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RP Etiquette: Avoiding the Pitfalls

A collaborative work primarily written by Judith O.

Most people who invest heavily in the rp side of larp will at some point do something that makes the GMs and their fellow players headdesk, usually in their first year while suffering from excessive amounts of keen. Below are common pitfalls to avoid with advice on how to avoid or ameliorate. For reference, most people will manage to do at least one thing on this list in their first year while keen beats sense so there is some leeway and forgiveness – it’s only a problem if you don’t learn and keep doing it.

Getting Started – Character Generation

It’s really easy to get carried away when creating a character. We all want to be big damn heroes (or big damn villains) and it’s really tempting to start throwing in all sorts of traits as a consequence. However, we’re not writing a book – we’re inserting a character into a collaborative world with its own defined rules and expectations.

The first pitfall, then, is trying to force something into the world that doesn’t fit. That’s not to say you can’t have weird and wonderful characters – just that you need to think through how they really work and what that means within the setting. If you can describe the concept in TL terms to a fellow player (ideally a cynical one) without them headdesking, it’s a good start – if it’s complicated or only just passes muster, pass it by the Character Refs as well. The Character Refs definitely need to be consulted if doing anything beyond the standard ‘heroic’ races and Guilds1, or adding in something ‘wibbly’. If it’s your first ever character, start by reading through what setting information there already is (including any campaign pages) then either come along to one of the pre-campaign sessions and chat to existing players or pitch your ideas to the campaign GMs by email. And, if you can, keep it simple – not only does it mean you’re less likely to have a lore-clash but also means you have brainspace to concentrate on getting the hang of the rules system and so on. There’s nothing wrong with being a peasant who’s joined a Guild due to a knack for something and is only just starting to explore the wider world, and it gives you a good excuse to know nothing IC.

Don’t forget that it’s not only the general setting you need to think about, it’s the campaign setting and potentially (if you’re borrowing from existing lore) other people’s work as well. If you’re planning to insert NPCs or setting into a campaign area, clear it with the campaign GMs. If you’re using other people’s lore, clear it with the person or people responsible. In both cases, accept that you might not be allowed to do THE THING – if you’re polite and flexible about it, then even if THE THING is unacceptable then a compromise of The Thing might be possible, and if it isn’t then giving in with grace means you’re more likely to be allowed to play with other people’s toys in future.

The second pitfall is forgetting that no matter how big a hero your character will be one day right now they are a rank 2 to 10 spoddy. There are ways to play around with this; they used to be a hero but Something Happened, they used to be the big fish in the small pond so have an inflated view of their skills, they have a famous ancestor they’re trying to live up to/feel they are the successor to and so on and so forth. If you show up on game 1 proclaiming you’re the best swordsman in the world you can almost guarantee that the GMs or another player will knock you down a peg at the earliest opportunity – and as for soft skills like diplomacy, it’s very much show not tell.

The third is not giving due consideration to why your character is going to be on this patrol. If they’re evil/antisocial/crazy/‘complicated’, have a good long think about why their Guild is going to let them go and why the patrol organiser is going to let them join in (the campaign GMs should have some sort of guidelines as to what’s acceptable). Imagine you and your other characters having to spend a day with your new character. If you end up thinking “This person’s a douchebag” then be absolutely certain you’re happy for other people to think that way too because other people are going to be less forgiving and more likely to get upset OOC due to not wanting to spoil your game even when you might be spoiling theirs. This goes for any trait which is guaranteed to cause intra-party conflict, be it going into a rage when miracles are cast on or around you to being noble beyond all common sense – be sure you are okay with accepting the OOC consequences of what you’re doing as well as the potential IC ones of arrest, exclusion or (in extreme cases) having your character’s corpse hidden or destroyed to prevent resurrection.

Most importantly, once you have your character planned out, tell the GMs everything that they want to know. If you send them “half-orc Pathfinder” and nothing else they will assume a fairly standard half-orc Pathfinder; if you then add on a list of wacky illogical traits and a backstory of minimal sense they will be pretty put out with you. Additionally, as GMs they can look at what you’ve given them and reject the character – or reject them later if you add on things without telling them2. It’s no fun and unnecessary stress for all involved, so get the initial ‘making sense in context’ work done first.

As a side note, while not strictly a pitfall playing a relative of one of your own characters is generally not a good idea. It’s too easy to use them as a boasting platform for your other character and that does get really annoying really quickly. If you’re going to do it, you’re better off having them related but not particularly liking or interacting with your other character. It’s safer and generally far more entertaining for all involved to let other people play your character’s relatives3. Likewise, it’s not wrong to have background NPCs that exist to give your character people to interact with, but it’s really obnoxious to use them as boasting platforms or an excuse to get around setting and rules (“my friend the Lieutenant said I could”).

Keeping it rolling – Uptime/Downtime RP

Once you’ve got your character into the system you still have to think about what you’re doing in terms of how it affects the GMs and your fellow players. In general the important bit to keep communicating OOC, especially if you’re coming up with things that can impact the setting. Want to add an NPC to the campaign area? Ask the GMs first. Want to visit an area of the campaign map? Ask the GMs first. Want to describe something new about a bit of lore you’re playing with? Check with the creator first. Retcons are offensive to everyone and if what you’re doing makes sense then at worst it’s a slight delay on what you had planned. If something happens on the spur of the moment in uptime, check it’s okay at the earliest opportunity.

Adding things to your character is, to an extent, your own affair – however if it needs any sort of GM-based or Character Ref based buy-in (i.e. has any rules-based effects such as an altered Rec Creature call) it should go through the GMs/Character Ref before you use it (and may have Consequences as a result)2. If it doesn’t have rules-based effects but should (being part Drow/undead/demon etc.) you may have to get used to every other character thinking yours is a bit of a loony or worse.

A big part of the roleplay side of LARP is ICA = ICC, so even if you think what you’re doing shouldn’t have consequences you should be talking to the GMs about it. Breaking Path restrictions will get spotted by deities, interacting with NPCs will get you noticed. Going to an area of the map in downtime might mean instant death if plot’s in progress that you don’t know about. In short, if you’re doing anything other than having a quiet chat to a character in the safety of the patrol hall/pub/other ‘safe’ meeting space, have a serious think about what the GMs need to know as a result whether it’s in uptime or downtime.

If you’re getting involved in GM-based downtime then remember there are limits. If what you want to do requires a game to resolve, it’s not suitable for downtime at all (but may be used as a game if the GM feels it apt). If it requires Majikal Adventures (i.e. a short self-contained ten minute mini-game) to resolve, it’s up to the GM to say whether it can happen or not; if they say no, accept it with good grace. If it requires significant GM time in person as an NPC, it’s again up to the GM whether it happens or not. Be prepared to be flexible or accept ‘no’ as an answer.

If you’re doing inter-player downtime, then the etiquette is simple; real life wins over roleplay, be polite OOC, and if you do something that the GMs or a lore-creator will want to know about then tell them about it. If you want to go into things that might make other people involved uncomfortable, talk about it first and set boundaries – and respect those boundaries and the fact that they might change. There is nothing wrong with stopping and having a quick OOC discussion about where things are going if any of the players involved become uncomfortable, nor in agreeing to retcon or fade to black. This is particularly important for anything that would make a film a 15 rating or above – gore, torture, nudity, sex, abuse of any sort (physical or emotional) and so on – as these can be particularly triggering (especially if they’re unexpected).

Really importantly, if you can’t be reasonably certain of doing it in uptime then you can’t do it in downtime – doesn’t matter whether it’s fighting off muggers or cheeking NPCs or tending gardens, if your character is being a Downtime Hero then it’s just obnoxious.

If you’re creating new lore, be careful not to create it in a way that forces other players to have to join in with what you’re doing. Saying something applies to all branches of a Guild will cause upset, but saying something applies to the specific branch that you came from is fine. It’s also bad form to try to claim large areas of landmass as yours within the Kingdom4; up to a town is fine, although the rougher it is the closer to the border it should probably be and may get taken over by the Character Refs later. Outside of the Kingdom there’s more room for flexibility but still, the larger the area the further away it should probably be. As an aside to this, if you do craft reams of background information for your character, don’t expect people to be interested and don’t force people to listen to it all the time, especially mid-mission. You’re far better off being interesting as a character and letting people come to you – if you do try to foist backstory/angst on people, there’s a good chance you’ll be ignored at best and stabbed/shouted at at worst.

As a final point, IC languages. The TL rule is that if you want to speak in an IC language you need to be actually speaking in a different language OOC, you can’t just use a random gesture and talk normally. It is then up to other players to decide (if they know that language OOC) whether their character speaks it or not. If you want to have a really obscure IC language that only a couple of people know, you need to either pick an OOC obscure language or invent one5.

1 By standard heroic races and Guilds we basically mean ‘anything in the Player Rules’. There is a fairly good chance that if it’s out of the GM Rules you won’t be allowed to play it, especially if it’s something that’s illegal in the Kingdom (Undead, Drow, Demons, Necromancers, Temples of Death/Chaos/Anarchy, Demonologists, Dark Druids, Shadow Masters, any combination of the above). The exceptions, although normally only once one has proven that one is capable of the RP, are the Brethren and the Dark Blades as they can dual-wield Guilds; however be aware that the GMs and the Character Refs will be constantly testing you to make sure that you’re fulfilling both sets of Guild requirements to the full.

2 There are at least two schools of thought on how to handle players who misbehave. The first is to say a firm no before the player puts any real effort into their illogical idea, especially if they’re refusing to be reasonable; the second is to say yes but to kill off the character at the earliest possible opportunity with NPCs (Illuminati showing up and jobbing the half-Drow etc.). Each option has its merits and flaws, and it is the GM’s prerogative as to which method they use and to change method according to the situation.

3 If you want to play someone else’s relative, ask first! Family members still count as player-created lore.

4 The exception is if you’re a GM and it’s a campaign/plotarc area, but it’s rare for that to then belong to a specific character. Not unheard of, but rare.

5 OOC languages already used for IC languages are: Latin (Ancient Hassani), German (Ancient High Elven), French (Modern High Elven), Welsh (Wild/Wood Elven), Cantonese (Cathayan), Sindarin (effectively Latin for Elves).