|To Flurb or Not to Flurb
Well, the title says it all. If you are interested in seeing more roleplay at your local field, setting up new and unique scenario games for events, or just want to laugh your ass off at the flurbiest guy to continue to think there is something wonderful in Amtgard, then keep reading. If you donít fall into one of the above descriptions you might find your time better spent anxiously awaiting Amtgard 8.0 or contemplating your navel lint.
This article is written in two parts, the first a bit of background about myself. The second part discusses methods of accomplishing good roleplaying with minimal effort.
There and Back Again, a Flurbís Tale Ok, well youíre still with me so I assume you are interested in roleplay or fun scenario games, so Iíll just politely smile at the third group and try my best to entertain. First a bit about myself: my Amtgard name is Fenrix; only a hand full of people know me (or might if they remember). I attended weekly fighter practices nearly religiously for a year starting roughly in 2001 in Falling Fire of Tampa Florida. Falling Fire was a great place for a newbie to start out; I simply emailed a complete stranger after reading about Amtgard on the web and before I knew it I had made my own boffer swords, hand-sewn a shirt, and had a copy of the rulebook that I had nearly memorized. For a year I was fortunate enough to play along side of some of (in my humble opinion) the best fighters to be seen in the south east. I wonít bother to drop names because these fighters were good enough that you, the reader, should probably already know who they were.
So I fought, and fought, and fought, and drank many a beer, parks permitting of course. And then I realized, this is it. This is Amtgard, at least Amtgard in my neck of the woods, and it isnít going to grow or change. I would show up on Sunday, fight for 4-5 hours, say good bye till next weekend, pack up and go home. Between weekends I would hang out with some great friends while we would sew, make armor, drink, eat junk food, and generally await the next weekend for some more fighting. Arts and science was fun, but I really donít have knight-hood in mind as a goal so submitting work to be judged by people that are not always knowledgeable about what they are judging loses its interest.
So, naturally things became repetitive. I simply wasnít as excited about showing up for 4-5 hours of fighting as I had been. I had learned a lot in that year. I learned how to work leather (thanks Blackrose), how to sew (thanks to about 4-5 different people that got me hooked), and how to figh. . .er, how not to get clubbed like a baby seal. But that was really all there was left for me to look forward to: more fighting. I was happy learning how to be a better fighter, but it really wasnít the end all to itself for me. Before I left I think I may have graduated to the level of mere competence. I didnít fall on my own swords and every once in a while I might catch a lucky opening if one of the vets became distracted by something shiny off in the distance.
After that year I left Amtgard slowly until I had finally just quit without really meaning to. I spent the next two years helping to set up a separate larp in a new chapter that was breaking ground in a new state. I joined up on the staff of Nero Florida and have not regretted it since. I will say that I was a little disappointed in the lack a competitive combat system (and no archery to be had at all). However I quickly found that the watered down fighting system was more than made up for by the unique and enjoyable roleplay opportunities this game offered. So after one year I saw the chapterís numbers rise from 6 staff and 0 players to 12 staff and roughly an average of 30 players an event, with about 70 players on the books. It held at roughly that for the next year though some names and faces have changed, the numbers are about the same. I had to say to myself, we must be doing something right! Why would we have more new people coming to play this game in 1 month than I saw showing up to my old Amtgard group in a year? Our fighting was less challenging (ie. fun), we donít allow any drinking, and there is a moderate fee for the 3 day weekend events.
I mulled it around for awhile in my head until I came up with this conclusion: itís got to be our game system. I donít mean the rules our game uses. I mean the system that our game uses to make it seem like a real world. Its really the small things that add up over time. Its the nice garb (no one in neon orange wrap pants that show the personís underwear - this actually scared off about 3 new people I tried to bring to Amtgard), itís the props that are found every where you look, itís the weapons that are less efficient in terms of weight because someone went the extra mile to put a crossguard on them, its sending out monsters with costumes and face paint that cost next to nothing per creature, its having a script, a plan, a story to tell. But most all of its the players that want to keep in character and play a role that is different (even if just slightly in some cases) from themselves.
The first several items are pretty easy. It just takes a little bit of effort to prepare before the games. Writing the plot as staff and coming up with a story that the players will affect and add with their actions is hard work, but it is all wasted without the final item: the playerís willingness to roleplay. When you get right down to it, it is the participants who will set the mood for a game. The best scenario game will just turn back into the same old field battle if the players donít feel like roleplaying with the plot elements of the game. Often times this isnít because the players hate roleplaying, its because its something new, its hard to get into a character if you consider your two dimensional Amtgard persona to actually be a different character, or hard to stay in a roleplaying mood when even just a few players stay out of character for these encounters. And this leads us to part two of the article.
Saying Thee and Thou Does not a Roleplayer Make Ok, ok, enough about me, whereís the flurby filling promised by the title? Here it is! But first you have to remember one thing. It's okay to laugh. Seriously, running around in the woods pretending to be monsters or brave adventurers is pretty silly after all. Try hard not to take things too seriously and have fun, first and foremost.
Now with that out of the way, what leads to a good roleplaying experience? Atmosphere. It's that simple. You need to be in a surrounding conducive to roleplaying because roleplaying wont just happen on its own. So to that end, listed below are several of the biggest things that can aid people trying to play a character instead of just spar with some friends.
A character isnít the name you go by in Amtgard. You need to know what role it is you are playing. The more detail you know, the easier it will be and more natural it will feel to be in this role. The best way to do this is to write a character background. Make it detailed enough that you have more information written down than you will ever be asked in character. A good template (perhaps even a little more detailed than need be but good none the less) is listed at the end of this article. I guarantee you that if you actually write down an answer to each question on this form you will be able to stay in character better when you are interacting with others. I would also recommend that if you have played using the same name in Amtgard for several years, but have never done any roleplaying before, that you name your character something different.
You donít have to do a bad accent to play a character. One of the best ways to portray a character is to take something about your characterís personality to the extreme. Perhaps your character is enormously brave, a fool, a coward, absent minded, etc. Remember that in a larp and it's okay for your acting to be over the top. Also, if you have certain mannerisms that your character constantly displays, it will make it easier to play the character. For example, always taking notes in his journal or spell book, stuttering when speaking to another character, bragging, humming privately while thinking, etc. These little quirks will add up and help people to remember and recognize your character as different from your real personality and any other characters you might play.
Props! This is an easy one! Carry personal items your character might possess. A water skin, a large amulet that would be WAY too gaudy to be worn out of costume, a decorative leather-bound and personalized spell book, a spy glass, a sounding horn, a drinking horn, a unique hat, a musical instrument (even if you arenít a bard), a brightly colored feather, a lock of hair, etc. In your background, include why your character carries this item if it is something personal. These props do two things. First, they improve the appearance of the game, and second, they provide a topic for conversation or just something to fiddle with while interacting with other characters.
Stay in character when needed. This doesnít mean you need to absolutely stay in character every minute of an event, just when you are interacting with another character (as opposed to the player of that character) or a plot element for that event. When you are out of character it makes it harder for others to stay in character. Suddenly you will find yourself recalling that instead of being in the middle of a world of suspended disbelief beset on all sides by monsters, you are simply in a park in a weird costume about to get attacked by one of your friends wearing face paint and carrying a foam stick.
Have a system of in-game items that can be collected by the players. This is perhaps the hardest thing to do in Amtgard simply due to the rules system it operates under. Something that really helps to start interactions between characters is when one character needs something from another. This can be done with a system that includes an economy, items that can be bought and traded, and coinage or trinkets that have a set value. The items that can be bought donít even have to physically exist. While I doubt that such a system would be possible under the Amtgard rules, a system that requires all weapons and armor used by the players to have been constructed in-game (ie have a card saying that the physical representation of the item has been produced in-game under the rules system) provides a good base for an economy. However, an economy can be created without this limitation. For example, you could spend trinkets found on creatures slain at the event to buy food or drink from another player, you could buy information that has been gathered by another player in-game from a plot device, or you could hire a mercenary to aid you in whatever agenda you may wish to further.
Set up a plot that continues throughout more than one event. Make that plot with multiple outcomes in mind depending on what actions the players take (or do not take). Be flexible enough to change that plot when the players do something that you could never have expected.
So to bring this article to an end, it is much easier to simply show up on the field and pull out the olí foam stick and swing away at each other until its time to head home. But if you are looking for more than just that from the game you play you will have to put in a little bit more work to see it happen. Someone needs to step up and ask that people flesh out the characters they will be playing for an event. They need to write up plots and have a small group of people willing to npc for the event (a 1:4 ratio of npcs to players is pretty good, if there is going to be combat involved you can always make these npcs more powerful creatures or higher level classes). In short, there needs to be a reason for roleplay to happen. It wont just spontaneously break out leaving everyone wondering what just happened. Instead, you need to have a reason for characters to interact with each other, and in a way other than combat. An npc that has important information that the players will need to solve a puzzle; a monster that can be negotiated with instead of attacked on sight; a merchant selling something as simple as cookies (that someone on plot has baked before the game) for the trinkets the plot has been sending out on the monsters during the event. All of these things will help your local group enjoy some roleplaying that will be unique and different each and every time as opposed to the same old field battle that you have been playing out year after year.
Finally, as promised, the list for helping you to define your character:
What is the character's full name? Nicknames?
What is the colour of the character's hair, eyes, and skin?
What is the character's general appearance?
What is the character's age?
Where was the character born?
Describe the character's family.
Has the character begun his/her own family?
When or how was the character educated?
Has the character ever done anything else for a living?
What about the character's political and religious beliefs?
What is the character's moral code?
What might someone seeing the character for the first time think?
Does the character have any goals?
What is the character's personality?
Any reoccurring mannerisms?
What special qualities does the character possess? Not your Rules of Play skills, but what else can the character can do well? Does he get along well with other people? Is he skilled at taking care of business? Prioritizing tasks? Planning ahead?
Are there certain things the character just cannot do? Get close to people; perceive himself realistically, etc.
What does your character hate?
What does your character love?
How does the character perceive government? Those who are opposed to the government?
How did the character gain his abilities? What is his first reaction to a situation? What motivates him to act as a hero now?
What does your character hope to accomplish by adventuring?
Why is this goal more important than his/her safety? (i.e., Why would you take up adventuring, rather than being a nice, safe accountant?)
What would be the ultimate magic item for this character?
What would be the worst curse this character could ever receive?
List the 5 most important people in the character's life.
Who is the one person your character trusts the most?
Does your character have any prejudices?
How would your character handle an insubordinate servant? (If you're a "wouldn't have servants" type, then an insubordinate hireling.)
How would your characters parents describe him?
What was the best moment of the characters life? Worst?
How did his peers treat the character as a child? His elders?
What flaws does the character have? Is he quick to judge people? A slob?
What advice would you give your character?
What is the characters secret, and what will happen if it is discovered?
What would the character die for? What would they be willing to sacrifice the lives of their friends for?
What is the character's kryptonite? What is their weakness or what will paralyze them with fear?
What does the character do to relax?
Describe the characters ideal mate.
How will the character die? What would you consider a good end to a life well lived for this character?
"Hey, I've got an interesting job for you..." Name 3 jobs that your character might find interesting.
What is in your characters's pockets, right now?
What do they normally carry in their pockets that they don't have right now, but wish they did?
What is the silliest thing your character has ever done?
Note any other details of or give an outline of the character's history:
Versions of the above list, which was written for Dungeons and Dragons, may be found online: http://www.playnaked.com:16080/olie/DandD/char_survey.html
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