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.
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.
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.