How to create characters for a gritty, low-fantasy setting LARP
Written by Brian Pekarske
Fantasy wears many faces. Sometimes it is bright and colorful. Sometimes it is dark and shadowy. Some fantasy worlds feature flying machines and talking animals, others center on primitive people struggling to survive against predators and the elements.
Sometimes, people try to classify these different types of stories as either “low fantasy” or “high fantasy”. The simplest and most seemingly obvious way to categorize fantasy would seem to be based on the overall feel. People try to put a given story or series on some sort of “fantastic-ness scale” to see how it rates. Flying cats with psychic powers living in a world with green skies would be, by that definition, the extreme end of high fantasy. It isn’t that simple, though.
There is a lot more to high or low fantasy than just how weird or alien the setting is (despite what wikipedia says with their over-generalized definition). When defining high or low fantasy, you have to look at not only the world and the people, but how those people live in that world. A story is nothing without characters to drive it. Think, for a moment, about what made “The Princess Bride” so memorable.
So where does “Last Hope” fall within the spectrum and how do you make a character that will fit into this world? First, “Last Hope” is low fantasy. It is about a brutal and desperate struggle for survival. This isn’t the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, where there are a handful of people destined to carry all the burdens of mankind to defeat a great evil and trigger the dawning of a new age. Nor is it one of the Greek classics, with petty gods and unbelievable feats of legendary prowess on expansive battlefields. No, Last Hope is very different from those stories. Whereas the heroes in those tales are basically big fish in small ponds, slaughtering dozens of orcs without breaking a sweat, or regularly defeating mythical beasts with their bare hands, the characters in “Last Hope” are SMALL fish in a BIG pond. That may seem backwards in a figurative sense, when you compare how vast Middle Earth is compared to Mardrun, but remember, we are not talking about acreage. We are talking about how characters interact with their world.
The world of Middle Earth is a dangerous place, indeed. But the characters of the Fellowship are more than equipped to deal with it. If Legolas and Gimli are surrounded by twenty orcs and two trolls, we really don’t have to worry much about whether or not they will win, and instead immediately find ourselves questioning who will kill more of the bad guys and who will be buying drinks that night.
Last Hope is very different. If Raskolf, Sir William, and Captain Aradael are surrounded by half a dozen Mordok, the three veteran warriors very well may die. Yes, the three characters are all faction leaders, and yes, the players portraying them are good fighters, but two-to-one odds are never good in real life, and therefore they are not in Last Hope either. Welcome to low-fantasy. It is harsh.
So where does this come into play when creating your LH character? Well, as stated before, it is all about HOW your character interacts with the world around them. Sometimes, the more ordinary a character may seem, the more extraordinary it seems when they manage to do something heroic. The Humans and Syndar of Mardrun are just trying to survive on a strange new frontier, while the Ulven try to cope with the invasion of these strangers from across the sea and a bitter civil war in the face of political fall out.
Last Hope is not a world populated by ninja-like assassins raised from childhood by shadowy organizations. It is not a world of prodigy teenage magic-users. It is a world where a turnip farmer can become a soldier, and eventually a politician. It is a world where a curious scholar can become an explorer and cartographer.
Picture a world where a blood spattered and shoe-less child, pressed into milita service in desperate times, undergoes her rite of passage as her parent dies in her arms in the smoldering aftermath of a terrible and costly battle, fought with pitchforks, pick-axes and scythes, in ankle-deep snow against Mordok raiders. We missed the fight, apparently, so what happened?
The high fantasy version of that character went berserk and killed half the raiders herself. Cue Final Fantasy victory music, right? Now to go get revenge by slaying the goddess of the Mordok. Shouldn’t be a problem. This kid is probably some sort of “chosen one” or something anyway. Clearly, the gods have laid out a path for her to be their instrument. Better start walking. Just follow the railroad tracks.
The low fantasy version of that character is more interesting.
The low-fantasy version may have killed one or two Mordok in an act of panicked desperation, and now suffers emotional trauma from the experience of watching her friends get killed in battle. She will be haunted by her personal demons and post-traumatic-stress-disorder for the rest of her life. Maybe she’ll get a job working in a tavern. Maybe she’ll join the Army. Who knows. She is an ordinary person, coping with extraordinary circumstances, and her life is an open book.
That is the difference between low fantasy and high fantasy. Keep these things in mind when you are crafting your LARP character for Last Hope.
Many RPGs have two types of characters: NPCs who don’t matter, and Big Damn Heroes whom the world revolves around. Last Hope has neither. Last Hope just has people. Sometimes those people take up the sword to defend the village from monsters and maybe drag a wounded comrade to the healer. Sometimes they spend a morning sewing the sole back on their daughter’s boot with leather lacing.
Now, go forth and make gritty low-fantasy characters. Be one of those people.