Buy-in, OOC prejudice, and taking characters seriously

An interesting article from Nordic Larp. I originally posted the link to the Discord, and its led to a bit of discussion there:

The focus is on appearance-based prejudice in part because Nordic larps have a bad habit of casting on appearance (!), but this can also obviously happen in-play. The Larp Hall discussion has talked about the need for buy-in, particularly with respect to characters in positions of power, but also any externally-focused or reputational trait, where its portrayal is really a matter of other characters reacting appropriately. Or to put it another way, other players taking your character and the setting seriously.

In theatreforms, GMs have easy tools to encourage and enable this, using information on setting and character sheets. I think its harder in campaigns, where players create their own characters and there usually isn’t top-down information to signal such things.

Anyway, any thoughts on this? Or examples, and how we can fix it?

1 Like

Buy in is required to make any externally reacted aspect of a character actually work. It’s a terrible feeling when you’re playing a character who has some externally reacted character trait (usually positive) that nobody reacts to appropriately.

" 1. You owe it to your fellow participant to at least try to play the relationships as designed, of course barring safety issues."

The thing is that while in theatreforms certain relationships might be explicitly noted, and maybe even certain character’s status might be announced, that’s usually only statuses of power. Aspects such as character attractiveness, wealth, fearsomeness, or authority can be unknown, making it harder to play to them. This is even more amplified in player written characters.

Focusing on players who at least want to try to play in, how do we try and convey these aspects?

There’s the obvious, that the player plays towards the characterisitics of the character, but that’s just shifting it back to the acting larper. Additionally, displays might be unwanted, fictionally inappropriate, and actively out of character harmful. I’ve had a character who is supposed to be at least treated with caution if not fear feel flat because it wasn’t bought into, and any display would likely be received in an unhealthy way / I didn’t trust the other players enough to take a demonstration well.

Lists of Dramatis Personae can be one tool that seemed to have moderate success at Scandal and Society, where public information was shared. However, my perception was that only some people bought into that alone, and other buy in was on the strength of the person portraying the character. Of course, parts of that was that S&S has a high romance component, and it is hard to expect many people to buy into romance plots based on characterisation alone.

Possibly a combination of three approaches might work: Dramatis Personae as above, social norming, where people actively step their play to social norm the person who isn’t buying in, and mechanics.

Social norming is as simple as a character who has bought in reacting appropriately to a character who has not bought in, and doing so instead of not interacting. Pulling someone aside to warn them of speaking to the Dread Pirate, Guards hauling the insolent visitor away from the Queen, and people making comments about rich / attractive / powerful person X. It’s what we do out of character, and can easily be done in character if other players are aware and willing to help out.

Mechanics are another area where it can be done, and I’m a fan of building mechanics that support the game you want. If a designer wants to have fearsome character, build a mechanic that plays off that: Consequence and the Outlaw 1 ‘Fearsome Reputation’, which can force another PC to flee a scene is a good example, as was Volcano’s Edge, where Expeditions were locked behind funding on the backing of wealthy PCs. I’m not aware of any around power or attraction, though.

I’m not really sure what to do with people are maliciously, or even just not trying to buy into characters though. I think that’s a much unhealthier situation.

2 Likes

For theatreforms, I actively try and avoid writing anything about character attractiveness or appearance, for the obvious reason that I don’t know who will be playing them (in recent games I’ve tried to dispense with gender as well, which solves a lot of casting issues). The other stuff only gets mentioned if it matters. Its easy to prime players for things like authority and fearsomeness (“This person scares the shit out of you”), but its obviously so much more effective if they can back it up subtly through roleplay. Wealth is often done through mechanics, but these are often hidden. But for Regency games, where everyone is meant to know how much you are worth, I stole from the Nordics and just put it on the badge (so Mr Darcy would have “£10,000” in a corner, and everyone would know he was worth that much a year).

There is some good advice out there on how to convey authority through roleplaying, and status-play is a basic of acting workshops. Other things I agree are harder, unwelcome, harmful, or triggering. Being physically intimidated, stood over and yelled at in a larp doesn’t feel much different from it happening in real life, and really only the sort of thing you should do by negotiation and consent. And honestly, that is where I’d rather just have a mechanic.

(I’m sure there have been attraction mechanics somewhere, but an obvious one is just a “come hither” forcing someone to talk to them for Five Larp Minutes. I can see how that would work in some sorts of games).

Larp assumes some level of cooperation. Where people are actively not cooperating, then its a whole different kettle of fish, and a game management issue rather than one of “how can we do this better for more fun”.

2 Likes

When I’m writing my own character I try to avoid defining them in terms of how others perceive them, that’s always going to be out of my control. If you know a group of other players are going to be in your faction then it’s possible to discuss the group dynamics beforehand.

When writing theatreform characters it’s good to create backstory that helps the players buy into how their character feels about others. So for example instead of saying “You are loyal to Bob” you might say “Ever since Bob ran into a burning building to rescue your son he can do no wrong in your eyes”

2 Likes

When I’m writing my own character I try to avoid defining them in terms of how others perceive them, that’s always going to be out of my control. If you know a group of other players are going to be in your faction then it’s possible to discuss the group dynamics beforehand.

This. A thousand times.