Freeforms and LARPs share a great similarity with the cosplay scene, indeed they can be viewed as using many similar crafts and tools, but for different goals. While cosplay focuses on recreation of a source of inspiration, LARPs (Live Action RolePlay) focus instead on narrative and on dramatic interaction.
What makes a Freeform/L(A)RP?
Freeforms and L(A)RPs are, essentially, roleplaying games that are acted out rather than being resolved with dice or computer systems. Characters are played by individual players, often feature elaborate costumes and props, and attempt to set themselves in appropriate locations in order to catch the “mood”. Frequently, such games are larger than “tabletop” games, and can feature a specific team of individuals whose role is to keep everyone on the same page with regards to setting and narrative (known as the narrator/plot team/storyteller/adjudicator/etc).
The difference between a freeform and a L(A)RP is that a freeform uses little to no mechanics to resolve conflicts. LARPs, on the other hand, frequently focus on either enacted conflicts (also known as boffer LARP, hence the use of the word Action) or use bidding, cards or another mechanic (such as phone-based dice rollers) to resolve conflicts between individuals and groups.
Meanwhile, in Australia
Australia (debatably) invented the large-scale freeform roleplaying format at Canberra’s Arcanacon in 1983 – with approximately 100 players taking part in the Trouble In Fandonia freeform, although similar ideas emerged in Iceland and the University of York at similar times. This “European style” game made significant impact on the more mechanically inclined US LARP scene in the mid 90’s. This has lead to something called Jeepform or European-style LARPs which have had a greater impact on American conventions.
In Sydney, Roleplayers began to incorporate freeforms and LARPs into their own convention scene (such as Necronomicon’s Clandestyne), both on smaller and larger scales. Additionally, extended campaigns (such as the White Wolf games Fan Club – the Camarilla) began to take on significant roles. The Society for Creative Anachronism (a recreationist society, but with strong ties within the roleplaying community and a strong influence on the crafting of costumes and accessories) began organising larger festivals, encouraging an emphasis on crafts and costuming in order to achieve some substance.
By 2006, the LARP scene had organised itself into the major conventions, Necronomicon, Sydcon and MaquarieCon. However, with the loss of the convention venue for 2007, Necronomicon folded, and the co-running of Sydcon moved to new organisers. Eyecon, a less “mood-focussed” convention sprung up in 2008 to provide a more family friendly experience. In 2013 White Wolf decided that none of the fan clubs could use the copyrighted term “Camarilla” anymore, and so the Australian branch of the fan club became known as Beyond The Sunset, maintaining their affiliation with the majority of other fan clubs similarly effected worldwide.
The State of Play
The current live roleplaying scene can be divided up into Conventions and Organisations, with some occasional independent games springing up.
Independents and gaming locations:
Exiles Gaming Club – Occasional freeform/LARP sessions – Facebook
Various community centres and halls
The Freeform Collective – Newcastle-based – Currently talking about a Deadlands Freeform in Sydney