Since 1995, the Danish non-profit organization Einherjerne has made one large fantasy larp in the summer with 100-300 participants. Every larp has built on the experiences of the earlier years, with core elements of the larp being a village surrounded by a magical forest inhabited by mythical creatures. This is the Nemefrego larp series, that is continuously being rewritten with each new instalment, and which functions as a melting point between organizers striving to renew and participants trying to replay the previous game. An organiser using the brands “Einherjerne” or “Nemefrego” sets certain expectations. This can be a two-edged sword. The story of Nemefrego 2014 is about four of those edges.
Nemefrego 2014 Overview
The Nemefrego 2014 storyline was centered around the election of a king from five great families. Nemefrego larps happen in roughly the same setting and family names are often reused, but just about everything else changes. The reason for this is to make new players feel that they’re entering a brand new larp instead of “the middle of a series”. Some of the larps aren’t even called Nemefrego, though they are part of the tradition. This time, the players were divided into two distinct geographical locations. Most players lived in the town and the tents near it, while a portion of the players were in the forest portraying various mythic creatures. And when we say town, we actually mean something quite close.
A Pre-fabricated Village
The people in Einherjerne have built pre- fabricated larp houses, that can be stored in large ship containers since the early 00’s. These can be stored in containers and then quickly be assembled when needed for a larp. This has been perfected to a point where a whole village, including a two-story building and several buildings the size of dining halls are neatly fitted into 40’ ship containers, packed tight from floor to ceiling.
The containers can be moved by truck and sometimes they are leased or lent to other projects such as Aarhus Medieval Festival or other larps. A mobile medieval town is quite a resource, and several other larp organisations – including the Danish boarding school Østerskov – ha ve copied the Einherjerne idea and now have their own pre-fab buildings.
Intrigue Play vs. Status Play
One of the central pieces of Nemefrego 2014 had to do with getting conflicts and plots out in the open, where they would include as many people as possible. This could include gift spending, intimidating, great speeches and the like. The goal was simple: steering the characters towards slowly escalating conflicts and tension, while avoiding resolve until the final hours of the game where conflicts would play out and conclude as publicly as possible.
We call this play style; “status play”. The opposite, which we call; “intrigue play”, is a style where problems are resolved as quickly and discreetly as possible.
I empty my mug and placed my purse on the table. “How about a game of dice?” My fellow soldiers encourage the closest prey to participate. A man is about to stand but we all look at him with piercing eyes.“So you think our game is not good enough for you?”. He hesitates and then replies: “but I have no dice”. I smile: “No problem, I have dice you can borrow.”. He sits down, and I extend my arm around his shoulders: “by the way, there are a few special rules concerning the borrowing-dice. Nothing much…”. He stiffens but notices I have a hand on my dagger, and lets go of a sigh.Player
We had many great examples of status play that worked and players who enjoyed it. One thing we experienced however, was that without a central town square, we saw status play reduced to only include small segments of the participants, rather than the majority. A town crier was implemented at some point in the game and made a big difference, since this brought information of various conflicts to many more people. Utilizing a central square seems optimal for this type of play, though. And however much we tried to get conflicts out into the open, we still encountered an old friend of a problem; sleeping bag murders.
The Sleeping Bag Murder Paradox
In Danish larps where conflicts are sometimes resolved with violence, and in which the players sleep on location, there is a risk of characters being killed during their sleep. This is a time-honoured (but despised) tradition in Danish larps known as “sleeping bag murders”, due to the fact that most players sleep in sleeping bags. At Nemefrego 2014 it was explicitly stated in the written game material that this was forbidden, but one player did it anyway – bringing several other characters down with him in the vendetta that followed.
I remember slowly becoming aware of my surroundings. I heard steps and instantly knew someone was in the tent. I also knew I slept with an in-game dagger just out of old habit. But just before I opened my eyes I hesitated. I thought this is stupid. The rules were specific; “no sleeping bag murders”. Then someone shakes me and I open my eyes and see the weapon in his hand. Seconds later the whole family including us guards were slaughtered.Player
Organizers and participants, whose roles were dead, had a constructive dialogue afterwards and players were reinstated where it was a agreed the story needed it the most. When play styles and rules/ participants clash, having a short break followed by open dialogue including all sides can prove fruitful, as it did in this case. The optimal thing is if things don’t happen when they’re not supposed to, but sometimes it’s also good to have a “what if” plan if going up against tradition.
A Mythic Forest
Surrounding the town, in which the majority of roles lived, was a magical forest, inspired by dark mythological folklore. It was meant to spawn stories of gloomy tragedy as well as heroic deeds. Unlike many other Danish larps, which utilize an organizer controlled NPC group – the creatures inhabiting this forest were portrayed by a group of players, with great freedom to incorporate magic and mythic creatures in their stories and roles (some even played multiple roles).
There were no rule restrictions on the group, and the forest group would continue playing in the forest whether town players would come out or not. Forest creatures would not always agree amongst themselves and they had many power struggles – something town players often ended up being pawns in.
The forest group’s goal was simple; the creation of great stories featuring a small selection of the other players: Namely those who would understand the genre and play along with the terms set by the forest. The majority of players did not interact directly with the forest- but only hear rumors – creating a mythic feeling of insecurity and a lack of knowledge of what actually happened in the woods.
Some players were frustrated by this and felt left out because the forest play was not easily available to everyone, but many liked the uncertainty and enjoyed not directly interacting with the magical elements of the forest. Those who entered the forest and actively contributed to the mythic storytelling had a wonderful experience. The town and the forest were in effect two play zones with different visions, rules and narrative styles, even though they were very much part of the same larp.
Trade in the forest would be conducted in magical promises rather than in coin. Receiving help from the forest meant that you would be bound by a magical promise – something the characters were not always aware they had accepted, even though the players knew it. These could be small actions; accepting a gift could mean you had also accepted a price, even if nobody had you informed of the “cost” of the gift. The price would always be high (relative to the one having to pay it) and the forest would make sure you never forgot your promise. The consequences for breaking a promise were devastating.
The forest witch and I stared intensely at each other while one of her kin played a flute to keep the faun enthralled in it’s trancelike state. The witch drew a knife (a really nice one, one from this swiss army knife list) from her pocket and offered it to me. I broke eye contact and looked at the metal knife. She asked me if I needed it for my first knight trial. I hesitated but knew she was right.
I had to bring some of the fauns beard to pass the first test. I took the knife and gazed at the blade reflecting the playful light from the nearby bonfire. The witch cracked a gruesome mocking laughter and only then I realized that by taking the knife – I had also accepted a bargain. She could ask whatever she wanted since I had already accepted. My first born was now promised to the forest…Player
The forest was primarily active at night and most creatures did not go near the town. This enhanced the mystery surrounding the forest. There were certain unwritten rules when entering the forest. The most prominent was that you should not bring metal into the woods since many otherwise peaceful creatures would react aggressively to weapons – and some of these creatures were beings of pure magic and thus immune to mundane steel.
Ironically one type of creatures would always be hostile – and could only be handled with weapons. This greatly supported the vision of the forest being a dangerous place far outside any town character’s comfort zone.
This was especially the case for members of the five great families who had to leave their status symbols – swords, which they were the only ones who were allowed to carry – behind. The end effect was of a seducing, intriguing and mystical forest, and those characters who went there never came back unchanged.
Date: July 17 – 20, 2014
Location: Forlev Spejdercenter, Skyggelundsvej 3, 8660 Skanderborg, Denmark
Length: Afternoon Thursday to evening Saturday.
Participation Fee: €110
Game Mechanics: Status play, simple combat rules,
This article was initially published in The Nordic Larp Yearbook 2014 which was edited by Charles Bo Nielsen & Claus Raasted, published by Rollespilsakademiet and released as part of documentation for the Knudepunkt 2015 conference.
Cover photo: Bakker-Hviide, one of the great families plotting to seize the crown. (Play, Mai Isager Nielsen). Other photos by Mai Isager Nielsen and Christian Niclas.