Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Mo Holkar. Legendary in the UK, check out all of Mo’s projects here: http://uk-freeforms.wikidot.com/mo-holkar
Larp isn’t just a healthy outdoor activity, out in the woods and fields, sitting by campfires and sleeping in tents. No, it also has a dark side – an indoor side, that shuns sunshine and fresh air – that lurks within, plotting and scheming… meet chamber larp!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, is uneasier than most. Rival suitors, envious foreign powers, a dead husband/brother, crafty slaves, a shortage of asses’ milk, and to cap it all her infant son’s gone missing. How will she cope? Find out in Queen of Denial, where Shakespeare meets the Carry On team, and things are likely to go from bad to very much worse…
(Queen of Denial, by Nickey Barnard and Mo Holkar)
Lots of reasons! Originally it was just practical:
- you don’t have to think about the weather;
- you don’t need a special site;
- you can do it in a town or city, convenient for where lots of people live.
But then people started to think about the possibilities:
- you can run much smaller larps, and have them still be satisfying, because everyone’s closed in together;
- and shorter ones, with interesting closed plots; or even several different short larps in quick succession;
- you can use chamber larp as an introduction/taster for people who don’t know about larp, for example at general games conventions;
- you can re-run chamber larps many times with different players, like a tabletop RPG scenario;
- if you’re not trying to simulate a wilderness/village environment, but instead accept that the room is just a room and players will have to use their imaginations to see it as the larp setting… then imagination becomes the limit, and you can run larps set literally anywhere. From the ninth circle of hell to a ship drifting in space; from a Chicago speakeasy to a corporation boardroom; from competing voices inside someone’s head to artificial intelligences in a virtual environment.
Some of that sounds pretty weird
Chamber larp can be freaky and experimental! And it can be deep and intense. But it needn’t be. Most of what people are doing is pretty straightforward and should feel natural to an outdoor larper. Let’s break it down a little:
Indoor outdoor chamber larps are basically just like a normal outdoor larp, but indoors. The designers create a world, and some rules for playing in it (or they might use existing rulesets, such as Accelerant). The players create characters and bring them together. The crew play NPCs and monsters, and stage encounters. Costumes, weapons and so on will all be just the same as outdoors.
This kind of chamber larp is also fairly similar to the outdoor version. Typically it places normal larp-type characters in a social setting – like a council meeting, or a wedding, or something like that where you’re expecting mostly talking and not a lot of fighting and stuff. The advantage is you can do this with no or few crew: and also the characters get plenty of opportunity to interact socially and maybe get to know each other a little better than they can when they’re busy holding off swarms of orcs. These can make useful fillers inbetween events of a mostly-outdoor campaign.
Greetings Comradski. Welcome to the Soviet Submarine. Here we will have happy adventure beneath the waves as absolutely nothing goes wrong. (And by that, we mean that everything will go wrong.)
(K300: Nyet SOS!, by Mike Young and Moira Parham)
Background and goals
So these larps started off by essentially mixing a social chamber larp with a murder mystery dinner party kind of setup – where each character has a secret background that the others don’t know, and where they each have things that they’re trying to achieve during the course of the game. You’ll be given a predesigned character, rather than bringing your own. The designers set things up in detail so that the characters’ goals are some in conflict with each other, others in harmony: and the expectation is that by playing the characters naturalistically and doing what they would do, the designed storylines will play out, exciting things will happen, and everyone will have a satisfactory feeling that they were the hero of their own journey through the larp.
Background and goals chamber larps are perhaps the commonest kind (in the US and UK anyway), and they’re highly evolved and skilfully put together – a fascinating larp sub-hobby. More about them a bit further down the page!
The most recent development in chamber larp – games that have come out of a new wave of influence from tabletop gaming. The original fantasy larps came about when people thought “what if we could play D&D for real?” – these new freeform chamber larps ask the same question about modern indie or homebrew role-playing games, and then go off in all sorts of different directions. So in a freeform, people play and embody characters in the normal larp way. But the game could be divided into scenes called by a GM, rather than playing continuously – with some scenes only involving some of the characters, and the other players watching OOC. The players might pass characters around between them between scenes. They might roll dice, or draw cards, as a randomizing mechanism for resolution or story direction. They might not be in costume, and there might not be any props. You might be given a character, or you might all construct characters together in a pre-larp workshop.
Would you remove healthy body parts if you thought it might save your life? Rita and Elle bear a legacy: a mother who died of ovarian cancer and a genetic error in their DNA. Will they change their bodies? How will it change them? And how will it change their relationships? A larp about bodies, relationships and love, where nothing is sure.
(The Curse, by Lizzie Stark)
How long is short?
I said above that chamber larps are usually short – four hours, two hours, or even less – but they don’t have to be. There are plenty that last for a whole weekend. You usually won’t be in character 24-hours – sleeping, and maybe eating, could be OOC – but it’s still a quite intense experience. The complexity and depth of interaction and story that can be generated if you shut 80 or so larpers up in a building together for 48 hours is pretty considerable.
I’m intrigued. Where can I find chamber larps?
Four main ways.
- spun off regular larp campaigns – you may find that one of your local larp runs chamber events alongside the outdoor sessions;
- at games conventions, or specialist chamber larp conventions – there are several of these, see below;
- at chamber larp clubs – probably if you’re in a city you’ll have more chance of finding an existing group who get together regularly to chamber larp. Meetup.com can be a way to hunt;
- download one yourself! – the great thing about chamber larps is they’re so easy to set up and run. You can find loads of them for free online, and loads more for a nominal price – see below for details. Just download, recruit some friends, hire a room – or use a pub, or your own house – and go!
You have been drafted into the worst war humanity has ever known, but have the chance to escape. A larp of personal and group drama, of moral choices and questions, of whose life is worth more and why.
(Service, by Shoshana Kessock)
Writing your own
If you’ve got a yen to create, the low hurdle that chamber larp provides is fantastic. You don’t have to organize a site, make props, and recruit a bunch of crew – you just need to write down your great ideas and find some willing victims to test them out. Once you’ve started, you won’t look back!
And there are people who can help you, too. For background and goals larps, go to the Peaky writers’ workshops, held in the UK and also annually near Chicago. For freeform larps, there’s The Larp House in the Twin Cities, and The Game Kitchen in London.
No but seriously, where can I find them?
For indoor outdoor larps the best bet is a games convention. All the big games conventions in the USA, such as GenCon and DexCon, have boffer larp groups in attendance – large organizations like NERO, and sometimes local groups too: and you’ll find Mind’s Eye Theatre and Cthulhu Live here too. They may just be running demos, but often they’ll have an indoor scenario or module set up for people to play in.
Social chamber larps are usually attached to existing campaigns, so they’re not so easy to stumble across. Check out Larp List here on larping.org for the larps that are near you, and get in touch. In the UK, Larp Events is the place to go.
A lighthearted larp of murder, intrigue, tea and politics in supernatural Steampunk Victorian London.
(The Teapot Travesty, by Claire Ryder and Heather Law)
Background and goals larps have their spiritual homes in Intercon in the USA, and Consequences in the UK – conventions devoted solely to this form of chamber larp. You can play eight or ten different games over the course of a weekend, if you’re up for that! There are also a whole load of shorter conventions, particularly in the US north-east. The Fair Escape blog is a great place to keep track of these events. To run games yourself, check out the RPGnet collection of downloadable larps – mostly free of charge.
Freeform chamber larps are less common – so far! – but you can find them at conventions too. As well as Intercon and Consequences as above, they’ll be at indie-flavoured gaming cons like Dreamation, Metatopia, Camp Nerdly and Wyrdcon. And there are a number of local gaming groups who run them: in Boston, Los Angeles, Austin, Portland OR, Chicago and Washington DC for example. Then you can download existing larps and run them yourself, too: there’s a great list of American Freeforms to download here on Lizzie Stark’s site, and a load of European ones here in the Alexandria library and on the Stockholm Scenario Festival site.
Thanks to everyone who helped with information for this article! It’s only a very brief overview, so there’s loads of stuff I’ve skimmed over or missed out altogether. Let us know if you want to see more!