The Hated Children of Nordic Larp – Why We Need to Improve on Workshops and Debriefs

The Hated Children of Nordic Larp – Why We Need to Improve on Workshops and Debriefs

In Nordic and Nordic inspired larp, we do love our workshops. However, it feels like there’s a trend to workshop for the sake of workshopping. At the same time, there seems to be a lot less love and attention for debriefs. Both in workshops and debriefs, we tend to stick to the same exercises without giving it any further thought. Instead, we could come up with some specific exercises that fit the larp and the experience we want to create. Workshops and debriefs have the potential to become more valuable elements in our game and experience design than they currently often are.

Workshops as building blocks

Workshops are principally used as tools to familiarise our players with the techniques and playstyles of our larps. Because this is their main purpose, we tend to easily resort to known formulas and fixed ways of workshopping. However, I hope more of us would dare to step out of this almost traditional way of doing things and think about designing a flow of workshops that would also contribute to setting the mood of the game. Then, the workshops would become a seamless part of the larp experience and at the same time help the participants get into the right mindset for the larp. A good example of this is how the workshops for the larp Daemon (Denmark 2021) gradually build up the intensity and trust in the connection between the pair of players who would be playing two parts of the same character together. This was done through different exercises that varied in physicality and emotional and physical intimacy.

Additionally, setting the mood like this can be an integral part of managing the expectations for a larp. Workshops have the advantage of offering a moment of direct dialogue between the facilitator(s) of a game and its participants, which is an opportunity for making sure expectations are set and mitigated. In addition to explaining the setting and the intentions of a game, workshops can be used to create a space where expectations are shared and negotiated, and where feedback is shared with an open mindset. 

Finally, workshops can also be used to make a larp more accessible. The tendency to fall back on known formulas for workshops bears the risk of falling into the trap that we keep designing workshops for the same returning audiences. This raises the threshold for people from outside of that audience. For example, line-up exercises can seem easy to many larpers but they are not simple for people who do not know them. When I used them in coachings, I at times had to do more explaining than I expected. Moreover, it seems that they are sometimes added to larp workshops just because they are seen as one of the “standard” exercises, while they are also easily taken over by the participants and turned into overly long discussions instead of the planned five minute exercise. So, honestly, does your larp really benefit from yet another line-up exercise? 

Simple and easy to understand workshops that contribute to the game and absorb the participants into the whole of the larp should be an aim, and not just an option. Moreover, accessibility for larps can easily be increased with simple measures, like having a moment of stating the agenda of the entire larp before starting the rest of the workshops, or by having a short moment to put people’s minds at ease if they are non-native speakers playing a larp in English or if they are playing a Nordic style larp for the very first time, etc.

Debriefs as tools for closure

To the same extent in which we overuse workshops and at times make them redundant by resorting to well-known workshops which don’t necessarily fit the intentions behind our larps, we tend to underuse and underdesign debriefs in our larp design. Debriefs have the potential to improve the experience as a whole, as they can become anything from a soft landing spot to a space for venting and leaving behind negativity, or a last resort for expectation calibration. 

If we want to consider framework design an essential part of larp design, then it is a logical consequence to consider closing that framework in the form of a debrief as essential. This doesn’t mean that we should (re-)turn to extensive debriefs with a whole array of exercises, as that risks falling into the same trap as we do in our workshops. However, leaning on some basic exercises that are repeated and never questioned neglects giving the experience a sense of closure.

In the same way workshops are the building blocks in shaping the larp experience, debriefs are the place where we give the experience a sense of closure, and hence, where we wrap up and tie everything together. It serves to look at debriefs as more than just an optional emotional safety tool. They can serve as a tool for making the flow of the larp end coherently and in a way that fits the whole of the experience, rather than leaving the participants hanging in a space of tension and unfinished business.

If we neglect our debriefs, we not only neglect the emotional safety of the players but also fail to hold on to our engagement to design the entirety of an experience for them. We have brought our participants to a high point by bringing them to the end of the game and the story but we are not catching them after. We have to be there to offer them a way and a space to land, and to wrap up their experience and take home only the parts they wish to.

For the chamber larp Equinox Retreat (United Kingdom 2021), I designed a slow visualisation and breathing exercise that gives players time to digest emotions and to remember a positive moment in the larp experience. Such an exercise can be a valuable last part of a debrief and help people get in an energy and mindset to step out of the larp and into the everyday world again. Hiding ourselves behind optional debriefs with the same exercises that are constantly repeated and never improved or designed specifically to fit the design and experience of the game does not serve our players and their experience.

Workshops and debriefs as evolving toolboxes for designing the larp experience

If we want to employ workshops and debriefs as elements that help building the larp experience as a whole, we need to rethink how we tackle them and put adequate care in designing the right workshop and debrief tools that fit our larp, instead of leaning on our current perceived traditions of doing things and instead of going for the hype of the moment. We shouldn’t just be maintaining our existing toolboxes, but we should strive to also make them more accessible and easy to find. Moreover, we have to dare to add to them and to experiment more with the format, and to be more open to new approaches. 

If we want to attain this point of creating big workshop and debrief toolboxes for designers to roam in freely for the creation of their larps, we also need to be more open to share and exchange best practices and lessons learned. We need to have more willingness to share as well as to reflect about what worked and what didn’t, as well as an openness to take inspiration from each other and to offer this inspiration to others. Moreover, we need to accept that these tools can be tweaked in function of the designs that are being created instead of holding on too rigidly to already established formats.

Workshops and debriefs shouldn’t become inert holy houses that we stick to for the comfort of it. They have the potential to be an engine of creativity, care and change in the larp design process. 


Daemon (2021). Denmark. Katrine Wind.

Equinox Retreat (2021). United Kingdom. Sandy Bailly.

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

Bailly, Sandy. 2024. “The Hated Children of Nordic Larp – Why We Need to Improve on Workshops and Debriefs.” 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: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash.

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Sandy Bailly (b. 1986) is a Belgian larper who occasionally also crews, writes, designs and organises larps. She is a firm believer in restoring people's self-confidence and autonomy, and aspires to carry this out in the mundane world as well as to do this for herself. They are interested in small, collaborative, feelgood and altruistic play in larp, as well as in movies, books and food. Sandy believes in re-imagining reality through play and in building communities of care.