Part of the purpose of LRP is to move away from reality. You put people in new and interesting situations, perhaps give them new and interesting food, and give them things that they would normally do with people they may not have met before. You’re creating a new reality for them to try for a bit. One of the ways we like to do this at Mandala LRP is with creatures.
LRP events are often inspired by films. When I posted about books I was talking about using the film and book guides to inspire us, and we regularly read through to see how creatures were built and where CGI and practical effects were used, as well as looking as the colour themes that run through movies, and how particular costumes were sourced.
Costumes are important to us. At Mandala we build creature costumes and props. We work for theatres, films, and theatrical experiences. We also work with LRP. The challenges are different, but similar in that they are on the same spectrum, and the LRP events are the hardest in that we have smaller budgets, and the requirements for the monster to be able to see, move, look good from a wide range of angles and interact with unpredictable players are far more than any film has ever had to deal with. Costuming good monsters is really hard.
Typically if you want something to look non human, and you’re basing it on a human body, you’re going to have to compromise. This involves mobility, temperature, stance, vision and hearing. You need to work out your absolute limits for each. Each of the negatives can be offset by either money or compromise.
Larger monsters are often used in battles. They act as punctuation points and also give the organisers a chance to change battles, control flow and highlight certain places. Once you’ve built a large monster the temptation is to use it in every fight. This is something I think needs controlling or that large monster becomes normal in the system. It becomes part of the ordinary and people grow to expect to see it, and then you’re left with a new higher level of normal and equally predictable battles. Things that can be recovered, that can act in different ways or units of large monsters can be good. As can changing the terrain your armies fight over. Quite often a big bad monster is built as the culmination of a weekend event. I should mention I’m not involved in the planning or plotting of large battles; these are based on the observation of friends that are, and my experience fighting in them.
Monsters should not be just about fighting. Every creature has grey areas and I always aim for players doing what they think is right still stopping and thinking “Am I am the bad guy?” In films such as Pans Labyrinth the monsters are there, but they’re to be interacted with. Some are good, some are bad. Most are a bit ambiguous and a lot are just living their life when the heroes interfere. Dealing with the alien is awesome. Consistent rules about ethics and living can create a culture that makes players need to tread carefully. You can force them to have to pause, think and learn things, and put them into delicate situations where they don’t understand the rules. Tea parties with Ents can be utterly confusing as you don’t know if you can safely drink what they’re offering you or if they’ll be so offended if you refuse it that the trees will turn against your civilisation (Note: you can’t phys rep this well.)
Talking monsters are brilliant. If your players can communicate with it then it has to have motive, it has to have culture and it has to have background and you are forced to round out your game and create a more believable world. This is not a bad thing. This helps build healthy grey areas and helps give you background that people can interact with making players feel more seated in their imaginary world. Monsters move you away from reality, but also help you create something more believable if they’re being used well.