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124. Road Trip larp, Part Seven: Characters and Challenges

/This is the seventh part of the series on the Road Trip larp project. If you want to start from the first post, it is #116.

Road Trip dealt with characters in an unusual way. Since we were going to spend so much time together talking, we didn’t feel that the normal Dziobak Larp Studios approach would work. And since Dystopia Rising runs with player-created characters, we chose not to just transfer that way of doing it 1:1.

What we did was to make a brand new way of creating characters. Every player had to make twelve short in-character videos, each answering an important question. The twelve “steps” were inspired by the modern version of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

The first steps dealt with the characters past, the next with the characters fears for the trip and the final ones with dreams for the future. Based on this info and on a short questionnaire, we then wrote the characters for everyone. Each character consisted of a name, function, description, some keywords, three tarot cards and an inspirational quote.

This was the starting point. The rest was fleshed out by the participants. And since we follow a Ten Lessons format, here’s Ten Lessons Learned From Road Trip’s Characters.

  1. Players drew a lot on themselves. When you play intensely for seven days in confined spaced and with lots of time for talking, it requires depth. The easiest way to provide that is to draw on your own life in some way. It doesn’t have to be 1:1, but it was much more relevant than normally.
  2. The real world setting doubled this. If you’re a vampire or a 17th century pirate, you won’t need to answer where you went to school. Here, that sort of thing happened, making it even more necessary to be able to pull believable stories out of the hat. The more players and the shorter time, the less this is needed. Here? Very needed.
  3. The characters had to feel real. Many larp characters are not just larger-than-life, but unrealistically so. That’s seldom a problem, but for a larp that is played as incrowd as this was, it doesn’t work. Characters must be believable or the illusion will break. It was pretty cool for a naturalist player like me, I have to admit.
  4. Nuance is more crucial than usual. Again, a lot of larps have plenty of space for rather one-sided characters. One as long and as small as this doesn’t. The longer the larp went on, the more detail and nuance the characters developed. It made for great conversations and for a lot of low key drama that’s sometimes lost in the action.
  5. You have to like your character for this. I’ve played many villains. I couldn’t have done it for Road Trip. It’s too long. Too intense. Too real. It means that while everyone gets to play around with bad sides, you need to actually be fond of some aspects of your Road Trip alter ego. At least, that’s my reading of it!
  6. I’m not sure the characters always mattered. Some larps are weird to play as yourself. This one would probably have worked brilliantly if we’d played “what if” versions of ourselves. On one hand they gave amazing alibi. On the other, the trip itself gave a lot of alibi on its own, and that would have worked well with the “what if” scenario.
  7. Character creation was quite demanding. In theory, doing twelve one-minute videos with answers to questions sounded simple. In reality, it turned out to be harder than expected. Especially as we did this as the very first thing. I’d advise providing a function/role first, and then letting the player do the videos.
  8. Organiser characters worked great. We were three organisers on Road Trip, and we also had three documentarists along. All of us played characters, even if some of us rarely played them while driving. It still worked quite well to have us be seamlessly inserted into the larp every time we stopped. Simple, but cool.
  9. Characters need scalabilty complexity wise. By this I mean that for a larp such as this, it’s important to have players be able to get in as deep as they want. Some characters resembled the players a lot. Some didn’t. Both worked. Creating a way of allowing both ends of the spectrum is highly recommended.
  10. Some kind of character makes sense. Whether it’s full-fledged characters like we had this time, or “what if you joined a band tomorrow” alternate reality characters may not matter much. But being able to see “We’re a rock band on tour” and mean it makes a difference to how you see the world – and how it sees you. And it sparked a lot of debates on what “character” actually means.

Note: Since the whole discussion of characters, non-players and ethics is supremely interesting, I’ve devoted a whole part of the series to that. That is Part Eleven, where I’ll dive into the moral aspects of the larp. So if you felt that wasn’t covered here, that’s with good reason. Part Eleven will be about the juicy stuff!

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Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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