Saturday, September 03, 2005

Swedish Freeform and the Forge

It struck me

One thing that has struck me many times is the similarities between the Swedish/Danish brand of freeform (admittedly the Danes seem to have developed things further than we up here, but we will do as the Japanese in the industrial revolution, trust me) and the narrative games from Forge-associated creators.

Even more frequently the differences have been on my mind. The differences are very obvious, but that makes the similarities even more interesting. Hang on I will get back to this in a couple of paragraphs.

There is this wiki

A couple of months ago Martin Svahn from FriSpel started a wiki about friform, the Swedish/Danish style of freeform roleplaying. Very recently debates have started to abound there, although still by a quite small number of people. A little while ago Olle Jonsson started a review section and started by asking for reviews of Jason Morningstars game The Shab al-Hiri-Roach. The game is obviously written in the Forge-tradition and was created for the Iron Game Chef competition of this year. An evidence of it's worth in those circles is what the big man himself, Ron Edwards has to say about it.

When Olle started the review page (in Swedish) he presented the game as a scenario and wrote that in Game Chef all scenarios have to fullfill certain criterias. What kind of comments this would sparkel wasn't very hard to figure out. Role playing discussion is a very reliable black box. "This game is not a scenario and thusly not friform" is a given tagline for the opposition.

Friform and everything about it

Firstly, what is this friform? As always there exists no good definition. Often the word (as freeform) is used about games where simply no dice or traditional game mechanics are used (I guess traditonal is a keyword here). Most people who actually dabble with these things beg to differ. This has of course been discussed at the mentioned forum (here, actually). The people at the forum represents quite different practices, but the wording that seems to please most people simply states that friform games are role playing games where the rules are constructed to fit the scenario at hand. An additon to this tells that dice could very well be used, if this for some reason is of great of importance to the story at hand.

Right, that is a loose definition, has there ever been one. But it's to my liking. To make you (I always picture myself writing to American gamers, although most of my readers probably are Swedes with more or less my own views) understand the practice of friform I will tell you a few more things.

We talk about scenarios rather than games. A scenario consists of a number of (always pre-created) characters and often a number of more or less pre-determined events or scenes. In many cases these scenes are quite well scripted. Some brands make use of a very physical style of play, where you really play with your whole body and never sit at a table, unless your characters do so. Your tool in this case is an empty room. Other brands have a more traditional table-top setup with a table between players, ontop of which handouts can be read during the game.

In most cases you are supposed to play one scenario only once. Vi Åker Jeep claim that their scenarios are good for playing several times. I believe them. It depends all on where in the game the interest is supposed to be.

Finally: Forge and freeform

I promised similarities. Well. The whole tagline for the Forge has been "Rules does matter", which should be interpreted as that rules should be made to fit the story and theme at hand. If you want to talk about war and forfeit; make rules about this. If your interest is domesticating animals; do rules describing this. All this is said much better by Ben Lehman in his most recent post. (Reading this is really a very good way to understand the Forge way of games.)

This way of thinking has resulted in very specialized games, (not all games emanating from the Forge are like this, but a great deal of them) where big parts of the game flow is predetermined. The characters are player-created, (in oppositon to friform) but the sort of questions asked to players and many of the the situations they are put in during play are detirmined by the game text (in opposition to most traditional table top games).

The play of The Shab al-Hiri-Roach is made up by a number of predetermined scenes, like Chancellor’s wine and cheese social and Homecoming football game, which is really more than enough to make it work as a scenario in friform. Around this you have mechanics to help to describe the characters struggle with evil roaches and the quest of gettin renown in science.

Just a little more

My usual view of all this (which I haven't really been addressing above, if someone ask I might do just that) is that friform and this type of narrativistic game have identfied many of the same problems in table top role playing, but have solved these issues very differently. In practical play friform and typical narrativistic play are usually further from each other than either is from ordinary table top. At least according to my experience and understanding.

It should be mentioned that the recent and on this blog already mentioned article shortly mentions these similarities (even if it doesn't say, I imagine the article to be written mostly by Tobias Wrigstad and Olle Jonsson).

BTW the game itself really intrigues me, although I have to admit I am seldom able to enjoy this typ of game mechanics. But it can happen. I would love to play the game, especially the theme with getting renown in the academic world has been very dear to me since I had some (admittedly small) experience of that last year. Friends, it's ugly.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Things to read

I have been away from this blog for a while, but I hope to start regular writing again from now on. As you can see below I have been trying to change the appearence of the blog. Mainly I thought a three column design with a floating middle part would be nice. But I just haven't been able to make it work.

Several of the versions of code I've tried have worked...almost. Everything has been looking fine, except for a severe mutilation in the first post. Some versions has worked very nicely locally, but been very skewed when putting them into Blogger. The conclusion is that I don't posses the CSS skill to create this for the Blogger envrionment. For now I have given up that.

Now it all looks like it did before and I'm back att producing text.

Playing with mother in law

Other people have been writing, though. Over at Yudhishthira's Dice Bradley "Brand" Robins gives it up on playing HeroQuest with his Mother in law in yet two posts. We are eagerily awaiting the finishing one. There are some good advice in there. Most of all it shows that non-gamers often are better role players than ourselves. It might be sad to hear. But that's how it is.

Ars Amandi

Jonas at writes about Ars Armandi experimentation. It's a method for simulation of sex in larps. Just so you don't think anything else: it's actually used, albeit seldom, here and quite well known. Also read the comments over at anyway.


The Swedish freeform group Vi åker jeep (We go by Jeep) has revised their text about their form of role play. I really enjoy their text at and I would definitely recommend anyone interested in rpg to take a look at it.

Swedish larps

What was supposed to be the biggest larp of this year will most likely be the biggest of next year. Dragonbane has been moved from 2005 Estonia to 2006 Sweden. The houses are being built as I write this. Interacting Arts has a few pictures of the houses to be, although these pictures should be quite old by now.

I was supposed to go to Moira, but my inability to live my life as efficiently as I should forced me to give my role to my friend Fredrik von Post less than two weeks before the event itself. It felt really terrible to do this and I will really try to avoid that to happen again. There are pictures available. It seems like people really enjoyed the larp. By the way, the Ars Amandi method was used there.