I first started writing about “fateplay” in 1996, the stone age of role-playing theory. This was before John Kim’s “Threefold Model FAQ” (1998), when “dramatism” was identified as a possible player agenda, before the birth of the online indie-rpgs community at “the Forge” (2001), before the first Knutepunkt conference (1997) where Nordic arthaus larpers would begin formalizing their ideas.
During the 90s, both in Scandinavia and the English-speaking world, the claim was commonly put forth that role-playing was somehow about “storytelling”. White Wolf, producers of the most influential larp & tabletop games of the day, even called their game mechanics for the “Storyteller System”, while local larpers often used the phrase “experiencing a story together” as a way to explain the point of it all.
So, there is a fairly standardized pair of safewords used at a lot of larps around here – “kutt” which means “Cut! Stop!” and “brems”, which literally translates as “brake!” and means “slow down, buddy – don’t stop roleplaying but do less of whatever it is you’re doing to me”. These safety rules are exposed to constant scrutiny, and it is frequently claimed (for example at the player safety debate at Solmukohta 2012) that they “don’t work”.
Imagine two larps: the first one is about angsty teenagers figuring out the meaning of life in a remote mountain cabin. The second one is exactly the same, except those teenagers are being atacked by zombies. Which larp do you think will attract more players?
The 2011 Knudepunkt Books are now dribbling onto the web. At the time of writing, two of the three books can be downloaded as PDFs:
The three books are devoted to respectively academic research (“Think Larp”), organizer write-ups (“Do Larp”) and rants & opinions (“Talk Larp”). The last volume, rumours have it, is bound to cause some controversy.
Also: if you, dear reader, have lived under a rock the last couple of months, you might have missed the monumental publication of the monumental book “Nordic Larp”, which documents 30 historically significant larps in text and pictures. It’s not on-line, and it anyway shouldn’t be read on a screen – this is a beautiful “art book”, which sits nicely on your coffee table or in the library of your neighbourhood art istitution. Buy it here or read the editors blog. I have contributed text on the larp “1942 – noen å stole på”.
1. One player is the host, who invites the others. As host, you should invite people you know really well – and preferably who know each other really well. Apart from this, no GM is needed.
2. The larp begins with a timer or alarm clock set for four hours. It ends when the timer rings.
3. Before role-playing begins, each player should carefully examine their own life, looking back to the single biggest decision that has led them to where they are today. The player should imagine what would have happened had that decision been taken differently (for good or for bad), and if so: who would the player be today? That person is the character.
4. In-game, none of the characters know each other. They meet for the first time.
5. The host decides where and why the characters meet.
I came across this excellent gathering of advice in Swedish on Gabriel Widings blog, and impulsively translated it into English. Gabriel is one of the authors of the book-slash-provocation deltagarkultur (“participatory culture”) and has spent as much time working with ARGs, collaborative writing and other kinds of participatory culture as he has with larp. So the list below includes but is not limited to the design of live-roleplaying events.
I think it pinpoints precisely how to avoid the mistakes that are usually comitted by people in the Established Arts (theatre, cinema, performance etc.) who try to engage their “audiences” in interactivity or participation, and it also offers up some eternal larpwriting truths. As with most holy text, there is space here for both interpretation and heresy.
Tips and traps when making participatory culture
By Gabriel Widing
Communicate the agreement clearly and explicitly. Only when the participant knows the rules of play, that is: how communication and participation are meant to be done, is she confident enough to act.
Consider banning passive spectators and documentation. The external, critical, view is not always productive. It may in some cases prevent participatory action. People do not behave the same way in front of a camera as they do in front of confidantes. Documentation usually fails at capturing the qualities of a participatory work, but easily pushes participants from dialogic action to simple performance.
Do you like larp documentation? I do, and so far 2010 is making me very happy.
First up: “Mad About The Boy” (website), the Nordic arthaus larp about a world where all men are dead and a group of women are competing for the privilege of artificial insemination until * suddenly * the last man alive appears. Li Xin took some excellent photos: Mad About The Boy, First Run.
So, some years back, I held a concept-development workshop for larpers. Groups of 2-5 larpers would collaboratively develop a few keywords into a fully-fledged larp concept in half an hour or so. It worked well, yielding some 3-4 fully functional larps with the framework of a decent dramaturgy. None of those larps were ever held. Instead, every year, we see a bunch of larps with weak concepts and dramaturgies attracting players and producing strong experiences amidst complaints of their weaknesses. Why? Continue reading Looking for “it”→
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. Continue reading 1942 & The Three Affiliations Model→