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Conventions Larp

Stockholm Scenario Festival

In November I attended Stockholm Scenario Festival, a three-day gathering of about 130 people for short chamber larps and freeforms. Back in the spring the organizers had done a call for new games to run at the festival, and I submitted my Women on the Verge… They liked it, with certain tweaks which meant that what eventually got accepted was a slightly different version now called These Are the Days of Our Lives. (I’ll do a proper post about the differences some time.) So off I went!

What’s it like?

The festival takes place in a converted prison, on a pretty little island right in the middle of Stockholm. Part of the site is now a hotel/hostel, where you can stay; and part is a school, where the convention activities take place. The games are run in classrooms and in the school hall; which of course is not hugely immersive, but it’s very practical. Plentiful tasty food and coffee is included in the price of the ticket, and there’s a bar, and a party on Saturday night, and plenty of time to mix and chat between games.

When submitting a game you have to present it as a full script, so it can be run by any GM. This allows the festival to have multiple parallel runs of each game, depending on how many people want to play. GMs volunteer from among the attenders. Four GMs got assigned to run These Are the Days of Our Lives, and although one dropped out, they were generously replaced by someone who’d played it when I ran it at Grenselandet a couple of weeks previously. From what the players said afterwards, they all did a fantastic job!

Seems Only Yesterday

My first game was Seems Only Yesterday, a new larp by Lauma Klintsone. The author attended the Larpwriter Summer School, and the game had the solidity and thought-throughness that you’d expect from that background. It’s about a group of childhood friends who reunite at their old home town. We created the characters from scratch in the workshop, and developed bonds and tensions between them. Play proceeded via a clever mechanism where as we walked around the house that had belonged to our friend who had just died, flashback scenes were triggered of ourselves together as children and as teenagers. It felt very real and meaningful, and was a nice way to bond with a few people early on in the convention.

I think we slightly undercut the objective by not playing much on the tensions and resentments of each other that we’d had as kids: it felt like by adulthood they had become fairly unimportant, rather than being brooding and growing concerns. So the overall atmosphere was rather conciliatory and amiable, and perhaps not as fraught as Lauma had expected. But we very much enjoyed our fluffy version!

Love in the Age of Debasement

Next I played this classic Larp from the Factory, written by Erlend Eidsem Hansen and Geir Tore Brekke. Players are divided up into pairs, and each pair plays a couple in a troubled relationship, meeting at a café. They talk; have a confrontation; sit in silence; have a second confrontation; come to a decision. It’s a beautifully simple and clear structure, which allows some powerful emotional play to be generated quickly and easily.

The development of each couple’s story is determined by the overall soundtrack. Each couple chooses two songs, and when one of their songs comes round on the (fairly random) sequence of music that’s playing in the café, that triggers that particular couple to move to the next phase of their confrontation. So the stories (we had seven couples running in parallel) all start and finish at the same time, but drift out of phase with each other inbetween. Being able to comment on the emotional antics of the other couples in the café can be a useful distraction from one’s own troubles!

I’m very impressed with the simplicity and flexibility of this game’s design: a real lesson in ‘less is more’.

Prosthetics

I hadn’t initially signed up for this game, but there was a space and I had a free slot, so I thought as it sounded interesting I’d give it a go. It’s a somewhat surreal new larp, by Kristoffer Lindh and Amelie Rother-Shirren, about a couple in a troubled relationship (again!) who attempt to resolve their problems by building a dream house together. Players are divided into groups of three (the couple – Nicky and Alex – and their architect/GM), but during the course of the game these threes get crossed over and mixed up, as identities break down. There’s a lot of drawing of floorplans and arguing politely over the relative merits of straight lines and curves. The architect is an odd God-like presence at times, shifting reality around the couple. As they lose themselves in the house project, their grasp on their sanity and on each other weakens and drifts away. By the end, everyone seems to be happy, but it may be that they are now completely detached from reality and from the relationship.

It was a fascinating experience, and much more silly and fun than that probably sounds. Recommended!

Easter – a Tragedy

My last game of the festival was I think the most enjoyable of all. Easter – a Tragedy was written by Tim Slumstrup Aunkilde and lasts just around two hours (the others above were all pretty much four-hour games). It’s about a repressed family of four – parents and two adult children – who meet up every Easter for a traditional meal. All are scared of the father’s anger and potential violence, so they’re careful not to talk about anything difficult or disturbing that might set him off. Each scene consists of the Easter meal; then the players are told what happens to their characters during the following year; then they go into the next Easter meal; and so on. We were told that in theory it could go on indefinitely, until one of the characters cracks and causes an incident of some sort – either opening up their own behaviour and actions, or questioning or exposing those of another.

It’s a tragedy in the sense that these people are unable to communicate meaningfully with each other because of fear and anxiety, but it plays out like a black comedy. The scenes were played dead solemn: but inbetween, we as players were in screaming fits of laughter, as the absurdity mounted and it became harder and harder to keep a straight face in character. I would love to run this game in the UK, I think people would enjoy it hugely.

And home again

So Stockholm was a lot of fun. I flew out on the Friday morning and back on the Monday morning, and managed to get in a good deal of gaming and chatting – with old friends and new – in that time. There’s a great variety of games available, from intense to silly, life-affirming to horrific, large to small. I hope to be able to go again – and you should too, if you like the sound of it!

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