Relational Character Design in Larp

Ever tried to sit down with a group of your fellow combat larpers and create a group with a cohesive story? Everyone has their own ideas, and they are often at odds. One player wants to be a pirate, one a Stark clone, and of course there is the steam punk. Somewhere along the line you pick up ‘Dark Elf Loner’ #362 How do you get everyone to agree on one theme which coherently tells a story? I’ve enforced it top down before, but that rubs some players the wrong way.


Most larps have some kind of character creation process which generates stats and skills for one individual. They dictate what powers and abilities a player starts with and that’s a fine place to start. But what relationships do they start with? People do not spring into existence without knowing other people. Most character histories in larp are fairly devoid of actual relationships. When playing a combat larp the event holders are not going to have the time or inclination to create back-stories that include interesting relationships. It’s generally left in the hands of the players, and usually not done. Any given player may only know one or two other players in the larp. Which artificially limits the relationships the character starts with.

Don’t be this guy. It won’t work.

The lack of starting relationships in combat larps is one contributing factor to many people generating a lone wolf character. If you don’t know other players characters until you show up, you start the game with what you have. Just you. Many players attempt to make up relationships on the spot when a new player shows up. That usually comes off fairly terribly, and feels like retconing a new character into an existing world.

Let’s explore a way to generate something from scratch, which will interest everyone in the group, because everyone builds it together. Have you played Fiasco? I haven’t… Yet. But it looks like a great tabletop RPG. It’s a storytelling, relationship based game system. It strikes me that the setup would make great larp ‘character creation’ for a group. In fact this is the default character creation method in my 4x larp. What should character design based on relationships be like?

This concept isn’t useful to all players in all larps. Some larps, of a more theatrical nature, probably won’t gain anything using this method. The storytellers probably already have some connections in mind in the backgrounds of the characters. The method presented isn’t necessarily a ‘better’ way to do it, just an interesting one that has potential to be fun.

Watch the TableTop Fiasco Set-up, and you’ll get the general idea. There are two other videos, well worth watching, about the actual playing of Fiasco. But since we’re using this for larp the playing will take place in game. It might be a bit odd to kick off a larp by sitting at a table to roll up characters. Maybe it’s the norm for some complicated systems.

Each player gets to define 4 of the relationships within the group. Everyone gets input. Players may bring some preconceived ideas with them to the table, but a role of the dice may mean those ideas get used in ways they never expected. Some players may balk at ‘restrictions’, but they should quickly see the power of improv in character generation. And after wrapping this method up don’t forget to add those 5 things persona need to really flesh your character.

There are some bugs to work out. Like Garb. If you’ve got tons of it, no worries. Go wild. But what if you don’t have garb to support things the dice roll up? Experienced larp crafters it simply means holding a crafting night or two. For a group just starting out getting the basics together is hard enough. Enforcing some kind of visual theme among a group of players is tough and takes effort.

There is some potential interesting Player – Event holder interaction as well. Generating a group of relationships should also generate a ton of event hooks. And it might be beneficial to specifically build in some ‘lose ends’, not only to help the EH, but also to grow the house over time. One issue becomes how the event holder get access to this information. Is it done formally or informally?

The biggest hurdle is the number of players. This seems like it will work best for 4-6 players. But what if you larp with 15? 30? 100? 100 players is 400d6. It would take a very long time to get 100 players setting up connections to each other. Before play testing the logical answer is to break them down into smaller groups. But if there are 4 persona being defined what about the fifth character at the table? What is the 5th character? The game world place they come from! Maybe 5d6 per player is better. Perhaps the limitations of the number of players you can gather together for your larp, may make this a mute point.

Anyway there are plenty of things to work on, plenty of ideas to try. It would be fun to flesh out the idea and play test it a couple times. Maybe write a mod for Fiasco Mobile.  Have you seen anyone else use a similar concept? It would be great to hear about how their experience went. This could be adapted for con larps, theatrical larps, used unofficially by the players or officially implemented by the event holders. What do you think?

What is a Fiasco inspired system without Categories and Elements. At the moment the prototype categories and elements are being created. Check out how the first play test session went. There is polish that needs to be done, but that’s a matter for another post.

If you want to add to this idea comment on my Google Plus feed. If you want to you can tweet me. And I run a small boffer combat group in Massachusetts if you want to learn in person.

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