playing a Good character vs combat and killing people

The way we play larp in our country involves combat. We like that, it’s part of the fun. If you want to have fun at a Dutch larp event, you have to sit down and think about how your character reacts in combat situations and how your character feels about killing people, friend or foe. If you want to have fun, drink and laugh with the other characters, and not constantly feel guilty or sad about the amount of death and destruction that happens around you, it’s easier to play a character who can shrug at the death of another character somehow. There is no time for mourning at a larp, even though we sometimes honour the deaths of heroes, I have experienced first hand that if your character is going to be shocked, frightened, sad or broken every time you stare in the face of death, that’s going to be a very heavy weekend for you. Many players solve this by playing characters with evil or simply callous streaks.

But how do you play a Good, honest, god-fearing, compassionate and/or kind character in a story where people are killing each other left and right? Many larps try to solve this problem by dehumanising the enemy. We fight against zombies, monsters, demons amd other creatures who clearly deserve no mercy whatsoever. But the story does not always allow an inhuman, insane enemy that must be eradicated. Sometimes the story involves a misguided, ignorant enemy. People just like you, only with different idealogies or different laws and customs. How does your character react to the death of one of those?

At Charm this weekend, I saw a young elf be disgusted with herself and her orders when she had to kill a defenseless enemy, while others around her did the same without much afterthought. I saw an elven wardancer with tears in his eyes try to solve this conflict peacefully, because neither side of the conflict was his enemy, while behind him, orcs and dwarves were ready to smash in some skulls. My character panicked and froze on the battlefield, surrounded by people whose lives she wanted to save, but powerless to stop them from lunging at each other. How do you play a good character in a situation like this, without descending into trauma and grief?

When I look at this from a story-writer’s perspective, I see that the combat at these larps is a plot device. Killing the enemy is an easy and satisfying way of resolving a conflict. There can be a sense of victory among the characters, which is very rewarding. Making enemies who can be captured and convinced that what they did was wrong may also be satisfying for the players, but that requires a different approach towards writing the enemies and the plot. It is simpler to let the characters defeat the enemies, than to capture them, hold trial for their crimes and letting them atone accordingly. It’s necessary to let non-player characters die in order to let the extras change their clothes and play more characters that the players can interact with. If every non-player character is caught alive and held captive, you simply run out of extras too quickly, and player characters are usually not organised enough to handle such a situation quickly and effectively. There are good reasons why we write our larp stories like this.

Which still leaves us with that question. How do you play a good character in a situation like this, without descending into trauma and grief? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “playing a Good character vs combat and killing people

  1. I think the trick is to have a character who can seperate the need from the want and from the must. My orc was ready to bash skulls only to be sure that those he cares for survive. He doesn’t relish the battle, usually it ends badly with him being mangled and beaten to a bloody pulp and in dire need of the healers.

    The feels are hard for a lot of people to do, because they’re not real. Almost everything is kept externally. I try to balance out the good and the bad. My character maybe callous and rude, but not uncaring. He does not want the bloodshed, especially not of ‘innocents’, but he recognizes the need. If they won’t listen and are a threat to his community, he will attack. This weekend he tried his best to only cripple his ‘enemies’ because they were just misguided, not evil.

    Also what I think happens is that most players are too caught up in their other personal dillemmas to allow themselves to care about the end of battle results. My orc’s personal philosophy is that if they hit first he’ll hit last and hardest (hopefully) and claim it to be self-defense or defense of those in his care/trust.

    My only ever non-combat character had severe issues with deaths and injuries, trying to get everyone to get along and play nice. He tried this for so long and so hard that he ‘snapped’ and developed an evil streak that allowed him to shrug it off and not mourn all the dead. “I tried to teach them, but they seem to want to die in battle, not caring who they take with them, well, they got their wish, that’s not too bad, is it?”

  2. On sunday I threw this one in the face of my fellow adventurers. Slaying 60 elves the night before in battle and having several die that same day to save a Elf maiden. Only to have this same elf maiden betray us and cutting the throat of the Baron and my friend. She was caught and bound to a tree for trail.

    My firemage Mordachai is a good person at heart. Impulsive, reckless and pridefull, but with good intentions. Fighting out duels with powerfull elven air mages was a welcome challenge. But a war with the Elven Kingdom, I as Mordachai, was not looking forward to. But he got the order to act and wanted to protect his friends, so he did.

    And he got very pissed when all of a sudden after all the killing and fighting, the one behind all of it and whom actively had tried to kill his friend, was bound to a tree and nobody did anything.

    So, I went over to here, knive in hand and told anyone on the way over to her that i would slit her wrists. She tried to kill one of my friends, so she had to die. The first few people did not stop me, but when I leaned over her, people started to talk me out of it. Not that she did not deserve it, but that it was not Mordachai his way of conduct. They convinced me to do it openly and to burn her in front of a crowd. And that I did. I made my voice heard and said that I would burn her for what she did. That made the “Lawfull Good” Characters run and a fierce debate started. Wailing at them that she had to die. We have seen her do it, there is no denying. We have killed 60 elves in battle and now all of a sudden we are true and just.

    Playing a lawfull character only the week before who tries to capture and trail all his opponents, I wanted to go for some hardline revenge action. See my fellow players play with that notion and see if they could hold true to the principles they, in Mordachai’s view, have so easily abandoned in batlle.

    It got some good play going and in the end, the elf maiden was burned to a crisp. With most of the lawfull characters descending upon each other, not agreeing on the punishment. while Mordachai was burning the corps away. It was nice to put on the pressure and make people think.

    I think fighting battle can go without the trauma and grieve. It is a very modern notion that war = bad. Before WWI wars where seen as a clear way to end disputes. That could bring vigour to a nation. That war can be just. Or that its the only way to die honorbly. So there are many ways to justify it for your character.

    But on the other hand, analyses on historical battlefields have shown, that only 10% of the soldiers where effectivly killing other soldiers. Be it knights, samurai, vikings, prussians, yankees, etc. So nations went to war easier in history, there soldiers, draftsmen and slaves did not kill so easily. But the once who did could justify it for themselves. Probably think they are a good person for doing it.

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