Leaving the Larp Closet

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Apologies for the pause in Monday larp posts — my site was hacked last Sunday, but now, courtesy of the awesome Daniel Quinn, everything’s back to normal.

Today we’re tackling a thorny issue: how to come out of the larp closet.

While reporting for Leaving Mundania, I encountered many gamers who kept their weekend selves separate from their work-, friend-, and family-selves, often reminding me of “the first rule of fight club” at parties where non-larpers were present. One of them, a nameless larper who wishes to leave the closet at work, asked me to ask my panel of experts for advice on how to make the leap.

Their de-closeting advice requires three easy steps: 

Step 1: Explain it in terms that non-gamers can understand, using analogy.

Avonelle Wing:

I might be lucky, in that nobody in my world has ever been dismissive of larp as a hobby and an artform. Anyway – when I’m shopping for costuming or makeup and need guidance, I tell people it’s like street theater meets flash mob meets cops and robbers for adults, and then I reference the 90’s murder mystery games.  Everybody seems to “get it,” at least a little, and sometimes people bowl me over with their enthusiasm

Michael Pucci:

Finding if the person likes fantasy books, MMORPGs, or even fantasy based TV series helps a lot.  That way when you want to broach the subject of gaming you can mention a story that relates to a similar interest with the other person.  Explaining to people that you go and live a ‘World of Warcraft‘ type environment, or that you do a more in depth version of a ren fair allows people who are not gamers to have a point of reference to your hobby.

We find that the easiest way to come out with Dystopia Rising is to say “You know Zombieland or ever play Silent Hill or Fallout?  Yeah, I spend a weekend a month living in that.  Fighting zombies and camping and the like.  What did you do this past weekend?”

Part of explaining larp is explaining the medium’s variety, J. Tuomas Harviainen advises:

I suggest mentioning some of the more cool games, in a context where they are appropriate, without taking up the word “larp” at once. There is nothing wrong with it, but it does tend to create immediate associations when non-larpers hear it. When I describe a larp, I treat it as an individual role-play work, and can then say that “Others of course like to do the same but in a different fashion, such as fantasy larp in the woods. To each their own style of play, just as there are different kinds of TV programs, but it’s the same medium.”

As Kate Beaman-Martinez points out, the corollary to this step is “know your audience.”

I suggest easing people in. First be aware of what they think of it. If it’s a sweet church lady who might think that your zombie-raising dark mage might really be a cover for devil worship, odds are you should just say that you’re playing a murder mystery dinner party and leave it at that. More times than not I describe it as “cops and robbers with rules on who shot who first.” If it’s your weekly poker buddies, talk about whats cool about it like getting to hit your friends with foam bats or getting to do wild things with your makeup.

Step 2: Once you’ve explained what the tarnation larp is, own it. Because larp is awesome. And eff the haters.

Mike Young:

Just tell them and don’t worry about being mocked.  In fact, I’ve found that you less often get mocked as you do complete ignorance.  They just can’t wrap their heads around larp no matter how much you explain, and some of my family still think that I do some sort of theater thing on the weekends. But every so often you get responses like I did from a completely mundane cousin who had seen larp on a tv show and thought it was really cool that I do that sort of thing.  That makes it all worth it. And finally, anyone who mocks you for your hobbies just isn’t worth your time.

Aaron Vanek:

Show up to work or family’s home in full costume. FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG LOUD AND PROUD!

Seriously though, it depends on who you are coming out to. Here in Los Angeles I say things like “improvisational acting” or “structured communal storytelling” and most people get excited and want to know more. My wife says larp is a “themed improvisational costume party.” I mention that the United States military uses taxpayer dollars to run a larp that trains soldiers before deployment to the Middle East. My analogy is fantasy foam combat campaigns are to larp like super-heroes are to comic books. They’re the most prevalent, the most colorful and flashy, the most recognizable, but they aren’t all of the art form of live action role playing.

Both larpers and non-larpers need to separate the content of larp (World of Darkness or NERO) from the form of larp (the bubble or magic circle of play pretend). I got that concept from page 6 of Scott McCloud’s brilliant (and highly influential) Understanding Comics.

Sarah Bowman points out that owning it helps defy the stigma’s power:

I never felt the need to stay “in the closet” in terms of my role-playing and it saddens me when I hear stories from other people who do feel that way. I understand that role-playing incurs a stigma, but I believe that the best way to dispel a stigma is to provide a good example of someone who does not fit the negative stereotype. I find that most people remember the experience of playing make-believe as a child and think fondly of those days. Also, the ability to play dress up tends to draw the interest of females, at the risk of sounding totally stereotypical. Men like dress up too!

Step 3: Some cool documentation doesn’t hurt.

Claus Raasted:

Show them the Nordic Larp book. :o)

[Lizzie’s note: I hear that Leaving Mundania is now available in ebook form and makes a great gift for the non-larper in your life. ;) And also, the Nordic Larp Wiki and Nordic Larp Talks might provide some helpful material.]

But remember, you can’t win everyone over. Know when to fold ‘em.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Be warned – some people carry notions, and others will talk about your hobby to people you don’t want them to – like the CEO of your company. Just like some people don’t get rap, opera, or show tunes… some people don’t get larp.  Know when to explain it, and know when to avoid it, and that gossip travels in professional environments.

Finally, know that the geek closet isn’t as dark and deep as it used to be.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I think that these days it’s become less of an issue. If you look at how often old-skool Dungeons & Dragons is portrayed in TV-series and films, it has become a part of the broader cultural luggage that we all carry around these days. I mean, the founding fathers have all died, and we’re all getting older. The geek shall inherit the earth and so we have. Of course coming out of the closet as a larper can seem to be a *big thing*, but lets face it, people have a lot nerdier hobbies these days, and how often do you get a chance to say “Oh, yeah. I larp. In my last larp I came out of the closet in a dark room at a gay larp.”

 

Read more First Timers’ Guides.

____

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Why They Larp

I’ve had occasion to explain larp to a great many people at dinner parties, and one of their first questions is always, “But why do people larp? Are they compensating for otherwise dull lives?” I usually explain that people larp for many different reasons.

Today, I thought I’d let my panel of larpers speak for themselves. 

J. Tuomas Harviainen:

Cool new experiences, interesting new perspectives, and so on. Larping combines the draw of alternate roles with a definite physicality, and thus affects its players in ways most other mediums can’t.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

I get such a swell of creativity from larp that I have yet to be able to replicate it. When I have a character talking to me, I completely (much to the ire of my partners) focus on that character. I write short stories on where they’ve been. I start journals, fuss with their costumes, obsess over the next wig purchase. I love the art form. I love creating memorable characters that people talk about years later. I like shocking people when I step out of the character and I get statements like, “oh dear god, you DON’T sound like you’re from New York!”

Claus Raasted:

You get to play. You get to experience. You get to have fun, cry or grow, depending on what type of larp you want. I’ve been a cowardly snack bar owner on a muslim space ship in 2862. I’ve been a brutal demon-worshipping general fighting orcs, elves and progress. I’ve been a doctor visiting an old friend in 1829. Instead of reading the book or watching the movie, you get to be part of the larp. It’s really that simple.

Mike Young:

I think that larp most appeals to people who like to roleplay and pretend but don’t want to act.  Being on stage can be intimidating, and many people are scared of performing in front of an audience.  Larp allows them to explore that creative side of themselves in a safe environment.I think a lot of adults still like to pretend and play make believe, but because it has become a taboo in American society, they just repress that side of themselves.  LARP gives people a creative outlet that they just can’t find anywhere else.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

Bah. I think theres too much focus on the return of investment idea nowadays. What do you get out of this or that. The bottom line is, that as any past time activity, what you get out of it is FUN. And mind you, that fun does not equal FUNNY, so you can actually play a sad game and have fun at the same time. I think that one often overlooked thing is that it is actually pretty great to be with other people and doing stuff together while dressed up as Kermit the Frog.

Michael Pucci:

Larping allows people to take the banal and mundane world that is their job, their paying of bills, and their household chores and put these frustrations away for a night or a weekend.  Going to a larp is almost like being involved with an organized sports team or being actively involved in a musical subculture.  When you go to a larp, like these other events social oriented events, you get to step away from the frustrations that come with the responsibilities of being a part of society and step into another world that has been designed for your enjoyment.  This environment, because of its alternate world immersion, is a set place where you go to play and relax.

Geoffrey Schaller:

For me, it’s a chance to unplug from the real world for 48 hours – to not have to deal with day-to-day issues, a mini-vacation.  It’s also a way to hang out with 200 people I like to be around, with a common activity to bring us together.  It’s a chance to take risks with minimal consequences (Challenge someone to a duel?  You don’t actually die when they kick your ass).  It’s a way to indulge and exercise your imagination in ways you can’t normally do in the real world.  If anyone has ever watched a movie or TV show and though “I could do that,” or even “I could do better” – larp is a way to actually DO that.

Aaron Vanek:

 As a player, I love that larps can give me a complete physical, mental, and emotional workout. I am especially interested in the last one, emotional. I don’t know of any other art form that permits and encourages people to express emotions in a safe environment. Players can “practice” fear, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, greed, via prompting. Life unexpectedly provokes our emotions, e.g., landing a job, death of a pet, success of a rival. In larp, we can feel these emotions by letting go…or not. We can pull back, ignore the situation, temporarily leave the larp if we don’t want to release.

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

I enjoy the act of dressing up and embodying a character as a form of emotional and intellectual expression. I also enjoy watching the dynamics between other characters. Role-playing can provide a feeling of agency and excitement that some people feel the real world lacks, as well as a unique outlet for creativity and self-expression.
The panel answers more questions for the new-to-larp.
________

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

One-Shot Larps v. Campaigns

 Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Part of having fun at a game is knowing which games are right for you. So today the experts begin exploring their own preferences, answering the question: Do you prefer one-shots or campaigns,* and why?

Their answers, not so surprisingly, were mixed. Let’s hear from Team One-Shot first.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I’m a one-night stand guy. I prefer my women givin’ it up on the first night. A prolonged engagement–while entertaining in its own right–doesn’t get that first-night vibe that is so titillating

.J. Tuomas Harviainen:

I prefer writing one-shots, as I see in them the chance to experiment with ideas that have a lot of short-term potential, but would be boring in the long run. I also prefer playing one-shots, as it’s much easier to book the time in advance. Campaigns have their significant advantages in character development and so on, but they are also risky ventures in that even the greatest of plots may die if one key person is not able to attend.

Claus Raasted:

I much prefer one-shots. If you’re doing a one-shot, you can make decide that all the interesting stuff happens right now. If the world is about to end, the larp happens just at that point. If the princes are getting married, thus re-uniting the kingdoms… then that’s when the larp is set. When you’re doing campaign larps (especially those of the “once-a-month-or-similar” kind) that’s a lot harder. Unless you’re willing to do enormous amounts of work, you easily get into the rhythm of having the in game calendar follow the off game calendar – and suddenly you have wild and interesting things happening to the same people once a month. In the same place often. And after a couple of years, the fiction gets strained… one-shots don’t have that problem.

Aaron Vanek:

I’ve played far more one-shots than campaigns, so my answer is biased. But, I slightly prefer one-shots over campaigns because:

  1.  The majority (though certainly not all) of larp campaigns are fantasy based, which isn’t my favorite genre.
  2. Sooner or later, I will get bored of either my character, the game, or both. I like exploring different facets of my personality; I’m more interested in a broad range of roles than deep exploration of one.
  3. A single event can try out a mechanic or rule or setting and, if it works, it can live on in the next event. If not, it’s gone after one session. A non-fatal flaw in a campaign can linger for months or years.
  4. I enjoy the intensity of one-shots. Since I don’t have to play it safe so that my character will survive to adventure again next month, I can–if the character’s personality has this trait–be reckless and foolhardy. Even if the consequence is death or removal from play, it’s not a huge loss to my ego or all the money I spent on a costume I’ve been improving or adding on to for a decade

What one-shots miss, though, is the ability to savor a slow shift to a character’s personality.

Mike Young:

For me, it all has to do with the amount of prep and work I need to do out of game.  Both one shots and campaigns require costuming and props, but I can reuse them during a campaign.  However, campaigns often require between-game actions and conversations which can take a lot of time.

I enjoy them both, but I think I prefer the flexibility of one shots; they allow for more variety of character.


Several experts were on the fence between one-shots and campaigns, preferring one or the other depending on their specific design goals or desired experience as a player:

Michael Pucci:

Depends on the world and the goal. When I am looking for an intense, action packed, immediate gratification game experience I prefer the one shot event. If I am looking for a deeper emotional investment, political machinations, and long term character growth I enjoy campaign style game.

Since a one shot game has a set time limit to its existence, players tend to play their character to the extreme with little reservation. When you have that sort of environment you can have some incredible role playing experiences with over the top moments that people will talk about for years. The downside, however, is that one-shots don’t offer the same degree of growth and emotional depth as long term campaign style games. You want to see your character grow up, develop strong emotional ties, and change and grow?  You need more than one night’s worth of interactions and events to make that happen.

Avonelle Wing:

I find one-shots more forgiving – you don’t have to live with a mistake you make in hour one for the entire rest of your character’s life, but as a player, campaign games scratch the creative itch more thoroughly for me.When it comes to writing or designing games, hands down, one-shot games feed my soul 100% more than managing a campaign. If you have a power gamer who wants to exploit the system in a one-shot, you only have to manage him for the length of the game. If you have (a) power gamer(s) in a campaign, you might discover that a twelve page rules system explodes to 36 pages to compensate for “well, what does this sentence REALLY mean…?” One-shots give me a chance to play with systems, to write edgy or risky plotlines, explore themes and generally play with the artform, and I am really enjoying that currently.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

There is a certain feeling of ‘do whatever you want’ out of one shots. You can be as bold as you’d like, insane as you like and can explore areas of yourself that you may not necessarily get to play. The other great thing about one shots is that you can test out a GM group or a genre that you wouldn’t normally try without the commitment of a long term game. Gives me a chance to try out a new character type and to role play with people who I don’t normally get the chance to.

There is something about creating a long-running character that really appeals to me; I get to stretch my roleplaying legs when I have a character with a long term chance of surviving. I become incredibly attached to my characters and really throw quite a lot into them. Having a character change from a three line concept to a fully fleshed out person (or elf or alien or vampire, etc.) is a personal joy that I always get from a campaign.

Finally, we’ll hear from the “campaigns rule!” camp.

Geoff Schaller:

I prefer campaigns for the long-term growth and return you get, both in-game from your character, and out-of-game with the other players as the game’s community builds.  One-shots are fine and fun, but are akin to TV dinners to me – I don’t want to make a steady diet of them!  I know other people who love the thrill and variety of many different one-shots, such as those run at Intercon (where you sign up for multiple one-shot games in one weekend).  This is just not my personal style.

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

I played campaign-style most of my life, so I suppose I have a preference for long-term games. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. You can delve deeply into character evolution and explore complex story arcs with campaign play. Also, the connections between players and the community as a whole tend to be stronger, unless the same group also regularly plays in one-shots too.

Long-term play tends to cause heavy investment into the character and attachment to the game, which can be both pleasurable and painful. Long-term play can also put a strain on relationships, since role-playing tends to feature high intensity situations, some of which feel like “life-or-death.” In one-shots, players feel free to be more outrageous and take risks, especially if the game is at a convention where the people involved may never see one another again.

* A one-shot is a game that is completed in one meeting. A campaign game continues the story across many events, which make take place regularly over months or years.

More game guides for newbies.

__________

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Danish Larp: Fantasy Edition

This week is Danish larp week over at my digital domicile. Enjoy a taste of Scandinavia all week long, as we explore the Danish scene in three installments: kid’s larp on Monday, arty larp on Wednesday, and fantasy larp on Friday.

Today we tackle the big Danish fantasy games with larpers Thomas Aagaard and Jesper Kristiansen.

What local scene are you involved in, and what is your role within it?

Jesper: I am, among other things, involved in the traditional Danish fantasy larp scene, and have been for almost all the time I’ve been larping (17 years). I’ve been both a player and an organizer during my years of larping, and since I began larping quite early (and early in the Danish larp community’s history as well) I have been organizing almost as long as I’ve been playing, both campaigns and summer larps (and other things than fantasy, but mostly mainstream stuff).

Thomas: I organized Summer larps from 2001-2004, the Khypris series. (Summer larp =  a city based weekend larp.)  All of them used the Warhammer setting. In 2002 I was involved in starting a monthly campaign with the club TRoA where we play on the last Sunday of each month (but not in December). It is still running. It can be called “kids larp” but its not really correct since there are both teenagers and lots af adult playing. In 2006 I made Krigslive 1 with 200 players, and in 2009 I made Krigslive 5, with 450 players. The 8th will be in April 2012.

At the moment, I am making “Khypris – year one” it’s basically a “remake” of the old Khypris larps, made as a cooperation between the club TRoA and Einherjerne, just like Krigslive 5 was.

 

What sort of people do fantasy larp?

Jesper: The bounderies between kid’s larp and fantasy larp are a little blurry, since most of the kids’ larps are traditional fantasy larps as well. So most Danish larpers start out with fantasy larp, and a lot of Danish larpers are more or less “stuck” there. Fantasy larpers in Denmark come in all shapes and ages, but most tend to be young people, from whenever you want to set the boundary between kids and “regular.” Fantasy players and to somewhere in the middle of their twenties… I estimate that around 75% are boys/men. The average Danish fantasy campaigns have between 100 and 300 monthly participants.

 

Why has larp held your interest?

Jesper: I’m a sucker for fantasy/adventure stories, and I’m addicted to making new stories and concepts. I’ve been in the game long enough to recognize when I need a break, and by having a break now and then, I make sure that I don’t “burn out” (even though it has been close a few times).

Thomas: I am studying medieval archaeology, so thats part of it. I also do American Civil War reenactment. But whenever I am doing that, I miss the roleplay, the conflicts and intrigue.

 

What types of plots do Danish fantasy larpers play?

Thomas: No idea, since there is no standard. Some surely have big plots with gods and “save the world plots.” Personally, I don’t like larps like that… they usually are very rules-heavy.

Khypris is a “culture based conflict roleplay.” We have a number of cultures with very different norms. They are trying to live together in a new small town. So the only “plots” are questions on how to organize the town, law, order, defense.

Jesper: Traditional Tolkienish plots are the most dominant (something/one poses a threat, find item(s) or people that can eliminate the threat, beat up the bad guy/destroy ring in mountain/assemble Crown of Ultimate Awesomeness), but in a form (or at least, trying to reach a form) where it is team-based, rather than individually-based. However, more often than not, a lot of plots end up only concerning a few active players on the teams, and this sometimes makes the rest of the group isolated from the story. Also, a lot of focus lies on character development, ranging from getting more experience points and powers or wealth and prestige, to personality development.

 

Is there a lot of player versus player combat (PvP)? Does it cause out of game conflict?

Jesper: Most fantasy larps are based on PvP action (combat and/or intrigue) with a few NPC’s to provide the main bad guys/quest-givers. This is usually not the cause of bad feelings and out-of-game conflict, [rather] the inability to interact with the players behind the opposing role [causes them]. For example, when the people playing the elves and the people playing the orcs actually meet up and talk friendly between games, there is seldom a problem. The problem is mostly there when the players don’t want to meet their “opposites.” This, I think, tells us more about the people in question, than about the PvP-form.

Thomas:  That really depends on the larp. There are both. Sure there are problems because of PVP. At Krigslive some groups are better at following the rules than others. I have been thinking about making “Krigslive” invite-only, since I’d rather play with 300 who are fun to play with, than 400 where 50 are idiots.

But it will cause a lot of debate and conflict in the larp community… So I am not sure it’s worth it.

 

Are the games typically one-shots or campaigns? 

Jesper: There is a tendency toward “eternal campaigns” as the dominant form, where organizers and players change over the years, and where keeping the story running and “being ingame” is the dominant focus. This is very impressive, but in my opinion not the best way to play fantasy.

The same forest/fantasycountry can only bear so many epic struggles between god and evil before it gets a little old. The next most used form are the “summer larps” where a couple of hundred participants play for 2-5 days, with roles and stories that are more or less unique each year. Sometimes these summer larps are one in a series, as for example the “A Time of Legends” and “Lakecastle”-summer larps, that have had 7 larps so far (and probably won’t have any more) and some of the old organizations have had their campaign of summer larps for 10 or 15 years.

Thomas: We have both. There are lots of monthly fantasy campaigns running around the country. TRoA is also running a post apocalyptic campaign. Then we have Krigslive that is once a year, organized by a number of different clubs. The summer larps are usually one-shot. But then again the story might be continued the following year.

 

Who plays the NPCs (non-player-characters) and how many are there?

Jesper: Usually the organizers have a network of players they know, and these most often play NPCs. In larps that have a lot of NPC-work, it is sometimes possible to sign up as an NPC, instead of as a player. This is almost always in one-shot larps. Campaigns tend to use their own (sometimes former) players as NPCs.

Thomas: Really depends on the larp.

 

Is there a high premium on historical accuracy? If so, how does that manifest? And if not, why not?

Thomas: Historical larps are pretty rare. Krigslive is Warhammer, So we are going more for “Warhammer accuracy,” but costumes and equipment can still be made of the right materials. Wool for costumes, steel for armor. Personally, I like the warhammer setting. Its very inspired by the real world, but in many ways more interesting.

And the moment you say “historical” you have the problem of defining what is historical…even the experts don’t always agree.

Jesper: Not in the way that you would normally expect. Of course some players, most often those that participate in reenactment as well as larp, care a great deal if traditional materials are used for clothing or armor and such, but I find that players concern themselves with whether the gamingworld is being played “correctly”, and this is sometimes a source of many troubles in the organizations and campaigns.

For example, most of the Copenhagen-based organizations are using a homemade gaming world called “Niraham.” This world has been evolving and changing almost constantly for the last 20 years. And in this time, a lot of variants have appeared and disappeared, and many people have very strong opinions on what the “proper” edition is. Sometimes (being a student of history of religions, as I am) I can’t help but drawing parallels to a religion, with different branches and adherents arguing over which one is more true.

 

Tell us a little about the rules for your home game — are there a lot? What types of interactions do they provide for?

Jesper: The fantasy campaign that I currently organize is one of the aforementioned “eternal campaigns” and this is particularly (in)famous for having a lot of rules. They are supposed to make it possible to play a lot of different types of character classes, while keeping each one unique. The result is not always as intended, since this has brought focus onto the many rules and making effective “character builds” and removed it from most other types of interaction. Fortunately, we see a tendency among the most influential players to turn this development around.

Thomas: At Khypris we use “Kan man så kan man” If you can do it, you can do it. So if you can jump over the city walls in full armor, then you can do it. I think the rules are 5 pages, some rules, the rest making sure the players understand, that just because you can steal all the texts from the library and throw them in the lake, that does not mean that you have to.

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Thomas Aagaard, 30, lives in Denmark and studies Medieval archeology at Aarhus University. He has been larping since 1999 and organizing almost as long. To date, the biggest larp he’s organized was Krigslive V in 2009, which had 460 players and €26,000 budget. He also participates in American Civil War reenactment and serves as the Danish representative for Calimacil.

Jesper Kristiansen is 29 years old, and has been larping in Denmark for 17 years. He has organized campaigns and singular larps (in different genres but mainly fantasy) for 14 years, and is still an active organizer in the Danish community.

Photos of the latest Krigslive, courtesy of Thomas Aagaard.

Danish Larp: Arty Edition

This week is Danish larp week over at my digital domicile. Enjoy a taste of Scandinavia all week long, as we explore the Danish scene in three installments: kid’s larp on Monday, arty larp on Wednesday, and fantasy larp on Friday.

Today Bjarke Pedersen and  Nynne Søs Rasmussen chat about the arty Danish scene.

What local scene are you involved in, and what is your role within it?

Bjarke: The art larp scene is centered around the conference Knudepunkt and the people that go. It is not as much a national scene as a pan-Nordic scene and includes people from approximately age 20 and up.

I organize larps and also play a lot of larps. I think it is important to play and to be able to organize. Some of the larps I’ve made include LevelFive (2010-11), Twentyfivefold Manifestation (2008), and The White Road (2005).

Nynne: I’m most involved in the arty larp scene, but I used to do kid’s larp as well. And once a year I participate in Krigslive, which is a big one-shot war larp set in the Warhammer fantasy world and played with boffer weapons. I am both a player and an organizer, and enjoy doing both.

One great thing about the Danish larp scene is that you don’t have to choose; each scene is so small and so intertwined, that you can be an artsy larper and still fight with boffer weapons or but on you elven ears occasionally –and no one will find it weird.

 

Why has larp held your interest?

Nynne: The Danish larp scene in Copenhagen is a social community. We hang out a lot, talk a lot about larp and do lots of different projects together. And there is always a party going on somewhere. It’s nice and inspiring to be a part of this creative and dymanic circle of friends. Larp, to me, is also a chance to be creative, meet new exciting people and gain a broader perspective on my life and the world.

Bjarke: Because larp is a very powerful medium which can do things no other media can do. Making larps is my big passion and i wouldn’t miss it for the world.

 

Why are games typically one shots, and not campaigns?

Nynne: In my opinion a one shot is a more intense experience; you have to let it all out at once and are not worried about your character dying or spilling secrets. The players have to go all-out. I don’t think I could get that super intense and mind-blowing experience if I were to play every other Sunday and it would too exhausting for me as well.

Bjarke: Campaigns and one shots work completely differently. Campaigns caters to slow-progressing stories and character building. One shots cater to strong stories and condensed play. Also, campaigns tend to get boring to organize after a while. With one shots you can keep changing the direction of your design without having players nagging about every little change

 

How are games funded?

Nynne: Participants pay tuition of a varying amount, but most games get some sort of money from public or private funds as well.

Bjarke: Player participation fees and governmental or municipal funding. It is pretty easy to get $2,000-$10,000 for a game without breaking a sweat.

 

Are there themes/styles typical of Danish arty larp, as opposed to art larp in other countries?

Bjarke: I do not think there is a typical Danish style. The Nordic style of play is what I pledge my allegiance to.

Nynne: I don’t know if it’s different from other countries but settings of prisons, asylums, camps, and religious sects seem to be popular here.

 

What are workshops and why do you use them?

Nynne: A workshop is usually a part of the preparation before a larp, where players and organizers meet and do exercises, build characters, relations and bond. It can last from 1 hour to several weekends before the actual larp.

The great thing about workshops from an organizer’s point of view is that you can communicate tons of information to the players in a small amount of time while engaging the players at another level. The players tend to become co-creators and will take responsibility for the larp on a much larger scale. From a player’s point of view, the workshop creates safety, trust, and comfort, which can be necessary to engage in a physically or psychologically challenging larp. Using workshops is a way to make sure that everybody enters the larp with the same expectations.

Bjarke: Workshops convey information verbally and through exercises in a way very difficult to do in writing. Workshops make the participants and organizers move in the same direction and thus make a better larp; if you understand the motivations and vision of the organizer you become a much better player. Also, workshops build team spirit and connections between players that create a level of trust that make the players’ larp more intense.

 

What are debriefs and why do you use them?

Nynne: Debriefs are done after larps; they’re almost like workshops, but the point of debriefing is to get out of character and talk about (the sometimes emotional or physical hardcore) things that happened during the larp. We use them to get everybody “back to normal” after for instance playing a larp about being a patient in a mental institution and one that has been locked up in a dark theatre hall for 48 hours. They are often much needed and appreciated, but I think we could develop the concept further and make debriefing much more effective.

Bjarke: When you have been through a strong emotional journey, you need to talk about it with someone who understands what you have been through. Players need to express their emotional state to others and through this dialogue build a story of what it is they have been through together. Without debrief (or de-roll as they are often called) you could end up with a lot of players with a shakey emotional state afterwards.

 

Why would I want to play in a game with a strong political message/that makes me sad/that treats me like a prisoner?

Bjarke: Because larp is a quite safe way to experience things that are otherwise impossible in the real world. It is the same with scary movies or boxing, for example. You get scared and hurt during the experience, but afterwards you have had a great time.

Nynne: Because it can give you alternative perspectives on who you are and you get a deeper understanding of other human beings. You learn something. In some ways it’s like reading book or watching a movie that affects you emotionally, but you get a physical experience at a larp which makes all your feelings stronger; I believe that larps can change who you are or how you view yourself.

I enjoy playing these games because they make me a little bit wiser; I discover something new and interesting about myself. And it gives me a tiny bit of understanding of how it must be to be in prison/discriminated against/very poor etc.

 

Are you worried about causing people psychological harm? Do you do anything to prevent this?

Nynne: I do worry, but even though people can get extremely influenced after a larp I don’t belive that any larp has ever caused someone permanent psychological harm. We do a few things to prevent psychological harm though; we have a “cut” word and/or a “break” word, which are used to signal that a scene has gone too far for one of the persons involved – if somebody uses one of those word the scene either stops completely or escalates down, giving the player a chance to withdraw. Workshops and debriefs are also tools for prevening psychological harm. They don’t always work optimally, though. In my opinion, the one and only person who can take care of you, in the end, is yourself. If I take care of myself, I must trust the other players to be responsible adults who are able to do the same thing.

Bjarke: As with any profound experience you leave a changed person. You could damage your players both physically or mentally, but that is not the point. Just as in football, where you play close to the edge, the injury of the player is not the point. As a designer I try to make the larps as safe as possible.

 

Tell us about a game you played in that felt important to you. 

Bjarke: Difficult, since there are so many. I would say Delirium. Delirium was the sort of larp that had a lot of great mechanics, workshop methods, and organizing which made a larp bigger than all its parts. A truly profound experience. Please follow the link and see the documentary about the larp. It is well worth your time.

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Bjarke Pedersen 36, makes larps that try to challenge our understanding of what larp can do, whether it is interactive performances in major museums or bringing players to other countries as tourists. His work can be found at bjarkep.com

Nynne Søs Rasmussen, 25, is an organizer and player who has been larping since 2003. She’s currently pursuing a masters in sociology, and enjoys many styles of games. 

Danish Larp: Kid Edition

This week is Danish larp week over at my digital domicile. Enjoy a taste of Scandinavia all week long, as we explore the Danish scene in three installments: kid’s larp on Monday, arty larp on Wednesday, and fantasy larp on Friday.

Kid’s larp in Denmark is apparently a big thing. How big? Well, in Morten Gade’s paper “Danish Larp by the Numbers” in Dissecting Larp (2005), he cites a 2004 Gallup poll, which found that about 8 percent of Danish children age 10-14 (about 27,000 kids) said that they’d gone larping in nature during the last month.  

Today Danish larp organizers Claus Raasted and Nynne Søs Rasmussen answer a couple questions about the Danish children’s scene.

Tell me a bit about the kid’s larp scene you’re involved in.

Claus Raasted: I do several kinds of kid’s larps.

  1.  Volunteer larps for the Roleplaying Factory. I run a fantasy campaign (100-150 players), do WWII larps for kids and the occasional weird project
  2. The annual summer camp, which features 5-8 small larps (30-50 kids, 5-10 adults, 2-3 hours) in different genres
  3. The professional work. Children’s birthdays, edu-larps for schools, teaching Christianity using larp, and other sorts of stuff.

But mainly I organise a campaign that runs 20 times a year (featured in a Nordic Larp article), the WWII games, the summer camp and the pro stuff.

Nynne Søs Rasmussen: I’m most involved in the arty larp scene, but I used to do kid’s larp as well. And once a year I participate in Krigslive, which is a big one-shot war larp set in the Warhammer fantasy world and played with boffer weapons.

One great thing about the Danish larp scene is that you don’t have to choose; each scene is so small and so intertwined, that you can be an artsy larper and still fight with boffer weapons or but on you elven ears occasionally –and no one will find it weird.

 

Why should kids larp?

Nynne: Because they learn! They use their imagination and have fun, but they will also become more empathic as they try to imagine how it must be like to be someone else or how it was to live in different histocial period. And some fresh air and running around beating up your friend for fun is good for everyone!

 

Do kids really get the concept of “playing a character”? What types of characters do they typically build?

Nynne: Most kids play very stereotypical characters; they love to play either good or evil. The typical background story for their character is something along the lines “my parents were killed by orcs…and now all orcs must die”. Everything is black and white in that way. When they get a little older (around the age of 12) they usually start to build more layers and nuance into their characters.

Claus: Yes and no. Usually it’s a five-step process (I’d send you the five-step model except it’s in Danish). But simply.

Step 1 – Rules: The kid understands the rules of the larp and navigates in it from a rules standpoint (“How many HP do you have?”, “The red team is the enemy”)
Step 2 – Story: The kid immerses in the story (“We killed the dragon today”, “The priest made a ritual”)
Step 3 – Group: The kid sees herself as part of a group (“I’m an elf”, “We’re demons”)
Step 4 – Individual. The kid thinks like an individual (“I’m an elf scout”, “I’m a demon with a bad temper”)
Step 5 – Perspective. The kid sees new possibilities (“I could just as well play an elf as a demon”) Step 5 is where it really kicks in, but at 4 too… and quite a few kids age 9-10 are comfortable with step 5. Some aren’t, though.

 

How is organizing games for children different and/or the same as organizing games for adults?

Claus: Kids are easier. The don’t lie as much to themselves about what they want (though of course it happens). They also don’t try to correct wrongs. They don’t try to fix the system – they try to hack it. They want fun, action and humor. Mainly. They break more easily, though. :o)

 

 Is it possible to earn a living from running larps for children?

Nynne: Yes, a few people do that (Not me).

 

Aren’t you worried about kids hurting themselves? If not, why not? What do you do to prevent injuries?

Claus: We use latex weapons and let common sense do the rest. In almost 8 years of Rude Skov we’ve had ONE single serious accident. And that was an adult who tripped while running. In my pro career I’ve had ZERO serious accident. And I’ve done larps for a 5-digit number of kids.

Nynne: I used to be very worried about that. But doing kids larp I learned that most kids enjoy not being treated like they are made of glass. Larp creates a space for them, where it’s all right to be wild and loud and that’s a nice such a healthy thing for kids. We don’t do something extraordinary to prevent injuries, but there are a set of ground rules: don’t hit the head or the crotch and don’t hit too hard and we check that their boffer weapons are constructed in a safe way.

 

Has the Danish kids’ larp scene spread to any other countries?

Nynne: Yes, it has. Germany and Norway are among those countries.

 

How has children’s larp impacted the adult larp scene in Denmark?

Nynne: It made larping mainstream in Denmark to point where you could buy boffer weapons in grocery stores. It made everybody know about larp, which is great –but in some ways it also added further social stigma to be an adult larper. If I tell people I work or study with about larp, they will go like “Isn’t that something only kid do?” and give me a weird look. So as an adult danish larper, you will often have some explaining do about what larp also can be…but that’s all right most of the time.

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Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Nynne Søs Rasmussen, 25, is an organizer and player who has been larping since 2003. She’s currently pursuing a masters in sociology, and enjoys many styles of games. 

J. Tuomas Harviainen Reviews Leaving Mundania

Esteemed Finnish larp researcher J. Tuomas Harviainen wrote up Leaving Mundania on his live journal this week, reviewing it from a Nordic angle.

He calls the book, “the most descriptive, all-encompassing book about larp and larpers on the market, and highly recommendable to anyone interested on the subject.”

Read the rest of the review in all its thoughtful glory.

Leaving Mundania is available for pre-order from Amazon, Powell’s, and Barnes & Noble.

I Caught a Fish THIS BIG: Realism, Tall Tales & American Larp

In Europe, a lot of larpers care about historical accuracy, or so I’m told. The “360 degree” larpers want illusion so complete that one could mistake an “Old West town” for an Old West town, right down to the period undergarments. Even the medieval boffer larpers have costumes that look historical and are made of period-appropriate materials.

In contrast, American larpers just don’t care about historical accuracy that much; sure, they want the game world to be consistent and feel real, but (outside of reenactment) they’re not fanatical about it. We wear rayon, polyester, and sometimes tennis shoes to medieval larps. “Wench” costuming is prevalent, even though the whole corset-skirt-chemise combo doesn’t hail from a real historical period. It simply looks “medieval” in the most generic sense.

I can’t help but attribute this difference to the United States’ lack of ancient history — we’re newbies compared to the old world.  For games set in worlds before 1500, we have no national barometer in a physical sense — abandoned castles, monoliths, etc — of what accuracy might look like. If you’re in Massachusetts, sure, there are old churches and buildings dating from the 1700s. If you’re in Topeka Kansas, the date is much more recent. We don’t feel our history; we don’t live alongside it the way Europe does.

Medieval Disneyland

Medieval larp is a way of creating and reclaiming a shared primordial past, a past of mythic heroism. Despite our country’s more modern origins, we’re preoccupied with medievalism, which perhaps grows out of our own lack of a medieval past. We’re obsessed with recreating it and living it. Consider Dungeons & Dragons, the first roleplaying game, the wildly popular World of Warcraft, and the stateside prevalence of medieval boffer larp and battle games. Sure, these games aren’t realistic — they contain stuff that never existed like elves and fireballs, but still, it constitutes an attempt to forge a connection to a past that has never existed for us.

To me, the larp worlds created in the U.S. remind me of Umberto Eco’s book Travels in Hyperreality, a loose collection of essays about Eco’s journeys through America’s simulacra.  A simulacrum, according to philosopher Jean Baudrillard, is a copy or simulation of something that never existed. So Disney World is a simulacrum — it’s not a recreation of something that actually exists in real life. Rather, it’s an imitation of Walt Disney’s fairy-tale fantasy made concrete. In the U.S., we don’t have concrete ancient history, but we do have simulacra.

Simulacra are part of the hyperreal — a fantasy made indistinguishable from reality — a fantasy or fiction that seems truer than what really is. For example, Cinderella’s Castle at Disney world looks like a medieval castle, but it’s not a reproduction of any particular castle or medieval style of architecture — it simply looks “medieval.” Somehow, the feeling of “medievalness” has been concentrated, and eventually, this unreality takes the place of the historical medieval in our minds.

European larpers have a concrete historical standard by which to judge their costumes — they live alongside their history and can imitate it. On the other hand, Knight Realms players and other American larpers base their costumes on other simulacra — stuff they’ve seen in Lord of the Rings, stuff that seems medieval, that is evocative of the medieval. Historical accuracy is simply irrelevant.

Tall Tales

In America, we don’t have myth; we have tall tales from the frontier. There’s Paul Bunyan, a giant logger with a huge pet blue ox, Babe, who dug the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. John Henry famously raced a steam drill and won only to die with his hammer in his hand. Who could forget Pecos Bill, raised by a pack of coyotes, who lassoed a tornado and rode a giant catfish down the Rio Grande?

These tall tales concern men who are larger than life; they describe exceptional people who take extraordinary risks and accomplish super-human feats.

The set up of the medieval fantasy boffer larp Knight Realms echoes these tall tales. According to the Knight Realms website, “Every PC in this game is a ‘hero’ in the Knight Realms world. They are above and beyond the normal man.”

All of the player-characters at Knight Realms are considered better than the normal human, which is why they can dispatch many of the non player characters with aplomb. The irony is, of course, that when everyone is extraordinary, the extraordinary becomes normal. My priest may be awesome compared to the game world in general, but compared to others in town, she’s barely average. Because everyone else is also exceptional, it’s hard to stand out, which may create competition among players for the spotlight during a plot-point or other scene.

Perhaps our cultural tendency toward hyperbole, as evidenced through our national tall tales, explains why larps that aim at social realism are few and far between. We don’t play commoners with interesting emotional lives; we want to play characters of mythic, steel-driving stature.

Is this a uniquely American phenomenon? Or do larpers in other countries prefer to play larger-than-life characters too?