Category: Roleplaying

Growing pains

Preface; this is just some scattered thoughts and reaction to events that unfolded in the larping community today. There’s probably a ton of stuff that I need to elaborate on at some point. 

This meme feels particularly appropriate today.

I started larping when I was 13 years old, some 20+ years ago. Back then we were the weird kids running around woods with padded sticks and bedsheets with holes cut in them.

But the worlds we built felt so real and captivating, that it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that this particular bug was one that stuck around.

Larping permeates all layers of societies and larpers come from all walks of life. It’s one of the things that make this community great. Especially in Scandinavia where I believe we do what we can to make sure that there’s room for everyone; in spite of flaws, social ineptitude or diagnosis.

Most of us have always been the odd ducks, so I’d like to tell myself we’re more tolerant of whatever damage the others carry around (this is of course total bullshit, but I like the thought and the idea that this is what we work towards).

Fast forward to today, and larping is a massive hobby. We who participate in it form international communities and share incredible experiences. We pour obscene amounts of money, time and effort into crafting our worlds, and as we’ve grown up we’ve become an increasingly demanding audience.

Commercialising our art

It’s difficult to talk about larping in Scandinavia without mentioning Dziobak Larp Studios. They’re the producers of the massive events you’ve read about on Geek & Sundry, HuffPo and elsewhere. From the Harry Potter-ish College of Wizardry to the Downton Abbey inspired Fairweather Manor they’ve managed to bring larping into the mainstream. That is in and of itself a massive accomplishment. But sadly these successes have not come without cost.

DLS is the brainchild of “Visionary Wild Card” Claus Raasted. Claus is an old acquaintance of mine, and I can definitely vouch for the “wild card” part of his chosen title. We’ve rarely seen eye to eye, and at times it has led to clashes, which were from my perspective more a matter of personality than objective. It’s hard to refute the benefit of having Claus in our community. He is, for better and worse, a trailblazer and a force to be reckoned with.

So, what’s the problem

Sadly, as DLS has grown and the company is trying to be profitable that “come hell or high water” attitude has repeatedly caused problems for DLS. It’s easy to see how this particular aspect of Claus’ personality permeates his company.

There was a time when the laissez-faire attitude of associations were easier to deal with because everyone was a volunteer and just doing the best they could with what was available. To me it feels like as if DLS is often trying to play itself down as “just another association”, while still being a for-profit company.

It feels to me that DLS hasn’t quite realized that there’s a different level of expectation when you’re a for profit company selling a product. Sure, they may say it’s co-creation, and that’s likely true, but that’s also really easy to sell with a customerbase as intensely passionate as the average larper.

No one is perfect, and growing a company naturally means you will fuck up from time to time. It is, however, how you manage those fuckups that will define your long term success. And it is managing it’s fuckups that it seems to me that DLS stumbles again and again.

  • Rather than respond to criticism by listening and integrating, they try to silence critics. By going so far as using a business relationship to silence a critic by contacting their employer. Or by saying that critics have hurt their employees feelings (welcome to the big leagues; this is how customers react).
  • Fucking up rights management. Which is an admittedly difficult arena when you have so many passionate volunteers who will spend so much of their spare time to make sure their experience at your event is the best experience it can possibly be. But that just makes it so much more important that you get it right every single time.
  • And worst of all; repeatedly working with and hiring abusers and then turning a blind eye when made aware of the situation. This feels particularly grating as Claus has repeatedly positioned himself as a proactive feminist in the larping community, so seeing this kind of behaviour from his company ends making all his good works smack of manipulation and hollow talk (which I know it isn’t, but goddammit if it doesn’t feel like it).

It seems like the guiding principle at DLS is not unlike Facebooks; “move fast and break stuff”. The problem is of course that DLS has far less social capital than Facebook, and each time they break stuff they also erode the community’s confidence in them.

Most of the time I don’t respond or react at all to these kinds of things, but DLS is swiftly becoming the face of larp in a commercial sense, and I am so tired of seeing them drop the ball. Am I being unfair or too harsh? Maybe, though I don’t think so. All of my frustration is founded in wanting these lovable morons to succeed.  

DLS would do well to figure out what their position is on social issues, because right now it certainly feels like they’re picking and choosing when it is convenient to respect and protect those who love and attend their events. Maybe then it’ll be easier to root for them again?

Setting Sun

She grabbed the leash from the hook by the door and stepped outside. “Buddy, come on, boy”, Rose called. It was late and the dog needed his walk. She smiled as the bassethound came careening around the corner of the farmhouse.

She clasped the leash to his collar and started down the dusty road leading to the village. She’d often imagine herself in fairytales when taking Buddy for his evening walk. Evening walks were something special to her. They had been ever since she’d started meeting the old man. He’d always be there, on the bench by the pond, cane resting by his side. The stories he told her were filled with adventure and excitement. One time he even tried to convince her that he was a wizard, plucking a gleaming red light from behind her ear and putting it in his pocket. “For safe keeping”, he’d said.

As she walked past Stevensons apple orchard she remembered a story he’d told her. About a young Knight on a quest to save a beautiful Princess. The Princess had fallen terribly ill, and all the doctors of the land had tried to save her. The Princess was dying and the Knight, loving her dearly, had vowed to do all he could to prevent that from happening. The Knight had travelled far and wide on his quest for something that could save the Princess. During his travels the Knight had heard stories of an ancient jewel, that possessed magical healing powers. Believing it to be the only way of saving the Princess the Knight set out in search of the stone.

Rose loved that story. It was full of fantastic adventures and magic. The old man hadn’t finished it yet, but she very much looked forward to hearing more of it.

She crossed the small town square, and remembered another of the old man’s stories. It was one of the scary ones, and she didn’t like this one as much, even though she found it very exciting. It was about a band of heroes. Beset on all sides by monsters and villains, they fought a desperate battle. In the end they’d won, but suffered greatly along the way. They’d been trying to do right, but being young and scared, they chose poorly and ended up causing more harm than good.

Rose had remarked once that the old man’s stories never ended as fairy tales normally ended. He’d asked what she meant by that, and she said “They’re all so sad”. The old man had thought about that for a while before replying.
“You don’t need half a kingdom when you have great friends standing by your side”, he’d said.

She remembered another of his stories as she crossed main street. A story of a brother and sister trapped in old catacombs beneath an even older city. They’d been on a quest for the Book of Knowledge and fallen into the hands of brigangs. The sister had been kind and caring, the boy scared and reckless. The bond had been what kept them from succumbing. The boy’s fury had almost been their undoing, but she had pulled them from the Darkness, and brought them into the light. She thought of herself that way, guiding her little brother, holding his hand.

She crossed out into the park, and felt a surge of warmth as she saw him sitting where he always sat. The light from the streetlamp made him cast a long shadow, but it was him.

She walked the path around the pond, with Buddy going this way and that, sniffing out squirrels and marking his territory. It was a clear night, the moon shining brightly in the sky. His cane was resting on the ground in front of his feet.

She sat down next to him. He looked at her and smiled, a gleam in his eye. “So, Rose, another night, another story”, he said.

“Yea”, she said, “I was hoping you’d finish the story about the Knight and the Princess”.

He smiled warmly and said “Well, it’s your lucky night”.

“Really? Does he save her”, she asked.

The old man put his hand in his pocket, and said “It’s not one of those stories, young one”.

“So … he doesn’t save her?”, she asked, feeling fear grip her.

“Not in the way you would think of it, but it does have a happy ending”, the old man replied, with a wink of his eye.

A wind rustled the trees and Buddy barked somewhere across the pond.

“No, the Knight’s story will be a sad one”, the old man said. “You see, once he found the Jewel and returned to the kingdom, the Princess had died”.

Rose gasped, and felt a tightness in her chest. She had wished so badly for the Princess to be saved. “So … the Knight failed?”, she asked.

“Yes, he did. Some times no matter how hard you try, things don’t turn out the way you imagine”, the old man said. He looked out across the pond at Buddy chasing the ducks.

He pulled his clenched fist from his pocket, drew a deep breath, exhaled and relaxed his grip. Hundreds of tiny red motes sprang into the air and danced away into the evening sky. The old man sat there. Still.

No no, thank you

Yes, I threw money at Claus and Charles to keep the College of Wizardry magic going. You too can get your own silly thank you video by donating 20$ towards their IndieGoGo campaign. If they raise 1.000.000$ they’re gonna buy a castle. That’s pretty goddamn cool, if you ask me. Which you should.

Villains and evildoers

Quite a few times I’ve played the villain of LARPs, and over the years I’ve seen a development in the way I’ve tried to play and portray these characters. Most profound was the impact the latest villainous character had on me. In november of 2014 I participated in the College of Wizardry LARP in Poland. It was a magnificent and amazing experience.

At this LARP I was given the character of Octavius Landsvik. A pureblood with a vendetta. He’d lost everything after the Second Wizarding War in ’98, and blamed just about everything around him for the hardship he’d endured.

They wanted a villain? Well, wish granted! You’ll give them all a villain all right, one they truly deserve.
The character description for O. Landsvik

While the experience was awesome, the character read to me as a bit one-sided. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that often villains are evil, but it’s rarely explained what led them down that specific path. What influenced them to choose to hurt people? What happened in their past to shape their perception of reality, so what they do is somehow perceived by themselves to be okay?

In Landsviks case it was a combination of things that led to his unfortunate demise. He lost nearly his entire family overnight after the war in ’98. After that times became tough, and he watched as his father (an already weak man previously ruled over by a fierce and stern matriarch) crumble further and removed himself from the world. Now at that time Landsvik would’ve been 7 or 8, and so I imagined that experience to be the start of his downward trajectory. Unable to understand why, it was only natural for a kid at that age to get a feeling of immense injustice.

Now, granted, these thoughts are shaped around the fact that I don’t believe any person is born evil. We’re also not born good. But we are given choices and options during our lives. And it’s those decisions that ultimately end up defining the kind of person we are.

The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.
William Shakespeare in Hamlet

To me, the most interesting and scary villains are the ones you can relate to. You might object to their actions. You might find them reprehensible and despicable. But on some basic level you can understand their actions, because maybe – just maybe – you’d do the same if you were in their shoes.

That’s what I tried to do with Landsvik. He wasn’t inherently evil or bad. He was angry and desperate. He felt isolated and alone, even amongst his friends. And so he relied on the only person he believed he could trust – himself. And like many young adults he greatly misjudged his own capabilities. The story ended in tragedy when he was sentenced to death for his crimes, which subsequently led to his girlfriends suicide, when she learned what had happened to him.

Of course, evil is rarely this easy or convenient. In the real world evil often springs from psychosis or a warped moral compass. Some people simply do not possess compassion, and horrific events take place each and every day. But once we start to delve into the self-rationalisations and motivations of people who can at best be described as aberrant, it can at times become increasingly difficult not to empathise with them. Most come from broken homes, having experienced massive trauma during their younger years. While we can’t point to a single event that ruined a person (that would also be massively reductive), we can often see, retroactively, the path that ultimately ruined the person.

You might as well ask why a middle-aged man with no criminal record might put a paper bag over his head and rob a bank. I acted out of personal desperation.
Aldrich Ames

But evil is an interesting concept if portrayed correctly. I think it’s because when we’re presented with villains we can relate to, we’re presented with the fact that we all have great capacity for evil. It’s part of human nature, and it’s something we’re all capable of. The only difference is whether we’ve been pushed or moved to a point where we can justify and rationalise these acts.

I think, what I mean is that being evil for the sake of being evil quickly becomes one-dimensional. Where evil with motives you can understand, and perhaps relate to, creates a much more compelling and chilling narrative.

Solstice

The full moon hung over us as the fire crackled and snapped. The frost had claimed most of the grass around us, and Mani’s light twinkled and danced in each straw.

Grandfather Fire had been fed and paid by our food and drink, and he repaid us with warmth and light. Grandmother Smoke had already brought tears to our eyes and clogged our throats when we spoke folly.

Around the fire Grandfather Aslak had placed thirteen pieces of firewood. One for each of the thirteen tribes. Twelve were standing, and one had fallen. The bone was carved with the moon, and Grandfather Aslak told us to keep the bone warm throughout the moot. That the cold should not take hold in it until we were done with it.

Fenja with the weaver-tainted leg spoke of the Spindler Spire growing on our land. We had attempted to find out what it was, her and I. We had failed and now the Weaver had token hold in her leg and my arm.

Jord held a rite over his father, and we learned of a Loving Father, a Lying Father and a Father Who Must Die.

We learned that war is brewing among the spirits on our land. On one side, Aros, my pack totem and a spirit that has been slumbering for too long. On the other side, Silt, the old lady. She has crafted her banner and spirits are rallying to it. It has been foretold that there will be a battle. And so we who run for Aros have begun readying ourselves for battle. We asked our sept for help, and reluctantly they agreed. This is a battle where it doesn’t matter much who wins. We’ll lose, one way or the other, for we have failed to protect and care for the spirits on our land, and now they’ve been too divided that we can bring them together again.

Katla, first among us, is with child. She tried to hide it from the sept, but Fenja smelled the truth on her. Is a Jarl obligated to hold her own word high against herself? We spoke of many things, and Katla, first among us, was accused of hypocrisy for not tearing the child from her womb, as she had sworn to do with any pregnant female in our circle.

The pup barked and screamed, his frustration painted on his face and carved in his words. As so many young he still has the luxuries of thinking in absolutes, and does not yet fully understand our ways. We tried to console him. To explain that when we laughed at his words, it was not a laughter filled with mockery or spite. Rather we see something we all once were in his words and acts. And so we laugh at ourselves.

And Magne, furious and mad Magne, scolded the pup for not listening. For not understanding. For his impatience. And he spoke long of the responsibilities that come with rank. That you should take it. That just hold it, before you can take it.

As the moot drew to a close we thanked the spirits we had called upon and pledged ourselves to. Grandfather Aslak threw the bone on the fire after tipping the twelve tribes into embers and we settled down to hear stories.

Bror and Magne shared a story of a rat king, that made their midden it’s home and throne. The pup told of his first change and the life it had cost both him and his lover. It was a beautiful night, and the sept split recharged with energy for the days to come.

Octavius Landsvik

About a week ago I attended a Harry Potter inspired LARP in Poland, where I played the role of Octavius Landsvik, prefect of House Durentius.

Beneath the stars

I’ve got Texas playing loudly on the speakers. The speedometer says 120 km/h and the stars are lighting my way. The radio says the time is 3:30, but I know that’s bullshit because we’ve switched to wintertime and I’ve yet to set the clock on my car stereo. In the back seat are two people very dear to me. They’re sleeping soundly as we hurdle across the country. We’re heading home to Aarhus.

Last night we were werewolves. We’d been over to Copenhagen to visit the cairn there. We had unfinished business to attend to.

It was the night where a young galliard restored a small portion of honor to his cairn, and challenged his elder. A jarl was bound with a mockingstone. A cliath rose to fostern.

Enemies were identified and vows made to bring them down.

We howled at the sky, so that it might show us Mani. But it did not listen. We cried for lost friends and abandoned souls, but we did not feel better. We raged at those who would take our blood, but their fear did not grow. Two pups were introduced to their new reality.

Year of the Fox

We were not many. In previous years we’ve been many more. But we were there.

We heard stories. Some told of our brothers and sisters of the north, silent for so long. Others spoke of enemies known and unknown. Rage and boiling blood. Challenges and answers.

We laughed at the pups questions, but guided him in the shadows. We questioned authorities and forged new bonds.

We slaughtered the stag and bid the fox welcome. We shut the doors on one year and opened the doors for another.

We were werewolves.