Random topic that came up recently. Someone asked about techniques used in LARPs to make a setting feel more real. The obvious answers, like higher quality costuming and props, or stricter rules against non-period objects (like food in modern wrappers, or sneakers with obvious logos) came up a few times, and a few people mentioned things like lighting or ambient music.
I tried to approach the question from a different angle — what kind of measures can one take when crafting a new culture to make it feel complete and present? Or, alternatively, when creating a game set in a real historical culture, what aspects of it might people not know but benefit from learning about so it might be incorporated into a LARP?
And that made me think about greetings. Incredibly simple, and yet pervasive — it’s something players will experience many times over the course of an event, bookending every encounter they have with one another or NPCs.
Greetings can speak volumes about a culture and the individuals making use of them. The way people greet one another — whether it’s shaking hands, bumping fists, bowing, curtseying, saluting, rising from our seats, removing our hats or just tipping them, nodding our heads… can reflect or indicate relative social status, or shared elements between people, like a common religion or background in the military. We have complex rules, many that we’re not even consciously aware of, about who usually greets whom first and in what order we introduce people to one another, that may depend on age, gender, marital status, position, social class, etc. And they can change to reflect in-game events or holidays.
We tend to default to either modern greetings or some vague notion of period greetings in LARP, I find. If “nice to meet you” and shaking hands doesn’t seem to fit, we have a few stand-bys that get used for a wide swath of historical eras and fantasy settings — the head bow for men, the curtsey for women, and sometimes the hand kiss for men greeting women. But LARPers quickly get tangled up if we don’t actually know the rules of etiquette we’re trying to mimic. (I’m often not sure how or if to curtsey if I’m not wearing a skirt, for example.)
For historical settings, (or fantasy games inspired by particular periods) I often find a brief primer on appropriate greetings to be a really useful inclusion to cultural blue sheets, when included. Particularly for coming up with appropriate titles for historical positions — when does one use “Your Grace” or “Your Eminence” for various clergy members and/or nobility? That always trips me up. Or to make a fantasy setting feel unique but real, LARP writers might come up with their own system of traditions for how people greet one another.
I used to think a military salute was universal, but they vary by country. As I’m playing a LARP where all of the PCs have a military background, maybe I can convince my warband to come up with our own salute.
Which reminds me… Seasons Greetings and Happy Chanukah, everyone!