Bleed: a new players' guide

Bleed is a concept a lot of experienced larpers will talk about, and it can have a big impact on how you enjoy larping, so I thought it might be worth a post here. I’m gonna give my own explanation of what bleed is first, then a few tips for managing it.

So bleed is a term that describes the process where the emotions felt by a character can be felt by a player, or vice versa - literally the feelings bleeding across from one to the other. It comes in two types: ‘bleed in’ and ‘bleed out’.

‘Bleed in’ is when the character’s emotions are influenced by the real world feelings of the player. For example, if you hate the colour green and then you meet a famous knight errant whose colours are green. There is no reason for your character to dislike this person, but because of your own hatred for the colour, that bleeds across into your responses and your characters takes against them. You might not even notice why.

‘Bleed out’ is when your character’s emotions affect your own real ones. For example, your character’s best friend is killed in a battle. After the event you find yourself feeling sad, as if you have lost a loved one yourself.

There are of course billions of examples of both of these that we could come up with, for a host of situations. And one very important thing to remember here is neither form of bleed is intrinsically a good or a bad thing in itself - no more than gravity is. it is just something that happens. Like gravity, what makes it a positive or negative is how you deal with it.

In this country, bleed used to have a very bad reputation. People were (and many still are) of the view that to be a ‘good larper’ you should have a solid wall between your character and you, and that not having that represents some kind of failure. However, there is an increasing view that bleed is a very natural phenomenon and you can use it as a tool in your larping to make games more fun and the experience richer. The debate between those views still goes on occasionally, but my own view is that any game is more fun if you feel emotionally engaged with it. If you care about it, you’ll enjoy it more. Some players even call themselves ‘bleed hunters’ and will feel like a game is a failure if they have not felt strong emotions during it.

Now, I don’t really care what side of that debate someone falls on. But to my mind it is valuable to understand the existence of bleed so you can handle it in a healthy fashion when you do (and I’d argue that almost everyone does experience bleed of one sort of another if they care about a game at all). The worst thing you can do, in my experience, is to be in denial and fail to process what you are feeling and why. One obvious and common example is when people roleplay romantic relationships with their characters. People who try to deny the existence of bleed are, in my view, more likely to fall into one of the common traps of getting confused between the feelings they are roleplaying their character having and those of their own self. They can develop crushes on their characters’ love interests, for example. Or they can end up disliking a player because they have a hostile relationship with their character.

In those examples, communication is absolutely key. Talk to the player when you are out of character and be sure to be clear that what your character is expressing is in the game, and that you yourself do not feel that way. I’ve made some great friends who were playing my worst enemies in game, because we would go for a drink and chat. But then I’ve seen other players saying how that enemy was a bad person out of character - entirely because they had not realised their characters’ hostility had bled over into their own perceptions. A real irony here is that some people who play complete monsters are amongst the kindest and best humans I’ve ever met, but without talking to them off game you might never know that. Similarly, if you are involved in romantic roleplay, I find it is really valuable to develop coping strategies to make sure those feelings stay in game. Apart from anything else, it can be super creepy if you think someone is flirting with your character because they fancy you. One of my good friends got into a situation where she found herself falling for a guy whose character she was in a relationship with. They did one of the most sensible things and had a chat out of game and decided their characters were going to have a really messy, hostile breakup, so that the relationship the players were planning to pursue did not get muddled with the IC one.

So, that makes tip one: if you are engaged in any kind of intense emotional roleplay with another character in the game, it is super healthy to talk to the player away from it. Communication is king. Once you know someone you will feel a lot more comfortable letting yourself get into a scene where you shout angrily into each others’ faces or confess your love etc.

For my second big tip, it is good practice to have a process for how you unwind at the end of a game. At any event you go to you might find you are tired and emotional afterwards (I know I am, as anyone who has helped me take down our camp will have seen. I can only apologise). One of the most common things you will see after a game, especially one where momentous things happened, is friends struggling in the days afterwards. They might be riding high on a wave because their character was victorious in their schemes, saved the day and everyone is talking about how cool they were. That can make it hard to focus on work and other important stuff. Or worse, especially in a player-versus-player political game like Empire, maybe they were bested by their rival, and now all that rival’s mates are posting all over social media about how awesome they were. And with every compliment thrown their way, you feel a slap in the face. That can be rough.

Little personal rituals can be good here. At the start of a game I find getting into costume helps me find the character, and taking it off at the end is just as important. As it was phrased at one great game I went to, you take off your character like a set of clothes. As you do it, you see them as not-you. Combining that mental process with a literal change of clothes can really help.

Another real boost here is having a close group of mates to unwind with. Pick them carefully if you can, because you want ones who will be on your wavelength; if you are feeling in the dumps you want some mates who will listen, not the one who only talks about themself. My ideal group is half a dozen folks who all talk and all listen, and who understand the kind of game you are playing. I usually go for a curry with a few friends after a game, and we can all chat through what we did and what we are feeling. It helps you to step away from the game and view the character as separate from you. A really handy tool is to make a point of talking about them as a different person. Don’t say ‘I tried to assassinate the senator and got executed’. Say ‘my character/name’. It happened to them, not you. This is especially important if your character has done something which might be seen as failing (which will happen), because you don’t want to beat yourself up about that.

A related tip is that it really helps not to always try to be your absolute best at everything, especially if it is something really important to you. I’ve got one super-clever mate who makes a point of playing characters less smart than him. He’s from that kind of competitive academic background where people beat themselves up if they fail intellectually. So he plays characters who are likely to fail in that way, and when they do it is because he roleplayed them well, not because he wasn’t smart enough. Being able to enjoy your failures is a separate post probably, but a key part of the hobby.

Which takes me on to what needs to be my last point for now: your character is not you. Try to put things in place during the creation process which keep that clear. I would personally avoid things like playing a character who shared all my fears, my relationships, my name, certain parts of my personal history etc. All of that makes it a lot easier to enjoy bleed and take positive things from it, while still controlling it so it doesn’t cause you problems later.


wow. thats long.

You should see some of the Nordic larp essays on the topic :slight_smile:


So if we have to fight eternals, we have to hope that the person playing it starts feeling their character’s emotions or visa versa because if it bleeds, we can kill it.

I do agree that it is important to talk to the people who your character is enemies with, afterwards, just to show there are now hard feelings and convey some respect. I’ve got to see that kind of thing first hand in the martial arts I do. I sometimes get an elbow to the face or a slap to the ear but at the end of the day, I know that we are friends and that it wasn’t on purpose. We shake hands and bow and actually, they are some of my best friends. If you can get to the point where someone can physically or verbally, beat the crap out of you and you know it is all fine, then you probably have someone you can really trust in that person.

Personally, I think it is better ‘bleed out’ in the moment and try not to ‘bleed in’ at all. It is good if you get the emotions of your character, I feel that, that is half of what larp is but you only want it when you are IC. With ‘bleed in’ I feel that it halts your character’s growth and doesn’t allow you to experience what it is like to be someone else, which I believe is a good way to help you grow. I always seem to ‘bleed in’, I just can’t help it. I’ve decided to avoid combat just to try and help myself but I still can’t help getting overly excited or nervous, I’ve tried using it but no one noticed so there was no point in me trying. I find that when I put the costume on it is just me with a costume on and not my character. One day, hopefully I will get the hang of larping.

As someone who once lost a week to bleed before learning his lesson, I agree that this is such an important topic to discuss. It is so easy to get blindsided by the strength of emotions LARP can evoke and the bonds (both of camaraderie and enmity) which you will experience.

One example I saw was a League romantic who set himself against more or less an entire Dawnish house. Things are tense IC, but the Earl came to the League camp at time out to make sure we all understood that a) it’s only IC, b) everyone in his house is having immense fun, and c) make sure we were all okay.


I think I have heard about this. The forums are giving me the outline to a picture that I did not know existed but it sounds like it was an interesting turn of events.

It was indeed, and further discussion of this should likely wait for the field. Otherwise we start gossiping :slight_smile:

Bleed can be quite a bit of fun, or it can be a real mental problem.

I’ve had a few issues with it, where I disliked people because of what their characters did to mine. And a good amount of fun, where CI successes have left me bouyed months afterwards :slight_smile:

I agree that one of the best things you can do is to chat afterwards with those involved, have a froth (long enthusiastic discussion of an event) with some folks who understand but were not emotionally involved, and generally take a step back from those emotions, one way or another, at time-out.

We do LARP to have fun. And if bleed is making things unfun, we may need to step back, change things, or do something else for a bit.

On the other hand, if it’s adding to your game, providing emotional impetus and colour to your interactions, and generally increasing the fun for all, go with it! Carefully…

It’s really up to you…

If we talk about what ever it is anymore then we might need to make a topic on metagaming to make sure people don’t do it.

Emotional bleed is an interesting topic, and can be both a good and a bad thing certainly, I find if nothing else it helps to be aware of it and know when you are doing it…that is of course much easier said than done.

The thing I find fascinating is mental and habitual bleed. I’ve definitely caught myself doing things and picking up mannerisms from some of my chars.

But mental bleed is totally awesome, (you pick up patterns of thinking from your characters) and the two together are the basis for Larp as therapy
Again the trick is to be aware of it…but wow if you can get a hang of it it is so helpful

Great post. It explains bleed very well and I shared it on the The Oathwright Facebook page.

I’m not a very experienced LARPer and I found that writing and producing a newspaper has produced all manner of conflict with real people and/or game characters and that sometimes left me feeling upset or angry. In every case a pm message or out of game conversation reassured me that it is really just a game and IC enemies are real friends.

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