For nearly the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of touring Nordica, traveling to Grenselandet, a Norwegian chamber larp convention, as well as the inaugural Stockholm Scenario Festival in Sweden, and helping launch the amazing Larps from the Factory book, a collection of 20+ larpscripts from the Norwegian larp factories.
What is Grenselandet?
It’s a small convention for about 150 people run by Fantasiforbundet (the fantasy factory), an Oslo-based larp group that has also been instrumental in helping support larp communities in Palestine and elsewhere.
The convention lasted only two days, which provided a mere three slots to players to get their game on, buffered with lots of social time.
Who attends Grenselandet?
Lots of locals from the vibrant Trondheim and Oslo scenes, of course. But there is also a very significant international presence–I met larpers from the four Nordic countries, plus Germany, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and many more. If I had to ballpark it, I’d estimate that maybe one-third to one-half of all participants were foreigners.
This cosmopolitan quality made for interesting conversation and play experiences.
What does one play at Grenselandet?
The game schedule contained a mixture of freeform games and chamber larps, including black box larps, ranging from typical Nordic weeping porn to games that looked traditionally fun.
Games had to be play-tested before the con, and the game creators were present and ran the scenarios for us. Games written by participants all over the world–from Palestine to France–found a home here.
What was the coolest thing about the convention?
I like that it was short and sweet, and left plenty of time for socializing outside of the games. At many conventions, I feel whipped from one game to the next, with little time to process my experiences and get to know the cool people I’ve just played with.
The short con with few slots is part of Grenselandet’s design, according to Martin Nielsen, one of the convention organizers. He told me he like the idea of there being too much cool stuff to play everything, and of participants talking to each other in the hallways about their different (but equally awesome) experiences.
What did you play?
In addition to running my freeform scenario, The Curse, I played two games.
Bipolar Lush, by Gilberg Kraag
This was an autobiographical scenario about living with bipolar and alcoholism. Apparently, bipolar patients have a high rate of substance abuse, often as they try to self-medicate. In this game for three players, one portrayed the patient, one portrayed all of the people who try to care for the patient (psychiatrists, police officers, family, etc), and I portrayed the demon of disease and addiction. We played the scenes of a break
It was an intense scenario with some really dark moments, and I found it fascinating to glimpse what the reality of living with this condition might be like. My two co-players had a more deep and thought-provoking experience than mine, I think. Strangely, the scenario ended up being fun in the traditional sense of the word for me. It’s fun to tempt people to the dark side, to hype them up when they’re feeling good and rag on them when they’re feeling bad. I left the scenario energized and feeling ready for the Friday party, commemorating the fourth anniversary of Fantasiforbundet.
Debt and Deliverance by Sofia Stenler, Annica Strand and Frida Gamero
This game looked at the dystopian future in which everyone living in a certain global superpower is oppressed by crazy levels of debt. The game takes the form of a reality show competition, in which two teams of six compete against each other in money-themed games. The winners get their debts wiped away, transferred to the losing team, who is offered a job for life (read: wage slavery). Members of the two teams have relationships to one another, for example, an ex-husband and ex-wife competing against each other to pay off debt on common property.
The game is split between time on stage and challenges that occurred off-stage, where members of each group sat down and talked about what went down tabletop style, and out of character.
I thought it was a brilliant idea to create a game about debt and the influence it has on people’s lives, especially in our debt-prone society. I assumed the world we played within was a US perhaps a decade down the road. But for me, I felt that the game design didn’t really drive the knife home when it came to the core theme, perhaps because the Scandinavians (to my knowledge) don’t live with debt in the same way we do in America. I have many friends with educational and medical debt that has seriously impacted their lives, debt that is not-so-common in the socialist Scandinavian utopias that pay for both healthcare and book learnin’.
In-game, the characters’ debt provided a gamist motivation to win, a motivation that I think all of the players felt keenly. But I think I came to the game looking to understand and play out the day-to-day oppressiveness of debt, and the game wasn’t set up to deliver. I’m not sure this is a problem per se, so much as a design choice. Still, even if it wasn’t equipped to deliver the experience I was unconsciously searching for, the game was seamlessly run, made good use of a few specific props, and had a clean structure. On top of that, it was thought-provoking, sparking musings on game design, debt, and more for the rest of the day.
Larps from the Factory is Launched!
On Saturday, we had a party for Larps from the Factory, a book I’ve been co-editing with wonderful Norwegian larpers Elin Nilsen and Trine Lise Lindahl. We handed out copies of our precious to those who bought them, and thanked the many people–from copyeditors to authors to workshoppers–who helped produce the book and the website. More than 70 wonderful people from all over the world worked directly on the book–more if you count our IndieGoGo supporters–and that meant half the room stood up when it came time to thank them.
The book collects 20+ larpscripts from the Norwegian Larp Factories, small autonomous collectives in Trondheim and Oslo that specialize in short–four to eight hour–larp experiences that are easy for players to participate in. You could sign-up early and anticipate the games for months, or just drop in the day-of. The games range from murder mysteries and time-traveling adventures to relationship dramas, D&D adventures, and formal experiments in hugging and silence. The larp factories run one game per month, and while the Oslo factory is on hiatus, the Trondheim factory is still going strong. The collectives offered design and logistical support to new larp creators, and aimed to seduce busy people back into the hobby. Now the model has spread throughout the world–as far as Italy and Palestine–and who knows? Maybe it would work in your town too.
You can still order a print or digital copy of our precious tome over at LarpsfromtheFactory.com, which also contains 20+ video demonstrations of the workshop and game techniques used in the larpscripts from the book.
This con rocked. I played some interesting games and the relaxed schedule left plenty of social time, which meant I had some great discussions about game design, religion, cancer, and more with Danes and Norwegians. Would larp it again.