Recently I lost my knight character and started a new one. This one had be prepared for a while, but only because I have begun to think ahead and consider the costume kit I want to prepare. I like going to the larger events with the way “in” for a replacement character if things don’t quite go according to plan.
The process I go through for each of my recent characters – Miriam, Wren, Ravenna and Brigit – is similar though each have their own “recipe” as to how they came together. The full inspiration of Brigit will be detailed at a future point when I am settled in her character and have a few more pieces of kit to show off, but I would like to share the origins of my character’s “inspiration soup”.
The world around you is a great source of inspiration – not just from the books you read, films you see, tv shows you watch, the games you play; but also the music you listen to, articles in magazines, adverts, fashion, natural surroundings, light and shadow, the weather … even the random things you discuss with your friends. All can form sources of the ingredients of your character’s inspiration soup.
There are some key questions I usually ask myself when thinking about LARP characters – this relates to my particular system and it’s guilds/classes, but might be relevant to other systems. If a question doesn’t seem relevant to you, just skip it and head onto the next one! Some answers to certain questions will have an impact on other questions, but this is all part of the process.
What do you want to play?
The first, and most important question I find is “what do you want to play?” And I don’t just mean taking out the player handbook and flipping through the classes deciding which class you haven’t done yet (though this can be a starting point). I mean considering the question of what – will you be armoured or not? Combat orientated or a support-type character? Will your character need to read and write or choose to do without?
The answer to this question can limit your choices of game class – for example, having just played a heavily armoured character I chose that my next character would not be armoured. This ruled out scouts/mercs/another knight/armoured dev of a faith, but brought other classes into consideration like priests (one church in particular does not allow its priests to be armoured), healers and mages. Choosing not to need to read or write will limit your ability as a mage or priest, but limited skills with letters should not hamper you as an alchemist, blacksmith or physician so long as you can keep your ledger or notes in order.
What do you enjoy in your larp? What do you want to explore next?
Over the years I have begun to get a feel for the things I’ve enjoyed in my LARP system regardless of what character I’m playing, and sometimes I make the conscious decision to enjoy these parts. Is it just jumping into a fight and having a go? Is it the problem solving? Is it the diplomacy or is it the research of plot and history and backstory? Is it simply being with your friends out in the woods, having a drink around the fire at an event? It is often said that you make your own fun at LARP and I agree – and whilst I urge people to play things they enjoy and step back from characters if you’re not enjoying them, I often don’t follow my own advice.
By making the choice to seek certain types of fun, you are setting requirements on your character – plot hunting? Probably a good idea to be able to read and write or work on your memory. Would being a priest or a noble help being a diplomat? Are you happy to wade into a fight with very little armour or do you want to clank – if so, maybe one of the knightly orders or the mercenaries is for you?
Want an accent/different species?
In our system some races are limited in the guilds they can join. If you are desperate to be an alchemist, don’t be an elf. Want to be a physician, don’t play a dwarf. Some races also require specific physreps – so if you’re not keen on having to put on black face paint every day, and clean it off at night, and put on pointy ears every time you play – don’t play a dark elf! Also if you don’t want to have a beard around your face every day, a dwarf is probably not for you. Blokes – keen to keep your facial hair intact? Play a half-elf rather than a full elf.
Do you want to play a foreign character? You might have to chat with your referees or your Liaison Officer to see what options there are, and what restrictions this might cause. But that’s only if you’re wanting a foreign or special character – nothing to stop you having a strange over-the-top accent … Just make sure you have the willpower to keep the accent going (or allow it to slip to being vaguely Scottish/Welsh/Irish as the day wears on).
What quirks will your character have?
By now you might have some ideas of how your character is forming, and I sometimes like to add a few quirks to start with. My Forester, for example, did not like sitting with her back to the door for reasons. I included this in the beginning, then thought of the reason why she would be like that. Thinking of these things sometimes adds a bit of colour to your character’s backstory – and just another thing into your bowl of inspiration soup.
Will they have a particular piece of gear they will always keep with them, and is it significant to them? There’s nothing to stop stuff like this developing, but I’ve found that having an “in” – be it putting on blue face paint, having a certain phrase or toying with a particular piece of gear as you talk – can help settle you in your character when you start out.
What kind of look do you want for your character?
Having considered your character class and race and so on, you might have restrictions on the colours you have to wear – particularly if you’ll be in heraldry or church colours or similar. This will guide the sort of kit you have to wear, but this is where I find the inspiration soup gets interesting and fun. You might also have to have certain racial physreps – elf ears, dwarf beard, halfling feet – which you might have to factor into your overall look. No point planning a fabulously ornate hat only to find it doesn’t accomodate your ears – unless you have a reason to be ashamed of those pointy ears … (see? more backstory)
Your character is you – but also not you. So how do you want your character to look? Your character’s class might help guide a few key pointers – will you really be comfortable playing a merc in full skirts and a corset? Or a nimble character in lots of heavy layers of cloth? Are you going to wear lots of crinkly shiny fabric as a salt-of-the-earth scout? Not saying that any of these things are bad, just that its worth considering. Also worth considering is the storage/carrying of all that gear. As a knight, I was hugely relieved to have my own car to carry all my chain and plate.
When planning the look for characters I like to sit down and watch a load of films, immerse myself in books, look at webcomics and pictures and generally indulge in planning costume – but I like making costumes. In preparation for the starting kit of some characters I reviewed what kit I currently had in my house and pulled together the basics to identify the things I needed to have before starting – prayer scarf for a priest, elf ears, dwarf beards etc.
I then set to considering the look for my characters – which always change and get adjusted as I play them – Wren’s wide brimmed hat was ditched after the first fest in favour of the wide hood with fake fur capelet which suited the wild-child blacksmith I had in mind. She kept the long coat until the summer, but her kit was adjusted. My Priestess changed very little outwardly except for her headdress which got more and more medieval as I advanced in rank as I discovered and made my cap, wimple and veil. Mother Miriam looked like a nun in the end, which suited her perfectly.
What I’m trying to say here is just have a think, play dress up and consider what might suit your character best. At the point I’m working on costume kit I have normally been working on my backstory, which I will discuss below, so much of my costume kit has “reasons” for being there. My Knight, for example, wore red and black because of her Order, and had an eyepatch due to an accident as a child. All of these created the visual palate of her character and helped me drop the every day real-life Space-wolf to become my character. Because I choose not to dye my hair, cut it, or wear a wig, I try to do different things with my hair to change the profile and silhouette I produce because a) I have long hair so why not and b) it helps to quickly differentiate between characters.
Crafting a back story
So, you’ve decided your character’s race and class and begun to consider their kit. But your character is more than just these things – they are “flesh and blood” and need a little help becoming “real”.
I like to give my characters some history – sometimes its simple, sometimes its deep and complex and may never ever come to light – but whatever it is it guides your character’s choices and decisions and feelings towards the different people you’ll meet. When thinking of a new character I open up a word document and jot down the following things:
- Reason for being an adventurer
Sometimes these things come together in a different order (things like family and names can be tricky) but the other things help form a focused frame upon which to hang your story. The first four are self explanatory – the latter being something I think hard on, and look at the myriad lists of names/surnames out of the web for inspiration, depending on the race of my character or their nationality/time-period.
Family helps give a bit more padding – if you have a family you’re aware of you can talk about things, or if you are an orphan or estranged from your family, that would also affect how you tackle such a conversation. Talking about family wasn’t something my Knight enjoyed, for she assumed she was an orphan and couldn’t name her parents anyway due to her faith. However my elf could talk all day about her craft circle, and Brigit will probably regale you with tales of her niece and nephews if you give her a chance. I sometimes work out a brief family tree to get a feeling of how wide my character’s immediate family is – just you, parents and maybe a sibling? Or a whole raft of cousins, grandparents, estranged aunts and intermarried nobility? Such details give the referees something to play with. Married or not? Have own children or not? Ever intend to be married? Just things you might want to consider.
I enjoy “placing” my character in the setting – deciding on what a day in their life might be like, or what their life was like before adventuring. This might be governed by backstory so I jot down things like significant events in their childhood, or significant national events they might have heard about if I’m familiar with the branch/game’s history.
However, the thing I think is most important is the reason why they are adventuring, and I have left this to last. Why? Because it is the underlying thought you should have when thinking on preparing your character – what is going to be the reason they’ve taken up this dangerous occupation? What is going to be the reason they get out of bed on a cold wet wintry evening to go deal with some nasty gribbly that might kill them or worse? Is it the money? Is it the prestige of practicing your craft? Do you have no choice and are under orders (and how bitter are you about it?) Do you intend to “fall” into adventuring because you’re in the area? Or is it something you have decided to do to protect your family and neighbours from the terrors in the night? With this purpose in mind you might want to revisit your class concept and kit ideas to see if these thoughts work together.
Examples of past characters, their concepts and their kit ideas
Filegethiel Forvenniel aka “Wren”
Elven Blacksmith (because I’d never seen one and they have to exist, so why not break the mold of the human/dwarven blacksmiths?), been an elven smith before travelling to the human realm (so my physrep pointed ears were pierced with rings with beads, and I wore bits of jewellery and took pride in the things “I” had made) reason for adventuring – to learn different types of smithing and to try and meet dwarven smiths, archer (because a- playing to the elf stereotype, b- it was my lovely new toy and c- wanted to try something different), wore a long black coat to protect clothes whilst working, green braces to protect her arms from the bow and injury, started with a hat but then changed that to the hood, wore make-shift wool falls in natural colours and a few wilder strands to help hair bulk out with braids (to add to the “wild-child” look) – carried a bag full of gear and her ledger tucked safely away.
Dame Ravenna Corvidae
Human Knight (Black Order), instructed to adventure to prove self worthy of knighthood, wore leather and metal armour once knighted but the long black coat as a squire under the tabard, wore practical clothing even at banquet, but with some feminine touches befitting a noble – cloth was of good cut and quality. Eyepatch “hid” missing eye from childhood accident. Limited equipment due to armour required to wear and when equipment was assigned to her as she advanced.
Human scout/forester/devotee of the crowan faith (character development) – borderland scot (blue facepaint for woad), adventuring as avoiding an arranged marriage and looking to earn the right to up hold the law in the borderlands and get revenge for her grandfather’s death. Practical clothes in greens and browns, wore blackwatch tartan as family colours, eventually had her forester sash and the trappings of a crowan devotee, wore the wide brimmed hat in the summer to try and keep cool, but wore a bandanna to keep hair out of face, scarf across the nose on dark nights and in the winter.
I know this probably hasn’t helped in the slightest when it comes to how you “should” prepare your characters – but everyone is different and the sources of your inspiration soup are just as varied. I would urge you to consider what sort of fun you want to get out of your character, whether you’re willing to put up with the accessories of being another race, and then consider the reason as to why you’re out in the woods slaying bad guys and being heroes. Because once you have all that, the rest will probably fall into place.
I wish you all the best of LARPs, and epic adventures to be had by all.