So it’s been a hiatus. My main excuse is that my larp writing energy has gone into a) a larp (Marcellos Kjeller, pics, to be blogged) and b) an article about the larp “1942 – noen å stole på” (FLH, 2000) for the forthcoming Nordic Larp book project. A fiendishly difficult writing project, as the article was to be less than 2000 words. Brevity is not my strong side.
While researching “1942”, a canonical 5-day 130-player larp held on Norway’s west coast back in 2000, I was reminded of the “Three Affiliations” model the 1942 organizers used to provide activities and relationships for their characters. The model was successful enough that it has later been reused for similar Norwegian larps – larps that focus on the living of daily life in smallish communities.
As with all good larp design models, this one is really simple: Each character is defined through three group affiliations – usually Work, Family and Social circle. The work dimension provides the character with something to do during the daytime, and a set of colleagues or professional relationships with whom to interact. The Family dimension provides him with a place to stay, and a set of relatives. The social circle provides a third set of relationships, and can help to define the characters personality. Let’s take an example:
A: Male (40). Works as a fisherman. Married to character B. Member of the illegal late-night poker game.
B: Female (38). Volunteers at the orphanage. Married to Character A. Member of the Church Comittee Against Gambling.
Voila – two playable characters, and a nice little intrigue for them to role-play. From this point, the larpwright can go on to elaborating personal histories, relationships to colleagues etc. Or leave those details to the players – the Meat is already there.
Toiling for the Larp
Foreign readers might be surprised about one of the assumptions above: that players do their character’s work, in-game. This is far from universal in Nordic larping – but it does happen, and the larps that have used this model have all had a fair amount of in-character work. The focus of these larps is usually on achieving a believable experience, most often of a historical epoch, so work becomes a natural part of daily life. And skeptics should note that the work-place, whether a fishing boat, a cantina or a brothel, can be the site of all kinds of interesting drama.
But for other kinds of larp, each of the three affiliations can be replaced by something more appropriate. For example “gang membership” might replace “work” in a cyberpunk larp. Three remains a magic number, though, securing the play experience if one of the affiliations becomes dysfunctional, providing a sufficient variety of possible interactions.
Three Affiliations vs. Three Levels
In building dramatics, Susanne Gräslund also mentions a trifold approach – going from the largest level (conflict between nations) to the small (conflict between individuals). The three affiliations model is more character-centric, thereby ensuring consistency for different players, but there is nothing to indicate they can’t be combined.
That article was published in 2001, the year after “1942” and the same year as the first Knutepunkt Book. I find it paradoxical that almost nothing has been written about this issue since. The question of “how do we design characters, and turn these into a cohesive community?” is after all the first question most larpwrights ask. The Three Affiliations Model offers one functional answer to that question.
Do you know of any other such approaches?