My Larping Is Not Your Larping (Full Moon Special #7)

Terra Nova: Rise of Rashalan (Zagreb, 2013)
(Terra Nova: Rise of Rashalan, Croatia, 2013)

Welcome to a brand new Full Moon Special here at the SnW! The title seems pretty self-explanatory, but to make stuff extra clear, it’s a list of things to keep in mind when you’re joining a game with people you haven’t previously played with – a list of differences in the players’ approach, which can cause misunderstanding and unnecessary trouble during a larp.

Normally I don’t indulge in rants (often), but stuff has been adding up – and if I can’t blow it up during the Full Moon, when can I? Take it as a gentle reminder, both to myself and to fellow larpers, that people are different. Our expectations and habits clash, and sometimes bad stuff happens as a result. Sure, we may all be larpers, but we are definitely not the same.

Please note that even though we come from different traditions, players are formed by their own choices, not just what larps they usually join. (If you’re interested in learning more about the traditions in question, the styles of play of Amtgard and Nordic larp have both heavily influenced the current Croatian larp scene. Other countries may have their own traditions unrelated to these, but I’ve yet to learn about them.)

Consider yourself warned! Enjoy.

Picture by Martina Šestić (Terra Nova 2013, Croatia)
Two widows. Picture by Martina Šestić. (Terra Nova 2013, Croatia)

Difference in larping expectations. Basically, whether you’re looking forward to a game (of fighting or sleuthing or hide and seek or spellcasting or roleplaying nobility or whatever) – or an emotional experience. It drives everything – from character design to larp prep to roleplaying style to whatever. It results in differences in the post-game period, where some people never get PLD, and some go on weeks-long private emotional down. (Sure, different larps have different consequences, but it was fun to learn, after posting the Elder Scrolls Chronicles related post about PLD, that some of my co-players felt nothing of the kind, while for some it took days to get back to their regular schedule.) It’s important to know not just your own expectations, but those of your co-players, too. It’s better to be ready – especially if you happen to GM the game.

Different opinions on what counts as “serious” or “hardcore” roleplay. To me, serious roleplay is when a fellow co-player drags me spiralling down into a scene by the force of their roleplay only, or when something really heavy happens ingame. To some people, it might be as simple as spending more time ingame than usual at an event. What I would call hardcore is someone breaking down in front of me (preferably ingame), not… being involved in the game. Sure, it all depends on the case in question, but still, I’ve heard the word used to describe some generally mild stuff, especially during what I’d consider heavier larps. It’s incredible how different we can feel about the same game and other people’s roleplay.

Differences in the definition of “offgame”. While offgame to some people means when you go into the offgame area to chill a bit and grab some food or water – or to get a grip on yourself after an especially involving emotional scene – to some it means that, when you grow tired or bored of the game, you’ll join the (ingame) fire and simply slip into an offgame conversation while people around you keep larping. The end result might be the same – a short break from the game – but for people around you, it feels… quite different. (Like, I’ll spit on your dead body if you do that again different. Just to be clear.) Also, there are people who prefer to stay ingame at all costs, all the time – even when it borders on unhealthy, people who take a break when they need it, and people who spend maybe half of the time at an event in a offgame chat. It’s important to know your needs and capabilities, and do your best not to hurt play both for yourself and people around you.

Differences in character motivation. While some people (especially some awesome newbies) keep questioning themselves about the logic behind their character’s every action, some players just go with the flow (myself included, way too many times to mention). To some, I’m a merc who’s into it for the cash is enough. To others, even I’m a deeply dissatisfied drunk merc who’s trying to find my twin sister who got abducted when we were eight, which devastated my family won’t be enough. To me, the “you’re another person” aspect of larping is one of its defining features, and even though I occasionally frak it up big time, I still like to understand what the character would feel and do, not me, in a given situation. Character depth helps with motivation and realism.

Differences in emotional involvement. And no, it’s not the same as “serious” roleplay. Apart from the different approach to offgame (which I still can’t understand – and it’s one of the reasons I’m writing this in the first place), this could probably be the biggest differences between two players who define larping differently. At a seriously frakked up scene a player actually once came to the co-alpha and admired her ability to “cry at will”. Well… What happened at the Zagreb run of Limbo is another great illustration. A couple of us went deep into the afterlife game (I even deeper than I wanted, which doesn’t happen that often to me) and a couple of others had, basically, a “We’re in Purgatory” orgy. In the end they called us “the brooding squad”… While there’s nothing wrong with taking things a bit lighter in the afterlife, the difference was just a tiny bit too big for my taste, in roleplay as well as realistic human behaviour. To keep things short (is that even possible in this conversation?), lets’s say it’s definitely something to look out for, and to seriously consider when teaming up with players or designing your own game. No one want’s to feel like they’re the weirdo, and emotional involvement of different levels keeps separating larpers in play as well as larp theory.

Differences in the definition of larping. It kinda boils down to that. Is it a game which lets you feel like a hero in the woods, if you can’t be the hero in the city? (Sure, sure, everyone’s a hero) Is it a tool, a way to learn something new about yourself and the people around you? Is it a place for you to relax and camp in full costume and boil stuff in a cauldron instead of in the kitchen? Is it maybe a game which is not just a game, but more of an experiment, an emotionally involving improv theatre for the players, a full, real-time collaborative storytelling experience? (Biased much? Khm.) You’re the only one who can answer that. Be sure you can really own your answer – and that it’s not something you think you should think. Know yourself and Do what works for you are probably the best pieces of advice for anything, larping definitely included. On the other hand, I’m quite positive it pays off to try something different, from time to time. How else will you know what it is that you actually like?

In the end, are all these differences really that bad? Of course not – there’s, luckily, enough place for us all – but they can be very, very tricky. They can, also, lead to serious misinterpretation and quite a bit of bad blood among players. While it may not seem that big of a deal in countries with highly developed larping scene(s), in a country as tiny as, say, Croatia – with a couple of hundred larpers in total – yes, it may be a problem. The only thing we can do is acknowledge the differences and be prepared to handle them when they arise mid-game. Also, not rip each other’s throats out when someone does something totally unimaginable to us as players.

So, have a pleasant and dangerous Full Moon – wherever it may find you – and try not to be too harsh on your fellow co-players. There are no final answers – and no final truths. Everyone’s strange to somebody. (Yeah – even the brooding squad.) Does it really mean we can’t all enjoy larping together?

An offgame moment. Picture by Vesna Kurilić. (Izgon, Croatia, 2013)
An offgame moment. Picture by Vesna Kurilić. (Izgon/The Exile, Croatia, 2013)

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