Larpskill: Endowment

The ability to bring the traits of other characters actively into play. Knowing how to adjust your own status so that others feel their own more clearly, reacting to what they are playing rather than who they are.

One of the things that we as larpers could benefit a lot more from is the concept of endowment. It hingest on the fact that personal characteristics are much stronger if given by others, than if demanded by one self. It is in fact something we do the moment we start larping, when we accept that Peter is not a guy in silly green paint, but a ferocious ork and play on it.

But sometimes there are things we need to actively push forward for others. It’s a three-fold benefit: You improve play for the person you endow with traits, you show others how to act around the person and for your own sake, it’s a matter of fake it till you make it.

It’s also a matter of letting larp be a place where we can be anything we can imagine. Larp is a collective endeavour, so help your coplayers be what they try to be, even if they struggle. And they will do the same for you.

It doesn’t take many players to create a trait for someone, just the closest couple of players to start with and hopefully it spreads to the entire larp. If you are in a core group, talk about it before the game, how you wish to be treated and which traits need help from outside. Once the group is showing your trait, it’s a cue for others to do the same. If those closest to you are scared, then others will pick up on it and play along, without you having to scare them all the time.

A lot of different traits can be endowed this way, pretty much anything others will react to. Ways of being, history, authority over different spheres, etc. It’s only a matter of adjusting your own play to include it.

It can also be a lot of fun to do it without telling the other player(s). Giving someone a trait they didn’t expect can create an interesting relationship in an easy way. If I decide to be in love with you, I can play like you’re the most beautiful person in the world. Or if you want to belittle my professor, you can play as if everything I say is a joke.

Endowment is a fun and valuable part of roleplaying, it gives everyone a better experience and it’s one more way for you to influence how the game is going to be.

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The Knudepunkt Book Drinking Game!

Are you alone on new years eve or do you just hate yourself in general? Let me worsen your woes with this:

Drink

This is a Nordic Style drinking game, therefore best done alone and with hard spirits, possibly in a sauna.

You’ll need: A copy of a KP book, any will do. A crate of booze and cold, wintery darkness.

The rules

Take a hearty quaff every time…

… someone namedrops a “famous” larper.

… the author references one of their own previous works.

… someone references a source instead of actually explaining.

… you need to read a footnote to understand the main text.

… you get lost halfway through a sentence.

… someone brings in a new inexplicable word.

… someone writes eläytyminen instead of immersion.

… the subtitle of an article is ten or more words.

… someone gets hung up on the word “game”.

… you’ve already tried what they think is new. Double if it failed.

… someone claims other people are playing wrong.

… someone criticises a previous article.

… someone tries to put roleplay into discrete categories.

… the author proclaims a glorious future for larp.

… you have no idea how any of this relates to actual larping, finish the bottle or fall asleep, finally.

Drinking should be accompanied by the national toast of whatever country the author is from. Hint: It’s most likely “Kippis!”

Can also be played by more than one player, but then we’re into American Jerkform instead.

Thanks to Klaus Meier Olsen, Peter Lind and especially Frida Karlsson Lindgren for adding rules. 

Larpskill: Over and under-acting

Being able to portray emotions and knowing dramatic flow also important in regards to the “volume” of play. The ability to reach melodramatic heights and to subtly show the nuances.

 

Building on the past three posts in this series, this is about working with the volume of play.

 

All storytelling mediums have various genres and formats that work on different levels of dramatic and emotional energy. Is a quick and easy action romp? A story of powerful emotions conflicting? Or a low key everyday drama?

 

Finding the right style of play for each game and each character is a good skill to practice. We automatically adjust ourselves to those around us, but it is still worth being aware of and talking about before a game.

 

Get a feel for what the organizers intend with the game and how your character fits into this. A larp rarely has main characters, but some roles are more in the spotlight than others, just as in real life, some people are just louder than others. Where does your character fit in the scheme of the game? How much space should you take up? In what situations? Is this something you can and should mess about with?

 

Where do you normally fit in this spectrum? If you’re a meek player, you’ll have a challenge to step up and take the scene, but if you have a big presence it is also tricky to tone yourself down for a role. And where do you want to be? It’s not all fun and games to be at the centre, you’re at risk of having too much to juggle all the time.

 

But this is more than just spotlight presence, it’s also about the way you play in general. Some larps and scenes are best when you ham it up and play as loud as possible, others can be very tense, quiet drama. You sort of need to try out the whole range to find your style(s). Shouting matches are fun in some cases, being able to whisper your feelings in others. Try using the full spectrum of your voice. Your body language as well. It can be fun to play with those two elements separately as well, whispering your threat while you body is boiling with anger or shouting your love from a perfectly still body.

 

And switch it up during play. It can take some practice to do it quickly, but variety is the spice of live. But if you, for example, build from slow to hot it escalates a conflict even further. Or a troubled romance of quiet togetherness and fiery fights. Keep your coplayers on their toes. Use your dramatic sense to find the right level or to create a new one.

 

Don’t just be a one volume larper, get yourself some options and variety!

Safe Play

On Google+ Lizzie Stark asked a simple question that turned into a very good discussion of safety techniques and crossing personal boundaries in roleplay. I’m adding my own experiences from larp here, because my mind is too full of words for comment-fields.

Stop words (Cut & Brake)

In nordic larp there’s a tradition of using the words Cut and Brake to signal when you want out of a situation. Cut means play stops right here, right now until the situation is resolved for everyone, brake means that a given scene is de-escalated down and out instead of taken further.

I’ve yet to see anyone use brake myself, and cut only for immediate physical injuries that required medical assistance. The imperative to keep game flowing, a macho-like mentality of not being overly sensitive and the fact that if you are in a place that is bad enough to warrant stopping the game you probably don’t have the willpower to cut it yourself, often keeps the techniques from being used even when necessary. Most of us fear the unknown consequences of cutting more than getting a knock on the psyche.

Workshopping

The tradition of larp players meeting up before game to workshop play and characters is often counted as a safety measure. The workshops usually contain mockup scenes of intense elements from the game, at for example Kapo we tried some social situations, the traumatic entry into the camp and sexual assaults with ars amandi.

This, combined with meeting the people behind the characters in a fun offgame setting helps create connections and knowledge of the real person. If you are creating your characters as well, you have a chance to speak out if someone is making a concept that might lead to triggering in the game.

This gives a much safer situation for the game, with more trust. Having met the real person makes it possible to take the play further into the fiction and feel safe that they are in character.

There’s some potential problems though. Most likely you’ll workshop directly with a smaller subset of the cast and end up playing with everyone, so you still have unknown factors. The baseline feeling of trust and content of the larps usually push boundaries further than people are comfortable with and having met the other players also pushes the expectations for the game further. You might feel even worse cutting the game than with strangers.

Rules and metatechniques

Most often thought of as a way to add additional layers to a game, it can also serves as a safety feature. Some techniques outline exactly how far things go, Just a Little Lovin’ had very realistic sexual simulation, but one very clear rule: “If you’re naked, you’re not roleplaying.” And of course Ars Amandi let’s you play with the emotional side of intimacy without crossing physical borders.

Other techniques works by giving players methods to share information, providing input and direction to each other. Some examples: Shadowing allows one player to put thoughts in the head of another, but that player always has a choice to act on them or not. It does however signal that it’s okay to push further if you want. Blackbox/metaroom play gives chances to try out scenes bracketed by offgame and thus adjust to each other.

It’s important to have the right metatechniques in a game, the worst cases of broken boundaries I’ve seen in larp happened in areas that the game didn’t cover with clear rules or lines. Players trying to have fights or sex with no rules to mark the edge, psychological play without communication. You need to know the limit of escalation, otherwise it doesn’t end well.

Going offgame

My favourite is still to have a running dialogue with my coplayers during the game. Funny enough I found this strongest in larps, where going offgame is trickier, than at the tabletop. Some larps have official offgame areas or times set aside for offgame talk. If not, it’s usually easy to step outside for a few moments.

It’s as simple as going offgame and hearing if play is going in a fun direction for the other player and if you can do something to make it better. If you have even a small bit of empathy you can easily tell if the other is having fun or are on edge over something. Ask where they want to go from here or suggest a direction yourself.

In nearly every case you both come away feeling more comfortable and ready to push play to new and more intense places.

Strangely, this is harder at the tabletop. I suspect it’s because you can’t really do it one-on-one, it’s usually the whole group. And with the Story Now imperative, it’s sort of taboo to speak of the direction play is taking, but usually more than worth it. At the table I often call a proper break, so while some players are off to visit the bathroom or gather supplies, I can chat individually with the others. For at home campaigns I can usually take some time before or after play depending on the mood to check up with the other players.

I’ve never had my own boundaries crossed doing larp, the worst for me is being unsure if my coplayers are still okay. That feeling kills play for me, I’ll go offgame and check instead. I’ve found some boundaries I didn’t know I had and played right at the exciting edge of others. Every time it was because I had a running dialogue with my fellow players. It’s not rocket science, if your co-players object to offgaming, just don’t go that deep with them. I’d never go anywhere near boundary land with anyone unless we have good offgame rapport as well.

So, my main advice: Just stop and talk once in a while, the game won’t suffer. On the contrary it goes even further. And play is stronger with clearly defined limits and tools.

Write for larpers, not just about them

This is a guide for all you wonderful academics out there, who love to write about larp. You’ve done such interesting studies of us and brought wonderful new knowledge and perspectives to our hobby. Thank you, but I do have one request:

 

Please include us in your audience. 

 

Most of us don’t understand your articles, because you write for your academic peers alone. This is cultural appropriation, you take our culture and use it for your own benefit. Make it cultural exchange instead and give back to us! Tell us what you’ve learned, show us who we are. Let us learn from you.

Here’s a couple of pointers I as a layman have, on how you can write something better, more approachable, frankly more useful. I’ve read your texts in the KP books, I’ve gained much knowledge from them, but it was excruciatingly slow going and at times painful to parse the lingo. I really want to share your ideas, but most of the larpers I know will just stare blankly at the pages you’ve written.

It’s good for you too, learning how to communicate with more than just your usual crowd is a valuable skill in real life. Businesses and media don’t want inscrutable lore, students haven’t learned all the words and sources yet and your mom might finally understand what makes you so excited.

The most loved and well known scientists are those who can explain their knowledge to the widest audience, who can show just how amazing it is to study and learn. Larping is a place to learn as well, use it to learn the art of communication. Practice on us!

 

Pick the right language for you

There are more ways of writing than there are writers, so you should find your own way(s) of doing it. Right now proper academic discourse is the style for you, but it’s not the only way. Try different styles out, find one that is comfortable to you.

I often get the feedback that my writing is emotionless with a tendency for using fancy words, but that’s okay because it’s my favourite style of writing. I also have another style of offensive ranting that makes people angry, for when I want to rock the boat, and a more vulnerable, tender style for emotional storytelling.

So explore a style that is comfortable to you, try out new ones and don’t ever get stuck in just one way of communicating.

 

Tell stories

Realize that you are not trying primarily to construct a logic argument or new theory, but inform people. People who love making and telling stories. So make your text a story, make it alive. Use colourful terms, parables and metaphors. Make it exciting to follow you from outset to understanding. Give examples from your personal experiences, tell how this makes you feel, how it has changed you! Create a narrative that we can follow to your conclusions.

 

Choose the right words

Academia is full of specialized words, a slight difference in meaning can be very important and change the whole thing. You have to choose carefully and pick the exact right term. Many words also let’s you skip a whole lot of intermediating explanation, for those in the know.

But most people don’t know or care about those nuances and lose the thread of your narrative when they get stuck on a new word. For us, we just want the quick and easy understanding. I can pretty much guarantee that the subject itself is new and interesting to us, so we don’t need it super specific. Every time you pick a specialized term instead of a more common one, you lose a reader.

 

Explain the words

Of course, don’t remove all the special terms. But when you choose to include them, give us a chance to understand. Explain what the word means in layman’s speak. One sentence is usually enough. Or use it in a context that shows what it means. I love knowing what diegesis means, and liminal is now one of my favourite terms. But that is because those terms were explained to me when I first encountered them. We’re not going to look up any words, so if it’s in the text you need to provide the translation yourself. Some terms are established larp-lore, but noone has yet complained about redundant explanations. And it might happen that  the same word has different connotations in other countries or cultures of play.

 

Use references constructively

References, quotes and sources are the lifeblood of academia, no text is any good without them. There are rules and requirements on them being there at all times, to watch over that you don’t stray. But outside of universities, no such thing.

It might be good to follow an idea back for some readers, so include them when valid. But don’t ever, ever use them as a stand-alone explanation. The next time I see someone have something like “Czikszentmihalyi, 1974” as the only explanation for a development in an article, I’ll send fucking hatemail. Give context, explain the historical place of a thought or theory. Don’t lose us with careless namedropping.

 

Trust your logic

Constructing a theory takes a lot of very precise steps in academia, you need to make sure everything is locked down and sourced. Nothing gets in unless someone else has already thought it up or you’re using an approved logical technique. But you can skip a lot of that with us stupid people, we trust that if you’re doing this for a living, your logic chains are damned solid. Include the steps you feel comfortable with, but keep it simple. We want to follow you to the end, we’re willing to take a few leaps of faith along the way. Our brains turn to mush if the article is a long rambling trip of precise increments, but we love an exciting trip from idea to idea, even if the footing is a bit sketchy.

 

Summarize

Please, please, please end your articles by summarizing your idea. It’s never redundant, it only ever makes your point clearer. Give us the quick version to retell, steal for our larps and blogposts. We might miss a thing or two in the main text, so help us with a chance to catch up at the goal-post.

Your own understanding grows stronger as well, the quicker you can explain an idea, the better you grasp the core of it. In the creative business a short and clear explanation is at the heart of every worthwhile work. If it takes an entire article to explain why the house is crooked, it’ll just be seen as bad architecture. But if you can see a strong idea behind it, it’s an awesome work of art. And then your idea spreads further as people share it.

 

Create perspectives

Speculations and flights of fancy are a bad thing in science. No unsubstantiated claims may be made at all. But you’re not writing for Those Guys, you’re writing for all the friendly larpers. Use this chance to let your imagination run wild, tell us how you see your theory lead to better practice, create new understandings, grow better people. Tell us exactly where you see the useful aspects emerge, how it can be implemented. Imagine larps founded on your ideals, how the very act of playing a role becomes a new thing. Dream for us! You’re the best one at it, we can only dream pale shadows of your imagination on these things.

 

Bring the passion back

And finally, show us why this is important to you. Why philosophy or sociology or whatever is the best ever way to look at the world and larp. How it’s not just boring old books and strict professors, but a vibrant, creative exploration of life as it is. If the subject is exciting enough for you to write a proper article or thesis on, share that excitement. If you’re enthusiastic of your new way of looking at larp, make us enthusiastic as well. You’re a human being, a live-action human being, so be alive and put some action in your words.

 

Don’t just take from larp culture, give back to it, make it better! Bring the power of your chosen career to bear for larp itself, not just about it. I don’t want you to neglect your peers in the academic world, but think of us as well when you decide to share your knowledge and wisdom.

 

Of course, if you’re only in it for the academic streetcred, we can just keep on ignoring each other. But do this for us, and we’ll want to buy your next beer at Knutepunkt to keep the conversation going. Just saying…

As Larp Grows Up – Knudepunkt 2003

2002 didn’t have a book, but the idea was picked up again by the danes in 2003. This book really sets the mold for the KP books, it has all the stuff you expect plus an in-depth look at two of the important manifestos. It has aged rather better than the 2001 book, with less content sticking out as outdated. Instead it has some primers that have survived very well.

For my personal comments, see the disclaimer in the post on the first book

Classics

The Three Way Model – Revision of the Threefold Model – Petter Bøckman

A classic and controversial theory originally from tabletop thinkers of how there are three main ways to approach larping, the gamist, dramatist and immersionist angles.

I  don’t the dark days when this theory was the main weapon in most civil wars. It’s actually quite useful for communicating creative agendas.

The Dogma 99 Manifesto – The Vow of Chastity – Eirik Fatland, Lars Wingård

Ten commandments for a new purist way of making larps that take away much of the baggage from our tabletop origins and put power in the hands of the players. And a really thorough follow-up explanation, by the authors.

Aside from getting pissed off when people tell me how to do stuff, this is a really impressive early starting point for what later becomes nordic larp. It has a lot of the core values of today in infant form.

The Manifesto of the Turku School – Mike Pohjola

The original “Immersionism good, everything else bad” manifesto, that aims at larp as an artform. It has a lovely pretentious tone, covering up some good and some bad advice to players.

One more arrogantly contentious manifesto! This one is interesting because it sets up an ideal player, rather than ideal larp. Then again, they want me out of the hobby for my tastes.

That’s Larp!

Why do Bad Larps Happen to Good People? – by Joc Koljonen

An attempt to explore the differences in creative agendas and assumptions among roleplayers in different cultures, as well as the root definition of roleplaying and larp.

A bit rambling and full of old-timey viewpoints, but still a good look at how larpers assume about playstyles and priorities. 

The Meilahti School: Thoughts on Role-playingHenri Hakkarainen & Jaakko Stenros

A great attempt at defining roleplaying. It covers a lot of good views, though it’s scope is limited to gamemastered games in some form.

Nice and non-academic, just like i prefer. But it seems stuck on having a gm, which at times seems too forced to be true. 

Interaction: The Key Element of larpMorten Gade

A descriptive look at larp through the lens of interactions between the elements that constitute it.

Its a bit heavy on the “putting stuff into boxes” style, but does have a good central point.

Relation TheoryRyan Rohde Hansen

A look at how the dynamic nature of larp emerges from a set of very simple starting situations, also some observations on the relationships of players.

I love this text, very clever. It is exactly how I see larp, but with a better understanding of it.

The Diegetic Rooms of LarpCarsten Andreasen

An article explaining the differences and overlaps between fiction and real world, or diegesis / non-diegesis, plus the states of being and understandings of the players in that crossing.

A must-read for understanding how ingame and offgame overlaps. Academic, but well written for laymen as well.

Role-playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective DiegesesMarkus 

Montola

A primer in understanding the concept of diegesis, how it is constructed and how players will always be co-creators.

Another must-read, preferably before the above article. Really good introduction to one of the strongest concepts in larp theory.

The real world

The use of history in larpXenia Salomonsen

An overview of historical correct or inspired larps.

Not really my sort of thing, but does point out some pitfalls.

Institutional development of Larp in OsloRagnhild Hutchison

An economic take on the role of institutions in larpcreation, using developments in Oslo as an example.

Interesting angle on how roleplaying associations develop, I can definitely see some parallels from my own experience.

Play is PoliticalJohan Soderberg

Roleplaying’s position in postmodern living, as an individual escape or artform, as well as some political perspectives.

Interesting read, if you’re into the socio-philosophical navel-gazing type of thing. Medium-level academic namedropping and references.

Learning by FictionThomas Duus Henriksen

A critical look at using roleplay in education, especially the schism in understanding between teachers and larpers.

Once again the academic lingo is a bit over the top and the article lacks a solid point, beyond the usual “You’re doing it wrong and/or dangerously.”

Phantasmagorie, Simulacre and the Danger of DragonlanceMarie Carsten Pedersen

A modern cultural history look at fantasy larp, especially the worlds created. It looks on the role of escapism, fiction and myth in the act of worldbuilding.

A long, but good article not overly loaded with academics and a refreshing amount of personal taste.

Larp as a Way to EnlightenmentElge Larsson

A positive take on the vulnerable mental state in and after larp, looking at it through various religious and psychological lenses.

We’re currently very busy tell each other how dangerous larp is, especially afterwards. This gives a wonderful counter to that whole discourse.

Zen, Roleplay and Personal ExpansionDenkyu Sebatian Gundel

A look at zen and how it relates to roleplaying, improv and personal growth.

Quite rambling and pseudo-philophical, but a good message.

Just do it!

Fuck the AudienceJuhana Pettersson

A tale of a series of intentionally bad, randomly generated, sometimes fake (vampire) larps.

Weird article and weird larps. I agree we should be more weird.

The Development of IdeasChristian Badse

How to handle ideas, from inception, through refinement, testing and documentation.

Very thorough and professional approach, I heartily recommend it for the early stages of a project. 

Essentials of project managementMikkel Sander

Basic guide to the role of  main organizer of larp projects.

A lovely primer on how to lead a project, many good lessons.

The good character descriptionMartin Enghoff

The essentials of classic character writeups.

This is how most of the characters I’ve been handed have been written. It feels a bit stale to me now, but it’s a good guide for beginners.

Three basic concepts for LARP organizersRune Lippert

The values and lessons of the danish group Einherjerne’s style of simulationist sandbox larps, especially in regards to using minimal rules and creating immediate plots.

I have personal issues with Einherjerne, but that doesn’t change that the lessons here are sound and widely used in nordic larp today.

Dictionary

DictionaryPetter Bøckman

A comprehensive dictionary of various larp terms.

Not all terms are still in use and some are nation-specific, but a good source for understanding. Someone should harvest it for the wiki.

The Lost Chapters

The multi-tier game immersion theoryJ. Tuomas Harviainen

Expanding on the concept of immersion, it takes the principle apart and looks at three levels of immersion: Character, reality and narrative, as well as the different

A really good deconstruction of immersion, too bad it falls into the trap of using it for classifying player types and little else. 

PostmodernismElge Larsson

What modernism and postmodernism are and how that relates to larp / participatory art in general.

Yes, yes and yes. I’ve said the same things before and I’ll stick by it as true: Larp is the most postmodern artform, it simply could not exist otherwise.

 

Larpskill: Dramatic sense

Knowing how to structure the flow of play. Both in regards to the overall structure of the game and matching it to those around you for great synergy.

When to start with a bang and when to do a slow build. When to let others shine and when to throw yourself onto the spotlight. 

 

Larps are unlike any other storytelling medium, because there is not one story, but as many as there are participants. The organizers may have an idea for an overall storyline, may write stories into the characters, but in the end each story is a personal one for each of the participants.

 

Its an amazing thing, no two larps or even runs of the same larp are ever the same. It means that you as a player have an enormous amount of control over your own story. For good or bad, you decide how it’s going to flow.

 

A good story is one in motion, the most interesting characters are those that grow and change both inside and in the situation they find themselves in. A good story explores themes from many angles.

 

You don’t need to know where the story is going to end up, but enjoy where it is right now and strive for where it could be. There’s also no best way of going about it, no one story to fit them all, no monomyth to follow. In larp, it’s what makes sense in the moment, right now, right here.

 

Some players like to go for a full immersion ideal, to let the thoughts and actions of their character be the deciding factor in decisionmaking. It should be so, but the dramatic sense is also about having an eye on the others in the game, trying to make choices that benefit the game as a whole. Ideally this would mean the same thing, but we’ve all been in situations where you have to chose between the most realistic reaction and what is good for the flow of the game.

 

It takes some practice to be able to look on your character from the storyteller perspective, but it is worth it. Instead of thinking from inside the head of her, take a look at her story instead. If it was a character in a novel or a movie, what developments would make the story interesting?

 

The realistic choice is often trying to optimize your own situation. The conservative choices, trying for status quo or sticking to the plan. But real people make idiosyncratic or bad choices all the time. Larps are limited in time and scope, you have at maximum a couple of days to explore everything, so go for interesting choices: Change and the new.

 

Is your character on top and in charge? Wouldn’t it be fun to take some punches and let other’s get some spotlight time? Are you stuck struggling and fighting for what’s right? How about turning bitter and disillusioned?

 

If you have the chance to check with your coplayers, chances are you’ll find a new angle that gives everyone a new, better situation to play on, rather than repeating the same scenes. If not, you get to surprise them with your ideas. It adds more to their experience if they have to react to changes in you.

 

But of course don’t go overboard, keep a line through it all. Don’t become unpredictable if that isn’t a point, keep your character the same so the changes become significant to those that care about her.

 

In the end, you’ll have more experiences. It’s far more satisfying to come out on top if you’ve been past the bottom first. The ancient greeks knew this, the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is mainly in how fast the change of status comes. It’s fun if the king sudden goes nuts, but a slow descent into madness is tragic.

 

You can have the same control of your play with a bit of dramatic sense.