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Author Topic: LARP and GNS: Narrativist techniques?  (Read 6060 times)
xiombarg
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« on: May 20, 2004, 10:36:02 AM »

(Note: Jargon ahead. And it's long. Continue at your own risk. Ewige blumenkraft.)

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only LARPer on here. I know that's not true, so I'm encouraging y'all to come out of the woodwork here, tho all commentary is welcome. :)

Myself, I've played in boffer LARPs, Mind's Eye Theatre games (e.g. Vampire LARPs), and ILF-style system-minimal and freeform games.

So, before I get into the main point, let's talk funamentals. To me, the defining feature of Live Action Role-Playing is that the actual physical space the players are in corresponds in some way, usually 1:1 but not always, to the shared imagined space of the game. As part of this, where the player physically is, as long as they are "in character", corresponds to where that player's character is in the imagined space as well. IN a very real sense, it amounts to using your own body as a full-sized minature...

Now, some would talk about dressing up in costumes and immersion as part of the definition, and while those are a common elements, I think they're red herrings. First of all, I've been in plenty of LARPs where the players don't dress as their characters, but instead just use name badges. At best, it's Color, not what makes a LARP a LARP. Immersion I can see a bit more as an issue of secondary importance -- as usually nearly everything you say and do is considered to be "in character", much in the way it is for an actor that's "on camera" or "on stage", but really I see that as an extension of the idea that physical space corresponds to imagined space. There's no requirement that you feel yourself "inside" the character as much as possible, it's just very common that people feel that way, as immersion is a lot easier when you physically represent your character. But "token stance" is just as common, as anyone who's ever played a boffer LARP knows.

So, what are the side effects of LARP-style play, as a technique? Well, it encourages, but does not require, immersion, as I said above. Also, it facilitates splitting the players up into several small sub-groups, all over the space. This allows for games with many more players, as it's easier for the players to "do their own thing". In fact, it almost requires it, as by definition NPCs are difficult to do in the traditional way -- you usually need a human being for each NPC, if the physical space/imagined space correspondence is to remain.

Therefore the most effective LARP mechanics put a premium on bieng able to "work" with a minimum of GM intervention. In a boffer LARP, you don't need a GM to know when someone hits you -- they hit you if their boffer weapon physically touches you.  In fact, given that a single GM cannot be everywhere, there is a reason LARPS tend to have a lot of GMs (i.e. more than one), and a lot of "graded levels" of GMs, like the Narrators in MET, which are empowered to make rules calls but aren't "full" GMs. The idea is to diffuse the GM's Authority around the playspace, becuase it's tougher to exert in a "traditional" manner. Of course, ideally the LARP should be able to tool along most of the time without any GM intervention at all.

Now, since most LARP play is derived from tabletop play, many LARP systems are, in essence, a tabletop system "adapted" to the realities mentioned above. For this reason, the vast majority of LARP systems are either Gamist, Simulationist, Gamist/Simulationist hybrids (of varying level of functionality), or vanilla Narrativist. In fact I can't think of any "pervy" Narrativist LARP systems at all.

For example, boffer LARPs are largely Gamist, with player skill being a premium factor, though with some Simulationist leanings, not unlike AD&D, which inspires most boffer LARPs. MET is Gamist/Simulationist leaning strongly twoard Simulationism, but the slide to Gamism is tough to stop, as any experienced MET GM would tell you. More freeform games tend to be very Simulationist, with some Drifting into vanilla Narrativism, which tends to get more pronounced as you get more "rules lite", given that the "rules light movement" (in LARPs and tabletop RPGs) is often the result of unrecognized Narrativist leanings and the belief that a ruleset gets in the way of "real role-playing" and is, at best, a "neccessary evil".

Given this, and given the Forge's large biases toward tabletop play (not as a pejorative thing, just in terms of who's actually here, methinks), this means not much work has been put into figuring out active techniques that are LARP-usable (i.e. require little or no GM intervention) but also encourage Narrativist play. For example, giving narrative power to the players, which is often used to support Narrativist play (though it doesn't have to), isn't really possible in a LARP. (Or if it is possible, it needs to be handled differently than it is in, say, InSpectres.)

So, the point of this thread is, given the fundamentals I give above: What would be some good LARP-usable techniques to facilitate -- rather than simply get out of the way of -- Narrativist play? Any suggestions?

I think one will probably have to go for a TROS style "Gamism supporting Narrativism" style of play. Certainly I think something like TROS's Spiritual Attributes, properly applied so they require less GM interpretation, might be one technique of the sort I'm looking for here...

I certainly think that eliminating GMs almost entirely might be part of the answer, or certainly might be part of a useful technique, as it's really only a holdover from "traditional" roleplaying that doesn't work quite so well in LARPs. (On the other hand, it's nice to have someone to untangle rules calls...)

Frankly, I'd like to design a Narrativist-leaning set of LARP rules, and I need a toolbox of LARP-usable techniques that could support Narrativism well, as well as how to give players the ability to engage in "Story Now" while in little clumped groups, in what is, in some ways, a very tightly constrained form of imagined space, as it's mapped onto real space, which is difficult to alter without "going tabletop".

Yell at me if I'm not making sense here. ;-D
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2004, 11:23:48 AM »

Just wanted to chime and and say I'm a LARPer too. In fact, I LARP more than I table-top. My LARP experience seems to mirror yours -- boffer LARP, V:tM LARP, freeform LARP.

I'm not really up to snuff with the whole GNS concept, so I can't really offer any good suggestions to address your specific concerns. But I would be interested in hearing what ideas you've had so far, since I'm working on a game that is designed to be played either table-top or in a LARP setting without any changes to the rules.

As I mentioned, I'm not well-versed in GNS, but from what I've learned so far, my preferred style of play is either Nar or Sim (not really sure which).

But, from a non-GNS perspective, what you said about NPCs in a LARP is important. Most of my favorite roleplaying experiences in LARPs come from  PC to PC conflicts. This is a fairly big jump from most table-top RPGs, but I think it's important to encourage players to develop the story on their own, with GMs there primarily to resolve disputes fairly.

Is there anything you'd like feedback on that isn't GNS-related?
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Blankshield
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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2004, 11:36:07 AM »

Relationship maps.  Bar none, the best LARPS I've played in that produced their own stories have been ones where the characters were pre-generated (either by the scenario designer or by the group to be playing) and each character had relationships with several others.  This holds for MET as well as homebrew (haven't done boffer LARP, sorry).

NPC-as-Bang.  LARP offers the awesome potential to have a bang show up, and stand there staring you in the face while you're going "crap crap crap".  The best example from my own experience I can think of for this is during a rennaisance Italy style LARP with a tightly woven R-map, about half-way through the game, a prominent chararacter's husband, presumed dead for years, returned from being lost at sea to find her now betrothed.

Fact Board - have, preferably just outside of the LARP space (or for an on-going LARP, on a BBS or something like) a space where the things players create from whole cloth can be posted.  It can vary from little things like "Master Gerald was a dancer for several years before he turned his hand to the sword" to long cutscene-like narratives.  The important part is that it is a place where things created can be disseminated.  

The biggest stumbling block to Nar (and Sim) LARP play is that there is no single SIS.  There are several little SIS's with a lot of overlap that make a big fuzzier SIS.  It's very difficult to push Story Now with small group A and small group B when those stories can end up establishing contradictory things about the SIS.

Some thoughts from a fellow LARPer...

James
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xiombarg
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2004, 11:40:42 AM »

Quote from: Blankshield
The biggest stumbling block to Nar (and Sim) LARP play is that there is no single SIS.  There are several little SIS's with a lot of overlap that make a big fuzzier SIS.  It's very difficult to push Story Now with small group A and small group B when those stories can end up establishing contradictory things about the SIS.

That is exactly a big part of my problem, methinks.

I think your "Fact Board" has some potential, though. If it was more central, and there was a way to spend in-game Currency to create Facts, there might be some Story Now potential there. Sort of "Universalis, the LARP".

And in case I wasn't clear, I welcome ideas from non-LARPers as well. That's why I went into so much detail about the underpinnings of LARP logistics, which LARPers already know all too well.
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2004, 01:47:38 PM »

Well it's nice to see this topic crop up. I've done a lot of LARP, both LRP (rubber swords, boffer, though I've never heard that term used, perhaps it's a US term?), World of Darkness, Fading Suns and plenty of Freeform games.

The big problem that lots of LARPs face is coherant social contract. They tend to be big, and maintaining any kind of coherancy is a difficult prospect. Take The Gathering, the biggest rubber-sword type event, it gets thousands of players at once. Ask any player why they're there and you'll get a different answer. With the default lying somewhere in the Sim style, pockets of people muddle though doing their own thing, some of it may be vanilla narativism, some hardcore gamism.

Smaller games like The Camarilla are still running at between 30-100 people at a game, so you get those pockets of people doing their own thing. There's no guiding vision otehr than "we're playing Vampire, duh?" It defaults to Sim/Gamist cos that's easier to run and that's what most players are familiar with (and want, in many cases). You get big fat "Immersion is king" rants all the time at many of these games, which makes any narativist leanings end up being vanilla, or leaving the game.

To get anything Narativist you have to scale down a LARP to a level where everybody present has the same reason for being there. A few people, like a TT game but with more live-ness. I've played in some Sabbat games in Minds eye that had just a single pack present and were nicely focused on the games theme of freedom vs responsibility.

So the potential is there, but I think nobody has really exploited it yet.

-Matt
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2004, 01:55:57 PM »

Quote from: Matt
boffer, though I've never heard that term used, perhaps it's a US term?)


Yeah, pretty much. It refers to the inelegant padded clubs we crazy Americans use in live combat games. Don't worry that you don't know what they are -- latex weapons are far superior.

Quote from: Matt
To get anything Narativist you have to scale down a LARP to a level where everybody present has the same reason for being there. A few people, like a TT game but with more live-ness.


Unfortunately, I think you might be right about that. But hey, like I've said many times, I'm no GNS expert.
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2004, 02:52:23 PM »

Quote from: Andrew Morris

Yeah, pretty much. It refers to the inelegant padded clubs we crazy Americans use in live combat games. Don't worry that you don't know what they are -- latex weapons are far superior.


Right, I'd previously assumed it meant the same thing, I figured this thread would be a good place to get confirmation. I'll stick to my Eldritch sword, thanks ;)

-Matt
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2004, 03:45:02 PM »

Quote from: Matt
I'll stick to my Eldritch sword, thanks ;)


Yeah, I don't blame you one bit. It blows my mind that most American live combat gamers think the boffer is a safer weapon. Not to mention that the latex weapons look about a thousand times better...
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2004, 04:39:59 PM »

Okay, we've derailed a bit. Back to techniques:

So we want Narativist play in a LARP. The group has a coherant idea of what kind of play they want. We have a premise. Are the techniques any different to a tabletop narativist game?

I don't think so. Some might prove problematic in the medium, and a little rethinking of expectaions might be in order, but the basic ideas can still be used.

Take scene framing. As long as players expect you to cut away at a suitable resolution and set a new scene it's only an issue of communicating to all the relevant parties. Keep it small numbers wise and you're fine. What if a PC isn't present at a scene? Give them an NPC role. As long as they expect it, and it's part of the agreed style of play, not a problem. Or at least not in my mind. You do lose that feeling of consistent space a bit, but is that just an expectation from other games?

-Matt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2004, 11:04:02 AM »

Hiya,

The LARPs thread and the links within it ought to make for some great reading, as backup and foundation.

Best,
Ron
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Merten
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« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2004, 02:06:30 PM »

Quote from: Blankshield
Relationship maps.  Bar none, the best LARPS I've played in that produced their own stories have been ones where the characters were pre-generated (either by the scenario designer or by the group to be playing) and each character had relationships with several others.  This holds for MET as well as homebrew (haven't done boffer LARP, sorry).


This is something I use very frequently (that is, always) when writing LARP's. After the initial idea of the game (setting, basic plotline if there is one) has been set, the writing process usually continues with a brainstorming of characters, and then brainstorming more of them around the first ones. The relationship maps sort of form along the way, and then become more detailed and complex as the brainstorming and writing continues.

I don't know if the character backgrounds qualify as a narrativist technique, but one thing I also use a lot is introducing plots in the pre-generated backgrounds. By writing the background as (arguably, bad) prose and presenting the characters viewpoints on different things, the GM can subtly influence the way character will act when something happens in the game. So, if you have, for example a certain kind of other character or NPC coming into play you can make a rough guess on how things will turn out and guide the story to go a certain way beforehand.

I'd the swedes have experimented with something called fate-play in where pre-determined things happen during the play. There's something about it in the book Beyond role and play, but I haven't had time to read it through yet.
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John Kim
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« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2004, 05:03:27 PM »

Quote from: Matt
  Take scene framing. As long as players expect you to cut away at a suitable resolution and set a new scene it's only an issue of communicating to all the relevant parties. Keep it small numbers wise and you're fine. What if a PC isn't present at a scene? Give them an NPC role. As long as they expect it, and it's part of the agreed style of play, not a problem. Or at least not in my mind. You do lose that feeling of consistent space a bit, but is that just an expectation from other games?  

Well, scene framing isn't a particularly Narrativist technique -- it is a general technique used by nearly all tabletop games.  The problem for LARP is that often the numbers are large (i.e. a dozen or more) and people are often spread out beyond earshot.  By suggesting that everyone be in the same room and pay attention to narrated direction, it seems to me that you are making things more tabletop-like.  While there is certainly a grey area in-between, I think that true LARP techniques should be applicable broadly across LARPs.  

The "Beyond Role and Play" book doesn't have a whole lot on Fate-play.  It does have details on Hamlet (2002) and Mellan himmel och hav (2003), both of which were fascinating.  Hamlet made use of monologues, where all the players would gather and listen to someone act out a monologue from the play.  Everyone would then disperse and go back to what they were doing.  These were used as general mood-setting pieces for the LARP as a whole.
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2004, 01:16:05 AM »

Quote from: John Kim

Well, scene framing isn't a particularly Narrativist technique -- it is a general technique used by nearly all tabletop games.  The problem for LARP is that often the numbers are large (i.e. a dozen or more) and people are often spread out beyond earshot.  By suggesting that everyone be in the same room and pay attention to narrated direction, it seems to me that you are making things more tabletop-like.  While there is certainly a grey area in-between, I think that true LARP techniques should be applicable broadly across LARPs.  


Yeah, I know it's not a particularly narativist technique (but then I'd say techniques are mode independent anyway) it's just an example that came to mind (to my mind agressive scene framing is more common/facilitating in Nar, YMMV).

Are we going to limit our definition of LARP to large scale in this thread? Cos that seems odd to me (having played in LARPs of all sizes). It seems to me that some techniques work better on certain scales, but that's just like TT.

-Matt
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iambenlehman
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« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2004, 03:44:01 AM »

Some discussion of generating coherency of Creative Agenda in Boffer LARP teams.

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=9984&highlight=

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  Put me on the record that I think LARPs are a totally different, if related, RPG animal, and the Creative Agenda as written does not apply.
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Erling Rognli
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« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2004, 04:36:39 AM »

One of the points where larp differs from verbal RPGs is that geographical variety is greater. Most larp-scenes have invented larp "on their own" making it much less standardized than verbal roleplaying, with its (compared to larp) huge industry.

Being a norwegian larper, I have the norwegian perspective on larp, which is decidedly different from the american one. To point out a few important differences:

    [*]Norwegian larps are usually not based on published verbal RPGs.
    [*]They usually feature little or no system apart from a few de facto standard safety rules, such as Cut! and Brake! (No touching is not one of them though...)
    [*]Larps with little or no combat at all is becoming increasingly common. When there is combat, it is very often Karma-based. Sometimes it's just improvised, but Karma followed by improvisation is becoming more and more usual. There used to be complex systems with hitpoints and whatnot, but this has mostly been abandoned.
    [*]Play is usually plot and character relation-driven, but other forms of interaction-motors are being developed and put to use (Systemic larp, Fate-play (which is Norwegian, by the way) and my own unaptly-named Narrative Function (see Beyond Role and Play) are examples of this).
    [/list:u]

    In norwegian larp analysed from a GNS-perspective there is quite much simulationism, some illusionism-thought-of-as-narrativism (curse all ideas of "storytelling" in roleplaying!) and the occasional actual narrativistic larp. Gamism occurs, and sometimes unwantedly, but there has been few attempts at making larps that are consciously gamistic, or that contains gamistic elements and potential.

    Quote from: Blankshield
    The biggest stumbling block to Nar (and Sim) LARP play is that there is no single SIS. There are several little SIS's with a lot of overlap that make a big fuzzier SIS. It's very difficult to push Story Now with small group A and small group B when those stories can end up establishing contradictory things about the SIS.


    Then again, the SIS is partially defined by the greater physicality inherent in larp. It is therefore not the physical, factual aspects of the SIS that can contradict each other. This means that contradictory statements about the SIS can usually be incorporated into the SIS as the different characters diverging opinions and interpretations of what has happened.

    I think the real stumbling block of narrativistic larp is the habitual use of character based premise, and the use of plot and relations as the driving force of interaction. Character based premise demands a protagonism that is hard to achieve in larps. You might embed singular narrativistic player experiences by employing character based premise, but attempting to make narrativisic larps of some size this way is at best very, very hard. Placing the premise in situation or setting, and making sure all players are empowered to adress it within what is credible action for their character is a much more effective way of doing so.

    A crucial point to understand, when wanting to make narrativistic or gamistic larps, is that character and relations are not the only way of constructing the dramaturgy of the larp. Usually these techniques are employed because of tradition stemming from simulationist priorities in early larp (which was usually a mish-mash of overt Sim and covert Gam priorities). Neither are plots* necessary to create play. There are other ways.

    As an example:

    PanoptiCorp was a satirical larp about the five first workdays at the Oslo office of a marketing/pr consultant firm with rather extreme methods and lacking ethics. The setting was primarily conveyed through the CorpDic . The characters had no relations to each other at the outset of the larp, and no character-specific motivations. There was no plots and no relationship map. All wanted to be Hot, and amass extreme amounts of CorpCred and cash, and that was it. The character therefore became the means of the player for accessing the larp, but not the primary cause of play. The larp played out over five days. The characters lived their whole lives in the office, working at all kinds of hours, partying in the in-office bar, sleeping in a common dorm. The players actually worked. They got assigned Projs (projects) and ProdLines (deadlines), and produced a lot of creative material. They competed among each other for CorpCred and Hot/Not-ratings. CorpCred was based on peer-evaluation after each completed Proj. Hot/Not was a kind of reality-tv-gameshow-voting thing, evaluating whichCorpers were the most NexSec (Next Second). CorpCred and Hot/Not decided how Hot (and economically lucrative) Projs you got assigned to. PanoptiCorp was all in all an unholy mixture of multilevel marketing, reality-tv, endless brainstorming sessions and cynical marketing people.

    A players review of the game.

    At the outset of the larp there was a lot of potential premise baked into the setting and the situation, but not into the characters and their internal relationships. There was a considerable potential for narrativistic play, which many players chose to explore. At the same time, the larp could be played gamist and simulationist as well, without either of them interfering with the other creative agendas, because the potential for all modes of play was present in the larps setup. I personally think this is an important reason for the success of the larp, which has recieved a lot of recognition.

    (Another interesting example of a highly successful, and more pure narrativistic larp is inside:outside, which I was not personally involved in, but I'll try to get one of the people involved to post something, if there is interest.)

    As another example:

    Arans Hus (the House of Aran) was a larp set in a low tone fantasy setting, a part of the larp project/larpwright group Veiskille (a fork in the road, or in a path). Actually, there has been three larps in this concept, but I'll talk about the concept as a whole. Arans Hus is an inn, in a remote region of the country Malderia. The larp portrayed six days in the inn, with a small cast of characters portraying the inn personell and local regulars. The other players came for a day or two only, their characters spending a night or two at the inn while being on their way somewhere else. There was a steady trickle of characters appearing and leaving throughout the larp. Play mostly consisted of talking around the tables, drinking, gambling, telling stories and jokes, singing and dicussing the state of the world. Foreign travellers created cultural tension, reinforcing the mood of patriotism among the malderian characters. The Veiskille group of larpwrights maintain a concept of micro-to-macro development in their setting. They extrapolate from what happens in play to influence the whole world, letting tension portrayed in a larp between regular citizens of two different countries be reflected in the diplomatic relations between the same countries. Concepts and ideas about the world that turn up through players improvising are incorporated in the setting, which is actually one of the few successful uses of director stance in larp that I know of. This gives a setting that grows and evolves over time, but it demands players that are true to the color and feel of the setting, and who knows about concepts that are already established. (The larpwrights have made this easier by giving their world a history of only 15 years, it being a sort of postapocalyptic setting.) However, they are also very good at communicating what their setting is about, its themes and style. And it is by being clear about their vision, and communicating it equally clearly, they have been able to make a good Simulationist larp with emphasis on exploration of a large setting. I think is that is actually quite uncommon, because larps are bound to a specific location and portraying the grand-scale interactions of a setting demands a too great level of abstraction.

    My main points are:
      [*]When making a larp of some size, one should always aim for congruence, by building in potential for all three modes of play, in such a way that they won't interfere which each other.
      [*]Clear communication of Vision to potential players is paramount to achieve what is hoped for.
      [*]Using the right tools to build the dramaturgy of the larp, considering what one is attempting to achieve, is something too many larpwrights fail miserably in.
      [/list:u]

      -Erling

      * This is the norwegian term for ingame tasks, objectives, motivations or intrigues, explained in case the word is not used in that way in the country of the reader.
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