WorkshopsNotes from a session where Mo H. talks about the “Pre-larp workshops in the nordic design traditions subtext – are they really that great?” panel hosted by Johanna Koljonen from Knutpunkt 2014. The description of this panel is as follows:

A panel on pre-larp workshops and differences in the design traditions in the nordic countries.

We will start of with a 40 minute moderated panel with proponents of workshops from denmark, norway, sweden and finland and then procees to the more open “fish bowl” format allowing participants to enter the debate.

Panelists Martin Nielsen (Norway), Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis (sweden) Peter Munthe-Kaas (Denmark) Kaisa Kangas (Finland)

First of all, what is a pre-larp workshop? It’s when players and a GM get together before the game to agree, discuss and communicate what the play experience is going to be like. This provides an opportunity to explain the GMs’ understanding of the world, and allows players to build the in-character relationships they have with other characters before the game times in. This also allows players to learn other players’ boundaries, acceptances, ideas etc.

This is not peculiar to the Nordic larp scene – in the more traditional larps in Nordic countries, players meet up informally without a GM in advance of the game to decide, for example, what their group dynamic is going to be like. In the theatrical world, actors often meet up in advance of a performance or rehearsal to inhabit and portray their characters more effectively.

What are the purposes of workshops?

  • They can be used to explain and teach metatechniques, e.g. Ars Amandi used to represent sex (for more details about metatechniques, check the Nordic larp wiki page here.
  • More commonly in modern Nordic larps, players use pre-game workshops to define their characters and flesh them out properly.
  • Workshops can be more player-focused, where players take the lead on what their characters/groups/game will be like
  • They can also be GM-focused, where GMs explain the world experience, details about the game or techniques to the players.

The Holy Grail is to get techniques that the players feel are player-facing, but are actually instructional techniques that get across the GM’s beliefs about the world. We all instantly asked Mo for an example, but there was none given, sadly!

A quick vox pop suggested that the majority of people at the presentation didn’t like workshops, as they felt they were boring/too instructional/GM-dominated as opposed to player-facing. Not surprising, perhaps, but what can be done about it? Something that was suggested was that maybe some workshops could be optional; Drew suggested that maybe the more instructional workshops could be essential, whereas possibly the character-development ones could be more optional, for players who value that kind of in-depth character experience. Stuart suggested that workshops are useful to build a circle of trust, allow people the “freedom to fail” in a safe space so that people are more comfortable failing or playing to lose (a technique whereby players deliberately lose to create more drama for their characters) in a game.

Should workshops be transparent?
* Yes – it wins the players’ trust, and to take people out of their comfort zone you have to first ensure they are in their comfort zone.
* No – it might impact the players’ experience of the exercises if they know what’s expected of them and why they’re doing them.

Everyone thought it was important to at least know that the GM has a reason for getting them to do it, and to trust in the GM’s reasons for running them.

Richard pointed out that 50-60 years ago there was a shift in theatrical culture from repertory to a more modern type of theatre. Repertory was much more of a turning up and delivering pre-learned lines. Then directors started having a “vision”, and suddenly it was more important for the actors to start workshopping their characters and performances. This is relevant to more progressive games, as the further away you get from traditional games the more you need to workshop in advance to align your players’ expectations.=

There is more of an oral tradition in Nordic larp workshops than a written workshop resource per se; however, The Workshop Handbook is a blog dedicated to workshop techniques, which can be very useful starting off.

Richard’s experience of the workshops he attended at Knutpunkt
He went to Knutpunkt primarily to play games, so he ended up experiencing a lot of different types of workshops (which hadn’t been his intention)

– The workshop in Hug Street was introducing the ” Yes, and…” and “No, but…” techniques (which he thought was boring, as everyone already knew it)

– The workshop in Frogslap was to introduce the metatechniques (the Jeepform website includes a good list of the metatechniques the Jeepers use) they would use in the game. One of these was ringing a bell to force a player to give a soliloquy, which was useful for giving quieter players the space to talk. Another metatechnique was golden hat/black Pete – if you wearing the golden hat, all of the other players would generally agree have to agree with you; when you were wearing the Black Pete badge, everyone would generally disagree with you. This technique allowed the organisers to mechanically affect the interpersonal dynamic of the game.

– There were two workshops in Service – the first was army drilling with a drill sergeant for 5-10 minutes, which was fun but not overly relevant as it didn’t capture the theme of the game. The other workshop was much more relevant, as players were lead through a guided meditation where they had to imagine saying goodbye (possibly for the last time) to everyone in their life, and to think about the last emotional moment that you had with those people.

– Beginning. Richard didn’t play this, but there was an audience, so he watched others play it for a while. Players play a creature being born and discovering the world around them. The workshop was about physical movement; e.g. the players started off lying on the ground, completely still; from there, they began moving one part of their body, then make those movements bigger, finally leading to getting up and working out what kind of creature they were from the way these movements evolved. Everyone was blindfolded, so they had to use sensory meta-techniques to identify the GMs – they had peppermint on their hands so the players could distinguish them from each other.

For physical workshopping, see also Adam James’ I Know You Are But What Am I? (you can watch a video of play here), which skips through scenes in a very directed and locational way. In this game, there are three characters but nine players, so three players played each character; one physically represented the character, the others represented the character’s environment.

Other thoughts on workshops workshop:

* Create a shared physical language to break OOC bonds (for example, developing a physical gesture or symbol used by all members of a gang, to encourage a sense of group identity and “other”ness).

* Fast food Stanislavsky – a method for how to play a character who is quite different from yourself – first of all, work out what your character’s primary  goal is (for example, “to look intelligent”), and then work out five behaviours that signify that (“always introduce a new fact in a conversation with someone”, ” add an additional line to other people’s sentences to improve them”, etc.). This comes from Keith Johnstone’s awesome book, “Impro for Storytellers“. (Read Keith’s first book, “Impro“, first if you haven’t already!).

Elin Dalstål has a useful technique to improve character immersion – have an internal mantra like a quote or a gesture, and repeat this when you’re not interacting with people.

* Back in the old days of Vampire larp, people used to do preludes – a one-on-one with a player and a GM to establish a character’s backstory. These were quite effective for developing the history of a character and game.

* Stuart talked about Ashley Griffiths’ game, What You Wish For – you tell stories about ordinary people, three players, someone plays past/present/future; resolution is a deck of art, used in a tarot-like fashion. As a workshop activity during the game, you have to describe a memory from your own life.

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