhaps it is time.
Sometimes, external factors like injuries play a role. Rick McCoy:
In a campaign based setting, death can come for your character before the story is done with. In the case that this doesn’t happen, most players want to stay the duration of the campaign. The story is not done, after all. But sometimes, there is a want, even a need for a change…You are the fighter, the tank, the go get em’ combat monkey. But you recently threw your hip out at the last game, and the amount of injuries you’ve sustained (hell, you’ve been this a while) is substantial. You are no longer cutting it. Time for a change – but the character is too proud to back down…maybe one last glorious charge at the next over-nighter, and start working with the Plot team for a new character concept that won’t push your physical limitations as much?
You are the the archeologist – working for a mercenary outfit hasn’t been so bad. In your trips across the dark areas of Africa, and the ancient rain forests of South America, you’ve been able to see much that your colleagues back home are furiously envious of. But in all the escapades you’ve been in, when the worse that can go wrong does – you’ve always been so amazed at the gunmen in the group. You even started to ask one of them to train you in using his handgun, and you are quite good at it. But your character concept is optimized for other skills, and so your real world skills offer little benefit. Now the inventor of the group – he could surely do your job?.. and the last game the party was almost wiped by large apes that came from no where…maybe you’ll talk to the storyteller of how you could retire and bring in a new sharpshooter…
Retiring a character doesn’t mean saying goodbye for every, Sarah Lynne Bowman says:
You’ve asked probably one of the most difficult questions for Campaign-style play! Sometimes, when I think a character has run his/her course, hit a rut, or is no longer interesting, the character evolves in a way that completely surprises me and gets a second wind. I find that my characters are reflections of fragments of my personality, so even if a character has been “retired” for several years, they may resurface in other games with new insight, direction, or growth.
Endings are less important for me than moments within the game over the course of the character’s tenure. Other players feel the need for their characters to have a clear and decisive end before they can move on, either as “in retirement” or through a “good death” — in other words, a meaningful and fulfilling ending to their life. Even when my characters “end,” they still remain part of me, as if they were stuck in a sort of suspended animation, so they tend to pop back up in different times and places. This phenomenon is especially common since I’ve been a Storyteller regularly; so many personalities — both PC and NPC — have evolved through my game play that they emerge at surprising points in time.
Make your death meaningful, suggests J. Tuomas Harviainen:
In Nordic larps, we rarely play to win, so if it’s a dramatically suitable moment and won’t rob me of too much playing time, the character can “retire” by dying in a manner that contributes to the game. I very rarely play in campaign games these days, so I don’t encounter the need to actually retire a character that often. In such cases I have asked myself “would it be logical for this person to stay in this place? and if the answer was a definite no, I have retired that character, while he or she has in-game left town.
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.
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.
These many of these comments (apart from the last one) show a strong narrativist leaning.
In a campaign context, it can also be worth considering taking a break; play a different character for an event or two, then decide if you want to go back to your old one. It may be you feel refreshed by doing so or it may be you discover some whole new aspect of the game (e.g. getting involved in meetings your previous character was excluded from due to social class).
Also remember that ‘lack of goals / direction’ can itself be regarded as an in-game problem. If you feel like your life is over and you have nothing more to do after marriage, then it sounds like character is having a mid-life crisis. You can play on that – lack of plot becomes a plot itself.
Another option is to speak to a player making a new character, and write a prior relationship with their character in. For example in Vampire, you bring in someone to play your childe, establish the relationship for a game or two, then still ‘retire’ the character to the shadows. This means you can still act as your character in downtime, as a mentor/adviser/demanded elder to the childe, handling down your plot threads, while playing a new character at the events.
Another option is to have something traumatic happen to your character in downtime that significantly changes them. It’s not entirely a new character, but it is different. For example, riest might accidently say something heretical at the wrong time, fall out of poltical favour and get excommunicated, becoming a social outcast. That might give you enough of a change to your experience that you want to keep playing the character. “Gm, please hit me with the big plot stick”