A Thousand Stars and No Home

Published on Tuesday 15 March 2016 in Articles

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“We have been let into the dock. The spacecraft is coupled to the gate, which is dented with obvious traces of meteors and repairs. The crew goes and comes, they greet each other, just outside the airlock some of them are talking to each other, they joke with each other, laughing and ignoring us. Human traffickers.

We communicate in bad intergalactic and information is sparse. We know that we are going on a hard journey, and that we have paid a lot of money to people we don’t know, people in whose hands we are now putting our fate. But we all come from something worse. We do not know how long the journey will take. The route passes close to the meteor fields and through unsafe wormholes – the safe routes are not open to us. We hope to arrive at the space station KaorMC-14, on the road to the Culture’s sphere. And to have enough money left to go on from there.
Now they herd us into the hold.”

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Where and what?

“A Thousand Stars and No Home” is a larp about being a refugee in the large, empty nothing of space, locked up in a box and at the mercy of human traffickers and corrupt border patrols. And who knows who the other refugees really are and what they have fled from?

It will be played on the 2nd of April at as part of PLAY – Festival del Gioco 2016. We are a Scandinavian/Italian organizing team with several Italian larp organizers from Terre Spezzate. The game will be bi-lingual, as some groups in-game are designated as Italian-speaking, and others English.

You can play one of the 30 refugees in the larp, which runs from 18:00-02:00, plunge into the life of a border patrol guard in the table top game “Living is Costly” (from 17:30-22:00) or a bounty hunter chasing through the galaxy in “The Pan-Galactic Security Force” (from 21:30-2:00).

The game is “Plug and Play”, meaning that we provide general information and culture info beforehand; while roles with costume and effects are handed out on the day- We start out with scheduled workshops and introductory short exercises in family and cultural groups, before we go into the game. The tabletop gamers are also provided with costumes and thorough briefing before entering the larp.

Background of the game

The game was inspired by a newspaper story on sub-Saharan refugees crossing the Sahara and then the Mediterranean. I wanted to capture the desperation of the journey, but as I wrestled with how this could best be translated into a larp, the idea of showing the inhospitable environment instead as the vast emptiness of space came to me.

I’m a huge fan of science fiction and a voracious reader, so I drew on all the tropes and story lines I knew to create a world with refugees like in our world, but with different backgrounds and cultures, fleeing from various well-known types of conflicts, but also slightly different ones. I didn’t want to just move actual cultures into space.

The game has been played several times in Denmark and won awards at Hygge-Con and Fastaval in 2008 and 2009. Andrea Castellani, a larper from northern Italy, played the larp at Fastaval and really liked the game. As the refugee crisis in Europe grew in the last years, we started talking about the continued relevance of the game, and the idea of staging it in Italy started forming.

At Fastaval, the Otto awards have fostered a tradition of written and documented roleplaying game, and more recently larps as well. The whole game is a larp and two tabletop games, so it is 220 pages long, and so I’ve been working since September to translate it into English with help from volunteers. I hope this translation means it can be played in more places in the future.

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Game design

The game is designed to be played at a convention, with very little prior preparation on the part of the participants. Participants are provided with roles and very simple, but distinct costumes and food and props representing their cultural background. The space that is needed is a few adjacent rooms. The game takes place aboard a space ship which is simulated using a bare decorated room, light and sound effects. We are collaborating with Terre Spezzate who pride themselves on scenography, so we think it will look great!

The Otto award, which the game won, was awarded for “Best Roles” and the roles together with the cultural backgrounds are the pillar of the game. The roles are diverse, interconnected and designed to be scaled from 20-30 players. Each role is 2-3 pages long.

An unusual part of the design is the two tabletop games that are built into the larp. The players in the tabletop games play an enclosed game in their own right, but with a visit to the larp that is an integral part of their own stories. In the larp, they function as REALLY well-briefed NPC’s. This works really well, as it gave an intense climax to the tabletop games, and makes the border guards and bounty hunters harassing the poor refugees very invested in their tasks.

I chose space opera as the narrative frame, as I didn’t want to attempt a realistic depiction of being a refugee. It is impossible to get near to the reality of it, but by transposing the story to a known setting with well-known tropes and stories, my hope was to allow people to be in a completely different reality, at the same time playing the desperate situation, but not having to be immersed in it, because of the stories going on. I was trying to strike a balance between realism and entertainment.

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