Okay, let’s face it everyone: America is kind of a terrifying place right now. It’s a country full of political infighting, awful rhetoric about nuclear proliferation, with a… severely problematic person in the White House. Every day as an American is an exercise in maintaining calm in the face of catastrophic governmental change.
Yet in the face of such horror, there are people who are standing up against such forces. They remember the idea that was America, the ideology that sparked a revolution to turn a group of British colonies into their own nation. And as problematic as that history is (and it really, really is), there are some ideas in the documents of the founding fathers of America that have some great ideas.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
The Nordic larp world is known for its manifestos. From the serious to the tongue-in-cheek, manifestos provoke thought, even anger and irritation, among communities. They’re the voice of an idea given documented form, meant to share and debate and spark creative thought. The Nordic Larp scene has a lot of these manifestos. But I hadn’t seen that many which were very, very American.
So I decided to write one.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident-
That all men, women, and otherwise are created equal in the sight of the community of play.
That no man, woman, or otherwise is less or more than another, but stand shoulder to shoulder in the state of play that we enter to enjoy live action games. From player to organizer to business person and crafter, from the newest member to the longest-lived antediluvian of a group, we stand as a community at play, at once equal to one another in value and worth. By action alone does a member earn further respect, and yet this remains not to set them above or apart but to better the community as a whole. For without the community of play, the individual can achieve nothing alone.”
Welcome to the Declaration of Larp Independence (downloadable here). Based on ideas many larpers would call “very American,” it tackles the issues of equality in the larp community, responsibility towards said community, and more. May there be more American manifestos in the future. After all, we can’t let down the red-white-and-blue, can we?
I’m excited to announce that the video of my short TED-talk like Nordic Larp Talk in Gothenburg 2014 has gone up. The topic is “Ethical Content Creation and The Freedom to Create” which was based on my research for my article on ethical content creation in the WyrdCon Companion Book for 2013. I’m really proud to have been included in this brilliant event, and encourage folks to check out the other Nordic Larp Talks for this and year’s past.
UPDATE 7/23/13: Holy cow folks! Only a few hours after I put up this post and people are sending me so many suggestions to add to the list. As I said in the post, this was not a comprehensive list but MAN the list is longer now. I might turn this into a perm-link on my blog and just keep updating but for now, thank you to everyone on Facebook for the suggestions (and spelling corrections – sorry bout that to those I misspelled or mis-linked). Updates ahoy!
A few days ago, RPG writer and all around awesome designer Josh Jordan asked me what I might put on a reading list for someone who wanted to get into learning more about LARP. It occurred to me that I couldn’t find many lists that had many of the texts that I drew on when growing up in the LARP community. So I put together a long list of the books I considered important reading for myself. Note: THIS IS NOT A COMPREHENSIVE LIST. There are dozens of other blogs, articles, books and magazines that are important and relevant and I urge folks to share at the bottom. This is just a reading list that has impacted me and my design. With that in mind, on we go!
The two biggest subsections of LARP in the US have got to be theater style-games and boffer or live combat games. Theater games have got their history going back ages but there are a number of books that seriously impacted the growth of the hobby.
One such game system was the Mind’s Eye Theatre system created by White Wolf as the live-action version of their very popular World of Darkness tabletop series. Created in the 90’s, Mind’s Eye Theatre became the staple for live-action theatre games like Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension, Changeling: The Dreaming and half a dozen more. With easily over thirty books put out in the first line alone, Mind’s Eye Theatre became the originator for the often discussed rock-paper-scissor resolution mechanic in LARP, as well as a good example of the ups and downs of translating a tabletop RPG into a LARP format. The MET books became the basis for the live-action Camarilla Club, an international organization that united MET enthusiasts that still exists to this day. Since I’m a big fan of some of these supplement books, I’ll call out Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: the Dreaming as two of the better ones, as well as the Wraith book Oblivion. These books aren’t just well-done, they’re interesting when compared to their tabletop brethren and often beautifully laid out and designed. I’ll also toss in that a number of them were written by the amazing Peter Woodworth, whose blog will be linked later for sheer LARP advice awesomeness.
Mind’s Eye Theater books went through a number of revisions over the years. The second major revision after the 90’s version (known as Old White Wolf or OWoD) came when White Wolf reset its World of Darkness setting in the early 2000’s. This reset spawned a new set of books with new adaptations from the tabletop rules. These books changed one factor: like the tabletop, they had a core book with basic rules that could then be adapted to any of the World of Darkness core sets like Vampire or Mage or Changeling. The core book bears looking at for the rules adaptation alone, but if you’re not into the individual creature settings the later books are unnecessary (but decent reads).
Recently, Mind’s Eye Theatre has seen its third revamping when it was purchased by another company known as By Night Productions. This new version of the game will be taking the old rules system through a serious set of revamps and recently held a Kickstarter that was extremely successful. Though hints about the changes have been dropped, we’ll have to wait and see what that looks like.
So now that we’ve gone through Mind’s Eye, what else is out there for theater LARPs that we can talk about? How about my second love Cthulhu Live! Based on the works of HP Lovecraft, Cthulhu Live takes all the fun you have in those Call of Cthulhu tabletop games, puts you in a room and tries to scare the living pants off of you. This game had three editions and I can site both of them as great reads for different reasons. The second edition, while I’m more meh on the rules system, has a fantastic section in the back about staging games and how to create fantastic monsters and sets for your events. The third edition of this game however is what has my heart as a go-to for simple, intuitive game design that works fast and well no matter where you play. I was introduced to this game at the Double Exposure conventions by the fantastic PST Productions, picked up this book and never looked back. After playing nearly thirty of these scenarios, I’ve always felt this book and its system are a gem that not enough people appreciate for fluid game design and excellent intellectual property adaptation.
And speaking of excellent adaptation and hidden gems, how about Passion Play. Passion Play is the LARP adaptation of the Fading Suns tabletop RPG. Haven’t heard of it? Its not that popular out there and it takes a hell of a lot to find the books these days, but Fading Suns is a fascinating space opera setting that dances over a lot of lines. Its parts Cowboy Bebop, parts Firefly and a lot of space baronies and weird interplanetary politics. Sound like fun? I thought so! I was introduced to the game as a LARP at a convention and worked my butt off to track down the LARP book. While it focuses a great deal on showcasing the setting, the book is a great read about how to translate an existing complex world into a LARP text and also how to adapt that property’s mechanics in a recognizable way. See if you can track it down – it’s not the easiest book to find!
To say that this is the short list of theater style games is absolutely the case. Other books suggested include:
Cyberworld, a Cyberpunk LARP by Dark Ages Games (Older but worthwhile)
Also I’m going to plug an upcoming project that’s now in the works for theater style games – Chronos! Made by Eschaton Media, who incidentally created the Dystopia Rising tabletop books, Chronos is a card-based theatrical LARP system that will be publishing multiple skein worlds for players to enjoy. I’m particularly proud of this project because I’m one of the writers involved, with work done on the corebook as well as for a skein about animal spirits in a noir world. Check out the Facebook group for Chronos for more information or Eschaton Media’s website.
There’s also a ton of theatrical scenarios that are great to take a look at, such as “Voyage of the Mary Celeste” and “Marin County New Age Society Cocktail Party” both by Interactivities Ink (thanks to Christopher Amherst for the suggestion!), but they can be found individually in locations online. (A link is provided to one such resource later in this post).
Another game I want to call out for awesomeness straddles the line between theatrical LARP and, well… more team building exercis – Shelter In Place. This Ennie Award winner is part party game, part zombie apocalypse LARP written by the fantastic JR Blackwell. I’m a huge fan of this simple, fun game. The book itself is gorgeously done and its a perfect example of how a LARP does not need to be complicated, but rather can be played anytime, anywhere, if its the right game.
Boffer/Live Combat Games
Jumping over from theater games, we’re going to talk about a reading list for boffer games! This list is a little more difficult to compile as many boffer LARPs don’t have physical books that have come out and rely on rules systems put out in PDF form. Still, we’re electronic savvy so let’s take a look at what I could dig up and put together.
First will go the one nearest and dearest to my heart: Dystopia Rising. Its no secret that I’m a huge supporter of this fast growing franchise (I work for Dystopia’s flagship game in New Jersey as a full-time storyteller!) but part of the reason for that support comes down to the amazing rules system and LARP book put out by the game. First available in PDF form to players and now released in physical form, called the Dystopia Rising Survivor’s Guide, this rules system is a fluid bit of live combat gaming that combines melee combat and nerf gun ranged shooting into one zombie apocalypse mix. The book is also a great example of a great mix of world setting material, rules information and practical advice and rules for how to play in one of the games across the country. Its easily available to players off the website too and has a beautiful book now for those who want a home edition.
There are other boffer games out there of course. In fact, there are literally hundreds. The well-known names that I could mention include NERO and LAIRE, which are known for their branches across the country and their long history. A working list of these games would start with:
But this is by no means comprehensive. LARPing.org has a fantastic list on their site for games that is listed in the website links below that would do more justice to the vast number of these games then I could possible begin to. Sufficed to say, if there’s a flavor of boffer game out there you want to look into, that’s a good place to start looking.
One can’t have a conversation about LARP right now without discussing Nordic Larp. The tradition is so huge in the art house style gaming sector in Europe that it has come over to spread its intense live-action joy over in the US. What’s Nordic Larp about? A great place to start learning more is in the Nordic Larp book, a whopping beautiful full-color textbook of a read by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola. This book breaks down the ideas behind the Nordic Larp movement as well as discusses the important games that have been done over the years. Recently the book was recognized for excellence by winning the 2012 Diana Jones Awards at GenCon. While this book is difficult to get your hands on in the US, it is worth what you need to do to get a copy. (I carried mine back all the way from Norway!)
Other resources on Nordic Larp include the journals for the Nordic Larp conference Knutepunkt. Well, its called Knutepunkt when its in Norway. Otherwise it is called Solmokohta in Finland, Knutpunkt in Sweden and Knudepunkt in Denmark . But the journals from these amazing conferences have some fantastic writing about Nordic Larp including theory discussions, game breakdowns and insightful essays. The physical copies are hard to track down except in Europe but they are available in PDF format. The easiest place to find them all? Linked to this Wiki entry! (Thank you to Nathan Hook for pointing me in this direction).
If that doesn’t give you something to start with, some more links to blogs and websites below will supplement all the Nordic Larp reading madness.
Want games with a little less crunch that employ a lot of the techniques of Nordic LARP? Look no further than the freeform or jeepform games being developed the world over. This style of games is focused largely around the Fastival conference out of Denmark and a great blog post by Lizzie Stark can give you the lowdown more on what this kind of games are all about. A great example of a game like this would be lots of work done by Emily Care Boss, like her relationship game Under My Skin. I’m still dipping my toes into this kind of LARP form but its influence has certainly unburdened me of the notion that system is a rigid form for storytelling in the hobby.
Not all LARPs come in books of course, or even giant PDFs. Sometimes people write LARP games that come in single PDFs that are easy to access, print out, and play with your friends. These are often scattered all across the internet but a few locations have them all compiled for your downloading pleasure. I put these here because each of these LARPs is almost a unique book in their own right, and having a location to find them all is brilliant.
The first location is this LARP Scenarios posting on RPGnet’s Wiki. It’s got, no joke, more scenarios linked then I know what to do with, and each of them could be a fun encounter or event planned for your group. Special thanks to Nathan Hook for passing this along to me, I’d completely forgotten.
From here we go over to books about LARPs themselves, specifically books that chronicle specific LARPs and document the events. This documentation is a very European concept in games but has been imported by folks like Lizzie Stark and Sarah Lynne Bowman to capture the ephemeral nature of LARP games. While there are bunches of these books, two stand out in my mind in particular as impactful of my understanding of other LARPs and how they work.
The first is The Book of Kapo, edited by Claus Raasted. This book chronicles the Nordic game Kapo, which allowed players to experience simulated life in a ruthlessly bleak prison camp. The game was extremely well documented with extensive interviews with players and many photos and the book goes full color to showcase the full impact of the event. This book is also a little difficult to put your hands on as its availability seems to be mostly in Europe, but there are PDF versions available online.
A second book is a US creation this time. The book of the US run of the game Mad About the Boy, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman with layout by Claus Raastad, chronicles the work done to bring over the amazing Nordic game about a world where all the men have died and society is run by women. Inspired by Y: The Last Man this game has been impactful in gender discourse in games and the book spends a lot of time documenting in detail the experiences of the all-female cast of this one-shot American run of the game. The book is available in PDF format here.
Speaking of Claus Rasstad, another book for calling out is 100.000 Swords Can’t Be Silenced. This gorgeous PDF book, also by Rollespils Akademiet, is a short introduction to LARP with some amazing full color photography. Its intended to be an intro for kids but this book could be an example for all new LARPers. Its got some interesting things to say about framing violence in games too as presented to children that can apply to the discussion about violence in games in general.
Another of note, suggested to me by larp writer and fellow American visitor to KP Christopher Amherst is The White War, the documentation of a well-known game “about culture clash in an occupied land.” I have JUST gotten my hands on this PDF thanks to the Rollespilsakademiet website (to which we owe much for many PDFs listed here) but I’m fascinated to give it a read. And kind of sad I didn’t grab the physical text while I was in Europe. (My suitcase was only so big!)
Books About LARP (Non-Fiction)
So now we head away from game books themselves and start talking about books that talk ABOUT LARP. These non-fiction books are not exactly entirely academic and so they get their own category away from the textbook section (see below). There are two that I would put forward as great examples of this category.
The first is the well-known Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark. A well-known writer and journalist, Lizzie spent time immersing herself in the world of LARP to research for this book, throwing herself into a boffer game for months and traveling all over the country to speak to gamers at conventions and events. The result is an intimate portrait of the hobby from the people who play it in many different ways told from the inside. The book’s widely available and is supplemented by articles on Lizzie’s blog.
The second is a collection of essays called Immersive Gameplay, by Evan Torner and William J. White. This book has a collection of discussions about roleplaying and the importance of immersive games in media in general. While not only discussing LARP, this book bears mentioning as well for great input on the conversation.
Another I’ll mention but that’s a little dated is The Book of LARPby Mike Young. This book has been around for a while and is an easy in for early discussions about what is LARP. It includes some basics and deserves a look for those who want to know more early discussion about the hobby. It’s not that easy to find these days either however.
I’m also going to include here Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gamer Geeks, the biographical exploration of one man’s journey to reconcile his geekiness. As a long time nerd who has mixed feelings about the hesitation lots of nerds feel about embracing the hobby, I found the book difficult starting off but thoroughly enjoyed it overall.
Then there’s Hamlet’s Hit Points, a fantastic resource about writing games by game design legend Robin Laws. This book is an essential tool for writing good roleplaying games, focusing on the traditional act structures of theater and film to instruct GMs how to craft better narratives. I almost hesitated to include this only because there are many writing books about roleplaying that I might do a separate post about but for now it deserves a place. (UPDATE: Do to the large number of just roleplaying and writing suggestions, I will be doing another post about this after all).
While magazines about LARP are not as common, there is one in particular that I collected with some happiness. Playground was a LARP magazine collecting essays about Nordic LARP experiences and techniques, commentary and controversy. It is my infinite sadness that the magazine has unfortunately stopped being published, but there are still some issues out there to be tracked down (predominantly in Europe).
I’ve been looking for more magazines also but I believe most of them are in Europe and I’ve not found as many so far. Also, honestly, the age of the blogsphere seems to be putting these magazines to bed. But if anyone knows of any more, toss them my way!
So here’s where the rubber meets the road. You want more on LARP and you want to go Academic, there are a few books you can look at. Pervasive Games by Annika Waern, Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola is an immediate go-to for me. The book not only talks about LARP but other pervasive (also known as big) games, such as ARGs. The book digs into the nuts and bolts of what makes these off the table and off the screen games work and the section on LARP is very well done.
Another book is called Functions of Role-Playing Games by Sarah Lynne Bowman. This book, while not just broken down to talking about LARP, discusses the psychological and sociological functions that role-playing games fill in society. A great piece of work by an amazing academic in the field!
An online academic resource to be found is the International Journal of Role-playing which acts as a gathering place for papers regarding roleplaying in all forms. Though not strictly about LARP, this resource is fundamental for anyone who wants to really get into the crunchy discussions about what makes roleplaying tick on a theory level.
There are many individual papers, doctoral theses and articles that could be included as well. However one particular one, On The Edge of the Magic Circle: Understanding Pervasive Games and Role-Playing by Markus Montola is, in my opinion, an important work on incorporating and understanding the construction of roleplaying games in relation to game design theory (such as the magic circle concept). Montola stands as one of the voices on pervasive games (as his above credit on the textbook shows) and his doctoral thesis stands as another example of why.
Blogs and Websites
And now the hard part. Blogs. There are LOTS of blogs that talk about LARP from across the world and tons of websites too. However here I’m going to list just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head that I read on a regular basis. These blogs have articles that discuss LARP events, theory and discourse that can provide great insight into the hobby. Take ’em as they come.
LARPing.org – This beautiful website has articles that cross the spectrum of games across the country. I highly recommend it for an eyeful of beautiful photos and thought provoking discussion. One of their best resources is also a list of games in all parts of the world, but especially by state in the US so check that out. (Also: support their visit to ComicCon!)
Nordiclarp.org – Want to know more about the Nordic scene, events and talks going on about the form? Check out this website. Its constantly being updated and has tons to say. They have a wiki too which is fantastic and a forum! Most of it is in English!
Dymaxion: A Nordic LARP Discourse – Want still more on Nordic LARP? This extensive breakdown on the Nordic LARP tradition includes videos and information about just what is Nordic LARP (a conversation and discussion that has been going on for a long time).
LARP Doctor – This website is completely new to me but its been suggested by a number of folks for great LARP articles. I’m really digging the discussions about great storyteller habits. (Also: support their visit to ComicCon!)
Confessions of a Wrathful LARPER – This blog run by Craig Page of the tri-state area LARP scene has many great articles about issues and ideas in LARP. I’d check it out for easy, fun and thoughtful reading.
Peter Woodworth’s Blog – You can’t get much better than Peter Woodworth’s writing on LARP. His discussion on play tactics are some of the best around and his advice on how to be a great player can inform designers on how to encourage such gameplay.
Lizzie Stark’s Blog – Informed by her experiences researching Leaving Mundania, Lizzie Stark has become one of the leading US voices in LARP, especially as an advocate for the Nordic tradition. Her advice about LARP on the blog and cross-posts about other great things going on in the hobby are fantastic for keeping track of the art-larp scene overseas and here in the states.
Nathan Hook’s Blog – Nathan Hook is a fantastic LARP academic from England whose articles have appeared in numerous publications over the years. His continued work on his blog is a worthwhile addition to any reading list.
The Larpwright – Eirik Fatland’s blog has multiple articles about LARP that highlight why he’s such a crucial figure in discussions about LARP theory overseas. I highly suggest his blog to anyone interested in technique discussion focusing on Nordic traditions, but his talks in general about how LARP can help us understand things like war are fascinating.
I am forgetting things. There’s no way I’m not. But this is a great start for a reading list that is very, very long. There are more projects in development which I’m looking forward to, including an upcoming book on writing LARP scripts and an encyclopedia of roleplay that will have tons of information on the history of LARP. But for now, this is the list that I’ve got. I hope you find something that fits your fancy.
Updates on 11/23 include: Additions such as the Larp Scenarios wiki page from RPGnet, Nathan Hook’s blog, spelling errors and link problems, 100.000 Swords by Claus Raastad, Shelter in Place, new boffer games added, Markus Montola’s doctoral thesis, Hamlet’s Hit Points, and a few more.