Australian freeform is a tradition of theatre-style larp which originated in Australia. While touted as a seperate and distinctive type of roleplaying, to an outside observer it is indistinguishable from theatre-style larp as practiced in the USA, UK, New Zealand and elsewhere.
The first Australian "freeform" was run at CanCon in 1983 using the Traveller setting.
in the pioneering freeform tournament at Canberra Games Convention '83 participating players were members of the crew of the ship 'Sarten Valador' whose personal role-playing interactions determined all events aboard ship... rather than sitting around a table with a referee during a two-hour session, the players move about the game environment (from bridge to flight deck, for instance) interacting with one another (calling, if necessary, for referee mediation) with the action taking place over an entire day.
The style quickly caught on, with subsequent games being run at Arcanacon and other conventions. By 1986 freeforms were a staple of the Australian convention circuit, and remain so today. By 1987, a dedicated freeform club, Freeforms Unlimited had been founded.
Mechanically, early freeforms used tabletop roleplaying systems. "Sarten Valador" used Traveller and Trouble in Fandonia used Top Secret/SI. Rules simplification set in early, and so Arabia Felix (Arcanacon 1986) used a cut down version of AD&D, but still required dice-rolls to resolve combat. The Freeform Book (1989) used a dice-based system of "saving throws" against charm, snoop, and assassination. Modern Australian freeforms use a variety of mechanics.
Arcanacon 1 described a freeform as "pure role-playing in the interaction of the people involved, set within a loose rules framework provided by one of the RPG systems". The Freeform Book gave a later definition, comparing it to a play where the actors know a little bit about their characters but have lost the script:
And that's just what a Freeform is. The players are the actors. They set about achieving their [sic] objectives of the characters. The script is all ad-lib... A little character background is given... to get the players going, and of course, the objectives each players hopes to achieve. Thus the freeform is born.
The Australian Convention Roleplaying Glossary defines it as
Theatrical roleplaying events in which a large number (up to two hundred and fifty!) roleplayers simultaneously interact in a single area with minimal plot or gm intervention. In a freeform, one assumes a character and goes for broke!
Freeforms are characterised by a low GM to player ratio and by a large degree of player independence - participants being free to characterise, plot, scheme or generally wheel and deal according to simple character sheets or game mechanics. Freeforms may or may not be driven by external plot events.
NecronomiCon defines the style as a game where the players
move around a room and interact with each other in character. Rather than a single narrative line, there are dozens of plots and subplots, each involving a handful of characters, although there may be one overarching plot line which acts as the justification for assembling all the characters in one place, such as a funeral, a party, a journey, etc. The GMs (and there are often multiple GMs for a freeform) are much less 'in control' as they cannot possibly overhear all the conversations that are going on. There is also less resolution to a freeform, as it is usually impossible for all the characters to 'win'. There is often less emphasis on combat than in a tabletop, and the success of actions are likely to be determined using alternatives to dice, such as cards or rock, paper, scissors.
Phenomenon says simply that freeforms are "also known as Live Action Roleplays (or LARPs)" and "live action games, more like improv theatre". Arcanacon no longer uses the term and refers simply to "LARP".
The first Australian freeforms were 24 hour games played during a regular rpg convention (possibly making them parasite games). Shorter games quickly emerged with a duration of 3 - 8 hours (between 1 and 3 standard convention sessions). Modern games tend to take a single convention session of 3 to 4 hours and are rarely run outside of conventions.
- "Free Form Role-Playing", Arcanacon I - 83 handbook (Arcanacon), p. 10. Retreived 25 January 2015.
- Morgana Cowling, The Freeform Book. (TAGG, 1989). p 12.
- Morgana Cowling, The Freeform book (TAGG, 1989), p. 5.
- An Australian Convention Roleplaying Glossary. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- NecronomiCon FAQ, NecronomiCon. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- 2014 Freeforms, Phenomenon. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- About Pheno 2014, Phenomenon. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- LARP Events at Arcanacon XXXII, Arcanacon. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Arcancon XXXII: What and Why?, Arcanacon. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Freeform Seminar Notes. Held at Necronomicon '95: Sydney, Australia.
- Michael Wenman, "No Dice, No Table". Playground #3, p 51-58.