Author Topic: Storytelling and Nordic LARP  (Read 1516 times)


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Storytelling and Nordic LARP
« on: February 02, 2018, 10:52:05 PM »
Storytelling and Nordic LARP
By Nuhn

Years ago I overheard a Game Master (GM) complain about the players: 'They are ruining my story!'.

This statement have stayed with me ever since as a token of How To Be A Bad GM. You can be a good GM, but to be a great one you have to understand, and accept, that the game is not yours. The players are not there to act your story or bring your script to life. You are there for the players. Your job is to give them the best experience possible, regardless of your own aspirations.
Storytelling has always been a part of most of the things I do - in writing, acting, movie productions and roleplay. I have more than 10 years experience with LARP and several of them as GM and Non-Player Character (NPC). Last year I decided to challenge myself by making a pen and paper campaign based on the D&D rules but the setting from scratch.

My years as a GM in LARP has taught me a great deal about storytelling that is useful in many other aspects.


A warrior can stay in character, even when there's no battle to fight!
What is Nordic LARP?

Recently I discovered that there is a huge difference in the way we understand, interact with and create LARP throughout the world. So I looked into it and realized the way I do LARP is known as Nordic LARP (I'm from Denmark so that makes sense). The site has a good definition of Nordic LARP and especially the bit about collaboration:

Nordic-style larp is about creating an exciting and emotionally affecting story together, not measuring your strength. There is no winning, and many players intentionally let their characters fail in their objectives to create more interesting stories.
To me the key to LARP has been storytelling, to make sure the players get the feeling of being a part of a story, preferably  like they are the main character whether they're an evil knight, a shady wizard or a greedy farmer. And yes, in my opinion every single player should feel like a main character. This is actually possible when the purpose of the game not is to win, not to be best (strongest, richest, most powerful) but to truly be your character. Not all characters wants the same. One wizard search for an ancient spell while the mercenary wants to sell all his goods because he needs the money.

Note that this is my personal conviction. I still meet players who just wants to fight with weapons and don't care about a story or a character at all.


Non linear storytelling

When I want to create a plotline in LARP I work with non linear storytelling. The first draft might be linear. But then I do the 'what possible choices could the players make?'-exercise. Sometimes I come up with multiples ways or plotlines the players might choose.

E.g. The players are asked to escort a wagon with a precious cargo through the area that is known to house a group of bandits. In the first linear plotline the players do the quest as predicted: They defend the wagon and get a reward for the safe journey. But what if the players are shady and decides to rob the wagon themselves? What is on the wagon? Who sent it and will they send out someone to take revenge? Or maybe the players seek out the bandits because they must have a holdout with a lot of loot. Should we place a bandit camp in the area for the players to ambush? In reality you can keep guessing and adding details but there is only so much you can spend your time on (and hopefully this is not your only plot) so you'll just have to choose a couple of options and keep them ready.

And then be prepared when the players choose to do something completely different than what you could imagine.
Because sometimes (let's face it - most of the time) the players will act in a totally different way than you expected. They will do stupid things, follow wrong leads and not pick up on hooks and hints. But that's your problem, not theirs. Now you have to follow the players and re-create the story around them. Go with the flow.

Maybe the players wont help the princess in distress asking for their help. Maybe they decide to kidnap her and blackmail her father. Then don't force the players into the story you originally imagined. Dismiss the bandits looking for her and send in the knights who will try to rescue her from the players.


Let the Players Lead

My personal opinion is that if you let the players lead instead of forcing them into your story then everything will be better. Let me elaborate.
Of course you might have to help the players along a plotline, giving them a gentle poke in the right direction from time to time. But there is a huge gap from that and to forcing the players down a plotline they didn't choose. There are several reasons why you should let the players lead:


A good adventure needs plenty of strange & exciting props...
A World of Free Choices

The players will feel like they can make an impact on the world. They are not just sheep hustled around. Letting the players have a say in the story and world gives a more dynamic universe.

When the players know their choices have consequences it forces them to consider their actions more carefully. And with a story that is not fixed, the players will not try to figure out 'the correct answer' they know you have prepared, but instead try to figure out the best way to proceed for them and their characters. And that leads to the point of Nordic LARP focusing on 'staying in character'. It is often considered a deadly sin to act on information or knowledge you have that your character wouldn't.  As stated earlier, sometimes a player will choose to fail rather than stepping out of character.

E.g. A mercenary wants to show me his goods "just around the corner". I know that his character is an NPC that is up to no good, but my character doesn't. So I go with him even though he might rob me.

Have more fun - Improve your skills

When you let the players lead, the story will go in directions and take turns you couldn't imagine. It's actually fun to see how the story ends. And you will have to be more creative because you have to make things up as you go and make quick decisions (because the players don't prepare you, they just do stuff and you have to react on them instantly). Not only do you have to improvise acting but you have to improvise your storytelling. It's more challenging but it's more fun too.
When you are used to think non linearly, to improvise and to let your ideas go (because the players didn't follow the carefully written plotline you prepared) then you have a huge advantage in every day life.

At work you often have to compromise and to throw away work or ideas. For instance, I've written 7 articles for the local news paper but they only chose to publish one. And I'm okay with that! I also work with online communication and social media, and let me tell you: people never receive or react to a post the way you predicted. But I'm used to work this way and to turn the storytelling around (because yes, storytelling is also how companies communicate online).

The most precious skill, to me, is the ability to improvise. For more than a year I worked as a substitute teacher, often without notice or material. I literally had to improvise almost every day. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I played the character as 'an authority: a true adult' and the children (and the teachers) believed me. Sometimes when I'm nervous (e.g. at a job interview or an exam) I just play the role of someone with confidence. It actually works.


In Conclusion

When you start thinking about your stories in a non linear plotline, you open up the stories to the players. The players will find themselves in a more diverse world where their choices have consequences. You will be challenged more but more skilled too. You will create stories together with the players, and like in most cases when you collaborate with others on creative work, you will create something that's better than what you could do on your own. And sometimes it'll be way more stupid and boring than what you made up, but that doesn't matter. The players are not there to entertain you. You are there for them, to make sure the players are having fun. Because in the end LARP is a game, and games are all about having fun.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2018, 07:22:30 PM by Nanna »