Allegoric play   Bird-in-ear   Bleed   Character   Character pool   Co-Game Master   Contextualisation   Fast forward   Fate play   Fiat as a means of opression/abuse   Freeform   Gamemaster or Driver GM   Hypertext Scene Jumps   Insides and outsides   Immersion   Jeepform   Everyday drama   Lead characters   Main characters and extras   Meta information   Meta discussion   Meta play   Metaphoric play   Olle Jonsson lists   Monologue   Patch-work Story   Play for Show   Player   Player freedom   Player goals   Rail-Roading   Repetition   Resolving action situations in freeform games   Shared vision   Sitting and standing play   The six months rule   Superman system   Solo scenes   Swarm of Players   Symbolic props   Telegraphing   Transparency   Triangulation lists   Voice over  


Please observe that the lists below are NOT manifestos. They may be thought of as de-facto jeep tradition, or they may be thought of as guidelines. They are good for making decisions, either agreeing or disagreeing with points. In some sense, they loosely describe Jeepform, the kind of freeform role-play at the heart of Vi åker Jeep's games. Further down, we include a dictionary of terms used and some techniques.

Jeep Truths

for Gamewrights and Game Masters

  1. Restrictions foster creativity.
  2. You basically cannot go wrong by letting people succeed (which doesn't necessitate doing so).
  3. You should always have a message or premise. If you ask yourself "What is this game about?" and find yourself answering with long description of how you think it will be played — think again.
  4. Setting does not make up for story. Assume that you are the only one that thinks your setting is cool.
  5. Assume your players can handle difficult form.
  6. Assume your players can understand complex stories.
  7. Assume your players are interested and motivated to do the best possible thing with your game.
  8. A game that stinks should be ended quickly, and then discussed.
  9. A story can often benefit from having less lead characters than actual characters. There is no rule that says everyone should have equal direct impact on the story or equal screen-time.
  10. Shorter games are often better than longer; it is okay to end a game after three hours (or less), even if you've, publicly, estimated the time to six.
  11. Always make sure that the players know what they are playing, and where the story should be going.
  12. A game can be played several times with the same players playing the same characters.
  13. Keeping player number low and keeping players close together, such as in the same room, enables you to do cooler things with the form, helps keeping a unified vision and facilitates telegraphing.
  14. The most important purpose of a story is to facilitate player interaction.
  15. Don't be afraid of patch-work stories.

The Jeepform Piece of the Cake

  1. How you tell the story is as important as the story itself.
  2. Form should be tailored to the telling of the story at hand.
  3. Form should support good flow with few interruptions.
  4. Rules for deciding outcomes of actions, etc. are allowed only in correspondance with item no. 3, but should generally not be needed.
  5. Focus is on the story, which takes precedence over both total immersion and play-for-show.
  6. Transparency is important to facilitate collaborative play -- there should basically not be any secrets. For this reason, and others, split party is banned.
  7. The meta play is as important to the game as the actual play.
  8. Meta discussions and meta information are banned to the largest possible extent unless they are a deliberate part of the meta play to affect the actual play.
  9. The existance of characters is almost mandatory; characters and story should be made to support each other.
  10. Character ownership is optional; a character can be played by more than one player.
  11. Role monogamy is optional; a player can have more than one character.
  12. The inner thoughts and feelings of the characters should preferably be expressed in the play using appropriate techniques.
  13. More than one game master is generally a good idea, especially in the precense of complex form. Game masters should preferably not be players also.
  14. A high degree of player freedom is desirable.
  15. Actual props and well-prepped gaming locations are generally bad things as they become obstacles to the immersion (what am I allowed to do with this prop?) and constrain the game to move outside of the prepped location (which is sometimes desirable).
  16. That a game is not a rail-road is not an excuse for a lousy story.
  17. The most important aspect of a story is how it affects the characters in it, not whether the characters manage to save the world in the end.
  18. Everyday drama is more interesting than epic drama.
  19. There are very few situations where the Game master should be playing the extras. Extras are good. Non-player characters are not.
  20. "Breaking" any of the "rules" above is only allowed in order to make a point.

"The Dictionary"

The following is an attempt at jotting down some techniques that we've invented/stolen/loved/hated/... over the years. We originally wrote them down post Solmukohta 2004 to explain freeform and jeepform to a Nordic larp crowd. We found that giving names to things was a powerful tool as it allowed us to talk about things by monikers rather than lengthy explanations, and sorting out what was part of a technique and what was not. Please don't hesitate to email if something is great/crazy/missing/unclear etc. We've been in the processes of updating this dictionary for the last 2 years (2009), but things are moving slowly.

Allegoric play

(Syn: Metaphoric play) Allegoric play is just as the name suggests, expressing parts of the story through allegories, playing a metaphor of something instead of the actual thing.

Allegoric play can be used for an entire game, as well as for one track of a story or and individual scene. An illustrating example, that might not be very inspiring, is playing WWII as a tea party (Mrs. America arrived late). More subtle, less tounge-in-cheek uses are of course possible. Unless the underpinnings of the scene are very good, telling your players that they are playing a metaphor for something (and what this something is) is generally a good idea. Interpreting allegoric play is generally harder, but generally, the different interpretations are non-conflicing and compatible.


Bird-in-ear is a telegraphing technique used to convey information to a single player's character and all players. As we prefer transparency to keeping secrets, there is generally no need to whisper -- rather let other players notice that you are using the technique and more importantly, let them listen in on what you are saying.

The key thing about the bird-in-ear technique is to give all input as thoughts of the character in first-person or monologue. You might say that the game master takes over the character for a short while, but does not perform any direct actions. Bird-in-ear is preferable to direct instructions, not only because this is usually disliked and against the idea of collaborative storytelling, but also because first-person thought etc. can easily be interpreted to fit the player's own perception of the character, which is a good thing for the obvious reasons.

Example: Four persons are sitting in a car. No-one knows the any of the others. Rolf, in the back seat, is taking a liking to Ulrika in the front seat, on the passenger side. Rolf's player does not know this yet, though.

To telegraph this to Rolf's player, the game master will stand beside him and give a short voice over, in the form of an inner monologue: "That girl looks really nice. I loved the way she introduced herself before. Looking straight into the eyes. I like that. What was her name again? Damn!"

This gives Rolf a nice vector to play to. Naturally, the game masters tone of voice etc. are additional tools here. If the game master's inner monologue is stuttering, insecure, then that will be adopted by Rolf's player most likely. As Ulrika's player will also hear this, she will be better equiped to interact with Rolf.

Bird-in-ear can also be used to give information to many players:

Four persons are walking through a dark forest. Suddenly, the game master cries out: "What was that?!"

Key thing again is giving input that is not outside the game. It is clear that this is probably a reaction from one of the players. However, it is not clear who hears this sound, or sees something, etc. The "functional information" is there to be (mis)interpreted which is a good thing. The player best equipped to be scared etc. here is likely to pick it up. Let the player's decide themselves -- your mission as game master is generally just to cue the event, not to go into the details of playing it out.


Bleed is experienced by a player when her thoghts and feelings are influenced by those of her character, or vice versa. With increasing bleed, the border between player and character becomes more and more transparent. It makes sense to think of the degree of bleed as a measure of how separated different levels of play (actual/inner/meta) are.

Bleed is instrumental for horror role-playing: It is often harder to scare the player through the character than the other way around. An overt secluded dice roll against a player's perception stat is likely to make the character more catious.

A classic example of bleed is when a player's affection for another player carries over into the game or influences her character's perception of the other's character.

Many jeep games rely on bleed either to influence player's actions or to achieve higher purposes in the premise. For example, Fat man down uses bleed to encourage the players to reflect over society's treatment of fat people. Playing Doubt close to home regularly causes bleed as a consequence of using own experiences in the game and re-living relationship situations or reflecting on relationships. Sometimes, the entire purpose of a game is to create bleed.


(Syn: role.) As opposed to player. The difference is crucial.

The character is a role in the game. Characters can be anything from inanimate objects to complex teenagers and their description can be anything from a video tape to a dull designed name tag to an entire book. The character is there to give an interesting set of limitations to a player and to give a frame of reference for interpreting the game.

Interesting Set of Limitations

If you don't have a character at all you usually create one on the fly as you play. Why? Because that is how we work. There has to be some sort of character to make the game meaningful. If you are free to interpret any situation however you want and respond to any situation however you want, the game is most likely going to be bad at best. Playing the accountant who little by little overcomes his fears of being lost in space is what makes us tick. Character development is one of these good things, and this has nothing to do with gathering experience points, levels or d6's of henchmen.

Frame of Reference for Interpreting the Game

A good character is possible to identify with. This goes hand in hand with how it is communicated.

Characters are our means of interpreting the game. If you play the accountant above, you are likely to interpret my being in space differently than if you were playing Darth Vader (but what do we know?). If you want to play a good horror game, you need to have characters that are good means of being scared through.

Character pool

A character pool is body of characters not owned by any single player.

Example: A game is set in a hotel. All the guests and personnel are written up and placed in a character pool. Whenever the Lonely Lady in Room 4 appears on the scene, someone takes that character from the pool and plays her. In another scene, someone else will play the Lonely Lady, trying to bring continuation to the previous players' interpretations of her.

Depending on the game, players can be free to introduce characters from the pool in any scene etc.

The key insight here is that multiple peoples' input on how a character is played is generally better than one. Also, this forces people to pay attention to each other's playing of extras.

Is perfectly combinable with character ownership, and main characters and extras. In the above example, only the hotel guests and personnel might be placed in the character pool -- in addition to these, every player might have a character of her own that does not belong to the pool, e.g., the investigators showing up at the hotel or something or other.

Co-Game Master

The Co-Game Master is a Jeep pattern for working with two game masters. We have been working a lot with two gamemasters. This is a good strategy for many reasons. Especially if you, as we do, buy into the theory that one of the most important reasons to have a game master is that his/her presence legitimises the players' play. (They have a fake authority that they use to OK the play. The informed audience that justifies putting up a play if you will.)

One form of collaboration as gamemasters that we've found ourselves using a lot is the Driver GM/Co-GM setup. The Driver game master has the overlook over the entire game, whereas the Co-gamemaster handles most of the direct interfacing with the players. She will be the bird-in-ear, be the one listening in on whispered conversations in far corners, be the one to put her hand on the door to telegraph it's being locked when the players try to open it etc. She will report back to the Driver to help her keep her overlook. By maintaining her position and not getting involved in portraying an extra character or giving input to someone, the Driver maintains a good overlook. Instead, the Co-GM will carry out the actions suggested by the Driver. There is no different status or anything between the two GM:s, just different work descriptions.


Contextualisation is the process of playing one main scene and then changing the context of, or giving the scene a new perspective by having other players playing a scene from the past, the future, or something else that have impact on the scene being played. The contextualisation scene should normally be short in order not to steal the attention from the main scene.

Contextualisation scenes is a wonderful way to give tension to a otherwise undramatic scene. For instance; a silent breakfast with two persons can be given enormous tension by playing a rape-scene from ten minutes later or a phone conversation from half an hour before with his mistress where he promises to break up with her today. Even though the breakfast is completely silent or he never breaks up with her, it is given drama by the surrounding scene.

Control over the conextualisation scenes can also be given to the players and let them invent scenes for the players of the main scene. The players will then temporarily cast themselves as the main scene caharacters, playing a supporting scene while the players of the main scene waits and watches. The main scene players will then have to decide whether to change their scene because of the scene just played or not.

The following is taken directly from The Upgrade that we prototyped in Halmicon 2004 and then completely rewrote and played on Knutepunkt 2005 and Fastaval 2005.

Example from The Upgrade!

Playing the past is best explained by example. During a scene where Danny and Claire are dating and go on a romantic stroll on a high cliff, it might be interesting (for both the players and the audience) to know that Danny is actually afraid of heights. An idle player conceives this and enters the past area grabbing another player by the arm to play a scene as Danny and his regular partner Maude where they have a similar moment ruined by his fear of heights. The game in the now area is suspended for the duration of this scene.

Danny's being scared of heights was invented entirely by the idle non-Danny players. When they play this scene, they add to the Danny character. Naturally, Danny of today might have overcome this fear, or might be able to control it. The point here is to show that there is more to this scene than what you can see on the screen. Also, hopefully, Danny in the now area can make some use of this additional input.

Important: If Danny is in the now area playing a scene, Danny should be pretty restrictive about pausing his scene and play a past or possible future. Reserve this for idle players.

Possible futures work mostly like scenes in the past, but with a different diagetic semantics. Instead of providing insights into the life of a character, they convey what might happen in the future if a scene goes in a particular direction, or what might go on in the mind of a character.

For example: after disclosing Danny's fear of heights in the above example, some other idle non-Danny and non-Claire players might want to start a possible future scene where they as Danny and Claire have been an item for a few years and Claire talks about that day on the cliff where Danny turned out to be so vulnerable and sensitive that she couldn't but help falling for him.

Another example: Danny and Claire have a tense moment where they have to decide whether to have the courage to get physical or not. Two idle players may start a scene where they as Danny and Claire are married with children and quarrel, which might be perceived as a thought in Danny's and/or Claire's head. After the scene has been played, Claire in the now area slowly moves away from Danny.

Fast forward

(Syn: cut to....) Fast forwarding is a good technique to keep a high pace in a game, to keep it interesting or simply to challenge players. Fast forwarding simply involves skipping ahead in time, usually keeping within the same scene. Fast forwarding is also a great tool for comical role-playing as it enables nice timing. Markus Montola calls this "Cut to..."

Example: The game is about the bad marriage of Peter and Annie and we are playing the scene where they meet for the first time on the bus. As the characters sit down beside each other, and greet each other with a smile, the game master yells out "Five minutes later, nearing Peter's bus stop".

A scene can also be played in "short burts" interleaved with fast forwardings. Maybe Peter does not act fast enough in the above example, and the gamemaster yells "Five minutes later, Peter is still on the bus" or "Five minutes later, Annie and Peter are standing on Peters bus stop" or something or other.

Example: Peter and Annie have a terrible first date. They engage in crappy small talk with long, unsettling pauses. Every twenty seconds, the gamemaster yells "30 minutes later". Every twenty seconds of game are played the same, maybe Peter and Annie are totally silent or just start the same flawed conversation over and over or get more and more drunk etc.

Obviously, the key here is that many scenes need not be played through in painstaking detail. Rather, many scenes can be improved on by leaving out details that can be filled in by the players in their own minds. Fast forwarding can also be used similar to repetition to create collages. The first date can be played in 30 second burst interleaved with time and place jumps.

Example: (Every [...] is a short time of acting) Five minutes later, laughing in each others' arms! [...] One hour later after an excellent meal! [...] Thirty minutes later walking home in the rain! [...] Ten minutes later, at Annies doorstep! [...] Five minutes later making out! [...] Ten minutes later in bed! [...] etc.

The proof-of-concept game The Upgrade uses this technique a lot to keep a high pace and to simulate "cuts". Most of the game is played out as scenes shown on a TV-screen in a studio, and fast forwards are used (among other techniques) to simulate editing. In the scenes that are actually in the studio, there are no fast forwardings.

As Markus Montola points out, fast backward is an equally possible way of playing as fast forward. "Five minutes earlier". It is also a great tool for playing an entire game backwards.

Fate play

(Syn: Skeabner, Triggers.)

Shortly put, Fate play revolves around cueing actions necessary for a specific chain of events to take place. It is a good, well-known technique (Credit is due to Eirik Fatland for formalizing it.), related to transparency. A character (or player) may be given a (set of) predefined action(s) and be told to carry it out at a certain point in time. There are of course various degrees to this form of control.

Example: When you mom finally reveals the secret of your dad's death, you kill her.

The above pretty much gives away all secrets, but is hard to misinterpret. Another example, that is a bit more spoiler free, is:

Example: ... when she told me, I snapped. The carpet was drenched in her blood.

According to our experience, the second one is preferred by players, since it does not spoil anything, and might actually be interpreted slightly different from the first one. While the differences are merely nuances, the outcome in a game can vary quite a lot.

Fate play allows you to control important parts of the story. It gives the player a certain freedom (e.g., to kill a character, as in the example above) and prevents the character from "making a mistake" (e.g., killing the mother for some other reason). You can use it sparingly, or use it a lot (preferably with vague formulations) to "conceal" the real important actions. Another good side-effect or fate play is that is "shortens the reaction time" of the game, meaning that instead of taking the normal time to respond to a situation, a player can all of a sudden take charge which is highly stimulative to other players. Also, a certain amount of scripting can be good to keep a story water tight and sound.

Good fates should not give the impression of negative control. It should not give the impression that the character's development or actions are being limited. The player shouldn't feel as someone is twisting his arm. Formulating them well is one key. Take your time. Also think about why something needs controlling. What would be the consequences of keeping things open?

More information about Fate play can be found here.

Fiat as a means of opression

The game GR uses player fiat as a mechanism for opression and abuse. There, the mechanism is used to simulate peer pressure and rape -- the rapists control the victim's body and the players may dictate how it responds and feels during the rape act. Further artificial stress is created by things like making the rapist and victim keep eye contact and forcing the rapist to use his fiat in uninterrupted 2-minutes long monologues, and punishing players that fail to deliver.

The same mechanisms can be used for things like bullying -- either let the bully describe what the bullies are doing to him or her, or the other way around. If the bully fails to keep eye contact or halts his monologie, he will start to cry, or soil his pants, etc. If a bully fails he or she would lose face in front of the other bullies and perhaps be the next victim. Naturally, the mechanic should be well-adapted to the game at hand and what it is trying to do. The very short game GR (10 pages, 1 hour of play) should provide good examples of how this technique can be used.

A slightly different way of using fiat as a means of opression can be found in Julia Bond Ellingboe's "Steal Away Jordan" where the GM decides the characters' names etc.


A post-facto description of Freeform is "freedom to adapt the the form to the story". See Tobias' article in Solmukohta 2008 book.

Leight-Weight Role-Playing Games

In contrast to freeform, Tobias describes games as Dogs in the Vineyard and My Life With Master as Light-Weight Role-Playing Games or perhaps, the missing link between table-top and freeform.

Example: Whereas Jeepers would create a scenario about prisons with a specific message or turn of events in mind, a light-weight role-playing game constuctor would create a game that is about prison, trying to think about what kind of situations are possible and build a rule system with prison points or what have you to cover these kinds of situations.

The stories of many Leight-Weight Role-Playing Games have a lot in common with freeform stuff. However, they seem to be classic table-top in nature.

Gamemaster or Driver GM

See also Co-gamemaster for an introduction to the Co-GM/Driver GM setup and GM legitimisation. The short version: together they make one good GM. This work load division is just one way of making the most of more than one gamemaster.

The Driver GM has the overlook of a game. In a Co-GM/Driver GM setup, the Driver's responsibilities are:

  • Making sure that all the information is available to the players at the right times.
  • Making sure that all players understand where the game is going, whaat actions are OK and what actions are not.
  • Not losing sight of the shared fantasy so as to know how to best change its vector or interact with it
  • ...

These are just some or the normal actions any gamemaster deals with. The important distinction here is that there are two gamemasters that share the responsibilities of one. The Driver GM should try to maintain the overlook of the game at all times, dispatching the the CoG to make changes to the game. Grand voice overs etc. can easily be performed by the Driver, but getting involved in detailed management of scenes will just make her lose the overlook.


The Jeep ideas about legitimisation (surely, others have pointer this out before and after us) have been beautifully rephrased by Jonas Karlsson in the following, easily graspable way:

But there's one very interesting role that [The Jeep] attributes the gamemaster: the role of the informed audience. [...] He sets up the scene, lets the players loose and then steer them by nodding or thumbs up when necessary. Most of the time, when everything is going smoothly he'll only watch in silence, but even then, by actually being silent, he's reassuring the players that they're doing the right things! This is so beautiful.

Insides and outsides

A technique for playing a story at two different levels, acting the character as well as showing the character's inner, true thoughts simultaneously. (Idea and example stolen from a Danish book on group therapy that Olle picked up and presented to Tobias. This was the only drama exercise in the book that was actually usable for anything.)


Two women are in a beauty shop, looking at perfumes and make-up. One woman tries something out and shows the second that says "Oh that looks very nice".

The second woman then takes a step back, signalling that she is now playing an inside scene. (The other scene continues with the first woman still browsing, but now in silence.)

The second woman is laughing, pointing and ridiculing the first. The scene then goes back to normal.

This is similar to but different from monologues. However, in execution, monologues are seldom short, even though they can be used similar to the example above (The second woman giving a short monologue of how she really percieves the first woman). This technique enables physically telegraphing the depth or inner thoughts of your character. Monologues are also generally more voice-oriented with players standing still and just talking about things as opposed to actually acting them out. It should be apparent what is best at what time.

Hypertext scene jumps

Technique recently concieved by Jaakko Stenros. We have only tested it once. Basically, you play the game as if browsing through hyperlinked structure. During, or after the scene, you might click a link (everything is implicitly linked) to get to a new scene about whatever you clicked. At any time, you might want to hit the back-button, or continue to the next scene by following some other hyperlink. In the first case, the scene might continue where it exited previously, or the scene might be replayed, in both cases using the additional information, either in the meta play or in the actual play. You can hit the back button any number of times, reload (see Repetition), go forward, follow any number of links and then go back equally many times or take yourselves back to the starting point by clicking the appropriate links.

Example: Following Vera Litvin's final arrival to breathe some new life into the Swedish movie industry, her co-actors are anxiously awaiting her appearance and recapping some of her past glory. Before Vera arrives, the game master breaks the scene, requesting a scene containing Germany, drugs and love, which were three words mentioned together in the conversation.

Note: We have not yet experimented with using the back or forward buttons, so we will report more on this lately. More specifically, we will search for methods to avoid breaking the scene and giving instructions as this damages the flow a bit too much.


See also play for show. Immersion is becoming-your character. You could (perhaps belitteling, unintentionally) call it a simulating mind-frame if you like. It is about being one with your character and responding to everything from your characters point of view. If suitable, then more so in a larp than a freeform game for the reasons below.

A certain level of immersion should always be strived for, or we'd be back in D&D hell. However, total immersion is not suitable for telling a story or conveying a message. Immersion will create a separate story for each character. As we see it, total immersion is not compatible with things like meta play and transparency, our very key techniques. In Jeepform games, there should always be a clear definition between meta-play and the actual play, and both should be used to fullest possible extent to achieve the intended game.

As immersion is a standard term and heatedly debated elsewhere, we refrain from discussing it further here.


(Syn: Freeform.) Jeepform as we see it is a subset of freeform, used by The Jeep for "their" kind of freeform games. It is mostly distinguished from freeform in order for Jeepers to be able to say, "why, that is not Jeepform" about a freeform game without having to claim that whatever it was wasn't really freeform.

Everyday drama


Lead characters

It may not be as bad today, but many people have claimed that a role-playing game should not have lead characters. The motivation people usually give for this is that games should have equal screen time for all characters. In our mind there is a false belief that democracy in a game magically makes the game better. This is not the case. Actually, we feel that the opposite is true.

Lead characters is a great mechanism to help the players realise where a game is heading and what it is about. The argument that stories in "Books and films are generally about one or two persons, not four or five" is true, but obviously this need not apply to role-playing games as it is a completely different medium. What is true, however, is that role-playing games need not always have a democratic structure. Just because the game is about Olle's character, it does not mean that I am not every bit as instrumental in the game even though my screen time is equally divided between three characters. We urge you to cast off your "Swedish democratic delusions" and give this a try.

So what can you do with lead characters that you cannot do with a cast of five? In many cases, there might be no difference, but in equally many, it enables a more focussed story where you do not need to cram in screen time for some character that is honestly not as interesting -- you don't have to lower the number of players just because you cannot give equal screen time to all of them.

Also, many players find it liberating to play supporting cast. It is like playing the villain -- you know you will lose (at least in a Hollywood game) which enables you to do things with your character that you perhaps could not do otherwise. Imagine having three death scenes in a single session. Just because a character is not the center of the universe it does not have to be less motivating to play.

In Swedish, this disease is called Alla skall vara Lucia. That's not how it is supposed to be. Try it.

Main characters and extras

A recurring theme in Jeepform games is to let the players play all characters that are the game, i.e., to (with some exceptions perhaps) eliminate the concept of non-player characters. Instead there are main characters that are owned by the player and extras that may or may not be placed in a character pool.

Sometimes, there is character ownership of extras as well, similar to Ars Magica and friends, when it can serve a purpose; for example, if the owned extras can be used against the other players or to control something.

Example: The game is about a child custody dispute. Player A plays the husband and player B the wife. Player C plays the child. Player A plays player B's lawyer as an extra, and vice versa, and player C plays the judge extra character, that actually has the final decision.

A good thing about letting the players play the extras is that several heads often are better than one. The players can also use the extras to control the game and make it go where they want it to go. How is obvious if you consider the above example.

Meta information

All information that is not stated through characters, voice overs etc., that is is not given as input in the game.

Example: GM: You enter a big room with a great echo. The sound of your boots yada yada ...

Meta information is avoided as much as possible in Jeepform, however they are quite often necessary, especially in the presence of complex form. They also tend to be single statements that only briefly punctuate the actual play. Thus, they are not as hated as meta discussions.

Meta discussion

Meta discussions is the name given to the classic information exchange of table-top role-play. The discussion is carried out in the meta-play, but has bearing on the actual play.

PC: "Is the door unlocked?"
GM: "Maybe, or it is just stuck."

Meta discussions are avoided as much as possible in Jeepform.

Meta play

(Syn: Meta-game.) The players enter the room/game. This might be the first time you all meet. Expectations abound. What has been communicated so far? What other people are here? Who has status?

The players have preconceptions. You will have to adapt to these preconceptions, and you will turn them to your advantage.

Basically, the meta play is everything that goes around in the physical world between the players and the game master. There are expectations, social games, are understandings and silent agreements arrived upon after slow evolution and a lot of other fancy words that I cannot remember as I jot this down. Bottom line, everything that is not directly part of the game is part of the meta play (or meta-game or whatever you wish to call it). The meta play can and should be exploited to achieve effects in the game.

A less fancy example: In traditional role playing games, the game master would sometimes roll dice, hide the result and consult a table to determine if the players had alarmed the guards, spotted a hidden thing, etc. This would tell the players that something was happening and increase the tension. Some game masters realised this and started performing this stunt (and others) when no guards or hidden artifacts were present in order to indirectly effect the game; keep the players on their toes and whatnot.

Good. Now we are down-to-earth with this pretentious term.

Another example: The game No sign of Alex (SydCon 2001) is about misconceptions and memories. Is this really a memory or did I just dream it up when I was young?, etc. To this end, the players' character texts are filled with inconsistencies, things that the characters should probably not know, etc. The goal is to create an uncertainty with the players about what is really true, what information they can use, etc. Does this text really depict what was going through my cousin's mind, or is this my interpretation? Albeit subtle, hopefully this inflicts the game and the reading of the character text and more importantly makes the players feel as their characters should -- a bit confused and not certain of what is true. The game masters should constantly lie to keep this going.

Jeepform acknowledges things going on outside the game and capitalises on that to improve the game. If there is an important hockey game the same evening as the game, can the players' desire to learn its outcome during the game be exploited in any way? If two players are an item, can that be used to achieve some effect? If most of your players have played your previous games, can this be used? Think of it as enhancing a game with music or mood light (which are common meta play techniques, by the way).

Metaphoric play

See Allegoric play.

Olle Jonsson lists

(Syn: Triangulation lists.) Short, sharp shock of relevant info, served as a list.

The triangulation metaphor -- you know, finding points on a map -- points to the fact that the list gives more information about its subject. This is true up to a point -- after seven or more items, lists get heavy. The dots need to connect to a conceptual picture, and we humans can not connect more than a few dots. Your maps need to be simple to be useful.

Primary usage:

  • Real quick communications about a character
  • Tool for fast communication between GMs

If put together nicely, these lists can also be used for bird-in-ear communication.


Technique for showing the inner thoughts of a character. A player may hold a monologue, which is from the character's perspective, but not something that actually takes place in the game's reality. Sometimes, the monologue can be a backdrop to the game, sometimes, all other activities pause and everyone listens closely to the monologue.

A classic example: Two characters in a car, one player suddenly stands up, remains silent for a second or two, a clear signal to the other that something is happening, and then begins.

"I don't want to kiss her. I really don't. I really didn't want to take her out in the first place. But I promised her father I'd do it. If I'd known she'd keep yapping about her ugly dog the entire time, I would have called in sick. Nice tits, though. I'd have to give her that."

The player then sits down, at which time the other player continues talking about her dog for a little while before giving a monologue herself. She remains sitting, but stops moving and lowers her voice a bit. This should be enough of a signal now.

"God how I hate this. I really do. I really didn't want to go on a date with him in the first place, but I promised dad. We've run out of things to say five times already and he doesn't say anything. He just sits and stares. That stresses the hell out of me. If he could just stop looking like he was undressing me..."

A monologue might be stream-of-conciousness, a story told to an imaginary audience, speaking one's thoughts out loud etc. This allows dissemination of a lot of personal (or otherwise) information to players (as opposed to characters) that would be awkward or strange to play out in character, or without resorting to meta discussion but enhances the game by according to the principle of transparency.

In the Jeep, monolouges were at first only used in place of entire scenes, i.e., an entire scene would consist of one or more monologues held by different players and characters (for example, River Sleep, 1998). Eventually, that use was refined, monologues became shorter, and interwoven with the rest of the game. A player would step aside out of the scene or equivalent, marking the beginning of a monologue, giving the monologue, and step back.

See also to Sitting and Standing Play and Insides and Outsides.

Patch-work Story

Sometimes, the best way of telling a story of conveying a message is not by building a complex, coherent story that can be told from A to Z. Rather, it might sometimes be better to, a bit in the sense of a triangulation list, present the game as a patchwork of different scenes, stories and situations that need not be connected in the fiction, but that all have bearing on the same message or that together tells the intended story.

Some people claim that a freeform game cannot have too much space; space is there to be implicitly filled by the players, thus making the game more subject to their interpretation. It can also be argued that such a game can easily offer more freedom to the players than a big story where many elements must fit together for it to work.

Play for Show

(As opposed to immersion.) In immersion, you could say that your reward comes from within the game itself, from becoming your character and being absorbed by the game. In play for show, you could say that the reward is in the meta-play; creating scenes that are beneficial for the game, picking up signals from other players, keeping tabs on the story and making sure it progresses as intended etc. "To be a good freeform citizen", if you will. Thus, play for show is about being able to look at the game from the outside.

(On a sidenote, we believe that in order to really get under the skin of a character, you should not only experience it from the inside -- understanding it and becoming it presupposes the ability to analyse it, look at it from the outside, etc., things that don't go well with the traditional view on immersion.)

You could say that immersion is oriented at creating a good, unique experience for yourself whereas play for show is oriented at creating a good, unified experience for the entire playing crew. We believe that you need both for a successful game; total immersion is bad as it takes the focus away from the story and total play for show results in an empty, soulless game.

Play for show and diva behaviour don't go well together and tends to create show-stealing monsters.


(As opposed to Character.) Affected directly in the meta play and indirectly through the actual play.

Player freedom

In freeform, there is generally a lot more player freedom than in traditional table-top role-play. Players may make descisions regarding their characters or things in the game world that are reserved for the gamemaster in the traditional setting. A common freeform rule is this one:

You may add anything to the game world if it improves the story: if you all of a sudden feel that it is important that your character went to Eaton, then she did; if you need a bottle of scotch or a plane ready to lift at any time, then you have it, just be sensitive to where the game is heading. If the point of a scene is for the characters to be threatened by a man with a knife, deciding that your character has a gun is probably the wrong choice.

Another, related example:

This scene is about being miserable; it is only okay to add good things to the game if they are immediately lost.

An abstract rule also (from No Sign of Alex):

This game is about memories, mis- and disinterpretations. There will be no conflicts and nothing new must be added to the reality of the characters. Everything has already happened, or it didn't happen. The game is to be played mostly as memories of the characters. If you play yourself in Stellans memory, you are playing Stellans interpretation of you -- adjust your playing accordingly.

A very simple rule adapted from Frederik Berg Olsens brilliant Lady and Otto:

No conflicts in this game what so ever. The game ends if Lady says she is pregnant.

And lastly:

As a gamemaster, try to touch the players as you are speaking to them or about them. If you inject information about the Undertaker, stand behind the player in point, massaging his shoulders or touching his hair.

In some theoretical frameworks, this is described as "GM-ful play", i.e., distributing the gamemaster's tasks among the players. In freeform, this is rather a core concept, something that has to be in place for a game to work as the focus is on the story and not su much on character development over time.

Player Goals

A few jeep games of late (Drunk, Night of Nights) have experimented with player goals, i.e., assigning meta-goals to the players, orthogonal to any goals of their characters. The idea of player goals is to ensure certain functions in the game without tying these to characters. The idea of player goals is not new. Just the "making sure that the players know what the story is about" is really about establishing some sort of (shared) player goal. Just like in most Cthulhu games, the players expect their characters to die or go mad, but the charactrs generally don't. However, player goals can be more specific and not necessarily shared.

In Drunk, for example, one player's goal is to make sure that Ove, a particular character, "does not get away easy". In Drunk, characters are switched between player frequently during the game and every player will play every character a couple of times. This means that Ove might be self-descructive at times and that there are times when both his wife and kid are out to get him.

Similar but different, in Night of Nights it is the goal of the the third player, who plays all extras and also does voice overs and birds-in-ears, to drive a wedge between the characters Max and Klara to destroy their impossible love.


The term rail-roading is traditionally used to desribe a scenario in which there are no real choices and the sense of being able to affect the story just an illusion.

The Jeepform view of rail-roading is that there are several aspects of a game that can be railroaded, independently or not. If a game is about relationships, and the married couple and one of the spouses' lover are stuck in an elevator in a skyscraper on fire, then the game might be considered to be railroaded only if the outcome and the development of the relations are decided beforehand. However, the fact that there are three scenes played in a fixed order (the lobby, the elevator, and firemen to the rescue) does not make the game a railroad. The players still have full freedom to take the game anywhere they like (e.g., play flashbacks of the marriage, the first time they met in mid-air in parachute school). Even if the scenes are discussed beforehand and the players know all the characters' dark secrets, it does not become a railroad if the players are free to develop the relations and the end (and the way there -- which is not the same thing as the scenes played) is open.

Naturally, it might be argued that even pre-deciding the three scenes in the example above is bad and that the players should be able to escape immediately or die trying. Conversely, it might be argued that such a set-up allows the players to really focus on the core of the story (the development of the relationships, and who takes who in the end), which should of course be told to the players and agreed on before playing (i.e., what the core is, not necessarily how it ends or should be played). It is probably never good for the game if all three characters die trying to escape due to bad luck with dice roll after 20 minutes. In table-top role-play, the game master could of course have faked the die rolls or declared them invalid, but, in some sense, that goes against the essence of table-top. Rules aren't necessary in games like our example, which is why freeform could be said to be more suitable for that kind of story-telling than games with random elements.

Bottom line: in a larp, your actions are limited by what you can do with your body (e.g., not fly), restrictions which can be lifted by a set of rules or some other game mechanics (e.g., combat rules, or an agreement that characters dressed in grey are dead people that the living cannot see). In table-top role-play, you are limited by your character sheet and the rules of the current game (e.g., stats and skills that you lack, equipment you forgot to bring, etc.). Quite often limitations can be good, because they help frame the game and "coordinate" the actions of its players.

In a generic, tabula rasa freeform adventure, there are no such inherent limitations, and therefore, they have to be invented in order to make games enjoyable and not just immensly hard. (Just like it is often nice to have a given task or direction when handed a blank piece of paper and told to write a story.) Of course, it is not at all impossible to play a game that can be about anything with any three to eighty characters, but it is easier if we agree to some things before we play, such as where we want to be going, and what the game should be about. This makes the players work in the same direction and helps to coordinate their actions.


Repetition is a great technique for refining a scene. It involves playing a scene several times to examine several aspects of it.

Sometimes, all versions of the scene are kept (as in kept as true) and the outcome of the scene is either the sum (which is most likely ambigous) or unimportant, etc. Perhaps the first version is Peter's recollection and the third is Annie's.

Sometimes, the outcome of all the versions of the scene were the same, but the roads taken in each scene were different -- a classic example of simulating fate in a game.

Sometimes, the first version(s) were just not "good enough" for some reason and were therefore discarded. Repetition gives perspective and at the same time can be used for refinement or "a prototyping style of play" (sorry for being a computer scientist).

Example: Two lovers are having an argument, and the game master might instruct the players to play the scene through with different outcomes, with more emotion, play it knowing that she gave you the veneric disease, play it knowing that you will commit suicide this evening, etc., and less over-the-top version.

Additional examples of repetitions include playing different characters' different experiences of the same events or playing the same situation but with different characters or even in different times to show different possible outcomes, changes in societies' view etc. You can also play a scene through but try different angles, or again, but with more anger.

Depending on the game and style of repetition, you can select one of the repetitions as the truth and stick with that for the rest of the game. Scenes being discarded is not to say they were a waste of time. They might have given perspective to the chosen outcome, the brilliant scene that everyone realised was going to be the final version might not have come about without having played the other versions, etc. Discarding scenes is not usually necessary, at least not if the point of the repetition is not refining a scene but to get different modes into the game, etc.

Repetition can be used to create a collage effect, like in a movie. If we want to establish a trait of a character, we might want to repeat (with slight changes) the same scene to make a point. If we want to establish the passing of time during a crime investiation, we might want to play the same scene where the police men meet at the coffee machine each morning. Also, making them less cheerful every time, etc., we can establish the stand-still in the investigation.

The Jeepform game No Sign of Alex is (partly) about interpretation and different characters' rememberings. There, repetition is a major tool as different characters will revisit scenes to show their version of it. Good examples of use of repetition by players include starting out with a scene of a memory early on, but continiously refine it throughout as more and more things were remembered.

The Old Enemies United workshop at Solmukohta (2004) by Olle, Thorbiörn and Tobias used a fair amount of repetition as we believed it to be a technique less common to larpers.

More examples

Reaching perspective:

Playing the same dinner party but from the perspective of each of the guests, slightly altering setting and play style of each player to fit how the character in point experiences the dinner. What was really agreed? How was that viewed? How is it possible for several people to attend the same party but have completely different stories to tell afterward?

Repetition for subtlety or prototyping:

To achieve a certain degree of subtlety when Annie and Peter decide to break up, we might want to play the scene through several times, each time using different arguments for justifying the break-up. Every version of the scene has its own trigger for the argument that leads up to the break-up.

This could also be a means to understanding why they broke up. Play through the scene a couple of times, and the good lines and motivations will stick.

Resolving action situations in freeform games

It is a common misconception that freeform game masters decide the outcome of actions. In most freeform scenarios there is no need for such decisions to be made. This is naturally an effect of the kind of stories told/adventures played in a freeform setting. In a freeform game involving actions that traditionally require rules to settle, more often than not, the players themselves decide the outcome of their actions (yes, even who wins if two players are fighting each other). The decisions are always made in the best interest of the story, and since there tends to be as many interpretations of the story as there are players in a game, this does not make games less predictable than ones governed by random elements.

Part of the problem domain is this: drowning on a school floor is so not cool. Bu how can car chases, firefights, etc. that are usually resolved with rules and dice, be made playable in freeform? Working techniques include:

  • Playing what goes on inside the mind of the drowning person, such as the drowning person's monologue
  • Cutting at the right moment
  • Writing around such scenes
  • Focusing on other things around the same situation and making them more important than outcome
  • TV audience method
  • Temporal edit, six months later
  • Temporal edit, freeze-frame

TV audience method was used in The Upgrade where everything was played as a running TV-programme. Every time the outcome of actions had to be determined, focus was switched to some arbitrarily chosen people at home, watching the programme and discussing it.

Example of deciding the outcome of a player jumping with motorcycle over burning car wrecks: He is gonna jump, I tell you! Look at his eyes. He's so cool, he's gonna make it. He's gonna make it, he's gonna make it, he's gonna make it [players fingers are crossed], fuck! Jesus! [player covers her eyes] Where did he go? There is almost nothing left of the bike. There he is, he is moving. Phew! Looks bad. And the medics are coming to get him now...

The Temporal edit methods were used, most often to cut to something like an interview in the future where someone would discuss the events, very much like the previous version. Some other player could cut in the say the cyclist was still in a coma, or that he won 100 pounts on him successfully jumping, or the player could cut in and play the character or some other character.

Shared vision

About when it matters and does not matter that the interpretation of the shared imaginary space is the same or not.

Conflicting views of things in the shared vision, like a symbolic prop, can be exploited. Try tell the other players in secret that Lina is actually Rina in this scene without informing Lina's player and see what happens. This of course contradicts transparency, but that is OK, since you are messing with it conciously. When transparency becomes the norm, players no longer expect surprises like this, and the effect becomes greater. This is not only usable as a technique for playing insane people, but to make other points. In No Sign of Alex, different views on the setting is used as a meta-twist (is there such a word?) as the scenario deals with the concepts of truths and memory (and erroneous memories).

To be continued.

Sitting and standing play

Sitting and standing were player stances first used in No Sign of Alex. They were used to differentiate between real life, which was sitting down, and memories, speculations, fears and other things of the mind, which were standing up. Obviously, the technique could be used with different (and more) stances than sitting and standing, and with the stances representing other levels of the game.

Description, Excerpt From No Sign of Alex

The game uses a style of play we could call Sitting and standing play. It is fairly easy once you understand it and practice it a little. It is, however, a bitch to explain, so please read this section through carefully a couple of times.

A key point of the game is that it is acted out at several levels simultaneously. The most important levels are:

  • The game's reality, i.e., the respective characters' gatherings in the children's house in 1969 and 1982.
  • The past (as remembered by someone) and the future (as envisioned or dreamed about by someone).

The basics of sitting and standing play are easy: a player acting out something at the first level (game's reality) should be sitting; a player acting something out at the second level should be standing. The reasons for this are twofold: first, there must be a clear way of distinguishing between what really goes on and what is just a memory, etc. since there will be scenes going on at both levels simultaneously. Second, players are usually keen on playing their characters moving about etc. which encourages play set in the second level which I think is good.

When standing, you're a memory, a story, a lie, a possible future, etc. When sitting, you are in the Children's house in 1969 or 1982 depending on which team you belong to. Memories etc. should be triggered by conversations in the sitting game. Players stand up to act out these scenes. Unless unsuitable (that is up to each player), the contents of the scenes should be thought of as being told to the sitting characters (by the characters driving the scene). Thus, the sitting game play can continue, building on what goes on in the standing scenes. Standing players may be called back by being spoken to by sitting players. They may choose to ignore this, to briefly pause their scene to go back to sitting play (perhaps restarting the standing scene with some changes due to the conversation that interrupted it), or abort the scene entirely. Sometimes, a standing scene can be a monologue, i.e., a player standing up to, in first person, offering the private thoughts of her character to the other players. Other players are of course unaware of what is being told. That a standing scene is a one-person monologue should be telegraphed at the beginning of the scene, e.g., by the character saying something like "I could never tell this to anybody" or equivalent. Monologues could also be used to give input to the other players, e.g., telling them about a scene that you want to play later. Another good example is a player, standing up, turning to face another character and, looking her in the eyes saying "I so much wish I had the courage to tell you that I love you", sitting down immediately after. There are countless special cases, and I can hardly cover them all. Give this style of play some thought and try it out with some friends before the game. Early on, you might make a few mistakes, but you'll soon realist that it is all really simple, once you've tried it a couple of times.

The six months rule

(Stolen from Lucien Smith, in an email conversation with Tobias.)

Anyone in a scene with you, you had known for at least six months. The basic principle behind this is that it's much more interesting to see the middle of a relationship than its beginning. One thing that falls out of this is that since you start in the middle, the background gets established on the fly:

"Geez, Harold, that's what you said last year, and we ended up locked out of our apartment all night!" (when previously you didn't know that the two characters shared an apartment, or that they had done wacky things last year.)

Superman system

The editor of the Superman magazine, or so I'm told, used an interesting technique to sell magazines that had an important side-effect on the writers and artists that made the series. He invented really weird Superman covers that said things like Superman is dead, Lois is married to Green Goblin and the Earth has exploded!!! Then, the writers were forced to come up with a story with that story line that saved Superman and the Earth etc. This is a very interesting technique that (with some modifications) can be used to achieve interesting role-play effects. We have called it Play the road, Directions, Target scene or simply The Superman system.

Example:When we start the game, you have just met and you are very suspicious of each other. You just don't really like each other. However, in this scene, that is three months from now, you will be best friends. Your job is to take your characters, gradually, from the first situation to the last.

On occasions, we have started a scenario by playing the first and last scenes making sure to show different sides of relations, etc., and then just told the players to get from start to finish. Sometimes, this is a good way to save a weak scenario. (For instance, to suit your playing style when using someone else's material.)

Example: Peter's and Annie's divorce is our target scene. We play the scene where a pregnant Annie sits afront a red-eyed Peter in a lawyer's office to split their belongings etc. This might be a powerful opening scene for our players, and requires a lot from them to get in touch with their characters' feelings. Having played this scene, we start the game where Peter and Annie don't even know about each other yet, and the goal of the players are to meet, marry, yada yada, break-up and file for a divorce. For this to be interesting, it has to be done gradually. We have established a common goal for the players and with a minimum of interaction outside the game, we should be able to reach it.

The target scene is a good technique to give the players a common goal. The player's get to decide a lot about their characters or about the story etc. pretty early. When the target scene is reached, either play it oncemore to set things straight, or skip it -- we all know what happened in that office. When the target scene is played, the game need not be over. Rather, the game should continue; perhaps the divorce is played after just one hour of the play, and after the target scene, the game really takes off.

You could build an entire scenario or campaign up from such directions. It is like watching an American action movie. You know the hero is not going to die, so the interesting thing is how will he make it (not whether he will make it or not).

The moral of this story is perhaps that it is not always interesting to carefully craft a character and play it to see where that gets you, but instead let the start and finishing points be determined from the beginning and thus be the points that defines the character.

Solo Scenes -- A form of Contextualisation

Fredrik Axelzon's "The Mother" (In every abuse there is a woman) uses solo scenes, where a single player plays both the father and the daughter he abuses. The solo scenes are really a form of contextualisation and gives the game a chance to show characters important for the underlying drama, but not in the focus of the story. In The Mother, the game area has an office and a girl's room where the solo scenes take place. As the name suggests, there is no one else in the scenes and in that respect they resemble monologues, but not quite. While the main scene in the game is about the mother trying to explain away a drawing that her daughter has made, the father can be hanging a Zorn painting of naked women bathing on his office wall, talk on the phone, scream in front of the game instead of being at the parent--teacher meeting etc. The fact that they are solo scenes let them run in parallel with the main game without risking to become too dominating.

Swarm of Players

Swarm of Players is a technique where the players are given a role and through careful nudges by multiple game masters are encouraged to play all at once, with all the other players, moving around each other's like a swarm of insects. When the players are all playing, the game masters sculpt the play by giving personal, short instructions on how to play. The game master simply takes the player aside and gives a brief instruction in a manner that enable the player to stay in role either by talking to the role or by being so discrete that the player can keep the role while listening to the instructions.

The interesting thing about the Swarm of Players style is that it enables a non-stop play ordinarily not found in free form or table-top games. The downside, of course, is that it's very hard to communicate a narrative. Just as every good free form it's a play completely void of any meta discussion.

The Swarm of Players techniques was a main technique in Rollspelet Rollspel and most prominently in the LinCon 2000 scenario Skulle jag gå med på det.

Symbolic props

If you only use real props, there will be fewer (but not necessarily no) misunderstandings as to what an item is. However, a problem with only using real props is that you must plan for any possible event, which is of course impossible under most circumstances. If the game/story would benefit from the existence of a knife, of course there should be one. This raises the need for some other technique to get props into the game.

The problem with not using real props is, of course, the possibility of misunderstanding. Questions such as these materialise:

  • What items are around?
  • What is your friend's character holding in her hand?
  • How can you interact with (non-existing) things without having to resort to off-game conversation?
  • One possible solution might be to use symbolic props, i.e., using an item (a pen or an empty hand) to represent another (a knife).

If you can do the telegraphing, there are many benefits to using symbolic props. For example, you can hold the pen in the above example to someone's throat and the meaning of this is immediate. The pen can also be stolen or wrestled away from someone, without having to resort to e.g., off-game conversation in some form. Often, symbolic props can also be manipulated, i.e., we break the pen as a symbol for breaking the knife, etc., which perhaps wouldn't have been possible or desirable otherwise.

Getting to know how to use symbolic props is, as most things are, a matter of practice. In the free form gaming culture, innumerous local styles have arisen. We can hardly cover or claim to know them all, but the most important lesson is to discuss such things before playing. A useful technique is to e.g., say "may I borrow your knife" and then take the pen out of their breast pocket. All the players present immediately realises that the pen is now a symbol for a knife, and can act accordingly. As with all things free form, it is just a matter of broadcasting information about the state of things to all players, since there is no realistic or real setting etc. that frames (or limits) the game. You need to create that framework by pre-game discussion.

In most situations, the players should have complete freedom to add symbolic props as long as they respect where the story is heading, i.e., it should be allowed to introduce the pen-as-knife at any time, as long as the current situation or story clearly does not dictate the opposite. Table-top role players should throw away their equipment lists and larpers should not hesitate to try this, even though it might seem ridiculous at first. It isn't. It is not any more rediculous than the fact that you are a symbol for the character that you are playing. The key is just to be sensitive to where the story is headed and think about that before bringing items into the game. If the scene is about not having anything to smoke, then you should not introduce a pack of cigarettes, unless you realise the pack is empty, or immediately drop them into a deep well etc.

Learning what you can bring into the game is again just a matter of practice. In a smaller group of people that you know, or people that belong to the same player tradition, there are probably no problems, at least not after a few games. In bigger settings, things might be more difficult. Managing a game of say 30 players, additional techniques are needed to communicate what things currently symbolise. This is one part where the game master comes in handy; it is the game master's responsibility to synchronise the players' view of the in-game world and what off-game items currently represent in-game. (And in Jeepform, one goal is for him or her to be able to do that without interrupting the game or resorting to verbal off-game communication. This challenge is part of the enjoyment for the game master.)


Telegraphing is the name for all techniques for distributing and coordinating information between participants in a role-playing game in order to keep the interpretations of the shared fiction consistent. Needless to say, there are many, many different ways of doing this, but as we dabble in Jeepform, we focus on techniques that preserve the flow, and tries to involve meta information or meta discussions as little as possible.

The following is taken directly from The Upgrade that we prototyped in Halmicon 2004 and then completely rewrote and played on Knutepunkt 2005 and Fastaval 2005. The target audience for this explanation is actually die-hard larpers, but is should be applicable to others as well. The Upgrade is played on three simultaneous stages -- Past, Present and Possible Future. The Past area referenced to below is the section of the game area specifically reserved for scenes in the past.

One power of freeform role-play is that we can use the same physical space over and over for different scenes for different settings. We have brought almost no decor, because it would only be a limitation to what situations you might want to play. To this end, it is important that we communicate to others what setting a scene takes place in, or what in-game thing is represented by the blue cup etc. We call this telegraphing. Now, forgive us for giving a few examples.

Telegraphing can be done for example by actually stating the information off-game, or by weaving the information into the game while playing. If two players, out of the blue, wish to inject a small scene played in the past area, they might upon physically entering the area, state, briefly to interrupt the game as little as possible, "Danny and Maude, in their kitchen, 1987". This should give the other players enough information to interpret the scene.

Of course, Danny could just have come on to the set, calling to Maude, "Maude dear, would you come into the kitchen?", and Maude would answer, "Of course, Danny", or something or other, to give the same information. If the exact year is important (the choice of area to play in telegraphs that the scene takes place in the past), Danny could state "1987" as he enters, or something more subtle like arguing when something happened in a way that gives the year away. However, if the year is important, it is probably better to state it clearly than to risk losing it just to avoid a second of meta information.

A situation where avoiding the second of meta information is better is when you want to give flowers to your date, and the only available physical prop is a pen; hand the pen over while saying "I wanted to give you red roses, but they only had white". Interestingly, the pen can be handed over, smelled, be put in a cup and broken, just like a real rose.

To make telegraphing work, learn to accept facts brought into the game by other players. Don't point out mistakes unless you fear they will mess up the game; if the name of your supporting character is not yet given and someone turns to you and says "Bill", it is probably best for you to be Bill for this scene.


In classical role-play, the task-resolving games, your goal was to earn XP's or equivalent. Thus, there was a competitive element among the players and therefore also a reason for keeping secrets, playing with split parties and other things that we have removed in Jeepform.

When games developed and the goals became story-telling, and actually role-playing, the idea of keeping secrets was kept for the intrigues. Some people like being surprised, some don't.

On the other hand, if all intrigue is dropped, told up-front, before a scene is played, then we have a situation of transparency, just like when actors prepare for shooting part of a movie.

Characteristics and possible effects of transparency:

The players are told what to expect in the scene, and where it is going, maybe even why it is there: This good-bye scene with Stellan as a boy and his mother, is a preparation for a later scene, in which Stellan comes back to the same place, as an old man. The players can prepare more detailed story hooks for future scenes. It should be noted that transparency won't necessary make the game less predictable or take away the possibility of being surprised during play. Just because the players know what to expect from a scene, or how to approach it, does not mean there won't be conflicts or different understandings of the scene).

Free Form games are usually transparent to some degree, and the authors of these pages would like to see it increase. A good general rule (in our humble opinion) is to never keep secrets unless absolutely necessary (or to make a point). It is our belief that game secrets are kept mostly for historical reasons and as a thoughless default action -- not as an active choice. Whether you agree to this or agree to disagree, at least bear that it mind and ask yourself why a lot more often than you already do.

Example: In his recent movie, Dogville, director Lars Von Trier displays a good example of transparency that's been used countless times over the years in free form role-play. The film is shot on a stage, there are no walls, instead the contours of houses etc. are just painted on the ground. We know they are there, and we know that the actors can see everything, but their characters cannot. In a particular scene, Stellan Skarsgård is having sex with Nicole Kidman at the same time as his wife is chatting away in another house. The camera shoots his wife in the discussion, and behind them, we see Stellan and Nicole carrying away. If this was a free form game, this would be a great use of transparency. The players know, but their characters don't.

Another reason for using transparency is to avoid the following situations (and derivates):

Example: Ada plays a human character on a larp dominated by elves. There are things that affect humans, but not elves and Ada plays according the the rules; she follows the feromone troll. (No, that is not figuratively speaking!) However it turns out that the organisers have a surprise for her, she is acually a half-elf, and thus should not have been affected by the troll, etc. at all. Ada finds out a fair bit into the game and wonders why the physics of the larp world was suspended until now.

The point is the following: just because the character doesn't know she is a half-elf, you don't necessarily have to conceal that from the player. Interestingly, Tobias had a conversation about immersion with Mike Pohjola fairly recently in which he presented Mike with the following scenario. You play (with total immersion) for two days in a larp. On the night of the third day, you realise that "Heck, my character sheet has a backside!" and find out a lot more about your character that forces you to reinterpret your previous actions. Is this not effectively the same as getting rid of character ownership; other people can play then play "your" character, you can experience "yourself" from the outside and this will add to the character, possibly forcing you to reinterpret its motivations/actions/etc. after the fact. Mike sais "In immersion, this is only allowed as the result of a mistake". So there you have it, make sure to spoil the spoilers first, if you are going for total immersion. But wait, totally immersed, you cannot access that information and will thus get the Ada treatment anyway... (I'm probably misunderstanding something here, possibly intentionally.)

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