Happy New Year!
I’m very much a newbie, e4 was my first larp event of any type. I had a good time larking about and marvelling at the wonders all around me, but it was hard for me to get into character. For example, I was Urizeni but kept trying to shake hands - even with the captain of the sentinel guard! facepalm
I was wondering about other people’s methods to get into and remain in the mindset of your character. How much of their loves and hates and general personality do you define ahead of time? How do you ‘put on the mantle’ of the character?
I define the hard lines that I definitely know about the character, and make them simple. Then if I pick up a habit that feels right for a PC I roll with it. I might invent a bit of background later on to link to my mate’s new PC, or because it seems to make sense.
To keep in character, I like using mannerisms that are very much not me, so if I feel tired or I’m not sure how to amp up the PC, I can use those. I also pick a voice. This is not “doing an regional accent” it’s “deciding how this one particular person speaks” . Turning the voice off is a great tool when I need to drop OC for a moment.
My Empire PC speaks slower and softer than I do, for the most part. He avoids using contractions like “don’t” rather than “do not”. He usually appears either very relaxed, or worryingly dedicated to his latest brainwave. I read the naga brief and leaned into it. He’s picked up a belt loop full of random fabric samples he likes to run his hand through, because that’s a fidgeting behaviour I don’t do.
My first Empire PC was far more straightforward than I am. He was a magician, he was fairly smart, but he didn’t like theory or complexity and just wanted Bigger Harvests or Healthier Patients to happen. I designed him without much of my desire to ask “but how does that work?”. He used shorter sentences and simpler words than I tend to because he was a country doctor, not a nerd who likes trivia.
My sci-fi larp PC stands straight up, speaks in clipped tones and has a slightly lower voice than I normally use. He’s economical with his words and doesn’t chatter. A lot of when he chooses to speak and act is in order to reinforce the authority of his Captain. I take that off by pretty much immediately joking around with the Captain’s player after the event, and deliberately relaxing.
I’ll be honest; I struggle a bit at Empire, so I will offer an older character.
I used to play a swashbuckler in a cave-based system and I had one prop that made all of the difference, a wine bottle. I would swig from a (plastic) wine bottle filled with Ribena and often topped it up at lunchtime, so my single defining trait was refusing to overthink things. If my first reaction was to run into danger, I would run into danger. If a foe was on the other side of a wall, I would vault the wall with a manic laugh and secretly pray OOC that my companions would follow.
IRL, I overthink everything; that character was me without any real plan or regrets. Refs would ask to sniff my ‘wine’ sometimes just to confirm it was Ribena, I was killed twice (once in an epic one-on-one duel against a dragon, once after losing my right arm and leaping back into combat left-handed), I would go home with some impressive bruises and ache for days, but it was not me at all.
I would love to say all of that came from a wine bottle, but the truth is that the wine bottle was just a reminder of the fact I had accepted his death before I even started playing him. I didn’t want him to die, I was just willing to lose him as long as he died well. Some characters have a life-plan, he had a death plan; he would die heroic, drunk and laughing. In fact, he survived; he is currently possessed by a demon and has got the strange idea that he is now immortal; he even introduced himself to a quest-NPC as ‘king of the undying’ once.
The trick there was simplicity though; a character played in 3-4 hour bursts with a lunch-break to briefly decompress is easy. He fought, he drank, he died, he got back up again. Empire is three days of something more subtle and you don’t just get back up. I suspect that consistency is more important there. Why do you do the things you do and what will that lead to next? Even I struggle with that one.
There’s two things I do for characterisation:
- For a fest length event, I don’t stray too far from myself or I stray a long way. I find there is an “uncanny valley” somewhere which takes effort to maintain and enjoy these characters in shorter format games.
- Accessories! All of my characters have (or in one case, did not have) accessories. I find these help both myself and those who see me in reading the character. My current character has practical pouches, a straw doll, a stout staff and a mask he rarely wears. The afore-mentioned absence of accessories was on a rather austere perfectionist who saw himself as the epitome of truth and light in a dark, corrupted world.
Sometimes you can mitigate the problems you have by building them into your back story. With my first Urizen character I also struggled with not shaking hands etc, so I reasoned it was because he wasn’t very good at maintaining that distance IC. He knew that he should because it’s a core part of Urizen culture, but since he spent a lot of time at sea (I figure it’s difficult to maintain as much personal space on a boat) and mixing with other nations he had effectively picked up bad habits, which he had to work on for the first couple of years.
With getting into character, as others have said it’s good to keep a few key characteristics and work on them, then let everything else just come naturally. I often try and come up with 3 short descriptions and make sure I’m doing those at all costs, then letting everything else just be explained by the characters mood at the time.
Your character is like anyone else, they’ll have good days and bad days, they’ll be relatively happier when they meet an old friend and relatively grumpy when they’re getting rained on, so a range of emotional responses is normal and expected. If you can hold on to the core concepts of the character, then you’re in character. You don’t have to be perfect all the time.
A few examples using my previous Empire characters
.1 Navaar thorne.
- Was Fed up with other peoples shit. Nice to people he knew/respected. Ignored everyone else.
- Was a “straight lines” thinker. Direct solutions, usually axe related.
- Was realistic. If there was only one solution, took it regardless of how unpleasant it might be. Knew that violence was the only thing he excelled at and that thinking problems should be passed to others better qualified.
.2 Urizen Sentinel
- The most important thing in life is skill with weapons. Everything else is secondary.
- Pay attention to everything. Anything could be important.
- Pick your words carefully but be blunt and direct. Don’t wast time/effort on flowery phrases.
.3 Highguard priest
- Synod politics are the only important politics.
- No act is unjustifiable when souls are at risk.
- Liked to talk, and tended to think he was right even when I knew damn well OC that he wasn’t.
The little physical things I do to get in character are pretty simple but help me remain in their physicality I think. The first I usually stick to more towards the start of an event and end up dropping it, and that’s tapping/percussion when my character is feeling impatient. This is something that’s easy to remember to do, because there’s usually one lengthy meeting/update/etc or another than I’d be better off sitting through on the Friday, and it helps me get into more of an energetic briar-y mindset. And once it’s done its job of getting me in that mood, I usually kerb it so as not to be annoying, unless I want to very visibly signal that I’m getting bored/impatient/anxious.
The other, that I keep up consistently, is that I’ll make my movements a little more exaggerated and animated. I put more bounce in my step, flourish when I get up from sitting, swivel my leg out when I turn on the spot - having a staff to lean on and gesture with really helps make my movements feel bigger. This becomes pretty natural over the course of the weekend, to the point I’ll be actively restraining myself when my character is trying to be polite or serious.
I think changing how you carry yourself is definitely the most helpful when it comes to having physical mannerisms/habits come naturally. My old character was a very serious-minded courier, and when he was going somewhere he walked with purpose and speed, shoulders squared. Having that as a reference point meant I didn’t even have to think about how he moved the rest of the time, I just stayed in the mood to shift to that at a moment’s notice.
I take a completely different approch, on the trip down to site I have a playlist on spotify for my character, and listening to it puts me in the right headspace to just slip into character.
Great question. There are a bunch of techniques you can use, so you might find it helpful to try a few and see which ones work best for you. A lot of people will talk about what you are describing as the ‘headspace’ of the character; their own distinct personality and opinions that are distinct from your own. Crafting that kind of headspace can take time (a lot of my mates say it takes them two to three events as a new character for them to really pin down their headspace, as they iron out the kinks in how the character thinks and acts), so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have it perfect straight away.
Even after you have got that persona established, it still takes a bit of work every event to get properly into character. One group of larpers I know describes it as taking on your character like you are putting on a set of clothes. Which leads in nicely to one technique you can use.
A lot of people have an element of ritual in how they kit up for an event - this is one of the tricks I use myself. I find that as I get dressed into my costume I gradually find it easier to find the headspace. It particularly helps if there are costume items that are very specific to that character. If you are re-using jewellery that you wear in real life, for example, I find that doesn’t help, because the jewellery belongs to your normal everyday self. But if I put on a ring that only gets worn for my League character, and symbolises his bond with his dead wife, that is entirely his. And a lot of us have a couple of particularly significant anchor pieces, that act as the final big touch. For me, I have a bag that a friend made for my character in which he keeps his military notes - loading that bag and holding it really finishes the process for me, as it is symbolic of the character’s job, his ambitions and his friendships. Holding it also slightly changes the way I stand, so really gets the headspace jump started.
Some people find similar effects from particular clothing that changes how they feel and move, or from having a weapon scabbarded at their waist etc.
The most powerful sense in humans is the sense of smell. Have you considered changing the way that you smell? Maybe in your normal life, you smell of a specific deodorant and body-wash. What if you traded that?
It sounds odd, but think about what your character might smell of. If you were from Navarr, maybe you change to cedar-scented shampoo for the weekend so that you start to associate the smell with your character. By Sunday, you will likely smell of woodsmoke and stale mead, but that’s just the wonder of Empire.
Swords really change the way that you walk, with different frogs and scabbards creating different styles. My rapier forces me to walk to a specific rhythm and with a certain swagger or else it waggles all over the place. I’ll often rest my left hand on the pommel, which further helps to create character.
Good shout about smells there; I use different body oils for different characters, and the change in smell does help.
I know the feeling on this one E3 was my first LARP and I was basically me I know who I want my character to be but it was hard to remain in character with so many questions and little confidence. E1 will be a new chapter though got my play list for the car, new kit to make me feel the part; and we’ll I am basically going to throw myself at every experience present as Vánagandr and just see how it goes!
I remember my first ever LRP event. I spent much of it hidden behind a bird mask, with no clue what was going on (although enjoying it immensely). Second event, the whole group got taken out by a rival (not at Empire, I hasten to add), and it meant that the next character I rolled I had a much better idea of what was going on.
It will get easier as your knowledge of the system grows. I find writing letters helps, or in a diary. I read the summaries I write after past events to remind me of what I was doing and what I cared about.
Each character usually has a ‘thing’ that they do. It might be a physical thing (Renata would shake the bells on her bracelet and start to dance), it could be vocal (Agniszka had a song that she liked to sing to remind her of her faith), or something else (I have playlists for my characters to help me get into the right mindset). I also often speak in accents, and as soon as I start speaking like them it helps me remember who the character is.
In general though, at large, long-term events like Empire I create characters that share a lot of my own personality. When you’re tired, and sleep deprived, it’s harder to pretend to be someone you are not, so I build that into the character. I usually try to take one aspect of myself and turn it up to max.
That is one trick you need to be careful of; it’s also known as ‘bleed’ and can be really bad for some people if they don’t have a good way of separating themselves from the character at the end.
If you are healthy and nothing too major happens, it’s a really good technique for embodying your character. Preexisting anxiety or a powerful event IC can mess with your head though. Even positive experiences and a great event can be rough if you lose all of that camaraderie and sense of agency, knowing that you are on your own for the next 6 weeks at best.
Just simple things really try to imagine the kind of trinkets, odds and ends, accessories that your character might carry. Just little things like that can really bring a character to life. necklaces, arm bands, and patches of leather. Are all nice ways to add depth to the look of your character which I think in turn maybe gives you a bit more depth.
Having a ‘prop’ or mannerism really helps to create a character as long as it doesn’t offend.
This was super useful stuff everyone, thank you!
Similarly I joined Empire at E4, last year. One thing i struggled with was the overthinking, I didn’t know what to say to people once I met them as it was all so new and I knew people have their own plans and goals.
Now I’ve created a new Highguard character and the props trick really helps! I think the only thing that can be difficult is pinning down 3-5 simple but specific traits for your character. The archetypes help, but one thing that has helped me with making the new Highguard character was giving him a notebook where I have OC bullet points that summarise him and then in the lead up to the event have a journal that shows what he’s been up to and how he feels about whatever the new story developments have been in the world.
The notebook also helps with general names and prices for IC things, combine that with some props and you’ll be golden!
Can’t agree enough about having an IC notebook! Not only is it extremely useful on the field, in downtime you can use it to excercize getting in your character’s head. I play a poet, so when I write IC poems, I do it in their notebook, scribbling out mistakes and writing comments to myself about lines I’m not sure on. If I sit down to write and nothing comes, I doodle whatever I think might be on my character’s mind while they try to think, write down phrases that might be stuck in their head, or jot down plans for things they might do at Anvil.