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Introduction to Nordic larp

Nordic larp. That term has been thrown around a lot, but it has often been misunderstood. Basically, it's an "art" style of larp created by larpers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Also, contrary to the popular thought it's not the mainstream form of larp in those countries (yes, they still play fantasy and other styles of genre larp). The central event of Nordic larp is a yearly conference, called Knutepunkt, Knutpunkt, Knudepunkt or Solmukohta, depending on the country where it's being held (it rotates from country to country - this year it was Solmukohta in Finland, next year it will be Knutepunkt in Norway).

Cover of Nordic Larp book

There are a few elements commonly present in a Nordic larp.

The goal in Nordic larps is not having fun (though a lot of them are fun), instead main goals are exploring emotions (positive or negative), getting a political point across, criticizing the modern society in some way, or simply experimenting for the sake of experimenting.

Immersion is usually one of the key goals of Nordic larps. It's reinforced by 360 illusion ideal, which emphasises that every available element in the surroundings is also an element in-game. Scenography strives for realism, and pretending that pretending that a modern element doesn't exist or that one thing represents something else is not usually welcome. On top of that, immersion is usually continuous - small breaks to explain something out-of-character are usually frowned upon. Instead, people typically improvise - and use meta techniques like safe words such as "brake" (to reduce intensity) and "cut" (to stop the current action) if they find something too intense, and they're very important (though rarely used) safety elements in Nordic larps.

The game style is also the one with as few rules and mechanics as possible, to make game play as natural as possible without rules adding a layer of distance between players and their characters. This is commonly enhanced with pre-game workshops, and post-game debriefings which help players start the larp with no confusion of what and how to do, and help them deal with what happened to facilitate returning to their regular lives.

Collaboration is emphasised over competition, and players sometimes intentionally play to lose (when you realistically do all the stupid, unproductive stuff people do, instead of playing your character as a perfect person that always makes the right choices), to experience it, because it's about experiencing emotional intensity. Likewise, plot is typically internal and it's about characters' experiences, commonly dealing with heavy subjects.

Lots of games have no secrecy involved - a player can know beforehand everything that's going to happen in a larp. Such larps do not place emphasis on discovering the storyline, and in fact allow players (who want to know it) to know it to prepare themselves as best as possible for living through it.

All or none of this can be valid on a Nordic larp. What they commonly do is experiment with the larp form. Try to push the limits, and do something new.

Nordic larpers take their larp theories and experiments seriously, and they meticulously document the new and important stuff that's happening. And they usually publish them in English, in publications such as Knutepunkt books which are freely available online. Or the International Journal of Role-Playing. Or in videos, some of which are linked in this post. Or in the special publications, such as the full documentation of the highest-budget fantasy larp ever, Dragonbane on 177 pages.

I compiled ALL the Knutebooks HERE - read them as they're a huge compilation of larp experiments, theories and knowledge with several days worth of reading material - watch out, it's a 100 MB download.

I already published some interviews with people involved in Nordic larp - Petra's interview with Claus Raasted, and my recent interview with Mike Pohjola. You may want to check them for more info.

And this is all great for several reasons. What was done so far in Nordic larp - and what continues to be done - is a great collection of bold experiments and research, and you can pick and choose between a lot of them which can add interesting details and meaning to an already existing event.

And that's why many larps around the world have been influenced by the Nordic larp tradition. Some have been completely transformed, such as Avegost from the recently published interview with Kaza Marie. Others were designed with both traditional and artistic larp in mind, such as Mike Pohjola's Täällä Kirjokannen alla. Others took an element or two which they liked, and remained unchanged otherwise. Others contributed to the scene with new stuff they've done, so pretty much everything is possible.

The world of larp is quite rich and powerful, and Nordic larp scene is possibly the best documented of them all. There are even some full Nordic games available for download, in English - check out Chamber Games and Vi åker jeep. You can start a larp with them, or just read them to get some new ideas, as a player, as a game master - wherever you want. Explore, dig in and enjoy!


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