So, you are looking to LARP.
Maybe you found the nearest game already, created a character concept, started putting scraps of costuming together, poured over the ruleset for hours and muddled through weapon construction.
You are reading this because there has to be more you can do to prepare, and there is. Bouncing around the internet you can find a bunch of tips and tricks, tutorials and FAQ’s, so much so that it’s hard to give advice for new players without rehashing things. I don’t like to rehash, so I dug deep and constructed a list of more subtle tips for new LARPers.
#1. Shop Around.
No doubt you have a LARP picked out already, its likely the only one you’ve looked at. You’ve been trolling their Facebook page, checking out pictures of past events. You’ve read the rulebook and may have even built a character steeped in (whatever you can glean about) their setting. This is a pretty common way to get started, and it used to be the only way, there were a handful of LARPs nationwide none of which were good at marketing, so if you heard of one, that was the one you were going to play; this is no longer true. There are lots of games out there these days, they are much better at getting their name out, and they are all VERY different. Even games that run on the same ruleset wind up with starkly different cultures and game styles. Most of the drama and bad times I have witnessed come down to people playing in games that don’t match their prefered style. Be it hard core masochistic players who want to see a body count initiating PvP conflicts in political style games, or RP driven players getting killed eight times in two hours because their beautiful costume isn’t pragmatic enough to survive a game that is more sport than LARP, the only issue is a failed playstyle match.
It’s hard to know what kind of game you want to play when you start, going to a few games before settling into one is a great way to get a taste for a few different styles and cultures and find the one that’s best for you. It helps that most games have adopted the shady 70’s middle school playground drug dealer policy of “first time’s free”, this will allow you to get a few free weekends of entertainment while you figure out what kind of game you want to play.
#2. Don’t try to win.
A lot of people come to the LARP world from the gateway drug that is role playing video games, and while there are a lot of similarities between video games and LARP games, specifically in the rulesets, the goals are vastly different.
Playing a video game revolves around “winning”, accomplishing some goal given to you by the game designer, or creating the perfect build for a character so they can take on even the most powerful monsters the game has to offer and smash them like so many ants. This is a lot of fun and is a mainstay of my own video game experience. There is nothing like my Monk/Druid/Shifter in his earth elemental form on old school Neverwinter Nights, he was serious business, crafted from the ground up before I ever even named the character, unstoppable.
LARP isn’t like this. Oh there are optimal builds, and ways to gain power, but a focus on “winning” isn’t what drives a good LARP experience. There are plenty of games that had big holes in there build systems that were exploited by savvy PCs and eventually died as those same players got bored and left. I’ve seen players accomplish their power goals only to lose real power, based on interaction with other PCs, in the game because the culture of the player base frowns on “power gamers”. I’ve heard of a player buying a hundredth level character via micro transaction only to spend his events bored because nothing can challenge him.
LARP is about stories. Players and Plot work together to create an epic poem about amazing characters as they STRUGGLE to accomplish their goals. If you focus on winning, you can’t be part of that story, and so you will have less fun.
#3. Build a “throwaway”
You can study the rulebook for any given LARP for years and never truly understand what it is to play. I have found most first time players to have a character already built out to twentieth level and/or committed to clandestine goals made up before ever playing. It’s cool to be excited, I know I was before my first game, I had it all planned out. That plan lasted until I ran into my first NPC, but by then I had already spent so much time thinking about my character that I felt I had to keep to what I had created in a vacuum, even as the setting I was playing in made that background, build and set of goals seem to make less and less sense with every interaction.
I see this happen to a lot of new players, even though every game I have ever heard of has a rewrite policy after your first, second or even third event. What this means it that you can play your first event as an Elven Mage named Flamefist the Ebonhearted then discover that you really want to fight with a sword and shield, want to play one of the Lizard Folk and realize that no parent would ever name their child “Flamefist”, and keep all the experience points and treasure from your first event when you come back to your second event as the unrelated character Rothrick of Hindermarsh, a Lizard Folk Fighter.
What I recommend is that you spend the time making your perfect character before your first event, then come and play the game as the easiest class and race to play, typically a human fighter and play an event just to see how it works. Then make adjustments based on what you learned and rewrite your perfect character into one that you want to play. There is a lot going on at an event, learning the rules and game flow on easy mode, without worrying about your character’s parent’s ability to properly name their children, is a good idea.
#4. Leave Room in Your Character
So you have played a few games, understand the rules and setting enough to create a character that you want to play in the world; it feels like you should complete the process before taking them to a game, and that you should create them with strong beliefs and opinions and be ready to act on them and stand up for yourself. But, I think it’s best to hold off on this before playing a little. It’s easy to make a character who hates undead and kills them on sight with no exceptions, or one who refuses to speak to strangers unless they perform a cleansing rite, or someone raised in the wilds by wolves and doesn’t know how to properly interact in society; these are compelling characters, but are they fun?
LARP is about telling a collective story, and if your character is a rigid outsider to the rest of the PCs, you will interact much less and so have less fun. The best way to be included is not about building in attributes that lend to it ahead of playing that character, but by not defining things completely before playing. If you walk into game with an idea of your character and then let interactions with other players shape your character, your character will grow into the setting.
I have seen players come to events with characters committed completely to things that simply couldn’t exist in the setting, or driven by overwhelming passion against the whole of the player base. I’ve seen a human of noble birth in a world where humans couldn’t be nobles (plot determined he was insane and made his nobility a delusion, which he played perfectly). I’ve seen multiple ultra mysterious characters, ignored because there was no way to interact with them, ultimately never return to the game because they had no fun. Remember that as a new character, no one needs to talk to you, but they may want to if interacting with you is rewarding. By allowing your character room to grow during their first few events, you will create compelling dialogs with other players and add to the collective story in big ways.
I want to point out here that this is true for all new characters not just new players. I recently made a new character who was destined to be a “bad guy” with a lot of anti-social habits and opinions; I ignored this advice in a big way when I built him and wound up changing him a lot during my first event playing him, as I wasn’t having any fun and wasn’t adding to the game. He’s still a “bad guy”, still selfish, still arrogant and awful, but in a way that engages the other players instead of dismissing them. He has become the most complex character I have ever played, and most of that is due to changes I made during my first event.
First of all, I don’t recommend NPCing your first event. There are lots of reasons for this, but suffice to say that LARP is like a stage play, and your first event should be in the audience rather than behind the curtains.
So you’ve played around a bit and found the game that is right for you, maybe play an event with your well-honed, engaging fault riddled, properly named primary character then you should jump ship and NPC for a few events. Doing this will give you mad skills in both role play, fighting and tactics, save you a bunch of money, make you a bunch of friends and give you a ton of insight on the best practices of the game.
NPCs are volunteers that typically get to play for free by doing what they are told by the plot team, who are typically experienced players. NPCs play a wide variety of characters during a weekend, fight in a wide variety of styles, and get to make a bunch of wildly terrible decisions for those characters personal safety. They are typically outnumbered three to one or more on the battlefield and are LOVED by every PC for their help with the game.
By NPCing you get worst case scenario combat training alongside well experienced players in a consequence free environment all the while making everyone in the game love you. NPCing half your first year or even more is a fast way to get really good at the game and become a contributing member of the culture. I highly recommend it.
In the end, LARP is about fun. If you keep this as your guiding star and make adjustments to allow for it, everything will work out.