LARP 101 #2: Creating Your Character
Updated: Apr 7
So you’ve found yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole that is Live Action Roleplay (LARP) and you want to jump into the fun. Maybe you're not sure what the next step is? Look no further! We’re here to help you get started. So go on, grab your costume, your sword, and let’s get this adventure rolling...
Writing Your Past
The first thing any good character needs is a backstory, be it grand or small. Your backstory can inform your character’s motivations, reactions, and how they build relationships between the other characters they’ll meet. This goes for LARP, a tabletop character, or even a character that exists solely in written stories. Start by asking yourself a few questions...
1. Where did my character come from? What is their setting? What sorts of knowledge, ideas, and skills would that give them?
This question is best answered by looking at the setting-- more on that in a bit. Doing a little research about the story or lore can go a long way. If your LARP or GM lets you have free reign though, it’s worth the time and effort to add a little depth to that location and your character’s world.
2. What’s my character’s family situation like? Do they have siblings? What’s their health or economic status like?
Not every character needs to be an orphan with an evil step-sibling. If it’d fit the location and events of your setting, sure, but consider the interesting situations that could come of your character having a family that they can contact, work with, and ask questions. Perhaps their love of family motivates them, or they’ve got rich parents with some extremely handy connections. Have fun with it!
3. What are my character’s primary motivations? What’s their biggest internal and external conflict?
This is probably the most important part of character development, as your character’s motivations and conflicts are what single-handedly drive your character’s story arc. Without them, your character will stagnate. That being said, conflicts and motivations can come from anything, big or small. Maybe they have grand ambitions to become the best in their trade, or perhaps they simply want to explore and see what life has to offer. Either way, knowing what keeps your character going will help you play them consistently, and help them develop over time.
4. Is my character introverted or extroverted, and how do I socialize? How do they like to spend their free time, and what do I enjoy?
Let’s be real, your character isn’t all work and no play. They’re at least going to interact with others-- strangers-- a few times in their life (unless actively kept from doing so) and they’re going to have free time. You will have free time at a LARP, whether it’s at a meal or before bed, in character or out of character. Consider what you enjoy and how you socialize. Is there something you’ve been wanting to learn? You can either stay within your comfort zone, or you can try to use your character to push yourself outside it. The choice is yours.
5. How will the above facts affect my character's views and actions?
Your character should act in a way that makes sense based on your answers to the above questions. Inconsistency can make your character confusing or hard to interact with, and that can impact both your play and other’s experience. Part of the fun of LARP is being able to embody your character, so by understanding them you'll have a clearer picture of what you might say or do while in-game.
Remember that first question about your character’s setting? There are a few things you can do if your setting has already been given to you so that your character feels like they’re part of the world. We reached out to some experienced friends and players to get their perspectives on making your character fit in. One such person is Narrator Dave, of the channel Tabletop Time. Dave is their resident game master, hobby store owner, and-- of course-- narrator.
“Context is king, what’s the theme of the LARP? …If it’s a battle game, what factions operate in the setting, how do mercenary companies operate, what is the inspiration for the armor or clothing styles?”
He brings up a really important point. If it’s a more historical LARP, like one run by the SCA, a magical character is going to be off-limits, as are a tee shirt and jeans. It’s important, both for yourself and others, that you can fit into the narrative.
Another adventurer, Lex, who’s a newer player, shared their perspective on joining a new game, stating, “One thing I always find important is to have a clear idea on the magic system or combat system of the world.”
Understanding the systems in place can absolutely inform your character and make it easier to write out your backstory. It also can provide some checks and balances, so no one character becomes overpowered.
A huge thanks to Dave and Lex, who are both parts of the Tabletop Time Discord server! If you’d like to learn more about TTT and their adventures into tabletop RPGs, miniatures, and more you can visit their YouTube channel.
Interacting With Others
One of the best things about LARP is meeting other people and their characters. You’re more than likely going to find new friends with similar interests, and that’s always a blast. That being said, it can be really hard to balance your character, the characters around you, and the needs of the game.
The root of most conflicts regarding teamwork and balance is usually a breakdown of communication. Whether that’s a misunderstanding of the rules and systems, two people butting heads, or a language barrier, miscommunication can ruin the experience for everyone, and hurt team dynamics. There are, however, a handful of methods that you can use to prevent miscommunications and work through them.
Before your game starts, make sure everyone is on the same page about your most important aspects of the game: safety, setting, and objective.
Safety is the obvious one. Everyone needs to look out for each other, know the potential hazards of the area, and know what to do if something goes wrong. Counselors and event staff often have specific training and protocols in place for specific situations, so listening to them if the need arises is paramount.
Setting, as previously mentioned, includes the environment, what resources your characters will have, and the general theme and lore of the LARP. Knowing and understanding your setting can help balance player power, keep roleplay consistently fun, and inform character backstory and situations. Unless it’s been explicitly enabled by your game coordinators, you should have no issues with cowboys or the like trying to keep pace with fully armored knights.
Objectives are often part of the setting, but they serve the explicit purpose of driving gameplay and story. Most LARPs will have an objective as part of the premise, such as discovering lost treasure or protecting a kingdom. Character motivations often tie into the group objective in some way, but if they do not they should be considered secondary in most cases. Clear objectives can prevent the group from fragmenting, keeping players from going off to do their own thing with no regard for others.
Should a conflict between players come up, it’s important to resolve it as quickly and as calmly as possible, while still treating everyone fairly and respectfully. Determine whether the conflict is in-game, out-of-game, or both, and then approach resolution from the same angle. If it’s purely an in-game conflict then it may be as simple as acting between the players. There are no hard feelings thanks to roleplay. However, if it’s impacting others’ play, finding a way to resolve it can not only provide story and development, it can keep things fun. If the conflict is out-of-game, take the time to step out of character to talk it out. Grab a mediator or neutral party if you need to-- preferably a game coordinator. Nobody’s going to have fun when there’s an argument brewing. From there, you can work on a resolution that works for everyone involved. Let the play commence!
Costumes, Props, and Practicality
Alright, here’s the part crafters love-- costuming! Making a character’s costume can be really daunting, and there’s a lot to consider when it comes to setting, backstory, practicality, and comfort. We’re going to go more in-depth in later articles about LARP weaponry you can get, as well as specific equipment any LARPer should have in their arsenal, but for now, let’s focus on the basics.
First up is practicality. I know, you want to be able to have all these cool props tied to your belt and use those awesome high-heeled boots, but that’s not necessarily the most practical or comfortable costume. At a LARP, you’re going to be moving around a lot, whether it’s running from place to place or engaging in combat. High heels are probably not going to cut it in that case. (Ow, blisters!) You’re going to need something flexible and lightweight, as well as fit for your climate. We recommend looking into cotton-based clothing. A simple cotton tunic can go a long way with a good belt.
Cost is also something that most should consider when creating a costume. LARP can be an expensive hobby, and that sometimes pushes away newcomers who want to join in for the fun. Costuming is one of the areas where you can cut down on costs by making your own garments, provided you have the material and knowledge to do so, by altering existing garments or shopping at thrift stores and yard sales for inexpensive pieces. Second-hand costuming from a local theater-- if they’ll let you take anything-- could also be a good opportunity.
Another good idea is to get costuming and props that can double as everyday wear. We recommend trying to keep costuming that is also machine washable. No more worrying about hand scrubbing those stains away! This goes hand in hand with making or altering your own clothing for costuming. Not only is it going to save you money in the long run, but it’ll also allow you to tailor your wardrobe to feel like you’re on an adventure no matter where you are.
Here are some of our favorite makers who sell costuming and props:
Embercraft Creations - Handmade, recycled leather masks, belts, and everyday carry. Some of the Story School’s own specialty costuming is made by Marin.
EpicArmory - A one-stop shop for all things medieval LARP. Includes leather and cloth costumes, and LARP weaponry-- from boffers to latex to metal.
Threads of Time - Celtic and historically inspired clothing, from cinchers and corsets to dusters and vests! Some of their pieces are customizable and machine washable.
Now, what to actually wear? Start with your setting and backstory. Look up the fashions of the time, if there’s a historical basis, and start brainstorming. It can also help to pick a few key elements to start with, such as a hat, a scarf, or another accessory. Write things down. Maybe sketch out a basic idea or two. It doesn’t hurt to have multiple variations in your closet for the same character-, especially if you’re participating in an overnight LARP event. However, in that case, it’s important to keep your character recognizable. Carry things over between outfits, if you can. This will help create a real personality for your character.
Below are more resources for making your first costume. Looking for an introduction to the world of LARP? Contact us today and we can find the perfect adventure for your brand new character. Happy making!