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.