It should be said first and foremost that LARP bleed is most definitely a thing. There have been many who have been affected by it to different degrees, and some even in a positive light, but it is also true that there are those out there who will never suffer from such a thing and that is okay too. What works for you doesn’t always work for everyone else, and what affects others may never affect you. That is what it’s like to be part of such a diverse community. In saying all this “letting your character play you” isn’t always connected to LARP bleed and sometimes is a completely different thing all together. So, what we will be doing here is having a look over certain pitfalls and character traps that people easily find themselves falling into and can struggle quite a bit to get back out of. Starting with the simplest and yet most unexpected of issues that most combat LARPs come across: The “Murder Hobo”.
For those new to LARP or those who have stuck mainly to non-combat versions of the hobby, this phrase may be a little foreign to you, so let me explain. A “Murder Hobo” is a player in a combat game who isn’t really taking part in the main story, or sub plots, or even really engaging in role play with other characters, but instead simply attacking and trying to kill anyone who comes across their path. Some people see these types of players as “less than LARPer’s” while others revel in the role, and fully enjoy the game they are playing while attempting to commit ‘mindless slaughter’. We all know every story has at least two sides, so let’s look at them a little closer. “Why would someone become a ‘Murder hobo’ in such a role play rich environment?” I hear you ask. Well there could be several contributing factors to this ranging from social anxieties, to simply knowing that you enjoy the combat portions of the game and not the others. Perhaps you are too shy to engage in role play with characters and feel much more comfortable relying completely on the physical aspect of the game. Perhaps the idea of the game being more of a ‘sport’ really appeals to you, and you have tried playing along with the role play side of things only to realise they don’t quite fit with how you want to play. These reasons plus many others are completely valid, and should be noted by the community that in such a diverse game as LARP there are always going to be those that prefer the more niche aspects of it, as opposed to the entire ensemble product. This does not make the player less of a LARPer than any other, they have just found the way they wish to make the most of the events they are paying to participate in, much like yourself.
However, looking at the other side of the issue we see players engaging in a much bigger world with more complex ideas and goals they are trying to achieve. They can be constantly hassled and halted by those ‘Hobos’ who are just out mindlessly slaughtering them every time they attempt something beyond any kind of safety net. Be it a safety in numbers type of net or some sort of games mechanic “safe zone” type deal. This can understandably be frustrating and really take away from the experiences of some players. So, ‘not letting the character play you’ can become really important in these situations. Deciding that being a: “Murder Hobo” is how you wish to play this game doesn’t mean you don’t have a character, it just means your character is somewhat already pretty much defined by that term, and that while you may never really stray from that moniker you are a part of the game just like everyone else. By all means play that ‘murder hobo’,have as much fun as you can, but keep in mind, while you are playing a character you are also a real person, and the other people you are playing with, are also real people outside of their characters. You can separate yourself from your ‘murder hobo’ tendencies to analyse and judge whether or not your ‘in game’ actions are affecting other peoples ‘out of game’ enjoyment. Remember, using the phrase: “that’s what my character would do” only really works if you’re helping to heighten the game for everyone involved, it is not a shield with which to hide behind being a dick to other people. Sometimes you need to help steer the situations so that all involved can enjoy themselves, not just yourself.
Your ‘murder hobo’ character may be an extremely good fighter, and may simply wish to slaughter every single person they come across, but you as a person need to take a step back sometimes and realise when a group of three relatively newer players leave the safety of the town on some quest, perhaps don’t run over and slaughter them all again for the third or fourth time. It’s going to become very unfun for them very quickly if, every attempt they make to take part in the game is instantly destroyed by someone who just likes to fight and kill. Perhaps this time you could simply pretend your hobo character didn’t see them, or head off on your own quest to find stronger more veteran players to take on, thus fulfilling your requirement to have fun at a game but also allowing others to fulfil theirs as well. This simple act of stepping back from your character, assessing the situation, taking into account other people’s feelings and desires can actually allow your ‘murder hobo’ to become a very important part of the game. For the road isn’t all one way. Consistently getting murdered by another player should be a good lesson to other characters that they should also be reassessing the situation, perhaps not leaving the safety of town with so few numbers, or perhaps making a stealthier exit. There should be plenty of options available to them as a “free pass” should never be expected, but there is a very slim line between a challenge and an insurmountable obstacle. It’s important to be the former and avoid the latter. Otherwise you are simply letting your character play you, think for you, act for you, and you can find yourself very quickly being excluded from the community, something no one, not a seasoned role player, or a murder hobo should ever have to experience.
The next biggest issue we come across with ‘not letting the character play you’, comes from a really obvious place: The Backstory! I can tell you right now that we have probably just split all those who read this right down the middle into two warring groups. Those that think backstories define their characters and those that think they are simply a waste of time, and look, both parties have very compelling arguments about why their side is right, but just like real life nothing is ever simply black and white. Every character needs a back story. Whoa! I say. Chill! I plead. Don’t instantly judge me as a pro-backstory-er. Let me explain. Even if your “murder hobo’-esque character just popped into existence, guess what? You have a back story! That story may just be: “you popped into existence”, but it’s still a backstory as that one simple factoid is now going to define a lot of what you do as a character. Because of this you will react to things differently, you will have different traits and different ideas, and most importantly you have created a mystery around your character because let’s face it, even in a fantasy setting it’s quite unusual for people to just “pop” into existence. So, while your back story isn’t a three hundred and forty-seven-page novel, it is still a back story, and still important to what you do.
The other side of that argument however is: “your back story is best left behind you”, and that is also true. Having an overly detailed backstory that adds up to the formerly mentioned three hundred and forty-seven-page novel may be a great character study, but is only ever going to hamper you at LARP and make the character play you more than you playing the character. Once you have such a defined story, you have created a so well fleshed out and rounded character you can often leave yourself with no where to go with it. Instead of reacting to events as they happen, you already have a predetermined reaction based on past events, and this is a very dangerous situation to be in. Just like with the ‘murder hobo’ the ‘overly complicated back story character’ is locked into a certain way of thinking and acting, and thus when certain situations present themselves can often lead to acting in a way that will upset other players and affect just how much they are enjoying the game. Remember “That’s what my character would do” is not a shield to hide behind, because in the long run, you: the real person, have let your fictional character make that decision for you.