2016 Solmukohta Books

The 2016 Solmukohta books are out. There’s two of them this year:
[li] Larp Realia (the usual analytic stuff): solmukohta.org/uploads/Books/book_realia.pdf[/li]
[li] Larp Politics (about the intersection of the two): solmukohta.org/uploads/Books/book_politics.pdf[/li][/ul]

Baltic Warriors: A Participatory Documentary (Mike Pohjola): Every time I read about Baltic Warriors I think that NZ should do a thing called Freshwater Warriors, about dirty rivers leading to zombies. But I’m not sure that it would grab people, there are huge problems around cultural appropriation, the venues are all wrong (dirty rivers tend not to run through major larping cities), and ritual endings would just seem silly to a kiwi audiance.

As for the article, Baltic Warriors sounds like it was a lot of fun. Also, Russia’s state bigotry means organising larps there is potentially legally dangerous.

History, Characteristics and Design of the Psychodrama Scenario Larp Form (Nathan Hook): This is really about the process of writing the psychological jeepforms of The Green Book and its sequels. But buried at the back is advice to people writing which is perfectly applicable to larps: play widely and read widely. Seeing how other people do things (both in practice and in their game documentation) can show you how to do it, and inspire you to do it better.

Design Strategies for Discussion-Heavy Larps (Theo Axner and Susanne Vejdemo): AKA “how to write a meeting for a larp”. Its good, practical advice to stop anything involving formal discussion bogging down. Best advice: take away the tables and chairs. People keep it quick if they have to stand.

Introducing Physical Violence to Larps (Kamil Bartczak): Which is about actually punching people in larps. The Polish author thinks this is a good idea, because when they ran Fight Club events at larp cons, no-one was seriously hurt, and it ups the ante in non-fighting based larps by introducing the threat that someone might actually hurt you (to their credit, they recognise that its not a good idea in action-based larps). I’m both boggled and repelled by this. Also, if you have any thoughts about calling a fight club a “larp” in New Zealand, just don’t; we don’t want to be tarred with your stupidity when you are arrested for running an illegal boxing match.

The Seven Steps Model and Seven Phases for Character Creation (Anders Gredal Berner, Cécile Othon, Charles Bo Nielsen, and Claus Raasted Herløvsen): This pair of linked articles is a high-level how-to for how they wrote characters for College of Wizardry and Fairweather Manor. The “seven steps” are about the overall process, which involves both pre-design (through what they call “the grid and the frame” - working out factions, issues, and maybe relationships) and co-creation with players (which involves a cycle of feedback as well as an on-site workshop). The “seven phases” are for writing individual characters, and accrete detail layer by layer. Its done this way in an effort to manage and track workload and ensure equality of writing effort across characters (so you don’t get 25 great characters, 50 OK ones, and 50 where the writers have just run out of steam), which isn’t a terrible idea in a big game - but the way they’ve split up the job is a bit weird. For example, they strongly separate plot from relationships, not just in phasing, but by stressing that relationships should not already be written into character descriptions. But this robs them of any driving force and makes them empty. Worse, if you do things this way, you can’t have plots about people, with people, for people - it removes your biggest tool for getting emotional impact and buy-in. And with this sort of design strategy, it is no wonder Nordics think that “Brute Force Design” produces bad games: because they’re deliberately robbing themselves of the tools to make good ones.

Chronological Act Structure in Finnish Historical Larps (Mikko Heimola & Minna Heimola): An interesting article about how to design larps which deal with the sweep of history, rather than a moment in time, and the effect of this on the game. In many ways the process and outcome seems similar to that of US “tale-telling larps” (like “The tales of Irnh”); you write a lot more material, but people play hard because of limited time. If the players are given material for all Acts up front, it also allows implicit direction, and for players to foreshadow. Possibly worth experimenting with.

Larp and Prejudice: Expressing, Erasing, Exploring, and the Fun Tax (Mo Holkar): An excellent article about options for handling prejudiced settigns in larps (including why you might and might not want to). Recommended reading for anyone who writes historical games, especially if you want to base a game on Mad Men.

“Pre-Bleed is totally a thing” (Martine Svanevik and Simon Brind): About how people get bleed from (pre-game) co-creation and online roleplay. Which you’d think would be obvious: they’re representing a character, doing strongly emotional stuff (fleshing out the details of their doomed romance or whatever), of course they get spillover. They’re not physically embodying the character, but they’re representing their mind, and its still bleed (Sadly, the authors are very hung up about it not being part of the game itself, so it has to be “pre-bleed”, but whatever). They highlight in particular the inability to let go of an IC subject (because plots should at the game, not before it) as leading to traumatic bleed experiences.

This one has already attracted some discussion on the NZLARPS Facebook group about the obvious application to online roleplaying in the context of campaigns, and highlighting the inability to step away from a character (because you’re constantly online RPing) as a factor strengthening bleed. And that said, bleed isn’t necessarily bad - it depends what you’re bleeding - and at least some of those surveyed for the article enjoyed the pre-bleed.

Representation and Social Capital: What the Larp Census reveals about Community (Christopher Amherst): Could be a really good article about the US larp community. But while it highlights differences, there’s no discussion of whether they are statistically significant. And the discovery that millenials, who are mostly school or university age according to the article’s definition, were more likely to larp at schools or universities is… unsurprising.

Larp and Law (Sonja Karlsson): An overview of some of the issues around prosecuting crimes which happen at larps. Starting with the problem of determining whether a crime has occurred and judging what is in-game and what is out-of-game. Its focused on Swedish law, but to get an idea of the NZ picture, I recommend James Mountier’s What Happens On The Field Stays On The Field: When Should The Criminal Law Be Employed For Assaults During Sport?

Notes on Agency and Design: A love letter to larp from the hinterland of UK participatory drama (Jamie Harper): This one is interesting; the author is in interactive theatre (through the Hobo Theatre, which seems to do some interesting larplike things) with what looks like a bit of Nordic larp. In addition to looking at a couple of larpy and not-so-larpy interactive theatre pieces, there’s also an extended critique of the Nordic “play to lose”. Some of this is just the same old immersionism vs narrativism, but there’s also a narrativist critique: playing to lose robs other characters of their external obstacles, and may rob the emergent narrative of realism. There’s also a theatre perspective about the different role of the actors / players and the director, and whose role it is to create exciting drama.

And that’s Larp Realia done. Onto Larp Politics

If you don’t like a big, chunky academic PDF, it looks like the articles from this year are going up on Nordiclarp.org, starting with Representation and Social Capital