Sometimes losing a character can come at the worst time, particularly when you might only have a few days or a week tops to pull together an idea or kit. Having recently gone through this drama myself, I have a few words on tackling such a circumstance. This does not cover preparing a spare character for fests, but some of the principles still hold.
As I have written before I find considering the character concept first and building kit around it to be a good starting point. However, when things are being rushed it might be more productive to think about what kit you can pull together and form a character from that. I know that not everyone has a huge selection of kit stowed away just in case, but often the simplest bits of kit can form the basis of a character which, with a few bits and thought, can become your next persona. And if not, then you have a temporary character until you have your next one properly formed to your satisfaction.
So – how to start?
What have you got in the wardrobe?
The first place to look should be your kit collection, where I would hope you could find a shirt and trousers and a belt. Often the stuff you use for monstering might be a reasonable starting point!
But you’d be surprised what things you can dig out of your personal ‘normal’ wardrobe that could be appropriated. Don’t part with anything you’re too fond of, or something that is fragile or delicate unless you don’t mind risking it. LARPing, as I’m sure you know, is not the gentlest of hobbies and you’d be surprised the damage that charging through brambles can do to your garments. However, that long sleeved top that only gets worn under the occasional t-shirt could be ideal as a base layer for LARP or to be worn as a splash of colour under a waistcoat or tunic; or that turtle-neck sweater with a v-neck jumper/waistcoat when worn under a robe to give a mock ‘japanese / jedi’ feel to a priest or mage. It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, and it’ll likely not be part of the final kit – but what we’re looking for right now is ‘it’ll do’ when we’re pressed for time.
You don’t have to look simply at shirts and trousers but also accessories. Do you have a bandanna you only wear now and then, or a seamless scarf (like a Buff or similar)? Or some jewellery that you don’t mind using at LARP (again, preferably not something delicate or precious that would be devastating to lose!). You’d be surprised what hidden gems can be found amongst your personal belongings, even if all it does is give you a starting point!
Charity shop hunting
Having scoured your current possessions, maybe its time to search other places for stuff? Charity shops can be a treasure trove for the LARPer. Leather handbags can become leather satchels for your treasures or maps or bandages; a woman’s tunic / blouse can become a pirate shirt for your gentleman mercenary; a bright waistcoat might be the touch of colour you need for your priest or mage! You might also find suitable accessories like necklaces or bracelets that you can use or adapt for your game, and because they’ve been bought with LARP in mind I find that I often don’t mind so much if these kind of garments get torn and patched through use.
I have a couple of friends who are legends when it comes to charity shop hunting, and brought me a set of velvet curtains that were the perfect red for my Crowan priestess (and got turned into this dress!) – there is a often a wealth of fabric in charity shops in the form of curtains or table linens or bedclothes. If you’re that way inclined you might be able to find a few things and ‘tweak’ them to your tastes.
Just because something doesn’t quite match what you have in mind doesn’t mean it won’t do, or be improved over time.
And whilst trawling charity shops may not be the thing you want to do whilst rushing to sort out character kit, you never know what bits and bobs you’ll find. Sometimes looking for stuff when you’re not looking to change character can be rewarding and help expand your kit wardrobe with basics like shirts, waistcoats, jewellery or bags that can help bring a bit of ‘character’ to your character.
Reuse, revamp, recycle
Whilst we all like our characters to look unique, we can often take apart previous costume sets and craft new outfits with bits taken from all over. I have only one set of armour that is ‘mine’ and it forms the basis of all my armoured characters because I love it so much. Sure I add bits to it – metal arms or legs from a common set of plate my OH and I purchased a few years ago, or wearing a chainmail shirt under the leather – , but the basic set up is the same. It’s also my monster gear. However, what makes it different from my ‘monster’ kit and my player kit is what I wear underneath it or how I accessorise, darlings!
I am a firm believer in having kit that can be reused or repurposed easily, and have very few things that are unique to specific characters (typically heraldry / shield covers that can be used by monsters or knightly tabards that have seen action on npcs). This makes emergency kit hunting easier (I had a week between losing Brigit and starting Judith) when I can just pull out the basics of kit and base layers before considering a few details (a head scarf, blue scarf and a belt flash) that make the player look not like a monster. Though looking like a monster might be the beginnings of a scout …
You can take something worn before and tweak it. If you enjoy sewing and have time you could sew new trim to a shirt or tunic, or unpick damaged sleeves from a blouse to make a sleeveless shirt or surcoat. Or cut up a damaged coat to make a jerkin, or turn a damaged skirt into a dapper shoulder cape (like this one which was once a skirt!). I advise only doing this if you are happy to permanently change a garment – once shortened or cut up there is no undo button!
Sometimes all you need is an armpatch for a known ic unit or order heraldry. Sometimes all you need is a plain tabard and play a knightly squire!
Function over vanity
As much as I like plain reusable kit I always look for things that are sturdy and can be washed at 40 degrees C. Why’s that? Because I want to be able to tackle the mud after a long weekend out in the wet without permanently staining my costumes or having to sift through a bag of damp and stinky kit to carefully segregate out delicate garments from the rest (though I do try to split colours from whites after the pink shirt incident …). This is particularly important for emergency kit, that might be worn for several sessions before being replaced or be swapped out straight away. Whilst that delicate peasant blouse you found last summer might be the cutest thing, is it really appropriate to be the only thing you’re wearing in the winter over some trousers? Unless you have an unnerving ability to withstand the cold, you should think about your base layers and possible over-garment depending on the weather – see my variety of preparing for winter / summer LARPs over in the Tutorials page.
Think in terms of practicality at first, so that you don’t freeze in your hastily prepared garb. The nice frock coat and dashing tricorn hat can come later when you have a chance to find / make / buy said garments. Give it time!
All it needs is to be just good enough
At the end of the day, all your emergency kit needs to be is just good enough. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to meet whatever minimum kit requirements your system has and be comfortable. You can always swap or improve your stuff over time, but agonising over the perfect hat to make your pirate swagger isn’t worth it. You want to swagger? You’ll swagger in whatever hat you wear!
LARP is about enjoyment. So enjoy yourself, and get back out there as your new character. The world’s not going to save itself!