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5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Next LARP

Advice from a Player Perspective

LARPs come in all different sizes and genres. Whether you're a sword-swinging half-orc in a fantasy setting, a rugged survivor in the post-apocalypse, or a bloodsucking creature of the night making your play to take over the city, there are all kinds of games out there.

With that said, it's easy for players (especially newer ones) to get discouraged when they paint themselves into a corner, or make a mistake they're not sure how to undo without starting over from scratch. I've been to my share of LARPs, and I've made more than my share of mistakes in them. As such, I thought I'd put together some advice that should help any newer player (and maybe some veterans who are feeling frustrated with their games) to help you get the most out of your character, and your game.

Additionally, if you like the advice in this post, consider either stopping by my gaming blog Improved Initiative or taking a look at my Gamers archive to see what else I've got that might be a help!

Tip #1: Make sure your skill set is in-demand.

Oh thank the gods, someone who knows how to use a sword!

For most of my early LARP career, I focused on playing bruisers. It was my preferred form of escape as a player, and generally speaking I was in games where there was going to be something for you to do if you were a hitter. There would be goblin raids, wandering zombies, honor duels with vampires, etc., etc. However, I was far from the only player who enjoyed the role of the heavy, so nine times out of ten any time someone was looking for a violent solution to a problem, they found themselves in a buyer's market. Unfortunately that often meant that a handful of mercs went out to handle a plot, while the rest of us sat around the campfire twiddling our thumbs.

One time, though, I decided to put a spin on the concept of, "hulking troll," by also making him a doctor (this was in a Changeling: The Dreaming LARP, so he was, in fact, a nine-foot-tall blue-skinned M.D. from Yale). What I found was that roughly 1/3 of the people in the venue had opted for, "badass fighter," but absolutely no one else had the ability to heal said badasses when they came back beaten and bloodied.

My character was on the floor for less than two minutes before I was being drug into plot. More on that story at I'm Not A Doctor (But I Played One in a LARP Once).

The lesson of this particular tale is to make sure that your character has something unique to offer the game in terms of what skills they possess, and what tools they bring to the table to solve problems. My experience is that playing an archetype that fulfills the role of a cop, a lawyer, or a doctor is always going to be in-demand (more for modern games, but fantasy equivalents also work pretty well), but crafters and other support staff like bards also go down well since they're so often few and far between.

Tip #2: Play someone who gets involved.

I don't know... he's just been sitting there all night glaring at people.

One of the biggest differences between a tabletop game and a LARP is that if you bring a character whose main motivation is getting drunk at the tavern, or who sits in the corner with their hood up until someone approaches them, the storytellers are going to be more than happy to let you do that all night long. Unlike in a tabletop game, where a reason for all the PCs to join forces will be presented, in a LARP you often decide your own level of involvement.

To that end, it's just easier for you to bring a character who is going to get involved in what's happening.

Why your character gets involved is completely up to you. Perhaps your disgraced knight is still clinging to some shred of honor, and can't sit by while innocent people get hurt. Maybe your disgruntled hitman owes the Prince of the City her loyalty, and so she does what she's told to do regardless of her personal feelings about it. Maybe your character is running a long con, and so is making friends with everyone in order to curry favor and advance their own position.

Sitting on the sidelines in a LARP is (9 times out of 10, anyway) something you can choose not to do. So keep that in mind when designing your character.

Also, as a bonus tip, if you know other players try to make ties between your characters and others before you show up. It will give you a foot in the door if you have an in-game cousin, mentor, brother-in-arms, etc. to help get you involved in stuff.

Tip #3: Make sure you have goals.

Yes, I'd like to go troll hunting, if there's nothing stopping me at the moment?

Another thing that's unique about most LARPs (especially when compared to rather plot-heavy tabletop games) is that there is room for personal character development and individual goals. You should think of these as your safety net when it comes to not getting bored at game, because if the main plot is being handled by other players (or it's something your character just isn't qualified to take on), these other goals give you a list of things you can be working on instead.

It's why I recommended that all players be sure they have a few in 10 Questions To Put On Your Character Creation Document.

The important thing to remember is that characters should have a mix of long-term goals, and short-term ones. You might want to find out who your father is, and what his strange connection to your mysterious birthmark and bizarre powers is. Or you might want to get revenge of Jim Jonas, the leader of the Ravagers, because he hurt some friends of yours. Don't be afraid to keep a notebook, listing which goals you still have, which ones you've achieved, and which ones you'd like to add in the future. It helps a lot!

Also, get other players involved in your shenanigans! It's dangerous to go alone, and if you bring along your own mini-party you can often create quite the side quest for folks who otherwise were sitting around and not doing all that much.

Tip #4: Don't be afraid to perform.

Toy with me not, boy, for a wizard's wrath is terrible indeed!

Most of us are familiar with roleplaying and getting into character. However, a lot of it takes the form of narration when you're sitting around a table in your comfy pants, snacking on Cheetos. When you're at a LARP, you have the freedom to be your character more fully, and to do the sorts of things that just wouldn't work at a table.

Embracing that helps a lot!

Part of it is costuming and makeup (for more on that, check out my 5 (Specific) Costuming Tips For Your Next LARP), but a big part of it is avoiding narration. If you're playing a bookish wizard who keeps a journal, don't tell passersby that your character is vigorously writing in a leather notebook; bring a journal, and write in it! If your character speaks in a strangled growl, then work on your death metal accent. If your martial artist sits and meditates for half and hour a day, then at least sit on the floor and hum while you read a book so people around you get clued-in as to what's going on.

While it's perfectly acceptable to put on a name tag to remind people, "My Character is an Albino," or, "My Shadow Never Matches My Body," try to minimize the amount of time you'll need to narrate to other people what they're looking at. It will mean more in-character time for you, and a smoother time for everyone you interact with.

Tip #5: Always check fellow players' consent.

It is better to ask permission than beg forgiveness.

When we all come together to tell a story, it's important for us to make it clear where our boundaries are before someone else overruns them. This is doubly important in a LARP, where things can get more intense than they do in a traditional tabletop setting.

As an example, say that you're playing an exuberant, affectionate character. So it's totally in-character for you to greet new people with an over-enthusiastic handshake, or a big bear hug. However, it's important to make sure that the other player is okay with that before you wrap your arms around them. Just taking a moment to ask out-of-character can be the difference between another player appreciating you respecting their boundaries, and a long conversation with the storyteller about someone else feeling uncomfortable. And in games where someone else might have spent an hour on their makeup and prosthetics, a quick check can save a lot of frustration.

While you might feel it breaks the flow of the game, it's a good idea to check with a player before you invade their personal space, make any sort of physical contact that isn't expressly laid out in the rules (boffer games may expect you to lay on with your club, for example, but a hearty slap on the back may not be okay), or bellow at them. This makes it clear that you're a conscientious player, and others will appreciate the effort to respect them. It will also help you avoid problems, and ensure you and everyone around you can enjoy the game with minimal discomfort.

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