Theatre-style (also theatreform, chamber game, convention larp, parlour larp, interactive literature, or (in Australia and the UK) freeform) is a style of larp. It is typically contrasted with "live-combat" or "boffer" larp.
A typical theatre-style game lasts between two and four hours, though longer games are known. They can have from four to hundreds of participants.
The theatre-style of larp appears to have been invented independently in different parts of the world. The Harvard Society for Interactive Literature was formed in 1982. The MIT Assassins' Guild was formed around the same time. The first Australian freeform was run at CanCon in 1983 using the Traveller setting. Brian Williams credits a series of "fantasy parties" run at the University of York by Andrew Rilstone in the late 1980's as the origin of the style in the UK.
The Freeform Book includes one of the first definitions of a freeform or theatre-style larp, 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.
There have been many subsequent attempts to define the style. Brian Williams views it as being about a lack of Non-Player Characters (NPCS) or GM involvement. Mo Holkar agrees with that, but adds pre-written characters with pre-defined goals, a story with a limited and fixed set of outcomes, and a one-off format as distinctive. Aaron Vanek emphasises the use of representational rather than live-combat and a focus on player-vs-player (PvP) rather than player-vs-environment (PvE) plots. Adina Schreiber, discussing the "traditionally structured New England style", stresses continuous time rather than scenes, multiple plotlines, and that the game outcome is decided by the players. A later definition by Holkar, focused on UK freeforms, says that they usually (but not always) involve continuous time, detailed pre-written characters, minimal GM involvement and a minimal system.
In practice many of these defining features can be broken. Theatre-style larps can use heavy mechanics (RTLB Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste; Shifting Forest Storyworks' "parlour larps"), NPCs (Horde games), player-created characters (New Voices in Art), PvE plots (Slash), fixed outcomes (Boats Against the Current), scenes (The Bell) and even live-combat (The Black Hart of Camelot or The Rose and the Dragon) while still being recognisably theatre-style.
Most standalone modern theatre-style games are two to four-hour long "convention games". However there are a number of other styles as well. The Society for Interactive Literature and New England larp community originally ran weekend-long theatre-style games, originally within the framework of science fiction conventions (parasite games) and then as standalone events. While this format has mostly been supplanted by the convention game style, some of these long games are still run, both in the USA and UK.
- Secrets and powers game
- Framework game
- American freeform
- Australian freeform
- Tale-telling game
- Horde game
- 25 Years of Intercon, New England Interactive Literature,2010. Retreived 5 January 2015.
- "Free Form Role-Playing", Arcanacon I - 83 handbook (Arcanacon), p. 10. Retreived 5 January 2015. "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... the players move about the game environment..."
- Me and Freeforms. Retreived 5 January 2015.
- Morgana Cowling, The Freeform book (TAGG, 1989), p. 5.
- So What's All This Freeform Business Then? Retreived 5 January 2015. "All the players are PCs and all are of equal worth to the game... The referee... is relegated to the place of arbiter, adjudicating in disputes between the players... and generally providing information that the character would know but the player doesn't."
- Larp and freeform, Vanderbilt and the Yeggman (Livejournal), 6 Jan 2013. Retreived 5 January 2015.
- All About Parlor Larps, larping.org, 28 October 2013. Retreived 2 February 2015.
- Pop-LARPs, Fair Escape, 4 April 2013. Retreived 5 January 2015.
- Nat Budin, "Over Time: Intercon and the evolution of theatre-style larp in the Northeast", in WyrdCon Companion 2012, p. 61-62.
- List of available larp scenarios at rpg.net.