Yesterday evening, as I was relaxing after a long day of running around a field killing people with fake LARP swords and then stuffing myself full of sushi, the most delicious of meals, I found myself thinking about a discussion that I have many times had with myself and other people:

When making a character, should you focus on their characterisation or their stats?

I think I was thinking about it again because I had just been at Frontier LARP, which is a combat LARP and the difference between combat LARP and non-combat LARP was very striking at that moment. In combat LARPs, like Frontier, the thing that matter to you is your stats: How many hits do I have, what’s my damage call, do I have any magical spells or abilities to help me out in this situation? You are constantly and always using the stats on your character, and most of the time that is how you are defined. I was playing my archer yesterday, and rather than asking my name, I was simply referred to as ‘The Archer’ because there was only one person with a bow, me. I heard someone saying “I need more characterisation on <character they intended to play>” and I did find myself thinking ‘Why?’ I don’t come to Frontier for the roleplay, I come for the hitting and the running around and fun, if there is any roleplay I make up what my character would think on the spot, and then add it into her character from there. For instance, some of the monsters in one encounter surrendered. One character asked if they had any healing, and when they didn’t, we killed them anyway. I decided that my character was okay with this, since she’s a survivalist, whereas another character, who upholds a code of honour, decided he wasn’t and complained about the actions for the next three encounters. That’s about as much roleplay as usually happens.

Where as in non combat systems, it is all about the roleplay. The  number of draws I make in a game tend to be very low, especially for my more social characters, who just sit around and talk, so I have to have the character’s world views and opinions mostly formed before I go into conversations, because the entire game is based around how characters react to problems and dilemma’s that they are faced with, and building up the various relationships with the other characters. Stats tend to be incidental, and are asked for by the ref when it becomes necessary.

There was just something about the difference that struck me. Combat LARP are all about the combat, so we don’t appear to need the character development, we focus on the skill and points development. Whereas other live actions games focus on character and events and how people change over time.

I think the exception to this are festival LARPs, like Empire which is happening this weekend. Because although there are combat elements to the weekend, it’s not what we do all the time. Most of the time we are in a field with other people and roleplaying so we have to have our characters interacting with each other, and thus characterisation becomes a big part of that straight away.

Overall, I think I concluded that characterisation seems to be inversely proportional to time spent whacking people with fake weaponry.

I might be rambling a bit, but I was just having some interesting thoughts, and it struck me because I am a person who like numbers, so when I hear of a new game that I might get to play, I often jump in and start crunching the numbers and looking at the stats of a character rather than the characterisation, no matter what kind of LARP system it is. It’s taken me some number of years to look at characterisation more closely, and think about the character as a person and flesh them out before I put numbers to that concept. And I do back slide. A lot. For instance a non-combat system I play in, Shades of Norwich: A Requiem Chronicle, is about to have it’s last game. However, the refs are going to run a new system in 2015, Dark Metropolis, and already I have four potential characters statted up with numbers on spreadsheets. And only one of them has any characterisation. It is the one I intend to play, and I am quite happy to scrap those sheets with their numbers and start again with the simple idea of playing a very shy researcher (my concept in a nutshell) but I do realise that I like numbers and maths and stats and will jump on any chance to stat characters first and characterise later.

Of course with writing, there are no stats, and I have to focus on the characterisation, which in turn helps with gaming, and in gaming I only have to work on one character and make them a believable person, and then I can look at how other people make their character’s believable, and that feeds back into my writing for the characters in my books. Circles and roundabouts, it all works together in the end.