Forced character retirement is the normative in Socal larps. For those unfamiliar, there’s two parts to this concept:
- You may not have a character over X points.
- When you reach X points, you get a retirement story arc that makes your character go bye-bye.
I come from a non-retirement larp tradition myself, with characters being “eternal”, so I have some insight into the contrast.
Retirement is marketed that it accomplishes two goals.
- Forced retirement mitigates the power disparity between old-timers and newbies.
- Forced retirement makes sure that the story screen time doesn’t center around the old-timers.
Both of these marketing bylines are lies.
In the first case, smoothing the power disparity is not accomplished, at least not here in the 5+ LARPs resident in Socal. Characters that are half-way to retirement are absurdly more powerful than starting characters, both vertically and horizontally. As a result, content that isn’t silo’d (i.e. most of the content) is a cakewalk for the folks past the halfway point. The resulting “mishmash” of content is error-corrected on the backend, by making death nearly painless. Even worse, forced retirement systems often give insane “retirement benefits” to characters, giving access to powers unattainable on the first playthrough.
In the second case, every LARP will always have cliques, and the Socal LARPs are no exception. Forced character retirement has no real effect on this. Storytellers will cater to their friends, giving them more content, regardless of their character’s power level. People make their post-retirement characters often even more connected to existing characters that are their friends. We’re all baboons, we’re just baboons that dress up like elves and wack each other with foam-sticks.
Nevertheless, I believe character retirement does accomplish non-marketed goals that have immense value.
The “meme” of a Character Arc
The benefit of forced retirement is the introduction of the concept of a character arc early to people. The game I came from resultingly had no concept of character arc, and players needed to discover it on organically. Many never discovered it, defining their characters, but defining them without the meta-agency to say “this is where the character is going”. Forced character retirement should be marketed as “forced character arc”, since this is the real benefit of the mechanic.
But Scotty, should forced retirement or forced character arc really exist?
No, but there should be a point cap, and there should be a voluntary option to retire when you want to start a new story. Perhaps, depending on logistics, alt characters could co-exist with capped characters. However, if somebody wants to play their character another five years at the point cap, let them.
I make this point, because I believe that the value of LARP to a lot of people is that it is a place where they can feel powerful. I believe that many nerds go through life feeling powerless in so many places. They feel powerless to find a good job, a lover, a boyfriend, friends that aren’t shits, etc. However, folks can come to LARP and feel an amazing amount of agency and power.
Making people feel powerful in a LARP shouldn’t be “turned off” without good reason. I don’t believe there are good reasons (see above), ergo, it should not be turned off.