I’m currently enroute to the Danish freeform larp convention Fastaval. It’s an amazing event, worthy of many blog posts of its own, but one of the truly great things about it is the 30–35 freeform larps that premiere there each year.
What's a freeform larp?
There are many definitions. This is mine. Basically, it’s a mix between tabletop and larp, and it can be played in a classroom. Most have 4–6 players and a game master, but some have no GM or a different number of players. A session can take two hours, or four, or longer.
But if it can’t be played in a classroom, it doesn’t work for Fastaval – which, incidentally, had only classrooms available. :-)
So why are they so cool, these free beasts?
1. They cost very little to set up.
In terms of production, that is. Not time. The best freeform authors spend hundreds of hours on their art, but from a costume/props/SFX perspective, they’re almost free. And that’s cool, because it lowers the barrier for entry.
2. They cost very little to play.
Again, if someone was to pay for the work of the writer, it would be something else. But you don’t need costumes, and since a classroom (or a living room) will do for location, costs to play are low.
3. They work well with small groups
Not everyone can whip up 50 or 100 players. Finding five friends for an evening of play is much more realistic.
4. There are amazing free larpscripts out there
It’s astounding. Alexandria.dk has a huge archive, for instance. And they’re ready to print and play.
5. Many modern freeforms require no rules or system knowledge
This makes it easy for anyone to join in. Newcomer friendly larps = more new larpers. And getting someone to try out a couple of hours of participatory storytelling is usually easier than luring them to castles in Poland!
6. The best ones are extremely good
Having a castle or a village at your disposal is great. But I’ve had some crazily powerful experiences with freeform larps, and love the form.
7. They can be reproduced
If you write a good freeform larp, others can copy it and spread it (with your blessing). Some have been translated to more than 20 languages. Wild stuff indeed.
8. They can be honed with testing
Even though big larps can get better with iterations, it’s nothing compared to how a freeform can be improved. Here, you can tweak everything directly, and playtesting works wonders.
9. There are “Oscars” to be won
The Fastaval Otto is probably the closest we have to an Oscar. It awards similar excellence (though on a micro scale), and the Otto awards have really pushed the medium forward since their beginnings in ‘92.
10. Being a freeform GM is direct skill training
It’s fantastic. Nothing less. People, who are good freeform GMs are versatile communicators and storytellers, and those are useful areas of expertise no matter what you do.
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