Dogma 99, Part 5

Last two!  I’ll have to think of something else to talk about next week.

9. Game mechanics are forbidden.

I like it, I like it a lot, but the quote from the follow on in the manifesto is “(rules for the simulation of for instance the use of violence or supernatural abilities are not permitted)”.  It’s expressly aimed at not allowing for the kind of games I run, so we can guess the predictable answer.  I get why it’s there, I get the manifesto’s intent, but this particular rule has no wider application I can consider other than “run a different kind of game”.

10. The playwrights are to be held accountable for the whole of their work.

Ooh, I hate that term.  I don’t like the alternative “larpwright” much more.  Call me a faciliator, or a ref or something like that, because that’s most of what I do.  The creativity belongs to the players as much as the ref, and terms ending in “-wright” feel awfully centralising and self-important.

With that said: the idea here is obviously that the ref should be open to critique.  They should not be on the special creative pedastal, to which the only response is “thanks” (which according to the manifesto, sounds like used to be the case?).  They should seek out feedback about what worked and what didn’t, and they should always strive to do better next time.

This honestly doesn’t sound like anything but obvious common sense to me, and was obvious to me in the LARPs I was running over 15 years ago, before this was written.  I can’t fathom not asking for feedback, not holding oneself accountable for ensuring that the maximum number of players have as much fun as possible.  That’s kind of the reason I run these games, and it kills me when I think players aren’t having fun.

Basically, I don’t need this rule to make me hold myself accountable, but I do think it’s a very good rule to have.

Key ideas to consider for the next game:

  • Another “not very much”.  One inapplicable, one already part of my process.  Still, 3 out of 5 of these posts have definitely given me things to consider directly, and all of them have made me think about the kinds of games I might run in future, looking beyond the toolset I’m currently planning to use.  It’s really only the tenth one that I can completely ignore, and that’s only because I do it anyway.

Dogma 99, Part 4

I’m going to run through three today, in the hope of limiting this set of posts to just five…

6. Superficial action is forbidden.

Another one I would be very interested to try as a device, just not right now.  What they mean by “superficial action” is, basically, violence, or the threat of violence.  They’ve quite accurately homed in the the fact that the metaphor for interpersonal conflict in LARP is, well, actual conflict.  When two characters cannot agree to disagree, their methods for settling their squabble, nine times out of ten, are some form of violence, be it physical or supernatural. I can bang on for a bit about why this is, but it basically comes down to “blah blah, root of hobby, power fantasy, blah blah”.

The point here is that it seems to be pretty much the one and only device for building tension – the threat of violence.  Even when the tension is not about violence itself, in that moment, it’s about something happening that might lead to violence at some future point.  And that’s kinda bad.  There are far more LARPs where the key feature is violence, rather than love or sex, and that’s a whole can of worms in itself, that I’ll save for a future post – this is a topic I’d like to come back to.

I’ve (more or less) done this one, pretty much by accident as it happens, in Testament, a game where the only violence that ever occurred was NPC-on-NPC.  That said, I’m not sure it worked, but I think there were a lot of things going on with that game…

Actually, now I think of it, while I wouldn’t claim to have done it in Restitution, it’s notable that absolutely none of the NPCs had an agenda that revolved around wanting to hurt or do violence to anyone.  Some of them did wind up forced into it, but none of them wanted it.  I suspect that will continue to do for my purposes – I tend to think an NPC whose agenda is actually to do violence is somewhere between stupid and dull.  But overall, I’m not ready to remove “superficial action” from the toolbox just yet, particularly as the current front-runner idea for the setting for the next game is the aftermath of a war.  It would feel thematically inconsistent to remove that kind of threat from this one.

But I think I’d quite like to run a short game at some point where violence is specifically off the table as a device.

7. LARP inspired by tabletop role-playing games are not accepted.

Yeah, look, just no.  I like pulpy supernatural games.  I may not be running a game entirely as per any published tabletop rulebooks, but I like them, and it would be disingenuous to claim I’m not inspired by them.  I get why the rule is on the manifesto – it’s about breaking the form out of it’s constraints, but honestly I think 15 years on those constraints have been well broken, and I’m OK with running what I like.

8. No object shall be used to represent another object.

This is a lot easier to do if you’re running one offs, with no violence or supernatural elements.  That said: the players in my games do pretty well for creating props, and I love them for it.  But as I keep saying, “doesn’t suit the kind of games I run”.  While many characters are unarmed, some of my players like to arm their characters (and as I said above, I don’t think I’ll be banning it), and I’m not having real weapons in my time in, thanks.  I’ll take foam representations, thanks.  That said, I m usually pretty strict on the idea that the representative object must solidly resemble the item it’s representing, unless that’s totally physically impossible.

Key ideas to consider for the next game:

  • Er, not a lot, I don’t think.  It feels a bit like these posts are starting to degenerate into me justifying why I can’t run a Dogma 99 LARP, which wasn’t the plan, but there we are.  This set, though, do make me interested in running some one-offs with some or all of these rules, particularly the absolute prohibition on violence or threat of as a dramatic device.  I really do think that’s strong.  Just not for the next game.

Dogma 99, Part 3

4. All secrecy is forbidden.

This one interests me in an abstract sort of way.  I’m not sure it’d suit the needs of a serial game, because I think/hope that part of the enjoyment for players in games I run is finding out what’s going on in play, and reacting to it in the moment.  Additionally, I often change things (from small to large) because a player says something that gives me a better idea – I would regard it as failing the players not to do that, in fact.  And it’s not that I mind admitting that I’ve changed things, but it’d be kind of weird to be constantly going to players saying “that thing I said was true three months ago isn’t any more – I’ve had a better idea”.

That said: I am definitely enjoying the less-secret more-collaborative design process for this game.  Honestly, it’s not even that my previous design process was secret so much as I just didn’t make things as clear and explicit as I could/should have.

It’s also a bit weird coming to this one, when I’m reading stuff written four and five years later, when Immersionism is clearly seen as a primary goal for a lot of people, because actually, I think it’s a very Dramatist device, rather than an Immersionist one – players knowing any plans that might exist in advance will, I think automatically cause them to shape their playing to the plans, rather than having the plans change in the face of their playing, which is my preferred option.

That said, for a one-off type game, I think it’s an interesting idea.

5. After the event has begun, the playwrights are not allowed to influence it.

I really don’t like the term “playwright” here, but moving on…

It’s a very interesting idea.  Restitution definitely increased my comfort level with the notion.  Again, a difference between the one-off events this is largely concerned with, and the serial games I run, is that it’s hypothetically possible for one or two players to take actions that render the setting unplayable – the narrative equivalent of setting off a nuke in the middle of play, and in the past, I’ve seen it as part of my responsibilities as ref (the rather less grandiose term that I prefer) to prevent that from happening.  At a certain point in Restitution, I decided to simply say “it is completely possible that someone will do something that will end the story/game tonight”, and roll with it.  And of course, the game did not end (in fact, it ran a few months longer than I thought it would).

I came to see the action of yelling “time in” as an act of surrendering control over the overall narrative.  “Anything could happen in the next three hours!”  And in a serial game where the ref is more or less “in charge” of everything that happens in downtime, that’s quite a powerful thing.

This would all probably surprise many of the players, because I know I played a number of NPCs that loomed pretty large, but 80% of the time, I just tried to play them as them, rather than use them to steer action, and honestly, I hated it every time I felt the need to use them to “steer”.  So I intend to be more relaxed about this in the next game.

That said, I don’t think I’m going to go without a “host” NPC.  My reasoning is partly that I personally find it weirdly inhibitive, when I’m playing, to have someone in the IC space who is not a character who can be interacted with, and I find that even a token NPC role solves that.  The other thing is purely personal: it’s actually quite boring to just sit and watch, unable to interact with anything.  The interaction doesn’t need to be meaningful or game affecting, it just needs to be on the level of “able to open mouth, speak, and be heard”.

Key ideas to consider for the next game:

  1. Advertise my willingness to answer most questions during the span of the game, to anyone who wants to know (and who has a reason beyond “I’m just curious”, maybe), but reserve the right to keep some things up my sleeve?
  2. I like having a host NPC to play, but I’m going to design a very different style of NPC for the next thing – a subservient, service-staff type role, I think.  Something that exists to be given instructions.

Dogma 99, Part 2

There are two items in the manifesto that I think are driving at the same thing from slightly different angles, so I’m going to cover them off together.

2. There shall be no “main plot”.

As anyone who has played in my games will attest, this is one I’m disposed to pretty much reject outright – not because it’s always a bad idea, but because it does not suit the style of games I like to run at all.  The games I like to run can be summed up as “serial, about two years long, ending when the plot resolves”.

I cut my LARPing teeth on various large scale Vampire LARPs where there was no main plot, merely a series of events stretching on and on forever. (The ref team might well have been writing “main plot” on a “right this one is done what shall we do now?” basis, but it’s not the same as one single coherent narrative – the games kept going after each plot resolved)  Nothing ended.  No complete stories were told.  Well, no, that’s not true.  Individual characters’ more-or-less-complete stories were told, ending when they died or stepped off the stage.  But they weren’t unified by anything, and the games were (much) weaker for it.

I think I may have swallowed Alan Moore’s introduction to The Dark Knight Returns whole, at an impressionable age, because I very passionately believe that what gives stories power is their ending.  If you don’t bring the curtain down, in a clear and tidy manner that wraps everything up that needs to be wrapped up (although bear in mind that not everything does) and then stops, then you are Doing It Wrong.

This doesn’t mean I’m blind to the flaws of Big Plot. I have been toying with trying a different structure for the Next Thing, one that unifies the game around a series of smaller plots across an express theme, rather than having one big plot, but honestly, I don’t think it will solve the problem that this is designed to prevent – which is the idea that some events in the game are more “important” than others, and that some characters get more to do that others because they are more influential within those events (and then they get more to do because they were influential in those events, creating a vicious cycle).

But I think I’m willing to live with that.  “Main plot” unifies the game, gives a sense of forward motion and a sense of completeness when it ends, in a way that simply running half a dozen thematically connected (but narratively disconnected) stories just won’t do as well.  Doing that does mean, though, that I need to find ways to make sure no characters feel more important than others.

3. No character shall only be a supporting part.

This is pretty connected to the number 2, above, and one I don’t disagree with at all.  Every character should be the star of their own story, which should feed the greater story.  I don’t like PCs that are created as double acts, unless it’s very clearly a double act of equals.  I try and make sure that everyone that wants to get something to do, gets something to do, and that it’s all equally important.  I’m not always successful, I know that, but that’s certainly the aim.

Key ideas to consider for the next game:

  1. How to avoid the idea/appearance that some characters are more important by virtue of their interaction with External Plot (or any other reason).
  2. A multi plot-arc structure?

Dogma 99, Part 1.

So I’m working my way through slightly over a decade’s worth of writing about LARP, and while I know a lot of it is old hat, a decade and more later, it’s probably still of value to me to read it, think about it, and write about my responses to to it.  Some of it I’d already read and thought about before now, but I think writing about it will help me clarify what’s useful.  I decided I’d start with arguably the oldest thing: The Dogma 99 Manifesto, which is one of the things I’d read before – I suspect most LARPers have.  I’m interested to see that my perspectives on it have shifted quite a lot in the period since I first read it.

Obviously, it’s taking Lars von Trier’s Dogme ’95 rules as pretty heavy inspiration, and should be viewed in that light.  The Dogma 99 Manifesto, and a lot of the writing that followed it are obviously extreme statements of position, intended to provoke debate, and inspire people to try and do something new, different, and arguably “purer”, without being bound by a lot of the conventions that came before.  Basically: it’s not meant to be take 100% seriously.  Thank god.

One of the things that strikes me about it is that my first thought is “I don’t think I’d want to run or play a Dogma 99 game” and yet when I come to the dissection of each individual point, I find it quite hard to disagree with at least the intention of each of them.

I’ll probably take on one or two of it’s points per post for a bit, because there’s a lot to cover.

I’m going to close out these posts by noting a few things I want to consider as a result of them, when designing the next game.  It doesn’t follow that everything I want to think about will automatically become part of the finished game, this is just so I’ve got a short record of things to think about at a later date.

1. It is forbidden to create action by writing it into the past history of a character or the event.

I’m obviously not disposed to like this one. We just completed a successful two-year game that made use of the fact that several of the characters had decades and in some cases, centuries, of history with one another.  There were buried conflicts all over the shop.  And I suspect the same will be true of the next game.  I do not like the idea of a game that does not draw on background to generate conflict, because I like the depth and richness that a backstory gives.

But the spirit in which this rule is intended is one I really agree with: the only action that matters occurs within the context of the LARP time-in (on-camera, if you like).  Everything you need to know to understand the conflicts of the LARP must be shown at the time-in, and not in a “expository dialogue” way.

Part of the reason I disagree with this, of course, is that I like LARP as a serial form, rather than a one shot.  So there’s always going to be a context in which some of the action for any given session will be firmly rooted “off camera” as it were – because it took place in a previous time in.  And once you’re there, what’s wrong with adding a few similar kinds of conflict that are set up in backstory?

But there’s a key flaw in the medium: the only conflicts from backstory that are likely to play out are those between players.  Where a player writes an unresolved NPC conflict into their backstory, I have two choices: find a way to make that conflict relevant to more than just them, or, more probably, ignore it.  And unfortunately, if I pick one player’s backstory NPCs over another’s then it creates a sense that that particular character is more important than others, which is not a desirable outcome.

And having said that I don’t mind a bit of backstory, I think it’s important in a serial LARP to remember the same rules that exist in most serial fiction: every episode is someone’s first. If someone new can’t walk in and reasonably quickly hook in to what’s going on, with am absolute minimum of IC exposition, then the LARP isn’t working.  I know I’ve been guilty in the past of running games where there was a reasonably standard “new player” experience – a new character walks into the room, and is immediately introduced to a couple of key other characters, who proceed to infodump on them until they’re caught up.  It’s not the worst thing in the world, but I wonder if it can be done better?

Key ideas to consider for the next game:

  1. No unresolved PC-NPC conflicts in backstory prior to the first time in.  If PC-NPC conflict develops in the course of uptime, that’s acceptable, but not necessarily desirable.
  2. Every session is someone’s first, but every first session should be different.  Design so that new characters can be caught up on anything they need to know to access the game in a variety of ways, depending on player preference.


I’m spending a lot of my time thinking about rule systems at the moment – I want to get the basis of system that we’re going to use for the upcoming LARP sorted out over the next month, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what systems are for in these games we play.  There are plenty of very successful games out there run in a loose freeform way, where there are no real rules other than a sort of shared understanding of the style of play, within which the outcome of every contentious interaction is negotiated between players on an ad-hoc basis.  And rules often slow the game down, breaking immersion and draining dramatic tension.  So why have them at all?

(Digression: I really ought to give “the upcoming LARP” a working title just to I’ve got a definite article for it – NextLARP?  FutureLARP? I dunno, anyone got any preferences?  Anyone care?  I had a title for it, six months ago, but I’ve rather consciously put that on one side until I see what shape it’s taking in a few months time – I want the LARP to shape the title, not the other way around.)

So, I’ve come to the following conclusions about what I think they’re for.  I’m aware that they’d have other uses for other people, and I’m not seeking to provide an abstract answer to “what is the purpose of having rules in a LARP?” so much as I am trying to define “what is the purpose of the rules in a LARP I am running?”

1. Consensus.

The rules form an agreed basis for the world.  Kind of like the laws of physics, I guess.  They provide both IC and OOC context for the actions characters take.  Effectively, they’re the grown up, formalised version of the Cowboys-and-Indians “Bang!  I shot you, you’re dead!” (“No I’m not!”, “Yes, you are, I shot you!” etc.)  They’re the agreed basis for “fair” dispute resolution.

I’ve put “fair” there in quotes, because there’s actually no requirement that the rules be fair in the traditional sense.  Depending on the kind of game being run, it might even be desirable to have the rules favour particular outcomes, or even particular players.  Nonetheless, the rules form the agreed basis for cooperation between everyone involved in building the LARP – they ensure that everyone is on the same page about what’s possible.

This is particularly important because I like to run games that have a fairly strong fantastical element, and I want us to have an agreed basis for what that element is, can do, and what an appropriate reaction to that might be (in or out of character – it’s possible to have a lot of fun when the player know something the character doesn’t – indeed, it’s often a key ingredient in some of the best moments in games).

2. Drama

The rules exist to facilitate dramatic play – they exist to facilitate both external dramatic conflict between two (or more) characters, and in the sorts of games I like to run, some level of internal conflict within each individual character.  I’m not saying one can’t do internal conflict without rules, that’s obviously a rubbish idea, and I would expect most characters to have (many) additional internal conflicts that were not rules-defined, but on some level, I want a rules set that takes some of that internal conflict, and in some way externalises it so that each character’s internal dilemmas have to affect other characters.

3. To Get Out Of The Way

It’s not strictly a “why have rules” in abstract, so much as a “why have a particular set of rules”, but it’s important enough to me that I want to include it as a fundamental: one of the purposes of a system has to be to do it’s job as swiftly as possible in order to allow everyone to get back to the less systematised part of the roleplaying.  A freefrom negotiation style f play contains the possibility of getting bogged down from time to time if two players can’t come to a consensus, so one of the reasons we have rules is to prevent that, but we have to do it in a way that is more efficient than the problem being solved, or we might as well just get bogged down in a freeform way.

4. To Simulate Randomness And Risk

I think this is surprisingly important.  Good drama contains surprises.  The real world is not predicable.  And, for the kind of games I run: magic should be, well, magic.  A little bit scary and strange.  I think a good system should contain the possibility for a shock upset now and again, and unexpected outcome that no party in a conflict could reasonably expect.  Not often, but sometimes.  We’ve all played tabletop games where one freakish dice roll changed an important dynamic in the game, haven’t we?  I think a good LARP system should contain just a little touch of that.  A good set of rules exist to very occasionally throw an unexpected spanner in the works.  Tabletop games generally factor this in with dice, but a lot of LARP systems are diceless, so how can we bring that randomness in?

5. As An Indicator Of Key Moments

This is a minor thing, but I also like them to be used in a way such that they indicate on a meta level that something is happening that is dramatically relevant, that, if you like, a turning point has been reached.

It doesn’t matter whether that’s fighting, persuasion, powers of observation and deduction, or even something like seduction. (Having written that, I’d just like it to be clear: no game I run will ever contain a mechanical option to accomplish the seduction of a PC – the idea raises far too many consent issues, I just mention it as theoretical example.)  The point is that some times it’s actually good to invoke a system to indicate that something is either not a simple task, or when between PCs, to indicate that that is a point of conflict between the individuals concerned, that what is happening here is in some way important.

I think those are the key reasons to have a ruleset, rather than a more freeform approach.

Definition Of Terms: Nordic

One of the things I feel obligated to state early in the life of this blog, and will probably feel the need to link back to at intervals, is that when I reference Nordic LARP, I’m very specifically referencing their arthaus/experimental/weird traditions.

I am aware that there is a great volume of LARP in the Nordic zone that is pretty solidly analogous to the UK tradition.  Fantasy LARPS, Vampire/World of Darkness LARPs are all represented there, and are the sort of thing that a UK player would find pretty broadly similar to our own tradition.  I’m also aware that Nordic LARP is not some monolith entity across Scandinavia and Finland – that each of of the various countries have their own styles, traditions, and preferences in their “normal” LARP.  I’m not trying to homogenise these cultures, or suggest that the kid of LARPs I’m likely to wind up talking about are the only ones played in those countries.

Nor am I seeking to suggest that Nordic LARP is only played in Nordic countries – I’m also aware that there are plenty of other countries in Europe where LARPs in the Nordic tradition are played.

Effectively, I’m using the term “Nordic” in the sense it is used on the Nordic LARP wiki, and in the marvellous book “Nordic LARP“.  Which is to say that I’m looking at LARPs that treat the form as worthy of analysis, debate and experimentation, that make some nods of the head toward terms like “creative vision” and “doing something a bit different”.  (One might also add “prizes immersion” to that list, although I get the sense that’s more variable, depending on the goals of each specific LARP.)

Nordic LARPs (in the sense that I’m intending to reference them in) also tend to have some or all of the following characteristics: they’re one-off events (even if they are run more than once, it is simply the same game being run multiple times), they feature characters originated by the organisers (I’m not sure how I feel about the term “Larpwright” that seems to be popular in the Nordic scene, but then I don’t like the term “Storyteller” that White Wolf have been using for two decades now, so it may just be me) rather than the players, and they’re often short (running for hours, rather than days), and they place high value on appropriate costume and scenery.  None of these are always true – indeed, there are a body of “classic” Nordic LARPS that are weekend long events, and there is an great corpus of LARPS that are designed to be played in black-box theatre spaces, but it’s a reasonable set of basic characteristics.

Basic Background: GNS Theory And The Three Way Model

I’m going to start out from first principles here for two reasons. In large part, it’s because I’m vain enough to be thinking about a notional audience for this blog (even if it’s just the 20-30 people who will play this future game) and I don’t 100% know what kind of background that imagined audience has, in either games or story.  So I want to make sure this site has enough information on it to be accessible to all.  It’s also because I want to restate some of the stuff I’ve known myself for years, to re-fix it in my head at the outset of this project.  If a lot of the next few posts is old hat to you, hang on, there’s (probably) more interesting stuff coming up later.

So, there’s a reasonably well known model for talking about tabletop roleplaying games called GNS Theory.  It suggests that games can be considered on three axes – Gamist, Narrativist and Simulationist.

Gamism prizes the rules-and-numbers side of the hobby – the tactical use of fictional skills and abilities, represented by mechanical traits, to defeat antagonists and solve problems in order to acquire better/more effective mechanical traits, without reference to why those antagonists needed defeating – they needed defeating because the game rules said that was the goal of the game.  D&D, in it’s original form was a relatively pure Gamist game – indeed, its creator, Gary Gygax devoted considerable editorial time, in the early days of the hobby to deploring the practice of play-acting that had crept into his skirmish combat simulation game.

Narrativism concerns itself with the idea that the purpose of these games (as distinct from board games or war games) is to collaboratively tell a story – with a coherent beginning, middle, and end, and even perhaps concerns like a theme.  White Wolf’s World of Darkness games tend to prize this aspect of hobby.

Simulationism holds that the purposes of these games is to simulate a fictional world and the various elements within it, because that is fun in its own right, without having to produce a coherent story.  I’m actually having trouble thinking of game that really skews Simulationist out-of-the-box as it were – leave a comment if you’ve got a good example?

I should say that GNS theory is, in the first place, just a model, and may not work for you, but also that no value judgement is implied by these axes – none is better than the others – and that it’s very rare to find a “pure” game of any of the three varieties.  Most games (both in the sense of published material, and the practical implementations of that material as conducted by any given group of gamers) fall somewhere in the middle of all three.

The Threefold Model, or Three Way Model is a particular adaption of these three axes, that is in common use in the Nordic LARP community to describe differing styles of play.  It was conceived by John H. Kim and others, and adapted by Petter Bøckman.  Mr Kim maintains an archive of material related to the topic, but in brief, for LARP play, the three axes are considered to be Gamism, Dramatism and Immersionism, reflecting the differing play style offered by LARP, and again, one would be unlikely to find a game that was purely one of them, with no element of any of the others present, and most games reside comfortably in a middle territory where they are all three in roughly equal measure.

Gamism differs from it’s tableop counterpart, in that it’s (more or less) a given in LARP that each player will be playing a character – an entity with fictional wants and desires distinct in some measure from that of the player, and that said fictional persona will be unaware of any of the “game rules”, meaning that pure “Gamism” in the GNS sense is next-to-impossible.  Under the Three Way Model, Gamism is held to represent a style of play in which the players are concerned with “solving” the game – figuring out puzzles, defeating antagoists, and do on.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this sounds a lot like GNS Theory Gamism, but my hair-splitting conception of the difference between the two is that in tabletop/GNS theory, gamism is closer to purely mechanical – it is, if you like, about using the numbers provided by the game systems to get better numbers, while in the LARP/Three Way it is about achieving in-character goals, without as much reference to the numbers/system level stuff as being a goal in and of itself.

Dramatism in the Three Way Model is largely unchanged from its GNS counterpart, Narrativism – it’s just a different word for being All About The Story.

Immersionism is the idea that the goal of LARP is for players to simply represent their characters within the fictional world of the LARP, playing them true to themselves, to the hilt.  It might also be said to raise questions of identity, as the goal of an immersionist player might be said to be to forget their “real lives” within the moment of the game, and to full embody the persona of their character.

Once again, there’s no value judgement made in the model, although individual players often prefer certain styles of play..  Again, most LARPs fall somewhere on all three axes – possibly even shifting position slightly along them at different points in the time frame of the games.

I find it interesting that there’s often a suggestion that Dramatism and Immersionism are in conflict, in a way that Narrativism and Simulationsim aren’t. To explain: in a purely Immersionist game, the phrase “my character would (or wouldn’t) do that” is the sole guiding star.  Each player’s duty is to immerse themselves, regardless of consequence (to the point that the game crosses over with reality, at least – causing actual harm to others or self would of course be frowned upon), and the game is crafted from the interactions between these fully actualised fictional entities, without regard to the idea that there is an overall story being told.

In a pure Dramatist game, the notion of character comes in second to the notion of story – so characters might do things that would be considered inappropriate for them at a given point because for them to do so would fit better with the story, or even just the theme as crafted by the group – so Immersion is that much harder, because (in theory) a given player is both playing their character and shaping the story.  It would be inappropriate to be full immersed in a Dramatist game, as what a given character would, or would not do is not the primary compass by which the game should be navigated.

So, that’s some of the basics.  I’ll probably want to return to the Three Way Model in future posts, as I think it’s a really useful tool for thinking about LARP, and a surprising improvement over GNS theory given that the two aren’t more than a few notes apart.

A Little Light Reading

I went to Gamecamp at the weekend, and had a lovely time.  I spent quite a lot of time hearing about (and playing) Nordic LARP.  I’ve been aware that Scandinavia has a fairly serious LARP culture, one that is notably different to the culture in the UK for a while now, but this was the first chance I’ve had to really discuss it with anyone who knows it, and learn about it.

In the UK (and the US, as I understand it), LARP (and roleplaying in general) is not taken terribly seriously, and that’s not a bad thing but it does mean that there isn’t a culture of study of the phenomenon from either a practical or an academic point of view, which means that running games in any form is a very much learn-by-doing exercise.  There’s no body of scholarship discussing what works and what doesn’t, and suggesting tools and devices that game participants can learn from.  That’s bugged me for a few years now.  The only advice gamerunners can get tends to be the “how to run this game” section of the various game books, and those tend to be quite highly specialised toward a specific game, and they tend to be very tabletop focused.  The UK LARP culture has almost no documentary tradition.

So I’m delighted to discover that the Nordic scene, in contrast, has a strong history of documentation, which means I’m currently immersing myself in this lot of books – a decades’s worth of LARP theory from the Knutepunkt conference.

I suspect that quite a lot of this blog, at least for the next while, is going to take the form of “I’ve been reading this bit of Nordic writing, and here’s what I think” or even just regurgitations of some of the basic concepts as I attempt to fix them in my head.  Bear with me.

There was one non-Nordic book I learned about, and the odds are I’m just late to the party on it, because it’s been out a few years: Hamlet’s Hit Points.  This is a book providing an interesting conceptual model for thinking about narrative as it applies to gaming – trying to be the gaming equivalent of Robert McKee’s Story, or similar other screenwriting texts, written by Robin D. Laws of Feng Shui/Gumshoe/other stuff fame.  Again, mostly tabletop-focused.

I’m a little hesitant to actually recommend the book, as honestly, it’s mostly a brief explanation of a model for thinking about narrative, and then a lengthy application of the model to Hamlet, Dr No and Casablanca and then a few pages that basically say “try applying this to your own stuff, see if you think it helps you”. That said, it has given me a few things to think about, and it might be of interest to some.  Were it free, I would recommend it without hesitation, I’m just not sure it’s 100% worth the price tag.  But it does give me hope that things are changing in the UK/US scenes, and we might start to see a bit more writing on these topics from non-Nordic sources.

(This concludes your broadcast from the department of faint praise.)

I don’t intend to run a Nordic-style LARP.  (I should say I’m aware that this term is a gross simplification, as there are loads of different styles of LARP this could encompass, many of which are not so very dissimilar to what I’ve run in the past, but I’m using the term to indicate that part of the Nordic scene that is different, so please forgive the simplification.)  I like my LARP as a serialised form, and I like it good and pulpy – the more-or-less traditional UK (and US) style, and that’s what I’m going to run.  But I think there are lessons I can learn from the Nordic form, and I’ll come on to that in posts to come.

In closing, I commend the following to your attention:

There are some nice-seeming people trying to get a Nordic LARP scene started in London, and of particular interest, they are running a series of interesting one-offs, more or less fortnightly for the next few months.  I’m going to try to get along to a few, and if anyone I know is are interested, I might have a go at facilitating a couple of one-offs myself in a few months time (if I can find some interested players), just to see how people feel about the experiences.


Visitors Must Report To Site Office

Hardhats to be worn at all times.  Insert men at work graphic here.

Right, with any luck, I’ve now got that joke out of my system, tortured that metaphor to death, and we can get on with things now.

An introductory explanation, then.  I’ve been running/facilitating LARPs in London for about six/seven years now (consistently, anyway – I’ve been running and playing LARPS on and off for about 18 years now). The recent set have included one reasonably conventional old World of Darkness Vampire LARP (Interregnum), one experimental home-grown thing (Testament), and a fairly unconventional new World of Darkness crossover LARP (Restitution), which completed in March 2014.

I intend to run a new game, starting late this year, or possibly at the very start of next year.  It will be an Urban Fantasy/Horror LARP in a similar vein to a World of Darkness LARP – it may even mostly be a World of Darkness LARP – but I am taking 2015 as a development year.  I will be faciliating once a month gatherings for anyone who is interested in playing to meet up and discuss ideas for this game, in the hope that a collaborative development process with produce a LARP that is better than average, and most importantly, better than the ones I have run before.

I’ve set this blog up to be a reference point for interested parties, and a place to write up my developing thoughts on LARP in general, and this future game in specific.