Who creates the characters?


One of the most fundamental decisions you need to make when designing a larp is: who will be responsible for creating the characters? In fact it’s so fundamental that people with experience only in one area of larp may not even realize that it’s a variable. If you only play trad larp, the idea that anyone other than the players themselves might create their characters will seem extremely odd. And conversely if you only play background-and-goals chamber larp (or uk-freeform), it may seem that the game couldn’t possibly work if anyone other than the designer does it.

Slide away

On the wonderful Mixing Desk of Larp this area of thought is represented by a slider called ‘Character creation responsibility’, which is a very helpful metaphor for thinking about it. Here’s an attempt to zoom in on some of the options along that scale, and what they mean in practice. The table reads downwards from max player responsibility to max designer responsibility, like the slider does.

Who creates?In what way?What does that mean?Comments
PlayerWithout reference to larpThe player brings along their existing character and says "Can I use my dwarven rogue in your larp?"Of course, this will only work well for highly generic larps. Fantasy boffer fests are the usual such occasion.
Within larp's systemThe player creates a character within the design parameters specified by the larp organizers.This is the common practice in trad larp. It allows the player creative freedom while ensuring the character will fit the larp. It requires the organizers to closely specify what sorts of characters are and aren't allowed, and maybe even to write a character creation system.
Designer and playerVia feedback loopThe player creates a character concept, which the designer responds to and beds into the world, which the player responds to by deepening further… etcNeeds a lot of time (both lead-up time and writing time), but allows the designers to thoroughly integrate characters into the gameworld, and to personalize their experience.
Skeleton and fleshThe designer creates a character skeleton (or otherwise sketchy or lacking) and the player personalizes and shapes it by adding flesh and filling in areas that have been left open.Seeking to retain designer control while allowing player creative freedom. The actual balance between how much of the character is skeleton and how much is flesh can vary considerably. Fleshing might happen at the event itself as part of a pre-larp workshop, rather than in advance.
DesignerAll given to playerThe designer presentes the player with the entire character in advance of the larp.This is the standard method in background-and-goals larps: the 'game' is largely contained within the intricacies of the character designs. Needs no design time from the player, so can be used for pick-up games.
Part kept from playerThe designer gives the player enough of the character to play it, but further parts may emerge during the larp.The player might even at the start of the game be not fully aware of the character's nature. They might eg. be given some recovered memories during play; or they might have some details to be read in case of a particular contingency that might arise.


So the point of this isn’t to say that any of the above allocations of character creation responsibility are better or worse than each other – they all work well for different types of larp. It’s just to make people aware (if they weren’t previously) that there is a wide range of options – it doesn’t have to always be done the same way – and what the important considerations might be when you’re choosing one over the others.

If you have so far only played or designed larps that use one or two of the options from the table, how about trying out some of the others, and see what you think? And I expect there are other possibilities, too, which could be added into the table – please do say if you think of any!

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