In theater LARPs, the genders of the cast of characters are typically pre-determined by the writers as either female, male, or neutral. At large events where you’re drawing your players from a large pool of LARPers, (such as conventions like Intercon) neutral characters typically aren’t necessary, but if you’re drawing from a smaller pool of players, you can’t guarantee you’ll have as many male players as male characters, or as many female players as female characters. Writing characters that could be either male or female helps prevent the need for crosscasting, if that’s something the GMs would like to avoid.
This raises the question on how to write the character sheets. If one were to write the character as a male, using male pronouns, every time the LARP was run with a female playing the role, the GMs would have to go over the entire character sheet, correcting the pronouns (and gendered nouns that refer to them, such as “man” or “brother”), and go through many of the other character sheets, if not all of them, to correct all references to that character. And possibly any other writing materials that refer to the character, such as blue sheets. A tedious process, especially in larger LARPs.
People have various ways of addressing this. Some people just stick to writing characters with set genders exclusively, and rely on cross-casting when needed. Many (if not most) use the aforementioned method (going over all the writing materials and switching the gender of gendered nouns and pronouns as needed). This often comes with a disclaimer that says, “if any of the pronouns are off, we apologize, just be aware that this character is male (or female) in this run.” …This gets doubly confusing if the character’s gender is not what it appears to be. (I’ve played a handful of female characters trying to pass as boys- it’s one of my favorite tropes to play.)
I’ve heard people discussing technological solutions- using custom writing programs that allow you to tag words as referring to a particular character, and by setting that character’s gender, it would automatically adjust all the words tagged as needed. I don’t know if that was a hypothetical suggestion or if any of the LARP writing tools out there actually support this yet.
And then there’s writing the characters entirely gender neutral. Not an easy task in English, what with our gendered pronouns and a handful of nouns, but English is probably one of the easier languages to do this in, since our verbs and adjectives and adverbs don’t pick up gender like they do in other languages. This method is typically dismissed out of hand, because it can result in very clunky awkward dialog.
However! I was reading my character sheet from Soul of the World, the LARP I recently played in NYC with the Harvard crowd, and at the end, it occurred to me that I was imagining one of the characters in it as male, though I knew it was cast as a female player… so I went back and reread it, and realized that not only was the character in question ambiguously gendered, but so was my own character and the other two characters mentioned in it. But it never came off as awkward or clunky.
A major part of what made this possible was the concept and structure of the LARP. The characters weren’t meant to be mundane people, and the descriptions of their lives were pointedly devoid of detail. When and where the characters lived was left ambiguous. We were free to interpret the specifics of our characters and where they came from however we pleased, and no interpretation was incorrect, even if they conflicted with others’ interpretations. The LARP was sort of set outside the realm of reality- we played archetypes, not humans. That lack of specifics made it much easier to avoid gendered pronouns, I think.
So clearly this method won’t apply to all LARPs; in fact it probably can’t be used for the majority of LARPs out there, but the point is, it’s possible to write gender neutrality and make it sound natural. No need to dismiss this method out of hand.