I’m very excited to share another guest post on this blog. It’s written by Brian R., author of the popular Boffer Lessons for Theater article and whose LARPs rank among my all-time favorite theater LARPs.
In the style of larp I often play, players are assigned a pre-written role by the GM. The players are then given a character sheet that contains their history, personality, goals, etc. It has become the dominant way of writing short (2 – 48 hr.), one-shot theater style larps in my area because it allows the players to be sure that they’ll have a character intricately bound to the other characters and to the plot, for games that are short enough that a player wouldn’t normally have time enough to build up those connections themselves.
The question becomes: how on Earth do you match all those pre-written roles to players in your game? GMs and event organizers have come up with all sorts of tools and techniques to try to come up with the ideal casting for a game. There’s very little agreement, and even less data on what actually produces better games.
What I want to talk about here isn’t any of those specific techniques, but rather the underlying philosophy behind how we cast our games and why. I’ve listened to a lot of GMs talk about how they cast their games, and I think we can broadly break up casting philosophies into 3 categories:
The director’s concern is for the game as a whole, and the director considers primarily each players ability to play their part well (be that convincingly, or entertainingly). Like the director of a play, this GM-type puts far more weight on what roles people will be succesful in than in what roles people asked for. They might cast good actors in prominent roles, charismatic people in leadership roles, or give villain roles to those likely to push the plot forward while avoiding detection. The director figures that the more entertaining the piece is as a whole, the more entertaining it will be for the majority of players involved – even if people don’t get exactly what they asked for.
The Travel Agent
The opposite of the director, the travel agent considers only what people ask for. Like a travel agent selling vacation packages, their only concern is listening to the type of experience someone asks for and trying to give it to them – these GMs figure it’s none of their business how good people are at the activities involved. This could be either out of a sense of fairness (it can truly suck to be cast in a role you didn’t want because of preconceived notions of what you’ll succeed at), or because the GM just doesn’t feel they’ll be able to judge in advance what people will be good at, or doesn’t find it important. A travel-agent GM might cast a shy player in a leadership role if they ask for it, or continue casting a player who enjoys playing villains as the big villain – even if the other players of the larp expect this casting and figure it out immediately. The travel agent figures that people will have more fun if they get to play their preferences – even if the larp as a whole suffers a little bit.
The Guidance Counselor
Somewhere in between the two extremes is the guidance counselor. Like its namesake, the guidance counselor is concerned with fitting a player into the role that they like best, out of all the roles that they could succeed at. It doesn’t matter if someone would be the best detective in the world – if they’re capable of pulling off the murderer, and they ask to be cast as the murderer, the guidance counselor casts them as the murderer. Unlike the travel agent however, a guidance counselor-style GM only considers people for roles the GM thinks they’re capable of. For instance, they might avoid casting a shy player as a character intended to be a driving force behind the larp, even if they ask for it.
I wrote these three categories as neutrally as I could, and I don’t think any of them is right or wrong, just different priorities. I myself tend to be the Travel Agent, both out of a sense of fairness and because people continually suprise me with the types of roles they do well with. For those of you who do casting for these types of larps: which category are you?
Brian R. has been theater LARPing for about 6 years and boffer LARPing for about 3 years. He makes up half of the theater LARP writing team called Lovers and Madmen, which ran its first LARP, Redemption: High Noon at the Devil’s Luck in 2010, and has since also written and run Stars of Al-Ashtara, Venezia, and Devil to Pay.