Knutepunkt 2021 talks

Knutepunkt 2021 happened at the beginning of October, and some of the talks were posted to the Nordiclarp YouTube channel last week. I watched a couple of them over the weekend, and this thread is for summaries and reaction.

First up:

The “S” Word by Simon Brind

  • This has a one-minute intro, then a bit more of extreme awkwardness, then a lot of IT problems which got in the way of the beginning of the talk, so you can skip the first 3 minutes.
  • The “S” word here is “Story” - something which is apparently now a dirty word in NordicLand (which is weird, given how heavy a focus it was in a lot of early Knudebooks).
  • To provoke people further, he quotes von Moltke: “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces”. Which he frames in larp form as “plot never survives first contact with the players”.
  • He promises a talk about “combat narratology” - how GMs introduce plot in real time in response to player actions. Unfortunately he gets distracted talking about larp psychology.
  • “Plot” is what GMs do, the pre-planned parts of the larp (events, but also apparently includes world-building and metaphysics)
  • “Story” is what happens during the larp. People make story from plot.
  • “Narrative” is what happens after the larp, how participants describe and talk about the events afterwards.
  • The distraction - on larpers being unreliable narrators due to bleed, imperfect observation, and being caught up in their own story, and then going to on talk about larp pschology and what is going on in our heads when we larp - begins here, and eats the rest of the talk. Which is a shame, because I really want to know more about combat narratology, because that’s actually useful. Our GMs do it, so insights into it could help improve practice or teach people new tricks.

Use of transparency to give agency - Martin Lindelien

  • transparency - no secrets; all game materials e.g. character sheets are available to all players
  • agency: we know what it means
  • The opening example is black hats in Conscience. They can roam the town doing horrible things, but its much better for everyone to do horrible things which are relevant to the victim characters.
  • Requires some homework and some subtlety to ensure pacing and avoid things seeming forced.
  • Also requires calibration with co-players.

Cardinal Sins of Larp - Johanna Koljonen

  • this was meant to be about sins of larp design, but it suffered from the usual crisis of confidence and imposter syndrome and ended up being rewritten in the bar the night before, with a revised methodology of “asking drunk people”.
  • The speaker was originally focused on playability. And a couple of their early, pre-bar examples - e.g. “Making the actions of a small group of characters everyone’s larp ending” - go in that direction, But when they looked at people’s drunken comments, they were able to group them into patterns, and use them to identify virtues.
  • The first group is setting the players up to fail. Things like “making players guess at their function”, or “clustering content onto too few players”, or “assuming all players can distribute play”, or “not on-boarding beginners”. They make the job of the players unnecessarily difficult, and make it hard for them to succeed as players (rather than as characters).
  • There are a bunch of things which are sins against co-creation, but that’s a very Nordic thing and they’re all very Nordic specific, and they seem less relevant to us.
  • The second cluster is sins against coherence (internal game self-consistency, both factual and thematic). Examples here are “obscuring the pacing” (e.g. not signalling a mid-game twist which will kill all other plot so that players can do that other plot first), or “making any storyline dependent on a single person” (who might not turn up), or “larp democracy” (in which your hierarchical authoritarian tyranny suddenly decides to vote on stuff). Other examples include “breaking the atmosphere” or inappropriate “off-gaming”.
  • There are some examples of GM failure to manage their life properly (overpromising, not asking for help, mess up larp-life balance and burning out) which are called sins against community. Obviously, its problematic, and something we don’t want to encourage, but I’m not sure these are so sinful.
  • There are several examples of breaking the internal game contract, from both directions. On the GM side, they’re basicly not actually writing the game (e.g. “making the players design your larp (in the workshop)” or “not being prepared”). There’s also the unpleasant-sounding “inappropriate content in kids larps”. There’s a strong aside here about no getting enough sleep, and not letting the players get enough sleep, and that’s definitely a sin. On the player side, there’s a thing called “dance-card larping” (preplanning all your scenes and who they will be with, and ignoring the rest of the game and treating it as a backdrop). Various things about consent and in-game and out-of game relationships. And then there’s “not participating”, which a bit complicated, but at the same time, sure, for the larp to work, people actually need to play it. “Leaving your pre-written relations stranded” and “vampire syndrome” (the primogen / anyone with any decision-making power goes into a room together and shuts the door) are also in this category.
  • Another bunch of Nordic things - including of course the Big Nordic Sin, “playing to win”, and its time for the summary.
  • The clusters identify three virtues of larp - co-creation, coherence, and community - as well as possibly communication and (game) contracts and respect for each other’s contributions.
  • There are some final thoughts on playability, but they’re not really about the topic.

Thoughts from an ADHD speed run:

As someone who is doing some larp related stuff, I find her point about “not setting a top intensitiy level for calibrated actions” really interesting - “there will always be someone who goes further.” That’s a good point for both players and GMs in interactions where there’s going to be a lot of emotion in “scripted” encounters.

I also laughed about her point about no matter what the setting larps will turn into socialism eventually lol. It happens so much.

All of the other points are pretty much “should be common sense but aren’t, for whatever reason.”

I might do a proper run through when I’m not tired from work.


I really want to know more about combat narratology, because that’s actually useful . Our GMs do it, so insights into it could help improve practice or teach people new tricks.

Yeah, same. It’s one of the hardest thing to master and is probably one of the most important skills to have in any kind of larp.

His other points are interesting, but the talk we got doesn’t feel like the talk we were promised.


Oh yes. We don’t do a lot of dynamic calibration play in Aotearoa,but if you’re going to do that, then telling people “and no more than this please” is a good idea.

The others are common sense, but their sinfulness varies in different contexts. For example, “not participating” - sure, yes, people are there to larp, so on some level you should engage, but at the same time we recognise there will be a variety of different energy levels and design for that. Or “leaving your pre-written relationships stranded”, where we expect some level of plot triage and prioritisation, so over-write in an effort to ensure that no-one is left out.

I think one of the really good ones is “not on-boarding beginners”, because I recognise it is something we are also bad at, and its something we should try and change. The question on that is how


Ensemble Play for Larp Magic - Jamie MacDonald and Anni Tolvanen

  • TL;DR: larpers could apply some skills from acting for better play.
  • “Larp magic” defined as unplanned, mutually satisfying play. Most of the audience claim to have experienced it.
  • Speakers are an actor and a musician, and examined larp with a performer’s eye in an effort to map what is going on, looking at things like space, timing, reactions, pace, relationships (there is a big list at 3:30)
  • “How do performers learn to make conscious creative decisions while collaborating with others”? Performers receive formal training (e.g. actors get trained in improv), and have a feedback loop of external criticism to improve their performance. Larpers don’t (for obvious reasons), and informal feedback in e.g. post-game threads focuses on “loud” play and ignores other styles.
  • Performers collaborating effectively produce a better performance as an ensemble. Larpers could apply the same skills to improve their play.
  • Suggest a long and non-exhaustive list of questions that are consciously or unconsciously asked (or could be asked) when considering an action in a larp (e.g. whether to contribute to a conversation). These are all above the character level, and seem very counter-immersive.
  • They note that this seems like a lot of work, and ask the obvious question: why can’t I just play my character and have a good time? The payoff is “more larp magic” - players feeding off and fuelling one another. So its something people can steer for.
  • Claim that ensembles don’t work if someone is left out, so applying these skills will also see more inclusive play.
  • A mid-talk IT interruption brings us to the idea of “dance-card larping”: people working with a group of players they know and trust to maximise their larp experience (consciously or unconsciously applying these ensemble skills with players they know how to work with?). Claim that this undermines collective creative efforts, undermines inclusivity, and “robs us of the magic of serendipity”. Suggests leaving space in your “dance card” for things which crop up.
  • Things you can do in practice: listen to co-creators, anticipate opportunities, pick up cues, pay attention to content other than your own, build for delayed gratification, decide when to act / step back / step up.
  • Pitfalls: the hunger to play big / ignoring other players; fear of standing out or of stepping up; perfectionism; obsession with larp magic (trying to chase the “cool scenes” all the time). Disagreements over play style is a bigger issue. “Social bias” - liking to play with some people rather than others.
  • More information: Ensemble Play on Nordic Larp.