The Beauty of Playing to Type in Larp

(Featured Photo by Christiana Theobald Brunsetter of Sam Vargas, a “Strong, charismatic, motherly” type character played by Ericka Skirpan.) Even the larper who is incredibly talented at playing a diverse range of characters has parts of themselves in each character they portray. No one can change their body, their voice, and some base personality traits. Award winning actors are often typecast for a reason — because THAT is the type they are excellent at playing! If Robert DeNiro can win awards and be lauded for playing rough, intelligent, slight gangster types across a dozen films, larpers should certainly be allowed to embrace their type without the fear of shame for doing so. And yet, I see people time and again feeling guilty for playing characters too similar to each other. I even see other larpers rolling their eyes or mocking their friends for playing close-to-type characters. We’re not award winning actors! 90 percent of us aren’t even making money through larping and even less are doing it as a career. Larp is a hobby. So, tell me, why are we mocking people for the way they have fun at a hobby, if it’s not actively hurting anyone else?

Way back in the day when the Mind’s Eye Society was called the Camarilla and we were all playing various genres of World of Darkness, there were stats on character sheets called Merits and Flaws. These things rewarded or removed bonus points depending on how many you bought. We had a friendly joke that every character had a Merit/Flaw on their sheet called “Played By X.” You simply knew that if a character was played by Ericka, they had a 3 point merit in charisma and a 5 point fatal flaw. None of us damned each other for the similarities between our characters, but embraced the fact that we could see parts of our friends shining through their fake personas. Frankly, we like playing games with our friends! So, it was a fun exercise in figuring out how someone was playing their type but putting a different spin on it across the different genres.

A woman in white holds a crying child.
(Photo by Katherine Chartier.) Rosemary Van Buren, another “strong, charismatic, motherly type” character played by Ericka Skirpan.

But, let’s go back to the fact that larping is a hobby for most of us. As long as someone is not actively hurting another person’s game, or a danger to the community, they shouldn’t be shamed for playing in a way that is enjoyable for them. If someone wants to play strong, silent, heroic types for EVERY character they make, that is their prerogative. They aren’t trying to win an Oscar for the most range in acting. In fact, if someone is particularly good at a certain type, chances are their roleplay will be more compelling and authentic for how much experience they have playing that type. When a person is actively forcing themselves outside of their comfort boundaries, it often causes them more anxiety, more time out of character, and means they can’t go as deeply as they normally would in their scenes. They are constantly evaluating if they are doing it right and that actively hurts immersion for everyone. I find there to be few things as beautiful as watching someone portraying their favourite character type, deep in a scene, losing themselves to the narrative that is around them. Watching my friends be contently happy for getting to do something they clearly love is a great joy in my life.

I even recommend embracing the meta around it, if you are watching a friend who is repeatedly bringing in the same character type after one has died. A lot of good story can be built around: “You remind me of someone I used to know, but they’re gone now…” instead of shaming your friend for singing the second verse of the same song. Besides, that person could bring in a literally identical character sheet/background with a different name and have a completely different experience because of the story that is built around them. While people generally change up a few things between their characters, these personas are built by the story they go through and and interactions with others, as much as they are built by what was originally put on a page. Therefore, no two characters will ever be the same. Needlessly playing something someone doesn’t enjoy does no one a service except for showing off their acting chops. If you want to command a grand performance, perhaps use NPC shift as a time to explore other challenges instead of being stuck in a character you won’t enjoy long term.

I am a high femme woman normally. Most of my characters lean into the high femme style and presentation. I decided I should ‘challenge’ myself and make a fiercely butch character last year. I learned how to bind, bought butch clothing, worked on her voice. I put a lot of work into the character only to find, two games in, I really wasn’t comfortable playing her. I felt strange in my own skin. I found any excuse I could make not to actively play her and, a year later, I finally retired her. Even someone as experienced as I am, who comes from a theater background and not a gaming background, will have an actively bad time trying to play something that is so far out of my comfort box. I’ve now replaced her with a still less-feminine character with strongly feminist ideals, but the new character wears a skirt, a cute hat, and allows herself to embrace being feminine while not pursuing being traditionally ‘pretty’. It’s been a far more comfortable compromise while still playing a bit outside my boundaries.

A woman dressed in gold with a crown sits on a sofa elegantly.
(Photo by Marie Louise Raasted Herløvsen.) Queen Gertrude, ANOTHER “strong, charismatic, motherly” type character!

When you’re creating a character, examine what stories are fun for you to tell. What traits do you REALLY enjoy playing? I’d recommend that every character anyone makes has at least one goal they KNOW they will have fun pursuing (eg: “I want to fall in love!” or “I want to create the world’s largest mad science bomb!”) and one personality trait you LOVE playing. Not like. Love. You should love tiny pieces of your character, even if you don’t love the whole picture. You should have something built in that creates sympathy between you and the person you are actively portraying for hours at a time. Even the most evil villains should have a core of humanity you understand and will enjoy playing upon, or they will become nothing but caricatures at best. Once you have those two base traits — probably traits that you have played with many times before — then you can start building on new things you’ve never before explored in a game. If this is a larp you’re familiar playing with a community where you are comfortable, maybe then it’s a good time to try a bunch of different things you’ve not done before — but ONLY IF YOU WANT TO. Do NOT feel guilted into making a dramatically different character JUST because people know you.

However, if you’re going to a brand new game and community, it’s all the more important to embrace the things you love playing in a character and the typecasting where you are comfortable. Larpers are often anxiety ridden (I know I am), and tossing myself into a totally new social situation without a pretty firm safety blanket of the sort of play I love doing is a recipe for disaster. Embrace your strengths. Play to your type. Show off what you do best. The fact that you are letting yourself shine will inspire more people around you to shine, and help drive deeper roleplay for everyone.


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