A Star is Born

I’m a firm believer that when creating a LARP, each character should seem like the “main character” from his or her player’s point of view. (Perhaps an impossible task, but a goal worth striving for.)

And there are several key differences between the campaign style boffer LARPs and one-shot theater LARPs that give the former an advantage over the latter in achieving this goal of an entire cast of stars.

One, in campaign boffer LARPs, everyone creates their own characters- their backgrounds, stats, and place in the LARP world- so everyone is playing the type of character they see as a hero of the story. (Or anti-hero. Or villain. Depending on your predilections. But those who end up playing something other than the Hero are doing so because they specifically want to- it was their choice.)

Two, the conflict in boffer LARPs tends to be Player vs. Environment (where the environment includes everything the staff creates, from villains and monsters to traps and magical curses.) In PvE, all of the characters can be working together towards the same goals. Theater LARPs tend to be PvP (or player vs. player) where the conflicts generally come from characters’ goals conflicting. They can’t all be trying to save the world in that set-up. (In general. There are a few theater LARPs where everyone wants to save the world, but characters may disagree on what saving the world entails.) Generally, someone’s got to be the villain, and other various non-hero roles,  and non-heroes may feel like their distinctly not the stars of the show (but rather the foils and support for the stars.)

Three, in boffer LARPs, for plots that require non-hero roles (i.e. the villains, the monsters, the innocent villagers, the kidnapped princess who needs rescuing, the merchants who sell supplies, etc.) boffer LARPs tend to have plenty of NPCs to fill the role. In a theater LARP, all of these roles tend to be filled out by players. If you want a full medieval court, we can’t all play the noble prince. If you want a full pirate ship, we can’t all play captains. Someone’s got to be the cabin boy.

For the record, I’m talking about common trends- there are always exceptions, especially in theater LARPs. In Slash, for example, a LARP I recently played that was based on bad fanfiction, all of the characters were heroes from various universes (namely, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and were all working towards the common goal of closing some kind of dangerous inter-dimensional rift. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

Despite all of this, I’m finding a strange trend in Lost Eidolons — some characters are outshining others. I’m wondering if this is something that occurs in all campaign boffer LARPs, or is just some quirk of Lost Eidolons alone. (I can’t think of a reason why Lost Eidolons would be particularly prone to it more than other LARPs. I’d have to do some research into other campaign LARPs.)

I can think of several patterns I’ve noticed that demonstrate this trend. Such characters tend to get more plot centered around them. NPCs from their backstories will show up to settle scores more often. Or powerful god-like beings will pay more attention to them.

And on various online forums, these characters will get a noticeably disproportionate amount of attention. Lost Eidolons has a page on Facebook and forums on its website. Players like to start silly threads such as “what song ironically fits another character” or “things characters will never say” or “what would it mean to be Verbed” (in other words, say a character is named John, what would “to get John-ed” mean). There’s even a collection of demotivational posters featuring various characters, created from pictures taken during events. In a LARP of maybe 60+ regular characters, the same small handful (maybe 5 to 10) comes up over and over. (I’ve even seen them pop up in flavor text written by the LARP staff on mechanics cards.)

They’re the characters everyone knows. (Including me. I try to come up with posts on these forum threads for the “lesser known” characters, and often come up blank.)

I’m curious as to why this happens, even in the form of LARPing that has so much going for it that should prevent this sort of thing? And how does a player make their character a star?

I have some guesses for answering that second question. Maybe that will help answer the former, as well.

1. It helps to be Big.

This is something players can’t control, but there it is. I’ve noticed the players who are very tall (and broad) tend to get a lot of attention. I guess one could wear heels, but boffing in heels is a truly terrible idea.

2. It helps to have an outrageous costume.

Dramatic masks, glowing bits, sound effects, etc. This is a hard one- it either requires a willingness to spend a lot of money, or to have the skill and tools to make stuff. I don’t just mean a sewing machine- people at Lost Eidolons do leather working, are great with building electronics, etc. Also, despite the need for comfort when one is running around outside in all kinds of weather, being willing to wear bulky armor, full face paint, full rubber or plastic masks, heavy props… all of this seems to help create a more visually memorable character. I couldn’t do it. And there are a rare few costumes that are visually striking but still practical. It’s a very hard balance to strike though.

Similarly,  some people have their costumes recognizable, but visually evolving as their characters change from event to event. They get richer and more fancy as characters gain treasure or get promoted. Sometimes they include new symbols as characters join cults. It’s a visual way to get attention to what’s going on with your character. (My own character started with two furry ears, lost one ear, then gained a mechanical one. This was likely too subtle.)

3. Create a character from the unpopular options. 

In most boffer LARPs, every character is created from a list of headers (similar to classes in tabletop RPGs) and races. It helps to pick the rarest of those. Even better if you’re the only person playing them. Then everyone knows who that one Whatever is, and any time a plot shows up involving that race and/or class, there’s a good chance you’ll be front and center. Race tends to have more impact in this sense than class, as far as I can tell, but both help. It’s an unfortunate fact that the less popular races and classes are less popular for a reason, and sometimes the most common races and classes get more attention. (For example, Academics are fairly common in Lost Eidolons, and many modules are designed for academics to go on). This ties into #2 in that being the only member of a particular race or class means you’re the only one dressing as such. So, for example, if nobody else picks the race with green skin, you’ll stand out as the only one there with green skin.

4. Show up regularly to the events.

I know this one is tough and real life gets in the way. And worse than just not making it to the events, I think, is saying you will attend but later dropping out. But writers and staff need to know you’ll be there in order to write plot for you, and if you don’t regularly show up, you become someone for whom it isn’t worth preparing personal plots.

And, of course, you’re more recognizable if you’re seen more often.

5. Play a powerful character.

Players buy abilities for their characters with Character Points (in the Accelerant boffer system, anyway. I can’t speak for all boffer mechanics, but many do.)  Everyone starts with a certain amount of CP, then they can earn more in various ways, such as attending events, helping with clean up, NPCing for other LARPs, and donating props and costumes. The amount of CP is capped (for example, you might have a max of 30 for the first event, 40 for the second, 50 for the third, etc.) And in the case of Lost Eidolons, there’s no cap for the last year of the LARP.

I’d say it really helps to be at cap (or as near to it as you can be). The weaker characters tend to go down first and often in combat, and spend less time doing things like saving others or taking on the Big Bads (rather than fighting only mooks). Being seen to be doing helpful things, like having all the languages skills to speak with any big monsters that come along, gives you a bigger presence.

It does help to have actual skill with a boffer weapon, and there are a rare few boffer LARPers who develop reputations by being the dangerous badasses, but that only takes you so far. If monsters are swinging for 10 damage, and you only have 9 hit points, you’re going down on the first tap. You need the CP to buy more hit points.

6. Buy plot coupons, aka information skills.

Some skills allow you to obtain information, usually in between sessions. For example, some characters can perform seances and have the spirits respond to them and provide information about the LARP setting. Some characters have the ability to name an NPC and tail them for information. Some characters have research skills, some have shady contacts.

Allowing players to pick the topics their characters learn about guides where LARP writers create plot. If I want, say, my character’s mentor to have more of a presence in the LARP, I can use information skills to get the LARP writers to create more in-game information about my character’s mentor. Or enemies. Or allies. Or race. So more stuff tends to get created surrounding your particular character.

Quick example, I created a random patron diety for my character in Lost Eidolons. A friend of mine used his research skill to find out more information about the diety. The staff then actually created a backstory and items for my character’s personal diety, and eventually created a module in which people can meet said diety. (The module has yet to get played out, but it was there.)

7. Be loud.

Kind of a no-brainer in that doesn’t only relate to LARPs, but there it is. And if you can take skills that specifically require you to do loud roleplaying (such as delivering a sermon that people must hear in order to benefit from), that’s even better.

8. Be stupid.

To put a more positive spin on it, you could call it brave, reckless, impulsive, curious, or careless.  This one is kind of a double edged sword. If you’re the one who is always grabbing at the shiny items being guarded in the ancient tombs, or the first one to take a swing at a possibly invincible Big Bad Monster… there’s  a chance you may be the one triggering plot that centers around you. There’s also a chance you’re just going to get flattened. But if you survive, you’ll be known as the one who accidentally set off the traps, or the one who is now the conduit for the Demon because you were dumb enough to try on its ancient crown.

9. Be weird.

Characters are often known for their outrageous accents, weird habits (puns, catch phrases) or some other sort of quirk (or even being downright insane.)

Personally, I find that this makes some characters into comic relief, and I don’t know if I’d enjoy stardom at such a cost (though I’m sure others enjoy being comic relief.)

10. Be evil.

This one’s sort of a last resort, and may bite you in the ass, but if you have a town of heroes and you’re the only one going around killing your fellow PCs, people will know you. Whether or not they’ll kill you in retaliation, I can’t say for sure.

These are all, thus far, theories based on observation. I think Taz, my Lost Eidolons character, fails pretty hard at all of them (with the exception of being stupid.)

Come the next boffer campaign LARP I play, I’ll try to keep track of which ones I try for myself and see how they work out.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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4 Responses to A Star is Born

  1. Pingback: It’s the End of the World as We Know It « FairEscape

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  4. Pingback: A Star is Born, Revisited | Fair Escape

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