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What's a larp convention anyway?

Semantics and cultural assumptions are some of the biggest enemies of being understood when talking about larp terms, and "convention" is one of the worst culprits.

For some other larp terms, plenty of style guides were written (I'm using this one on this blog), but before I even tackle the word "convention" let's talk about what the word "larp" can refer to:

  • larp can refer to the technique itself
  • it can refer to the particular larp event in a series (e.g. Terra Nova: Zimograd larp)
  • it can refer to the series itself (e.g. Terra Nova larp)
  • it can refer to all the larp events by a certain organizer, regardless of the series' (e.g. Ognjeni Mač larps, where you can find Maksimir larps, Jaska larps etc., and down to a specific event; or My larps section of this blog)
  • it can refer to the particular one-shot larp (e.g. Love is Blue larp), whether as a written material or a particular run of it (e.g. Love is Blue larp on PoRtaL 2013.)
Czech video "What is larp?" - turn on CC for subtitles

That's quite a lot of meanings for one word. Similarly, convention (or a con) can refer to:
  • a general SF/Fantasy convention - in Croatia we have two models. SFeraKon's model is more widespread, more serious and it puts a lot of emphasis on literature, and serious stuff; Istrakon's model is more party style. Both offer panels, discussions, presentations, gaming tables etc. I've heard that these models are somewhat different from SF conventions out there.
  • a small convention, either with one program track, or with barely any program and mainly hanging out
  • a theoretical conference, such as Knutepunkts
  • a full games convention, such as Intercon in the USA or Fastaval in Denmark (though Intercon has a growing non-games part)
  • if you're in Germany, everything defined under "larp" above (except the technique and written material) is a con

TL;DR of this post: On this blog, I use the term "larp" in all the above mentioned meanings. "Convention" is used in all the meanings except the last point.

About the Croatian model of convention, I mentioned both main conventions in my previous post. I actually wrote about SFeraKon 2011 and 2012 (Eurocon - part 1 and part 2) before on this blog, but not about Istrakon since I haven't been there since we got a son three years ago (we have birthdays on the same weekend). Apart from those two, there are many conventions in the Croatia - we have a huge con scene. Apart from those two, the third biggest is probably Liburnicon in Opatija. I've only been to the first one, where it had a very Istrakon-like vibe - it has since grown to almost the same size as Istrakon. Last year's Rikon had a very SFeraKon-ish vibe, only on a smaller scale.

And, very relevant to this blog, they all started having some larp content lately. They had larp content before - actually, I remember having some fun with combat on SFeraKon 2001., when I also got my first rulebook. Fun times. Around 2006. or 2007., SFeraKon and Istrakon started having some regular Ognjeni Mač presence (which Istrakon no longer has) with battle arena and minigames, and commonly some vampire larps. Nowadays, situation is somewhat different: since 2011., conventions in Croatia usually have one-shot larps available to play (until recently, it was pretty much exclusively Love is Blue), along with some discussions and panels. But larp content is much more widespread, so all four of the above mentioned conventions have some larp content.

Those, however, are general SF/Fantasy conventions. Larp conventions take a different form. The most famous ones are Knutepunkts (they rotate between Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and they're named, respectively, Knutepunkt/Knutpunkt/Knudepunkt/Solmukohta depending on which country they're held in). They're conferences about larp theory, usually done in hotels or conference centers. If you like bleeding edge in nordic larp theory, Knutepunkts are the place to be (or if you can't afford the trip, they publish a nice book every year). Knutepunkts are not really places to play larps - though you can arrive a few days earlier for "A week in -insert country name here-" to get your dose of larping (plus get introduced to the locale and party a bit). You can read some experiences from the last year's Solmukohta on Thomas B.'s blog (parts 1 2 3 4) and on Lizzie Stark's website. Also, I've compiled all the books so far in this archive. I do hope to visit one of the Knutepunkts soon. Maybe next year...

However, Knutepunkts are not the only conventions with this model. Main French larp conference in Paris, GNiales, also has the similar model (recap by Thomas B.: parts 1 2). Switzerland has GN’Idée. Germany has Mittelpunkt. Poland has KOLA (KOnferencja LArpowa). Czech has Odraz (though unfortunately not this year). Italy has the Larp Symposium. These conventions are the regional hotspots of larp theory (and possibly academia too) in Europe. More probably exist (but I haven't heard of them).

The other model is the game conventions. One of the biggest and most respected ones around is the Danish convention Fastaval (this year's Fastaval starts next week). Fastaval focuses on the re-runnable freeform scenarios. The style would be called larp anywhere else in the world, but Nordic community calls those jeepform or freeform - though the distinction between a chamber larp and a freeform scenario can sometimes get a little blurry... Anyways, for more info you can read Lizzie Stark's recap of the last year's Fastaval, and here's Claus Raasted and his interview with Klaus Meier Olsen about Fastaval:

Alternate link here

Another example from the USA is Intercon. Focusing mostly on the theater-style larp, it runs lots of those larps in three days. It recently got the Pre-con panels and theory, but it's still mainly a larp-running con. For a recap of the recent Intercon M, FairEscape wrote a very detailed 5-part report on her blog: 1 2 3 4 5

Personally, I believe both convention formats are very much needed. Theoretical conventions push the boundaries and help those local larps to evolve. Larp-running conventions provide an excellent platform for new GMs and larp writers, and they help the community to grow.

Perhaps that's why PoRtaL, the first Croatian larp convention (read my recap: parts 1 2 3) is a mix of those two styles. Theory, to enable evolution - and practice, to try things. I think it's a good concept, and a good way to run larps - you can expect PoRtaL to continue in 2014., with February 28th - March 2nd as the target date.

But that's still far away. Almost a year. On general SF/Fantasy conventions such as Istrakon and SFeraKon you can get a small slice of its larp content. Enjoy! :)

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