16 July, 2014

A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 3)

There are some great freeform writers in Australia, but generally a writer will consider their work to be a piece of art, something that they like to keep under their control. This is an overgeneralisation, but it might help explain why there is so little information about Australian Freeforms on the internet. The work is often kept close to the writer's chest, and in a little bit of ego sensitivity a lot of writers feel that their work might not be done justice when they aren't present to shepherd the results. It also doesn't help that a lot of freeforms are written with ad hoc notes and marginalia through the text offering suggestions on how the event might be run best.

An often cited resource for Australian Freeforms is a set of minutes from a seminar held in 1995 at the Necronomicon Convention. The first set of links I had to those minutes is dead, but this seems to be a new set of those notes (possibly posted by the Jacinta who is currently the 'writer wrangler' for Canberra's Phenomenon convention). This document is one of the most formal pieces of writing on the topic that I'm aware of, involving some of the most influential figures involved in the style of play at the time. This is where I derive a lot of my ideas from.

But now for the Facebook discussion, involving several current figures at work in Australian Freeform. All comments have been directly transcribed to avoid paraphrasing or claims that I might be filtering these opinions through my own lens...

Michael Wenman
I'm having a fascinating discussion about Australian Freeforming over on G+ with someone from overseas who is fascinated by the genre.

She has informed me that an Australian has said...

"Her scene is mostly people of 8 or less in one classroom with a GM and no costuming."

Personally, that sounds like the American description of freeform/systemless play, not "Australian Freeform".

What do you think?

Nick Matthews
Some Freeforms can be that small, but personally the ones I have been part of have had costuming, 15-30 players, and 1-3 GMs.

Austin Dark
perhaps there is a communication? is she referring to "who's line is it any way" - theater sports? are you on the same page as far as the definition of free-forming/ free form role-playing?

Paul Stephenson
That sounds to me as "multiform"-ing. Which, in my experience was a kind of half-way point between tabletop and freeform.

Darren Crosbie
Our melbourne group runs a number of freeforms/larps and we've got a gen x freeform at 45+ players.

Michael Wenman
The specific query was regarding the "Australian Freeform" genre of roleplaying, which basically fits the description Nick Matthews indicated. As far as I was aware, anything below 12-15 players starts fitting into the "multiform" category.

Nick Matthews
Also, she has only provided one data point. Not on G+, not really interested in it. Pretty sure you could manage a 10 or less freeform, just as some can manage a 10 or more tabletop. It's more to me about the spirit of the game. It depends on the spirit and intent. In most cases, even if it's 20 people all in costume, if all they're doing is sitting around a table and asking questions to the GM, it's still a tabletop.

Matthew Chalmers
We have done a few five player LARPs. Similarly, I was trying not to get overwhelmed by a 28 player Tabletop campaign. It is a format.

Michael Wenman
At this stage, I've described a freeform as a storytelling ecosystem with GMs acting as facilitators rather than storytellers, costumes are optional, the narrative generally unfolds through social politics, and there is rarely a formal system of conflict resolution beyond GM adjudication.

Mike Walker
Defining freeform vs multiform vs LARP vs tabletop is difficult, as there are no clear cut defintions already in place.  I like Nick's defintion though.  What country is she from?

Michael Wenman
The quoted description in inverted commas in the original post was apparently from an Australian.

Matthew Chalmers
But Freeform and Tabletop aren't mutually exclusive. Multiform seems to be the odd one out because it describes a LARP/Tabletop hybrid. Freeform's counterpart seems to be "System".

Or maybe I don't understand the definition of Freeform.

Nick Matthews
Also worth defining: We are not the be all and end all of Australian Gaming, we can only really speak for freeforms in the context that we've played them. And I am personally okay with not being hard and fast about definitions, I think Intent is most important.

Mike Walker
There are Camarilla chapters in the US, and I've also recently run a US written LARP, which seem to be like the ones we have here.  I've played in one LARP at GenCon in the US, which seemed to have very few of them, and it was like one of our poorly written ones, though players had told me they had better expcerince (sic) with the format at other cons.

Michael Wenman
Very true. I guess I'm trying to define the core shorthand of the concept. Every 'freeform' will orbit around this core concept, some closer to others and some drifting toward other definitions... I agree that placing boundaries on RPG descriptions is tricky (consider the furore over the definition of "story-games" or "narrativism"), but with a shorthand, we can at least get on the same page and deviate our conversations from there.

Kieran Sparksman
The "Multiform" we had in Sydney was 60+ player with tabletops and wargames interspersed with freeform sessions, and I feel that this describes that term better than Wikipedia's uncited definition.

I disagree with the idea that the midpoint between a tabletop and a freeform is a "multiform" based purely from numbers. A freeform is freed of form, systemless or system-light. It's often enacted, though can be not, and can run with a small number of players (see a heap of the Short Sharp Shocks Necro used to have, or Myths Over Miami).

Hell, even the Acanacon website talks of teams or subgames as part of multiforms (though it specifies that as non-crucial).

Freeform: Freed of form, often created in defiance of systematization or where mechanics become unwieldy (such as large numbers of players or badly written rulesets).
Multiform: Embraces multiple forms of play. Can include team play, subsets or multiple sessions, etc.

Sounds to me that the original Australian is going diceless or systemless, possibly freeform, depending upon the intent, interactions of participants, etc. If there are sessions which are freeform and some which aren't it may be multiforming.

It all comes down to what she wants to call it, but if it didn't originate in Australia, probably not an Australian freeform.

Mark Ashcroft
I've seen this conversation a couple of time's a year almost since I started gaming. It has never come to a firm conclusion. Australian freeforms seem to be a 'you know it when you see it' thing.

...and there lies the essence of the problem, here in Australia we've been experimenting with different styles of play and methods to achieve immersion through play for decades. Some of those experimentations might be considered 'freeform', others not so much. Trying to explain these concepts is tricky.

Next, we watch the discussion move toward similar terms in the vicinity of 'freeform', and how they can be just as nebulous and vague in their definitions.
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