Thursday, July 11, 2013

Props: Anchoring the Character Down.

So I've stated before in several blogs and in several other posts out there that I am guilty of one interminable thing:  I really suck at costuming.

I've been a member of New York Jedi for over four years. Not once have I ever worn the robes. My costume was that of a smuggler. I've been to Ren Faires and never once got to put on the good clothes, or even the peasant clothes. I've been a vampire, a mage, a changeling and god-knows-what-else. If none of my clothes came out of my closet, I'd be screwed.

The comment I had said to someone about costuming in Dystopia Rising was: If it wasn't for the fact it was post apocalyptic, I wouldn't be able to play. Even in my day to day, my clothing choices are "Is it within reach?" "Did I wear it more than twice this week?" "Am I actually interacting with people today to care how I look?". Hell, I'm lucky I color coordinate most days, even and that's only because I wear a lot of solid colors. I am good at really one thing when it comes to getting dressed:

I can accessorize.

...okay, that probably came out sounding weird to you...I tried, but work with me here.

Because of my less-than-stellar sense of costume design, I have adopted the "Fake it tile you make it" school of roleplaying. You believe hard enough until it becomes fact. It is a cornerstone of Role Play in general. Instead of being in a studio with a bunch of geeks, you're a vampire laughing about the morally corrupt cult you're using as the base of your power. Instead of an apartment cramped in with your best friends, you're a Mage talking about deep-sixing the evil Conspiracy. We're not dressed exactly as our characters are, but we try to go damned close. And the only time someone comes in wearing a note-tag that says "Am wearing a suit" are in horrible situations where the Tailor has stalled or you've been conscripted to play an NPC on the fly.

Dystopia Rising and Boffer/Immersive LARPs have the benefit/challenge of being physically run in an area that demands you dress in character, that the world exists as it really is, and so should you. Even the NPCs have a costume department. I'm not as good as that, so I go to my go to place. I crack out my prop kit and start looking at stuff I can use.

Props to me represent anchors in the characters persona. These are items that they use, that function in their lives. Clothes factor into this, in a way, but it's easier for me to see (and procure) smaller items. Also, smaller items can tend to be more customized and can speak more about an individual than clothes can. A Suit can tell you they're rich, but rings and bracelets tell you they have more than that. A shirt and jeans can tell you something, the cross around their neck tells you more. It's that last part that I like best, you don't have to say it, you don't have to hammer some points about your character down for others to see. If people are looking they will notice, and the story is told in the way it should be. It's a prop, it supports the characters background.

I guess it's easiest to use my Jed character as the primary example. Let's be real here, Star Wars has been a prop-makers dreams. All of the ship, costume, weapons and items that that series has produced is obscene. Primary of them all is the world's most popular butter knife: The Lightsaber. Each one is built by their owner for their precise use. Each one is a statement about that character. Are you crisp and clean in a one handed saber that supports fencing? Do you prefer two handed sabers for some power strokes. Did you prefer the exotic saber staff or the guard shotos? These things mattered and said just as much about you as your costume did. For my PC, Rave, I had a two handed saber. He was a master of Shii Cho combat, barreling through groups of fighters in broad strokes and wide arcs. He was a bulldozer in a sea of mooks

When I first built Rhys, My Mage, I wanted to bring in stuff that said "This is a guy who is from the streets of New York...but is a fucking Mage from the streets of New York". He wore a black jacket with a hood attached, he spoke like he knew better (and in some ways he did). He also carried with him a deck of tarot cards, a sack full of colored crystals, a pendulum and an ornate book that had his spells and notes in them. During game, I would often crack these out and make rituals with them. When I first did it, my Storyteller was so impressed I got bonuses. I didn't fuck about. But no one asked "Well where did he get the crystals, or the bracelet around his wrist he used to cast spells" it was taken for granted that he was a Mage, and these things happened.

Taglia's prop was, in fact, a glass of wine. I felt better in character as the Mekhet Lush was trying desperately to drown out his depression with one more glass of Lacrima. I blame my friends in game for giving me this prop, but frankly it made for interesting twitches for his character when he did or didn't have it.

Jacob Rude in DR is a fun one, and kind of a refinement of that attitude. It helps that he has to have his costume. But his Mask, the thing most Retrogrades have, wear, is specialized for him. I wrote on his mask some letters in Aurebesh, the alphabet they use in Star Wars. In character he doesn't know what it means, but to me it's his Character's legacy and story. That mask, the bag he wears to hold his gear and the cross around his neck. They all tell a story.

I remember, though, in my first months of Storytelling for the Mage the Awakening game, making a fuss over physical representations in my storytelling. It was a Salon LARP, which deals more in "you imagine a thing in your hands". I had the props and people glossed over them. Which is sad, because the amount of work put into it was painstaking. I might be refuting my own stance (which if you know me, explains EVERYTHING), because I've also noticed the trend that sometimes you need to bash the players between the eyes for them to get something, whether it be plot or character stuff. To this day, no one realized Taglia was suicidal or Declan was a coward, because frankly it wasn't obvious.

I still stand by the fact that props are good to have because they fill in the blanks of your PCs stories. They give more depth and the feel that this character has been through stuff in their lives or knows what they are talking about. This is to help you as a player get into these characters minds. So, here are a few tips in proper prop use:

1) Each major item should have a story or function. Each major piece (by  that I mean an item you're designating a prop and not just basic gear) you bring in to a game should be there for a reason. College ring, family heirloom, magically tinged item. This should tell you (and whatever discerning audience there is) about them. Give it meaning, these items take on fetish like qualities in that you've placed special meaning on them for these characters.

2) Don't mention them unless asked. This is ultimately less about other people and more about you being able to slip into these characters and telling their story without having to tell their story aloud. Show, but don't tell is the preferred storytelling method. If you have to sit and talk about why your ring symbolizes your PC witnessing the death of his brother's roommates dog, then you've failed. Again, give it meaning to yourself, and others will notice. You're playing for the long term, you might as well give yourself some mysteries to.

In the end, Props help. The key is to make sure that the props don't become the act and don't become reliant on them to tell your story. These are to aid you, not do the job for you. Have fun, and I hope to see what you guys come up with.

And with that, I'll leave you a video of some of my props: