Exploit Your Senses In LARP: Sound

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Sounds can greatly affect our mood before we even know what is going on. Hearing the sound of an emergency services siren could lead one to the conclusion that a car chase is in progress, the soft whispers of some familiar voices could lead you to believe that a conspiracy is in the works, or the sounds of chirping crickets and a soft ‘hoot’ could let you relax into thinking it was a peaceful night.

Sound is, often, the first sense we have of anything before the rest of our senses can absorb what is going on. We use this sense to prepare ourselves for what might be coming next. We can gauge, from the sound of a shotgun cocking or perhaps the low murmur of calm voice, if we want to continue to allow ourselves to fully interact with some unknown situation.

For you story tellers out there I highly encourage you that you use sound as effectively as you can. To make a world that feels truly alive it is your responsibility to provide those key sounds that are part of life. This can be something simply stated to players, but it is great if you have some sound clips or assistant story tellers on hand that can emphasize the sounds that characters can react to. The way you introduce the sound is incredibly important for creating an immersive experience that encourages realistic in-character reactions.

For example: You can tell players, for a zombie apocalypse game, that they begin to hear some strange scraping coming from far down the hall and the players will likely react. The response, however, coming from players will be as sudden as you tell them that there was a sound and can lead to the pace of the game being a bit faster than you expected. However, you can introduce that sound into an ambient sound track that you’ve prepared for the game. Perhaps you start with simple sounds of the environment the characters are in, but you gradually introduce that strange scraping sound louder and louder until the players realize what is going on. Better still is if you have a spare story teller who can be that source of scraping noise down the hall that the players aren’t certain if they should look into or not.

Now I’m not saying you have to prepare every scene with some detailed sound bite that has a conversation between two NPCs or something of that nature. If you want something that resonates with your players and their characters, like running into zombies for the first time, then I highly encourage that you take that extra little step in immersing them. For everything else? Perhaps just having a sound board on your phone consisting of popular sounds for your game, like gun fire or the sound of swords meeting metal, will do a trick for bringing people to the breadth of the situation rather than just telling them that they hear those things.

Players. Don’t think I forgot about what you need to be doing to add to this immersive experience. Sometimes we are fed queues simply by word and then it falls to us to react appropriately. Using my example above if you are told you hear some strange scraping coming from down the hall perhaps it would be better to glance that way at first, thinking that maybe it was just a mouse or something, but keep looking back with a more worried expression. Make the scene alive with prompts to other players to ask if they hear it before you just belt out there is something going on down the hallway. After all, when we are sitting at home alone watching TV we don’t just immediately assume there is some killer outside the house when we hear the wind brush a tree limb against the roof.

This isn’t just about immediate, ambient sounds either. I have an ever evolving play list of music for my characters that helps me get into their mindset. Some of the songs I choose are ones that I think my character would listen to, while others are there to reflect upon the current mood he is in or perhaps it is the general feeling I get when I am immersed into him as a character. The point is that music can help you get into the mood you want to be in when you get into your character. Playing a rebellious wastelander in a post-apocalypse game? Throw in some Rage Against the Machine, Avenged Sevenfold and perhaps a touch of Johnny Cash to remind him it is okay to hurt. How about that prim and proper vampire? Throw in some of the classics, but perhaps he likes musicals, too? No shame in trying out some Les Miserables to see if it meshes with his mood.

The last thing I want to mention here is the sounds we make as characters or as NPCs. One of my favorite things to say, to tease my friends, is “You salty, bro?” That is something I have to fight not to say in character when I hear that opportune time to say it. Our diction, accents and vocabulary all play major roles in the character we are trying to bring to the game. Even the use of synonyms can completely change how one views you as compared to your character (Ex. ‘Automobile’ instead of ‘Car’, ‘Salutations’ instead of ‘Hello’). Challenge yourself to use different words and phrases so that people know it isn’t you making these statements.

Fully embracing sound as a tool for your LARP experience will make it all the more rewarding and rich. It will enable those scenes that people will remember and talk about for a long time.