LARPing safely

I’m talking LARPing with emotional safety here.

This came up because I was explaining some things about LARP to Anna, who has only participated in one roleplaying game (tabletop) in her life and it’s because I made it happen XD. I mentioned something which I’ve had trouble expressing before. The concern I have for my friends following a LARP event when I see posts for days about how hard it is to let go of the character, or how they’re still grieving for a thing that happened during the game, or how they hate the real world and want to go back to the world of the game instead.

Now, these things are of course totally normal reactions – LARPing is by nature immersive and one of the appealing things about it is that you can experience dramatic, emotional things without it ‘really’ happening to you. You can have the pain of grief or the ecstasy of love, or the difficult conversations that would be awful if it was real life but you’re playing a role so it’s okay.

But what if we’re not doing those things in a safe way. And I don’t mean physically safe here, I mean emotionally safe. The interesting thing is that when I talked to Anna about this she had a simple question ‘what do you do to get out of character?’ and I tried to think and couldn’t honestly think of anything.

Because as a teacher, Anna is super mindful of the well being of the kids in her class, and every time they do drama exercises or roleplaying (especially when it’s dramatic stuff, like about bullying) they do an exercise to get themselves consciously out of character at the end. It can be as simple as ‘walk around the chair, and when you’re done you’re yourself again’. This is especially important with children to delineate that the ‘bad’ things they may have been doing in the game shouldn’t continue to be acted on, and that those actions weren’t ‘them’.

And okay, the LARPers in Wellington/New Zealand aren’t all 8 year old kids, but the fact is that we need to be careful with ourselves and with others and maybe we’re not doing that as much as we could be. The last time I played World That Is I had a traumatic in character experience and found myself crying real, panicked tears for a couple of minutes. I remember thinking to myself ‘wait, this isn’t real. Fraser – your friend – isn’t actually dead’ and I was able to rein myself back in and play the character instead of actually freaking out. I can’t get into the heads of other players, so I don’t know if everyone has these little checks, or maybe they don’t go as far as that all the time.

What I’m suggesting is an increase in mindfulness and conciousness of the people around you, the effect you’re having on them and the effect they are having with you. I know some of my friends have come up to apologise to me in advance of a game, for what they will be acting like – and those same friends checking in with me afterwards. That is incredibly important, because it’s giving me trust in them. They’re saying ‘look, some shit might be about to happen, but I care about you and I’ll make sure you’re okay’.

This is tied also to the ability to call time out on something which is genuinely distressing you so that you can have a breather. Players can do this at any time, but to be able to do this without a measure of shame that you’re somehow breaking the scene for other players is not always easy.

Debriefs are super important, and I don’t think I’ve ever run a LARP where I’ve given them enough thought or care. Usually I’ve used it as a chance to get people to reveal their secrets, share some jokes and that’s it. I remember seeing a suggestion somewhere that you give players five minutes to go and talk to other players and just share something neat that you did, or something emotional that happened. Maybe this could be extended to ensuring you check in on the people you interacted with.

LARP emotion can be faked but it can also be indistinguishable to emotions you would have in real life. This is why it’s important to be aware of what you’re experiencing and ensuring that you’re not going to have repercussions from it as you go about your ordinary life.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a group experience either. I’m sure not everyone is comfortable with too much talk about feelings with others, or spending too long mingling at the end of a game. In which case there’s nothing to stop you doing something inside your head, or on paper. I’ve found it helpful to do free writing in the form or a diary entry or a fic about my character. Or just sitting and reminding myself of what my real life is and letting go of the character. After the drama of the last World That Is game I got on skype and rehashed the whole thing with Anna, which as extremely cathartic for me!

LARP consists of space and time to experience things deeply and this should be followed by a time of separation: consciously taking yourself out of character, processing what you thought and felt, and letting it go. I know that the LARP community cares about each other, and that means taking care of each other out of the game as well as in it.

I found this neat article about post game debriefs and I’m sure there’s a lot more writing on similar stuff around. Feel free to link in the comments if you’ve read helpful things. I feel very strongly that this is important thing to think about.

Whatever it is you need to do, I urge you to do it ! (also this got long. Add comments, I want to know what you think. Have you got any little tricks that you do? Or methods of coping?)

Larp vs Tabletop

Here’s the thing. I love to LARP but I find it too limiting.

If I want to play a man in a table top game, I can do it. It’s not a big deal, most of my friends expect it now, even. But I’m not limited, I can play my characters male or female, depending on what I get the best feel for as I’m creating them. I can play a teenage girl, an angelic male, a ridiculously tall, buff guy or an older woman whose had several children. Or, y’know, a bunny or time lord or a monster with three heads, no worries.

When it comes to LARP though, we are all limited by how we look. Especially when we’re playing with people we know.

Here’s the thing, you can do a lot with make up, and prosthetic but there’s a real barrier when it comes to people’s perception of you… which is aided by your physicality.

For example, if a player is physically taller and stronger than me, I cannot expect to be able to push them around in game. Being me, there are a lot of people who are taller and stronger than I am, it’s just a fact of life. But it can be very limiting in a larp. Because if I decide I want to play someone physically intimidating it’s very hard. I can dress to look tough/scary/bad ass… but at the end of the day if I’m shorter and smaller than you, you’re not going to be so worried if I start threatening you. Someone bigger can use their physicality better than I can and be more intimidating.

Character and reputation do come into it though. My best example is my character Drake in The World That Is. Using Han Solo as my base inspiration, my other character homages are Mal Reynolds and Capt Jack Harkness. Notice a theme? It’s tough to find characters who have the same kind of swag, devil may care, roguish charm and are women. And I had no particular desire to try and find them, because those three characters were all I needed.

But when it comes to costuming I can’t get past the way my body’s built, or how my voice sounds. I can use a slightly lower register, but when I’m panicked I’m gonna go back to shrieking.

It’s a pain. And a couple of times I have played a boy with varying degrees of success. A couple of times I’ve been asked before the game starts if I’m playing a boy or a girl by the other players. It’s tough, it really is, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer.. especially for the look I want for Drake. I can’t really put on a beard or stubble without losing some of the style I was after.

I dunno. It’s hard, and there’s no easy answers. But to sum up, this is why I’ll never go down to just LARP. In tabletop I can be anyone.

Writing something new

Experimental writing – I’m not that au fait with it honestly. I think I did more of it when I was a student and I thought I could change the world with poetry, and I tried to write a play based on Rapunzel, only the girl was trapped in a mental institution.

But… I’m writing this LARP at the moment… and okay, it started as a dream (which is not that unusual for my writing) but it’s becoming quite experimental.

I was trying to work out how to write it up to sell, and I realised that the props I’m making for this game are pretty integral to how it will play out. Well, I hope. You never can tell with LARPs.

Here’s my fear, with this kind of thing: that I don’t know what I’m doing, and that not knowing what I’m doing will mean that it doesn’t work.

Now, when I tell people about this fear, that the mystery is too obvious, that the players may not have fun… I am reassured. My friends (who have played in my LARPs) are confident that what I will produce will be fun. They are even looking forward to it.

I have trouble articulating how amazing it is that people have faith in my writing. It’s a feeling like no other. And that is what gives me the courage to keep on with these props, to keep thinking about these characters, the secrets at the heart of the game and the courage to present it at Fright Night, knowing in the back of my head that it may not work…

But I hope it will work. I hope Soldiers of Fortune is just as amazing as I dreamed it, that I blow people’s minds a bit. That I can offer it again at Kapcon.

Sunday crafting

I have made excellent progress on the double wedding ring quilt, but sewing the rows together is difficult and not a little stressful. So…. Today I did what Steve does with writing and had a play, making what I wanted to sew for fun.


I pasted pictures of authors/songwriters I admire onto cardboard to form most of my power squad. I just need one of Steve as well and then I can assemble my Badass circle of inspiration.

Then I cut out and pinned and sewed four marshmallow bunnies in pink and green.

jennitalula marshmallow bunnies

These two are stuffed, just need eyes and noses now but look how cute!

Then I got hardcore and finished off my LARP cushions for 33AR…first another log cabin one with a massive devil’s trap on the back:


And then another one using the trial run I did over a year ago for the double wedding ring quilt. I appliqued the ring onto some white and painted a delicate bronze devil’s trap on the back.

jennitalula ring

And I made another littler patchy cushion and look how cute the cushions are all together. (Two new ones shown with the one I finished previously.)

jennitalula cushions

Wheeee I got lots done today!
(Also did writing for the Kirby High larp I’m running at Hydra and started organising the pantry and helped clean the kitchen.)