52. 2016 – some thoughts

It seems fitting that I’m writing this at Doha Airport, in Qatar, home of the world’s most absurd teddy bear (and whst’s up with the lamp?). My 2016 has been absurd.

I’ve been travelling for around 20 weeks of the year. It’s been 11 countries, and a crazy number of trips – the longest starting on October 24 and ending today, December 31. It’s been wild and fulfilling and meaningful, but it has also been rough. Not the least on Marie, who has made some sharp jokes about living alone, that I couldn’t entirely laugh off.

But while there has been hardship, there has also been a lot of good stuff. I’m going to share some of that in my 2016 recap post, as I prefer to keep (most of) the tough things private. In general, I try to keep most of my private life private, and that shows in this post.

I’m also not going to be mentioning everything, since my 2016 was pretty busy!

For the last two years, most of my time has been spent on producing blockbuster larps in Poland, in the larp design collective comprised of Liveform, Rollespilsfabrikken, and Rollespilsakademiet. This year we found a name for the cooperation entity that does that projects – Dziobak Larp Studios. It has grown in scope, and our 2017 calendar is pretty insane. You can see it here. ;-)

Another big thing that happened in 2016 was the first run of Convention of Thorns, in cooperation with White Wolf. The “new” White Wolf has deep roots in Nordic larp, and it seemed only fitting that we ended up as one of their larp partners. The first CoT was a big success, and I look forward to doing more of that in the future. There’s even a snazzy video teaser that was produced by our awesome Dziobak TV crew.

At the tenth CoW run, Boruta (our location boss) and I played the larp for the first time. Most of our team has played it before, but this was the first time I did so. It was nothing less than fucking awesome, and I am grateful that I had a chance to experience it from the inside.

Naturally, I am biased, but I will freely admit that it was a wild experience. CoW is a connection machine and a story generator, and seeing that firsthand was quite powerful. Leading House Libussa into the castle on “The Lion’s Hunt”, as part of the Junior Initiation Ritual, is one of the most emotionally satisfying things I have done in 2016. Never does a lion bow.

Last year, I met Paul Bulencea, a Romanian innovator and co-author of the book “Gamification in Tourism”. We hit it off quite well, and ended up doing two projects together this year. One of the was the COEE.

The setup itself was crazy. An experience design conference at Czocha Castle, a website with minimal information and a star lineup of “Professors”, including high-ranking creatives from Google, Disney, Lego, and more. Besides Paul, there were three other Founders; Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming and Joe Pine. Heavy hitters with easily googleable names. Oh, and a 4.900€ price tag and a curated participant list.

To call it a success would be an understatement, and though it was at times exhausting and absurd, in the end, it was quite transformative for many of the participants. Including me. There’s a short video of it here, that captures the spirit quite nicely, even though it doesn’t explain much. As it should be!

With the rest of the Dziobak crew and some Erasmus+ funding, I helped take a new larp conference from loose idea to actual event. It was small, cozy and extremely rewarding, and I’m glad that we’re doing it again next year.

I’m especially happy about one of our design designs; telling people that they had to talk about what they had actually done, instead of trends, ideas and models. This was hands-on experience sharing, and it was great.

I got to hear more about the thinking behind the (fucking amazing!) Witcher School larps, learned new stuff about handling volunteers and got a step-by-step runthrough of a business larp that blew me away (thanks, Blaz).

The picture of me and Dirk Springenberg isn’t exactly flattering, but it was there!

I’ve spent a month in the UAE, doing larps at Yas Waterworld for people from all over the world, who were united by one thing – they had absolutely no clue what larp was when they started.

I’m not going to write about that here, since it is the subject matter for other blog posts, save to say that it has been a month filled with fun, emotion and learning. It has been something of a life-changing experience, and while it feels strange that it’s now over, I am also looking forward to going home!

Here’s one of our trailers, produced on site.

Though I haven’t the lead on this nationwide and ambitious Rollespilsfabrikken that we’re doing currently, I have still played a small part. Funded by three million DKK by the Nordeafonden foundation, its goal is to empower and educate young larp organisers all over Denmark.

It’s not over yet, by a long stretch, but preliminary findings look very positive, and the Orcs have managed to do a lot of good already in Year One. Being even a small cog in this machine is something I’m very happy about, and I’m especially grateful to Anders and Rene for running point on it.

Here’s a picture of them, and some of the other Orcs. ;-)

Another ambitious project that I played a small role in. The American CoW spinoff blew up kickstarter last year, and this year, their first four NWM events were held. Plus two Yule events, because Ben and Maury, the masterminds behind NWM, are crazy.

Along with Mikolaj, Maciek and Nadina from our Polish team, I was at the first two New Word Magischola events, and even had the honour of being NWM’s very first Chancellor (Headmaster). The two weeks in the US also included a short Hollywood jaunt, where I met Christie, who would go on to be a COEE Professor and got to meet Mark and Jane in the flesh.

I will admit that eating a casual (and very nice!) dinner with the executive producer of the LOTR trilogy was a strange mixture of relaxing with people I really like (since Mark and Jane are really cool) and of having fanboy moments. Mark will feel slightly embarassed about me saying that, but he’ll have to cope!

NWM itself was another crazy success, and Ben and Maury (and the LearnLarp team, which they lead) have since gone from strenght to strength. I’m glad I was there at the beginning.

This is me at NWM, looking less cool than I felt.

I was fortunate enough to not only be part of running events in 2016, but also had the great privilege of going to the events of other people. One of these was Ropecon in Finland, where I was invited back as a Guest of Honour after having been there in 2005 as a GoH.

It was super, super awesome, and I can’t thank my hosts enough for having me. I got to say inspiring things to a huge crowd, got to hold lectures and do TV interviews, and my handlers Joonas and Ville-Emmeli even found time to let me run two freeform sessions of the larp Crossing Borders.

I got to connect with friends both new and old, and I even got to go on an unforgettable sailing trip with Hakkis (featured below) and his friend, Ville on Hakki’s yacht.

An Italian Game of Thrones larp held at a castle? Who wouldn’t have gone? I certaintly went, and had something of an adventure. In fact, I’ve written about it here on the blog before, so I won’t say much more about it.

I will say that it was great getting to not only larp in Italy, but also to hang out with some of the great Italian larpers. Fantastic people, and cool to get a glimpse into a very different kind of culture (and larp scene).

This year’s Fastaval freeform convention was great (as usual). During the Otto award show, I got to feel the friend-pride when Sofie, our chief of sales, won a board game award. I also managed to forget that I was going on stage myself, and only realised the presenters were talking about me when people starting clapping.

Improvising a speech with no advance warning is luckily something I’ve done before, and I was grateful that I got to present the Honorary Otto for 2016 to Simon James Petitt, for his lifelong contributions both big and small.

The picture of Simon clearly shows that it also meant something to him!

After a break of fourteen years, I returned to the Jutland summer larp scene. An imposing village constructed of wooden “pre-fab” houses, 250 (or so) players, and impressive costumes set the stage for this medieval/low-fantasy larp.

I hadn’t planned a lot, and ended up playing with Charles, Mimmi and some cool Swedish guys. We were poets and florists, but in a slightly mafioso way, and it was a ton of fun. Pressuring someone into buying poems and flowers was a first for me, but I really enjoyed it.

It was also interesting to see how much had changed – and how much hadn’t – since 2002, when I last when to an Einherjerne larp. I’m not sure I’ll ever play the character of Poet-Bjarke again, but I am glad he got to live for a while.

The official larp photograhpers caught us on camera here. So if you ever wondered what a medieval(ish) flower/poem/forgery operation looks like, here’s an interpretation.

In May, Anders and I went to Texas. Not to eat steaks and wear stetson hats, but to talk larp, at the second LGC (we’d been at the first in 2014 as well). And damn, am I glad we went.

It was amazing to be at a larp conference where I didn’t know many people, but still had a solid posse to hang with. I got to meet new people, talk more larp than I normally do at Knudepunkt, Fastaval or Forum, and I got to encounter larp aspects I didn’t know existed.

I also got to meet Ashley Zdeb and Michael Pucci for a second time, and really clicked with them, and their third wheel, Jeff Moxley. In fact, we clicked so much that we’re now doing two larps with them (Roadtrip and Battleship), and we helped them do their film trailer as well. They even got a War Hippo.

Anders and I also got to leave a War Hippo with Ben and Maury, as a symbol of friendship and alliance, and with shameless showmanship I read a poem aloud from the stage during my keynote speech, with the audience joining in.

The keynote is here, if you want to see it.

I didn’t just go to larpy-talky stuff abroad, but also in Denmark. This year’s Forum conference was the biggest so far, and also succeeded in beating the record for money collected at the auction. Woohoo!

Also, it was enormous fun to go there as part of The Orcs are Coming, and also to have more than 30 people from Rollespilsfabrikken present. We also bought a Batman suit, which I wore during the part on the final night. Needless to say, my drunken self had clothes-swapped it with someone during the evening, but I managed to get it back, and still have it.

I realise that I could go on and on, and that just shows to me that my 2016 has been eventful and full of experiences. I went to both London and New York with Marie, did more CoW, FM and got to spend with people I care about. I got to do some uncleing (totally a word) and even got to drag my mother to her first larp ever. That was touching and humbling, but belongs with those stories that are better suited to a more private setting.

Looking back, 2016 shares one aspect with the last many years. Professionally and project-wise, it’s been my wildest year yet. On the personal front, things are more complex (Marie and I got married in 2009, so it’s not like we can top that anytime soon!), but when it comes to career and creativity, things are still moving forward.

One day I’ll perhaps even start making money, but for now, I’m just glad that I get to make a difference, and that I work with amazing people.

And how about next year? Well, let’s just say that I would be very surprised if it didn’t become even crazier still. Just with less weeks abroad, please!

And now the flight is boarding.

Denmark and 2017, I am on my way.

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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