16 July, 2014

A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 2)

It took a while to find the old lexicon of 'East Coast Australian Gaming Terms', because a few of the old links were dead. Finally, I managed to find a copy of it that still exists (http://gamingknack.blogspot.com/2011/06/australian-convention-roleplaying.html).The 'formal' definition of a freeform according to this lexicon is...

Theatrical roleplaying events in which a large number (up to two hundred and fifty!) roleplayers simultaneously interact in a single area with minimal plot or gm intervention. In a freeform, one assumes a character and goes for broke!
Freeforms are characterised by a low GM to player ratio and by a large degree of player independence - participants being free to characterise, plot, scheme or generally wheel and deal according to simple character sheets or game mechanics. Freeforms may or may not be driven by external plot events.
Freeforms are an Australian invention. The world's first freeform was run by Peter Quinton at Octocon in Canberra, October 1982. The next was run at Cancon '83 and involved nearly 150 players.

It basically matches what I've described so far. There are plenty of other useful insights to the game convention scene of the era when browsing through the various definitions in this list.

But for the moment...back to the G+ discussion.

Lizzie Stark
Costumes or no costumes?

Michael Wenman
Costumes not essential, but are common. In some cases, costumes will be 'thoroughly recommended' by the writer, and if characters haven't been pre-distributed then primary characters will often be allocated to players in appropriate costuming. It's one of those grey areas, with a lot of unwritten meta-etiquette. When characters are pre-distributed (days before the event), primary characters are often given to those players who have previously shown their acting prowess, their costuming prowess, or their skills at social manipulation. 

Sometimes a writer will specifically write a character for a specific player. It is only rarely in a freeform that a player gets to write their own character.

Lizzie Stark
This is interesting, because I've been talking to another member of the Australian freeform scene who has a completely different take--she says her scene is mostly people of 8 or less in one classroom with a GM and no costuming.

I'm wondering if this is because there is slippage between "systemless" and "freeform."

Michael Wenman
Quite possibly...and I will clarify that Sydney Freeform and Melbourne freeform have diverged over the years.

Michael Wenman
As a follow up, the American "freeform" term has crept into the Australian RPG vernacular, and this has confused issues further.

John Stavropoulos
+Michael Wenman, what parts of Australia do you feel gaming is most popular? Especially freeform? Melbourne?

Michael Wenman
That's a tough one, +John Stavropoulos. Both Sydney and Melbourne have strong convention scenes, but I know that Sydney suffered a bad run about a decade ago and has been gradually building back numbers since then. Brisbane saw Gencon Oz for a couple of years (08-09) and has a thriving community, most other major cities have game stores that I'm aware of. Melbourne now has PAX AUS, and thus probably the largest convention in the country, but the battle of prestige and heritage will always be a struggle between Sydney and Melbourne. Both cities claim the origins of Australian Freeforming as a style of play, and I know people involved in it's earliest days from both cities. 

Basically ideas evolved in parallel, and with journeying between cities cross-fertilisation occurred. Canberra seems to draw on traditions from both cities.

My thoughts at this point start to wonder about this person who has been giving Lizzie a very different opinion about the term 'Australian Freeform'. This basically leads to the part where I crowdsource ideas among the 'RPG Opinions' group on Facebook. A group which is populated by a lot of individuals I know from local conventions here in Sydney (Players, GMs, Writers, Convention Organisers) as well as similar types from Canberra, Melbourne, and around the world. The next post in this series will expand on the discussion and further information gathered in that group. 

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