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Conventions Larp

Stockholm Scenario Festival 2016

I went for the second time to Stockholm Scenario Festival, early in November – you can read here about my first visit, last year. This time I was part of a quite decent-sized UK-based contingent, and I think overall the attenders might have been a bit more internationally mixed than last year.

In stages

I was running It’s Just a Stage, with co-author Karolina Sołtys – who had to start without me on the Friday evening, as my plane had been delayed. I turned up partway into the introductory workshop… but Karolina had been doing a fantastic job and basically ran the larp by herself, while I recovered from the journey. This was the first exposure of a bunch of fairly extensive changes that we’d made after the playtest; and also of a load of new character archetypes. Thankfully it all seemed to go pretty well, and the players seemed happy!

The next morning I returned the favour and ran It’s Just a Stage by myself, while Karolina was busy with her other larp Living Embers (co-written with David Owen, Laura Wood and Patrik Balint). This time there were 8 players – there had been 12 the previous night, and we were to have 15 at Consequences the following weekend. It was good to see that it worked well and ran to schedule across this wide range of numbers. I think the smaller group perhaps made for a more intimate playing experience: but broadly it was similar, and this gives us some confidence in the solidity of the design.

ABBA and Mom

Saturday afternoon was Love Stories by ABBA, designed by Anna Westerling. This has a neat structure: groups of five characters play closely together as a pop band and associates, but three such bands were touring together and able to mix and socialize. I was Curt, the charismatic singer of the band Stardust. The story plays out over a long summer tour during which characters fall in and out of love, fail to cope with success, split up the band, and so on.

The larp is strongly fateplayed – the outcomes of each scene are predetermined, the players just decide how to play towards them. And during each scene, certain characters are instructed to sing a dramatically appropriate selection of ABBA songs. The whole experience is ‘GMed’ by a continuous video projection which includes the requisite lyrics at those points.

I thought this was all huge fun – apart from the delight of a strong alibi for singing and dancing (badly, in my case) together, it was a strong structure and a great illustration for me of how fateplay can work. Of course, you do have to like ABBA… I have heard there are some strange people who don’t…

An innnovation from last year was the addition of an extra 1-hour slot on the Saturday evening. It was dedicated to a selection of larps from the (excellent) #Feminism anthology. I played in Susanne Vejdemo’s So Mom I Made This Sex Tape, which is about the attitudes of different generations of feminists towards sex and porn, and how a family can resolve differences when the political becomes personal. Thoughtful, and cleverly designed: there were four runs of it going on in parallel, and I think they all had different outcomes.

Alex and Kate

On Sunday morning I played XY, a new larp from Frederik Berg. This is framed as a group therapy session for characters suffering from alexithymia – the condition of being unable to express one’s own emotions, or understand the emotions of others. Players invent their characters – there’s no workshopping or calibration or anything, you just go straight in. The GM (playing the therapist) has a bunch of questions and activities that they can use to shape discussion, and that’s pretty much it.

Our group of players had a mix of approaches to portraying the condition, which made for an interesting varied session. My own take was to accept the hint that the title gives, and to consider ‘alexithymia’ as allegorical of traditional masculinity. So I played a high-functioning character who was severely emotionally repressed, to the point almost of manipulative sociopathy. It was an intense and thought-provoking experience.

Then the final larp of the weekend was Never Forever, by Kristoffer Lindh and Martin Rother-Schirren – the latest in their series of designs inspired by Kate Bush albums. This is about two couples, each member being played by three players – as a teenager, in early middle age, and at retirement. All three ages are present at the same (masking-taped) holiday cabin. Some scenes have one age playing and the others watching; some have all playing but not interacting in the same reality; and finally they all briefly coexist. This had a pleasingly surreal quality, and a fun structure which made the complex premise playable.

Moving on

This was the last scenario festival on Långholmen – the organizers are looking for a new venue from next year. I’ll be aiming to return, wherever it is – I really enjoy this weekend of new and old friends and new and established games.

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