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DKWDDK: Mechanic-less larping

Larp terminology typically varies in different countries. A great deal of it comes from tabletop role-playing games, or has been invented by various larp communities around the world - and most of it is in English. However, DKWDDK is an exception to the rule - it comes from German. Du Kannst Was Du Darstellen Kannst. You can what you can show, or portray. Commonly known as "larping without rules", it's widely known under the German acronym. I briefly mentioned it in my last Start a larp article, it's now time to expand it into a full article - which I meant to do for about last 2 years or so.

It's not a ruleset - indeed, no real ruleset is needed with DKWDDK (apart from safety rules, which are always needed and used). It's a philosophy that's taking over many larps around, especially in Germany where most larps are either played that way or at least heavily influenced by the playstyle (a lot of them have mechanics which they consider more of a suggestion than a ruleset to be strictly enforced, and instead rely on DKWDDK). It's not a test of physical abilities - which are important, as are real skills, but the most important thing is to portray skills players don't have with other means, including acting, props and any special effects you might have.

And yes, it's widely used on fantasy larps - which are the most numerous kind around anyway. So I'll write this post from that perspective.

One example would be, say, casting a spell that prevents one from passing. In most fantasy larps that would be some form of a Barrier or Forcewall spell - you'd probably need to bring a ribbon of the exact length that would mark the dimensions of the field (or some other prop), and perform a chant that you'd likely find in the game rulebook (or at least its' minimum required length). Or something similar.

In a DKWDDK larp you would instead do something like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings: You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

As you can see, these two approaches require different skills. Traditional, mechanics-heavy, require players to learn the specs of their spells, while DKWDDK larp would reward acting, presentation and (where applicable) props and special effects.

Another example is combat. Basically, the armor doesn't work as a typical number of ablative points which are deduced. Damage doesn't depend on the length of the weapon, nor it's marked by ribbons. Instead, more dangerous weapon will do someone more damage. And that also works for more dangerous swings (which are played out in a slower, damaging-looking motion instead of quick drumrolls). So while you might see little reaction if you slash someone's forearm lightly with a dagger, if you hit someone in the chest with a two-handed warhammer this should be enough to kill a character, or at least send him rolling.

But don't expect for everyone to play it that way. Basically, if you do a thing to someone they should have a plausible reaction (although it might not be the reaction you expected), and you should accept their reaction. Your spell worked somewhat differently than you believed it will? Of course, magic is unpredictable. Don't pause, and don't argue OOC, accept the result and play along. Also, if you are the recepient of an action, you should show a plausible action.

So combatants may fall down at the time they believe it's appropriate for them to fall. One of the risk is when their opponents think that time should have come sooner, so there are accusations of cheating. But in general, players should show responsibility and self-control. This also changes the focus of the larp design - no longer is the fighting in such a system something that's competitive. It's collaborative, and in a way everybody's responsible for everyone else's fun. Playing to win is looked down upon, and when that works, it's an incredible thing.

As everything else in larping world, this polarizes some larpers as some proclaim such a way of larping not to be true larping (and the other group proclaiming heavy mechanical larping not to be true larping). However, the history has shown that where this type of larping surfaces it's typically met with heavy resistance and a billion reasons why it would not work, but it typically works well and without problems.

It was similar in Croatia, where this style of larping has often errorneously been called Nordic. So to correct that - Nordic style would refer to progressive, arthouse-style larping that originated in Nordic countries. While it is true that they often have little or no game mechanics such as skills, calling any DKWDDK larp "Nordic" on that basis is as incorrect as calling football basketball simply because both are played with a ball.

There have been two larps in Croatia so far that relied purely on DKWDDK: Tragači zore in 2012 and Highland games in 2013. In a larping community such as Croatian one - used to heavier mechanics and clearly defined rules - both came under fire by groups of players for allowing combat, yet providing no means of resolution to players who were unfamiliar with DKWDDK principles. Both larps also worked perfectly fine - although they were careful not to focus on combat.

Like everything else, ruleset (and design philosophy) are only tools, not universal solutions for every problem. While it solves a lot of problems that heavier mechanical larps have, it has some different problems of its' own. It's not unknown in Croatia anymore and it's gaining popularity across Europe, but it's not nearly universal. It will not satisfy players who are in for full physical competition, it will not satisfy power gamers (as both trying to win is discouraged and character skill development is limited), and it cannot be solely used to represent more exotic settings which might require certain mechanics, symbolism or meta-information to be adequately portrayed. But, it does what it does good.

And it's a trend. For Croatia, it's been a trend for the last 2 years. In many other countries, it's been trend for longer. It extended its' influence, and a lot of larps who didn't switch over fully took at least a few pointers from the philosophy wherever it was played.

So, if you're going to play or organize a larp DKWDDK way here's a short helpful summary:

  1. Forget dogmas and ignore naysayers
  2. Represent your skills in a believable way, related to the effect
  3. You can play whatever you can represent well
  4. Don't play characters and skills you can't represent well
  5. Do not compete, power game or try to win (as a player). Make larp more fun and satisfactory for others, together with them. Show self-restraint and collaboration
  6. Don't correct other players with what you think should have happened. Play it out. Roll with it
  7. Don't take the piss

You may check my review of two biggest European fest larps - ConQuest (2012, 2013) and Drachenfest (2012, 2013), both of which have their own rulesets which are (in play) often largely ignored in favor of DKWDDK gameplay.

Questions? Comments? Corrections? Angry rants? Let's hear them!


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