Designing Power Dynamics Between Adults and Children in Larps

Designing Power Dynamics Between Adults and Children in Larps

When every part of a larp is a designable surface, we as designers are faced with both the opportunities and the responsibilities that this implies (Koljonen, 2019). As a wide age range exists in the larp community, it is essential to design for softening up the impacts that off-game power dynamics born from participants’ age and experience level can have on the interactions. This article deals with why and how you design balanced power dynamics between adult and child participants. This design approach is practice-based, utilized at the mythical fantasy larp campaign Fladlandssagaen (Denmark 2006-, Eng. The Flatland Saga) as well as the edu-larps and leisure larps I have run at Østerskov Efterskole in 2023.

Why design spaces that allow children to influence the larp?

As a co-creative, collaborative medium, larp becomes breathtaking when its participants experience co-ownership as the larp unfolds. In larp, different age-groups’ perceived areas of agency and social legitimation to participate in the activities of the larp are formed by our design choices – absence of design maintains status quo and ensures that those with the off-game social power to define acceptable social behavior will do so in-game as well; in this context, adults will define the larp’s social frame for children. Counteracting this requires conscious design of in-game spaces in which the children have agency and power to influence the larp, without alienating the adults. I recognize that there are differences between adults and children, and that adults ultimately bear off-game responsibility for everyone’s safety and experience throughout the larp. I argue, however, that we can create a framework in which children can be allowed to explore, lead, mentalize and be taken seriously, to let them expand their social skill set and experience being a part of the associated community.

A framework for designing balanced power dynamics

The following section reviews the design strategies I use to create balanced power dynamics in larp. Each design step describes how, and is followed by an example, marked with an arrow, from the player-group Umbrafalkene (Eng. The Umbra Falcons) at Fladlandssagaen (Denmark 2006-, Eng. The Flatland Saga):

  • The participants play former soldiers and children of former soldiers, who try to make a new life for themselves in a troubled area. Throughout their storylines and plots, the players face situations wherein they learn to deal with anger, sorrow, loss and a craving for revenge. The themes were selected because our young players find it difficult to recognize and deal with the associated feelings in their own lives.
Photo of three people of various ages in fantasy clothes huddles closely together.

The author (left) at Fladlandssagaen (2023). Photo by Susse Kobberø Chapman.

1) Set concrete design goals for the power dynamics and social interactions in the larp. Define and formulate the intention, so you can communicate, measure, and test your choices.

  • The goal was to create a dynamic in which the children address the team’s difficulties through collaboration, their courage to be honest and their willingness to act together, while the adults escalate the problems through their old habits and stubborn beliefs.

2) Designate a coordinator that knows how to work with children. The person needs to be introduced early and be readily available, so that the children know where to find them in case they need help. It is advantageous if the person discreetly checks in on the children during the larp, asks about their experience and offers to help them reflect on their experiences.

  • We usually have multiple coordinators who share the responsibility. When we have the resources, we divide the children into smaller groups so we can interact with them on their terms and facilitate play accordingly: one of us has the youngest players (4-8 years), one has the slightly older children (9-12), and one has the teenagers (13-15 years).

3) Then, design the overall narratives and dynamics. The narrative reasoning and legitimation for the dynamics must be experienced as meaningful and authentic to play on for both the adults and the children. Significant design areas that you can focus on are, among others, defined standards for social interactions that grant both agency and alibi, rites of passage, easily usable safety measures, and formed spaces. Within these spaces the players can explore their chosen themes by themselves or with each other, without excluding or invalidating the focus of other players. Design who wields the social power, as well as when and how the characters handle in-game conflicts across age groups so it doesn’t break immersion nor default to the off-game power dynamics. Remember both groups’ needs.

  • The children are staged as experts in how to live peacefully as a part of a community, while the adults are staged as experts in conflicts and making tough choices. The children wield the social power to de-escalate situations, while adults steadily escalate scenes towards the point where weapons must be drawn. Furthermore, the children are the only ones who can handle the mythical creatures living in the nearby dangerous magical forest, while the adults are the only ones that can carry titles and be punished by law.
Photo of children in fantasy clothes with black robed figures in the forest

Fladlandssagaen (2023). Photo by Susse Kobberø Chapman. Image has been cropped.

4) Create character development, plots, and tasks that support, maintain, and necessitate the chosen dynamic in basic routines, keeping both adults and children in mind. Players need meaningful activities during the larp that serve a purpose in the larp as a whole (Kangas 2019). Here, you shape the children’s areas of agency; their plots and actions must be important for the overall larp with consequences they can take responsibility for and react to during the runtime. It is essential to prioritize explanation of the context and consequences of a scene, so the children understand their agency and choices, for example through a narrative voice where the facilitator meta-communicates what will happen if they follow through with their actions. This teaches the children how they can navigate and decode a scene. Creating an alibi for making the choices together and sharing the responsibility, connected to an explanation of why the adults cannot help, is beneficial.

  • The Umbra Falcons had been asked to help in a nearby battle. The children were in doubt. Before they made a decision, one of the adults, who was their facilitator and knew that there would be fighting in that plotline, said: “If we go to battle, it will be dangerous. Maybe, there will be fighting, in which case we could die. But our help is needed, and we do not have time to find others instead. What should we do?” Here, the theme and the impending actions were meta-communicated to the children, so they knew what they were getting into if they chose to follow through with the plot.
  • Plotlines created specifically to our teenagers and adults are played on when there are no children around. When a child joins a scene, everyone will adjust their playstyle to make room for the child’s perspective, rather than forcing the child to adopt a grown-up perspective on matters. In-game, the narrative explanation is that the adults try to protect the children from the darker aspects of the world – they will get to know it in time. This clearly marks the space for adult plots. 
Photo of people of various ages in fantasy clothes, some raising their hands.

Fladlandssagaen (2023). Photo by Susse Kobberø Chapman.

5) Communicate the design before, during, and after the larp through both shared and divided briefings, workshops, intro-scenes, and debriefings. This makes it easier to form consensus and calibrate collectively, while ensuring safe spaces wherein both adults and children can express their thoughts and difficulties and practice the dynamics among peers while supervised by a facilitator. Debriefings and post-play activities, in which everyone can reconnect, reflect and recuperate their experience together (Brown, 2019) and establish a narrativized tale are essential factors in building a sense of community afterwards.

  • We have a collective briefing for all players and a briefing for The Umbra Falcons in which we coordinate the day together. Sometimes, rules are mentioned again (for example that children, who don’t understand that game masters dressed in black are invisible, can interact with them as their “imaginary fantasy friends”, while the invisible spirits are ignored by the rest of us). After the play, we do a follow up talk with the children individually or together with their parents.

The most important thing you can do when you design these larps is to focus on building a trusting culture in which your participants can play and explore together. It requires respect, patience, and curiosity from everyone involved, but if we as designers design a safe space, adults and children will conjure up larp magic together.


Kangas, Kaisa. 2019. “Functional Design.” In Larp Design: Creating Role-play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen, Jaakko Stenros, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell, and Elin Nilsen. Copenhagen, Denmark: Landsforeningen Bifrost.

Koljonen, Johanna. 2019. “An Introduction to Bespoke Larp.” In Larp Design: Creating Role-play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen, Jaakko Stenros, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell, and Elin Nilsen. Copenhagen, Denmark: Landsforeningen Bifrost.

Brown, Maury Elizabeth. 2019. “Post-Play Activities.” In Larp Design: Creating Role-play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen, Jaakko Stenros, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell, and Elin Nilsen. Copenhagen, Denmark: Landsforeningen Bifrost.


Fladlandssagaen (2023): Denmark. The organizer team of Fladlandssagaen.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Høyer, Frederikke Sofie Bech. 2024. “Designing Power Dynamics Between Adults and Children in Larps.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: Fladlandssagaen (2023). Photo by Susse Kobberø Chapman. Image has been cropped.

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Frederikke Sofie Bech Høyer is a larp designer with a master’s degree in communication studies. She works at the larp school Østerskov Efterskole in Hobro, Denmark, creating and facilitating larp events. She is responsible for training and coordinating volunteers, and also teaches larp and larp design. Frederikke has designed several black box scenarios and larp events, including conventions, and she has been an organizer at the larp campaign Fladlandssagaen since 2010. Email: