Friday, December 25, 2015

Playing Against Types

It feels really good to get back into LARPing. It was an integral part of my life back in the day, and the new post-divorce, post-depression Rolfe is trying to get back in touch with better days and old accomplishments.

So I'm playing in two LARPs these days, both of which share a venue and a large segment of their player base. (I also attended one session of a third LARP, but it has a scheduling conflict with one of the other two, and at this point I'm invested enough in my characters to be certain where I'm staying.)  Finding the courage to go to the first session was difficult, and the courage to walk back into that room of strangers a second time was even harder, but I stuck through it and now I don't regret it. Each week is more fun than the one before.

Changeling: The Dreaming

Changeling is the lightest, happiest version of the World of Darkness. It's the same world as Vampire, Werewolf, Wraith, Hunter, etc, but the PCs are fay beings infused with imagination and just generally much brighter and more optimistic than the protagonists of any of the other WoD game lines. Characters within the setting struggle to overcome mundane banality, not the murderous hunger or raging inner beast of Vampire and Werewolf.

Honestly, I've never liked the concept of Changeling as much as the darker more angsty takes on the WoD. I'm big into pathos, character drama, and greek tragedy. I'd played one or two sessions of Changeling back in Albuquerque a decade ago, but it never really hooked me. Given my druthers, I'd have joined a Vampire game instead.

But this October, Changeling was the only LARP I thought I was going to be able to play in. (Vampire LARPing really only feels right after the sun sets, so it starts late, and I was working ungodly early mornings at the grocery store.) Expecting this to be the only RPG on my plate (at least as a player) for a while, I made myself a therapy character. I'm playing a grumpy, masochist Troll, recently returned to the world from some horrible self-imposed exile that nearly destroyed him. I carefully picked Flaws that would allow me to vent in-character about the emotions I was feeling out-of-character; through him I get to unload sour statements about love and betrayal. He is quick to anger, but also a slave to his romantic and chivalrous nature; scarred by dozens of half-remembered previous lives of heart-break, and now actively seeking his own death. He's a ball of cynicism and banality, and frankly the other characters ought to be steering clear of him because that shit is dangerous in changeling. 

He is completely out of place at that game, and that was kind of the point. I was going to a game to force myself to be social again after years of being a recluse, so I specifically built myself a character that could stand in a corner and glower whenever the prospect of interacting with humans or making new friends was just too damn scary for me.

My hope is to give him a big ol' arc. The whole point of the character is to maneuver him along a transformation, and through it convince myself that my own return to the world is entirely a good one.

Since the entire cast of the LARP is playing crazy over-the-top fey, I often find myself relegated to the Bud Abbot / Zeppo Marx / Rowlf the Dog straight-man support role. I didn't have much to connect me to the plot, and my bristly armored portrayal often meant I was left standing moody in a corner when it would have been more fun to be center stage. The character is cooler on paper or in theory than he is in practice. Before long, I came to regret those character decisions, as my defenses became a prison. I was in danger of isolating myself from both plot and people until it stopped being worth my time to attend the game.

Luckily, after a few sessions there, one of my fellow players asked me to join the Werewolf chronicle that meets at the same location. Excuses to decline came right to the forefront of my mind, but I somehow found the courage to disregard those thoughts and accept her invitation.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse

I took a very different approach with my character here. Grumpy and quick to anger would have fit Werewolf better than Changeling, but by this point I really wanted something else entirely to get me out of my shell. I ended up playing a Lupus Cub, a young wolf who knew nothing of werewolves (or humans) until his first change (which happened at the first session I played this character). What a joy this character is!

He knows nothing. His experience is limited to what a wolf knows, and I play him with an open-eyed sense of wonder and curiosity that would be perfect for a Childling in the Changeling game. Pretending to have never had nor used _hands_ before, asking ridiculous questions and clarifications because basic human concepts confuse me, playing the timid omega of the pack who now suddenly qualifies finds himself an alpha at the same time he learns there's so much more out there in the world than he as simple wolf ever dreamt; all these things are hilariously fun. Here I'm not the dour straight man, I'm the scrappy sidekick comic relief. Everyone else is playing a darker character at Werewolf than at Changeling, but I've personally flip-flopped that dynamic. It's really fun.

And boy has this character's arc been a breeze to get rolling. A few weeks ago I was a bewildered cub in a fox frenzy; that persona is quickly being warped by curiosity and experimentation and his confidence just bloomed at the end of last week's session. I had no Tribe in mind when I made this cub, I just built a young wolf as a blank slate. Questions and events have pushed him to Tribe Uktena, and his whole personality emerged organically out of improvisations with the other players. He's still young and innocent, perhaps even foolish, but he's also just starting to find his strength and develop some ambitions of his own. Assuming I don't get him killed (the combat system can be brutal, and I nearly died twice in the first turn of my first fight) first, I think this little pup has a bright future ahead of him.

The weird thing (for me as serious introvert) is that I'm engaging with an entirely different subset of the player group in the two different games. The tiny handful of people that have broken through the Troll Grump's shell at Changeling, are a very different (and much smaller) group of players than the young Uktena Cub pesters and riffs off of at Werewolf. I'm enjoying the later game more, but it's also enhancing the former game by way of contrast. The combination is encouraging me to be more social out-of-character as well, since I'm quickly growing to know and like the majority of the player base. Being quiet and stand-off-ish comes naturally to me, but my little cub pretty much demands to be played as a very social animal who wants to engage with everyone. So I'm just letting the character lead me, and I think that process is doing me a world of good.