I ribelli della montagna: l’ultima notte di Montelupo (The Rebels on the Mountain: The Last Night of Montelupo) was a larp played in Lusernetta (TO), in Italy, in two runs during July 2015. It was the first historical larp of Terre Spezzate, a larping group active in northern Italy, originally dedicated to fantasy larps. In the last years, however, the group has moved its focus towards one-shots in various settings.
The opportunity for enacting this larp was the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Resistance antifascist movement and the Liberation of Italy from the Nazi-Fascist forces during World War II. It was inspired by the tragic slaughter that occurred between the 29th of September and the 4th of October 1944 in the region of Monte Sole. The goals of the organisers were to keep the memory of historical facts alive and to support reflections among the participants about those terrible days. Moreover, the potential of the larp allowed the player to fully identify with the people involved in those events and experience the stress, anxiety and fears of such days.
One of the main intentions of the authors was to confront the player with choices which were difficult or even impossible to make. Ideals, political issues, religion, personal beliefs, opportunism and family were some of the conflicting key factors that determined the choices of the characters involved. Since, as a deliberate choice of the authors, it was the personal choices of the characters that determined the course of history; one of the most important things that players had to feel was the burden of such responsibility.
The larp was organised under the aegis of A.N.P.I. – Associazione Nazionale Partigiani Italiani (National Association of Italian Partisans).
ISTORETO – Istituto Piemontese per la Storia della Resistenza e della Società Contemporanea “Giorgio Agosti” (Piedmontese Institute for the History of Resistance and of Contemporary Society “Giorgio Agosti”), a historical archive of national relevance, helped with the iconographic search, giving our press office some original historical photos.
After the end of the second run, Maria Airaudo, an actual partisan dispatch rider during the years of fascism, met the players to tell them her first-hand war experience.
Although the events of I ribelli della montagna happened 70 years ago, the proposed themes are still sensitive topics in Italy, having strong connections to current political and social issues. Many of the usual players of Terre Spezzate did not feel at ease at the idea of facing tragical historical events. The re-enacting of the circumstances in which real people were killed was perceived as a lack of respect by some people, and some did not want to be disrespectful towards partisans who sacrificed their lives fighting against Nazi-Fascists. Many were worried about playing the part of a war criminal. The distance between character and player was much shorter in I ribelli della montagna than in other larps. It was closer in terms of realism: I ribelli della montagna was inspired by real events and sought to recreate an authentic mood of anguish due to the constant menace of death and violence.
Events, places and even characters were not entirely imaginary, but rather relied heavily on inspirations from the real world: we made a serious effort to blend fictional and historical features seamlessly. The fantastical style of fantasy larps, and even the fictional one of contemporary-setting larps, were totally missing, forcing the player to endure a realistic, stifling and long-lasting condition in which they couldn’t find easy ways out.
It wasn’t far in terms of temporal distance, either. Even if 70 years is a long time, the events of those days still have a remarkable impact on present day. Fascism and the Resistance are still hot topics in Italian political debates of today, often leading to reviews and deliberate misinterpretations of history. They are controversial subjects, difficult to discuss with objectivity, which often leads to arguments and partial, misleading interpretations.
Finally, the separation between player and character was reduced compared to other larps. The player experienced what their grandparents could have suffered; and this implied a strong emotional involvement and, in some cases, incapability to fully detach from the characters after the larp. Conversely, the larp interested a lot of people not familiar with larping, many of whom had their first experience with the phenomenon. Since the larp was presented like an event less oriented towards entertainment and leisure and more like an occasion of reflection and in-depth insight, it was able to attract many people interested in this approach. In particular, some of the characters were reserved for foreign players, coming from outside Italy.
It was the first time for Terre Spezzate to have international players in a larp and, as far as the organisers know, also in Italy. Non-Italian players were given foreign, English-speaking characters and, to avoid issues arising from the linguistic difference, many Italian characters were able to speak English according to their background. Of course, understanding and speaking English was a requirement in order to play such characters, but an English-speaking player could not use a foreign language if their character wasn’t able to. This was deliberately meant to recreate the confusing final days of World War II in Italy, when Anglo-American downed pilots and stranded paratroopers could pass months among villagers who were barely able to communicate with them.
The larp benefited from a high level of attention from the media, who usually do not consider larps newsworthy at all – and are not even familiar with them. In addition to A.N.P.I. mentioned above, the larp was reported by local newspapers, web radio stations and even national radio. The event received some great media coverage, compared to that of other larps.
I Ribelli della Montagna was a three-day continuous larp. The absence of breaks during the game was one of the first things decided upon by the staff. In order to effectively recreate the feeling of continuous danger and uncertainty, it was agreed that the overall recreated reality was not to be interrupted by scheduled suspensions of the game.
Three main groups of characters were designed for this game: The inhabitants of Montelupo, the rebel partisans and the Nazi-Fascists. But these groups had a lot of differences, both internally and regarding how they related to each other. The inhabitants of Montelupo, the majority of which were women, included fascist supporters, secret partisan associates, and neutral people who accepted the current condition. The town was managed by the fascist Black Shirts, who were born and had grown up in the town. They were natives of the town, and they had strong connections with their fellow citizens, friends and relatives, as well as with the members of the local partisan cell, the Stella Rossa (Red Star). This may seem like a paradox, but it is a fact that, during those days, many lifelong friends found themselves being enemies; and yet, they still met each other at the local tavern and such.
However, not all the partisans were from Montelupo: Members of the Fiamme Verdi (Green Flames) and CLN, driven by Catholic and communist ideals respectively, reached the town. But partisans were not the only foreigners arriving in Montelupo: There were the German Waffen-SS, heading North during their withdrawal, as well as their Italian allies, loyal to the R.S.I. (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or Italian Social Republic); the state proclaimed by Mussolini after he lost the favor of the king. It’s easy to see that the groups were not homogeneous and did not constitute compact fronts divided along a single line. There were many divergences inside each faction about motivations, ideals, political and ethical issues. This was another deliberate choice, made to reflect the complexity of the historical scenario, and a preeminent point on which the authors focused. They shared the view that the outcomes of historical events have always been determined by the final choices of the people involved.
Personal responsibilities and faults are always the consequences of the actions we decide to take – or not to take.
Moreover, the groups were largely unbalanced in terms of resources and power. Even if resources were scarce for everybody, the Nazi-Fascists could rely on a slightly higher supply of weapons and ammunitions, at least in the very first part of the war. They also had the power, both military and political, to impose their will on and take what they needed from the inhabitants of Montelupo. On the other hand, partisans were hiding in the woods in a makeshift camp, their food supplies running short. Again, this was done to properly recreate the historical conditions in which the conflict was fought during those years. However, an important part of the control applied to the game was related to mortality. To avoid players having their characters killed in the first hours of the game, there was a specific rule stating that wounded characters could die only in the last day of the game. Moreover, the initial scarcity of weapons was introduced to discourage too fast an escalation of violence and deaths, which would be a very probable result in a real situation.
I ribelli della montagna was a successful experience, but most of all an instructive one: Both organisers and players learnt valuable lessons.
First of all, this larp proved that even sensitive topics and tragical events can be approached through larp in a proper way, while keeping a respectful perspective: for the historical facts, the victims involved and the personal sensibilities of the participants.
The organisation of the larp offered the opportunity to examine many aspects of Italy during Fascism and the Second World War in-depth. It was an occasion for everybody, players and staff alike, to shed light on their own country and history, discovering circumstances, background episodes and little-known details. Finally, the event was appreciated for its balance between thrilling and action-oriented scenes, like firefights, rescues, assaults and even a night bombing; and a strong emotional involvement, due to the uncertain fate of Montelupo, the personal dilemmas of the characters and the fragile, daily habits being shaken and threatened. Brutal interrogations, scarce supplies of food and public executions: The hardcore element was well present.
The writing and playing of I ribelli della montagna was a great experience: Everybody felt enriched and proud for having contributed to an activity furthering the understanding of the past and the perpetuating of the memory.
I ribelli della montagna: l’ultima notte di Montelupo (The Rebels on the Mountain: The Last Night of Montelupo)
Credits: Andrea Capone, Elio Biffi (main organizers), Aladino Amantini, Andrana Vigone, Annalisa Corbo, Federico Barcella, Matteo Miceli, Mauro Vettori, Paolo Benedetti.
Date: July 10–12 and 17–19, 2015
Location: Villaggio delle Stelle (a small private mountain village near the town of Lusernetta), Torino, Italy.
Duration: Approximately 2 days and 2 nights, including workshops, starting from Friday afternoon until Sunday noon.
Participants: 65 per run
Participation Fee: €60 for international players, €70 regular price for villager and female Nazi characters, €80 for partisan characters, €115 for male Nazi and Fascist characters. The entry fee for Nazi and Fascist characters, as well as the one for international players, included the rental fee for a costume.
Game Mechanics: Single Act Structure, Pre-written characters, Play to Lose, Pre-larp Workshops, Light use of fate play.
Cover photo: Partisans in action (play, Lisa Muner).