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.

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