The Accidental Hard No

This article covers in-game “Hard No’s” where the PLAYER actually really does WANT the situation to happen but their CHARACTER draws such a clear line in the sand that the desired events don’t happen. They might, for example, want an in-game romance but have their character react so badly to the very idea of it that no one pursues the option. The player is then confused and annoyed as to why their character arc isn’t progressing as intended.

The Obvious Hard No

Picture this:

The half-orc barbarian, Allisa, stands outside the entrance to the cave, with her arms crossed. “I won’t go inside that wretched hole,” she says roughly to her three fellow adventurers. When the others give her reasons to enter, she shakes her head. “I don’t care about any of that. I’m not going!”

The others give in, confused as she chose to come along on this encounter, and offer her a few tentative options (guard the entrance, come with them or head back to the tavern) before entering without her. She feels neglected and left out. She’s become the victim of her own in-character Hard No.

You can see the problem here. The player of Allisa thinks this could be a cool scene for a confrontation or comfort scene but she’s shut down the very idea of going with such vehemence that there’s no inspiration in how the other characters could actually move into such a scene.

She hasn’t given a “Yes and…” or a “No but….” It’s just “No.”

The other players are now left scratching their heads regarding where to go from here.

The Subtle Hard No

Unlike in the prior example, Allisa now mentions her claustrophobia and childhood fear of cave spiders due to a childhood incident, which gives the characters something to work with. They decide to help her through that trauma. After 10 – 20 minutes of coaxing, the other adventurers are no closer to convincing her (or at least there is no sign that they are) and so they give up and enter the cave without her.

A “Subtle Hard No” is where the character gives hints as to the right course of action, but stubbornly argues the point for 20 minutes until everyone else gives up. The truth is that all LARP time is accelerated time.

There’s no room in the average game to slowly roleplay through weekly sessions of exposure therapy, after all. And that therapy would only be helpful if your character were willing, anyway.

If you shoot down an option, the character will assume its the wrong one. They might try the same thing with a different angle, but eventually they’ll give up. If you want to roleplay being stubborn, you can do so, but you can’t mimic real life levels of resistance as there simply isn’t the time in game for anyone to overcome it.

Back to the start….

The Reversion to Hard No

Allisa agrees to enter the cave but after a short distance all her fears come back to the fore and she immediately leaves. All the characters’ prior work is undone. They’ll need to start from the very beginning but find new tactics as her resolve has hardened once more.

Reversions tend to be exhausting to go through for the other characters (and especially their players). While it may seem like a thrilling new character development, the truth is it’s a complete 360. To the other players it feels like a bad twist: Surprise! Nothing has changed but time has been wasted.

It would be different if the development were wholly new – perhaps Allisa needs more assurances or moves at a slower, more trembling pace unless comforted. That would reward folks for their efforts and offer new opportunities for roleplay.

The Hidden Hard No

Allisa enters the cave after the party raise a multitude of good points, but her own acquiescence sits poorly with her and the character begins to internally panic (though the player is fine). Allisa didn’t want to come into this cave so if anything goes badly, she’ll knock one of them down to buy herself time to run.

This one comes up from time to time. The other characters didn’t pull off the perfect persuasion (difficult to do even when you have more time and resources) and so they only got grudging agreement from the character. While almost a Yes But (i.e. Yes I’ll go into the cave but you’re going to suffer), the truth is the other characters couldn’t convince Allisa and had no way of knowing that.

The Hidden Hard No tends to breed discontent. The other characters put in the effort and are getting punished for it. While in some settings and scenarios this can be appropriate, if you make the other characters really work at convincing your character to do the thing you wanted them to do then if you betray them, all you’re doing is teaching them not to try again next time.

So what do you think? Ever been hit with one of these Hard No’s? Ever accidentally given a Hard No and been confused when folks accept it and move on? What do you think is the best way to keep things moving?

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”

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.


Getting Your Hands On Plot

31189981_10211339470713748_5364121042660884480_nOne of the most common complaints in any LARP is how to get your hands on more plot.  Plot being defined as compelling connections to the greater world or the overarching themes or wider narratives of the game.  It involves being able to make a meaningful connection to how the game plays out.  Being involved in plot is a two-way dance between GM creations and player actions and if you want to become more tied within the weave you can take some of the following steps.

First check if you have any plot.  You don’t have any plot?  Are you sure?  Sometimes it’s worth checking with the GM if you think you have no plot as you may be surprised at the large plot hooks that your character may have which you may have forgotten about or overlooked.  Significant chunks of time between sessions can often leave key facts by the wayside.  Seriously I’ve seen players overlook massive game-changing information and connections they had because time had obscured its relevance.

If you really don’t have any plot, contact the GMs (ideally between sessions) and ask them if there’s anything your character could be connected to or even suggest certain plotlines you’d like to be tied into.  Your best bet is to be relatively vague about this because GMs will be trying to find ways to connect you to existing plot even if in an unexpected fashion rather than create something entirely new.  If they create brand new plot for you, great!, but they might not be able to do so in a way that is immediately relevant.

Contacting GMs can also be useful because sometimes they will have made general offers of plot that you might have turned down or never responded to and if that happens a few times then they’ll assume you want them to take a hands off approach with your character.  If that’s the case, then that’s absolutely fine.  Some folks prefer making their own fun!  But if it’s not the case then you may have to let them know.

Finally, if you want to tap into plot be mindful that the essence of all story is conflict.  This means that plot of all kinds will have its benefits and its drawbacks, its pain and its enjoyment, and that it may interact with your character in unexpected ways.  If you want to maintain complete control of your character then you’ll need to focus on either engaging central plot (stories affecting the entire room) or leverage the plot affecting other characters.  Asking GMs to weave your character into the plot might just not be fun for you otherwise.

In the next article we’ll talk about barriers to engaging with plot and then we’ll talk about what to do with plot once you have it.