The Fanlarp (Full Moon Special #6)

Happy Full Moon! And it’s a thirteenth. And Friday, to add to that – plenty of scary fun to be had in the Moonlight… or anywhere else, for that matter. They say the next Friday Thirteenth Full Moon will be in 2049! So you better take good care to honour this one.

Let me add to your choices of the scary stuff to do by mentioning a rather interesting thing you can do on this Full Moon – you can go to a fanlarp. Or you can organize one! Everyone seems to be doing it, nowadays. Why not do what the cool kids do?

The Priesthood of Dibella / The Elder Scrolls Chronicles / Croatia, 2014 / Picture by Višen Tadić
The Priesthood of Dibella / The Elder Scrolls Chronicles / Croatia, 2014 / Photo by Višen Tadić

What it is

#1 A larp based on an already existing piece of art – literature, movies/tv shows, videogames etc. I sure hope this explains itself. If it doesn’t, maybe you should read this first.

#2 Something made by fans – and, usually, for fans. Once fanlarp goes commercial, it stops being a fanlarp. The passion for a fandom which drives us is one of the most precious aspects of any fan work. Sure, you can probably pay someone to read 7+ books of a fandom and than let them run a larp based in the fandom’s setting, but it would never be the same as when a true fanatic makes it. It’s what fans are for. To make all the other fans feel a little less crazy – and surprise each other with, sometimes, really awesome fanmade shit.

#3 A derivative work – a meta work – a not-so-new-but-still-fun art form. A way for fans to continue participating in the worlds they like. Not all of us grew up in a culture where fan works were an everyday thing – I was well in high school when started rocking it – but the future generations will take that form of participation for granted from day one, as many of us learned to do in the past few decades. Derivative work is here to stay – giving a whole new meaning to the word inspiration – or collaborative storytelling.

What it isn’t

#1 A way for power gamers to relive the experience of their favorite heroes or worlds. It’s all too easy to fall into the old familiar trap of larping for the thrill of being the saviour of the world. While there’s nothing wrong with the feeling, I honestly cannot recommend roleplaying already existing characters at a fanlarp. That’s not participating in a fandom – that’s copying. And since we’re all unique, I feel that our personal takes on familiar settings and ideas can be enough of a thrill on their own – and that they can add to the fandom in a way copying never can.

#2 An excuse for a poorly designed game. Right, you’ve got the setting, so you can sit back and relax and let you players do their thing – wrong. Would you really play a larp which was made completely after, say, a script of a tv show episode? Can you really copy that much? Why not take the familiar elements and create something new out of them? It will help with another thing, too – exciting the players who are already a part of a fandom by bringing new twists to familiar material. They will definitely appreciate it – and feel like what they think matters. Placing a larp in a more blurry section of a fandom (between major canon events or in locations not featured onscreen in the original material) might help with that. The same goes for listening to your gut feeling and letting your own view of the material guide you. Why not surprise yourself, too?

#3 Something completely original – or completely your own. If you’re big on copyright, maybe you should stick to creating your larps from scratch. And even if you’re not, why limit yourself to fanlarps only? Sometimes you really have to let your imagination run wild. The world’s best works may be traced back to inspiration of their own, but it’s the authors’ original voices that make them special. Yes – your voice does matter. Sometimes it’s all that matters.

Why it’s good

#1 It attracts people who otherwise wouldn’t touch larping with the tip of a really long stick. Say, fans of specific videogames, or book geeks, or random fans of random (and not so random) things. Familiar names – familiar interest. A lot more people who might try larping because of the setting and get hooked on it because – hey, it’s larping. It’s the hobby next to perfect. Who wouldn’t get hooked?

#2 You can use it to your advantage with muggles – especially if you do a literature (or local art) based game. Yeah, now I’m talking about non-geek muggles. (Err… is there any other kind?) If you really want to take the advantage seriously, make a larp about something muggles love, and then watch them go wild as they listen to your every word. Who’s to say non-geeks can’t larp? As I said last week – you just have to know what larp to offer to them…

#3 It takes just a tiny bit less effort in terms of lore, culture and costume design (but you still have to explain it to your players). Sure – it’s no excuse for laziness – but it sure is easier to point your players to a setting’s wiki than write all the lore by yourself, and link to costumes somebody had already designed than try to explain your vision with words and your own meager artistic endeavour. (Not to say game designers are artistically impaired – some people are incredible – but not all of us.) A special bonus is that there will be players who’ve had the setting running through their veins for years – sometimes resulting in a more layered game, or at least a more believable diegetic world experience. (Because, when I state a location as “a station orbiting Komarr”, some people will look at me with a blank expression, and some will already have the soletta’s shine in their eyes.)

Why it’s bad

#1 It sets larp designers’ minds on different tracks, and it’s really easy to fall for it. In other words, once you try it, once you like it, it’s a bit hard to go back to creating something original, something of your own. Not to say fanlarps can’t be original – sure as hell they can – but when you unleash your own imagination… well, anything is possible.

#2 It helps continue the fanlarp prejudice in muggles. Because, yeah, sure, all larps are based on something and we all dress up as our favorite characters and run through the woods. Nothing original here, nothing to see. Yup.

#3 Nothing is sacred anymore – just like with movie adaptations. Sure, sure, considering any piece “sacred” is blasphemy in itself, but still… From my side, we’re already in the pre-pre-production phase for two larps based on my two favorite book cycles of all time (one by my pack, the other by a friend’s). Come to think of it, even with my level of fandom purism, even playing something set in Rolery’s Landin might be fun, one day. (Ooh, I so dare you to google this one.) But that… that’s a different story. And some fans will have their limits – and they have every right to keep them. (Want to force me to watch that-which-shall-not-be-named-but-includes-an-alethiometer? Think again. Think hard.) There’s a reason books and movies are separate things – and many of them are caused by our brains’ different digestion process of the two different artistic expressions. Because not everything can be simulated – not on film, not in live roleplaying. (Although we still keep trying…)

What it can do for you

#1 Get you players. Err, more players. And then some more. And, quite easily, a bigger percentage of beginners than usual. Just be careful not to overdo it – not all of your players will be fans of the said fandom, some will just like the idea of the larp in general. It’s your call on how deep into lore you want to go with the game. Nothing is too deep or too shallow, as long as you state you intent cleary in the application process. And you never know, some of your players might surprise you as to how deep they will dig.

#2 Let you see your favorite worlds come alive. Sure, not everything will be the same as you saw it or imagined it in the original work – but it will still count. Larping has a huge advantage over non-physical forms of roleplay – it brings stuff to life in 3D and in almost tangible human emotions. It’s a different approach from sole consuming of the original work – since we’re all, game runners and players, creating something new on our own. It’s participation at its best. It’s a whole new world – one we’re just starting to explore. Who knows what endless wonder we might encounter along the way?

#3 Get you exposure to other fans – sometimes even the original creator of the work. While not all of them will be as thrilled as you are, it will still count. As for fans, people really appreciate the effort. As for authors… as larping goes more mainstream in different parts of the world, we’ll probably get a problem or two eventually (it’s possible we’ve already got problems, but it hasn’t so far reached my ears). Some authors are notorious for their disregard of derivative work in general – and copyright laws are not always as shady in the real, physical life as online. Still, many more will see it as an hommage to their work, as it was intended. And who knows – maybe you’ll eventually get to inspire larpers on three continents, as my friends recently did.

Should you do it?

This is an answer only you can give. But if you do, be ready for the responsibility – towards yourself, towards the original material and its author/s, and towards your players.

And whatever you do, don’t let fanlarps be all that you do. I’m not going to quote some of the too well known writers who started as fanfic authors – because not all of them are good enough to mention – but some talents really do come alive in derivative work before they go on creating something exciting and new on their own. Just listen to your gut feeling – and don’t let yourself be discouraged at the sheer task of creating a larp from scratch – and you should be fine.

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