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Larp

Chamber larps roundup

This post is to round up a bunch of chamber larps that I’ve played in recently. Great variety of cool stuff: thanks to all the organizers and GMs! (And the designers of course 🙂

Previous Occupants

written by Frederik Berg Østergaard and Tobias Wrigstad, as part of the Vi åker jeep group; organized by Laura Wood

A jeepform for four players, who play two couples staying in the same motel room: one couple in the past, the other in the present. During the first act, they alternate scenes, building towards (for the couple in the past) a murder–suicide, and (for the later couple) their first sexual intercourse. Then the second act plays out as one continuous scene in the present, in which the couple from the past are ghosts in the room. As ghosts they are able to temporarily possess ther successors, so the four players alternate in and out of playing the two living characters. This act is directed towards some sort of resolution – most commonly, one of them killing the other, as a result of what the ghosts have been telling them.

This was an interesting play experience. It was one of the later (2010) games to be published under the jeepform banner. It’s important to recognize the huge influence that the jeepers had on the development of chamber larp as we currently know it, but also of course things have moved on quite a bit further since those times. Previous Occupants felt kind of old-fashioned to me – it deals with self-consciously edgy material (sex, death) and generates a good story, but it didn’t seem to have the emotional depth and self-awareness that I associate with more modern larps that handle similar subjects. It felt more like a fun entertainment experience rather than an insightful and valuable one.

But saying that, it certainly was fun, and the structure is clever. If it sounds interesting to you, then give it a go and see what you think, for sure.

Inside

written and organized by Laura Wood

Playtest of a new short larp in which the characters are inmates in a modern-day (UK) women’s prison. There is one continuous scene of about 45 minutes, which is them attending an English lesson as part of the prison’s education programme. It’s a low-key personal and realistic drama, with very little in common with Prisoner: Cell Block H or Orange is the New Black (in case that was the way your mind was going!)

(We tested it with the teacher as a player-character as well as the inmates, but discussion afterwards suggested it might work better if this was a GM/facilitator role.)

Characters were created in a brief workshop which involved choosing life-story elements (aspects of childhood, of adulthood, of the crime committed, of experiences with education, of experiences of prison life). They were also given rumours about each other.

I found this tremendously immersive and powerful – the frame of a lesson which your character doesn’t want to attend, shut in with people who she hates or fears, time dragging on seemingly endlessly while the teacher tries to get people to concentrate and work – the sense of repressed desperation was tangible.

Keep an eye out if Inside comes to you, perhaps at an upcoming larp festival – it didn’t need much post-playtest tweaking to be ready for unleashing on the world.

Anything for N.

written by Aleksander Tukaj and Mikołaj Wicher; organzied by Will Osmond

I’m not sure if this larp by two Polish authors is newish, or just newishly translated into English; but either way the rest of the world has recently aware of it. Characters are members of a cult-like commune in the modern-day USA, led by the charismatic ‘N.’ (This is written as a player role, but we played with the GM doing it, which seemed to make more sense.) It plays out more or less in real time a period of a few hours in the cult’s existence, which builds towards a set of climactic events.

The design is non-transparent, so I won’t say too much about the secret stuff that unfolds: but also this in itself is pretty unusual for me, these days, in chamber larp. Part of the drive towards transparency in recent years has been because of concern around consent: it;’s not possible for players to meaningfully consent to a larp’s contents or events if these are kept secret from them. At least as much, though, comes from the feeling that a story can be played out more satisfyingly if all are aware of what’s going to be happening. This comes though I think from indie tabletop RPG, and perhaps the recent Dawnstone (where players not only knew all the ‘secrets’, they had written them for each other) is the strongest exemplar of how full transparency can work well in a tradtional ‘adventure’ type of setting, not just in abstract larp or other recherché subgenres.

Anyway that’s a bit of a digression… so Anything for N. was built around a succession of scenes of ritual activity. The cult members were strictly ordered, and had a range of physical tasks to carry out, working together and separately. N.’s presence was intermittent and powerful, and the structure worked well to build belief and reverence, as members’ individuality got gradually submerged by the common goals. It felt to me like a thoughtful and plausible exploration of the mechanics of belief – applicable not just to cults, of course, but also to more traditional belief systems, to political movements, and so on.

The larp is quite strongly shaped, and players have very little agency over their characters’ actions – only one of the characters has any very meaningful choice to make. They are pretty much playing out the authors’ vision, rather than making their own story. This is not going to suit everyone; but again I would say do give it a go if you think it sounds like you might get something good from it.

First Blast of the Trumpet

written and organized by Laura Wood and Patrick Bálint

Another playtest! The characters are members of a modern-day direct-action feminist group, who are called upon to undertake the assassination of a political leader, with the understanding that this will arrest or reverse the country’s slide towards patriarchal dystopia. The one continuous scene is basically them arguing with each other and with their consciences about whether this can be justified. It’s contextualized with real-world illustrations of ways in which women’s rights are being eroded, or in which the rights theoretically won are not capable of being enforced.

Rather than a kind of debating-club exercise in morality, though, the point of the larp design is to make the characters’ feelings immensely personal. So each of them has a motivating scene in their backstory, which they play out during the workshop. Then during play, each of them can revisit that scene and play it out again in a black-box-like way, only more intensely and patriarchally-skewed, to reaffirm their personal wish for revenge and their commitment to the cause. This was a clever and effective mechanism for injecting tension and raw feeling into what might otherwise have been in danger of feeling a bit sterile as a topic.

The test version was quite raw, and there are some aspects to the story setup which are working against each other rather than in support, so I felt like First Blast of the Trumpet needs a bit of revision work. But the basic idea is terrific, and I hope the authors manage to get the next version ready soon!

Parmiddagen

written by Anna-Karin Linder; organized by Patrik Bálint

So this one has an interesting background. Earlier this year, Sveriges Radio broadcast Parmiddagen, a play in six parts, written by Anna-Karin Linder together with Daniel Karlsson, Frida Englund, Magnus Berg, Sofia Ekman Neves, and Malin Axelsson. The play had been developed using larp techniques, led by Anna-Karin – the characters were workshopped, and the storyline improvised by the actors, as though they were larpers; and this was recorded and made into what ended up sounding like a radio drama. Unfortunately my Swedish isn’t good enough to know what the result was like… but you can find it online if you’d like to hear it.

Anyway, afterwards, Anna-Karin turned it into a more standard sort of chamber larp, for six players; Patrik translated it into English; and that’s what we played. It’s about three couples having dinner together at one of their houses. It’s divided into three scenes, to match the three courses of the meal; and between the scenes (which are loosely themed), each character gets a handout with a little extra bit of steering guidance.

Play is naturalistic and dramatic: these are characters at crisis points in their lives. There was shouting, crying, hugging, recrimination, and all that other good stuff that you look for when people who’ve been together for a long time get together and get drunk. The characters feel very real, and the players have plenty of agency – they can take their stories towards a wide range of group and personal outcomes.

To me Parmiddagen felt like a classic real-world-drama larp – the characters were comfortable to play and to play against, the material was familiar and easy to work with, the structure supported play nicely (you play it around a real meal, so the process of bringing food to the table helps to restore focus – and so on), and the stories evolved satisfyingly. It wasn’t a life-changing experience from which I learned things, but they don’t always have to be… it was a lot of fun and a nice group bonding event for us as players.

 

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