Monday, September 22, 2014

Building the Fourth Wall, or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Paste by Rhiannon Chiacchiaro

There is a common piece of snark that goes around the Realms community: “The Realms is a LARP without the RP.” Some people blame “stick jock” culture, others say it’s due to the low barrier to entry, and yet another opinion places fault on the fact that so many of us consider the Realms a community first and a game second. Recently, there has been some more drive to keep the game in-character during events. Garbing initiatives, immersion marshals, and enhanced witchcraft rules have all played a part in trying to keep the Realms from becoming little more than a boffer sport with chainmaille. But I’m not here to discuss the fine points of what does or doesn’t make a LARP. Instead, I’m here to provide a guide to those interested in getting into character during an event and staying there. Some of these tips might seem silly or a little passive aggressive, but use your best judgment and adapt to fit your needs.

  1. Lead by example
In my opinion, the best and easiest way to stay in character is to make sure that you make a point to not break character, even if someone else does. The biggest examples of this are situations where someone calls out your OOC name, references plans for after the event, or tries to make other, non-game related small talk during down time. In these situations, the best thing to do is to not break character. For example, I have a lot of people call me Rhiannon during events. The way I respond to this is by saying “Sorry, I think Rhiannon is that lady from Folkestone. My name is Tria/Starmaw/Elspeth/whoever I may be at the time.” I usually then add some sort of good natured quip about how we don’t really look that much alike and I have no idea why we keep getting confused. Keeping IC and politely correcting is a good way to remind the person that you would like to stay immersed without giving them a hard time about it.

Another tricky situation is when you’re in an environment where it feels like nobody wants to RP. When you’re at a feast, it can be incredibly difficult to keep people IC because a lot of times they just want to socialize. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Hey, if you guys are going to be chatting OOC, I’m going to go hang out over there.” Look for a group of people working on puzzles or divinations, since those both often lead to more intense RP than people just sitting around. At the very least, you’ll be able to surround yourself in more immersion, and if you’re lucky, you might just make some friends.

If you find yourself really unable to get IC because someone (or someones) just can’t RP to save their lives and won’t listen to polite nudging, you always have the option to inform a marshal. I can’t guarantee that they’ll do anything about it, but most questing events (especially ones that have immersion rules in effect) will have someone willing to speak to the person about staying IC. You paid to go to a LARP, and you have the right to actually LARP while you’re there. (There is a caveat to this, which I explain in tip 5).

  1. Find your shtick
As with certain spells, a focus can sometimes aid your RP experience. When I play Starmaw, I have a very distinct accent. This forces my brain to remain in “Starmaw mode” until the end of the event, because I am so obviously changing something about myself (in this case, my voice). If you can pull off an accent or affect of the voice, it might prove to be helpful.  Be careful with this (and any other shtick) though, because if you end up with something goofy or inconsistent, it’s more likely to cause people to break character around you to rib you about it. Also make sure that whatever you choose won’t inhibit your ability to move or RP comfortably. You don’t want to hurt yourself and end up with a real bad leg because of your fake limp.

If you aren’t good with accents or don’t want to have to change your voice, here are some other possibilities for your IC “totem” as it were:
  • A physical tick (a bouncy knee or quiet voice)
  • A specific jewelry or garb item that you are aware of (a half-veil or bell bracelet)
  • A physical alteration (a tattoo or elf ears)
  • An action you do regularly (kissing a charm before battle or praying at sunset)
And remember, if you find yourself not liking the shtick you picked, you can do something to change it. Just remember to do it IC. We are a world of magic, myth, and meddling deities. Try to think of a way to RP your convalescence or change, and it may even lead to improved character depth.

  1. Hide your shame
Alright,” you might say to me. “I understand the point of trying to find something specific to use as an IC reminder, but what if I don’t want to have to constantly remind myself or be reminded? Is there anything I can do ahead of time to get into the game?” Good news, you! There are some very easy ways to make sure you get into character and it all comes down to one basic concept: don’t be naked.
Now, by naked, I don’t mean running around with your bits going everywhere. I mean wearing clothing that is just obviously not garb. While comfortable shoes and kneepads for fighters are important, there is a difference between being ready for the battlefield and being ready for the basketball court. Wearing sneakers, gym shorts, and a T-shirt is not being in garb. You’re not going to feel like you’re part of a medieval fantasy world in an outfit like that. You’re going to feel like you’re going out for a run. At the *very* least, throw on a tabard and a ring belt. If you can manage it, find some armor or perhaps a basic tunic and poofy pants. There are many newbie bins and resources out there for people looking to improve their fashion but are low on money, time or skill (and I highly encourage anyone who has such a collection going to comment below with their contact information).

Once you have something that can be considered passable garb, make a point of saying to yourself that once you put it on, you’re going to be IC. If you want, do what I do and have a “getting into character” ritual. As Starmaw, I make sure that as soon as I get my elf ears on, the accent goes with it and stays. From that moment on, I am IC. Even if you don’t use shtick like that, you can still make a point of saying “once my surcoat is on, I am my character” or something to that effect. Sometimes you’re running late and might have to throw your garb on last minute. Just make sure to take a second while doing so to remind yourself that you’re leaving real life with the car (emergencies notwithstanding of course) and you’re going to be immersed now.

  1. Define the line
One of the biggest issues I’ve observed in terms of people breaking character is that they will be talking about something IC and then suddenly just switch to OOC. This can be very jarring and can really screw with your immersion. Now, while you can’t force someone else to clearly define their IC/OOC line, there are things you can do to be obvious about it (and, by extension, do that leading by example thing I mentioned).
The official Realms method for talking OOC is to put your hand over your head. A lot of times, however, people in extended conversations won’t do that because it’s tiring. The best counter to this is to do it yourself. Always have your hand over your head when talking OOC, no matter how long the conversation. In my experience, people often say “Oh, put your hand down” after a while or something, which gives you the prime opportunity to let them know that if you do, you will be back IC. You can also pull the trick from earlier and refuse to break character if someone isn’t obviously signalling they are OOC. Without getting passive aggressive about it, you can make it clear that you as your character have no idea who these Bruins are or what it means to completely destroy a Hab, giving the hint that their OOC talk is going to fall on deaf ears.

Another option, if people don’t really regard the hand over the head, is to add a secondary, verbal cue. Many other LARPs use the word “Clarify” to indicate that they are asking an OOC question. You can use “Clarify,” “Out of game,” or some other short, unintrusive word or phrase to make it clear that you are taking a brief step away from your character. Just make sure to obviously step back into character afterwards.

  1. Don’t sweat it
The last piece of advice I have for you is one that seems intuitive but seems to be hard to live by. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake and slip up, deal with it and move on. If you accidentally start referencing something OOC and catch yourself, just a quick “my bad” and a return to character is fine. A common issue that I encounter is that people will get over-explanatory on something like “I’m acting this way IC but don’t worry because I actually feel this way OOC.” Ironically, that often ends up breaking immersion harder than if someone just stayed IC and let it happen. If you feel it’s something that warrants clarification, pull the person aside at some point and have a quick “Everything cool?” conversation, but don’t necessarily break the flow of the interaction to do so.

Additionally, don’t take it upon yourself to be the immersion police. If someone makes one accidental slip, don’t go dogging them for the rest of the event. Also don’t be that guy who listens around for other people breaking character, because that’s actually going to pull you out more and make everyone feel uncomfortable RPing around you. In the end, we’re here to have fun. If you find your fun inhibited, you have the right to make that known. Just remember that if you’re keeping someone else from enjoying themselves, they’re probably going to tell you as well.

So there you have it. Your basic guide to playing the roles. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at the EH perspective, and coming up with some good tips for running an immersive event. Comment below with your favorite techniques for keeping IC, or post questions that I can address at the beginning of my next article. Happy roleplaying!


  1. Great write-up! Thanks, Rhiannon!
    I've been pretty terrible at RP'ing in the past, but since I've come back I've been trying to make a concerted effort to RP and participate in event plots.

  2. Wow this is an Awesome article! The tips seem really effective and not intimidating to keep up with or try at all!