30. Why we’re doing the Larp Design Conference 2016

In a couple of weeks, on Sep 1–4, Palac Krobielowice in Poland will play host to a different sort of larp conference: the very first Larp Design Conference. Here are some thoughts on it.

The idea is pretty simple. We want to gather people from different larp cultures and organiser traditions, and have them share knowledge and ideas. But we have a very specific format.

We want people to talk about what they have done, and we want them to talk about how they did it, what they learned and what others can learn. We don’t want “pure analysis” or theory. We don’t want 5-step models or new terms.

We want to hear about how an organiser group handled checkin of 300 players in a smart way that others can learn from. We want to hear how someone used food as an essential part of their game design. We want to hear details, thoughts and reflections. We want to know what went right, what went wrong and how others can benefit from it.

One of the things I’ve discovered by going to a lot of larp conferences over the years, is that we seldom have time to go into detail. Someone will say that they did a two-hour character workshop and that the players really got something out of it. But what actually happened? How did it work and how to copy it, or be inspired by it?

We rarely talk detail, and I think we should. It’s the details that we copy and adapt to our larps, not the overall stories. For College of Wizardry we took a very simple character writing element from the Danish 70's larp Morgenrøde, and copied it. It’s called Light/Dark, and basically it gives short texts about the character’s good sides as well as bad sides. The player is then free to focus on either light or dark or a combination of both.

It’s simple, but very effective, and has been copied by other larps since. And we couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t played Morgenrøde and talked to the organisers there about why and how they’d used it as a character-writing tool. At its core, that’s what the LDC is all about. Sharing concrete, tested tools and procedures, instead of analysis or new theory. Theory and new ideas have their place, but here we want to focus on what’s actually been done, and spread that knowledge.

Another key aspect of the LDC is that we want people to meet each other and have time to talk. As a longtime regular at the Knudepunkt conference (where I’ve been since ‘99), I’ve come to accept that an event of several hundreds of people is awesome at some things, and bad at others.

One of the things KP is bad at, is providing time to sit and talk. Just exchanging hugs and how-are-yous with 100+ people takes a lot of time, and it’s rare indeed where I find the time to sit and talk larp with someone for a few hours. By keeping the LDC small (max 65 participants) we hope to give people more time together.

It’s still too large for everyone to spend time with everyone else, but it’s much easier to create an atmosphere of relaxed conversation with 65 people than with five hundred. Hopefully, this will mean more talks in small groups and less running from place to place in a desperate attempt to “take it all in”

The LDC is also a conference about luxury. It takes place in a small castle, and it’s a very comfortable one. The food is great, the rooms are high-quality and the whole place reeks of comfort and relaxation. It’s a venue that’s often used for weddings, after all!

This also extends to the program. We have only a few tracks, so there’s less chance of feeling you’re missing out, and the program doesn’t soak up all the hours of the day. We believe that unstructured off-program conversations are some of the most important, and the program mainly serves as a way of facilitating and inspiring those conversations. So the program isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s just a means to connect people.

It’s of course also a platform for us to share some of our key learnings from doing College of Wizardry. This is super important to us, since thr LDC is part of an Erasmus+ project centered around CoW, and because we believe we have interesting experiences to share. International larps are on the rise, and we feel that we know a thing or two about them now.

The answer is threefold. Of course there are more reasons for going, but these are the three primary ones.

  1. The old farts should go, because no matter how experienced you are, there’s always stuff out there you’ve never thought of. Whether it’s how to do special effects on no budget, tips and tricks for signup procedures or cool ideas for documentation, there’s stuff to learn. Also, old farts will get to share their wisdom and bask in the glory of appreciative audiences
  2. The new organisers and organisers-to-be should go. There are talks to hear, workshops to be part of, and people to chat with. There are people who’ve been where you are, and who can help you along the way, and people who you can inspire with your new takes on things. And even if you’ve never organised anything yet, you can still end up providing fascinating insights to old-timers who’d forgotten what it’s like to be new.
  3. Those somewhere in the middle of the spectrum should go, because they get the best from both of the other crowds. They have experience, but haven’t stagnated. They’ve been around the block, but haven’t forgotten their first time. And they want to learn and teach and talk and listen. Preferably all at once!

These are the people who should go. Those who may find the conference less interesting (though they’re of course still welcome) are players with no organiser ambitions, and non-larpers still looking for their first larp experience. But for anyone with that organising itch, this should be a blast!

We hope to see you there. More info can be found at larpdesignconference.com.

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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