Playground Magazine available online

I was a happy subscriber of Playground Magazine from the start, it’s magazine that took larp seriously in a playful manner, but ultimately suffered the fate of so many wonderful, but narrow-topic ‘zines and faded out. Now you can read them online for free, buy them print-on-demand and download if you are clever.

The articles vary a lot in focus and writing style, but cover a lot of different facets of larp and neighbouring phenomenon. And it does in beautiful style. The layout and editing are very strong elements that make it a very approacable publication, full of pictures and funky graphics.

Some of the magazine-elements aren’t really relevant after a while, but the large majority of the content is still relevant and interesting to read for newcomers. Quite a few of the articles are not on larp per se, but look at cultures and phenomenon that have elements in common with larp, such as pick-up artists, bdsm and gamification. Other parts are introductions to larp cultures outside the nordic imperium or discussions of controversial elements in larp. It can feel a bit like forced sensationalism at times, but it does manage to have an enthusiasm about larp that I often find lacking in publications. And I love that it covers such a wide range of topics with larp as the common thread. It puts our hobby in very interesting company, that’s for sure.

 

If you didn’t subscribe, this is your chance to catch up!

Moving Bodies And Larp

So we’re doing this thing. It’s a ball of wibbly-wobbly movey-performey… larp. It has grown naturally from a group of blown minds and we wish to infect more people with our ideas.

The main question after the performance in London, when Adam James, Nina Runa Essendrop and I sat down for a well-deserved sunday roast at the local pub, was: “HOW DO WE GET TO DO MORE OF THIS!?”

By “this” we mean movement-based larping and playing in the fertile grounds between norp and the performing arts. It’s not a specific thing, but a common area of interesting potentials. And fun, most importantly playing around and having fun exploring what we can do with differerent approaches and perspectives. We’re not going to be writing manifestos and creating groups larpwrights, but try for an open collaborative discourse.

We want to facilitate others being clever and creative, invite everyone to participate in building something on the borderlands of what we do, that might lead to new and interesting games. To frame this we’ve started a facebook group for anyone who finds any of the keywords “larp, movement, physicality, performance and art” interesting in the slightest. It’s called Moving Bodies And Larp, because that is what it is about at the most basic level and it’s open to anyone who wants in.

We’re starting off by using it to coordinate the track we’ve inflicted on the Knutepunkt in Sweden this spring on exactly movement and physicality in larp. We’re out for those of you who have programme item ideas to join us and be part of creating a space for exploring the potentials of this sort of play. The more the merrier!

We’ll also unleash other projects and events through the group and if you have your own, please don’t hesitate to bring it to our attention! We want to hear about everything that might possibly be related to having fun with moving bodies and larp.

 

Special thanks to Petter Karlsson for being a random encounter at exactly the right time and being a kitchen-table social-media guru.

Review: Larps from the factory

First an announcement: I’m over the hump with Beyond Role and Play, the KP book from 2004, meaning I’ve read the first half with all the theory articles and hopefully have less choppy waters ahead. The book is not an easy read, but I promise to have it done by christmas or post the first half if I don’t.

 

But this post is a review of a different, and in my view much more useful book: Larps From The Factory, collected and edited by the awesome trio of Elin Nilsen, Lizzie Stark and Trine Lise Lindahl. The book is a collection of larpscripts from the norwegian Larp Factory, with extra material available from the web to supplement the book.

I usually find introductions to books to be either uselessly obvious repeatings of what the book is about or irrellevant wankery by the editor. But in this book the two introductory chapters actually manage to be interesting in their own right as well as excellently supplement the main text of larps. The first introduction is a primer on the playstyle of these larps, thanks to the outside perspectives provided by the american co-author it manages to describe a lot of important nuances that makes it clearer how the games are intended to play out. I suspect it also help in running the games in a different play culture, but I have not tried yet.

The second chapter is a nice, brief history of the Larp Factory itself, how it got started, the structure of the group and international spread of the concept. Seems like a very fertile construct.

While I haven’t read them all yet, I can tell that the larps vary quite a bit in all directions, the size and scope run the entirety of parlor and blackbox larps, with a corresponding range of minimalist and extravagant scenography requirements. The specific length varies a bit, but all are playable in an evening or so. They cover a wide range of subject matter from silly remediations of comedy tv-series to abstract explorations of silence. Most fall somewhere on the realism – comedy scale, to be played both for fun and to give a meaningful experience to the participants.

What has struck me about this is how straightforward and simply most of these games are designed. It doesn’t take more than a good idea, the stamina to write characters and a couple of appropriate gameplay elements to have a worthy game. From the Larporatories I’ve also learned that games like this can be put together in a few effective days. The book really drives home how wide a range of games you can put together with a very simple framework.

Each games features a couple of metatechniques, rules or warm-up excercises that are ripe for stealing for your own game. I quickly began adding bookmarks where I found ones that fit my current projects while reading the book. This really makes the book more than a superb collection of rerunnable larp scripts and takes it into worthwhile reference country as well. And each tool automatically comes with context, so it’s not hard to see how it might contribute to a game.

The book is only the core script of each game. Since the larps range in size from a handful of players up to nearly two dozen it makes sense to limit the book itself to the important parts that give a good picture of the game. If you want to run one of the games, you can just download the stuff you’ll need to print or send to players, like characters or handouts and cheatsheets.

I did find it a bit annoying that there were no characters in the book. Reading a couple of characters is usually one of the best ways to get an idea of how the larp is supposed to feel and how the themes and drama/story intersect.

I especially love the videos of metatechniques. Not everything can be properly explained with words and often it is a lot easier to learn by seeing. The videos have a lovely amateurish quality, that makes them very approachable, if a little unclear at times. I think a lot of larps could do with video introductions to techniques, since they can often be misunderstood and scare players. I’ve worked with it when we did Dancing with the Clans,* where we did in-character films teaching the dance moves and building hype for the game. It worked well in both regards.

I know how much work the creators put into making this book and it shows. It is well written and consistent, which is extra impressive considering the huge number of people who actually wrote the larps in the book. It is also lovely to see a book that both celebrates a strong tradition of larpwriting and provides new opportunities to rerun the games or take them apart for use in new projects. It is definitely at in the top of my list of “most useful books on larp.” And together with the Nordic Larp book for the pretty pictures of big larps, I think we’re very well covered when it comes to approachable reading material to introduce the scope of norp to outsiders.

 

And now I’ll get back to reading the rest of the scripts in the book, because they are awesome!

 

*DwtC was a disco dancing “larp” between the seven clans from Vampire: The Masquerade over four evenings during Fastaval 2012. Part of the gameplay was that the clans could “buy” their special powers to unlock classic disco dance moves and new songs, by winning dance-offs with other clans. The moves were introduced with short videos uploaded in the months up to the convention, where one of the organizers’ character showed off the moves. The players could also claim songs beforehand by uploading videos of themselves dancing to them. It was a lot of fun for participants and audience to engage in this way.

Blackbox cph III

So I moved to Copenhagen just in time for the blackbox festival. It was a perfect opportunity to reconnect with all local norpers and play some games.

There was a crazy rush when the ticket sales opened, I was at Larpvikend in Brno and as I tried to navigate the website games were sold out left and right, but I managed to grab tickets for two games: Beginning and The Last Hour.

Not including the immense joy of getting to see glorious friends from abroad who travelled here from far away to play, the festival itself was okay. It didn’t quite feel entirely together, people came and went for the games, but there wasn’t much time together except for the big party on saturday. I would have loved some sort of lounge or other place to hang out and talk larp during the event. Unfortunately we mostly spread out to various cafées in the city, so it was hard to meet new people outside of the games.

Beginning

by Nina Runa Essendrop

The first game was Nina’s latest nonverbal game, following up from White Death. Now with even more abstraction and limitation!

The play is about blind creatures evolving at the beginning of time, exploring the world and meeting each other. During most of the workshop and all of the game, the players are blindfolded and sense primarily through touch. The character briefs are entirely non-verbal, consisting of a motion and a picture.

My initial character brief reenacted. Filmed by Petter Karlsson
My initial character brief reenacted. Filmed by Petter Karlsson

The workshop mainly focussed on creating comfort with moving while blindfolded, exploring the motions of our characters and rehearsing the structured elements and techniques of the games. I found the workshopping a bit off-balanced at points, but there was some excellent feedback after the game and I know it will be super for later runs. 

The picture I chose for inspiring my character.
The picture I chose for inspiring my character. Photo by NOAA.

During play the organizers portrayed higher powers that would come in to interfere with or evolve the character-creatures. They had a special touch to make us follow their directions. It was interesting how easy it was to relinquish control of yourself and just let them lead you to a new place or posture after a few trial runs. The higher powers mainly came in during the act breaks where the creatures evolved to a new level, for me personally I would have liked the evolution to happen more slowly and individually, but I understand the design choices.

How I spent most of the game. Filmed by Petter Karlsson
How I spent most of the game. Filmed by Petter Karlsson

The game used a sort of tactile tape-larp scenography with a selection of random props that provided sensory input through touch, smell or sound thrown in to play with. I found it hard to relate to the props, I think it might have been less so with more organic objects rather than modern ones. Also it got quite messy from the stuff sprinkled on the floor. 

By far the most interesting part of the game was meeting, exploring and interacting with the other creatures. Due to the blindfolding you had no idea who the player was, but you could recognize different creatures by their textures and movements, as well as their unique bracelets given by the organizers. Some were friendly, others threatening and quite a few I probably never met during play.

Even after the game it didn’t matter who you had played directly with, it felt almost as an entirely collective affair. It was a very special mood, much the same unspoken comfort as white death provides, but even more total. It was very hard to relate what had happened during play as there were no words or interpretations that truly expressed how interesting it felt curling around some body or brushing past each other. A unique experience indeed.

The Last Hour

by Rasmus Teilmann and Mads Dehlholm Holst

I went home from the party early because I had signed up for this game on sunday morning. Most of the other players obviously didn’t. Out of seven only three of us showed up. Big angry at the lazy larpers! Especially since Mads had come from across the country just to run the game. We can do better than that.

But after we decided to go ahead after all, the game was really good. Rasmus and Mads have been working on it since the Summer School and it is a really tight design. It is classic blackbox-larp larp. Using pregame-workshopping, metatechniques, tape on the floor, sound effects and symbolic lighting. And it does it well.

The norper making his final statement to the court. Photo by Rasmus Teilmann.
The norper making his final statement to the court. Photo by Rasmus Teilmann.

The game is about the last hour before a group of freedom fighters are executed, with the play in their prison cell framing a serious of flashbacks and dream sequences initiated by the players themselves. You start with a simple character brief and expanded on it via hot-seat interviews and frozen moments before play. The game has very strong initial and ending rituals in the fiction that really get you started and ended with strong emotions. 

Last hour in the cell. Photo by Rasmuss Teilmann
Last hour in the cell. Photo by Rasmuss Teilmann

During play you do various flashbacks and dream sequences about your character’s life. It makes the play in the prison cell a very tense underplayed affair, which I thoroughly enjoy. Part of it was due to us only being three players and I am really happy we managed to show that the game works with this few participants and that the organizers are now planning to make a version aimed at fewer players. 

Flashback to the recruitment. Photo by Dominika Kováčová.
Flashback to the recruitment. Photo by Dominika Kováčová.

The game has a twist I will not describe here. Just say that while I normally prefer full disclosure, this game did it in a way I can respect and that really added to the experience. And which gave me a new kind of post-larp experience, bonus points for that.

Ready, aim... Photo by Rasmus Teilmann
Ready, aim… Photo by Rasmus Teilmann

All in all a very well made game that made use of a lot of different effects without losing focus or muddling the experience. I was surprised at how strongly it affected me.

Post-con

Afterwards I was left with a lot of new ideas and better versions of old ideas. Getting to play in the blackbox made some things clearer and the chance to air my thoughts with so many clever larpwrights and -players really moved things forward. So far I’m working on adapting a Mieville novel to the blackbox, a Nina-style touchy-movey larp, an autobiographical romantic freeform, a positive-experience prison larp and a soap-opera tape-larp with Dominika (“But, Rodrigo!…”)

And I have my copy of the Larpfactory book, which I hope to review here soon.