Here’s a random little topic about a small element of LARPs that often seems to be a given in some LARP communities/styles, but unheard of in others… Nametags! We don’t often think of them as a mechanic, likely because their use is often fairly passive in nature, their purpose often intuitive, but it is a non-diagetic means of representing something diagetic (namely, in-character knowledge that a player lacks), which describes the average LARP mechanic (though not all of them, as the term has recently come to be used to describe actions that don’t represent anything in-game and aren’t meant to interact with the diagesis).
I was first introduced to LARPing with one-shot theater style LARPs, and for years, through many LARPs, from several hour long to weekend longs, they all used nametags. Boffer LARPs (of the one shot or campaign variety) seem to mostly eschew them (particularly if it’s difficult to think of a reason for them to be diagetic) but I believe the first LARPs I played with the HRSFA crowd were the first theater LARPs I experienced that didn’t use nametags.
The biggest benefit to nametags is probably fairly obvious — characters in pre-written LARPs often should be able to identify other characters on sight, even when the players can’t. Even if a GM sends out a cast list in advance, it can be difficult to memorize who is playing all of the characters your character should be able to identify, especially if the list is long. And it’s even more challenging if you don’t know the other players outside of the LARP. Some LARPs are cast at the door, precluding committing this information to memory in advance, and some LARPs specifically conceal the list of who’s who prior to the LARP to prevent pre-gaming. (A number of weekend long theater LARPs I’ve played had this policy.)
And nametags can serve additional purposes. Lots of games have used them to encode information, whether it’s simply writing out what titles a character holds on the nametag, to including symbols or colors or fonts to indicate information (eg character pronouns, or “blue nametags indicate elves, red nametags indicate humans”) which may be public information, or only available to characters with specific knowledge or skills. (Eg A psychic character might have a secret ability to decode the string of numbers printed below the names on the nametags. Any number that ends in 5 indicates they have arachnophobia, any number that begins with 2 means they have been possessed by a ghost, etc.) Or alternatively, I’ve seen LARPs where nametags enabled people to play with the fact that characters might be identical (secret clones, or alternative timeline versions of the same person) by giving them identical nametags, even if the players look nothing alike.
It need not be limited to in-game information; lots of LARPs use symbols on nametags to indicate openness to engaging in romantic relationships between characters, or the level of touch a player is comfortable with, or whether or not the player is interested in being offered alcoholic beverages.
And in the odd setting where nametags could be diagetic, they can reinforce elements of the setting or enhance immersion. (For example, in a LARP set in a prison, players might be referred to by the numbers on their shirts, which can set the tone.) Generally, I’m of the opinion that any LARP for which one can create an in-game reason for nametags to exist (even if it’s a thinly veiled excuse) should use them and specify, if necessary, to players that they are diagetic.
Of course, they’re not a perfect solution to disconnect between the characters’ ability to identify one another on sight and the players’ inability. They require players to get up close to one another and perhaps squint at one another’s shirts, which can often result in one of those awkward, “sorry, do I know you? ‘Count Winchester’… Let me check my sheet… hm, nope never mind, my character wouldn’t have had any reason to approach you” moments. And of course they can be lost or obscured, and in situations where characters should be able to recognize one another from a distance or various angles, if they’re not immediately readable, in that moment, they aren’t helping.
Nametags also might be providing information that characters shouldn’t yet have access to. In other words, characters who have never met before perhaps shouldn’t be able to identify one another on sight, but the nametags still allow them to. If one were to set a game in a time and place where engaging in unusual etiquette is meant to be part of the experience, nametags might have the downside of discouraging players from seeking out and making proper introductions. I’ve played LARPs set in Victorian England where such etiquette is described and encouraged in the introduction materials, and I thought it was a shame it didn’t see much, if any, in practice.
I have seen some LARPs which use nametags, but rather than writing names on them, simply display number codes, and each player receives a list of numbers, which short descriptions of what they know about the person behind each code. This has the downside of causing players to spend more time consulting their sheets during game time, but it enabled characters to go by different names when in different company, and to vary what characters knew about one another on sight, from “I know this person by name very well” to “you’ve never seen this person before, but the sword they’re carrying is of foreign design.”
The mere presence of nametags, if they’re not diagetic, can be somewhat disruptive to immersion, and can detract from the aesthetics of a costume. They can also be literally damaging to a costume, if they’re of the pin type (even tiny holes can be permanents and really show on some fabrics) or of the sticky type (I have a faux leather jacket which has had a faint outline of residue that I’ve been unable to remove for years.) The pin type is particularly troublesome, as some materials (particularly ones used for costume armor, such as metal, plastic, and leather) may simply preclude anything being pinned to a player. (For players who find themselves wearing armor or other such unpinnable costuming to LARP — consider incorporating a ribbon sash into your look — it’s super easy and quick, and provides a pinnable surface should GMs provide nametag pins without obscuring much of your costume.)
There are some badges that come with holders, worn on strings hung around the neck, which are my personal preference, as they are safe for any costuming, though I find they can be the most disruptive to the aesthetics of a costume and to immersion. (This is unfortunately particularly true of the thick black badge holders at Intercon — they’re nice and convenient in lots of ways, though I do wish they had less of a presence in active game spaces.)
Smaller LARPs benefit less from nametags, as players have an easier time getting everyone’s name down early on the LARP, especially for LARPs with fewer than ten or so players. LARPs where pre-gaming is enabled or even encouraged also have less benefit, as players can take the time to learn and memorize the cast list of LARP in advance. (“Pre-gaming” meaning players connecting with one another in advance, sometimes in person, usually over the internet, to develop their characters’ relationships and histories, often while producing and increasing excitement over and upcoming LARP in themselves and one another.)
Conversely, LARPs with large player numbers derive more benefit from nametags, as it’s much harder to connect the names of a large number of characters with their appearances on the fly. Similarly, LARPs which don’t enable or even forbid pre-gaming, or are likely to have a significant number of players who don’t know one another in person from outside the LARP, derive more benefit from nametags, as do LARPs that don’t lend themselves easily to distinctive costuming, or don’t require it from players.
For such games (games with a large number of players, no pre-gaming, players who don’t know one another, and a lack of costuming) GMs who want to avoid nametags might consider introductions prior to the start of game, which can be as simple as everyone going around and saying their character’s name, and making sure people who have in-game connections get a moment to reify those connections, or as complex as a workshop with the sort of ice-breaker games designed to help strangers learn one another’s name quickly. For an in-game reinforcement of this, a LARP can open with “staging” — meaning GMs directing players to begin game in a particular area, or arrive in a particular order with particular groups of people, so that players don’t have to fumble around, trying to figure out where their family members are or who the host of the function is.
If you do decide to include nametags in your LARP, I recommend large, bold lettering in an easy to read font, whether the names are printed or handwritten. (A bit of flavor in the font choice is always nice, assuming it doesn’t reduce legibility.) Or reminding your players to take care to write legibly, if you plan to let players fill out their own blank tags.