Lord of Lies: A review and a lot of self-reflection

I went larping again after a long covid year of exile: I got my annual dose of swedish misery at Lord of Lies, the 1950s satanic commune larp you’ve always wanted to go to.

Part the first: A Review

The larp is made by the delicious powerhouse Atropos, for 16 players and takes four and half days, all included, most of it spent larping. It’s the kind of long, slow larp that really lets you stay in the world and your character. With just sixteen players you get just enough to enable the random larp magic, but you can still keep track of everyone and where they’re playing towards. You also spend most of the larp in the same cabin and often room, it was quite the deep end of human contact after this last year, so few scenes and drama pass you by.

Lord of Lies takes its inspiration from the crazy life of rocket scientist, occultist and free spirit Jack Parsons who was part of founding the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (you know, the people who among other things made the latest mars rover and its helicopter buddy) and directly inspired L. Ron Hubbard who started that little Scientology thing. The historical characters have been split up and remixed for the larp, because this is the kind of thing where life outpaces art and things got real weird for a while. I just came for the keywords: Sexy satanic scifi enthusiast commune 1950s style. I’m a sucker for the occult and early scifi, as well as larps with just a little too tight relationships and I got that served in full. The larp is a straight up sandbox, you and the rest each get a delicious character a broad outline of events and then the organizers leave you to fuck it all up, with a calibration break to outline the last act after a timeskip. But in between it’s all player driven. 

This was one of the best larps I’ve attended, but not one of my best experiences. I’ll get to that last part in the second, self-indulgent, part. But first I’ll just go over why this was so good: This is was a grownup larp. Though not necessarily experienced, everyone was mature and serious, a lot of places things might have gotten awkward just flowed freely. Everyone was focused on not just their own experience, but also on those around them and how to help their fun. Despite going some super dark and twisted places and having a lot of gratutious sex with little or no ingame consent, it never felt unsafe. I never felt like engaging in safety mechanics or checking in with others, because they played it all so strong and clear. There was also a really good unspoken dramatic curve. People took naps ingame or just zoned out with a book to relax, rather than going offgame, because there was time and space for it. There was very little reason to think offgame thoughts and the fiction flowed freely. It was one of the most sturdy diegeses I’ve played in and one of the most solid player groups I’ve experienced. And there was no lack of fertile ground for personal play and big feels, dramatic scenes and small moments. It was one of the best playgrounds I’ve gone to. So far it’s hands down the larp I’d most like to attend a rerun of.

Part the second: What’s wrong with you, man

And now to that “but” I’ve been hinting at: It didn’t rock my personal boat. I had some great moments of play, several extremely memorable scenes and a few really nice relationships developed during play, but all of it just a step removed from deep immersion. I don’t at all blame the larp, the organizers or the other players. I came in on the wrong foot and never got myself balanced out. It’s one of those things that just happen on a long enough time scale. On a practical level I got a cold just before going, that nearly made me do a last minute cancellation. My batteries were just too low after that, to engage fully with the potential of the larp, but there were other small things that also got in my way. Still it was great fun and rejuvenated my soul. Now, that leaves me with a great opportunity: Given the best framework for play around me, what things within my control could I do better? And what did these things teach me about myself as a larper?

Ace in the hole

First thing that I noticed was that this was the third “sexy” larp I went to, that I didn’t hump anyone at. I’ve now gone to Just a Little Lovin’, Inside Hamlet and Lord of Lies without engaging any sex mechanics or making out with anyone, I even got AIDS at that first one, go figure. Now, I identify as asexual (grey demisexual for those in the lingo), so I should probably have figured this out already, but I really love all the other themes that usually go along with underwear-wrestling people at larps. Now it’s nice to get it settled in my mind, so I can stop feeling like a bad co-player for not engaging those relations at play and just have fun with what works. It’s a data point to add to future signup forms. I’ll probably still go to larps like this, but prepared and ready to prioritize differently.

Focused feels

One thing I found was that I lacked a genuine investment in the other characters around me. My character was written right on the cusp of taking action in several directions, but reluctant and weary from a long life. I fell too hard on the passive side and I should probably have steered away from it, but it also felt like intruding into the play other people had going if I’d engaged in it. This is a common problem for me, so I really should push to improve myself with that. The more I am invested in just one relationship, the better my conditions for immersion are. I need to imbue my characters with some kind of proactive world view and ambitions on behalf of others, so I have a clear motivation to engage in play, both for them and for myself. I’ll probably need to build it up stronger before play to really get it working next time.

Fallback position

I also put words to a pattern I’ve seen in my play. The most intense play happens when I am invested in a character in motion somehow, undergoing transitions or dealing with profound change. But if that is not possible for me, I will at least go into another mode and focus on adding to the experiences of other players, pushing their characters toward the drama they’re playing out instead. It corresponds quite nicely to one definition of the protagonist – antagonist dichotomy: The one who changes or the one who effects change. I really get my best play as the protagonist of my own story who undergoes profound personal change and lives out a dramatic story, but I can have a ton of fun just trying to enable the changes of others. In this larp I really contributed some solid magic, old guy wisdom and several powerful tarot readings that aided stories I otherwise had no direct part in. And it was hella fun to push people to commit horrible acts and kill themselves, just to get some peace with my partner when the dust finally settled. 

I do believe in magic

Personally I’ve always had a great interest in the supernatural and occult, but also a full stomach of skepticism. I have never believed in anything you can’t back up with the scientific method. This is why I love larps about the occult, I get to go full tilt into that wonderful subjective world view and explore all sorts of dark practices. I have a brain full of facts that are useless in real life, but I can pull together a believable ritual or spell in minutes and make tarot cards tell you deep truths you don’t want to face. Through all that I’ve even learned that there is some kernels of truth in magickal practices and even a couple of ways to make it work for me in real life as a crude materialist atheist. I will also always have fun at a larp if I can work some magic into it and I’m damn good at it.

It’s been really nice to get a chance to reflect on my own larping and it’s made me super excited for going to my next larp with even more tools and revived a couple of ideas for larps I want to run when I get the time again in a couple of years. Anyways, go play Atropos larps, especially this one. It’s larp gold.


Time for a rest

Today was the last step in a four year process of learning, personal growth and great experiences. I’m taking a moment to look back and reflect.


It started as a simple desire to share the life-changing experience I had with Brudpris, combined with wanting to graduate myself from making chamber larps to full scale nordic weekend larps. That journey reached its conclusion when we drove off from Ryekol, after running a larp exactly like I hoped it would pan out when I first started out. Wherever I go from here will be a new trip, with new goals.

A larp is a complex thing containing a multitude of moving parts and possibility spaces. It’s not something you can just conjure up with no skills. So we consciously chose to go with a step ladder approach: Rerun a proven larp, with crowds of potential participants, so we could focus on learning the practicalities, without worrying about whether the game design would hold up. Then go on to more creative endeavours with each iteration. We learned how to organize ourselves and divide responsibility, how to help each other through all the clumsiness and mistakes that learning entails.

The first two Brudpris reruns taught us a lot about hubris, how to treat players well and buying enough coffee. I personally lost illusions of who I was going to be as an organizer and learned how to trust that others will carry me if I make my needs clear. I also saw how easy the practical and logistical side is, once you have people who know what they are doing. The execution of the larps was far from perfect, but we made it through well enough to keep going and take up Lindängen International Boarding School the year after.

There we dove into the fiction, writing up 50% more characters to fill up the location. I had somehow gotten the idea that I would be bad at writing characters, but I was disproven in the best way. There’s been a lot of individual skills learned like that. At first discovered randomly in the processes, they now constitute a solid part of my confidence as an organizer. I’ve also become more and more aware of my own limitations and dislikes, and thus how to keep myself motivated and away from burning out. Adding an extra safety organizer for that larp was a life-saver for both us and the players. It was also a good thing, to learn how to alter the organizing group to include more people.

But Brudpris still stuck around in our hearts. There we a lot of loose ends and fixes we wanted to implement, as well as a desire to explore further stories in the same frame. We chose to rewrite all characters and details and move the fiction about, as well as completely revamp the workshopping and debrief parts. We kept the basic story flow and location, since they worked so beautifully the previous two times. Getting to structure a whole community of characters and seeing the players taking up the gauntlet was very intimidating, but it went so very well. And the alterations to the workshop paid off too, the effects I were looking for materialized from my efforts. Players cared for players and everyone felt safe to explore the dark places.

We’ve made the Brudpris we wanted all along. We’ve learned what we could and given the experiences we wanted to share to more than a hundred larpers. The only thing left for us to take out and mess with is the core concept. We’ve taken apart everything else and put it back, hopefully a little shinier. The next step has to be towards somewhere new. A brand new larp. Or something else. But first, for me, a new human being. I’ll take the time to meet it and find out how life looks when you own one of those, then I’ll see to setting a new course for my larpwrighting.

I still have a few loose threads to reconcile with myself, my co-organizers and the participants who’ve gotten caught in the faultlines of our learning process, which I feel a need to take care of. I suppose I still need to learn to balance the disappointments with the highs. But I’m satisfied with where I’ve gotten to. I’m very happy with all the experiences I’ve created for people and the friends I’ve made in the process. And I’m so proud of what I’ve done and learned together with my co-conspirators, Liv, Mads & Mads.

This is good place to rest a while and get my bearings. I know there’ll be more larps and plenty of people hungry to play them once I decide where to go. For now, I’ll leave you with the words of Severin Rast and the music of Anni Tolvanen, which so beautifully capture what we’ve made thus far:

Relationship trouble


One of the best and most reliable tools we have for larp design is the pre-written relationship. It’s a staple of our toolbox, that consistently delivers. It’s great for both authors, to write interesting aspects into the characters and set up drama, and for players to immediately have something to play on with confidence.

A prewritten relationship requires careful casting. With multiple relationships for each character, it can be quite the puzzle. You need to match up the individual characters and players, but also make sure the players on either end are comfortable with each other. Still, it’s easily worth the extra work, in fact solving the puzzle is one of the most fun bits of organizer work out there.

But times are changing.

There are new conditions in larp. First off, people rightfully demand that organizers take safety more seriously, so matching players up comes with higher stakes. And second, the target audience members are often older, with more responsibilities. This means they’re more likely to cancel participation. Even without refunds.

For Brudpris (with around 60 participants) we expected (and had) around a third of the signups drop out at some point in the process before the larp. And Brudpris is a pretty tightly woven larp, with all play focused on small families and needing a high level of interplayer trust. We’d added a layer of safety design where the participants were able to blacklist other participants from being in a close relation with them. So building each family was a tricky proposition.

After the initial casting, when a player dropped out, we needed to find a replacement that would be trusted by the rest of the family, send the character out, get a confirmation and hope everyone was okay, on pretty short cycle. It was time-consuming and pretty draining work and had to be done almost every week for months up until the larp. And every cancellation came with a good reason and a sad story, so there were never hard feelings, just a little less optimism on both ends.

Anyways, this is not about me being a tired organizer.


It’s about asking about what we can do differently. How do we design processes that allow for a dropout rate this high and still give players time with their characters before play? How do we build something that gives the 66% of players, who are on board the whole time, the same amount to work with as prewritten relations have? How do we build the awesome webs of intrigue we’ve gotten so good at weaving, when the strands are continually replaced up until the last moment?

I have a larp idea with a character distrubution not far from Brudpris, but I don’t want to go through the same depressing slog of replacement again. So I want to hear how you’d approach the problem?

Whoever brings me the best idea gets silently judged.

(I also have a pretty good idea for a solution, but it’d work better for another setup. I’ll tell you later.)


I haven’t had much to say about larp lately, instead I’ve been in the trenches making things happen. And now I can share the biggest thing on the list:


An amazing swedish larp about honour, love and patriarchy. Stories of families and secrets, girls becoming women, boys becoming men and marrying someone you barely know in a culture where honour is the first and final matter in all things. The feel of the play is powerful, but underplayed and tense.

Go to our website and have a look: www.brudpris.eu

Power overwhelming!

I just had my first real try at ruling a larp.

It was a big, scary challenge to portray authority and be responsible for the experiences of everyone else, even if just in part. I’ve gathered some of the things that I learned worked well for me, so you can be inspired for when you are the one wearing the biggest hat.

I was asked to take the part of Second at Coven. This meant being being one of the three people in charge of a coven of emotionally unstable teenage witches with colossal cosmic powers . The game can best be described as a sandbox with the transsiberian railroad going straight through it. And being one of the engineers trying to drive through a sandstorm of drama, spells and feels.

The game was nordic larp, but with a lot of meta-rules and fictional lore to keep track of as well as a packed schedule of planned events that required a lot of going offgame to sort things out. This is itself was a huge job, but I’m more fascinated by how things went in regards to keeping charge of and interacting with the rest of the players during runtime.

We were three at the top: The Supreme and her two Seconds. I had the part of “The Authority”, the one who was big on rules and order, doing everything right and creating respect. So I needed to find my biggest presence for when it was necessary, but also find a way not to isolate myself. I did a couple of things, more or less intentionally, that I think really worked well to create respect. But also things to soften up and be some people could, and would want to, play with.

As a “recovering introvert”, someone who has been so agoraphobic as to avoid grocery shopping for fear that the cashier would talk to me (No, I’m not finnish), this was a big challenge and ultimately an even bigger achievement. I’m not sure how much space I naturally take up these days, but I can say that I am not the most experienced at taking centre stage. So this is mostly a list for those of us who need to work with that. Those of you with natural leadership charisma can hopefully learn a trick or two too.

Never walk alone
It is nearly hopeless to try and be in charge on your own. At the very least you need to make sure people know that you are the one in charge before play even starts. Stand up and be heard during the workshop or briefing.

If you possibly can, get more people to be in charge with you. This is especially good if you can have different approaches or styles of authority, so there’s something to respect for everyone. And back eachother up, for fucks sake! I’ve seen too many fractures come in the way of the fun, sometimes even from offgame.

Make sure that the big lump of players really think it’s going to be fun following your lead. It’s no fun if they’re not enjoying it and they’ll ruin your respect in no time.

Get the right tools
For yourself, you need to find a way to channel your inner strength in an immediate and loud way. I’ve found two distinct ways for myself: The deathglare and the doomvoice.
I got the deathglare from Brudpris, I can hate so hard with my eyes that people just cringe down and shut up. It’s pretty handy for handling individuals.
Last Will helped me develop the doomvoice, where I drop my voice a few registers into the bass and shout from the depths of my torso. I can shut up a whole crowd with that one. And crush puny human individuals.
The doomvoice also helped me make my in-fiction tool of magically killing people quite terrifying when I roared the meta words at my victims.
But most important is trusting myself when using them. Your confidence is the thing that determines success.

Go big or go home
As soon as possible you need the other players to see and learn your power. Get their respect early. At Coven we started play with most of the characters arriving as scared and confused juniors, so it was easy to shout them down and get their respect. A small pre-planned demonstration of power during dinner also helped a lot. We managed to establish our authority after that.

Make breakable rules
Part of the initial crushing of the newbs was reading a long list of rules aloud to the, with threats of fire, should they be broken. But we’d also told everyone that those rules were entirely there so there were some to break if the rebellious ones wanted to. They would not be strictly enforced except when it would be fun for everyone to do so.

Enforce the important bits
Two rules were important offgame for everyones experience, so those were enforced with great zeal. The rest only when people obviously wanted to be punished for disobedience and troublemaking.
Don’t get bogged down in keeping everything in check. One rule stated that grievously harming another witch must be punished by fire. Someone came up to me and complained about being stabbed and burned, to which I just looked at him with dead tired eyes and asked if he was GRIEVOUSLY harmed. He saw that there was no help and I got to play on more important stuff.

Break them yourself
The most famous rule my character had made. was “No personal relationships. No. Just no.” It was famous because the two Seconds had the world’s least discreet secret romance. It made it possible for the other players to have their cake and eat it. Both feel fear about doing wrong and also just not giving a fuck, depending on their proclivities.

Reveal the human
This was also part of making my character human and flawed. He wasn’t someone superhuman that you couldn’t approach, but you still had to listen when he raised his voice. I had a lovely moment of pettiness with his peers, where he cursed someone who had pissed him off for example.

Give an out
One of the magics players could use was one that commanded others to do something. It was super handy for not ruining awesome scenes without undermining myself. The victim always had the choice of whether the spell succeeded or not, but pretty much I let everything through when I interrupted someone’s illegal activities. No point in stopping obvious fun.
I’d like to see if I can find something similar in a less magical setting. I wonder what would work…

You break it, you buy it
This was the most common response when people came running to us with their troubles. Turn back the responsibility for getting things fixed. We gave them prepared rituals and advice if they wanted, but people had to fix their own problems. Never get caught fixing people’s stuff or it’ll drag you down.


I’m a firm believer that anyone is capable of taking on any role, with enough practice and preparation. Roleplaying is way more fun when you push yourself to play something challenging and explore who you can be. I have had all of my best experiences just outside my comfort zone, that one step further than I would think I could go. This was no exception and I hope you get the chance to do the same.

In conclusion, my tips are:

  1. Find your personal style of authority.
  2. Be open offgame, explain how you want the other players to respond to you and when it’s important that they obey.
  3. Make sure you have play where your authority is not a factor.
  4. Use your strengths only when you need to, but then go big.
  5. Create openings for those below you to take charge of their own stories.
  6. Have fun with it!

Text messages from beyond

Coven had a really interesting component, in the way we had npcs who sent text messages during the larp. It was an optional thing we could do as players, to recruit some friends as text-larpers, to take the part of a contact outside the coven itself, that we could interact with during play.

Bad roleplayer or intense play? Photo by Carolina Dahlberg.

It was a fun addition, providing a feeling of a world that extended outside the physical boundaries of the larp. You had a lot of control in how it was going to start, since you recruited your own minions to take the part of your family and loved ones, but quickly took on a life of its own as the text-larpers got going and started coordinating their efforts, sharing numbers of people in the game.

I set up an old friend from my character’s previous coven and his ex from that same coven and got them in touch with the other player who shared that background. During play I also got messages from another character’s grandmother who was very insistent that I take care of her grandchild as well as threats from two different anonymous sources.

There was a lot of threatening and scary pictures sent, this is one of the less creepy ones.

It worked really well for a larp about teens, that we had our phones out all the time and doing stuff on them. I have been to teen-larps without phones and it felt weird. There was a lot of story and interesting developments coming out of the texts.

There were some small issues with it, that should be kept in mind if you want to do it in your own larp.

First off, I’d estimate that the text larping ran at about 120% efficiency. So quite a bit above what would have been optimal. There was a lot going on that took players attention away from what was going on in the “real world.” Also, the text-larpers got carried away and escalated some situations beyond what was established in the fiction and sent some really scary photos and videos of loved ones being tortured and killed. It put some issues into play that the fiction had been designed to steer around and that ended up messing with gameplay on site. There really should have been a gamemaster function with tabs on play at the larp in charge of coordinating the text larpers. As well as a better briefing of the text larpers.

I also found that the texts were unevenly distributed, some players had a lot going on there, others not so much. During play you’d find groups huddled around one player’s phone and what was going on there, it was a bit distracting to more immediate interactions. A minimum level for everyone should have been offered, rather than everyone having to set it up for themselves. Not everyone is privileged with a large network of eager larpers with phones. I did like that the organizers helped the few of us who didn’t have Sweden-friendly sim-cards with some that worked there.


The main thing i realized was that this was a perfect example of a piece of advice that Vincent Baker gives in Apocalypse World: Create PC-NPC-PC triangles. My contacts were all shared with someone else and two of them had direct agendas to push me to play with someone at the larp. I shared two of my contacts with another player and the interaction through the intermediaries and sharing opinions was great. We’d set it up so we each had an ally and an enemy, but reversed. It worked well. The other part was getting pushed to play favourites with the new arrivals. I had very little reason to do so in the fiction, but having someone from outside forcing me to do so started up some beautiful play. So I heartily recommend making sure each text-larper goes in between two actual players in an interesting way. Otherwise you just have stuff that dead-ends out of the larp. Some might like that, but I think it is a waste.

Of course there were many selfies taken as well. Photo by Clara Linderland.

Another fun advantage to having people on the phone during the larp is that you can take pictures and video during play. And it’s a lot less weird than having someone sneak around with a camera documenting people’s lives for no reason.

The embarrassing but well documented “teabagging” incident. Photo by Hannah Merkelbach.

I am definitely putting this in my larp technique toolbox. It’ll be a lot of work to set up, but you could easily delegate it to a helper and I think it could add a lot to a game.


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One of the less bloody rituals in progress. Photo by Carolina Dahlberg.

Elli, the mistress of blackboxing and heartbreak asked me to take an open spot at Coven. I’d missed the signup, so I eagerly jumped on the chance to play after all. The larp was run twice, first in swedish and then in english. Each with about 30 players and a large group of npcs. I was part of the second run.

Clara Linderland
A lot of rumours were shared via the bathroom walls during play. Photo by Clara Linderland.

The setting for the larp was based on the swedish book Cirkeln and the third season of American Horror Story, with some minor alterations to make it larpable. My friend Liv, Elli and I made up the Acting Supreme and two Seconds, the super adult leaders of the coven of teenage witches. We were so mature at age 23 compared to the rest. The story was that the coven was so small that it nearly died out, but had recieved reinforcement from other covens and the game started with getting a huge load of more or less kidnapped young people with powers. Two thirds of the characters were new witches. Before we had a chance to get to grips with this new situation we were forced to conduct trials to find a new Supreme just in time to be attacked by evil witch hunters.

Liselle Awwal
A quiet morning ritual. Photo by Liselle Awwal.

The larp was a sandbox of teenage drama and intrigue with a huge railroad of plot down the middle and the three of us on top had to steer the train along. It was a lot more work than we’d expected from signing up as players, but we went with it and spent A LOT of hours on skype before play to get everything planned out and making sense, so we had a chance during play. We had about ten fixed scenes that HAD to be prepared before play and also going offgame right before to get the last details and directions in place. So I’ll estimate about 40% of the larp was spent in a very much non-immersive mindset and 20% in a state of utter exhaustion in my case. It wore us out and not in a good way. It’s taken me about a week to get back to functioning human levels.

Isabel Baeré Pedersen
The witches chosen to participate in the Trials. Not everyone was happy to be there. Photo by Isabel Baeré Pedersen.

It was a classic case of first-time organizer entertainment paranoia. You want to make absolutely sure the players have something to do during play, so you add in everything you can find. Besides the fixed plot scenes, there was also people outside the larp that sent in-characters text messages from relations in the wider world, a creepy household staff and late night hauntings. Oh yeah, and we were teenagers with feels and magic powers. No rest for the witches!

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Getting advice from an old friend. Photo by the author.

The text larping was surprisingly good. I didn’t think I would have time to really engage with it, but once I got started and the web of outside contacts began contributing to the play I had a lot of fun writing back and forth with old friends who wanted stuff from me and threats from upset relatives of the junior witches. It did go quite a bit overboard and took the game in some problematic directions though, due to lack of oversight. I’ve got a blogpost coming with more details.

Herman Langland
Juniors messing with each other in their cabin. Photo by Herman Langland.

The other players were great, the play was super dramatic and entertaining, everyone got easily into the impulsive teenage mindset and made trouble for themselves. But not so much as to break the game, just the right amount. Especially the players of the senior witches were great at sharing play with the juniors and helping keep things going in the right direction. I’d larp with them again anytime! The only problem was that everyone ran out of steam and went to bed pretty early, so the night time play was a bit disappointing. I don’t blame them, though. They burned brightly nearly the whole time!

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Sunday breakfast interrupted by a severed head sent from the witchhunters. Photo by Hannah Merkelbach.

The magic worked fantastic. There were five powers, you started with one and you got more as you progressed as a witch, you could go pick up a new one from the organizers if you felt it made sense. Some powers were more useful than others, but all worked well in the larp context.
My main power was Mortis, the power to kill people. It’s not usually super great for larping to kill off characters, but when other people have the power to ressurect, you get to use it. Also it’s a great way to make people stop being idiotic. Others had the power of Transfero, where you could transfer injuries or emotions to others. That got used all the time. Those witches were so annoying, dumping unwanted feels on you!
Each power consisted of a key phrase to start it, followed by narration as to what was going to happen or count-down hand signs for dying and reviving. And it was always the recipient of magic that decided the outcome. It worked great, people used their powers in fun and surprising ways: One player dumped all her feelings of guilt onto me after I had chewed her out for being an idiot. So I apologized instead.

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The author’s character pulled back from the brink of death by his true love. Photo by Clara Linderland.

We had a lot of awesome rituals. They’re usually tricky to get right in larps and often fall flat, but we started some solid basics and built on top of that. We’d prepared some fifty small rituals for various stuff, we only used a fraction, but it was great to have a store of inspiration.
We also had a fuckton of fake blood, candles and props to use during the big rituals and those were awesomely messy. Especially when we brought out the porn-sperm for the big finale. I’d also taught Monica Traxl’s technique for making communal sounds to the players and everyone pitched in with making the rituals powerful and intense.

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Two of the Household Staff. So uncanny. Photo by Karin Edman.

The witchhunters at the end were truly terrifying. If the tv-series had had the same kind of opposition, there would be no witches left i New Orleans. They had brought (blunt) steel axes and knives as well as an actual shotgun with blanks. Scary as fuck to hear that boom, your magic powers don’t seem worth much. Big compliments to the npcs for their part. The organizers taking the part of household staff were great too, they did so many small uncanny interactions while also cooking incredibly delicious food and keeping the coffee pots full and warm.

Carolina Dahlberg
This jetty saw a lot of intense and introspective moments from the witches. Photo by Carolina Dahlberg.

So in short, I really loved nearly everything about this larp, except for the fact that I had to spend most of it as an npc. I would have been okay with it, had I known in advance, but finding out while preparing for play was too much work. Still, I walked away with some incredibly memorable scenes: Interrupting a bloodsoaked ritual to replace the soul of an unborn child with that of a dead girl, killing obnoxious kids with just a gesture, summoning forth a demon from a text-message, being called back to life by my true love and cursing a charm while singing songs from Buffy. That is just top level larp experiences in my book.

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Three tired witches after the larp. Blood, sweat and tears. Plus some sperm and egg for good measure. Photo by the author.

Spatial Design Workshop

This year at the summer school, I had two programme items and a lot of socializing. The first item was my regular Kapo presentation, now sharp as a razor after four runs.

The most fun and interesting duty at the school was doing a Spatial Design Workshop with Signe Hertel. She is an architect like me, but we trained at different schools and focused on different areas of the field, so I was super excited to see how we worked together. It didn’t take us long to hash out an outline before going and we finalized it once at Rutâ. It was a real pleasure to get to work with my two favourite subjects: Larp design and humans in spaces. We kept it basic and accessible, with a focus on showing and experiments, rather than talk and theory (since we only had an hour). I’ll try to write down what we said during the workshop and how we structured the excercise here (it might differ from actual experience, since we improvised and improved in each of the four runs of the workshop):

Introductory talk

We made a point of coming late to the workshop, allowing the participants to settle into the room before us, then asking them to explain why they were sitting/standing where they did. As humans we make a lot of subconscious decisions about where to put ourselves in a space. We tend to be pretty consistent within a given culture, which is something you can work with in your larp design. But be careful with international audiences, there can be a lot of variation in the customs and norms around the world.

The thing that makes it nearly universal though, is the human body and especially how the senses work. We relate to the world through them and that shapes what is comfortable and what is not. A rule of thumb is that the more senses we can use at the same time, the more comfortable we are. Remove or confuse one or more of the senses and it becomes unpleasant.

Photo by Simon James Pettitt

The first factor we can work with in designing spaces, is distance. We tend not to fully recognize people until they are within 7 meters, until then, they are are just random human shapes unless they have very distinct clothes or hair. It’s at 7 meters we start to see faces and can read their expressions as well as the rest of the body language. We can tell if they look approachable or if we should just walk past. At 3 or 4 meters is where we usually greet them and move into a conversational distance, if we want to talk. We feel most comfortable at around 1.5 meter for conversations with strangers. Unless there’s a lot of noise or we’re good friends, then we move in closer. For very intimate conversations with lovers or similar, we can even touch while talking. If we’re that close with strangers, it can get uncomfortable really fast. This is why there’s always elevator scenes in movies. It’s a space we can all relate to being too close in. Especially with enemies or colleagues.

When we’re too close, we will try to look away from the person we’re talking to, to avoid inappropriate intimacy, that’s why everyone always faces the door and looks upwards in elevators. And that brings us to the second factor: Direction.

Photo by Simon James Pettitt

The eyes are in the front of our heads, allowing for depth perception, but it also means we can only see things in a 160° arc in front of us and focus is limited to an even narrower area. Our ears are also much better at distinguishing sounds in front of us, even though they can hear all around. So we tend to want to keep interesting or dangerous things in front of us. And that tends to include other people. This is why we prefer standing with our backs against walls when we feel insecure socially and tend to sit in a circle in social situations. We actually need a lot of visual information for conversations, about when we should let the other person speak or when it is okay to interrupt, so having a conversation without seeing the other can be super awkward.

Photo by Jakub Puškáš

Another thing that is awkward is if we’re not at the same eye level. And height is our third factor. Humans tend to equate height with authority, looking down is much easier and feels more natural than looking up. (Except for us architects, who tend to look up at buildings and walk into traffic or other people.) This gets worse as we move close and the difference becomes more obvious. It’s okay to talk to someone sitting down at a few meters of distance, but if you stand right next to them, they have to crane their neck and quickly tire out, making the conversation unpleasant. This is one of the things actors often use to portray the status of their character and it’s also something you can use in larp.

A quick word about theatre and scenography here, which is a term we often use about the physical spaces and objects used in larp design: It comes from the theatre world and basically means all the stuff on the stage, that the actors move around in. It is designed to communicate the place to and situation the audience, not the actors. This is an important thing to keep in mind for larp, where we design for the players inside the spaces rather than outside observers. And why we prefer talking about “environment”, as it encompasses the importance of how it is experienced from within, as well as all the other things we can use to make it.

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Photo by the author

The excercise

We’re going to divide you into four groups of four (or five) people. The assignment is for each group to set up a space for a situation that one of the other groups will play out in that environment. Work with the factors we talked about and anything else you think would contribute to the experience of the space. We’ll see how each of the four spaces affect the interactions of the players and the mood of the scene.

The scene is “Meeting the in-laws for the first time” The charactesr are the two parents: One who is sceptical and negative, one who is positive and welcoming. Their child who is trying to make everyone comfortable and the new partner who is of course nervous about the situation. In case of five players, we’ll ad a sibling that is a troublemaker and joker. The scene starts with the arrival of the young couple and ends when we’ve seen a glimpse of how the meeting turns out.

You can use anything in the room for the setup, share with the other groups, we can move stuff around between scenes. Focus on the spatial design, play around with the furniture and various places in the room, see what happens. Don’t worry about finding the best idea, just go for the first one and try it out, see what you can change to make it better. You have 12 minutes to plan your setup and 5 minutes to instruct the players and have the other group play it out.

Each of the four groups will have a slightly different goal for their scene. The first group will try to make the most comfortable scene possible. The second will try to make something uncomfortable that creates conflict or unpleasantness. The third will be about creating something too intimate and the fourth will try to see how awkward and weird they can make the interactions.

Photo by Simon James Pettitt

The results

The scenes the participants set up were absolutely amazing! So much variety and ingenuity. They really got into both the setups and playing the scenes, we got a ton of useful observations from the players about their experiences and the designers about their thoughts and intents. And I think the participants went on with a clear understanding of how much you can do with spatial design. We got very positive feedback from the daily debriefs and a lot of nice conversations afterwards. They also got a hands-on experience with the power of playtesting design elements and an encouragement to explore the spaces they are in for the potentials they offer larping, from individual scenes to whole larp ideas.


Some of my personal thoughts about how to continue with the subject:

1. Take it to some conventions, like Solmukohta. I think everyone could have fun learning time with this.

2. Make my Bodies-In-Space workshop where I show my repertoire of techniques for players of larps to make the most of spaces and their bodies in them.

3. Spatial Programming Workshop for Larp Designers. A sort of advanced course in spatial design, focusing on larger larps and how to plan their physical enviroment. Again with Signe, because she is awesome at explaining programming.

4. Applied Semiotics for Larp Environments. I’d really love to combine the cleverness of Jaakko Stenros’ theoretical work with my practical experience in some way.

Rūta Magic

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I have returned from my fourth stint at teaching at the Larpwriter Summer School and it was amazing as always. I love how we’ve done this so many times now, but still keep getting better at explaining the topics and building new concepts.

For me a big point this year was finally feeling entirely comfortable and at home at Rūta, our “Soviet Hogwarts” where we have the school. I forgot to check flight information in time and suddenly had to pack in an hour, but I still managed to get exactly everything I needed with me. I also tend to have difficulty sleeping in new places, it takes a couple of days for my body to trust the bed and night time sounds, but this year my head hit the pillow and I switched off immediately. This was a big part of feeling much more comfortable and social for the whole week.

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It also felt like the speakers and facilitators group had reached an important plateau. The intense emotions and stresses of the first couple of years have been replaced with more relaxed surplus and focus, which in turn reflected onto the participants. I didn’t experience much of my usual anxiety at meeting 48 new and interesting people from strange lands and they took to our lessons and excercises like naturals, despite the expected language difficulties and learning tricky new concepts. We also had the time and energy to make sure the new additions to the speakers and facilitators crew felt at home and confident.

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Each year we manage to sharpen the lectures and workshops, we simplify the language and examples without dumbing anything down. And we share and discover new aspects in the theory. The Mixing Desk is a super teaching and design tool, continually developing. It is far from a unified theory of larp design, but very handy for what we are trying to do. This year had some very clever new takes:

1. Jaakko renamed the “Scenography” fader to “Environment”. It’s not just a new name, but an important shift in focus. Scenography is theatric, constructed and aimed at visual communication to an audience. Environment is much more inclusive and centres on the experience from within, it also removes the articial flavour that scenography tends to invoke. I’m gonna have to rename all of my work now and I love it!

2. Tova Gerge completely refurbished the “Representation of theme” fader to go from “Story” to “Action”. Traditionally we think of designing for stories in our larps, but a lot of design is actually more about setting up independent actions that create an experience. As someone who is a complete idiot at building stories, I love that I no longer have to feel handicapped, but that I make a design choice instead.

3. Eirik Fatland’s annual udate to the world map of larp is always fun, this year he could report that larp across the world is diversifying away from monolithic traditions to embrace many more ways of playing and a much more open exchange of ideas.

4. He also included “norp” and “prognorp” in his serious list of synonyms for Nordic Larp, which means that my joke word is now completely ruined. Great. Now I have to say “Inter-nordic Progressive Arthaus Larp Tradition” in order to be amusing. Just great.

5. Working with Signe Hertel on spatial design was super, we really got down to basics and found something solid to build on. I used to be afraid that I’ve been using too fancy architect speech and specialist terms, but now we have a foundation. I want to see if we can build a new field of design in larp on top of it. I’ll share our workshop in my next post.

6. Hearing Jaakko talk about play is great, it was a wonderful addition to the serious talks about larp and education. Play is an important aspect of larp, that deserves a place in the curriculum.

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The alumni of the summer school are turning into quite the force, we had thirty of them invade us this year. Next year they might even outnumber the regular participants! They planeed some fabulous projects for the coming year and made a magical Black Metal Children’s Party with literally thousands of balloons, for the participants on saturday. They really embody the best sides of the larp community: Community building, playfulness and inclusivity as well as international project making. I used to fear for the future of larp as we grow older and more boring, but with these guys on the block it’s going to stay magical pony land for quite a while!

There were signs of renovations and additions at Rūta, so our special place seems to be doing well, that makes me quite happy too. Even though the service culture can be esoteric, the food very… authentic and the facilities rough, it’s a really nice place that takes good care of us.

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I can also report that Vilnius is gentrifying very well in some important aspects: It’s gone from only serving the most terrifying coffee in my life, to a virtual hipster’s paradise in just a couple of years! So many flat whites and open wifi in quirky coffeeshops! Next year I will bring my lady love for a vacation there, after the summer school.

If you or someone you know would benefit from learning the basics of larp design with an educational focus, keep an eye out for the application opening up in 2016. I promise it will be a great experience, both socially and educationally!

UPDATE: The videos of the lectures can be found in these two playlists.
Fader Talks

The Rambling Thoughts of a Knudepunkt Participant

Back again in real life. Sort of, anyway. Here’s a couple of snapshots from the past week or so .


Blackbox Horsens was a fantastic chance to play. So many games, perfect venue and lovely people to warm up for KP. Got to play several games I’ve had on my radar for a long time: Huntsville, The Boy and the Milk, A Mother’s Heart and the new game, Solvang.

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I had to work during A Week, but I had two of the best people in the world staying with me for a bit. One of the drawbacks of international larping, is that we only get to meet each other when we’re pretending to be someone else. So make sure to have facetime without characters once in a while!

The Nordic Larp talks were fantastic, as usual I did my once-a-year appearance on twitter, because it is so much fun to throw hashtags with the twitterati. I look forward to watching them again, but with some time to properly digest. Especially the russian theory seems fruitful! And Eleanor, who always mindblows.

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We drove early to set up the check-in before the crazy rush of attendees. Hundreds of people storming at us, eager to be part of KP. Wonderful fun, tons of hand-shaking and mispronouncing names.

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I really loved the campus-feel of this year’s venue. It felt a lot more relaxed and open than usual. There was space to get away from the crazy and enough comfy places to have the clever conversations in the Hallway track.

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I did a keynote talk with Josefin Westborg! Despite it being first thing in the morning og saturday there was a great turnout. We followed after Eirik Fatland and Tor Ketil Edland, so we didn’t try to impress anyone and just went for the basics.
More on it here!

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I also tried out the co-creation and managed to get some really sexily useful ideas out of the participants in our Character Playshop. Read about it here:
I’ll probably expand on this, take it to the Nordic Larp Wiki or similar.

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The parties were nice. I got a lot drunker and funner than expected. Not a lot of sleep though. I loved that the room parties were away from actual rooms so you could enjoy them shamelessly and had more space.

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I got books! Not just the KP ones, but a couple more. The Russian-Nordic Larp Dialogues by Alexy Fedoseev and a lovely copy of Pandora’s Promise from Lizzie Stark. I ran out of money before I could grab David Simkins’ The Arts of Larp, but I will catch up on that with an internets. Did I miss any other delicious new ones?

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The best parts were of course the people! It was so glorious to see all of my favourite people at the convention, but especially delicious were all of the Larpwriter Summer School attendees and their magical energies and projects. I also didn’t realize how much I needed to see the other participants from Brudpris smiling and unoppressed.

And all the crazy rest of you of course!