Being responsible for UK Freeforms

I think I’m responsible for the name “UK freeforms”, because I set up the mailing list and that’s what I called it. But as to why I called it UK Freeforms, that’s a longer story.

I played my first freeform at Convulsion, in 1992. That was Home of the Bold, and it changed my life. Until then I’d been happily playing and running tabletop games (mostly Call of Cthulhu), but Home of the Bold changed everything for me, and I’ve been a fan of freeforms ever since.

I’d heard of freeforms before Home of the Bold, though. I can’t remember exactly where I heard them, but I’d read reviews of Morgana Cowling’s The Freeform Book and I really, really wanted to try one out.

(It’s possible I heard about freeforms from Andrew Rilstone, who in the late 80s was hosting “fantasy parties” and talked about them in his fanzine, Aslan. Brian Williams also talks about the fantasy parties.)

The Freeform Book was published in 1989, and contains three complete freeforms for a dozen or so players, along with a fair amount of advice. Things have moved on since then, but it’s still a pretty good start. Cowling says that her first freeform was in 1985, so I was a relative latecomer to it.

Home of the Bold was written by Kevin Jacklin and David Hall. Kevin had been to the USA to play in Cafe Casablanca, a 60 player weekend long freeform set in 1941 Casablanca. Inspired by that, he decided to bring that style of game to the UK, starting with Home of the Bold. As far as I can tell, the authors of Cafe Casablanca (which included Sandy Petersen, who, at Continuum told us stories of that and their follow up The King’s Musketeers) never described it as a freeform - it was always a larp to them (I don’t know if they described it as “theatre-style larp” back then).

But Kevin and David advertised it as a freeform. I can think of two possible reasons why.

First, in the early 90s, larp in the UK was very defined: fantasy, foam weapons, mandatory costuming, player-generated characters, very simulationist. I’ve tried larp once or twice, and it didn’t really agree with me - and if Home of the Bold had been advertised as a larp I may well not have turned up.

Second, the term freeform was already being bandied about - possibly as a result of The Freeform Book.

So Kevin and David advertised Home of the Bold as a freeform, and Continuum became known for a while as one of the best places to try out freeforms on the UK convention circuit. (And its successor, Convivium, still is.)

Following Home of the Bold I started writing my own freeforms, both on my own and in collaboration with others. They were largely inspired by Home of the Bold and Cafe Casablanca, and although I called them freeforms (and continue to do so), I can trace a direct line back to theatre-style larps such as Cafe Casablanca.

In 1997 or 1998, I started a mailing list for people who wanted to discuss writing, running and playing freeforms in the UK. So I called it “uk-freeforms”, and it stuck.

(Why didn’t I just set up a discussion forum? Well, in the mid-nineties it was much easier to start a mailing list than figure out how to start a new forum on usenet.)

UK Freeforms, as an organisation, formed from enthusiastic members of the mailing list in the early 2000s and took over the running of the weekend long freeforms, as well as organising Consequences (and part-sponsoring the Peaky writing weekends).

And I started Freeform Games in 2001 with Mo Holkar, bringing freeform-style murder mystery games to the general public.

The uk-freeforms mailing list continues to this day, there’s now a wiki, and I’ve since set up a UK Freeforms Facebook group (where these day’s I’m more likely to post).

Every couple of years ago there’s a discussion on what exactly a “UK Freeform” is, or whether “freeform” is a good name for them. There’s never consensus, which suits me just fine: I’ve always been a bit reluctant to define it. Mo has listed the characteristics of the types of games that we usually end up writing and playing here, but there are often exceptions.

Anyway, it’s probably about time that I admitted to myself that I’m fairly committed to the term “freeform”

Article by Steve Hatherley.


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