The following is an article written by a friend, while it is oriented towards Larping, I believe the elements within can also be applied to tabletop roleplaying as well.
Steve is a larper and friend that I have been gaming with for the past seven years. I fully endorse this article and agree wholeheartedly. I couldn’t have written it better myself, which is why I am hosting his! And yes, that is his real name.
Tips for Playing an Abrasive Character
by Steve Rogers, a Director of Divine Intervention Larp
Playing an abrasive character at a LARP can be a very fun and rewarding experience. However, it can be fairly difficult to balance playing a mean, contrary, or negative character without letting those actions translate into negative OOG actions. Below are some tips that may be useful in playing that sort of character. (For the purpose of this document, I’m going to use the term “abrasive” to apply to a pretty wide variety of character traits player characters might use, from “my character is intentionally kind of annoying” to “my character is a huge asshole to everyone”.) The intent here is not to tell people how to play their characters; only to offer advice on playing a character archetype that can be difficult to portray and potentially contentious if in-game feelings run into out-of-game feelings.
Part One: The Be Cool Rule
In this first section, we’ll look at a few tips for playing an abrasive character without breaking the Be Cool rule. (While the tips below are just recommendations, the Be Cool rule itself is not; see the Rulebook for details on that.)
Tip One: Keep the Goal in Mind
Ultimately, while we want to play authentic characters the way that character would act, Being Cool to others on an out-of-game level is important, even if you don’t know the other players well. The goal, ultimately, is to play an abrasive character without causing others to have a bad time. When you are approaching a situation where you want your character to do something abrasive, ask yourself “Is this going to cause another player or their character to have a bad time?”
Tip Two: Know your Audience
Different players (and different characters!) react differently to abrasive characters. It never hurts to ask before or between games how a player feels about interacting with abrasive characters, and adapting how you RP when around them based on that. This is similar to the PVP rules in many LARPs – Ask the person OOG first, at an appropriate time, if they’re comfortable with the kinds of roleplay you want to do with them. And if you’re not sure they’re going to be cool with what you’re about to do, reconsider the action.
On a personal level, there are some players who I know will react in interesting ways if my characters act in an abrasive fashion around them; I usually turn those sorts of behaviors up when those players are around. On the other hand, there are some players I know who don’t like those sorts of interactions, so I dial the character back a little around them.
If you don’t know the player in question, the safest thing to do is to dial back the abrasive actions somewhat until you get to know them and their character better. It’s possible to suggest that your character is abrasive and still get the point across.
Tip Three: Read the Room
In addition to knowing your audience, it is important to bear in mind the context of the plot/situation when playing an abrasive character. It’s very easy for abrasive actions to have their abrasive nature amplified when it runs into other emotions characters are feeling; an abrasive action during a particularly happy or particularly sad moment is going to feel much stronger, and thus have a higher potential to irritate people OOG. If you wish to take an abrasive stance or roleplaying action around particularly happy or sad moments, dial it back until the major moment has passed; let people react as they’d like, then contribute. This is one of the harder ones to get right, as an infinite number of possible situations can occur in a LARP, but it’s also very important.
Part Two: Cooperating with Other Players
In this section, we’ll look at a few tips for how to have an abrasive character cooperate with other players while still maintaining an uncooperative persona. The below tips are recommendations, not hard-and-fast rules.
Tip Four: Look for Ways to Cooperate with Others (Even if your character isn’t happy about it)
In a LARP community, it is often important to coordinate or cooperate with other players to move plot along or to achieve goals. This can be at odds with the nature of playing an uncooperative character, and as a result others may view that as being uncooperative outside of game as well. With these sorts of things, cooperating/coordinating while having your character object or be unhappy about it is much, much better than being uncooperative. You still get the abrasive nature across, but you don’t give the impression that you don’t want to help them out-of-game. Playing your character as abrasive while helping others out is an extremely effective way to play this kind of character.
Tip Five: Don’t Be Abrasive about Game Systems / Objects of Value
Even if your character is extremely selfish, try to find reasons for your character to share loot, components, and other in-game items. If other people need a thing you have, share it with them if you can. This is related to Tip Four above, but important to note specifically; playing an abrasive character is not a good excuse to not share with others in-game.
Tip Six: Give Your Character Redeeming Qualities, Lead People To Them
Few characters, even in literature, have zero redeeming qualities. Playing an abrasive character with a good side in there somewhere is often a much more interesting character than a pure, 100% abrasive character, and it helps other players interact with that character. While your character may want to hide the fact that they have a heart of gold, or love bunnies, or whatever their redeeming quality may be, as a player it’s important to help other players find that. It helps give them hooks to communicate with you, and often casts the character in a different light.
Tip Seven: Be Open to Your Character Learning & Growing
Many strong LARP player characters learn and grow over the course of a campaign; it can often be rewarding to play a character who starts somewhat abrasive, but loosens up or grows from their experiences in game. This isn’t to say that starting abrasive and staying there is bad; it’s merely an option for taking that kind of character and molding it in a new direction.