Last weekend I was in a Star Wars larp. It was pleasant and managed to be Star Wars enough, despite the lack of sci-fi scenery. One thing put a damper on my designs to be the comedic relief of the event was the fact that my character’s master died. And that is the subject of this post.
My master was written in my character as an NPC; a contact that would not be in the game. As I read the character, I paid no specific attention to it. The background was that I was a Jedi Padawan, who had suffered a nervous breakdown in the frontlines of the Clone War. His master sent him to the temple to recover and left to continue the fight. She visited rarely and kept the visits brief. I assumed that she was waiting for my character to wise up before she would continue their lessons.
Then, in the pre-game waiting period, another player slipped that my master had died. In that moment I realized a lot: Why there was a specific message from Yoda for me, why my master was an NPC… And I realized that the Game Masters had meant for the surprise to happen in-game so that my surprise would be real. But the thing is, I actually appreciated that the twist was leaked to me beforehand.
I rarely immerse myself in my characters. I find it impossible to be anyone else but myself. Instead, I act. I perform. I usually think ”what would make this scene dramatic?”, instead of ”What does my character think right now?”. And that’s why I like to know things beforehand; So that I, as a player, won’t have to mix my surprise into the character. Plus, that meta-knowledge can help me build the scene and make the surprise even more jarring/dramatic.
In the Star Wars larp, quite early in the game, one player said that he wanted to have a word with me. His character, another Jedi Knight, had just returned from the frontlines, and I knew that he was going to break the news of my master’s death to me. Wanting the moment to be especially touching, I immidiately asked about my master, cracking a few jokes while at it. As the other player searched for words, I let my smile slowly fade. The exchange went thus:
”When we left Jabiim, your master left to create a diversion for the fleet to escape.”
”I take it… She did not return with you?”
”And… She won’t be coming back?”
That moment was the most powerful one in the entire larp for me. And I owe it all to the fact that I knew that it was coming. As did my co-player. Therefore, I have decided to always inquire about any major revelations before the game starts, so that I can react to it better in the game. Also, when gamemastering myself, I will always provide such information for the players, if they want it. Should they want to face every surprise in-game, it is a choice I will respect.
Some gamemasters and players might say at this point that divulging meta-knowledge will increase the risk of characters acting on knowledge they should not have, thus ruining the coherency of the game. I understand this point… But I do not necessarily agree with it. More on that on a later date.