So you’ve bought your basic costume and weapon of choice and you’ve gotten the hang of your character and LARP game. It seems like a lot of the character design articles stop right there when there are whole books that could be written on making your character visually shine.
When we watch movies like “Lord of the Rings,” it’s very easy to visually differentiate between the heroes and villains or the warriors and mages. Many video games include ‘morphs’ to visually showcase your character’s moral standing and power. Additionally, characters often have repeating motifs throughout their costumes to tie their wardrobe together. How can you tell a member of House Tyrell on “Game of Thrones?” All of their clothing is covered in flowers!
In LARP, however, it isn’t that simple. Most people carry a weapon and we’re limited by our budgets and the environments we play in. We don’t have the benefit of CG and we do our own ‘stunts.’ Our equipment has to be practical. So what can we do?
1. Be Your Own Costume Department. I am forever poking around the accessory sections of clothing stores. If there is a good thrift store near you, it is your new best friend. Check them periodically, especially if something you associate with your character has become trendy. Remember when bird skulls were super-popular? They would be a great item to attach to a necromancer or darker druid’s costume.
If you aren’t sure what suits your character, literary symbolism can help. Is your character vain? Maybe you should look for peacock feathers. A tough warrior? Maybe claw-shaped pendants are the way to go. If your character is from a noble house, anything reminiscent of their sigil would also be a good choice.
You don’t need to wear every item you choose all the time. Repetition of the motif, even if the representation changes, is the important part.
2. Pay Attention In-Game. Sometimes motifs get handed to you on the silver platter of RP. One of my character’s newer motifs came about because several characters gave her rose-themed items or nicknames. Was your character just inducted into a knightly order? Are they part of a guild or other organization? I think it would be visually striking if all the members of an in-game group displayed some symbol.
What’s that? There’s nothing your character can join right now? Make something up! Get together with your in-game friends and make an adventuring guild. Most of our games are set in besieged environments, so there is probably something you can champion.
3. Have a Deliberately Evolving Costume. This can be harder to accomplish, but it’s an easy way to display your character’s rise to power. It’s also a great way to break up a big project! For example, I have a capelet that gains embroidery over the months. You can purposefully add accessories as your character grows in strength or accomplishes in-game goals. Some people at my game hang trophies off their belts. Others even change their entire color scheme after major events in their character’s life.
If you’re pressed for time and funds, you can also change your makeup up. This is similar to the character morphs of the “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” game series. A good character might use white, gold, or blue in her eyeshadow. Evil characters might use deliberately lighter foundation and high-contrast makeup for that washed-out look.
4. Consider Taking Up Embroidery or Painting. If you want an exact replica of your character’s house or kingdom sigil, this is the way to go. Make sure you read the directions on the paint and be careful washing any customized items.
Embroidery is time-intensive but extremely cheap. You will need a hoop big enough for your design, needles, and thread. I do not use fabric paint in my own costuming, but if you want to be fancy you will need primer, paint, some form of sealer, and brushes. Both methods will require a way to transfer your design to your fabric.
I am really bad about that; I hoop my fabric, pull up the design on Photoshop, and then use my laptop as a lightbox while I trace the design in white charcoal or pencil. This is super cheap; I think I paid a dollar for the charcoal pencil at the most. You can also get fabric transfer paper, but it will cost more.
Needle ‘N Thread is a wonderful embroidery resource with helpful video tutorials. I highly recommend it if you’re thinking about stitching something for yourself. I also recommend checking out the designs at Urban Threads.
5. Save Your Sanity! Any project is much more manageable when you don’t start it three days before your LARP event. This is supposed to be fun, so there’s no need to go crazy- unless you want to! Find what works and is fun for you, then go for it.
Do you have any other ideas or suggestions? Please leave your comments below.