The Dummies’ Guide to Nordicizing Your Larp Scene for Fun and (No) Profit
By Ole Peder Giæver & Mo HolkarA thousand years ago, Viking warriors came out of the Nordic countries, raiding and conquering in Britain, Ireland, Atlantic and Mediterranean Europe, Russia and North America. They mercilessly pillaged the finest things they could find. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to take something back – and to help themselves to the very best ideas, principles and resources of Nordic larp. Here’s your guide to incorporating Nordic theory and practice into your own larp scene…
What do we mean by Nordic larp? At its most general, it could mean any kind of larp that comes from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway). But here we’re talking mostly about the tradition of thoughtful, progressive, artistic games that has emerged around the annual Knutepunkt convention. This tradition can sometimes come across as little opaque and self-important. It does take larp really, really seriously. But it’s also able to poke fun at itself.
Over the past 13+ years, the Nordic larp community has put together a huge body of work, where documentation, research and constant discussion/experimentation have been central. The idea behind this article/collection of links is to give an overview of some of the material that’s out there, freely available online. It’s meant to be a starting point for doing your own research, from which you can pick and choose whichever short larps, workshop techniques, theories, articles and manifestos suit the purposes of yourself and your local community. We suggest you steal whatever seems of use, fully aware that the Nords might come and pillage you right back at the next turn. That’s the way global larp culture works!
Introduction to Nordic Larp by Johanna Koljonen. Watch this Nordic Larp Talk video for a brief introduction to Nordic Larp and why it’s an art form worth knowing more about.
Nordic Larp for Noobs – American author Lizzie Stark gives a walkthrough introduction to central concepts of the Nordic Larp tradition, comparing it with the US larps she encountered whilst researching her book on larp, Leaving Mundania. This article is especially good if you want a clearer grasp on what actually goes on in some of these games, and the aspects that might differentiate them from other games you’re used to.
What does Nordic Larp mean? – Finnish game researcher Jaakko Stenros gave this keynote speech before Knutepunkt in 2013. It’s half an hour long, but it’s really clear and concise, defining the term, ‘brand’ and tradition of Nordic Larp. You can either view the talk itself (see previous link), or go read the transcript (which has some fun slides and illustrations) here.
The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp – This book, made for Knutpunkt 2014 in Sweden, specifically aims to serve as a primer for people new to the Nordic larp discourse and tradition. It’s available as a free PDF (as are all Knutepunkt books). The book is 300 pages long: it contains some newly-written introductory essays, a presentation of some of the Nordic Larp Talk videos you might want to check out, and a collection of essays that were particular highlights of previous Knutepunkt books. (Here’s a review of the book that may give you an initial impression and guide you through the essays.
Nordic Larp – An epic tome that presents a cross-section of this vibrant culture through 30 outstanding larps, by presenting stories told by designers, players and researchers, with over 250 photographs. In addition the book contains essays explaining the history and rhetoric of Nordic larp, and contextualizing it in relation to theatre, art and games. In 2012 the book received the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. The link leads to a free PDF copy of the book, which is around 300 pages long. (If that seems a bit much, start by looking at the pretty pictures… and work from there following what looks most interesting.)
Nordic Larp on TLC – A 14-minute documentary shot in Denmark, focusing on a larp set under a repressive regime.
Mad about the Boy is a larp about survivors of a global disaster that killed all men in mere minutes. The site presents the larp itself, and gives you access to a larpscript that shows how the designers envision a run of the larp (including pre-written characters). This is one of very few examples of a ready-to-run larger-scale Nordic larp currently available. It’s a useful resource to get a better idea of the practicalities of designing and running such larps.
Just a Little Lovin’ – The website for the 2013 run of this larp about the impact of AIDS on the gay community in New York in the early 1980s. It has a lot of interesting material about the designers’ vision and inspiration, and about Nordic larp in general.
Larps from the Factory was published in 2013, and contains 23 ‘larpscripts’ for short (one-evening) larps. This one you actually have to pay for (the PDF costs 15 EUR). The website contains some pointers on how to write a larp script yourself and a collection of videos demonstrating workshop techniques described in the book. These may seem a bit confusing if you don’t have the actual text in front of you, though.
Chamber Games – A careful and interesting selection of small-size short-duration larps that you can download and run. The editors say “Chamber games as a format is very well situated as a place where we can try new methods and experiment with form and content of what a larp can look like. The experiences we get from doing this can be relevant also to how larger larps can be organized and for developing larp as a form of expression, art and entertainment.”
Jeepform is a brand/design tradition separate from, but intertwined with Nordic larp (many of the designers are active in both communities). Jeepform might be called a hybridized form of table-top role-playing and larp. The design collective has put out a number of scenarios which require very little in the way of costumes and props, rather experimenting with techniques and exploring subjects on the border of what has been common in traditional role-playing games. The site is in English, has a number of games for free download, and includes a dictionary of sorts explaining central concepts. Before visiting the site proper, you might want to read American author Lizzie Stark’s article ‘Jeepform for Noobs’.
Stockholm Scenario Festival has 22 scenarios for free download. They’re all written down, re-playable and playable without the writers present. Some are written in the Jeepform tradition, some are short larps, others are ‘black box larps’.
Pre-game workshops – This blog is a tool for larp organizers and others interested in methods for character development and group building, and has been created to gather knowledge and particularly methods for doing different kinds of larp workshops.
Debriefing Intense Larps 101 – Many larps in the Nordic tradition deal with mature subjects and potentially heavy emotional content. This essay describes one approach to dealing with such experiences, the so-called ‘debrief’ (the site also has several other essays with practical applications).
Knutepunkt – The main hub of the Nordic scene has room for around 300 participants, and alternates between Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark (changing name depending on the country). The festival/conference/convention has panel debates, short larps, workshops, lectures and social events, and draws an increasingly international crowd of larp professionals, artists, game researcher, designers, organizers and players every year. English is the official language. 2014’s occasion, which was in Sweden, can be found here: the next three conventions will be Knudepunkt 2015 (Denmark), Solmukohta 2016 (Finland) and Knutepunkt 2017 (Norway).
Grenselandet is a festival for short games held in Oslo, Norway every fall. Games are run in English, and the festival caters to an international audience.
Fastaval is an annual gaming convention in Denmark with newly written/designed tabletop role-playing games, free-form games and larps. There is also a large selection of board games, miniature war gaming and collectible card games. Danish is the primary language, but the convention also caters to English speakers.
Stockholm Scenario Festival – A freeform and larp convention held in Stockholm. English is the default language of the convention.
Nordiclarp.org – Recently relaunched as a magazine site, with news from the Nordic larp scene; a wiki that contains a lot of useful definitions, links, documentation and history ; a web-based forum; and more.
Playground Magazine – The (now defunct) Playground Magazine came out with seven issues in the period 2011–2012. It had its roots in the Knutepunkt scene, and aimed to cover larps internationally. The Nordic tradition is clearly prevalent amongst the subjects, though. All of the issues can be downloaded for free. The articles have a more journalistic approach than is the case with many of the Knutepunkt-book essays, and there are lots of illustrations and photos.
Knutepunkt Books – Since 2001, at least one book has been published to accompany each Knutepunkt convention. All of them are available for free download. The articles vary a lot in content and quality. Some are proper academic articles; others are more essayistic in approach. There’s documentation and analysis of larps held, presentations of techniques and theories, and lots more besides. It can be a little overwhelming to approach 13+ years of such discourse, so this year’s Foundation Stone book could be a good place to start.
The Book of KAPO – Free PDF documenting the Danish larp KAPO, which was set in a surreal prison camp. Also available from RollespilsAkademiet: The Book of The White War, The Book of Mad About the Boy.
Other Sites of Interest
Nordic Larp Talks – A collection of TED-talk-style videos, usually fairly short, on a variety of subjects relating to the Nordic Larp tradition. Have a look around and see if any of them catch your interest. A recommended list of videos to start off with is given early on in the Foundation Book mentioned previously.
North American and Nordic Larp Exchange – A Facebook forum set up for Nordic and North American larpers (now joined by plenty from other countries) to exchange ideas and experiences. To quote, “It’s mainly aimed at ‘mainstream’ larp and fantasy rather than art house larp, but everything larp is welcome!”
The Larpwright – Norwegian larp designer/theorist Eirik Fatland’s blog contains a bunch of interesting and clearly-explained essays on larp dramaturgy, player safety, documentation and more.
Lizzie Stark has a terrific range of material on Nordic larp and related topics – primers, advice for players and organizers, write-ups of larps and other events, and more new articles frequently added.
Claus Raasted on Soundcloud – Danish Claus Raasted makes a living doing larp. In this series of podcasts, he covers a bunch of larp-related subjects. Short, sweet and entertaining.
electro-LARP – An international network publishing articles and larp reviews from various traditions, including the Nordic one.
PanoptiCorp Documentary – A 15-minute film about PanoptiCorp, a satirical larp set in an advertising agency.
Delirium – A 28-minute documentary about this Danish larp themed around love and madness.
Some consider the geographical label “Nordic” unfortunate and somewhat alienating. This tradition of design and theory is spreading, and has entered a global discourse on larp and role-playing games. Scandinavian designers have been influenced by the US indie table-top scene for many years. Brazilian larpers have picked up games and ideas from the Nordic and US traditions and utilized them for their own purposes. Larp communities in Palestine and Belarus are developing in dialogue with the Nordic scene. Knutepunkt has participants from all over Europe, the US, Israel, Palestine, Russia, and beyond. And ‘Nords’ have been all over the place for years, learning what they can from various traditions, academic disciplines and participatory arts. The “Nordic” label has sort of stuck, though, for better or worse.
So, in this short article you’ve seen some highlights of the many terrific resources that are available to you as you start to bring Nordic goodness into your own larp experience. Nordic larpers are friendly people who love to talk and to explain about what they do – so if you have questions, you will always find plenty of answers. But be warned – it’s addictive! Once you’ve gone Nordic, you may never want to go back. We look forward to hearing about your journey!