This post is part of my more theoretical approaches of my favourite pasttime – LARP. Today we’ll explore motivations and demotivations for playing new characters.
“Why would you need a new character? Don’t you have one already?”
During the last decade of pen & paper RPG, LARP and the occasional computer gaming I’ve heard this question a dozen times at least. Surprise: I didn’t like it at any time. The answers are as follows:
P&P RPG: “I’m bored and I have leftover character sheet copies” or “I had this idea for this great build, you know, a tailor who is at the same time a smuggler with an extensive knowledge of…”
Computer RPG (online or off): “I just want to try out the hairstyles for elves, too!” or “Well, as a monk I can’t have an animal companion, but as a ranger I can have a f*ing giant badger!”
With LARP the argumentation is a bit longer. While with computer games and P&P all you invest is your time and maybe a sheet of paper and some pencil shavings in LARP you have a lot more to look out for.
A character needs not only the basics that you have in P&P, too – a name, a background, stats – but also kit: clothes, tools, weapons, encampment, personal effects. The character might also have titles they won during other games, interpersonal relationships with other characters or a personal plot. There are still reasons to invest – money and emotions – in a new character even if the old one hasn’t been killed yet.
Sometimes a character doesn’t fit the setting. Why would you play a nobleman amongst beggars? Why a traveller girl at a high society masked ball? Why a whiny brush merchant with a group of sellswords? Why a grubby sellsword in a noble’s entourage? While there are reasons for these examples to be actually played they are surprisingly few and far between.
While playing a fish out of water can be fun it’d be incredibly boring if half of the players present would play such a character. Most of the time, even, fish-out-of-water characters are written to be “cool”, a concept that causes raised brows among seasoned players and that I’ll write about another time as it would surely go beyond the scope of this post.
So: Social stratum. Noio for example is my high-class character. While she has taken up a publisher’s profession by now she is still highborn (however poor her family might be) and knows how to move in a more refined setting. My other character, Sasha, in contrast would feel out-of-place – both herself and me playing her – in such a situation. It wouldn’t be exactly fun sitting around being awkward and grumpy while everyone around is literally having a ball.On the other hand Noio would find the summer war campaign setting of ConQuest utterly repulsing. Too many dead people, too much blood. She’d have no reason to be there at all. Which brings me to the next argument:
Sometimes LARPs are simply set in a certain world. Silbertaler I was such a LARP, happening in the word of The Dark Eye. Playing a character who isn’t from this system was simply out of the question – TDE has a very specific belief system, a thought-through geography, and while I could have (with a bit of a stretch either in her or the world’s background) transferred Sasha there it was actually easier to write a new character, Noio. Who also happened to fit better into a castle setting as well.
It’s basically the reason I gave for P&P RPG. You’ve got an idea, say, to play a doomsday prophet with a penchant to touch red things because they believe that only this will help them to stay out of purgatory. The easiest way to find out if the concept works is to actually try it out.
Some character concepts or characters are so very unnerving, annoying or simply hard to play that you might need a break now and then. This includes characters who are physically impaired, have a mental illness or require a certain level of social or asocial interaction all the time.
My personal example would be Sasha who has horrible PTSD, is in a bad mood most of the time (mostly because of her PTSD), has a hard time trusting people (probably because of her PTSD) and tries to get herself killed in combat at every opportunity (and sometimes outside of battle, too. Again: PTSD). She’s really exhausting to play sometimes, and in LARP we have the wonderful option to just switch character when it becomes too hard, in contrast to real life (at least most of us).
Other examples include characters with speech impediments, jesters and the more annoying parts of the fair folk, or characters who are written to be always in a certain mood, be it good or bad.
You see, there are enough reasons to invest emotion, energy and money in a new character once in a while. There are people who have never changed their character, ever, and people who play a new character on every little tavern LARP (the best place to test a new concept if you ask me). I’m somewhere in the middle – like most people, I think.
The most important thing when it comes to new characters is this question everyone should ask instead of “Why would you need a new character” and also themselves if they consider a new one:
Does the new character make you happier than the old one?
If the answer is no there is probably something awry. Don’t change your character for other people or because you have nothing better to do.
If the answer is yes, congratulations! You’re happier than before!
Happy character jumping!