For some people signing up for a larp alone is scary, especially if you suspect no one you know will be there. I started larping when I was fourteen, and since then I have mostly signed up for larps alone. Often I didn’t know anyone at the larp, but usually I had a fantastic time anyway.
These are my best tips on how to have a great time at a larp when you don’t know anyone.
Choose Your Character Well
No matter if you write your own character or are assigned one, you should consider what kind of character you want. One of the primary things to consider when you don’t know anyone is if you want a character that is tightly tied to a social group or a more independent one that can mingle?
A character that is tightly tied to a social group will give you other players to hang out with and characters to interact with. However, it also comes with the risk that you might end up with a group of players you disagree with, don’t click with, or whose creative agenda is very different from your own. If you go for a more independent character who can mingle with a lot of different characters, you need to be comfortable initiating play with a lot of different people. If you can do that you will find people you click with and can choose to take your play in their direction.
Or you can go for a character that both has a group to belong to as well as enough independence to mingle with a lot of different players.
Something else to consider is that you generally don’t want to play a shy or reclusive character when you don’t know anyone out of character, as it makes interactions during the game harder. Aim for a character who both can take social initiative and respond to others’ social initiatives. For example, a character that can ask someone what’s up if they seem upset, but also a character that is comfortable joining a conversation when someone invites them.
Turn on Your Online Charm
If there is any chance to interact with other players online before the larp, do so. Post stuff on whatever social media or platform the larp is using. Larps differ in what sort of social interactions online you can expect. Some larps have groups to build in-character relationships where you are supposed to discuss what sort of play and relationships you are going to play. Other larps have in-character play, either as scenes you play by text or by using in-character social media. Most larps have at least a general group for questions, introductions and general interaction before the larp.
Trying to be positive and show an interest in others’ ideas and suggestions. Reply to what other players post, ask questions, be curious.
When introducing yourself it helps to post a picture of yourself. It makes it easier for other players to recognize you and connect with you at the larp. As some people have a hard time remembering faces, it can be helpful if it is a picture where you wear the costume and/or make-up you are planning to use at the larp.
Be Open About Not Knowing Anyone
It helps if you are open about not knowing anyone at the larp, both online before the larp and once you arrive at the site. If you let people know that you don’t know anyone, there will be both players who feel the same way, and others who will be happy to help you out. Players generally go out of their way to be helpful and inclusive. Just be open about it, but don’t demand or guilt trip anyone into playing with you. Be honest and casually mention that you are a bit nervous because you don’t know anyone yet. People will be happy to help you out.
Arriving at the Larp
Usually there is a time span when players are expected to arrive at the larp and if you know it, it is nice to arrive at the start of that time. Try not to arrive earlier than that, because this might be inconvenient for the organizers. Arriving right on time means that you will have some time to say hi to the other players and it gives you a chance to help out. There is a lot of last minute logistics just before a larp starts, and if you ask, there is probably something you can help out with. Sometimes it is carrying stuff, sometimes it is just sitting in place telling players where to park their car and where to put their stuff. Helping out is usually the quickest way to get to know others before the larp, plus people will have a positive impression of you. In many larp cultures pitching in before the larp is the norm, so you will not be treated as a hero for doing your part. Just see it as a way to improve your own larp.
Go with the Flow
One of the advantages of not knowing anyone at the larp is that it is a great way to find players you really click with, players with whom the play flows naturally and you enjoy playing with. When you find someone like that take the chance to play with them, but give them a chance to opt out if they don’t feel the same way, either by communicating out of character or by just giving them space and seeing if they seek you out as well. Don’t take it personally if they don’t. They might be shy, or have a lot to do, or a really bad headache. Often you find a few players that you didn’t know but right away enjoy playing with. See this larp as a chance to find such people.
Seek out Lonely Characters
If you don’t know anyone it is easy to feel lonely and lost in the crowd. One tactic you can use to find play is to look for other characters/players who are on the fringe of the social interaction and seek them out. For example, the lonely character staring sadly into their drink in the corner. Seeking them out often leads to great, unexpected, and intimate scenes.
Ask for Help out of Character
If you feel left out during the larp, then ask for help out of character. Usually people are happy to help, whether they are organizers or players. Some larps use act breaks when you go out of character, which are great for asking around and having these conversations. If the larp does not use act breaks, or if you don’t want to wait until the next act break, you can ask for this help at any time during the larp. Just find a moment when you can sneak away and have discreet out-of-character conversation with an organizer or co-player.
People can usually help you find an opening of some sort. It might be a subtle reassurance that you do belong, and actively including you in conversations, or it might be as extreme as your character suddenly getting kidnapped by orcs. They may also advise you to get in touch with a group of players that needs reinforcement due to last-minute drop-outs. It depends on the type of larp, but ask for help and people will try to help you.
When the Larp is Over
At the larp site, after play has ended, there is usually some kind of after-larp where people are still on site but out-of-character. There might be post-larp workshops, aftertalks, pizza, or a party. In almost all cases there will be some cleanup and logistics, plus a lot of talking and hugging. During this time people often feel vulnerable, and it is easy to feel lonely when people who already know each other cluster together and tell stories. One way to address with is to seek out a cluster with players you played a lot with and just ask them: I don’t know a lot of players out-of-character here. Is it okay if I join you? Many larps also have an empty chair rule, to always leave a space empty at the table or circle so more people can join in. When they do, add one more chair so that someone else can also join the group.
People are generally more than happy to include you, but people’s post-larp needs differ. Some people might need solitude and not be up for socializing, so just accept it and find some other cluster to join. If there are organized post-larp workshops or after-talks you can join them as they often provide a space to socialize and talk no matter if you know people or not.
One you are home, don’t be shy to join post-larp discussions, or to add new contacts on social media. People are generally hungry for connection and social contact after the larp, and those who aren’t have the option not to engage, so reach out. Getting to know new players is one of the great benefits going to larps alone. Join all the silly discussions, reach out and thank players who gave you amazing larp scenes. Share your experience and stories with the other players, and network. That way, you increase your chances of knowing more people at the next larp, and at the next.
Please cite this text as:
Elin Dalstål (2020): Larping Lonely. In Eleanor Saitta, Johanna Koljonen, Jukka Särkijärvi, Anne Serup Grove, Pauliina Männistö, & Mia Makkonen (eds.). What Do We Do When We Play? Helsinki; Solmukohta 2020.