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12. The power of rapid reframing in larp

In 2008 I was part of the organiser team for the larp Motherland. It was set in an alternate history 1964, inspired by the Robert Harris novel, Fatherland. The participants played Russian soldiers training at a secret army base, with the mission of missions; to assassinate Adolf Hitler on his 75th birthday.

When things go wrong and you’re up shit creek

Now, you can’t solve all problems this way. If our toilets hadn’t worked, we wouldn’t have told the players that they’d have to shit in the nearby woods and that this was to give them a better experience. They wouldn’t have bought that for a second. At least, I think so. We’ll never know.

  • You can try to lie about it, and hope no one notices. “What? No, we never actually said that we’d be paying for your transport. We said we’d pay for transport, but we didn’t specify it. Here’s 5 dollars to cover the bus.”
  • You can change the framing, and see if it’s accepted. “We’ve decided to let you set up the tents yourself as a teambuilding exercise.”

The later in the process, the more it seems like cheating

But here’s where it gets interesting. If you’re doing a brainstorm on an event you want to do, and people are throwing ideas left and right, nobody feels bad about reframing like crazy. If someone suggests hiring a famous band, and another person in the group suggest hiring a friend’s (cheaper) band instead, nobody feels they should apologise to anyone.

So far, so good. But what does it have to do with larp?

Everything. One of the amazing things about larp is that control virtually everything. You control the time, the rules and mechanics, the space and the fiction. You control the characters, the setting and the structure. You have so much control that it’s hard to even understand it.

  • I can change the number of characters.
  • I can change the fictional frame.
  • I can change the pre-game workshops.
  • I can change the rules of the larp.
  • I can change the scenography.
  • I can change the organiser-run events.
  • I can change the player briefings.
  • … and a thousand other things.

This isn’t just about bad planning

The famous child artist Dmitri Berbatov came into existence as a last-minute solution. But if we’d known how “his” artwork would be received, we might have done it that way on purpose. And then instead of feeling like frauds getting away with an out-of-the-ass solution, we would be justifiably proud of our out-of-the-box idea. With the EXACT SAME props.

Back to larp and reframing

When I go to a larp, I care about what I experience. Whether it was originally planned that way, turned out that way by accident or was hastily cobbled together five minutes before it happened doesn’t really change my experience. When I learn of it, it changes my experience, and that’s inevitable. Blind luck and good design are not the same. Of course not.

  1. Larp is pretty damn awesome in this regard, because it’s so flexible and gives you so many ways of calibrating. And if we embrace #1 a bit more, then we’ll get better larps and better experiences.
  2. I’m afraid some people will read this and think that I’m just advocating for no plans and complete chaos. I’m not. I’m advocating for using the larp medium to its fullest, and that means embracing calibration, not fearing it.

Written by

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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