Foreword : this article is a loose translation of an article that was originally written in French with the French-speaking audience it mind. It establishes comparisons with a sub-genre of historically inspired Larps that have been called “romanesque” in our own gaming culture. Romanesque means literally “that would have its place in a novel”, especially something emotional or very dramatic.
As Larp goes, frenchstyle Romanesque larps have focused on character-based stories, 360 immersive and emotional experiences.
To know more about the Romanesque subculture, you may read http://www.electro-larp.com/275-the-frenchstyle-romanesque-larp
For a more in-depth exploration of historically-inspired larps in France and the connection to the Romanesque genre, you may watch my presentation at the French larp convention les GNiales https://vimeo.com/111780055
Skoro Rassvet – the Nordic “Romanesque”
Skoro Rassvet (“Breaking Dawn”) is a Czech historically-inspired LARP about XIXth century Russia during the Crimean war. It was played in English during two international runs that took place in Denmark, the 25-26 and 27-28 of February of 2015. I took part in the first of those two runs as Elena, a tragic character, a woman desperate to find love in her husband and redemption for her past failings. This article will try and establish a comparison between this game and historically-inspired Larps we are familiar with in the French gaming community, and focus on some elements of game design that might be of interest to other organizers.
A game about atmosphere and family secrets
In 1855, while imperial tsarist Russia is undergoing its first setback in the Crimean War, the Derevansky family is hosting a reception for the birthday party of the daughter Irina, gathering relatives and family friends. Turmoil and intense emotions appear through character confrontations and revelations about their past.
Skoro Rassvet is presented as a historically and litterature-inspired Larp, finding inspiration in authors such as Tolstoï and Dostoïevsky, and using the History as a frame to make the drama between characters stronger.
It relies on 360° immersion. Costumes are provided by the organizations and some workshops are designed to train on the customs of the period, such as addressing people properly, opinions, religions, and toasting in an appropriate way.
The other workshops focus more on exchanges between players and enacting some scenes from the character’s past. It should be noted that, although the game is not based on transparency, exchanges between players don’t have an impact on in-game secrets, since communication can be limited to the elements of the past, or the way relationships should be enacted
The game experience then differs very little from what could be seen in a similar historically-inspired larp in France. Carried by interesting characters, well-set in their archetypal functions within the Russian literature tropes, and made deep through a lot of interactions and emotional turmoil, Skoro Rassvet is a strong game that can deliver a flowing series of beautiful scenes and strong emotions.
The Nordic and narrativist approach
However, where the game experience looks mostly similar, it is interesting to observe that the means to get there differ noticeably. The conception of Skoro Rassvet appears to use techniques from the Nordic larp and a narrativist approach. Some elements can support this idea.
The written part of the character is not very detailed, they are worked essentially through the workshops, and players get to discuss to calibrate their interactions.
Each character has a determined level of fateplay, a destiny they get to accomplish through a series of predetermined scenes or actions. It is more or less detailed depending on the character, and players, while registering, get to ask which character they would prefer to play, according to a short description which includes their level of fateplay. This approach in almost inexistent in French gaming culture, but works there as a framing of the characters in their narrative function, considering, again, that they work as Russian literature archetypes.
Intructions to the players underline a narrativist approach. Players are invited to play first for the other players, to focus on story development above historical accuracy, and to play to loose as to reinforce the tragedy that the game strives to stage. The end of the game is marked by an exit accompanied with music, and each player gets to tell the epilogue to their own character.
Character design: differences and perspectives
Character design is where the differences in gaming cultures strike the most.
Many French larps develop characters through long and heavily detailed character documents, enabling and in-depth look into the character’s psyche. Important in-games scenes for the character or narrative arc developments proceed from open options given by an extremely precise and detailed framework, a multitude of elements that work as codification and tailor the character’s possible reactions. Cohesion with the character’s interpretation can then drive the player, albeit in an unconscious or subtle manner, towards exchanging with others and moving the story forwards.
On the opposite, the Nordic approach seems more open on these framing devices through workshops, enacting scenes from the character’s past and communication between players. Character’s description documents can therefore be shorter (a few pages in Skoro Rassvet, for example), because character appropriation, which relies solely on background writing in the first case, can be accomplished through other means
A lot of controversy already exists within our community on the pertinence and efficiency of each approach. As often, that’s not the question since an appreciation and a choice of character design is specific to each player and organization.
However, we need to question here some practical problems. The practice of long character writing has been very efficient for character immersion in the strictest sense. Long narratives are indeed a good tool for introspection, those time where a player get to live his character even in solitude, without having to rely on active interactions, because the dense background material and psychological development provide a permanent frame to the gaming experience. This efficiency is not denied here.
However, since this approach is often considered as a default mode in our gaming culture, the limits are there as far as logistics go. Not everyone has the taste, ability or time for such long writing. Many organizers and potential creators might be discouraged by the amount of work in this regard. The example of Skoro Rassvet shows an interesting alternative: an organization works that is still substantial but more accessible as far as pure writing goes, but which can also create a strong, immersive game that generates sincere emotions in their participants. For those who are put out by the workload of writing, other options are possible, without giving up on the beauty and strength of the game.
Skoro Rassvet is a well-made game, with a good work on the historical and literary material, which provided many participants with intense moments and an emotional experience. In [France], it probably would have been dubbed as « Romanesque ». Having a very similar experience and final rendition to some games that we have there, although with a very different set of design and technique, may open interresting reflections on our own gaming practices and design approaches.
Creative team and writing : Markéta Haladová, Petr Platil, Martin Buchtík, Sarah Komasová, Jaromír Vybíhal, Tomáš Hampejs
Coordination to the international runs : Jeppe Bergmann Hamming, Maria Bergmann Hamming, association Solhverv (Odense, Danemark)
Wesite : http://rassvet.cz/autori.html
A documentary on the game : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmj3pDTm1Co
Pictures: Markéta Haladová