The Devil's In The Details - Accessorizing Your LARP Character

Your numbers have been approved. Your character background is polished. You've put together an exquisitely appropriate costume. You're ready to jump into that upcoming LARP with both feet!

But what about accessories? Yes, stuff like glasses, gloves, hats and canes. All those bits and pieces that aren't clothes but are a part of your character's physical style. How much thought have you given to them?

"Accessorizing" isn't just something Cosmo writes about to fill dead space in the middle of the magazine. It can be a valuable part of fleshing out a character concept.

But beware, as it can be a minefield too. Why? Because there's a fine line between a good character prop and a lousy gimmick. Herein follows a summary of the difference between a character-useful prop and a gimmick they can live without.

Dr. Gregory House and His Cane

You almost never see Gregory House walking without his cane. It's a constant and visible reminder of the physical issue he lives with and the addiction he developed in trying to overcome it. House is constantly in pain and dealing with the myriad of side-effects that come with a serious vicodin habit. These problems help humanize the character.

Can House be House without his cane and everything the cane implies? No. Without those weaknesses, he's just a poorly-socialized idiot-savant with an attitude problem. That guy wouldn't last even one season, let alone ten.

House's cane is a great example of a character-essential prop.

Sherlock Holmes and the Deerstalker Cap

Holmes' distinctive deerstalker cap first appeared in one of Sidney Paget's illustrations for "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" when the story was published in The Strand in 1891. Conan-Doyle never described Holmes as wearing it, but the image stuck and stuck hard. The walls of the Baker Street London Underground station feature tile mosaics of Holmes' profile, his cap and pipe* prominent.

But is it essential to his character? Can Holmes be Holmes without his deerstalker? Absolutely - as recent TV adaptations such as Sherlock and Elementary have proven.

The deerstalker cap is a gimmick. It's iconic, yes, but not an essential part of the character.

And that's what you have to keep in mind when you're looking at a pair of spectacles, a piece of jewelry or any other item that your character routinely wears or carries. Is it essential or is it a gimmick?

Don't get me wrong, you can have a lot of fun with gimmicks. I'm guilty of having gone through a phase when my character of the time constantly fiddled with a rusty straight razor during conversations. Another one constantly carried a blood-stained handkerchief. But they were both gimmicks. In the case of the handkerchief, it also acted as a cue the the character was agitated, yes, but it wasn't the only cue.

When you rely on gimmicks, though, you run the risk of being known by the gimmick. "The Malkavian with the razor", for instance. Your character can be pigeonholed by such things and could miss out on chances for interactions with other PCs because they've already made up their mind what you're about.

Meanwhile, the hijab that hides my heavily-scarred vampire's face from the rest of the world was a character-essential prop. She had several choices when it came to minimizing public reaction to her appearance (she's a Requiem Ventrue) but she deliberately chose the veil, largely out of paranoia. She doesn't want her expression to give her away, so she chose a physical barrier to cover her face, rather than a magical one that could be voided by other magics, or even a video camera. Meanwhile, other characters assume she must be a devout Muslim, and treat her accordingly. Such assumptions tell her a lot about her fellow courtiers.

Beware of the lure of incorporating something nifty with your character simply because you think the item is cool in and of itself. Ask yourself "Would this be a part of my character? Why?" not "How can I make this a part of my character?" Those are two very different questions. By all means, buy those sunglasses because you like them, but don't tie yourself in knots trying to figure out why your wise-old-mentor character has taken to wearing them.

Furthermore, don't painstakingly accessorize a character in the hope of starting a conversation about the pieces you've chosen. LARPers aren't as observant as actors and the brutal truth is that they probably won't care about that antique brooch you're wearing, unless it turns out to be an essential part of a plot. It's entirely possible that other players will assume that you simply like antique brooches (especially if they don't know your tastes OOC) or are too polite to ask about that stained handkerchief. When you do this kind of thing, do it for yourself.

Honestly, accessorizing isn't icing the cake. It's more like gilding the fondant flowers on the cake. It's nice to do, and it can add some detail to your character concept. But it's not the end of the world if gold leaf isn't your thing. Whatever you do, do it because it's fun and it enhances your experience at the game. Game on!

* The actor William Gillette is credited with pairing Holmes with a meerschaum pipe. Did you know that the only film production of his Holmes (acclaimed as the best of his generation) was recently re-discovered?

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