Sunday, June 12, 2005

Nordic lajv part I - Fantasy

I have never really understood American larps. Ben Lehman has promised to explain the different types over at his This Is My Blog. He also made a request to have the basics of Scandinavian larps explaned. This is my shot at doing it. I have tried out most types of Scandinavian larps but in recent years I have focused my attention on a rather specific subscene, and got the more recent info about other types as second hand information. If you feel I’m wrong about something, please tell me.

This writeup won’t use much of and established language for theory, as very little of that is used in our discussion on larps. I’m also not sure enough about G/N/S and related stuff to use it accurately.

I have labeled this article “Scandinavian larps” as the types of games described are much the same in all of Scandinavia. Of course some details differ from Sweden, but there are more similarities than differences.

The Swedish term for larp is lajv. It comes from the english word “live”, is pronounciated the same way, and was originally spelled like that. The spelling was changed to reduce the chance of mixing it up with live music performances and the like.

Lajv is big in Sweden. I got no numbers, but I’m pretty sure we got the most active players in the world, compared to the size of our population. These days lajv get lots of media coverage and mainly in a positive way. It is generally considered cool to participate in lajv games. It has gone as far as if you say “roleplaying game” the man on the street immediatly associates to lajv and not tabletop games. Or more accurately, he associates to fantasy-lajv.

A huge majority of the Swedish lajv are fantasylajv. Most of the larpers (lajvare) never attend anything else than fantasy games, maybe with the exception for the odd post apocalyptic game. One of the reasons fantasylajv have become so big is that they not only attract people interested in roleplaying and acting, but also many whose primary goal lies in the crafts surrounding the games. The standard Swedish fantasylajv plays out as follows:

- The game lasts for three days, from Friday to Sunday. Some are shorter and we usually got one or two one week games each summer.

- The most typical number of players are a bit difficult for me to estimate, but I think most got at least 100 players, and the largest got 500 or even as many as a thousead participants.

- There are no game masters active during the event itself. They either play influential roles, and direct the story that way, or keep out of it by playing more administratively important roles like an innkeeper.

- The players are supposed to stay in character at all times during the game. There is always an off-lajv area where you can store your real life stuff and this can be visied during the game if you really need to.

- The plot is mainly designed around the “group” unit. This group has usually been preparing for the lajv together, and know each other at least somewhat. It is very common for the same group to visit several lajv together, playing more or less the same roles. The reason for this is mainly the time and money required to make the equiment, but I guess the social aspect is important too. (This “same role” stuff is one of my biggest gripes with our fantasy larps.)

- The standard of the equipment is very high. You are usually allowed to have rubber soles on your shoes, and use a sewing machine for your clothes, but some groups frown on that. If soft weapons are used they are normally required to be cut foam coated with latex and painted. Some rare games allow weapons made of tape covered camping ground sheets. The former are called “latex” and the later “boffer”.

- The gaming area is usually centered around a large clearing in the woods or a secluded field. This either got a large camp of pavillions or a village of simple wooden stuctures. One of the recents trends have been building a quite large fort and centering the lajv on some sort of siege.

The system
The Scandinavian lajv is usually very light on mechanical rules. In most cases only two areas of the game are covered, combat and magic. Combat is nomally handled using padded weapons and simple rules like one hit to a limb and it is useless, one hit to the torso and you are down. To kill another player you have to make one final death blow to the downed warrior. Armor adds to the number of hits you can take. A small part of the games uses real weapons, and an abstract system for combat.

Magic is handled in an even simpler way. When a magican casts a spell, he calls out a special word. Everyone hearing it must stop and listen as he describes the effect. Many lajv use rules for poison where a heavy taste of for example salt mean a specific effect. In recent years it has become more poular with specific rules for sex, where rubbing someones shoulders in private could substitute for intercourse. The point is not having to breask the mood more than necessary while both participants still know is the have had sex or not.

There are of course lots of other rules on how you are supposed to behave. You have to follow the Swedish law. You are usually not allowed to intently destroy other peoples equipment. In many cases it can be hard to know how roughly you can handle someone. One player thinks it is wonderful to be captured and tied up for ten hours while it ruins the game for another. The solution is having a word that signifies that you talk out of character. That way you can expect to be told if you are about to cross another players line. One thing that has been heavily debated is in-game sexual harassment and simulated rape. Some lajv totally forbids this while other expects the players to handle it like any other situation with the recieving player having the option to call the situation off if it feels threatening.

That is enough for now. I have most certainly forgotten to cover a lot of stuff, probably mostly because they feel obvious to me. That do not mean that I believe they should be obvious to you. Feel free to ask about anything. I will make my best to anwer your questions.

In the next part I will probably tak about Vampire and Airsoft larps.

Edit: You can find part two here.


Blogger Sven Holmström said...

Maybe y9ou should post the link at G-punkt and ask for comments. Or maybe you should wait until you have all the parts ready. But anyway, I think that's a good idea.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I have added some details to my original text:

Under "Fantasylajv":
"One of the reasons fantasylajv have become so big is that they not only attract people interested in roleplaying and acting, but also many whose primary goal lies in the crafts surrounding the games."

Under "System":
"A small part of the games uses real weapons, and an abstract system for combat."

I have also posted links to this page on both G-punkt and the larp forum on

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Petter Karlsson said...

Very interesting blogpost.
I really do like your article and think it does a quite clearing picture about swedish larping(lajvande).

I have linked the article from our international forum-part at

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Corvo said...

Very good article. I have linked it in our Portal.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Nice to see so many hits from sites linking my post! I will try to write the next, and possibly last, part of it soon.

I'm not sure if Ben Lehman himself has read it, as I haven't got any comment from him, but as long as other people find it interseting it really doesn't matter.

(I also fixed A LOT of spelling and grammatical errors in the post.)

6:04 AM  
Blogger Sebastian Utbult said...

Interesting post. You might want to add that scandinavian larps have a pretty high ratio (I'm guessing 30-40%) of female participans (something I, although I might be mistaken, think American larps do not have).

Also, I'm looking forward to your post on airsoft larps (or MilSims). Feel free to contact me if you need info and or comments, as I've organized quite a few :D

2:56 AM  

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