Nordic Larp is coming out!

December 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My friends Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola have been working for eighteen months on a huge photo book about the most ambitious larps in the Nordic countries. Nordic Larp will be published today Wednesday. I got my copy Tuesday afternoon, and it’s worthy of much praise!

The book has thirty excellent live roleplaying games from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Some games I’ve been involved in creating (Luminescence, inside:outside, Europa, PanoptiCorp, Dragonbane), in others I’ve been a player (Helsingin Camarilla, Ground Zero, The Executive Game, Hamlet, Zombie, Mellan himmel och hav, Silmäpuoli merirosvo), and all of them I’ve heard lots of good things about.

During the fifteen larp years in the book, the scene has deal with gender roles, society, cancer, Norway’s Nazi occupation, the mafia, nationality, insanity, capitalism, Shakespeare and the homeless, and adventure with vampires, dragons, steampunk spaceships, pirates and dead spirits that communicate through radio. Many of these in the same game.

My article In Prison With Kafka and Beckett is about inside:outside (2001-2002), a larp Eirik Fatland and I designed, and Irene Tanke produced, that was my first larp to be exhibited in an art gallery. The book has eight pages of text an Frode Dybvad’s photos for the game. While the pictures are good, many more articles are much more visual, since the originals were somehow lost in the Faroe Islands in Frode’s bag. (I think this accurately displays what a huge undertaking Stenros and Montola had in getting photos of some of the older games.)

Since a larp is an immediate work that cannot be recorded or reproduced, editing and publishing a book like this is a great deed for the whole culture. Without one the visionary live roleplaying games of old would remain only in the dimming memories of its participants and turn into vague stories told over proverbial campfires, but now they are documented with visual proof. With this book the history of Nordic larp is immortalized.

I obviously haven’t read the whole tome yet, but after browsing it, I can tell it’s full of interesting articles and brilliant photo pages. The book will be available online and in select bookstores, but you can also get it at the publishing party today on Wednesday, Dec 22th.

There will be four or five simultaneous parties held in Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, at least. The parties kick off at 19:00 local time. The Stockholm part fill be held in Betahaus (Skeppsholmen 30), and in Helsinki the location is Dubrovnik Lounge (Eerikinkatu 11). Locations for Oslo and Copenhagen will be announced here.

The parties are also connected to each other with a live stream. You can also watch the video online in real time, or take part by Tweeting (#nordiclarp). (I promise not everyone there dubs themselves a Social Media Expert!)

Welcome!

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The Turku Manifesto turns ten

February 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

It was published a day before, and I was selling them at a convention. When I gave Mika Loponen a copy, her burned it at the ash tray. Everyone was watching and cheering. ”Get them while they’re hot,” I yelled.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Manifesto of the Turku School. It is a roleplaying manifesto promoting character immersion as a player goal, and honest world simulation as a game master goal. It may be the most talked about thing I’ve written so far.

At the time the discussion on roleplaying theory was mostly centered around the question ”should there be roleplaying theory or is it ruining our hobby?” Some of tried to talk about the theory and practice of what we find interesting, and were blamed for ruining the fun for everyone, since you’re not supposed to take it too seriously, it’s supposed to just be fun. But is it good fun? What do you mean by fun? Is it fun to play something horrible happening to your character? Is it fun if the game master pulls everything out of his ass? Aren’t some kinds of fun better experienced if you really try to feel what the character feels, instead of just going through the motions?

In the summer of 1999 Norwegian roleplaying theorists Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingård wrote the Dogma 99, a ”Programme for the Liberation of LARP”. They argued that larp can be a meaningful medium for artistic expression and that you should take it seriously. We agreed on that. Then they went on to treat roleplaying games more as acting than as character immersion, and made the game master a linear storyteller instead of an interactive or multilinear enabler. I couldn’t stand for that, of course, and had to write the first part of the until then speculational manifesto. This became the Larper’s Vow of Chastity, published in the fall of 1999.

Dogma 99, like it’s Danish predecessor Dogme 95, contained rules that a game master could try out to challenge their way of making art. Most people understood the rules as something every game must adhere to according to the writers, and dismissed the whole thing. The Turku Larper’s Vow of Chastity did contain such rules, meant to be be obeyed when playing in a Turku style larp. ”I shall not speak out of character during a game”, and so on. Most people noticed that the player is also expected to follow the game master’s vision, and misinterpreted this completely assuming that this meant the character’s wouldn’t have free will within the game. I probably should’ve written it better.

Nevertheless, the Vow got lots of discussion, and I decided to go ahead with writing the Manifesto itself. The annual Nordic larp conference Knutepunkt was taking place in Helsinki that year, and there was a pre-party at (now celebrity journalist) Johanna Koljonen’s mother’s place. That was Wednesday 23rd of February, 2000. That’s where I first gave and sold copies of the manifesto that I’d written in the preceding couple of days, and picked up at the printers’ that morning. The title had a typo, since I didn’t know ”manifest” and ”manifesto” are two different things.

There was not yet a tradition for conference journals on roleplaying theory, so people were pretty amazed, and also amused. A copy of the manifesto was burned to protest its horrors. There was a panel discussion where Eirik Fatland and I duked it out. Later Eirik Fatland and I became fast friends, organizing many larps together, such as inside:outside and (with Juhana Pettersson) I Regret Nothing.

Next year and the year after that, people started writing their own manifestos in response to the Turku Manifesto and Dogma 99, and there was a Roihuvuori Manifesto, Meilahti Style, Bristol Manifesto, the Manifesto Manifesto, The Manifest Sunday, and dozens of others. Some were about roleplaying theory, some were parodies, most were descriptions of the writers’ own preferred styles without trying to force it upon anybody else. (Although then they’re not really manifestos, if I may say so.)

The manifesto creeps up every now and again in silly online discussions and such, and new people get angry at it. (Check out this one archived from 4chan!) Then somebody points out there’s a nice idea here or there, and the discussion turns into one of roleplaying theory. And occasionally somebody likes the text so much they want to translate it into their own language. So far we have Le Manifeste de l’Ecole de Turku in French, Manifest Školy Turku in Slovak, and Manifest Školy Turku in Czech. Today I’m publishing the Russian translation by Larnir Haigh. Enjoy!

I’ve since written some other articles that I view as part of the Turku School canon, and am working on my BA and MA theses at the Aalto University of Art and Design in Helsinki. They will deal with familiar topics including larps, rituals, Aristotle, Nietzsche and character immersion. The Turku School will live on.

I’m thinking of doing something cool about regarding the Manifesto at this year’s Knutpunkt in Stockholm. Any ideas?

And finally, to celebrate this anniversary, here are some more photos from 2000. Can you recognize all the current game researchers and bigwigs then in their blossoming youth?

Portrait of the author as a young man.

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Finnish roleplaying game features penguins

July 27, 2009 at 7:53 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Society for Nordic Roleplaying (that we recently founded) publishes two roleplaying games in Finnish this summer. Ikuisuuden laakso and Itran kaupunki open up new topics for roleplaying.

The philosophical Ikuisuuden laakso (“Valley of Eternity”) is Juhana Pettersson’s first roleplaying game. It is a tragic RPG set in the Antarctic, in which the players take on the roles of hero penguins living on the borders of penguin society. The life of a hero is not an easy one, even if they are penguins: she must sacrifice everything in her battle against skua gulls and leopard seals, but will always remain a stranger in the eyes of her fellows. The anthropomorphic animals are a cleansing, distancing element in Ikuisuuden laakso, but obviously they also provide comedy.

Juhana Pettersson is a Helsinki-based game designer and journalist. As the editor-in-chief of Roolipelaaja magazine he is a pioneer of RPG journalism. He has also written the much lauded non-fiction book Roolipelimanifesti (“Role playing manifesto”) in 2005. Pettersson has studied media art in France.

Pettersson has been an Antarctica enthusiast for a long time. In 2008 he created the Antarctica-set larp Snowstorm, and in his blog he presents and reviews books and films set in the region. “Years ago I looked at a map of the planet, and said to myself, there’s a white area at the bottom, that I don’t know anything about. Since then I’ve read everything about the southern continent I’ve been able to get my hands on. My dream is to some day visit there, but before that I’ll have to settle on designing games about penguins.”

“The penguin is the everyman of Ikuisuuden laakso. A penguin is noble and foolish at the same time, and can thus avoid the ubermensch ideas which traditionally arise when dealing with the topic of heroes and heroism,” Pettersson says.

Norwegian surrealism

Itran kaupunki (“The City of Itra”) was originally published in Norwegian as Itras by, and is the first roleplaying game translated into Finnish from a language other than English. The game is set in a surrealistic 1920s city that is controlled from the mysterious Moon Tower, and whose streets are filled with the strangest of figures. Itran kaupunki draws from the tradition of roleplaying games, surrealism, futurism, and Norwegian children’s literature.

The creators of Itran kaupunki are Ole Peder Giæver and Martin Bull Gudmundsen. Giæver has roleplayed since he was ten. He works as a journalist in the Norwegian online paper ABC Nyheter. Gudmundsen studies psychology at the Oslo University.

The Society
The Society for Nordic Roleplaying works to facilitate the development and growth of Nordic roleplaying culture in Finland by making works published in other Nordic languages available in Finnish.

We also work to keep the local scene vital by publishing groundbreaking new games by Finnish designers. The Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are at the vanguard of global roleplaying culture.

Nordic games have broadened the horizons of what can be done in the roleplaying medium and broken barriers between roleplaying and other artforms such as performance art and theatre.

So far, English has been the language of Nordic cooperation. Ideas have been exchanged at international forums like the annual Knutepunkt event, but actual roleplaying publishing has remained a national affair. Games published in Norwegian or Danish won’t reach audiences in other countries because of the language barrier.

Both games will be published at Ropecon on July 31st, 2009. Ropecon is held annually in Espoo.

More information on Itran kaupunki and The Society for Nordic Roleplaying: Mike Pohjola, email mikepohjola@gmail.com

More information on Ikuisuuden laakso: Juhana Pettersson, email jlp@iki.fi

The Society for Nordic Roleplaying: www.nordicrpg.fi

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Knutepunkt, day five: Sunday

May 4, 2009 at 9:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Jaakko had convinced me to play Jiituomas Harviainen’s Prayers on a Porcelain Altar in the morning just after breakfast. It was the perfect thing to do in the morning with everybody tired and hungover.

The game was about a bunch of arrogant young actors the day after the entrance exams to the Finnish Theatre Academy. They’d partied heavily, and everybody had hazy recollections of what happened last night. A sort of murder mystery structure there (”Who slept with whom? Why am I bruised in the stomach?”), but just enough to give us something to play on.

The real core of the game was in the interplay between the characters. Nobody was feeling too great physically, everyone was nervous about how they did in the exams, trying to make others feel bad or just pick a fight for the hell of it. A great thing to play in this tired state of mind when everybody could just sit on the couches in nearly horizontal positions and slander others.

Harviainen had plugged this as ”a game where everybody is really hungover and nobody remembers anything about last night”, which had put me off for a long time, but it turned out to be quite meaningful and interesting. I’d heard someone had performed Faust in the previous day’s run, and gave myself permission to recite Hamlet. (Having done a piece of the same monologue in Klingon the previous night and now redoing it in more length in English gave it a slightly surreal context for me.)

All in all, a very interesting experience. Harviainen is definitely one of the foremost con larp artists I know of.

After the game it was time to pack our bags and get on the busses that took most people to Oslo Central Station and the rest of us to Gardaemon Airport. Our plane didn’t leave until seven so we had many an hour to spare at Peppes Pizza talking about larp and business and roleplaying and art and science and research and life and whatnot.

Tobias Wrigstad made two rapid-pace interview videos asking people at Knutepunkt what they thought was the cool. The One Cool Thing videos are on Youtube here and here. Apparently there’s lots of other similar videos from other cons, so I guess it’s some sort of indie rpg con trend.

Apart from the amazing Knutebook Larp, Universe and Everything, I got three other great books to bring home with me. One from Tronsmo was Lipstick Traces – Secret History of the 20th Century recommended by Martin to me some months ago. Claus Raasted had published a photo book about the larps he’d ran in 2008. It’s almost two hundred pages long with awesome pictures. And finally, I got a signed copy of Itras by, the Norwegian tabletop rpg set in the surrealist 20s. It’s being translated into Finnish even as we speek. More or that later.

I was a bit worried about being allowed back on the plane without my passport or any sort of ID, but fortunately I managed to talk the airport personnel into contacting Finnish immigration who gave them permission to let me through security.

All in all, this was a great Knutepunkt. Relaxed, inspiring, with just the right combination of heavy partying, sotto conversations, larping, rituals and theory.

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Knutepunkt, day four: Saturday

April 29, 2009 at 8:14 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I may have forgotten several key details about last night, including a strange improvised midnight quest with one master Daniel Krauklis. Also, I met a man with long fingernails and long blonde hair, whom the Norwegians had dubbed ”The young Mike Pohjola.” Nice fellow, so not exactly like me.

I had signed up for lots of programme Saturday morning, but slept through most of it, only waking up in time to attend the end discussion of Jiituomas Harviainen’s lecture where they talked about the differences and similarities between ritual and larp. A shame I missed it, but fortunately there will be articles coming up on the topic.

I woke Martin up, dragged him to lunch, and we started rigging up for our presentation. I’m not often hungover, but for some unknown reason that curse afflicted me this day. Head aching, nausea, confusion, all that good stuff.

The Knutepunkt practical arrangements were well taken care of, but I often noticed problems with the tech department. Sound cables missing, extension cords nowhere to be found, video projectors not set up in time, and so on. The guys working the tech were doing the best they could, but I think they simply didn’t have enough gear. Later in the evening I ended up borrowing my laptop to Erlend and Katri Lassila so they could show their films, that were apparently unplayable on the equipment at hand.

After everything was set up, we did our hour-and-a-half presentation, starting with Sanningen om Marika, and moving on from there. We created a sort of narrative around the fact that after last year’s Solmukohta we were just getting ready to fly to Cannes for the International Emmy Gala.

When we told the little tale of us sitting there in the gala, applying nail polish and flipping the passive media off, and winning the damn statue… people started applauding. That was  a real nice, warm moment. We, both of us, had spent so many years being the annoying guys in black, making outrageous claims and being accused for destroying the hobby by taking it in all the wrong directions, this was a great sense of community. No bitterness, no envy, just joy. (And rightly so, since we strongly feel this is the Nordic larpdom combining with traditional tv.)

Then we talked in length about Dollplay, and very, very, very briefly about two projects in the pipeline: The Artists and TEVA. To summarize: ”We can’t really say anything about these.” ”But maybe we can say which country it will begin in?” ”Well, it may begin in some individual country, or perhaps not.”

The last programme for me, apart from Erlend’s film, was a jeepform game in the style of talk show. The idea was to do a sort of ”This Is Your Life” kind of show with the audience improvising/roleplaying key points in the person’s life. It’s nice to make these kinds of experiments, but I didn’t really think it worked. It was just over-long impro theatre with no unifying plot, and no point.

After the programme there was plenty of hanging out, and visiting strange parties. The Czechs held a party in their cabin, serving foul tasting alcohol which I countered by bringing them some salmiakki. People sang songs from their native countries, which was surprisingly nationalistic for Knutepunkt, so I introduced myself as coming from the klingon homeworld. I was asked to sing klingon opera, but opted out playing a scene from the tragedy of Khamlet. (Jaakko approved, saying it’s much better in the original Klingon.)

Jukka and Hakkis ran two drinking workshops this year, instead of just the one. One was a secret drinking workshop, so I can’t really talk about that. The other one was a fifteen-minute port wine workshop (porttivartti) where we were joined by a really drunk and young Faroese first-timer, whom I dubbed Junior. He didn’t know who anybody was, which we found hilarious. Had we been less arrogant and drunk, we might’ve told him, but such was not the way of the Knutepunkt Saturday night.

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Knutepunkt, day three: Friday

April 23, 2009 at 3:17 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

I managed to get up before eight in the morning to attend Johanna’s workshop Physical Rituals. It felt more like a theatre workshop combined with a bit of conceptual immersion, which was great in itself, but far from ritual in the Knutepunkt context.

After that I had breakfast and went to hear a lecture on Czech larps. I think I speak for all attendees when I say we went there a bit smug and feeling superior, and came out feeling humbled and in awe. The Czechs have had documented cases of larping since before WWII. Something like it even before WWI! Amazing.

Before lunch I had to take a short nap to regain my full capacities for the afternoon. I didn’t expect much from the meals, but they turned out to be brilliant Norwegian tapas buffets with more varieties than I could fit on my plate. I wonder how well the meat eaters must’ve eaten!

Then it was time for my ritual workshop. Just wanting to run a ritual workshop at a con should be enough to prove I’d finally become completely Norwegian.

I don’t know what else the lavvo was used for, but it was perfect for this. In the middle there was a fire, and we gathered around it. First we sacrificed little wine to the wine god Dionysos by drinking it or pouring it onto the fire, while I took my ritual knife and drew a magic circle around the participants.

We tried out three or four different types of choruses, beginning with a classic Dionysian dithyramb with just the chorus and the priest/chorus master. Then adding one actor, and then one more, moving on towards classic Greek tragedy where chorus is just one part of what’s on stage. Aristotle and Nietzsche have said that the chorus is the ideal audience, and I wanted to test out what that means. I think I get it now, but will run something like this again at Ropecon.

Masks and music and monologues and chanting. I found it pretty cool, although this was still clearly a learning experience for me. Many had expected a mock ritual rather than a workshop on rituals, so they might’ve been slightly disappointed at all the theory and the lack of drums.

After the ritual it was gala time! It was a color themed party for which I’d brought a goth suit I’d bought in Amsterdam just after Christmas. Hakkis and Jukka had chosen to wear pink stetsons and robes, becoming the wizards of love.

The party had a couple of excellent burlesque performances, great people, lots of drinks of varying kinds, people going from small gatherings to large groups and then private discussions, strange drinks, lots of dancing, and so on. This was my mandatory night of staying up ridiculously late and well worth it.

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Knutepunkt, Day two: Thursday

April 21, 2009 at 3:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

After sleeping rather long, the four of us join many others at the Oslo Central Station to board the Knutepunkt bus. We were almost on time, but apparently two full busses had already left.

On the bus I read the larp scenario ”School Trip” that I and many others will have to run after the opening ceremonies. Nobody was asked about wanting to do it, I think – film director and Knutepunkt founder Erlend Eidsem Hansen simply picked twenty people with game mastering experience, and gave them the task. Eirik sitting behind me was similarly burdened.

The location turned out to be next to a beautiful mountain-rimmed half-frozen lake. Cabins, a hotel, and a big lavvo by the shore. Lots of old friends came to greet and hug us. I shared a bunk bed with my P co-owner Martin Ericsson, in a cabin with five other people.

The event was about to start with a ritual (Norwegians are crazy about rituals). Erlend told the game masters to help him out with it, as the opening ceremonies would meld seemlessly into the game. Carrying torches and accompanied by drum and flute, we twenty walk slowly to the circle of the two hundred participants. Most of the participants are wielding unlit torches, and we go through them, picking the ones that will play in our runs of the game, and lighting their torches.

For my run of The School Trip, I was joined by Lars, Jeep veteran Tobias Wrigstad, and six other people, some of whom I knew, some not. I had some problems with the game – it was a seemingly realistic game about a class reunion that will be interrupted by the teacher showing off a time machine he’s invented, and giving the class a chance to travel back to a traumatic event in their youth. That is, traumatic for like two or three people in the group. The rest weren’t really interested in the events at all, and just wanted to leave when this opportunity was introduced.

Every game master was to run the game in their own fashion (360 degree illusion, jeepform, tabletop, with theatre-like physicality, or whatever). I wanted to make mine as immersion-friendly as possible, and felt this would require me to somehow explain away the disruptive time machine and create a strong sense of group and place with practically no props, sounds, lights, costumes or anything, or time to prepare.

What I had, though, was a lot of people with slightly strange hair and clothes (them being larpers) and a shared understanding of some geek trivia. So I decided to make it a Harry Potter game with the students having gone to a school for wizards. That explained the time machine (magic) and managed to create a suitably unique atmosphere for the hour and a half. Fortunately the room I was given happened to have lots of books in it, so that helped, too. Many thanked me afterwards, so I think it was a succesful solution.

After this we all rushed into the main hall to hear my good friend Joc Koljonen hosting a live talk show with about a dozen varied Knutepunkt goers talking about the stuff they’ve been doing the year before or will do at the event. This included Martin talking about Dollplay and Marika, researcher Jaakko Stenros talking about their pervasive game studies, and a Finnish British theatre professional from Teatteri Naamio ja höyhen, Johanna MacDonald, who’d never visited Knutepunkts before but realized (quite right) that larp has quite a bit to do with performative arts.

I tried to go to sleep around two to be able to attend Johanna’s programme item at eight in the morning. Unfortunately Martin was under the influence that ours was a party cabin, inviting people there to keep partying when all other rooms had switched off the lights. But that’s just part of the magic of Knutepunkt!

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Knutepunkt: Day one, Wednesday

April 21, 2009 at 9:18 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Arrived in Oslo without a cellphone, or a passport, or company, with nobody knowing I was coming. Not a great start.

I landed on my feet, though, visiting the brilliant Tronsmo bookstore, and then joining a bunch of A Week in Norway attendees for a game of Fat Man Down with the Jeeps.

That was a strange experience, a freeform roleplaying game about bullying an overweight man. One person plays the fat guy, the rest create different scenes where his weight has become a problem. At one point the fifteen or so of us made a circle around him, each playing an unflattering, unrelenting alter ego, criticizing him. Then we moved closer, started speaking faster and louder and on top of each other, until in the end we were almost touching him yelling ”Fat fat fat fat! Ugly ugly ugly!” Not an uplifting experience for anybody, but an interesting experiment nevertheless.

Later that night we went to see a participative theatre play called The Night of the Serpents. They played the film noir style story in a bar, occasionally asking audience to make sounds or movements. The audience being 50 larpers, things soon got out of hand, although we let them move the story in their own direction nevertheless…

After the play, the Knutepunkt journal Larp, Universe and Everything was published. Having now read about five articles, I can tell you it’s got some hooties. I spent the night at my Eirik Fatland and Li Xin’s place, together with the Danish illustrator and storyboard artist Lars Munck. I’ve organized a couple of larps and other art projects with Eirik, and he and Li Xin have even studied in the Taik Medialab for two years.

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I came for the Knutepunkt, I stayed for the rituals

April 14, 2009 at 7:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m leaving for Norway tomorrow to take part in the four-day conference Knutepunkt that begins Thursday. I first attended this Nordic festival for roleplaying arts and theory in Denmark, 1999. That means this is my tenth year and eleventh time.

For many years now there’s been a conference journal published, and this year many of the articles are published online beforehand. Go and read them, they seem good! Larp culture in Latvia and Brazil, and articles from Malik Hyltoft, Eirik Fatland, Morgan Jarl, Andrea Castellani, and many important Finnish luminaries.

I’m hosting two programme items at Knutepunkt. On Saturday Martin Elricsson and I will be talking about Dollplay, Sanningen om Marika and a little about the future projects of The Company P.

On Friday I’m trying out something new, and holding a ritual workshop. The Norwegians have long been very interested in ritual use in larps, and the relationship between ritual and roleplaying. I’ve searched for texts on emotional immersion in an art context, and found Nietzsche made interesting points about the worship of Dionysos and Apollon in his early writing. The ritual workshop is part of my larger ten-year aesthetic project dealing with writing and roleplaying – one that will also include my thesis work at Taik. So… I expect the Knutepunkt to be great and am quite exited to still be doing something new after ten years!

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