The phrase “show, don’t tell” can be found in various writing guides for authors. But it is also quite useful for live-action role-playing.
In short, it means that you don’t have to tell what your character is like. Instead, show it through their behaviour in the game.
What does “show, don’t tell” mean?
This phrase says that a writer should not just make assertions. Instead, they should show the reader how something is. Example:
“Tell” would be the statement “John was too shy to approach his crush Mary.”
“Show” would be the description “John heart was pounding. Sweat appeared on his forehead as soon as she – she! – stepped through the door. His heart drummed in his chest as he stood up with shaky knees. He almost knocked over his glass. The last bit of his self-control burst when she saw him and waved. He couldn’t get more than a squeak out of his lips.”
I know I won’t get a Pulitzer Prize for this. But the principle has become clear, hasn’t it?
“Show, don’t tell” at Vampire Live.
So, what does this have to do with Vampire Live? Quite a lot. After all, every player tries to give their fellow players (and themself) a feeling as realistic as possible of their character. You are no longer Max Mustermann, whose character sheet says “Ernst, Brujah Neonate, easily irritated” and who sits on a domain meeting once a month. Fellow players should feel that they are really standing in front of Ernst, the Brujah, who will beat them up if they annoy him.
The outer impression
With the appearance of your character you give everyone else a first impression of your character. This includes the right clothes, the right make-up and, if necessary, a wig or contact lenses. But posture also plays a role here.
Think about how your character would dress. How do they move, how do they stand and sit? Do they care about their appearance, or do they not care about their appearance?
Who is your character?
You already know: You have to know who your character is. Are they bloodthirsty and quick-tempered or cold and cruel? Do they torture weaker people for their own pleasure or do they support helpless victims of violence?
No matter what makes your character tick, it will show in the game. Most people notice when claims made don’t match actual behaviour. This does not mean that you are not allowed to make insinuations about yourself. But these are all the more effective if your character proves them directly in the game.
Show, don’t tell: Be your character!
If you say of yourself that you don’t care about the suffering of others, you should also be cruel in the game. For example, take out your bad mood on weaker characters. Expose them, use violence against them, make them look ridiculous. You have endless possibilities in the game to show how mean your character really is.
Or to put it another way: It is easy to tell how cruel you are at home if no one notices. Others will only really believe it when they experience it.
There are countless examples. They would go beyond the scope of this article, so we will limit ourselves to three:
Cold-hearted is not disinterested
Especially (but not only) older characters tend to be cold-hearted and cruel. However, this does not mean that nothing touches them anymore. Cold-heartedness doesn’t mean you’re a Teflon frying pan where everything slides off.
Find ways to respond to and create impulses in the game. Spike an argument because it amuses you. Hurt other characters. Destroy what is important to them because you want to see them suffer. Take out your bad mood on them if they dare to bore you.
If you are unsure or looking for inspiration, we are happy to help. After all, you don’t want your cruel character to bore you, you want it to be fun.
Appearing old for advanced players
Another example of “show, don’t tell”: You want to be perceived as older in the game. Either because your character is old, or because they would like others to think they are old. Instead of using “Back then, 200 years ago…” in every other sentence, adapt your behaviour.
This means, for one thing, that you have to study history a little. You don’t have to be a walking encyclopaedia, don’t worry. But you should have a basic idea. Even more important is how time has shaped your character. What morals shaped society at the time, what preoccupied people, how did they perceive the world around them?
Cainite existence may distort and pervert these views. Nevertheless, this basic imprint remains. A Cainite created before the First World War will have a completely different view of the world than a Cainite who became a vampire a hundred years later. Even a character who consciously breaks away from the ideas of his time is shaped by them.
Rebels are rebellious!
Not only appearing old and cruel can be exhausting. Rebels against the establishment also have a lot to do. Because simply shouting loudly “Against everything! Against everything!” is not the best thing to do.
You don’t have to have read Marxx (you may, though). But you should have a sense of what your character wants. Do they want democracy? Is a rebellion against the Elders their goal? Do they want to be able to rule over others? Should only well-bred Cainites to be allowed to participate in society? (And what is well-bred?) The more precisely you know your character’s goals, the more convincingly you can play them.
And then go to the game and actively look for approaches to realise your ideal.
What do you feel comfortable with?
Vampire Live is perfect for trying yourself out. Here you can be sneaky, roar, scheme.
But for you to really enjoy it, your character has to suit you. Don’t worry: Maybe you feel that you can’t yet play the vampire you would like to. Maybe because you have terrible stage fright. Or because it is not easy to be cruel.
Don’t let this unsettle you. Your character can and will develop. When you enter the game, you are not already playing the final result of your character development. You are playing your character at the beginning of their journey. As a player, you have an idea of where the journey is going. But you don’t have to have reached the destination yet. You can’t have reached it yet, because the game is still ahead of you.
Go ahead and challenge yourself. Try out what you like and what suits your character. And before you know it, you will feel more and more comfortable in your role.