Intercon Pirates Part IV: Getting into Character

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Between noon and 2pm on Friday, I was running two discussions at PreCon.

In Strategies for Getting Into Character, a few of my fellow LARPers and I sat around in a circle, discussing the various methods we’ve tried, heard of others trying, or would like to try to help us get into the mindsets of our characters in preparation for LARPs.

I have personally made attempts at meditation and even hypnosis, neither of which had a noticeable effect for me, though my experiments have been extremely limited thus far. I intend to continue experimenting with both. (Pre-performance acting exercises to clear your mind overlap quite a bit with meditation.)

We talked about the various ways costuming can help with this process. Of course, wearing something you don’t normally wear is already a good start, especially if your character is very different from you as a person. A number of us felt that wearing costuming that feels distinctly different from what we normally wear is particularly helpful. For example, corsets often feel stiffer and more restrictive, which provides a subtle reminder that your clothes are your characters’ clothes when just standing around (and a somewhat less subtle reminder if you try to bend forward to tie your shoes or something.)  High heels are another great example, especially if you wear them very rarely, or heavy boots, which both physically and symbolically make me feel like there is more weight in my stride. And when my dance instructor wants her students to improve their posture or move with more poise, she sometimes says, “remember the pearls and tiara,” a reminder to hold your  head high and your chin up as though you were showing off jewels. It’s a phrase I sometimes use when getting into the headspace of a character of royalty.

I have found costuming to be a bit of crutch though, to the point where its absence can become a greater difficulty if I rely on it too much to feel in-character. I remember I was once cast as Princess Alexandra of Wales, but I’d left my skirt in my hotel room, and wearing jeans the whole first evening of the LARP left me feeling awkward and out of place, like I couldn’t be the Princess of Wales until the next morning, when I had the right ensemble.

Others present talked a lot about how eyewear (or lack therefore), makeup and facepaint, both the process of applying it and wearing it, can have similar effects, as can needing to adjust your glasses (or suddenly not having them on your face) or modifying the way you scratch your nose (because your character has facepaint on their nose). Personally, I find the process of putting on makeup only helps me get into character if the character is wearing makeup. However, when the makeup is meant to be a permanent part of the character’s face (such as scars, fur, scales, or tattoos), it actually has a detrimental effect to my immersion, because the character would not be performing that action.

Another strategy suggested was coming up with catchphrases or specific gestures one’s character might frequently use. Having something simple but distinctly different from your usual behavioral and speech patterns is useful both to convey something about your character to others, but also helps as something to fall back on when you start to feel unsure about how to roleplay as your character and begin to overthink things. This can tie into having accessories and props — a specific way to push up your character’s glasses, for example, or particular ways to fiddle with a ring your character wears for personal reasons.

We also talked quite a bit about using music to get into character. I know in some of the local LARP circles, lots of LARPers like to create playlists for their characters, especially campaign characters, of tunes whose feeling matches their character, or have lyrics that reflect them, or both. Some even finely tune the list to have songs that reflect various important moments in their lives, or songs that reflect their relationships with other characters or elements of the setting. While creating Quill, my character for Cottington Woods, I was listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons, and her playlist is now chock full of them. (I also have a few other tunes, including RHCP’s “Porcelain”, Abney Park’s “Herr Drosselmeyer’s Doll” and Gregory Alan Isakov’s “The Stable Song”.) I listen this playliste while packing and in the car on the way to an event. (Also sometimes while writing PELs.)

I also sometimes put on movies (or tv shows) to play in the background while I pack, selecting films from genres of the LARP or LARPs I’m about to play. (Pirates of the Caribbean was on while getting ready for Intercon this year–not just for the theme of the convention, but for my first LARP, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.)

Thinking about music as an audio stimulation lead to us discussing engaging other senses for help getting into character. If your character has a signature scent, the process of applying it and taking that first whiff might also help. (By the way, Adventure Scents sells customized scents to help create the kind of atmospheres adventures might find themselves in, such as Rowdy Tavern or Smoky Campfire.) Food can be very specific to a LARP’s setting or your individual character, maybe eating or drinking something unusual that your character enjoys just before a LARP might be helpful? This might be especially true if, say, your character is often very energetic and your drink contains caffeine… and I suspect alcohol has potential I’ve yet to tap into, though I know LARPs in other countries make regular use of it. (I’m sure some in the US do, too, just none I’ve ever been involved with.)

How a GM opens a LARP can play a significant role in enabling their players to get into character, though not all GMs opt for anything beyond a (sometimes rather abrupt)”game on” call. I’ve seen events open with a song to signal the start, or GMs instructing players to close their eyes and open them when they feel ready. At the discussion, we briefly brainstormed ideas for merging this idea with music– what if players closed their eyes at the beginning of the song, and opened them when it ended to begin the game? Or players could listen to songs individually chosen, either by the GM or themselves, to listen to on headphones? It would require a bit more prep and remembering to bring along music players, but it might be worth experimenting with. I recall reading about a LARP where the sex mechanic involved two players sharing ear buds and listening to music together, an intriguing concept that lead me to brainstorm about other private uses for music in LARP.

I think my favorite opening moments of LARPs are often somewhat more choreographed than this. In one LARP, where all of the characters have been sedated and moved on to a boat before the LARP begins, GMs had us close our eyes, then led us into game space one by one, and signaled us waking by silently tapping us on the shoulder, one by one. I found it to be extremely helpful. In the absence of GMs, players can orchestrate their own beginning. I recall one LARPer describing their method as the slow walk into game — being sure to be well outside of game space when it begins, perhaps on the edge of the campsite for a boffer event, and taking a long slow walk to where the other players are gathered, using that time to clear their thoughts and focus on their character.

The one other method (or grouping of methods) we covered in this PreCon discussion was that of going over one’s character sheet carefully and/or multiple times, focusing on the main themes of the character and the emotions they evoke, then drawing on those themes and emotions before the LARP begins. With that in mind, planning out your first few moves so that you’re not awkwardly floundering can ease the transition from Player to Character.

I found the discussion very helpful; I definitely have some new ideas to try and methods to keep in mind for upcoming LARPs. (Do you have anything to add to the list we created? Please share!)

Intercon P, Thursday of PreCon (Costuming Tricks and LARP in the Media)

Intercon P, Thursday of PreCon (Cultural Appropriation and Intro. to Accelerant)

Intercon P, Friday of PreCon (Writing Game Blurbs and Makeup Techniques)

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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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2 Responses to Intercon Pirates Part IV: Getting into Character

  1. Chris W says:

    Really glad you appreciated the start of Queen of Spades! I find that’s one of the things Shifting Forest Games (the group/studio that wrote Queen of Spades, as well as many of the other games Patrick and I have run as of late) does well – many of their games have similar guidance for GMs on how to start game in a meaningful way.

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