Getting the Most Out of Making Your Own Character

There are a lot of LARPs where the responsibility for creating a character falls entirely, or at least mostly, on the player.  This can be a lot of fun.  You might get a basic role (i.e. cantankerous businessman), a basic setting guide or a full rule book with skills to select.  Every LARP is different!  But there are a few general rules of thumb that’ll make your character way more interesting.

  • Leave space to introduce new elements into your character’s history.  Leave space for new character ties, plot connections and opinions.  Oftentimes you’re better off with a series of dot points, especially on the history documents you send to your Game Masters.  While you can still send your backstory as a short story, attaching dot points to that will help the GMs pick out the elements that are most important to you, and can be really helpful when they need to find a name.  Also be aware that not every Game Master has the time or inclination to read fiction, or lengthy backstories, but some will.
  • See your initial creation as a draft character.  Your character might need to change and develop over the course of the first few sessions, possibly retrospectively if it’s not disruptive, in order to better fit the game.  If it’s not core to your character, if the change wouldn’t defeat the purpose of the character, consider making it.  Maybe you really love the idea of the science puzzles or you had no idea that combat would be such a big part of the game, maybe see if you can swap a skill around or change your character’s opinion on fighting.  If they were a pacifist beforehand, and you’ve pretty heavily established that, consider talking to other players or the Game Masters on ways to convince your character to go against that so you can get engaged in the parts of the game that you find the most fun.
  • Character Ties Matter. Seriously, a game can be made twice as fun by having a single strong character tie as it gives you ready-made plot (what happens to that character matters to you) and someone who shares an interest in your character’s history. Complex relationships (not necessarily romantic ones) can pull you into different plotlines and give you plenty to do in lull periods.  Always aim for at least one, but three is deal.
  • Character Generators are an option.  So long as you modify it to suit the game, remove anything that’s too silly and flesh it out, you can get some interesting combinations of traits and inspiration from a generator.  Sometimes random rolls can inspire more complex characters or new ways of doing things.  While occasionally you have to put the Hard No on the “Cheese Lover” tag, sometimes it’s the perfect thing to add flavour to your orc barbarian.
  • Core concepts and several tag lines can help you define your character.  Sometimes it can help you roleplay another personality, or think about things to do, if you have a summary concept and a few tag words attached to them.  Things like “overly trusting, collector, wants gems rather than gold,” can all give you some inspiration on how to act and what to do in a game.
  • Where did you get them skills?  Regardless of whether the game has skill mechanics, or just relies on player skill, your character would have some skills, knowledge and training of their own.  A private investigator, police officer, journalist and worried mother would all approach a missing person’s case differently, after all, and it can help you brainstorm ways to use your character’s skills and ways to manage a situation by thinking of what YOUR character would do.  Plus it’s a good way of generating anecdotes.  Maybe your mother was a locksmith or maybe you keep forgetting your keys so you had to learn how to pick your own lock.  Both options are interesting.
  • Ask for advice.  Not every Game Master is great at providing character generation advice, but if they’re able and willing, listen to them.  Odds are if they keep angling you to have a connection to a particular town, or have a particular skill-set, there’s a need for it somewhere in the game.  Other players can also be a wellspring of advice, especially in established games where they may have more experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t.
  • Character ties.  Having ties to other people, or places if you can swing it, helps make your character feel a part of the world, encourages others to involve you on a deeper level, and can inspire events and activities in and of themselves.  There’s something to be said for being able to roleplay an engagement or a best friendship or a rival from Session One.  The trick is that folks are often shy about suggesting, or accepting, a character tie and there needs to be some negotiation to figure out exactly how it would work.  If you have a really tight character tie, you also need to think about whether the character would be playable if the other person left, and make your peace with that.  However, when it does work out it brings a depth and richness to the experience that can’t be understated.  And when it doesn’t work out, it more often just falls flat rather than causing real problems.

So there you have it.  A bunch of ways to build a character and get involved, or stay involved, in the plot with a character you create yourself.  Have fun and happy creating!

Getting The Most Out of LARP Pre-Gen Characters

When you are going to a LARP game, you will either be given a pre-generated character or will be asked to create your own.

When you are going to a LARP game, you will either be given a pre-generated character or will be asked to create your own.  A pre-generated character is one built by the Game Master — perhaps with some input from yourself in terms of what skills you will possess or certain details in your character history.  We’ll be focusing on how to have the most fun at a LARP when you’re given a pre-generated character.

  1. Read It Twice. Read it once when you’re first given the character information, mainly to have a basic idea of who you are and what you’re about and to see if you’ll have any issues with it as written. Then read it again closer to the date so that you can refresh certain details.
  2. Highlighter. Go over the character information with a highlighter or start underlining things with pencils that look important or interesting. Some details might suggest goals, background ties or quirky ways of looking at things that you might overlook on a straight up read through.  By taking the time to highlight it, you can also quickly check your sheet for cool stuff to focus on during lulls in the game.
  3. Reach Out To Other Players. If you have a few characters listed on your sheet and some way to contact those players, it’s a good idea to do so. If there’s a pre-game meet-and-greet, definitely try and go along to it.  It’ll allow you to deepen those character ties, come up with some cool anecdotes and really figure out how you feel about each other before you arrive.  If they’re a long-lost sibling or arch nemesis, it’s a good idea to try to memorise their face so you can immediately respond to them as soon as you see them in character.
  4. Personal or Team Goals. Most of these characters will be written with various goals in mind that will often be written out in list form.  It’s a good idea to take a close look at them as often other characters will be written with the assumption that you will pursue what’s on your sheet.  Be mindful, though, that there are often hidden goals suggested in the rest of the document so it’s worth taking a look at the other sections as well.
  5. Create gameplay. Players will tend to gravitate to where the action is so you can make a big difference by coming up with interesting plot points yourself.  This could involve hosting mini-social-events like tea parties, attempting to sell off items and equipment, or by sharing the information you know and asking lots of questions.  Anything that encourages interaction will keep you involved in the game.

13 LARP Body Language Tips for 13 Personalities

While you certainly don’t need to go to the effort of redesigning your own body language, it can be worthwhile for those who wish to have their character give a very different impression than themselves.  The following tips are all exaggerations of any particular style so feel free to mix and match to create the right level of tone and consideration.  Remember that all people are unique and different and that the following tips are more about how a person is perceived than about what the individual is actually thinking or feeling.

People may also change their style depending on situation so a character who is normally Cocksure might tend toward actual Arrogance when dealing with, say, their students but become Nervous around Citadel and Shy around people they are romantically interested in.  Also note that there are cultural distinctions in play here both in the game and in the real world.  An arrogant Nixie might look more like slight overconfidence while an arrogant Orc might mainly come across as aggression.

Continue reading “13 LARP Body Language Tips for 13 Personalities”

A Player’s Urge To Murder

20180818_154346.jpgCaught your attention, didn’t I?  One of the most commonly discussed issues GM’s often have is regarding the idea of “murderhobos”.   Characters who kill with great abandon and who litter their campaigns with corpses.  Now the term “murderhobo”, while technically correct, isn’t particularly fair because few players actually want to roleplay murdering someone.

They don’t want their targets to have pre-existing lives they’ve been plucked from, don’t want to see family members on the news making pleas for anyone who knows something to please come forward, and if their “victim” has a dog who will soon be sent to the pound, you can bet your bottom dollar that dog is getting adopted and looked after with every kindness.  Or more rarely shot dead by players who are finding this play on their heart strings irksome and wish to discourage it.

Also be mindful that wanting to play trigger happy characters or even fully-fledged serial killers aren’t bad things.  Hell, most games actively encourage it by linking loot and experience points directly to your kill count and by golly can it be hard to run a game where your PCs are trying to arrest everybody or give CPR to your Big Bad.

But why do we get trigger happy?  What inspires us to pull the trigger, so to speak?  Well some of the reasons are pretty positive and some indicate deeper problems in the game.  Take a look and see what some of these reasons can be!

  1. Combat is fun.  It has little progress bars (hit points), a clear objective (stab more), provides closure (bye bye NPC), some autonomy around precisely how it happens, really high stakes (life or death) and it’s all abstracted through hit points.
  2. It helps the GM run the game.  Most games revolve around providing final solutions to an area’s pesky bad guy problem.  There’s also far less logistics to worry about when you’re killing rather than arresting people.  Typically you don’t even need to hide the bodies!
  3. Combat is a simple solution where death equals closure.  In most games, unlike real life, you can remove problems by removing the people causing those problems.  A dead NPC will not be seen or heard from again in most games. Compare this to the messy world of diplomacy, theft and imprisonment where the NPC could always return to haunt you.

    Straightforward bad guys are fun to kill.
  4. Everyone’s a bad guy, anyway, so killing them is a good deed.  This is common in Grim Dark worlds where most people are doing terrible things.  Even if this isn’t actually the case, if this is all the players see (or what they read about in the setting material), they will respond accordingly.
  5. It’s incredibly abstracted.  Losing hit points just isn’t the same as the sensation of ruptured organs and screaming nerves.  Few GMs describe what it really feels like to break someone’s arm and unless combats are rare such descriptions would become cartoonish or dull with repetition.
  6. The player characters are holding weapons not megaphones.  You know what they say about how when you have a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail?  Plus combat often has the most system support and is the most mechanically interesting part of the game.
  7. Conflict is story.  There are many forms of conflict but life or death stakes are big and attention-getting.  While you can make life or death stakes with environmental hazards, they’re often harder to represent mechanically and less interesting than those that involve competition with other people (i.e. the bad guys trying to stab you).

    If Batman had killed more bad guys, fewer people would die.
  8. It seems strategically sound.  Can I really trust the prison system to hold these mooks in this dystopian universe?  Negotiations also take a really long time and can go very wrong with bad guys coming back more powerful than before or using the conversational time to wait for their back up to arrive.  This only needs to happen once or twice before PCs (and players) start getting paranoid.
  9. Murder is an “off switch” for plot they don’t like.  This suggests some toxicity around the table or in the LARP as its pretty mean to literally kill a plotline just because you don’t happen to like it.  Please be aware that a player killing plotlines isn’t always the cause of this toxicity although they have definitely become a big part of the problem.  It can come about due to the actions of other players or game masters ignoring boundaries, frustrating player autonomy or outright hitting triggers and the player feels that they can’t opt out of in any other way.
  10. Punishing the GM through in character means.  Too many GMs try to punish the players for actions their characters do rather than have a face-to-face talk person-to-person about everyone’s needs at the table.  Some players will do the same.  This often happens if there’s a lack of autonomy.  I can’t choose to imprison or talk down the NPC, but you can’t stop me from shooting them in the face without being ham-fisted about it.

RULE NO. 1: Don’t Diminish The PCs! 

Let player characters intervene in unexpected ways to situations.

This rule is the most important but the hardest to follow through considering the limited resources available to a Game Master.  It’s also tricky because the players are often moving through a complex world and there’s always going to be entities, groups and even individuals who are far more powerful than them.

Encourage interactivity.  Always.  If you can find a way to make something dependent on player actions, go for it.

Share the spotlight.  This is where skill variety, character ties or factional connections can really shine.  Find a way to keep everyone involved and connected in the story.

Even when NPCs are talking to each other, player involvement should matter.  If two NPCs are going to have at each other, keep it short and snappy and let PC interactions dominate the discussion.  If they throw out a few comments here and there, make those comments matter.

Also bear in mind that a small group of 6 watching two NPCs argue with each other is far more impactful than a crowd of 30 — because that small group of 6 know that their choices (whether silence or involvement) will be more meaningful to the discussion and not devolve it into an unintentional chaos of 30 people randomly shouting at two NPCs.

PCs should also have a vested interest in the outcomes of the conversation and should have some capacity to interact with it.  Two force shielded bad guys waxing lyrical at each other is boring — though if the PCs are trying to distract them or set them at war with each other it can get a whole lot more interesting.

Let them make decisions and let those decisions matter.  If they take hostages, don’t just immediately free them.  That undoes their decision.  If their decisions go off-script in a way that damages the game itself (i.e. they have taken all six cast members hostage) then find a compromise.  Perhaps you remove the hostage’s phys-reps (i.e. cast members) and say they are locked behind a closed door.  Maybe you upfront tell the player base that this isn’t a game of arrests and hostage taking and get them in on the ground floor with how the game will play out.

Don’t criticise them for stupidity for doing what their characters would do — but do provide them with alternative options if their characters would know them.  A lot of players aren’t highly trained professionals in crisis negotiation and SWAT tactics.  Providing them with a set of dot points or the occasional nudge that suits their skill selection can be appreciated.  Never tell them the path they should take.  In other words, provide them with the tools to make their choices — don’t tell them which choices they should make.

Make the character’s suffering *about* the characters and not about the villains.  This is kind of a hard thing to describe but basically what it boils down to is that if the villain is torturing a PC, it’s the actions and reactions of the PCs that matter.  Keep the spotlight on them and their feelings toward the villain — not on the villain’s moustache twirling.  You can do this through a variety of mechanisms depending on the style of game and players involved:

  • Avoid gagging the player character. That way their threats, pleas or silence are all valid options.
  • Redirect their attention to the suffering player character rather than away from it.

If the players think of a way to destroy your schemes and machinations, let them, and build on it.  Give them the win.  Let them have a cool thing.  If they take out your big boss early, maybe throw out a few waves of minions and create something new for later.  Players absolutely love scheming their way through your plans for a reason.  It means their choices really have made a difference.

The more often powerful items and factions and NPCs show up in the game, the more they must be reliant, in some way, on player actions.  No one likes an unstoppable spirit showing up in-game … except when that spirit can be summoned, negotiated with, empowered and sent at their enemies!  Keep the players centre stage so that the glories of more powerful elements are reflected on them.  Any exceptions to this rule are best treated as a force of nature that guides the PC’s actions and gives them something to bounce off of.  Players will react better to an invulnerable NPC they must hide from or lure away than one they have to obey unless the complexities of obedience is the story — in which case the NPC is a force of nature anyway.

These are just a handful of ways to keep the players feeling like they’re relevant and that their characters are the protagonists.  Do you have any additional ideas?

Plot Barriers Part 2

Sometimes plot is obvious, sometimes it’s subtle.

When players feel they don’t have enough plot, what they normally mean is there are serious issues preventing them from getting much out of the plot they do have.  There are often a number of reasons why they can feel this way and there’s a bunch of things that can be done to change it.  Here are some reasons why you might be feeling disconnected to plot:

Someone might be trying to protect the plot for emotional reasons or just might not realise your relevance to it.  This might even involve higher ups within your character’s team actively removing your character from the plot line.  This issue can come up when the GM weaves people into the same plot from different directions.  Someone wants to protect their loved one but that loved one is the only witness, and possible culprit, of a situation you want to investigate.  Naturally the other character wants to protect them but you really need answers….

There might be an in-game misunderstanding or issue that you’re not aware of.  After all, if your character keeps talking about setting off the atom bomb it makes sense for the other characters to restrict their access to it!  Or it might be that the authorities attempts to block you *is* the plot (turns out your boss is a turncoat!) and that exploring their motives would be a worthwhile angle.

  1. Firstly try to see the situation as a challenge. Find ways of distracting them away or negotiate to have a chance to talk to them.
  2. If that doesn’t work perhaps your character’s reputation plays a part. It makes no sense for them to give you access to their loved one if it’s likely your character will assassinate their loved one in seconds (especially if they’ve vowed to do as much in earshot of that other character).  If this is the case, either find ways to modify your character’s reputation or have a sincere OOC conversation with involved players about how you can get the next piece to the puzzle.
  3. Maybe a third party could play a conciliatory role or get you an in on the plot-line you’re after. This has the added benefit of getting extra players involved.

There’s no time to actually touch your particular plot.  Everyone is busy dealing with the central plot that there’s just no time to actually do the thing or discuss the issue that is central to your character.  It may be that the GM isn’t providing enough time for general conversation and activities or it might be that your character is just busier than the others.

This can sometimes be solved by quick in-character conversations between games (if allowed by your campaign), being super-organised in wrangling people for 5 minutes during the game or by writing out brief notes that you can hand out that detail what you need from others.  Sometimes it might be that you’re trying to stay on top of all the plot in the game which isn’t always possible.

In the end, no one character can tackle all things so if you’re trying to be on top of two sub-plots and a main plot you’re going to run yourself ragged.  However, if there’s just a single sub-plot you’re trying to focus on and it’s impossible to even talk about because giant plots keep striding through the room every 10 seconds that everyone *had* to get involved in then definitely talk to the Game Master.

You just don’t think the plot is very relevant or very interesting.  Or you don’t trust that it will be fun to explore.  This may, or may not, be the categorical truth but it certainly feels that way so you avoid it.  This can be a hard one to tackle.  Everyone has their own idea of what’s fun and it can be hard to tell the Game Master “No Thanks.”  Especially if it’s already entered play in a public way.  So what do you do?

When having such a conversation, be calm and nonjudgmental.  Don’t tell them the plot “sucks”.  That kind of blank negative criticism is just going to make them defensive and it’s probably not categorically true.  Different players like different things.  Instead tell them that the plotline doesn’t interest you or negatively impacts the direction you want to take your character in a way that just isn’t fun for you.  Reassure them that others probably would find it fun (someone probably would) and that you’d like to find some way out to disentangle your character from the plot-line.  If you have any ideas, now’s a good time to give them.  Ideally three potential exits as it gives the Game Master the most wiggle room in case your first exit plan doesn’t work due to plot reasons.

Please note if you don’t want personal plot flung at you out of nowhere, let the GMs know that as well.  Be mindful, though, that this will mean that you will need to be more proactive with plot.  You mayneed to either approach the Game Master with ideas or you may need to focus on other people’s plot-lines rather than take a starring role.  The benefit of this is that you have full control of your character, their history and their involvement (to a point).  The downside is that you have to work harder to find plot relevant to your character.  It’s always a balancing act but only you (in concert with your GMs) can find the right place for you.

Plot Barriers Part 1

Once you have plot you need to know what to do with it….

Most often when I hear complaints that a player doesn’t have enough plot, what they normally mean is there are serious issues preventing them from getting much out of the plot they do have.  In some cases I’ve been able to show entire laundry lists of plot connections that a particular character has, but the player will sincerely feel that they don’t have any plot worth a damn.  Often this boils down to one of several issues:


The player can’t do much with their plot hooks because other characters aren’t paying any attention to it for whatever reason.  Interactivity in LARP is key so without other players buying into it, it can’t become part of the focus.  This often boils down to other characters not realising the relevance of the plot you have to their character’s situation.  Folks are often bombarded with stuff to do at most LARPs and during the quiet times they are busy trying to *find* stuff to do.  This means that they won’t always pick up on the ramifications of what you’ve just said.  If you’re finding it difficult to hook others into the plot you have, perhaps try the following:

  1. Look around the room and find those who are experiencing a quiet time for their character and then give them a summary of the situation. “Look, I know how to do Blah but I need Blah to do it.”
  2. Think about their character’s feeling sand needs and centre your issue accordingly. “If we get this done then we don’t have to do Blah which might save a lot of lives.” 
  3. If that doesn’t work, exit the conversation in a character appropriate way and move swiftly to someone else and try a few times until you see someone’s eyes light up. Trust me, there’ll be people in that room who get what you’re trying to say and are keen to get involved.  It might just take a few goes.

Plot seems minor and irrelevant compared to other players’ plots.  Sometimes this is because the plot hooks’ connection to other characters or the central storyline is unclear.  Sometimes it’s because the player isn’t confidant dragging other players into it or emphasising its importance.  Sometimes it’s true.  And sometimes it’s just a mismatch between the players’ interest and the plot hooks their characters have access to.  Perhaps the hook you have might be loved by others, but not by you.

The path to engage with the plot isn’t clear.  Your character has a strange dream but there are no mechanics on how to draw more details from that dream.  Or the plot might not appear accessible even though it is — such as you might feel you can only approach your contact when the NPC shows up in-game whereas you could call them at any time.  Often Game Masters don’t clearly explain the ways you can interact with plot or they throw you something that looks cool but doesn’t actually offer much interactivity.  Alternatively there might be a wide array of things you can do with it but it’s not immediately apparent.  So what do you do if this comes up?

  1. First try and engage with the plot in good faith, check around the location, and chat to people to see if anyone knows anything or has any idea on what you can do with it. It can often help to give it as a summary and then follow up with a question to them.  “I know this guy who has a bunch of information, but I don’t know how to reach him.  Any ideas?”
  2. Brainstorm possible angles that you could approach the issue with. Ideally involve other interested characters in this.  You’ll all be looking at the same situation with your character’s own skills, experience and point of view so you’ll get more ideas if you include more people.
  3. If none of that works you can approach the GM and say: “I’m really interested in following up Blah. Any ideas on what I can try next?”  You can even throw in a: “I’ve tried Blah, Blah and Blah thus far,” so they know what you’ve done and what hasn’t worked.  After all, maybe the answer *was* in the room but another character moved it.  If the Game Master knows you’ve already searched the room then they know not to send you looking again.

NOTE: Sometimes plots are legitimately inaccessible for a couple sessions.  If that’s the case then the Game Master should be willing to tell you that there’s not much you can do … yet.