A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 4)

Having studied linguistics, I fully understand that language is an evolving construct. What might have a certain meaning at one time or in one context might take on a new meaning in a new context, or might develop into a new form as time passes. My understanding of the term "Australian Freeform" is anchored in the east cost Australian convention scene of the mid 1990s, I didn't know of it as "Australian Freeforming" at the time, is was just "Freeform"... It was only in contact with the American form of "freeform" gaming that I even realises that this was a roleplaying artform specific to the game conventions of Australia's east coast. Sure, there are a number of similar game types around the world now (larger "jeep-forms" may fit this mould, as may the form known in some circles as "theatre-form"), there is probably quite a bit of overlap in these game forms, but I'm not familiar enough with the other to make a constructive criticism of the similarities and differences.

Back to the Facebook discussion...picking up where we left off.

Travis James Hall
Keiran, I'm not sure what you are referring to on the Arcanacon website. I don't recall that discussion of teams or subgames there (and I wrote most of the content on that subject for the Arc website).

With my org hat on for a minute, I can say that Arc has moved away from using "freeform" as a category of games because it is so vaguely defined, and because we have been getting more games that definitely weren't either freeforms or tabletops (and multiform was turning into a catch-all for "doesn't fit elsewhere"), but which often are LARPs. Freeforms are still mentioned under LARP, but that's basically to point out that if you're looking for a freeform, that's the category in which you'll find them.

As for the term "freeform" as in "Australian freeform" (and this is with my org hat off again)... It doesn't just refer to the game being systemless or nearly so. (We've always used "systemless" for that.) It's a particular style of game (which may not be actually systemless), characterised by the way characters interact and the story comes out (or doesn't), pre-gen characters with a fair bit of detail, only light guidance from the GMs, lack of boffing, and some other features. The definition is only loose, and it is that way because it developed within the community. It might once have referred to a game which is free of form and no more than that, but it evolved into something different long ago.

And putting on the org hat again, the fact that freeforms are not defined by being freeform in the lay definition is another part of why Arc has moved away from using it for classification. We dinosaurs who were there when freeforms were big (and I'll admit to being a latecomer) know a freeform when we see it, but that isn't useful to anyone outside of those circles.

And multiforms... Games which are a midpoint between freeforms and tabletops in terms of size - typically 7-11 players - tend to be multiforms, just because the approach of freeforms tends to break down below a certain minimum number of players (generally acknowledged to be about 12, but certain steps when writing can be taken to reduce that limit if you care to do that) and tabletop becomes similarly problematic above about 6 (though, again, there are ways to push higher), so you get games that draw on both forms to steal the techniques that work for that game - the true multiform. But that's not the only reason people run multiforms, and certainly some aren't in that 7-11 player region.

Keiran Sparksman
Here's the section on the Arcanacon website on Multiforms, which talks about the potential for teams and sub-games (though refers to them as freeforms in the second paragraph):

...and the section on Freeforms, which talks about freeforms being system light:

Where this is what I would argue is a great, practical example of a multiform, which ran for ~2 years (9 cycles), with 1 freeform, ~6 tabletops and an interminable number of 40k and Battlefleet games

I can definitively point to the above example and say that last link _was_ a multiform.

Travis James Hall
Ah, you're delving into the archives. There are reasons why that content isn't on the current incarnation of the site.

And yes, freeforms are system-light, but being system-light doesn't, by itself, make a game a freeform.

Travis James Hall
Also, something happened with categorisation of games at Arc... We started to get games submitted as freeforms that clearly fitted into the multiform category - things with a dozen players but divided up into sub-groups to allow GMs to more readily handle their heavier mechanics, or eight players and a GM-centric structure, and so on. And I'd ask the submitters why they were submitted as freeforms, and have them readily admit that they were more properly multiforms, but, they said, freeforms get more attention and draw more players.

So I stomped on a few of these people and put their events where they were supposed to be, but then I also went back to the committee and said, "We need categories with better definitions, because having writers try to game the system isn't helping the players find games they want to play, and too much of this is relying on my judgement calls." So we did that. Things still blur at the edges, but it's a lot easier to say whether something involves live-action play than whether it is a freeform.

Keiran Sparksman

Oh, I definitely agree on that last point, but I disagree that a multiform is based around player numbers and not multiple of forms of play.

I'd say this is probably a Sydney/Canberra divide, as James (who ran Unbound) was co-running Sydcon/Eyecon (but has stepped back from both), so heavily influenced local gamers.

But, my big question would be this:
If someone runs a Only War game, then uses 40k to resolve a few battles; or Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine; Heavy Gear tabletop then skirmish; a Houses of the Blooded/Blood and Tears game our any other game which switches between forms of play, why do you call it if not a multiform?

Travis James Hall
I didn't say that a multiform is based around player numbers. They are defined by the incorporation of multiple forms of play, or techniques drawn from multiple forms of play.

I'm saying that *some* multiforms were written as such because of the number of players they were intended to have, which the writers found was best to deal with in those particular cases by incorporating techniques from both tabletop and freeform play. It's not the defining feature of a multiform; it's just how the decision was made to write a multiform in certain cases.

And it is why we have seen quite a few multiforms in the 7-11 players range.

Keiran Sparksman
Oh, cool.

Sorry, still arguing against Michael assertion (prolly throw away) that under 12 players sides into multiform (which it can, but doesn't have to).

I feel like we should update Wikipedia at this point.

We now return you to your initially scheduled debate around what freeforms are, and how Australian styles differ from U.S. and European (and stuff like Jeepform - good luck with that).

Travis James Hall
Well, as you drop below 12 players, you do tend to slide into multiform. You usually have to, in order to make it work. But there have been exceptions, and not all multiforms are a result of that drop in player numbers.

So Michael's accurately describing the way things generally pan out, but it isn't definitional.

Keiran Sparksman
I realized something:

Freeforms often put the onus for resolving conflicts back on to the players.

While LARPs sort of assume that a GM is nearby to facilitate/mediate conflict.

Is that a possible point of definition around a transitive point?

Stuart Barrow
It sounds like what we describe as "systemless" has acquired the American descriptor "Australian freeform", possibly in contrast to an American freeform style. I find the technical distinctions interesting, but it's also worth remembering that there are general rules of thumb: you'll probably be sitting down for a tabletop, standing up for a freeform, and doing something slightly different for a multiform. "Systemless" is a catch-all for

Stuart Barrow
Stupid phone. "Systemless" in this schema is a catch-all for "no commercial system" and can include any number of resolution mechanisms (which tends to bother the linguistic purists).

Michael Wenman

Hey, I'm all for healthy debate. I agree that a multiform is better defined by the method of resolution involving different methods of play (live action, tabletop, miniatures, 'diplomacy'-styled boardgames)...my assertion of 12 players was more constrained by the mid to late 90s convention scene when I first encountered the term. Most 'Multiforms' of the time (at conventions) involved two to three 'five player teams', and resolved their story through a combination of tabletop and live play. 

Personally, at home, most games I was running at the time had 8 to 10 players and involved a combination of play styles. But this was just "home play", I only ever associated freeform and multiform with the convention circuit or special events.

Stuart Barrow
I totally framed a question as a statement. Michael: does your discussion include an American freeform style? I'm curious as to what that might look like.

Michael Wenman
From what I've gathered so far, 'American Freeform'-style is traditionally actually a semi-derogatory term indicating a game that has broken free of it's structure and has lost the control of it's GM.

Stuart Barrow

Ivan Neville

It's pretty simple.

Tabletop games are your classic sit-about-and-make-a-storygame. This can be as iconic as D&D, or as indie as Dread or FATE. You don't need a tabletop, but the term is handy.

LARP covers both boffer-style contact battle games and also non-contact interactive games (like Camarilla or Nordic games). That creates confusion.

Traditionally, Australians have different names for these two styles of larp. We call any non-contact LARP a freeform, pretty much. That's what freeform basically represents; non-contact larp.

We USED to call boffer games LRP(Live RolePlaying) but we now tend to follow the rest of the world and add the "a".

To read more on freeforms, check out The Freeform Book by Morgana Cowling (it has dated immensely and relies too much on a d20 for saving throws for my taste).http://www.amazon.co.uk/THE-FREEFORM-BOOK-MORGANA-COWLING/dp/B003LM07L6

Travis James Hall
There's also "social LARP" and "combat LARP", which are really a more transparent system of labels than "freeform" vs "LRP".

Liz Argall
Lizzie Stark - this might interest you :-)

Which curiously brings us full circle...

Liz Argall
Also, of interest, the person was me, trying to explain stuff!... it gets really hard when people have different scaffolding and trying to build on something that has a shared sense and approach. Esp when people's eyes glaze over around terminology (especially when terminology isn't the hard rigid thing people want) and get past that to discussing the games and experience and approach (and those who know me know exactly the sort of story telling modes and approaches I'm passionate about). It's exhausting living in America where there just isn't the same roleplaying convention scene and Scandanavian stuff at least has a bit more in common with us.

All in all, the discussion talks around the points, but doesn't specifically define "Australian Freeform". Lots of people have great ideas for what it isn't...the true nature of the beast lies somewhere in what remains behind when these elements are taken away.

Maybe I should work my way through designing a freeform as an online exercise.


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