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Trondheim - The Garden of Eden

The following is an attempt at outlining the history of larp in Trondheim. Fifteen years of more or less organised larp has not left remnants particularly easy to piece together, not even for one such as me, that has been a part of the scene for (almost) the whole ride. I've tried to write a presentation of Norway's oldest larp-scene with as much and as little detail as I thought necessary and I hope it will do. Many of my fellow Trondheimians may discover minor mistakes with regards to dating, and there may be things that I've left out on purpose. Not each and every thing we've done is worth mentioning. Anyhoo - this is it; Trondheimian larp-history according to Arman…

Note: In the text, a number of words appear in red. Hover the mouse over them, and an explanation or footnote to the marked word(s) will appear.

Part I - Chronology

The chronological development of larp in Trøndelag may be defined in many different ways. I will in the following division into epochs emphasize the significance of singular event and their importance to the 'scene' as a whole.

Epoch 1 (1989-1995) From Selbu to "Brytningstid"

In some ways, the beginning goes back to 1982, when Erik D. Ryen, Egil Moe and Øyvind Moe go to Peckforton Castle in England for "live-action role-playing". Between 1982 and 1989, I asume all the mentioned persons did some sort of what might be dubbed 'larping', but as these events were quite private and not publicised in any way, I shall consider the start to be in 1989. This year these three and Jostein Hassel, Hilde Austlid, Tord T. Ophus and Håvard Steinsbekk host the 'cabin-larp' in Selbu (about one hours drive north of Trondheim). This was the first larp in Trøndelag, and a milestone in many ways. Primarily it's a milestone as many of the participants to various degrees are still very active. Secondly they experimented with characters being themselves ten years into the future, an experiment never again repeated in Trondheim.

Even if the Selbu-larp was the template for all together five or six more larps, the genre in which it was played is an exception. Present day horror larps are not common among Trondheimian larps. In stead the larp "Gatecrashers" in 1990 can be counted as the foundation of Trondheimian larp-tradition. This tradition consists of broadly conceived serial larps in fantasy settings. "Gatecrashers" was created by the brothers Moe, and by Håvard Steinsbekk and Tord T. Ophus - the very four ones that would later form the 'grandfather' of Trondheimian (and indeed Norwegian) larps: the group of organisers known as Soria Moria.

During the years 1990-1993 the Trondheim-scene is characterised by three things: First of all the rise and fall of 1030-TRLK, leading to the founding of Soria Moria. The club 1030-TRLK is formed in 1990 in an attempt to formally organise the scene. In the context of 1030 some larps are played out, but the club turns out not to be viable. After two years, people express a demand for 'more larp, less bureaucracy' and the club is dissolved. Apart from some items (a military tent or two), a small sum of money and a 'pantheon' (the gods of Allfirda and Vestervær) that is still being used today, very little remains of what can be said 'was' 1030-TRLK. This attempt at organising may be said to be the reason for Trondheimians almost inherent antipathy towards formal organisation for larp.

During this epoch there is a number of small 'one-nighters' created by small groups of organisers apart from the four in Soria Moria: Jostein Hassel, Espen Stenberg, Tim Torvatn and the author. I think our motivation was primarily to create something in addition to what Soria Moria was doing. Particularly there is a clear line from both Tim Torvatn's work and my work to what the groups Arcadia and Sleipner later did.

Larpers travelling elsewhere for larp is the third significant characteristic of this epoch. Already in 1990, Trondheimian larpers visits the game-convention ArCon6 in Oslo, and in 1991 we go to England (Coventry, "Kingship2" by The Portly Pixie). It's in England we pick up the technique for decorating weaponry with latex. 1992 sees Trondheimians visiting Ravn's winterlarp, and in 1993 a large number of Trondheimians go to the larp "Skidan 1319" by GSRF in Skien. 1994 is the great year for travelling, and no less than three larps outside Trøndelag gets visited by Trondheimians: "Kingship 3" (once more we are sent to Coventry) and a rural romance in Skien. The largest contingency is the one going to Trenne Byar (by Ett Glas) in Sweden. There are still tales told of this marvellous larp in Trondheim, and from it Soria Moria got the alphabet 'dulin' which they modified somewhat and has later used in every "Allfirda"-larp.

Between 1990 and 1994 there was a ban enforced in the boardgaming club Hexagon on larp-activities within the club. When this is lifted, Hexagon becomes the 'host' and basis for a number of larps. The clubs annual convention HexCon host larp-events at least from 1998. The club is also the basis for two (known) Vampire-campaigns in Trondheim, one of which belongs to this epoch.

The first epoch in Trondheimian larp-history culminates in many ways in 1995. This is the year of Soria Moria's great larp "Brytningstid", played in the wilderness of Femundsmarka near Røros. The larp is the standard against which many subsequent larps in Trøndelag has been measured, and it sets a number of standards used by both Soria Moria and other groups for later larps. In fact, most of the current rules that most groups in Trondheim employ can be traced back to this larp. Many of the participants were debutantes to larp and a lot of these remains and contributes greatly to the scene.

Epoch 2 (1995-2000) Post-"Brytningstid" to "Kalde brenninger"

This epoch is a bumpy road towards a culmination in autumn 2000. The peaks are the years 1996 and 2000, and 1997 is the most evident 'low-point' in Trondheimian larp-history. This epoch is important, because at the end of it there is not so much a generational change as an influx of new generations. Moreover Soria Moria is joined by new groups of organisers during it.

It is evident that larp has gained a 'hold' in Trøndelag in this epoch and new people are discovering it. This is most evident by the to so-called "Lyngbråthen-larps" in 1995 and 1996. They were created and played mostly by people outside the boardgaming club Hexagon or even Soria Moria, with minor connections to Soria Moria. I do not have firm evidence for it, but apparently there is strong recruitment from a society that can be called "Youth Peasants of Nidaros", from the society Juvente (youth I.O.G.T.) and from Ringve High School.

But this epoch is primarily Soria Moria's "Glory Days". They create at least one larp each year, most of these in the gradually more and more complex and solid universe of "Allfirda". Extended plots stretch across many larps of varying length and size: "Riddere på bærtur" I (98) and II (99) are minor one night walks from A to B that serve as interludes or prologues to extended weekend-larps such as "Hvit som sne" and "av jord er du kommet". The latter is the culmination of many of the key-plots in Soria Moria's 'main-adventure'. During this epoch they also found the commercial group "Interaktive Opplevelser AS" that over the next years are one of the few commercial initiatives made by Norwegian larpers.

An important aspect of this epoch is the formation of two other groups both creating larps in the same universe as Soria Moria. Arcadia is formed in 1996 or 1997 and the basis is the work Tim Torvatn has done with others in preceding years. A couple of their larps are played under the "Allfirda"-umbrella, but the group eventually disassociates from this and develop their own universe, eventually known as "Clarion". The other group - Sleipner - is formed in 1997 directly upon one of the elements in Soria Moria's universe - "Allfirda's" neighbouring country "Vestervær". All of the four original members in Sleipner (Hans Petter Stav, Espen Stenberg, Morten Espeland and the author) had worked with Soria Moria as SiS and 'helpers' for some of their earlier larps. All in all Sleipner creates four larps, before it is disbanded in 2001. Espeland left the group in 1999, Stav left in 2001. They are replaced by Ole Ingvar Stene, Martin Fjeldvær and Roy W. Andresen (in 2000). These three will later become part of the group "Valley of the Shadows".

There are other groups creating larps in this epoch, but until 2000, none of these develop their larps further as does the three key-groups: Soria Moria, Arcadia and Sleipner. The group behind the so-called 'Lyngbråthen'-larps does make two larps, but they did not continue beyond this.

Epoch 3 (2000 - present day) "Ice-cold waves" and traditions

Following 1995, 2000 is the next milestone in Trondheimian larp-history. No other year sees more events and there is a flourishing of new groups that proves to be both proficient and lasting.

The first half of 2000 is signified by the "Golden Age" of the foundations laid down in the preceding years: Arcadia has its 'double feature' ("Montrose Hall/Stridens Eple") and Soria Moria demonstrates 'staying power' with "Frist til Elddag". The fact that both these groups are still active in 2000, and now at the end of 2004, speak volumes of their combined importance and significance.

2000 is also the year in which new groups make them selves known: The first is Gimsan (a bunch of friends from Melhus about 20 kms south of Trondheim) whose first larp is "Tårnet på Grensevoll". All members of this group had been to Sleipner and Soria Moria larps both as SiS and as regular players. As such they can be counted as the 'heirs' to these two groups. But Gimsan had the creative strength to make their own universe and their larps with a distinct style of their own - even if they remained within the low fantasy genre.

Between 1994 (Soria Moria's "Karl Rosenquists siste vilje" - 1920s Murder Mystery) and the last half of 2000 ("Frist til Elddag" in August/September 2000), virtually every larp in Trøndelag is within the fantasy genre. So when the larp "Kalde Brenninger" happens in October 2000, it becomes a new milestone. The larp is created by the newly founded group DecaDance, formed by two 'defected' members of Arcadia (Heidi C. Brimi and Helge Lund Kolstad - the latter also veteran of the Oslo-based "Claws of the Night"-larps) and by sundry other 'veterans' from "Brytningstid" in 1995 (Gudmund and Sunniva Saksvik). "Kalde Brenninger" is different both in setting (present day horror/thriller) and in format. Up till now, larps in Trøndelag has had from ca. 25 participants and upwards. For "KB", DecaDance sets an upwards limit at 16 participants.

After the second run of this larp, it ironically turns out that KB (unintentionally) had several features in common with Soria Moria's "Selbu-games" (1993):

  • both were 'horror-flavoured' present day larps
  • both had a rather small group of participants
  • both were rather claustrophobic larps in as much as they were held in a rather small geographical area
  • both swore the participants to silence with regards to contents of the larps, as there were plans for several runs of the same larps

2000 is the last great year of travelling for the Trondheimians. The Oslo-based larp "Elegi" is visited by a fairly large contingent, but after this trip, Trondheimians stop going in large groups to larps together. 2000 comes to an end with what will become Sleipner's 'swansong' "Allfarnatt" and eventually with Arcadia's claustrophobic "Lys under fjell".

DecaDance has their second run of "Kalde brenninger" in 2001, and from these two larps they find a particular style that becomes their own: The keys to DecaDance's larps are horror/thrillers with effects based upon creativity in the usage of light-effects, but especially sound-effects. During their five years DecaDance has proven that they are Trondheim's most distinct group in the way they have broken away from the Soria Moria-based traditions and found their own style in which they create horror-, fantasy- and (once) historical larps.

The years between 2000 and now are signified by a greater variety than previous years. The larp-scene in Trondheim has become the basis for a number of new groups. Groups such as Dreary Kirky (mostly playing Vampire-games), Dingo Frappe (also primarily Vampire), "De Uavhengige", Lou's Tavern and The Inderøy-group has created one larp each. They are all made up of known 'veterans' in Trondheim, among them are: Torgrim Husvik, Helle Buvik (currently Arcadia), Solveig Stokkeland, Jean Caquet, Lynne Vermuth and Karianne Grøningsæther.

During 2001-2004, Soria Moria's 'production' slowed down a bit, they 'only' create two larps. Arcadia as such is also 'slowed', but this is only apparent, as the group's members are engaged in both "BL4" and "Delta 5" - both of which are present-day larps with SF-elements. Ever since "Brytningstid", the members of Soria Moria have been the same, and still remains so. Arcadia has had some changes, but both Tim and Anne Torvatn must be counted as members throughout all Arcadia-larps. Sleipner is 'closed down' in 2001, while working on the 'madhouse'-larp "Stemmen i hodet", but three of the group's members join in the founding of what will eventually become 'The New Major Group' in Trondheim: "Skyggenes Dal".

Skyggenes Dal create their own dark fantasy-styled 'universe' - Eiron (and surroundings). Their proclaimed position is "Dark Fantasy with horror-elements". But their (so far) three larps has demonstrated that they are heirs to the tradition that both Soria Moria, Arcadia, Sleipner and Gimsan are part of: Serial larps in with varying length and size set in a low-/dark- fantasy world.

Gimsan is currently inactive; if they will be disbanded remains to be seen. The group ran their so far last larp in 2002 ("Tussmørke") - and they are sorely missed. Unfortunately many of their number have left the 'scene', with Gaute Ludvigsen as the exception.

So how are things currently with regards to 'after-growth' and future greatness in Trondheim? Today's leading groups are (in random order): Arcadia, Skyggenes Dal, DecaDance and Soria Moria. All these have (to various degrees) concrete plans for future larps.

Three new groups are currently active with plans for larps:

  • Lou's Tavern Last year they ran the Mafia-larp "La Famiglia" and they are currently working on a new larp - "La Nozze". Their main focus is mafia-larps with distinct inspirations from the "Godfather"-trilogy. Lou's Tavern represent the newest generation of Trondheimian larpers: Maja H. Kvendseth, Arild Sørheim, Espen Kulseth, Kine E. H. Kvendseth and Lasse F. Wold.
  • Violent Femmes This group will run their first larp on March 5th., called "Dødsfallet på Hembre Gård". The group is special in so much as it consists of females only and that they are a good mix of veterans (Wenche Wolther) and 'rookies' (Ingrid G. Aune) among others.
  • Star Wars 5 1/2 This is a group that has been working on their project for a year already. Their plan is to host the larp "En etterlengtet avtale", set in the classical Space-opera setting of the Star Wars-movies. As Violent Femmes they consist of a mix of veterans and rookies, and they are (so far as I know) men only.

In mid-November 2004 a groups associated with HexCon ran the '7th Sea'-based larp "Prince Villanova's Great Ball". To me this larp represented a strange echo of what happened in 1990: "Gatecrashers". The two larps are so similar it was stunning; quit strict game-mechanics, 'High-society'-partying among nobles in a fantasy-world and an ENDLESS amount of plots and intrigue. With this larp, the circle is complete, and I wonder - do we start again on the same circle, or will Trondheimians break free into a new direction?

Part II - Distinctive features of the Trondheim-scene

When it comes to content and genre, (low) fantasy is more or less the only genre in which larps are played in Trondheim. Of roughly 70 different events created and played in Trøndelag from 1989 till the present day, 59 (85%) are pure fantasy. This fact has made Trondheimian larp more or less synonymous with fantasy. All recruitment to the scene has happened on this basis, and the 'image' of Trondheimian larp in the rest of Norway is also distinctly fantasy.

The other main feature of Trondheimian larp is its tendency towards serial larps. Trondheimians are usually so happy with one experience, that they want to repeat it more or less the same way over and over again. Usually plans for sequels to any given larp pop up fairly quickly after any given event. More than half of all larps created and played in Trondheim are part of a series of larps. The longest running one is Soria Moria's Allfirda-series. If you count Sleipner's four larps in Vestervær, there has been more than 20 larps (big and small) within the Allfirda-context. Of Arcadia's total 'output', of roughly 15 larps (depending upon how you count them), more than 2/3 is linked somehow to their Clarion-setting. When you consider the fact that both Gimsan and Skyggenes Dal has run serial larps, the image of Trøndelag as the 'home of serial larping' is complete.

Practical creation of larp in Trøndelag still follows more or less the formula crated by Soria Moria and their helpers over the years 1993-1995. It is as follows: A nucleus of organisers (usually about 4 to 6 people) write out most of the setting, most of the characters and most of the planned events at the larp. They also find locations for the larp, and create or obtain houses, tents and other necessities. A lot of this work is in close interaction with the players, but it is lead by the nucleus of organisers. The nucleus then obtains the help of 'gophers' to work as labourers, SiS and general help during the larp. The appearance of new people and the exchange of people between the different groups in Trondheim resembles that which happens in any underground pop-/rock-music scene; great and small groups have their breakthroughs, they have or loose popularity, and people come and go between the groups.

A strong focus upon all energy being geared at larp-making as opposed to theoretical discourse regarding larp is also a feature of the Trondheim scene. This attitude may be linked to the scenes strong opposition towards formal organisations. Apart from the short-lived attempt at 'clubbing up' the scene with 1030-TRLK in 1990-1992 and the more recent organisation "Landsbyen", larp has not been perceived as a membership-required activity in Trondheim. "Landsbyen" is not a 'club for larp' as such, as it has a more specified and distinct objective: To build and run a permanent facility for larping.

Over the years a number of different standards has developed within the scene. Primarily this is game-mechanics, such as rules for poisoning, for combat and for interrupting the game in various ways, but there has also come about standardised solutions to practical issues. The reason for a gradually dominant technique and approach can be traced to Trondheimian larp's 'pedigree'. This is a fairly direct line between present day larpers and the 'pioneers' of the late '80s'. Fig 1. "Trondheimian pedigree" gives a very simplified presentation of how the different groups has been standing upon each others shoulders to various degrees. The older groups and the more experienced people teach the younger ones by taking them on as 'helpers'.

Socially the scene is open and inclusive in the sense that it welcomes new people heartily and considers them 'larpers' from Day 1. Whether or not the scene is actually hard to 'break into' is something I shall not comment upon, as I have been in this scene from the time when we were all rookies…

What has inspired larp in Trondheim?

Style and partly content of larps in Trøndelag has been fairly static over the years. This may cause the question to arise: Are they at all able to be inspired from the outside? They (we) are! The scene is quite protective about their own traditions and their own 'inventions', but at the same time the scene has been both willing and able to learn from others, and to be inspired by what others have created.

In the beginning the most important source of inspiration was table-top role-playing games such as AD&D, Warhammer Fantasy RPG and Call of Chthulhu. Literature within the same genres was also inspirational to the Trondheimians. During these first days (1989 - 1995) there was a growing tendency among table-top role-playing gamers in Trondheim to discard and/or simplify complex and mechanic rules from the ready-made games in favour of the good experience and the good adventure. Gradually this forced an even stronger desire to experience things 'for real' and larp was 're-discovered'. This last fact should actually be considcered the main impetus for why larping began in Trondheim. There is a clear example of these long lines of inspiration from board-games in the fact that two of the major deities in Soria Moria's universe "Allfirda" have their origins in the Role-playing game Mega (1987). Mega was written and published in England, and many Norwegians (e.g. Petter Bøchmann) took part in its creation.

Over the first five years, Trondheimians travelled a lot and visited scenes elsewhere in Norway and abroad. From these travels useful elements were collected, brought home and 'refined' to fit the Trondheimians. Examples of such import are:

  • The alphabet 'dulin'. This was 'borrowed' from the Swedish group 'Ett Glas' after their great larp 'Trenne Byar' and used by Soria Moria as the written lingua franca in Allfirda.
  • The rule of 'Cut!' and a stricter demand upon 'staying in character' may be called imports from Ravn in Oslo.
  • A gradually growing interest in living history and re-enactment, both in it's own right, but also for larp-purposes stem from our visit to Skien and GSRF's larp 'Skidan 1319', but also from organised activities in later years.

From the mid 1990s the scene had an influx of new members that came from other backgrounds than table-top gaming. A significant number of these were females. People from amateur- and semi-professional theatre and graduates from Skiringsal Community High School that had larp as one of its courses brought new thoughts of dramatics to the scene, as well as increased quality and focus upon costumes and other props. In 1997 Trondheim celebrated its millennial anniversary, and many members of the larp-scene took part in various pageants and other events. This may have inspired them somewhat when it came to larp, but the jubilee is primarily the source of Trondheim's growing living-history-scene. Trondheimian larp's most obvious gain from this event is a stronger 'historical' component, which led to stricter demands upon costumes and props.

Various forms of media have no doubt served as sources of inspiration for Trondheimians, as they have for other larpers around the world. Ever since 2000 the sources of inspiration for Trondheimians have been manifold. The Internet has been used cleverly and keenly by Trondheimian, both as a tool for larp-promotion and development. A great many movies is bound to have inspired Trondheimians, particularly the LOTR-trilogy, but I guess that is a world-wide phenomena.

Trondheimians has not been prejudiced when it comes to inspiration from others that would fit their own ambitions. All valid and good hints and tips given or obtained from various sources has been implemented and made part of 'our thing'. The downside of this beautiful picture is the scene's lacking ability to develop beyond the two major genres; fantasy and horror/thriller. Trondheim has for instance seen only a single attempt at crating a historical larp. Given the flourishing scene of re-enactors and 'living-history'-buffs in Trondheim this is paradoxical. The reason may be Trondheimian's tendency to view living-history as a more "serious" thing and the fact that the historical scene has a number of members with no (current) interest in larp. Furthermore - Trondheimians has retained a view of larp as primarily a form of entertainment and experience, something that has made the scene of little interest to people in Trondheim of more artistic inclinations that might otherwise have been drawn to larp.

But these Trondheimians seem to be fairly happy in their larping, and it would seem as if "Why fix it if it isn't broke?" is the watchword.