A Letter from Fastaval

fastatoThe Danish role-playing/freeform/semilarp convention Fastaval is held in Easter every year. It draws several international participants. I came here for the first time last year, and was instantly hooked. So many slightly pretentious storygame nerds like myself in one single spot. Hurrah! The main attraction for me is the scenario tradition they have here.

Every year, around 30 scenarios are written especially for the festival. On Sunday, there will be a galla evening in mock Oscar style, where the prestigious (and slightly silly) golden ”Otto” penguin statue is handed out in various categories; best script, best story, best methods, best characters, etc.

I’ve gotten to play five games this year. I’ll write a little about each experience:

This Miracle
A game simulating religions. I only played parts of this. The warm-up/set-up was perfect. Probably the best warm-up I’ve seen in this kind of game. There was chanting, we told a collective story (that worked amazingly well considering how many players we were), and we told each other about our favorite mythological characters. Loki, Baron Samedi, The First of The Fallen, etc. I felt very smart telling the group about my relationship with Peter Parker. Then we picked Jungian archetypes to play in the game proper. Only trouble is, I felt I was being prepared for something very different from what I later got to play.

The game has an ambitious structure. We started with a large group of maybe twenty people, who were later divided into smaller groups who were to establish various myths from a fictitious religion, craft physical artifacts representing the myth, that were later handed over to other groups as the myth was passed on. So the various groups interacted, and obviously had to be timed and coordinated. There were some later stages to play, but in the end I opted out of the game. The group I was in was a little dysfunctional, the GM seemed slightly stressed and curt, and I was tired from lack of sleep (I’d spent too much time the night before fiddling with me and Magnar’s Nordic Larp Generator).

I was initially psyched to play the Jungian archetype I was given during warm-up. I picked ”The Ruler”, since I’m not very much of a Ruler in RL. I had started looking forward to playing some kind of mix between the elder Lannister in Game of Thrones and Obama. But when we were split up in smaller groups, we went straight into collaborative storytelling. I think we were supposed to play our archetypes narrating the myth, but I quickly realized me being a stern, pompous Ruler in that circumstance would be of no use to anyone.

So anyway, I left the game, as it seemed it wouldn’t break the game for the remaining players (there wasn’t any pre-established plot depending on my character’s presence).

A surreal ”semi-larp” about a boy and a mother who were held captive in a shed by a man (who was secretly the boy’s father). All told from the child’s perspective, with the room itself as a ”meta-character”. Semi-larp means you push tables and chairs aside and act out the characters like in improvised theatre or larp (obviously). But unlike larp there are no costumes, and you don’t change locations much. Fastaval games are mostly played in the classrooms of the school where the convention happens. So that’s the physical setting we have to work with (no castle).

fastavalI was the game master for this, and it was my first time running a game at Fastaval. I don’t have that much experience facilitating this kind of out-on-the-floor freeform. So that was an interesting experience. When actual play started, after the set-up and warm-up, my job was mostly to establish and end scenes.

The backstory of the scenario reminded me of those weird and terrible stories of women held captive for several years in Austrian basements, but the pure horror of the boy and mother’s situation was consciously subdued by the author of the scenario. Placed in the background, as the child’s fantasy world, interacting with his imaginary friends in the room, was at the forefront.

Our run wasn’t perfect, mostly because of my inexperience with the format, but I found it to be an interesting and at times moving/intense experience.

My favorite this festival was a comedy about an art scene (not at all similar to the Nordic Larp/Nordic freeform scenes). The characters were a group of men who were in an art group doing some kind of improv/performance stuff for large audiences. Play switched between present and past, doing flashbacks to their time of notoriety and big shows, contrasted with the slightly more has-been vibe of present day, with some comeback aspirations mixed in.

The author, a Danish stand-up comedian and Fastaval veteran, ran the game for us. This was a sit-down game, play happening purely in our conversation and whatever body-language and facial expressions you can do sitting down (all the remaining games were, so I won’t repeat this).

Tales from Five Fallen Realms
Nano-games! The concept is as follows: you’re divided into groups, but there’s no game master. You’re simply given five different games, each written on a postcard. Then the groups select however many games they want to try out during the two hour period they have availbale (the other games I played were in 5 hour slots, but didn’t always last that long). Our group selected The Bunker and Split Utopia.


Artifacts crafted during our run of «This Miracle».

– Split Utopia was a world-building sci-fi game. I thought the rules sounded a bit boring at first, but it worked really well. We established various aspects of a sci-fi setting, and then narrated how it gradually crumbled. All of this was GM-less, so we had to depend on whatever experience the players had with improv and collective storytelling. There are limits to how many instructions fit on a postcard, but fortunately the group seemed very experienced.

– The Bunker was a post-apocalyptic sci-fi (crumbled societies being the theme of this year’s Nanogames). We played a group of astronauts who had returned to the remnants of Earth, exploring a bunker which was (in our game at least), ”Humanity’s last stand”. Then there were flashback scenes were we got glimpse of what society was like before the fall. It worked quite well, and we told a fairly coherent story, but it suffered from some of the faults I often see in GM-less games, where you have small tug-of-wars between the players. Saying ”say yes” is fairly easy, actually playing that way requires both the will to let go and maybe some experience doing just that.

In signing up for games at this year’s Fastaval, I consciously tried to avoid the ”heaviest” topics. There were mental institutions, abusive fathers and war widows to be had, but I largely stayed away. However, the two designers of Demons had given me very strong experiences with previous games, so I gave ”Demons” a go.

The characters were Korean ”comfort women” during the second world war. Sex-slaves in a Japanese concentration camp. I had some superficial knowledge of the topic before I went to the game, but no more than that.

I won’t do the scenario justice here, but I’ll jot down some brief thoughts:

– The designers had chosen a kind of ”magical realism”, where the world of the women gradually became more dreamlike, and their captors turned into actual demons (animal-like caricatures).
– Was it torture porn? No. We were instructed to tone down that kind of play, so the worst things were rarely made explicit. Scenes were cut, there were muted sounds instead of direct narration of certain scenes etc. It worked fairly well.
– Do you gain direct experience of a historical period through RPGs or larp? No. But you may learn stuff, gain an interest to explore further, and so on. I’ve never really given the topic ”what would it be like to be an 80 year old Korean woman who survived a Japanese concentration camp” much thought. Maybe I will now. My grandmother, who is still alive, has sometimes told us how angry she was when she witnessed German soldiers parading Russian (?) prisoners in Norway during WWII. We could have been other people. I think role playing can help us empathize.
– I don’t understand, but I can try to.

Yeah. I won’t go further into it right now. Maybe later, when it has had time to sink in a bit. The game was only five hours ago.

Those were the games I played. Other than that, I’ve enjoyed being able to hang out with people I usually just interact with on social media the rest of the year.

I also got to do a Nordic Larp battle-rap with Evan Torner. That’s probably the nerdiest thing I’ve done so far this year, and I do fairly nerdy shit all the time.

Love from Denmark.

(Most of these games will be made available on http://alexandria.dk, primarily in Danish, but sometimes they’re translated to English, too at some point.)

Ett tusen rollespillere!

Bilde av Spencer Tunick på arbeid cc-by-nc Guillermo Amador

Bilde av Spencer Tunick på arbeid cc-by-nc Guillermo Amador

…er nå samlet under ett tak på Facebook-gruppa til Rollespill.info. De har kommet ruslende hver for seg en stund nå, alene og i grupper. Folket vil ha kampanjer. Det rekrutteres og debatteres. Det utmerkede initativet Rollespillalliansen har stukket hodet innom. Fra tid til annen kommer en spillveteran hjem igjen, blunker i lyset, og spør om THAC0 fins ennå. Det diskuteres regelsystemer, annonseres spillinger og brainstormes nye spill – det blir til og med organisert nye prosjekter, som oversettelsen av Basic Fantasy til Norsk, og illustrering av rollespillet Brent Jord.

Det varmer å se hordene samlet rundt leirbålet slik. Hvis noen av Imagonems faste følgesvenner er på Facebook, men ikke på gruppa, oppfordrer vi til å klikke seg inn. Jo flere vi er sammen, jo raskere når vi en kritisk masse som kan spre seg som et virus og overvelde menneskeheten før de vet ordet av det. Om du er en av dem som av samvittighetsgrunner ikke har gitt etter for Facebookpresset, lover vi å holde deg oppdatert via Imagonem.org.

Why do I GM?

Photo links to this review of «The Storytelling Animal»: http://readingsubtly.blogspot.no/2012_04_01_archive.html

(This question was making the rounds on G+ the other day, and I wanted to save my reply in a slightly more permanent form than the social media platforms provide for. Norwegian original toward the end, i.e: not as long as it looks.)

I often have a touch of stage fright before leading a game. Maybe it’s not the same with the closest circle of 5-6 people I’ve played various games with for 15-18 years now, but actually, yeah, with those too. I should be prepared, but then I’m kind of disorganized and a bit of a laggard, so sometimes I don’t make much prep (or any at all).

Sometimes in life, I’ve happened to be on a stage/in front of an audience. At last year’s Knutpunkt in Sweden I performed a silly text in front of 300 participants. It’d been patched together in an hour or two, right before the “Hour of the Rant”. I was so nervous that my hands were shaking a bit. The manuscript I was holding was trembling, and I had to support myself at a podium. But it went well. The audience laughed in all the right places. And that thing is a kick. The adrenaline, focus. When the words flow freely, and are “just right”, almost as if by channelization. When I’m in kind of a flow AND able to entertain others, help them get carried away… I find that in game mastering, too.

There are probably a thousand other reasons. I like to “create a story with others”. It may be a cliché, but it’s true. I think there’s something beautiful in how we as adults can get together and do that. Almost like a primeval thing. Gather around the camp fire. To put it in a 90’s White Wolf way. But also it’s almost like child’s play. The way we would freely jam, take on new characters and just be present in a story of our own making as kids.

To be the storyteller of the tribe, the shaman who conjures fable beasts, real animals, archetypal heroes and villains with shadow images on the cave walls, with his voice, grimaces and gestures. To release all these things that live in me, that I’m not allowed to show at work or in a family dinner. It’s primal. And incredibly important to me.

I don’t think I’m a typical «leader type». I often feel more comfortable as the clown/critic/outsider. But I think it’s healthy for me to sometimes be the one who decides. To control who has the spotlight. Make sure everyone gets to shine. Conductor/director/facilitator… I think I’ve learned and strengthened many social skills through game mastering.

In my early days as a role player, I was sometimes served with the statement “the GM is God”. I thought that rang as untrue then as I think it does now. The GM can distribute power, the rights to narrate and the word. Who has the word. But if he abuses that power, or sits talking and talking without letting others contribute, or is unable to catch the player’s interest/attention and entertain… who’s God is he then?

Original text:

Jeg har ofte litt prestasjonsangst når jeg skal spillede. Kanskje ikke sammen med den aller nærmeste gjengen på 5-6 stykker jeg har spilt forskjellige spill med i 15-18 år nå, men jo, egentlig med dem også. Jeg må jo være forberedt, men så er jeg surrehue og somlepave, så noen ganger går det ikke. Men på kongress og sånn? Jo. Jeg skal for første gang spillede på Fastaval i påsken. Meldte meg frivillig i siste liten. Har fått scenariene tilsendt, men vært for bizzi denne uka til å lese. Dette er jo ting folk (danske venner) gjerne har jobbet med i månedsvis, og jeg er ikke like vant med spillkulturen der (selv om jeg nok har skjønt en del). Fastaval har rimelig høy prestisje oppi min knoll…

Men altså: hvorfor?

Noen ganger i livet hender det jeg står på scene/foran en forsamling. Jeg fremførte en tøysegreie foran 300 deltakere på Knutepunkt i Sverige i fjor. Tøysegreia var snekret sammen på en time eller to før den skulle avholdes. Jeg var så nervøs at jeg skalv på hendene. Manuskriptet ristet, og jeg måtte støtte meg til et podie. Men det gikk bra. Publikum lo på de rette stedene. Og den greia der er et kick. Adrenalitet, skjerpingen, fokuset. Når ordene og innfallene kommer trillende, nesten som ved kanalisering. Når jeg er i en slags flowtilstand OG klarer å underholde andre, rive dem med… det finner jeg også i spilledelse.

7 år yngre, like blid. Foto: Håken.

7 år yngre, like blid. Foto: Håken.

Det er nok tusen andre ting også. Jeg liker å «skape en historie sammen med andre». Det er kanskje en klisje, men det er sant. Jeg synes det er noe vakkert ved det at vi som voksne kan komme sammen og gjøre det. Nesten en ur-greie. Samles rundt leirbålet, liksom. For å være si det litt 90-talls White Wolf. Men også nesten som barns lek.

Å være stammens forteller, sjamanen som maner frem fabeldyr, virkelige dyr, arketypiske helter og skurker med skyggebilder på huleveggene, med stemmebruk, grimaser og fakter. Slippe til alle disse tingene som bor i meg, som det ikke er lov å vise frem på jobb og i familieselskap. Det er primalt. Og helt utrolig viktig for meg. Mye av dette er vel det samme når jeg bare er spiller… så hva gjør spilledelsen annerledes?

Jeg tror ikke jeg er noen typisk lederskikkelse. Jeg trives ofte bedre som klovnen/kritikeren/outsideren. Men jeg tror det er sunt for meg av og til å få lov til å være bestemmemannen i en gruppe. Styre hvem som har spotlight. Passe på at alle får skinne. Dirigent/regissør/fasilitator… Jeg tror jeg har lært/styrket ganske mange sosiale ferdigheter gjennom spilledelse.

Da jeg begynte å spille fikk jeg av og til servert formuleringen «spillederen er Gud». Jeg synes det var like idiotisk da som nå. Spillederen kan fordele makt, fortellerrettigheter og ordet. Altså hvem som har ordet. Men hvis han misbruker den makten, eller sitter og babler og babler uten å la andre komme til orde, eller ikke klarer å fange interesse/oppmerksomhet og underholde… hva er han Gud over da?

Modulworkshop i april!

Rollespill skrevet for festivaler er et særegent element i spilløkologien. De fyller mange av de samme behovene som kommersielt publiserte moduler, men trenger sjelden å selge seg med fine bilder og populære elementer – markedsføringen begrenser seg til å oppgi spillystem, setting og en god pitch, samt å følge opp spillederne.

Spillfestivalen Arcon har lagt ekstra innsats i å dyrke frem gode moduler, og en gruppe spillarrangører i Oslo har kommet festivalkomiteen i møte med en serie workshops. Den tredje og siste før fristen for å bli med på kåringen av beste modul på Arcon går ut kommer 15. april. Så langt har samlingene resultert i flere påbegynte moduler, referater, og et utkast til struktur, en slags mal for festivalmoduler.

Denne gangen tar skribentkabalen for seg «handouts» – kart og papirer fra spillverdenen, bilder, rekvisitter og annet gøy man kan dele ut for å gi spillere noe fra fiksjonen til å ta og føle på, og strukturutkastet blir underlagt granskning. Sjekk utkastet under, og legg til samlingen i kalenderen.

Terry Pratchett

8014e139-0de8-4702-b207-ab24f009228f-620x372Storbritannias nest mest populære forfatter var en fantasyforfatter, rett etter en annen fantasyforfatter. Mainstreamingen av fantasy og science fiction ville antakelig ikke ha vært den samme uten Discworld-seriens popularitet.

Terry Pratchett hadde den vennligste forfatterstemmen jeg vet om. Til tross for at dette var et varslet dødsfall, så har fortellingene hans vært med mange av oss så lenge at det kan bli underlig å venne seg til å ikke ha den neste av Pratchett å se frem til.

Som mange andre Norske fans kan jeg påstå at jeg lærte Engelsk av Pratchett. Ikke å lese og skrive (den æren går henholdsvis til månedsvis med å banke panna i en vegg av Asimov, og Steve Jackson Games), men å tenke og arbeide med språket. Han var en mester av den særegent Britiske vittighetsboken – en P G Wodehouse med dverger og troll. Hans signaturgrep var bathos – det plutselige sporskiftet mellom det banale og det dypt rørende – som virket så godt i kombinasjon med den helt spesielle vennlige forfatterstemmen. Andre forfattere hadde sine plott, verdensbyggingsprosjekter og kreative agendaer; men i Pratchetts verden var vi alle på samme side. Eller ihvertfall fanget i samme båt om vi likte det eller ikke.

Han var uforskammet nerdete og jordnær, en forfatter som klart brydde seg om karakterene sine. En stemme du kunne stole på ikke ville plukke armer og ben av dem i et anfall av forfatterisk sadisme, eller utsette dem for kompliserte og langtrukne lidelser i et forvillet forsøk på å affektere høysinnet literatur. Kanskje Discworld-seriens satiriske blikk på livet er det som kommer ut i andre enden i det du tar en en humanistisk, velreflektert og sylskarp tenker – en som for 200 år siden kunne vært en Locke, Smith eller Moliére, og kjører ham gjennom den moderne forlagsindustriens publiseringskvern. Prachett skrev fantasy for kioskhyllene, ikke filosofi eller høyere litteratur for salongene, og nådde millioner med sine tanker.

Pratchett møtte alzheimerdiagnosen med stort mot. Han fortsatte å arbeide og delta i fanmiljøet rundt verdenen sin til det siste.

Kollega og venn Neil Gaiman linket til sitt perspektiv på Pratchetts fortellinger fra september i fjor.

New Statesman’s Laurie Penny minner oss på hans aktivisme for alzheimerforskning, og omsorgen for de døende.

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