New in Larp: American Freeform and more

Stark-AmericanFreeformWe’re in larp’s fallow season of planning, where organizers write games, player scheme about what conventions to attend in the coming year, and when all but the most hard core of larpers stay away from the frigid boffer larps. Here are the latest developments I’ve seen in the world of larp.

  • American Freeform Bundle. Until Tuesday you can grab this bundle of short live games, including offerings from Fiasco designer Jason Morningstar, award-winning designer Emily Care Boss, famed tabletop designer Meguey Baker, emerging designer Shoshana Kessock, the amazing Evan Torner and many more awesome designers! I’ve also got an offering in the bundle, a Pocket Guide to American Freeform, a monograph that talks a little bit about the history, and shows you how to play, run, and write in the form. American Freeform: great for noobs, great for tabletoppers, and great for larpers. Also incredibly affordable– $4.95+ for the basic collection, or pay more to get an even larger collection.

Larp Reads

  • New Yorkers do the darndest things! Check out this Dungeons & Dragons-cum-fitness larp, where the mechanic for rolling dice has been replaced by challenging group yoga moves. Video in the link above, or read the piece here. (Hat tip to John Stavropoulos for the link)
  • Over at the UKG blog, Mo attempts to describe UK Freeform, and how it differs from other freeform.
  • Check out this periodic table of story elements. Seems like it could be a cool game design tool.
  • If you want larp-based lols, check out the The Nordic Larper and When You Organize Larps tumblrs. You will lose hours of your life. In the best way possible.
  • Nerds of color join forces as the NPC guild. I’m interested to see where this goes.
  • The awesome roleplay blog PlanB Rollespil is back in action. Of course, it’s in Danish, but I trust you know how to use Google Translate. It’s worth it.
  • Guys, Ice-T did a fantasy audiobook and it’s kind of epic. ““They didn’t tell me this was a motherfuckin’ Dungeons & Dragons book,” Ice says, explaining to partner Mick Benzo that D&D is “some of the most crazy, deep, deep nerd shit.” via Paste Magazine
  • Brie Sheldon has an intriguing post on discovering personal identity through roleplay. Worth a read.
  • Larps, the Series has produced its pilot episode, which pokes fun at boffer larp, while still clearly operating as a love letter to the activity.
  • Love knowing what’s up in the world of gaming? Wish these posts were weekly and included more tabletop stuff? Then you’ll want to sign up for the excellent Story Games Weekly by joining the Story Games Community.

Action Items

  • Get Edu-Larp to the White House. The nonprofit Seekers Unlimited is part of an initiative to bring new ideas about education to the White House. The top picks up-voted on this site will make it there. Right now, they’re #4, but let’s push them up.
  • Knights of Badassdom, a long-awaited Hollywood film featuring both larp and actors you’ve heard of, like Peter Dinklage, has been released. The way it works is that locals can host a showing by getting a certain number of people to pledge to see it. I’m going to this showing in New Brunswick, NJ on March 3, and it still needs people. I still want to see it, though response to the film from larpers has been pretty negative. Here’s a thoughtful video review from larper Kristin Brumley, and a text one from Shoshana Kessock.

Upcoming Events

  • Dreamation is next weekend! I’m part of the Sex & Bullets crew, which is running more than 60 hours of American freeform and Nordic gaming goodness at this Morristown, NJ convention. Hope to see you there! (Or maybe I’ll see you at Intercon, in Chelmsford Massachusetts the following weekend?)
  • The Living Games Conference runs March 14-16 in NYC. I’ll be there, giving one of the keynote speeches, and perhaps you should be too–lots of interesting gamers from many parts of the world will converge to exchange ideas. (Otherwise, see you at Knutpunkt in Gothenburg in April?)

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Introducing American Freeform

(Buy the Pocket Guide to American Freeform here!)

Well, perhaps “introducing” isn’t the right title for this post. American Freeform has been percolating around the scene for years. In recent times, though, some folks on the scene have claimed this label, both as a way of helping players identify what they’re getting and find similar games, and as a way to help designers share ideas and solidify the structures they’re working with.

All of which is to say: the meaning of this term is evolving and will doubtless continue to evolve as more designers contribute to the tradition. It’s also not meant to be a super-restrictive label; people who feel their work has a place within this tradition are welcome to use it. And “American Freeform” might fit under a larger label of “structured freeform.” (A term coined in 2006 by Jonathan Walton here.)

So what is American Freeform? Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics, culled from internet ramblings with various designers. Games in the genre may use only some of these techniques, or may use most of them. American Freeform games…

  • …are semi-live. This means players physically embody their characters for at least part of the play experience. It’s not tabletop, but it’s not quite an unbroken larp either. There are hybrid forms that might sneak in under the radar, though.
  • feature intense, focused play. As designer Jason Morningstar put it, “There’s a single, compelling situation presented by the game, and the characters are variously pointed at each other in supportive and antagonistic ways.” The relationships are open to interpretation, which makes replay fun.
  • …often uses scenes. Rather than one long dinner party, in American Freeform the organizer (or sometimes the players) sets scenes stipulated by the game materials and ends them when they are over. From scene to scene, time may jump forward or backward.
  • created by Americans. This is an imperfect way at getting of the Americanness of these games, which will probably deal with cultural elements important to folks on this side of the pond. It’s also a way of getting at our play culture here, which tends to be focused on player safety and respecting people’s trigger topics ahead of time. And yes, many of us have already had a G+ fight about whether it’s OK to add a tag to the freeform community that some people view as nationalistic. (Battles over terminology mean we have a robust community already!) In general, folks would like this to be as inclusive as possible, an umbrella that can extend to designers all over the continent of America, since it’s a big continent occupied by more than one country.
  • …features transparency in game design. This means that, with rare exception, play doesn’t focus around the default of player secrets. If secrets are used in a game, to create suspense, for example, they’re using sparingly, like a spring of parsley garnishing a nice chickpea cutlet, not as the main meat of a scenario.
  • …uses meta-play or metatechniques. This is another way of getting at transparency–it is OK to discuss play arcs ahead of time. This also means that some of these games use techniques to help players communicate with one another. Because if all the players know I’m in love with your wife, the unaware characters can play scenes that push on this tension to create a dramatic arc. If I say I love your new dress, and then give a monologue about how last season it was, that the players hear but the characters don’t, then this develops both my character and our relationship. And that can be very good for making interesting scenes.
  • …don’t entirely dispense with the physical props we all love. Many American Freeform games use traditional elements of American roleplaying games, for example game mechanics that use physical things like pieces of paper and cards, co-creation, player scene-framing, etc.
  • …are usually for a handful of players over a short period of time. There are exceptions, of course, but typically we’re talking about 3-12 people and four hours or less.

Wonderful designer Emily Care Boss assembled this great list of American Freeform games, listed in no particular order…and there are more in the works as we speak.

A Flower for Mara
by Seth BenEzra
An improvisational play about the family of Mara, a woman who has died unexpectedly, during the first year after her death.

Under my Skin (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Emily Care Boss
A group of friends simultaneously falls in love with other people.

Metropolis (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Evan Torner
Based on the classic Fritz Lang movie of the same name.

The Climb
by Jason Morningstar
An illegal Himalayan expedition to an unclimbed peak goes awry.

Posthuman’s Progress (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Evan Torner
The Posthuman tries to overcome obstacles to achieve her goal. A love letter to Run, Lola, Run.

The Curse (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Lizzie Stark
Ever wondered why Angelina Jolie cut off her breasts? Now you’ll know.

Remodel
by Emily Care Boss
Four women struggle with mid-life changes while remodeling a house.

The Yearbook
by John Stavropoulos and Terry Romero
A class reunion reminds people about the terrible incident that summer. Strong horror elements.

Play with Intent (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Matthjis Holter and Emily Care Boss
A flexible framework to help y’all make up your own awesome game.

A Garden of Forking Paths (AVAILABLE: See Nat’s post in the comments)
by Alleged Entertainment (Susan Weiner, Vito D’Agosta and Nat Budin)
Inspired by Borges. A game about regret and life changes, exploring what would had happened if you chose differently.

10 Bad Larps (AVAILABLE: See Nat’s post in the comments)
by Alleged Entertainment
The worst ideas for larps EVER, presented super-briefly.

DramaSystem live/semi-live rules
by Emily Care Boss and Robin Laws
Weave an epic, ongoing saga of high-stakes interpersonal conflict that grows richer with every session. Larp and semi-live rules in Robin Law’s Hillfolk Companion volume Blood on the Snow.

Amidst Endless Quiet
by Ben Lehman
A spaceship, trapped in the void of interstellar space, is dying but not alone. Four of its human passengers will die with it, lost forever in senseless tragedy. One of them may yet survive. How will you decide who lives and dies?

Inheritance
by Luke Crane
Inheritance is a 2-3 hour game for 9 players. In Jutland in 1104, Grandfather has died. It’s time to read his will. Who will claim his inheritance?

Secret Ante 
by Aaron Vanek
Exploring what it means to be a character. Bet parts of you, or your character’s soul in a game of poker.

Cady Stanton’s Candyland
by Kat Jones and Julia Ellingboe
A sex-toy party at a feminist bookstore in the 1970s.

Superhero Bakery (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Jason Morningstar
Superheroes and supervillains have escaped prison into this work-release program at a bakery, where absolutely nothing will go wrong. Great for kids.

The Road Not Taken (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Mike Young
Merges the format 10 Bad LARPs with serious psychodrama. When you are lost in the yellow woods of your life, which road will you travel?

1,001 Nights (larp version)
by Meguey Baker
Members of the Sultan’s Court wile away the sultry nights by telling pointed stories to advance their ambitions.

Ganakagok Jeepforged (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Bill White
Team-based competitive game set in a fantasy dark-ice world, where the Nitu people, a tribe of hunters and fishers live.

Sea Dracula (FREE DOWNLOAD!)
by Jake Richmond and Nick Smith
A humorous, competitive game about crazy animal lawyers prosecuting a landmark case in Animal City’s highest court.

The Jerkform Collection (FREE DOWNLOAD; DO NOT PLAY)
by Sex & Bullets
Jerkform is not meant to be played. It is meant to be grokked.

Resonance (AVAILABLE: See Nat’s post in the comments)
by Alleged Entertainment (Susan Weiner, Vito D’Agosta, Nat Budin, and Phoebe Roberts)
An experimental amnesia/storytelling larp. The few people instrumental in the end of the world determine what will rise from it.

Service
by Shoshana Kessock
A game about military service and the draft set in the US.

The Last Seder (AVAILABLE: See Nat’s post in the comments)
by Alleged Entertainment (Vito D’Agosta, Susan Weiner, Nat Budin and Joshua Sheena)
A sci-fi parable. Live the myth of Exodus and the Last Supper as it is made by playing out a series of scenes across the ages.

The Passage
by Thomas Russell
Stuck on a barge headed up the Missouri River, a disparate group of people reflect on despair, loss, transformation, and hope.

At What Cost
by Christopher Amherst
Spies try to uncover the traitor among them. How far will they go in pursuit of truth?

Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (Tales of the Fisherman’s Wife)
by Julia Ellingboe
Get your friends together, light some candles, play out creepy stories. Inspired by an Edo-period game.

City of Fire and Coin larp (parlor sandbox larp)
by Evan Torner, Emily Care Boss, and Epidiah Ravachol
Rogues adventure in a mysterious fantasy city packed with violence and intrigue.

Young Cultists in Love
by Thomas Russell
One part Adams Family, one part Evil Dead 2, one part Better Off Dead. The Stars Are Right — For ROMANCE!

Uwe Boll’s Christmas Special
by Evan Torner and Kat Jones
Infamous film director Uwe Boll miscasts actors in his action-packed Christmas special

Bloodnet larp (parlor sandbox larp)
by Evan Torner and Kat Jones
Cyberpunk vampires live in 2094 Manhattan, either eking out a living or trying to rule it all.Based on the eponymous 1993 MicroProse adventure computer game.

The Man in the Long Black Coat
by Kat Jones
A scenario about a God-fearing small community that’s full of secrets and the Man who arrives to judge them all. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s The Man in the Long Black Coat.

IN PLAYTESTING

Sarai
by Jason Morningstar
20-person political/military live action/board game hybrid based on the Lebanese civil war.

Sorcergy
by Epidiah Ravachol
Sorcery + orgy. What’s not to love?

Fiasco Larp
by Jason Morningstar
Adapts the tabletop game to a live action format with ill-advised, foolish results.

The Maroons
by Jason Morningstar
Pilots to a distant planet discover an isolated settlement of one family. A game about isolation, faith, family and the collision of cultures. Based on a true story from 1970s Russia.

In Residency
by Lizzie Stark
Intrigue, gossip, and art at a selective artists’ colony.

Strings Attached
by Lizzie Stark and George Locke
When a woman’s will is issued, her family must learn how to forgive one another.

In Darkness
by Emily Care Boss
John Milton’s life in England set against the plot of Paradise Lost.

Monsterhearts
by Kira Magrann, James Stuart, John Stavropoulos and Terry Romero
Larp version of the popular indie game by Joe Mcdaldno, about teen monsters in love.

Demons at the Door
by John Stavropoulos
Something’s outside. Eating. Watching. You can’t see them but they can ALWAYS smell you (you smell sweet). Something is here. Not Zombies. Worse.

M vs M
by Terry Romero
A mutant civil war inspired by the US Obama 2008 election.

 

Did we miss some games or elements? (Note: we definitely did). Feel free to post in the comments.

This post draws a lot from several G+ and email conversations, and doubtless to countless other people and conversations that have unfolded over the years. Special thanks to Jason Morningstar, Evan Torner, John Stavropoulos, A. George, James Stuart, and many many others for their thoughts, and to Emily Care Boss, who compiled the long list of American Freeform games and shared it with me.

Edit: for more on the background of American Freeform, see Emily’s post in the comments. Or check out Evan Torner’s excellent American Freeform manifesto, which talks about how American Freeform is in dialog with other traditions.

____

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New in Larp: June 25, 2013

The cast of Limbo poses with their eyeshades and tickets to the hereafter.

The cast of June’s Highland Park, NJ run of Tor Kjetil Edland’s Limbo poses with their eyeshades and tickets to the hereafter.

There’s been a whirlwind of activity over here at chez Stark, but I’ve still managed to cram in some larp-related activity. Since the last time I ran one of these, there’s been lots that’s new in larp. Here, in no particular order, is what I’ve been reading, running, and drooling with envy over:

Larp in the Middle East

Did you know that there’s larp happening in places like Lebanon and Palestine? Well, it’s on, my friends. And it’s got lots of Nordic support.

  • Piece on the first kids’ larp in Lebanon, from Fantasforbundet, a Norwegian larp group
  • The Palestine larp scene is heating up, thanks to local larp group Peace and Freedom Youth Forum (PFF):
    • Last fall, a dual project between the Nordicans and the Palestinians ran in Ramallah — ‘Til Death Do Us Part, a wedding game.
    • Some Finnish designers are collaborating with PFF on a two-part game called State of Siege, about living under a military regime. The first part runs in Helsinki on Nov 15-17, and is open to foreign-born but English-speaking participants. I’ve heard rumors that a second edition will run in Palestine next year.
    • I had the pleasure of meeting some folks from the PFF at Knutepunkt this year. Sounds like they’ve got a short larp going every few weeks, including the Superhero Dance Battle produced as part of this year’s Larpwriter Exchange Academy.

Talking and Writing About Larp

 

Actual Larps that Ran Or Will Run Soon

Re-runs of earlier games:

  • Panopticorp ran about a week ago in Copenhagen. It’s a larp about a cut-throat PR company doing business with morally questionable clients. The game was a re-run of an earlier Norwegian larp played about a decade ago. This time around, more than 40 larpers from at least six countries Skyped, emailed, called and walked-in to play the customers for the game’s 20+ players. I’ve heard whispers that if someone produces a script, there are organizers in at least three countries who’d be willing to run it again…
  • This weekend and next weekend, Mad About the Boy runs again in Sweden. One run is mixed-gender, the other is all-women.
  • In August, Just a Little Lovin’, about the summer AIDS came to NYC, will be re-run in Copenhagen.

New runs of new games:

My Corner of the World

  • Together with performance researcher Emma Leigh Waldron and RPG researcher Aaron Trammell, I helped run the Norwegian game Limbo, by Tor Kjetil Edland in Highland Park, NJ. We had about 25 players, including people completely new to gaming or to larp, seasoned US larpers, and a few folks who have played Nordic-style games before in the US. We did a two-hour workshop, inspired by Edland’s run of the same game at Knutepunkt this year. Our version took place in the parlor of a local church. On the same day, Limbo also ran in Croatia — you can read organizer Ivan Zalac’s play report here.
  • I’m helping edit a book of Norwegian larp scripts in English. Welcome to the Larpfactory Book Project. The project also includes a series of workshops in Norway on how to write larp scripts, as well as a website containing game materials and video demonstrations of various Nordic larp techniques. Join this Facebook group for updates on the project, including downloads when they become available. Or visit the project website!
  • Designers and US art larp veterans John Stavropoulos, Terry Romero, and Kira Scott have pledged to create a Monsterhearts larp system as a stretch goal if the Kickstarter for this game about teen monsters in love is funded. They’ll use a modified version of Ars Amandi to optionally represent the tabletop’s signature sex moves.

New Conventions and New Scenes

Dude. So much exciting stuff happening.

Whew. I know I missed something else awesome. What else did I miss?

Dilemmas of the Lady Game Designer

In graduate school, a professor once told me my short stories might be a wee bit feminist to appeal to mainstream journals, and that I should seek out fringier, feminist presses. Of course, like many writers, I don’t want to write about “feminist issues,” I want to write about the essential human truths, truths that I perceive, of course, through the lens of my own identity. After my prof’s pep talk, I took on a gender-neutral pen name, started writing stories with male point-of-view protagonists, and promptly amassed a file of rejections beginning “Dear Mr. Stark…”

Because of course, books about men and men’s issues — even books that evidence an adolescent understanding of gender relations — get to be “great literature” because they’re about the universal human experience, while books that delve into the humanity of women are often relegated to the chick lit corner of the book store. This is not an argument for removing Moby Dick or The Road from the classics shelf, but it’d be cool if they could share it with Caramelo and Corregidora.

As I’ve embarked on a new hobby of roleplaying design, I’ve realized that the lady game designer faces a similar quandary. Do I want to write games that seem relevant to me in my life right now? Or do I want to write games that people will play? If I decide to write about stuff like my mastectomy, does that immediately get me sent to the chick lit game ghetto, or do I have a shot at being taken seriously on same grounds as other (largely male) game designers?

For me, writing about what I perceive as my essential humanity risks turning off a majority of the potential audience audience. I don’t think it’s a necessity for dudes designers to think about gender and game design in the same way.

Here, and in the rest of the piece, when I talk about writing games or roleplaying scenarios, I’m mostly thinking of larps or freeform games in the Nordic style — that is to say, games about regular people living their lives and aimed at evoking emotion rather than the rush of battle.

Audience

The nature of the gaming community further complicates the equation. Although there are plenty of women gamers out there, men predominate. If I write a game with a host of female characters, will men want to play it? Will men choose to run it? Or will it run a few times before disappearing down the memory hole forever? And if it disappears down the memory hole, is that because I’m a novice and wrote something crappy, or because I wrote about an experience of the world structured by femininity?

Cross-casting provides another sticking point, given the gamer demographics. In my experience, it’s easier for women to play men than the other way around. I dimly remember my college course in feminist theory, in which we talked about how we can all relate to the experience of men because that is constructed as the norm in our society. People who lie outside the norm for whatever reason get special knowledge of the dominant subculture, because there is pressure to conform. For example, many black women have special knowledge of hair — how to relax it, style it, extend it, etc. — because the norm of hair beauty in US culture is European and straight. Women are often asked to imagine themselves into the default position — that of men — while the reverse is seldom expected. Little Women is for girls because it’s primarily about girls and because of that we don’t expect boys to relate to it, but Lord of the Rings, with its all-male cast, is for everyone. This attitude contributes to gender inequity in all sorts of artistic canons — film, novels, visual art, short stories, video games, etc.

As a GM, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for men playing women to slide into stereotype, and that I’ve got to work hard to help players add complexity to their cross-gender roles. One of the super-powers of roleplay is that it can create empathy, so I think it’s good to try to step outside the roles we play every day — including gender, race, class, etc. roles. But meaningful immersion demands a certain degree of reality, I think. When play lapses too far into stereotype, this empathetic benefit is lost. And instead of walking in the shoes of someone dissimilar to you, you run the risk of reinforcing negative dogma.

 

Games Can Be About Gender Without “Being About Gender”

I’ve run the jeepform game Previous Occupants by Frederik Berg Østergaard and Tobias Wrigstad perhaps half a dozen times at various conventions. True to its mission, it’s a great way to introduce Americans to this style of roleplay. In the game, two people portray a young Christian couple about to get engaged and away for the weekend at a hotel where they will have sex for the first time. Two people portray an older married couple who stayed in the same hotel room 15 years ago, when the husband committed murder suicide. You play the scenes in parallel, cutting between the two, and eventually the ghosts of the past (the husband and wife) invade the present and try to work out their issues by possessing the young Christian couple.

On its surface, the game is about death and sex, past and present. But in all of the runs I watched, more than anything, it ends up being about masculinity and the demands that our culture places on men. The husband tries to contain his rage leading up to the murder, but often ends up struggling with feeling the financial burden of supporting a wife, even though this arrangement is not stipulated in the game materials. He feels put upon by his wife in some way, because she just doesn’t understand how difficult it is to be in charge. Her real or perceived infidelity — the suspicion of it, but not the actuality appears in the game materials — disrupts his constitution of himself, contributing to the crime. He is the culpable one, and she is collateral damage. Similarly, in the young couple’s story, the responsibility for initiating sex (which is not played, for the record) almost always falls onto the boyfriend, who struggles with his desires to be cool and have sex, weighed against his commitment to God. Although the girlfriend knows of his plan to propose, we infer that it’s up to him to take action and make the offer officially.

The women end up falling into traditional roles — slightly prudish girlfriend (or guiltily sex positive girlfriend), and abuse victim — and while they play a major part in the story, the growth of their characters often seems less complex, perhaps because the set up does not endow them with agency.

That these two men feel the parallel weight of responsibility  is part of what makes the game work; but it’s interesting to me that players almost never explore issues of femininity — of why the wife might stay in an abusive relationship, or why the girlfriend feels she must wait for the boyfriend to make his move. Without writing it out explicitly, the game suggests traditional relationship roles for the women. The husband and wife are older, and from the past, and therefore, we infer, more traditional, while the younger couple is Christian, and since it is mentioned at all, American players infer that that younger couple must be very conservative and evangelical indeed. The traditional relationships weaken the ability of the women to push the story into a more feminine place within the game by inadvertently scripting more submissive roles for them. Their plot lines and roles are contextual and bound up in each character’s past, but the game demands that the action take place right now in the present for each couple.

The scenario is quite a good  one — usually the players get a lot out of it — and I have no idea whether the writers wanted to make a game about masculinity or whether it’s an unintended emergent property of the game, or of the fact that I’m running it for an American audience. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that with so many dude game designers — there are plenty of lady designers, but they’re vastly outnumbered!– writing about stuff they find interesting and important, masculinity is going to emerge as a major theme whether designers intend it to or not.

 

The New Wave of Women Game Designers

In the last couple years, a number of women (and men) have written games that tackle femininity complexly. Maybe the trend stretches back further, and I’m simply ignorant of it, but to me, the current wave is tremendously exciting. Here are a few of the ones I’ve seen — are there more out there?

The Remodel (2013) by Emily Care Boss
A short scenario about four friends going through mid-life transitions while remodeling a house. It’s got timeless themes — how do we define ourselves when a core aspect of our situation/identity shifts?

Summer Lovin’ (2012) by Trine Lise Lindahl, Elin Nilsen, and Anna Westerling
This very short scenario is all about the post-convention gossip session. Three ladies got it on with three dudes, and now the men are on a train together and the ladies are in the car home. A scenario about women being awesome and unapologetic about it. In both runs I took part in, overhearing the women talking to one another was a real highlight for the men.

Robin’s Friends (2012) by Anna Westerling
A game about friendship among three people, and the ways that petty disagreements can distract people from the true meaning of their relationships. Interestingly, though Westerling had women in mind while writing the scenario, she made all characters gender-neutral to better fit the demographic makeup of her roleplaying scene. She also made the point to me that friendship isn’t a gendered topic, so why should the characters be locked in?

Mad About the Boy (2012) by Tor Kjetil Edland, Trine Lise Lindahl, and Margrete Raaum
A full-out Norwegian larp for 30 written and run twice there in 2010, played again with an all-women cast in Connecticut this year. A game about a world without men. Original text here. It runs twice in Sweden — one mixed gender run, one all women run — this summer.

…and this year my first game will be at the Danish convention Fastaval. It’s called The Curse, and it’s about relationships shaped by hereditary breast cancer. Will these women choose to remove healthy breasts and ovaries, or gamble with their high risk of cancer? And how will they and their partners feel about that?

 

Supporting Women Game Designers

I noticed a few things while recruiting women for last October’s re-run of Mad About the Boy. Plenty of women were interested in playing the game, but sign ups weren’t going great. I had a lot of conversations with various women who seemed like they might get something out of the game. Most of the conversations went like this:

Me: I’m helping organize this all-women game, and I thought you might be interested.

Her: It sounds really cool, but you know, I’ve only been roleplaying for like ten years? And a lot of it hasn’t been larp? And it sounds like really good roleplayers will be there and I don’t want to ruin the experience for everyone.

Me: We are very friendly to new people and have a bunch of people who have never larped before signed up. Inexperience is absolutely no object, and we’ve got this whole workshop thing happening to help get people in the mood to game. We would love to have you.

Her: That sounds cool. <signs up>

What I gathered from this process is that a lot of women secretly wanted to come to the game, but were afraid — even if they had lots of roleplaying experience — of embarrassing themselves and screwing up other women’s games. All it took was the simplest of gestures — an organizer saying, yes you are welcome and we will support you — in order to enlist players to the game. In other words, sometimes women don’t take space — they need to be expressly invited into it. I know I’m not immune. I never dreamed I could bring Nordic larp to the states until one of the Mad About the Boy creators off-handedly said, “you should run this larp.” She offered the space, so I took it.

My guess is that the same holds true for game design. While reporting and touring for the book, I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of game designers. Being the persistent reporter type, I asked for lots of design advice, and many people were kind enough to offer some. Not every woman is an irritating reporter, though — so I think it’s important to reach out to women who say they want to design and offer them support, to expressly invite them to occupy the role of designer. Sometimes a heart-felt invitation is all it takes.

 

My Philosophy

Here’s my philosophy on trying new stuff: it’s not rocket science. Larp and roleplaying are relatively new forms. We’re in the first generation, still, and many of the first wave of designers are still living. I may not always know exactly what I’m doing, but then, imagine the first person to try metatechniques, or Ars Amandi or whatever. They were starting from a different baseline, and now we’re in the position to build on the institutional knowledge. Larp is not rocket science. And if we fail, so what? All we’re risking is a few uncomfortable hours. So get out there, take space, and fail loudly.

Mad About the Boy in Wyrd Con Book

The Wyrd Con Book, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman and Aaron Vanek is out. The book is an anthology of essays about gaming and larp put out by California’s Wyrd Con convention. It’s available for free download here.

I’ve got an essay on Mad About the Boy, the Nordic larp I helped run this October in Connecticut, in it. But that’s not the only reason you should read it. It’s got fabulous pieces by the likes of Emily Care Boss, Jason Morningstar, J. Li, Evan Torner, and many more!

Jeepform for Noobs

Featured

Jeepform games have a mysterious rap, perhaps because the Nordic games in general defy neat taxonomy, and this is the most definable word that’s made it over here. In the course of my travels, I’ve heard gamers drop “jeepform” to describe any roleplaying game  that comes out of the Nordic countries. For indie gamers, dropping the neologism works a bit like mentioning Belle & Sebastian did back when I was in college — it identifies the hipsters to one another; it functions as a code word for people who are in to serious roleplay, even if they aren’t quite sure what it means.

Well, my beloved gaming hipsters, I’m here to explain what the #$%! jeepform is to you…at least what I’ve gleaned during my travels.

Jeepform is a style of freeform game.

What in tarnation is a freeform game? That’s a good question — ask three Nordicans and you’ll get five answers. More or less, the freeform scene developed out of the tabletop gaming scene and now centers around the Fastaval convention in Denmark. Basically, people started standing up and acting out their characters during tabletop games, and things progressed until suddenly there were no tables at all. Freeform games use some techniques from larp, like acting out your character, and some techniques from tabletop games, like fast forwarding through the two-week trek you take to the dungeon.

Here’s a handy chart:

Think of it this way — in a platonic larp, there’d be a one-to-one relationship between reality and the game world. So if I bought you a mug of ale, we’d go to the inn and I’d buy you a mug of ale. In a tabletop game, there’s a symbolic relationship between the real world and the game world. So if I stab your character, I represent that by saying “I stab your character.” Freeform games use some one-to-one correspondence — if I shout at you in real life, I’m shouting at you in the game — and some symbolic relationships — I can make my pen into a sword if necessary.

Because freeform games (and by extension, jeepform games) came out of the tabletop scene, folks refer to them as tabletop games. So jeepform is not larp, even though you act out a scene physically.

Most of the games are for 3-8 players and can take place in any room with a reasonable amount of privacy and space. No set or costumes required.

Jeepform is whatever the collective of (mostly) Danish and Swedish people say it is.

The jeepers get to decide what counts as jeepform. Inducted jeepers make jeepform games. Other people can create jeepish games, but really, if it’s not on the Jeepen.org website (with rare exception, as pointed out in the comments), it’s not a proper  jeepform.  This is sort of like how if I made a phone with a touch screen it wouldn’t be an iPhone unless Apple said so. Or how if I slap LV logos over a kicky purse I designed, it’s not Louis Vuitton unless the company says so.

Certain themes characterize jeepform games.

For the most part, they’re set in the real, mundane world. No dragons here, just ordinary people having ordinary problems with their relationships, jobs, and personal lives. Linked to this is the idea of playing close to home — playing characters with whom you have something in common.

Playing close to home also means making the story emotionally relevant for yourself by bringing your real life into the game. If I’m playing a relationship game and choose to riff off of that fight I had with my husband last week, that creates a very different play experience than playing on an issue that’s alien to me. Playing close to home can cause bleed, which is what happens when player and character emotions get mixed up. In the US, we often think of bleed as something to be avoided, but in many Nordic roleplaying games, it is encouraged and managed by the game formats. Playing for bleed can lead to insight about oneself and the world, and it creates intense emotions that some players crave.

Since these game experiences are more about the emotion (the inside story), and less about the plot (the outside story), their surface stories often don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. For example, a game might be about a Mother’s support group that turns vicious, or a relationship where at least one of the partners experiences temptation and doubt, or about a drunk guy dying from alcoholism. It’s not uncommon to know how the story ends before the game begins, because the point is not really to discover what happens, but rather, to explore the themes and emotions suggested by the scenario.  Similarly, because many of the jeepform games — but not all — encourage bleed, character sheets are minimal or nonexistent. If all I know about my character is that she’s an actress,  then during the game I’ll necessarily fill in from my real-life experience, creating a character relevant to my life.

While bleed can sneak up on you, it’s important to remember that players have some control over how close to home they want to play it — you can choose to create a character, a mask, between yourself and the game, or you can try to play it as if you were in the game situation.

Jeepform games are highly structured.

Rather than letting one scene unspool continuously, most jeepform games are cut together more like a movie, with a series of scenes. The GM serves as the director of the movie, cutting scenes at points of tension by saying “cut,” helping set scenes, keeping track of time, and introducing other elements to help heighten the tension. Sometimes, the GM can call for scenes to be replayed — if a scene is dragging on or not escalating the drama, the GM can say, “do it again, but this time talk about your relationship with his mother.”

Most scenes focus on a couple of characters. Anyone who is not playing in a particular scene either watches the drama unfold, or perhaps enters as an NPC to help the spotlighted characters explore their emotions.

Jeepform games use metatechniques.

Metatechniques break the flow of the game narrative and heighten the drama. There are many different metatechniques; some games use more, some games use fewer. Here are a couple of the most commonly-used ones:

Monologuing. During a scene, the GM can demand a monologue from a character by pointing and saying “monologue.” The character delivers a soliloquy about what’s going on in her head. When the monologue is over, game play resumes as if no one on stage has heard it. Monologues help flesh out characters and relay important information to other players. If I mention my character’s infertility during a monologue, then later perhaps my co-players will push me to address this by repeatedly bringing up children.

As jeeper Emily Care Boss once told me, monologues and several other metatechniques often create dramatic irony between players and characters. This can be played for laughs — for example, two characters are flirting and one delivers a monologue about how repugnant the other’s breath is — and also for complexity/tragedy — for example, when a character delivers a monologue about how he’s thinking about cheating and then returns to a lovey-dovey scene with his wife.

Bird-in-ear. The GM whispers stuff into the ears of characters to push them, either by offering direct suggestions or simulating thoughts that might be winging through the character’s mind.

Telegraphing. You can bring any object you need into the game through the power of your imagination. The best way to do this is in-scene, for example, by saying, “I bought you flowers” when presenting someone with a pen. The phrase telegraphs to them that the pen now represents a bouquet. It’s also possible — but less elegant — to do out of game, by saying, “this pen is a knife,” and using it appropriately.

Temporal play. There is probably some more official-sounding word for this, but many jeepform games play with time. GMs can fast forward a scene to two beers later. In some games, it’s possible to play flash backs and flash forwards, often using different physical locations in the room to help everyone keep track of the present.

Character nonmonogamy. Several people may play the same character. For example, if two players are on stage and the GM calls for a possible future, two other folks might get up and play it out. Or we might play different aspects of the same character, as in the game Doubt, where two player portray actors in a relationship, and two players portray the characters in the play that they’re performing in.

Where does the name jeepform come from?

The jeepers put out many apocryphal stories about the term’s origins. The best way to hear one is to buy a jeeper a beer.

Further reading:

Interview with jeeper Frederik Berg Østergaard
Vi åker jeep! (includes free downloads of games. Previous Occupants is a good place to start for new GMs)
Nordic Larp Wiki on jeepform
Emily Care Boss and others ask Tobias Wrigstad questions on StoryGames.
Tobias Wrigstad on designing jeepform games on StoryGames.
How to approach a jeepform game on StoryGames.

 

New in Larp: September 10, 2012

Want to know what’s new in larp? Here’s the coolest, most interesting stuff I’ve been reading about the hobby for the last couple weeks:

  • A fascinating series called The Gamer Wife, over at Gaming as Women. Written by the pseudonymous Finaira, an analog gamer-for-life who married a pillar of her local gaming community, the series deconstructs the stereotype of “Gamer Wife.” With wit, candor, and a side of anger, the series tackles the ways her marriage has impacted her gaming life. Part 1 (the intro), Part 2 (switch from girlfriend class to wife class), Part 3 (wifely responsibilities), Part 4 (how the rpg table changed), Part 5 (accusations of favoritism).
  • This Just In From Gen ConA podcast series of interviews with many awesome gamers who went to Gen Con. I really enjoyed John Stavropoulos’ talk on safety in tabletop roleplaying games. There are many other interview gems too, from Emily Care Boss to Margaret Weiss and everything in between.
  • ENnie winner JR Blackwell talks back to this bonehead with a savvy piece of satire about the geek pecking order. As she puts it. “If there is a Geek Hierarchy, one where the more knowledgeable, experienced,  “truer” geeks get to question the authenticity (questions usually directed at women) of others, then I submit that you, infintile-excretion-who-asks-me-to-name-10-DC-characters, may no longer question me, and furthermore, I claim the right to question YOUR authenticity.”
  • The landing page looks scary in Finnish, but just click on the link to download Finnish roleplaying guru J. Tuomas Harviainen’s doctoral dissertation on larp, Systemic Perspectives on Information in Physically Performed Role-play. According to the synopsis, it takes a look at larping in “historical re-enactment, sadomasochist roleplaying and post-modern magic.” I am still working my way through it, but if you’re into larp theory, you won’t want to miss this one — not the least for the impressive bibliography at the end.
  • Thomas Be tells us all about  a Swiss one-shot demon larp in readable prose. Come to gawk at the costumes, stay for commentary on game design.
  • The rumors are true! Swedish games do get government funding, and Elin Dalstål tells us how over at Gaming as Women.
  • Identities at Play, British researcher Nathan Hook’s master’s thesis on bleed, immersion, and larp as therapy, is available both in book form and for free download. I haven’t managed to wrangle a download yet, but am looking forward…
  • Behold! A diverse taxonomy of story games. Some enterprising soul made a fascinating list of genres and illustrative games.
  • Hat tip to Jaakko Stenros, who hipped me to awesome-looking new games magazine Continue.
  • Fiasco designer Jason Morningstar taped all of his panels from Gen Con. I thought the international gaming one was particularly interesting. You can also catch audio of panels from Dragon Con including him and others over at Third Eye Gaming.

And a few more time-sensitive concerns:

My Gen Con Pilgrimage

Gen Con is big. Really, really big. Bigger than any other convention I’ve been to. And although I walked around the convention center and at least four hotels over my three-day stay, Gen Con is so tremendously huge that I know I missed many sections of the convention. More than 45,000 people were there. It is big. BIG. Get it? VERY LARGE.

Just look at how many people came to the costume parade…

 

For this reason, the con felt impersonal at times. A simple trip into the buzzing vendor’s room nearly blew my introvert spoons. Fortunately, I had two home bases — the Games on Demand area, packed full of indie tabletoppers ready to run games for you…on demand! And the Metatopia play  test area, run by Double Exposure, who also runs my local NJ gaming cons.

The one place I could reliably go to for quiet and solitude? The women’s bathroom. So nice to be able to do that.

The People

Praise the great old ones for sending memorable people to Gen Con, because they helped me navigate the huge space. For example, this giant balloon dragon helped me remember where I was in relation to the vendor’s hall. And for a little while, after I first arrived, I navigated by remembering where the pan-Spiderman cosplay league was posing for photos, and where the Renaissance a capella group performed.

There were many wacky outfits — cosplay and otherwise — but really, black is the go-to outfit of choice for gamers. Black t-shirt, perhaps with some joke on it, black pants, and let’s say, visible tattoos. Kilts are also big for dudes — utili-kilts on regular people, but plaid ones for the storm troopers.

Steampunk! Rennaisance! Ghostbusters! This convention had it all.

Also fun: the city of Indianapolis has clearly embraced the con. The food trucks outside the convention center featured gaming-named dishes, for example, “Grilled Cheese: the Nomming.” The bars outside the convention featured wait staff in superhero costumes. Even the homeless panhandlers got in on the action. I definitely saw a sign about an evil paladin dropping someone’s wealth level to zero.

Gender

After arriving at the con by my lonesome, I wandered into the cyclopean vendor’s hall and this assaulted my eyes:

It made me feel like running for a mumu. I wondered whether this is what this convention and culture expected me to be — available for the male gaze, posed like a porn star, garbed in a farcically impractical adventuring outfit. I hoped that this was not the lens that would be applied to me. I don’t think the image would have made such an impression, except it was the first thing I saw at Gen Con, which in turn, was my first big convention.

As a woman at a gaming convention, I expected to be in the minority, so I don’t know why this sort of fan service slapped me across the face. All I can say is that I ran away from this game-playing area and toward the Dungeons & Dragons booth, in hopes, perhaps, that the giant spider lady would protect me with her evilness.

Save me from the male gaze, spider lady!

The Games

I tried out several indie roleplaying games at the  Games on Demand area.

Mouse Guard — in which you play mice adventurers protecting mice villages from the horror of snapping turtles, snakes, and other beasties. Great game design — the permissive mechanics make sense, support game play, and allow for a lot of creativity. But I have esoteric tastes in roleplaying games (it’s a personal failing) and found the game slightly too crunchy for me. I’d totally play it again, though, if I had an enthusiastic group.

Dungeon World — I played in two late-night rights, facilitated by the lovely and talented GMs Jason Morningstar and Jim Crocker. The game has mechanics simple enough for even me to grok, but complex enough to make things interesting. D&D-style adventuring at its most approachable.

The Tribunal — a larp about totalitarian oppression. Mechanics-light, roleplay-heavy. Tense. Serious. Awesome. I want to run it at a local con.

Fiasco — one of the best games of Fiasco I’ve played, thanks to excellent co-players, including game designer Jason Morningstar. The four of us collectively ruined a wedding. We played a sociopathic spendthrift bride, her unstable cousin with tragic gaydar, a bisexual bounty-hunter groom with a cash-flow problem and his hapless agent/ex-lover, who was desperate to get his cut of the new TV deal.

I also playtested a new jeepform game by Emily Care Boss. It was awesome and intense and everyone should be awaiting its release with baited breath.

The Panels

I gave a couple talks that garnered small audiences, full of people who asked really good questions. I went solo on the first two, about how rules-heavy boffer larp reinforces traditional American values (based on my essay in States of Play and some blog content), and about Nordic methods for roleplaying romance.

I teamed up with designers Jason Morningstar and Emily Care Boss on the third talk, an introduction to Nordic larp, with a big assist from some wonderful Finnish people who attended. Morningstar recorded the hour-long discussion, and you can download an .mp3 here. The sound quality degrades at certain points as trains rampage over our panel room.

And be sure to check out the rest of Jason’s awesome talks, available for download at his +Google page!

Nordic Larp in the US?

The coolest thing I learned at Gen Con is that there’s a group of larpers in Wisconsin trying to make a Nordic-style medieval campaign game. They showed up at my panels and even swung by the Leaving Mundania signing down at the Indie Press Revolution booth in the vendor’s hall.

The full awesomeness and detail of their costumes cannot be seen with my cell phone camera.

 

These folks are from Last Hope Larp in Wisconsin. They are interested in getting in touch with some Nordic larpers from the boffer scene to find out how those games work. One of our core discussions, at the panel, revolved around immersion and monsters. Apparently, the game is trying to move away from battles with NPCs as an end in themselves, and has created an NPC race less for combat and more as a source of mystery, to the consternation of some players.

Their rules set is very short for US larp — only about 45 pages.

The Souvenirs

I picked up a few awesome things, a copy of Marc Majcher’s Twenty-Four Game Poemsan awesome booklet of super-short games (less than 1 hour) for two to five people that can be played with minimal prep using stuff I carry in my purse anyway. Get there.

I also nabbed the second volume of Stone Skin Press‘ new The New Hero anthology, a collection of stories. And of course, an advance copy of the new Dominion set for my Dominion-obsessed husband.

But the hands-down winner for best souvenir (for cheapness, uniqueness, and portability) is definitely the moustache monocle, a handy way of transforming myself into my douchebag hipster alter-ego, Joshua:

 

Some Other, Slightly-Less-Good Photos for Your Pleasure

Batman Villain Cosplay

A pop-up gameshow I saw a  couple times that looked like fun. Here, the contestant has 90 seconds to sort the audience by height. And he does it!

Folks spent a long time building elaborate structures out of cards. Then later, as I understand it, you could bid to throw coins destroying the towers. Profits went to charity. This photo is only partway through the construction.

The outside of the lonely convention center after it was all over.

New in Larp: July 22, 2012

Summer is a busy time for the larp community, which has been concocting theories, writing papers, and running conventions. Here’s what’s new in larp:

Leaving Mundania has garnered a bit more press. New on my front:

 

How to Debrief a Freeform Game

This new series delves into the complexity of game mastering a freeform game.

What is a freeform game? No one knows for sure, so let’s say that it’s somewhere between a larp and a tabletop roleplaying game, with some scenes acted out, and with a variety of scenes enacted, rather than just one single long one.

Since some games are emotionally intense, game masters sometimes hold a structured conversation afterward, called a debrief, which serves as a buffer between the game and the return to real life. Players may talk about what happened in the game, reassure each other, mull over complex emotions, and give the GM feedback during the debrief.

I asked my panel of freeform GMs whether they used debriefing, and if so, how they used the time. 

Emily Care Boss gives a nice introduction to what debriefs are and what they can or should do:

What is a debrief? Is it a lie-session where you tell what “really happened” in the game? Sorry, that’s what often happens in larps. Freeform has the advantage, generally, of everyone having experienced the same events of play. So what is valuable about a debrief is sharing the experiences of the players, rather than the intent of the game writer. This is valuable stuff.

If a game has been hard-hitting, it is good to have some space to decompress. Whether the impact was good or bad. Although, if a game did bring up strong negative emotions, that may not be expressed by the player until a later time, perhaps with friends, or one or two other participants in the game. If the majority of the players had a good time, the debrief can be this wonderful moment to relive these experiences with the only people who are or who can ever be shared witnesses. It’s a wonderful thing for people to be able to hear how they have affected others through their portrayals. Debriefing on a playing high can be a bonding experience.

If the game went horribly wrong, or fell flat, or had technical issues, this is also the time when the players get to let the GM know what went wrong for them. They may not be brave enough to say so (my experience says that that is more often the case in the US than in the Nordic countries), but if they do, and you can stomach it, those are really great pieces of feedback. One has to not take them to heart too deeply, it’s rare that you actually ruin someone’s life through a game. But this is one of the hardest parts of it for me, so if you do have to suffer through some negativity, you have my solidarity.

Reflecting on it, I do find it important to build in time for a debrief into the game. It will not always fulfill all of the functions that it could, or even should, but at least you give everyone the time and space to be heard on whatever their reaction was to the game.

Debriefs haven’t always been about the emotional stuff, according to Lars Andresen:

The tradition for debriefings at Fastaval (my point of reference) is based on the actual written scenario. Not the feelings and emotions of the players. Since we introduced the Otto it’s been customary that the game master and the players discuss the game afterwards and writes down grades and comments. So there is a debriefing but it’s definately not in the usual larping sense. Now there are games at Fastaval that affects players emotionally in a very unpredictable way and we need to talk about establishing debriefings and methods of debriefing.

It sounds a bit silly but normally I do my debriefings over a beer in the café or the bar. If a player needs to talk about the game (and a player often needs to talk about the game) we go down to the bar or café together and talk about it. Perhaps with other players and game masters coming down after finishing the game. I haven’t mastered a game at Fastaval where I got the feeling that any of the players *needed* a debriefing. I played some games where I definitely needed a debriefing and I talked to the other participants afterwards but it was all done in a very unplanned way so to speak.

Debriefs can provide a crucial moment where community bonds are forged and the experience is affirmed as a positive one.

Sanne Harder:

I always do a debrief. Some roleplaying experiences can be pretty intense, and you simply need to withdraw from them together with someone who understands. For that reason, I try to make the players bond. We now have a mutual experience, and that ties us together. I usually also try to make sure that arrangements are made so that we will meet again in a situation where we can talk and reflect on the scenario together.

But also: I’ve noticed that the most important element in how players perceive the roleplay afterwards is the ending. You might have had a terrible experience with the game, but if you end it on a positive note, the players are most likely to remember it fondly anyway. Unfortunately the opposite is true too. So, in order to make sure the players come away with a good experience, I make them talk about all the good things: Not just the scenario, but also other players’ performances.

Anne Vinkel:

I really like what the scenario My Girl Sparrow says about debriefing: The GM’s role is to create a space where it’s all right to have weird feelings about what you just played and to talk about those feelings. And where it’s equally all right not to feel weird. Tell the players that, and tell them that if they are feeling weird the best thing might be to talk about it – to the other players, to you, to somebody else entirely. Bringing snacks for debrief is a good idea too.

Most scenarios don’t really need debriefing, IMO, but it’s always good to chat a bit with the players, say thank you for playing and tell them which of the things they did you liked the most. This is also a good time to try and get their names right so you won’t end up adressing them by character names for the rest of the convention (I would never do that, of course).

The debrief can be about creating a shared narrative — or a lie —  about the game experience. It’s unclear whether this is a good or a bad thing. Matthijs Holter:

Debrief is not usually part of my games. Maybe I should do more of that, since it tends to focus and cement the experience. On the other hand, it tends to create a consensus reality after the fact – a reality that none of the players may have experienced or perceived during the game. It can feel like a lie, or a game after the game.

Several folks stressed the idea that the debrief is all about the players, and noted that GMs should stand back.

Oliver Nøglebæk:

Debriefing should always be about the players; they’ve been through quite a ride and need to offload emotions and tell warstories. So give them time to do that — it’s important for each player to hear that the other participants also had a great time. Sometimes you think your contributions were crappy only to discover that everyone else actually loved them. As a GM you should try to keep the talk moving and make sure everyone gets to say something about the game; it’s easy for the vocal players to steal the spotlight. And don’t be afraid to ask questions or bring your own observations, as long as you leave most of the space for the players.

Peter Fallesen:

If it has been a tense experience, I try to design some kind of exit-ritual to let the players leave their characters behind. Besides this I let the players talk and define their experience. The GM-role holds some authority, so I try to be careful not to take up too much space. Yet, one should remember that as a GM you also push the players, so you might need to join in on the debrief at some point for your own sake. Besides this, I always ask the players to give me feedback on my own performance as a GM – you can always become better at the trade.

Frederik J. Jensen:

I carefully wait before presenting my view of the session since a strong statement from me can easily discourage other players from presenting their views. Instead I let the players do the talking and ask plenty of how/why/what questions about specific situations. This helps me discover when I misinterpreted a scene or a player’s intent.

I also give praise to the players who contributed an extraordinary moment to the game.

Don’t lay down the law unless it’s a tough game and the players are pretending they are too tough to have felt anything major, says Troels Ken Pedersen:

Usually I hold an informal brief. If the game has had really tough and challenging content I might say that it’s a debrief. I usually just serve snacks as a tension-breaker and hand-occupier, and let people talk. I take part myself with brief questions and compliments, as a player among players.

I only step in with game master authority if the game was tough and people start establishing a consensus that we’re all good and hardcore roleplayers who don’t have problems with content and who don’t feel embarrassing and unpleasant things on account of games. If that happens I shut it down fast, and as hard as I have to. I’ve laid this out in advance in the past with tough games, but lately I’ve meandered to the conclusion that laying down the law is not a great idea. I might deviate from that if, say, one or two players seem so domineering and hardcore-happy that it’s bound to come up if not put down with gamemaster authority anyway. Possibly. Or I might just lead the way and throw something into the conversation about something in the game that made me queasy.

It’s not just a time for everyone to congratulate one another, according to Klaus Meier:

I suck at debriefing. I usually just keep the players in the room for 10-20 minutes where we talk about the game and what went well and what went bad. I try to refrain from letting the players and me just pat each other on the back; I try to get some pointers to what could have been done better by me, the game and the players. But it is hard and all too often the debriefing becomes too comfortable. Considering how much time goes into writing a game and planning to run it, very little time is spend on how to do the debriefing which is a shame especially in more psychologically challenging games. People need to be un fucked and we need to get better at doing it.

And maybe the best way to debrief isn’t right after the game, but informally, and later on. Tobias  Bindslet:

I’m a big proponent of taking post-game debriefing (and defucking) seriously, but in most freeform games the social space immediately after the game is most suited for a brief evaluation and establishing a common ground version of the shared experience. I then try to ask for feedback on my gamemastering. But the actual debriefing on a more personal level, is something I often do after the game itself, over a drink or in smaller more informal groups.

So go forth, give your players snacks and maybe beer, and let them talk about their experience as a way of creating community, dealing with tough emotions, and reminding themselves that they totally had a good time.

More from the freeform series:

How to Cast a Freeform Game
How to Cut a Freeform Game 

_________

Lars Nøhr Andresen is a Danish roleplayer and designer who has been writing Fastaval scenarios since 1994.

Tobias Bindslet is a roleplayer with one foot in the Danish freeform scene at Fastaval and the other in the Nordic larp scene (Knudepunkt). At Knudepunkt in 2011, he co-organized a “de-fucking” workshop on how to handle difficult experiences in roleplaying and another on the ritual and play style of the collectively organized larp campaign Rage Across Denmark. Recently, he’s also been involved in a number of smaller projects to help make local games and methods available in English.

Emily Care Boss is an acclaimed American game designer and theorist who owns the trademark on romantic role-playing games with Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon and the jeepform-y Under my Skin.

Peter Fallesen, 27, is a sociologist who knows stuff about crime, and who tries to make a living in academia. He started roleplaying and larping in the mid-nineties. He wrote his first freeform game in 2003. It sucked royally. The next one was better. At present he is working on two games about loss, trauma, and the things players don’t say to each other during the game.

Sanne Harder is an experienced scenario author, who has contributed scenarios for the Danish freeform scene for the last 15 years or so. She has had the pleasure of having several of her scenarios published, and even translated (into the Finnish language). In real life she works as a teacher at an alternative school, where she uses roleplaying as a teaching method. She also writes a Danish blog about roleplaying

Matthijs Holter (b. 1972) is a Norwegian roleplayer and game designer. He’s fond of throwing random things at groups to see what happens, and believes friendship is magic. He once wrote the Hippie Method Manifesto. Currently working on Play With Intent with Emily Care Boss.

Frederik J. Jensen is a Dane living in Sweden. He enjoys taking chances with new games but tends to have a weak spot for GM-full story games. Designed and published Montsegur 1244because nobody else did.

For the past three years Klaus Meier has been in charge of the games at Fastaval and is now moving on to become head organizer of the whole shebang. He has been writing free form games since 2000 and quite good free form games since 2004. Klaus has won numerous of Fastaval’s Otto awards, been the editor of a book of Danish freeform games and given lectures on the Fastaval style of games at conventions in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. 

Oliver Nøglebæk studies interactive landscape architecture, which influences his view on larp. He’s been attending Fastaval for nearly ten years and game mastering much longer than that, though mostly indie games and traditional systems. He writes an English language blog on Nordic larp.

As a game writerTroels Ken Pedersen does both off-beat action and drama games about grownup subjects. He believes fiercely in roleplayers as co-creators, and is headmaster of the Danish School of Game Mastering, found at conventions and online. An all around anti-authoritarian dirty f*cking hippie, both as regards roleplaying and other things.

Anne Vinkel Anne has GM’ed about 17 conventions scenarios in her life – some of them more than once, two of them written by herself. She still gets nervous before GMing, but in a sort of good way. The things about freeforming she does worst are cutting and exercising authority. The things she does best include being a fan of her players and creating a good atmosphere for play.