A Star is Born, Revisited

I was just reading a blog post in which a new character (in fact, a member of my warband in Fifth Gate) was compared to the list of qualities I came up with to help make a campaign boffer character memorable. I had only played one boffer campaign when I had written it, and this is apparently apparent to others who have played that one campaign (Lost Eidolons) or another campaign with similar themes and some of the same writers. (Occam’s Razor.)

Having now PCed (at least once) in three other campaigns and NPCed in a handful of others (for context, they are all Accelerant, though I have played some one-shots and tried out combat in other styles), I think the list needs some adjustment and clarification, and maybe some additions.

1. Be big. However you want to interpret this is valid to me, but when I first created this list, I was thinking in terms of physical size only. I was primarily thinking about height, and maybe the breadth of one’s shoulder’s secondarily. This was meant to illustrate that how memorable one’s character is is not entirely in our hands. (Though if we want to look at this list from the perspective of non-combat NPCs and theater LARPs, options like heels and platforms and even stilts become a possibility.) Besides being simply more visible, studies show that taller people are more likely to have leadership qualities ascribed to them.

In Lost Eidolons, at some point the PCs got together to discuss our lack of group tactics in townwide battles, and we ended up electing one of the tallest PCs as some kind of field marshal. Of course, I’m not saying that’s the only reason he was elected, but I do think it was, on some subconscious level at least, a factor. (I abstained from the vote. Efficiency is not actually a high priority for me in boffer combat — fun trumps it by a considerable amount. And I’ve had some pretty rotten experiences with PCs having authority over other PCs in tabletop RPGs and consequently developed an almost pathological resistance to it in LARPs where players create their own characters.)

But we can pretty easily add a bit of breadth to our shoulders with costuming, And the fantasy genre just loves dramatic pauldrons.

 2. An outrageous costume. Obviously, an outrageous costume will fit the bill for this one, but I don’t think a costume necessarily has to be outrageous in order to fit the bill for this item. And, as I mentioned, outrageousness and practicality often come at the expense of one another. I would revise this to say that something need not be flashy, per se (though flashy doesn’t hurt!) but simply somehow remarkable, in that it may literally be remarked upon. That is, if there’s some element of your costume that will enable people to say, “you know, character X?” “which one are they, again?” “the one with the XYZ in their costume.” Which can happen when some element is noticeable and unique.

3. Choosing unpopular options. I think I stand by this one, though it’s not really applicable to Fifth Gate in the way it is to other Accelerant LARPs (and probably lots of other LARPs, besides). There’s really only one transparent choice for characters — Order — where most LARPs generally have two (header/class and race/culture — this is admittedly something of oversimplication). And there are only six Orders in Fifth Gate: Silverfire, five of which currently have comparable numbers of PCs (seven to twelve); the largest group has 21.

I think this item mostly applies to character races and/or cultures. Years after Lost Eidolons ended, I can still remember the only PC member of the bug-like race quite clearly. But this may only be applicable if costuming or mannerisms makes membership in the rare race or class immediately obvious. Or perhaps frequent public reminders would suffice, but it’s hard to imagine how that would happen in a natural way. (Maybe if it’s part of the character’s name or title?)

Having a rare abilities or being one of the only members of a rare class is a less common form of this — class generally doesn’t usually figure as blatantly into costuming as race does. And if very few characters have a given ability, the staff may not provide many uses in-game to use it (demonstrating how your character is unique.)

4. Show up regularly to events. Pretty straightforward, but I’ve discovered that there are ways to make your presence felt even when you’re not that. Give other players in-character handwritten letters to deliver to one another and open during the event, maybe sealed with your personal seal, or dotted with your character’s custom scene, or tied with a flower that your character frequently wears pinned to his jacket. Send little gifts, maybe a snack from your character’s native culture, or an extra pair of gloves for the cabin, for anyone who might have forgotten their own to use at cold events. In some cases, you can request a letter to be read out loud to a group.

I have also tried asking staff to help work out an in-game reason for your character’s absence. In Lost Eidolons, when I had to miss an event, the other PCs in my cabin received one of my character’s ears nailed to a piece of wood, along with a bloody note. It’s a very fond memory from that campaign.

5. Play a powerful character. When I wrote the original post, I was mostly thinking of maxing one’s CP (or advancing in in-game power however your LARP handles it, if applicable) and participating in training and practice for whatever skills your character has. Combat is the obvious example of a skill to improve through practice, but I find doing sudoku and solving substitution ciphers has helped me a lot because those are favorite forms of puzzles in the local community. (Substitute in your LARPs’ favorite forms of puzzles as necessary.)  Lockpicking and trap disarming are also good skills to practice, if you’re playing a rogue-type and the LARP staff has a few forms of traps they like to re-use.

Someone suggested that you don’t need to be powerful across the board (and if you join a LARP that has been running for many years and/or has a steep advancement system, you may not be able to), or primarily in combat, for this. You can choose a specialty and max it out. For example, if you heavily specialize in healing, you’ll probably be able to develop a reputation as a noteworthy healer, one often sought out, say, when people are figuring out who they need for a module. This is a double-edged sword, though — if you pick an uncommon specialty, the staff may not put in many situations where it’s specifically needed. But if you pick a common one, then odds are there will be others almost as good as you, or just as good as you, and your character will stand out less.

6. Buy plot coupons, aka information skills. I still think these are best used to ask about topics that specifically relate to your character — such as asking about events from your personal history or asking about your character’s patron deity. I might have thought asking about a broad topic, and/or one that is important to many characters, but I’ve found this kind of information is often worked into LARP events anyway, if they’re relevant, (Which is smart GMing — putting important information in the hands of a single player is risking it never getting out to the other people who want/need to know.)

7. Be loud. A number of local LARPs have abilities that involve granting benefits to people who listen to you give a sermon, an inspiring speech, a performance, or a lesson in some topic you study. (In some cases, this was outside of battle, in other cases, it could be during a battle.) Lost Eidolons had, I think, maybe two players with such abilities, and so many players listened to them, and that helped make their characters memorable. Since playing in Lost Eidolons, I’ve been in a number of LARPs that have tons of players who use such abilities many times per event, and, to be frank, it can become too common to be distinctly memorable. Similarly, I know there are some players who shout a lot during combat, whether it’s trying to give orders or to offer help… I generally don’t find this to help distinguish characters, but your milage may vary.

However, I’m keeping “be loud’ on the list because I now know it’s a good idea to speak up during town meetings (even better if you stand when you do) and, if you can, get over your shyness of emoting when a meaty role-playing scene warrants it.

8. Be stupid. This was my cynical way of saying it can help to put passion, bravery, curiosity, honor, tradition, or even sometimes whim above prudence or caution. However, I have found that this can backfire in a second way. (Besides the risk of your character getting flattened, that is.) If people decide you’re too risky to bring along on dangerous missions or let you speak directly to a dangerous NPC, this can end up blocking you from interesting plot. (This may have happened once or twice to my character who has taken a vow of Truth, and considers lying by omission to be a violation of this vow. On the flip side, her naivete and ignorance has proven to provide opportunity for memorable humorous role-play.)

9. Be weird. I feel as though I should probably amend this one to say be creative, but that sounds like more vague advice that would prompt a follow up question of, “ok, but how does one ‘be creative’?” One suggestion I heard and liked — give your character a noticeable and genuine flaw or challenge. I don’t mean “doesn’t back down from challenges” or “is over-protective of their loved ones” or “refuses to be a proper lady” — those are great flaws to give a character, but tons of characters have them. Always walking with a limp (and the aid of a cane and never running), that’s an actual challenge. Mutism, blindness, lack of the use of one arm, etc.

10. Be evil. A lot of local campaigns either disallow or strongly discourage evil characters, so this one is often moot, but lots of good guys have dark streaks, I suppose. If it manifests in a noticeable and unusual way, that counts.

And now for new items on this list…

11. Make use of your real life talents. This is one lots of people use to great effect. Musical talents get displayed frequently in LARPs.  Other possibilities include juggling, dancing, acrobatics, magic tricks, and storytelling. (One talented storytelling NPC very quickly became one of my favorites to see hanging around the tavern.) It doesn’t have to be a talent in a performing art, though. If you’re an artist in an art form that is appropriate to the genre and setting of your LARP, you can bring your paint sets and paint in-character, or whittle wood, or whatever it is you do. (Even better if you can encourage people to give it a try for themselves.) And a good cook who provides unusual hot, filling snacks late at night is always appreciated, and remembered.

12. Play the host. Put effort into making your space in the LARP — whether it’s your cabin, tent, or just your corner of the tavern — into a spot that looks nice and immersive and comfortable, and make it a spot worth visiting. Offering drinks and snacks and maybe a fun way to pass the time, such as genre-appropriate card games, or providing music, encourages people to come visit. Often, we don’t get personally get to know many of the PCs in our LARPs without a particular reason to socialize outside of the groups we come in with. This will give other players incentive to come get to know your character.

Sadly, if I were to go solely by this list, I’d say my new PC ranks as distinctly forgettable, but maybe that’s something I can improve upon for future events.

So what do you think? What makes a LARP character memorable to the other PCs in your boffer campaign?

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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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15 Responses to A Star is Born, Revisited

  1. Lise says:

    Yay! The post I have long awaited is here!

    The upshot is: Ianthe clearly needs an excuse to wear pauldrons 😉

    I like the idea of making use of my real-life talents, although I’m not sure mine are particularly suited to Ianthe? In that I consider myself a writer by avocation, but I’m playing a character who is supposed to be more inclined towards numbers. Even while I scribble in my journal, I feel like I need to make excuses that I’m not writing out formulas or something. But it’s believable enough a stretch that I can make it a character point for her, and I enjoy inhabiting a much more analytical mindset than I usually do.

    I’m also not sure Ianthe’s concept is “creative” in the way you state. Being reckless and anti-authoritarian, as you say, is not nearly as much of a challenge as a more physical quirk. I suppose it remains to be seen if it’s the kind of thing I will stick with with foolish consistency when it’s to my detriment 😉

    • Fair Escape says:

      We should show up to every LARP with the silhouette of a linebacker. 😛
      Yeah, I think writing is a tough skill to work into a LARP — even if your character was inclined to do it, it’s not the kind of thing people stop to watch when it’s happening. (Or the kind of thing people like to have an audience for, generally — don’t you hate it when someone reads over your shoulder while you’re writing?) But I think writing you’re great little ficlets (is that a word?) in between events will both keep floon going and grant others insight into Ianthe from another point of view. It’s an OOC thing, but maybe that belongs on the list?

      Ianthe’s quirks may not be 100% unique — I’m sure there are other anti-authoritarian and reckless LARP characters out there, but I think they apply better to other items on the list. They’re really good traits for grabbing plot cookies (as Chris put it).

  2. gaylord500 says:

    Hm. For my Fifth Gate character.

    1 – Yes, I think.
    2 – Not really there yet, but getting there.
    3 – Yes, I think – 2nd smallest faction, and what seems, at least initially, a relatively unpopular stance within that faction.
    4 – Maybe. I’m not NPCing the opposite side, so will likely miss deepening connections. Also not into social media.
    5 – No. Neither a healer nor a fighter; power-wise, this character may not be able to live in this setting. Trying to make this a feature rather than a weakness.
    6 – On the other hand, have all of these.
    7, 8, 9 – Probably not.
    10 – Quite possibly so, with a value of “evil” being the general status quo.
    11, 12 – Hopefully yes. Was the point of the shrine mockup, to try to draw folks in in a memorable way.

    I’d be satisfied with having a set of good, individual interactions (which had happened). With games scheduled so far apart it’s harder to maintain depth or subtlety.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Since you’re the only person I know who plays both an Accelerant campaign and Knight Realms, I have to ask: do the same principles work in KR?

      • gaylord500 says:

        Although it doesn’t look like it sometimes, Knight Realms is the “mother game” for a lot of boffer LARPs in the NJ area. If it’s a game that has no information skills, “taxes” PCs with an NPC shift (rather than having a strict split), and has a generally lower cost in trade off for a smaller ratio of staff to players, it’s KR-ish as opposed to Accelerant.

        Other than 6, which doesn’t exist here, I’d say that the same ideas apply.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Hmmm, I’ve never thought of it in terms of information skills. I did notice the NPC shift tax in Legacies, where most of your character advancement comes from a resource called Bribe, which you get for NPCing and bringing props and such for the game’s general use. One thing that I think makes a big difference is character advancement: Legacies has been around nearly 20 years, and has a huge power gap between new and veteran players. The weekend I went, I hit for 5 points of damage each time, and had maybe 15 spells for the entire weekend; the long-timers hit for 20 and had dozens of spell slots. I’ve heard vague stories about KR, but I don’t know if it’s like that, too.

          • gaylord500 says:

            Which Legacies LARP do you mean? It’s apparently a fairly common name.

            The ones I would argue are derived from Knight Realm’s explicit or implicit practices – but certainly through a lineage of players/storytellers in common – are Dystopia Rising, Shadows of Kimara, and Doomsday. Possibly a few others too, such as FaeGlen. Some of these have joined together under the LARP United flag (4-5 years old now?), which adds a CP exchange system to these games.

            These flavors aren’t even the only games in the NYC area nowadays – either older (most NERO and more combat-oriented boffer, for example) or newer (Aces and Operatives, a 007 light LARP campaign in NYC). I wonder if we’ll look back on this as a golden age of LARPing, coming between face-to-face tabletop and computerized holodecks.

    • Fair Escape says:

      2, Definitely. I think your headdress and basket were the most memorable costuming pieces there, and there was a lot of excellent, excellent costuming. The Silverfire PCs set the bar really high.

      4. Those are two really interesting points I hadn’t considered — being present for online conversations and NPCing the opposite side. I think being a large part of the local Accelerant community does factor into this, though that might be a unique feature of our local community’s structure, with its heavily overlapping populations. I’ve heard some people say they don’t want to NPC Wrathborn mostly because they want to have the experience of actually learning everything about it in-character for the first time at the crossover event. (Also, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be nothing but a crunchy because the staff wants to avoid spoiling players.) But now I’m thinking maybe I should NPC Wrathborn this year, after all.

      7. You haven’t been literally loud, but a lot of players (in the Eyrie, at least) remember conversations with you, so just being willing to talk with strangers a lot counts.

      10. Another very interesting take! This shouldn’t just be “evil” but maybe “goes against the grain of the consensus in important, town wide decisions”.

      Wow, now I want to update this list again.

      11/12. Sorry I missed the shrine, I hope to see it next time.

      I’m also curious to see how having events much more spread out will affect the game overall.

  3. Shannon Lane says:

    I’d just add one thing:

    Make sure to be interested in other people’s stories.

    It seems like a small thing – but the most memorable characters in other people’s minds tend to be those characters that interacted with their own in meaningful ways. People remember my PCs not for the fact that they’re odd (they usually are, I admit), but for the fact that they help others reach their destiny… whatever that is.

    Good roleplay and interest in the stories of others – that’s what makes you unforgettable.

    • Shannon Lane says:

      ** I nearly forgot: another great one for most LARPs would be, for number 10, “Be Moral.” Really moral. Look at the murderhobo askance, and ask hard questions about what the people around you are doing.

      It’s absolutely astounding how much a little moral outrage helps in most games I’ve experienced.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I think that’s a really good point — a lot of the tiny moments in LARPs that stand out in my mind years later involve other characters, whether PCs or NPCs, interacting with mine in a way that related specifically to my character’s concept.

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