LARP Character Development 210

You're a LARPer and you're keen to develop your character beyond a set of numbers. You've written a history for your character. You've got your list of what your character wants, what's stopping them from having it and why they're going to go for it anyway. You've even answered the 100+ Questions.

Now what? Here are some suggestions for taking your character development further.

Play Can Happen Outside of Game-Time
Providing that your GM approves - some game settings might not support it - interact with other characters in-between games. This is especially valuable if your troupe meets only once every few weeks. Exchange in-character emails, create an online forum where characters virtually hang out, get together at the local coffee shop for a chat. Don't forget to jot a few notes for the GM, should potentially plot-changing stuff come up!

Such between-game play is a fine opportunity to hone your character's voice in an environment that isn't as hectic as the regular game session - more on that, below.

Strengthen the Barrier Between Character Modes
In other words, work harder at keeping in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) information separate. Not only information, but opinions, biases, everything.

I've seen plots collapse because players let their real-world opinion of something - such as organized religion - influence their character, regardless as to whether or not it's fitting. To say that I was dismayed is an understatement.

If your characters are going to carry the same thoughts and opinions as yourself, you're missing half the fun of role-playing. No-one is going to judge you - or they shouldn't! - if you decide to play something that runs contrary to who you are in reality.

Worse yet are the all-too-often instances of when a player uses OOC information to make an IC decision - some folks call this “meta”. I call it “cheating”.

The default state of the IC/OOC line is more of a permeable membrane than a wall. It's very easy to let information cross that line. But it's easy to fix. All it takes is a little attention while you're playing and keeping in mind the notion that your character is - gasp! - different from yourself.

(Wee little tangent: I cannot suggest strongly enough that you resist the urge to share certain information OOC - bragging up that you've got so-and-so in your political crosshairs, etc, etc - as the best way to prevent anyone from acting on OOC information is not to share it in the first place).

Fail at Something
Failure is interesting. Even after all these years, I maintain that some of my most enjoyable moments as a gamer occurred when my character failed at something.

There have been times - more than once - when assessing a looming conflict and the odds weren't particularly stacked one way or another, I decided that it would throw a glorious monkey wrench in my character's day (and probably the day of several other characters) if I were to come out on the losing side. “You're going to erase what from my memory? Sure thing! No, really, I mean it...”

I'm not advocating character suicide. I'm asking you to move away from the ingrained notion that gaming is about “winning”. Failing as a character does not mean you've failed as a person. And failure almost always results in a new set of challenges for your character to face. What's more fun than that?

Work On Your Character's Voice
The language you use says a lot about your character. That's a no-brainer, right? So how much thought do you put into your character's tone and vocabulary? Be honest!

This is an area where I fall down a lot, mostly because my mouth loves to run off ahead of my brain - oh dear me, how it loves to do that.

The easiest place to play with your character's voice is within whatever written material you're generating for the character.

This should not be taken as a suggestion to acquire an accent. Not unless you're practiced. A lot.

Kill A Darling
No, don't kill the entire character. If I held to the rule that stringently, I'd have nothing to play!

Every character has some little trope or nubbin to it that you just love to tiny little pieces. It's a gem of creativity, a wonderful twist on an old idea, a testament to your awesomeness as a gamer.

Kill it. Remove it from your character's history during pre-production, or work out a way to overcome it during their prelude before the game, or - if you're already playing the character when you read this - work with the GM to reduce the darling in scope if not retcon it entirely.

Your character should not revolve around one thing.

Play What-If
This is a fun one - simple and very open-ended. Just start asking yourself what if questions.

Big stuff, little stuff, it all adds up. But the big stuff is the most fun, I admit. When I'm feeling short of ideas, I think of the more ridiculous premises from the more ridiculous action and thriller movies out there. After all, this is supposed to be fun.

Turn Things Upside Down
Any plausible character is going to have a fairly significant list of things they won't do, for whatever reason. Examine that list, pick something from it, and decide how it could come to pass. I'm not telling you to put it in your character's canon, but stretch your brain to the possibility of how it could happen.

For instance, I had a character who - despite some very significant flaws - would not be a party to harming children. I needed to draw a line somewhere, so I put it there. A few years later, she was in a rut and I needed to shake her out of her complacency. So I examined the aspects of her background that had been constant through many campaigns and worked on turning them upside down. Some of what I created did go into her background - I kicked a couple of my favorite crutches out from under her - and some didn't, but it all helped me find a new direction and new interest in playing her.

Do this by yourself, or with the connivance, um, I mean assistance of your GM. GMs love it when you create your own fun - it's almost as good as when you put a “Kick me” sign on your character's back.

A certain amount of stability is desirable, yes. But unchanging consistency is boring.

Practice Awareness - Listen and Learn
LARPs depend on the exchange of information between characters in order to succeed. Learn to pay attention to the other characters. Too often, we use the time when another character is speaking to script out our response - it's more an exchange of monologues than it is a true dialogue. Strive to overcome that.

It won't be easy. Such awareness is something that actors work at - damn hard - whereas we're just hobbyists mucking about once a month, if that. But it can be done. Careful attention to what you're doing and how you're doing it - and applying that same awareness to other characters - will enhance your experience considerably.

If You're Feeling Particularly Ambitious...
Invest $4 in a digital copy of Creating Your Own Monologue. I'm reading through it at the moment, mining it for material for an Acting for LARPers workshop, and I think that most LARPers would find it extremely inspiring.
Or go one step further and risk another $4 on Improv for Actors. Again, this is something I've read recently and whilst it's not 100% applicable to LARPing and LARP character development, it is useful and could lead to some jolly good fun with you and a handful of other players.

Other Resources Recommended by the Author

Play Unsafe
By Graham Walmsley, a far smarter person than I could ever hope to be. Play Unsafe is about unshackling yourself from the notion that playing a game can be “work” and how to get to the heart of having a hell of a lot of fun. I recommend it!

Story Forge
Created by BJ West, Story Forge is a tool for busting through creative blocks and finding new ways to tackle narrative challenges. Designed for writers, the deck is equally useful for gamers. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early prototype of Story Forge and I love it.

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