All larps have some way of building persona. Most probably have a character sheet to fill in. They will have you select class, and pick skills. You get the weapons and garb together. Officially your ‘character’ may be done with just stats and skills. But what is that person like? What motivates their behavior? If your game doesn’t have a place to start, beginning can be overwhelming. Games might expect a detailed character history, but with no ideas, you end up staring at a blinking cursor. Here are five bullet points you can use to make a foundation, and then add depth, without going overboard writing a character history.
1.) Name – It might seem obvious but far too many players choose a random name last minute or don’t choose one at all. Or repeat the same name for all their characters. Other than garb the name is the first thing another player learns about your persona and requires more consideration than whimsy. The persona should have a name which evokes the theme and spirit of that character. It should represent the culture they come from and make a statement about who they are and what they do. Most importantly it should tie into and inform the rest of these details. It should most likely step away from common everyday names.
Avoid, at all costs, using a name established in literature, movies, or television. No matter how obscure you think the name is, someone eventually is going to get the reference. There is an infinite supply of amazing names out there, available with a few simple searches online. There is no reason for creative players to copy an existing name.
2.) Hook – What makes this persona interesting? ‘Loner Assassin’ is not going to do it, that is far too cliche. One great angle is to figure out what theme makes your personas character class their choice instead of yours. An important aspect of having a hook in larp is that you never never say that word out loud. If the persona’s hook is ‘Ranger’, go out of your way to do rangery things, look like a ranger, and talk like one… But never say “I’m a ranger”. Have a realistic reason for that choice. “I grew up a woodsmen, felling trees, and hunting”. Evoke the theme without stating the concept you’ve chosen. Show, don’t tell.
3.) Goal – In the real world everyone wants to accomplish something. Everyone has a goal, sometimes stated, sometimes not. Acquiring basic equipment should fit the bill nicely for new players. Making better armor, acquiring a better sword, obtaining status in a guild or house. For experienced players a persona should be seeking something less material and more emotional. Seeking revenge, feeling secure, collecting certain knowledge.
4.) Secret – Hiding information that would be detrimental to the character if it were to become widely known, can be very compelling. As much as having a goal gives the persona something to run towards, having a secret gives them something to run from. Some players may balk at giving their persona a ‘weakness’ but the most interesting characters have a weakness as well as strength. Players should be prepared to play out the repercussions of that secret being revealed. That makes the best drama. Nordic Larp has a technique called playing to lose. This is a great technique to build dramatic tension. Unfortunately this tends to be avoided in boffer larp in the U.S.
5.) Two Words – Borrowed directly from Minds Eye Theater of old. Pick two words that describe this character. There will be times in game that you as a player are put in a position where you wonder if you are behaving like the character or behaving like yourself, choose one of those two words and apply it to the current situation. You will instantly be dropped back in character.
If you need some additional guidelines, or want to flesh out the foundation, check out Geek and Sundries 5 Steps to Writing a Killer Character Backstory.
These tips are easy to incorporate because you’re probably already doing them on some level without putting too much thought into them. The details don’t need to be explicitly shared with anyone to be effective. They don’t need to be officially sanctioned or even written down (but if helps to write them down in case you forget). The process of thinking through each item and how they work together should be enough to get a persona started. You can drop these into any game system even if they already have rules for character creation and you can use them with other character creation methods also! Flesh out some characters and let me know how things go. What did you start with, and what did you come up with?