Thoughts on playing confrontational characters at LARP: a guest conversation by Kelly Jane Poole and Charlie Holdway.

Kelly Jane Poole and Charlie Holdway had this back and forth on confrontational characters the other day. There were some other folk saying good stuff too, but this I can see as filmed as a head to head somewhere. Or something. Anyway. Here it is. Confrontational characters…

This is inspired by a conversation I’ve seen on a larp group page, and my comments on that topic. I wanted to open it up to my larger group of larp friends. I think it’s an important one to think about.

Almost every larp I go to, I see a trend of posts along the lines of “My character is an asshole. If I upset you, drop OC and tell me!”.

I get that most of these posts come from a good place. However, they’re a MASSIVE cop-out, and an example of lazy safeguarding by the Confrontational Roleplayer.

Speak to anyone working in a social capacity, and they will tell you how you get trained in noticing the signs of discomfort in other people, how to identify abuse without being told directly about it, how to have checks in place to ensure peoples wellbeing. This is especially true of workplaces where the chances of someone undergoing psychological suffering is high.

There is no circumstance where there’s a mentality of “Well, if the victim doesn’t speak up, then the problem doesn’t exist.”

Because, guess what? When you’re scared, upset or intimidated, speaking up towards the person who CAUSED those feelings is really, really fucking hard. In fact, it often won’t happen without intervention from a third party. This isn’t a universal rule of course, as there are some who are more than happy (like me) to drop OC and go “Back off, you’re being a cunt”, but clearly this topic is about those who can’t do that, so let’s overlook the confident bunch for the sake of this conversation.

I hate hate HATE that people seem to feel that posting something on a Facebook group saying “Hey, tell me OC if I upset you!” seems to be a way to give the person free-reign to play an abusive, confrontational, aggressive or upsetting character. It breeds a mentality of “This behaviour is OK until someone tells me otherwise”.

Well, here’s an alternative viewpoint: It’s not OK. Thinking that abusive or problematic behaviour is OK at LARP until someone tells you otherwise is NOT a good way to roleplay.

Want to play a dick? Cool!

Want to cause confrontation and drama? Excellent! Bring it!

Want to upset people but not bother checking they’re okay, because you believe that’s their responsibility? No. Bad. Stop that.

So, the next time you feel you’ve massively upset a CHARACTER, think about the player underneath it. It takes a second to go “OC, you ok?” and then jump back into your roleplay.

This has been a “Stream of Consciousness” post by KJP.

(Update to this stream of consciousness: Such posts are ok IF they are backed up by actual checks in-person!)

Kelly Jane Poole

This is a very nuanced topic, I think

There’s a lot to unpick about it, and there’s a lot to consider. I’ve been playing horrific characters for quite some time, and I’m well aware that even when not playing an asshole I am often viewed as intimidating or unapproachable or scary, which is something I’m still trying to figure out.
On being an ass. I don’t think the responsibility for safety here lies solely on the aggressor, so to speak. I don’t think it’s fair to make it purely their responsibility to make sure they don’t upset someone. EDIT: because a bunch of the time you’d probably find people disagreeing over who the ‘aggressor’ was.

There’s onus here in a few places.

Organisers are absolutely KEY to this. Organisers need to make sure that game themes are SUPER clear. ‘Abusive’ is behaviour that crosses a line into harmful, and abusive topics, if in-theme for the game, are fair play. Organisers can and should also build in appropriate safety techniques, ranging from the ‘ok’ symbol (which I’m personally not a fan of, because using it drags me RIGHT out of play, but y’know you buy into the culture of the larp you’re at) to ‘lay off’ to ‘cut and brake’ (which are the ones I tend to use). The organisers should encourage and develop a culture where the safety level they want to use is clearly communicated, and the consequences for breaching it should be clear and firm. Organisers need to give their players confidence that the safety techniques will be adhered to.

Nasty people.
Nasty people need to make sure they’re not crossing out of themes. Checking in prior to game if you know it’s coming, or post-game if you didn’t, or just afterwards, or during if that’s part of the larp rules. Also more subtle things like making sure you give someone a way to physically exit an intense bit of play – there’s a thread I remember from somewhere about being initimidating and horrible in a safe manner and now I want to find it again.

People on the receiving end.
If there are safety techniques, they are there to be used. The consequences of using one and not needing to are minimal or nonexistent. The consequences of needing to and not using it can be catastrophic.

There’s also a conversation about aftercare for assholes. I know when I’ve played horrific (or I’m going to), I can find it a bit of a struggle when people are ‘jokingly’ calling me names before the game starts, or ‘jokingly’ doing so afterwards. Most of the time it’s a not an issue, but its definitely one that rears its head on occasion. Good antagonists and evil people are not easy to find, so look after them when you do get them 😀

Oh also I agree that generic posts about ‘If I’ve done something not okay please tell me’ are… pretty useless. ‘I play a mean character, if there are things you need me to avoid but would otherwise be within game themes then please communicate that to me or to organisers’ is better.

Charlie Holdway

SOLELY on the aggressor? No.

SOLELY on the aggressor? No, I’d say there is also some onus on organisers to, like you say, make themes clear and have safeguards in place with how to deal with potentially problematic themes and behaviours. In that, I think that much goes without saying, which is why I didn’t really think to even mention it. It’s kinda a whole separate topic to what I’m discussing XD

But I disagree with you on the idea that if there is a method in place for the “targets” then it’s on them to use it. Because that simply doesn’t always work. In my mind, there is no real, solid reason why a person cannot use a check, much like the Caroma one or even just a simple “OC, you ok?” if it seems their actions are upsetting someone. YMMV, but I’d rather be careful and make sure I’ve not genuinely upset or scared someone.

Kelly Jane Poole


Hmm, maybe I didn’t write as clearly as I’d hoped. Yes, I think it’s important for horrible people to check in, in some fashion (though mid-scene for me personally is hard and not my preference, if it’s part of the larp rules then I do it).

If you genuinely feel like your current roleplay situation is OC upsetting someone and you don’t do something about it, then there’s some pretty significant questions need asking about whether you should be larping at all.

But also!

I think it’s also important to use safety techniques if you need to and if you can. Of course there will be times where people don’t feel able to.
I also think that’s something that you can communicate with organisers in advance if you think it’s a risk, or if it’s happened before and you didn’t feel able to use a safety technique, and then organisers can maybe do something to further mitigate.
All I’m saying is, more than one person can be helpful in this situation to avoid OC upset as much as possible.

Charlie Holdway

Safety mechanisms are Big and Clever

Safety mechanisms are Big and Clever, especially when they’re non-verbal (I’ve had it brought up recently by someone with mental health issues how they become non-verbal when under stress, which made me realise that safewords are not always the answer!). There are a whole bunch of different things that can be combined to provide a good “safeguarding package”.

However, that’s a whole different conversation. Perhaps one for another time, as it’s an interesting one. I’ve encountered some really cool safeguarding ideas that apply to confrontational roleplay that I already want to adopt, so hearing other thoughts and experiences of it will be handy.

Kelly Jane Poole

Cut and brake

One of the reasons I like cut and brake is they have a physical indicator as and and/or with the word!

I would love being part of that conversation when you have it 😀

Charlie Holdway

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