Morgenrøde – A Game at the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Morgenrøde – A Game at the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Morgenrøde (Morning Red) was our take on the Danish hippie movement. Through three acts, 31 players portrayed the peak of the Danish hippie community and their endeavors to establish Denmark’s first grand commune: Morgenrøde – the utopia of their dreams.

Spanning the late 60’es and the early 70’es, the game showed the communes rise and fall. From an initial summer of love to the grinding frustrations of clashing ways of life to a final collapse, when the distance between Marxist revolutionary and flower power protagonist became too great.

Our aim was never to re-enact the heyday of the Hippie, or give the players an experience of actually being there. Rather, Morgenrøde was focused on the overarching story. We tried to sketch out a social movement and – more importantly – the consequences for the people who lived that movement.

A Dialogue with Parents and Traditions – Making Morgenrøde

Three building blocks of Morgenrøde - beer, Maoism and revolution (Play, Jonas Trier-Knudsen)We had many reasons for making Morgenrøde. First and foremost, we shared a fascination of the time. Most of our parents were young when the rebellion against everything established was driving the counter culture forward. Some were a part of the struggle. Others watched from the outside.

But none of them can escape the influence stretching from The Summer of Love over the hazy days of Woodstock and all the way to the present. In all their handicraftiness, the hippies made a permanent mark on our culture, which we wanted to explore with equal parts love and critique. We love living in a world of freedoms won by the pioneers of past generations, but we do not agree with all their ways of changing the world. In that way, Morgenrøde was a personal game for all of us.

Furthermore, we were very much inspired by both recent larps from the Nordic scene – such as Just a Little Lovin’ – and by the Danish free-form tradition, as it is seen at the convention Fastaval. We did not start with the intention of making a hybrid between the two scenes, but that is more or less what we ended up with. The game was split into acts with workshops before, after and in-between, something that has been seen many times before in the Nordic scene.

We started two of the acts with a free-form scene, meant to capture the vibe of a joint meeting in the commune, where every minute detail of daily life was discussed and voted on. These scenes were run by an organizer who assumed the role of a game master not present in the fiction of the game. By mixing and matching the two traditions, we sought to make a game with the narrative focus of a Fastaval free-form game and the immersive and physical qualities of a Nordic larp.

Morgenrøde was thus created as a dialogue between both the world of our parents and the present, and between different schools of larp and role-playing.

Love, Liberation and Revolution – The Themes of Morgenrøde

Having a toilet window next to the yard provided for excellent scenes (Play, Bjarke Pedersen)The more we dug into the time period and the counterculture the more we realized that the hippies were far from one group. It was a far-ranging movement of everything from Marxist revolutionaries over flower-power spiritualists to bra burning feminists fighting for women’s right to equal opportunity.

Most spoke about a revolution, but what that meant ranged from the violent seizure of the means of production to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and New Age of spirituality. We chose to limit the themes of the story to love, liberation and revolution, which still gave a number of different interpretations of the purpose of Morgenrøde. The characters were all pre-written and the themes – and clashes between them – were thus worked into the very core of the game. In the end, it was these differences that tore the commune apart.

One Pill Makes You Larger… – The Mechanics and Design of Morgenrøde

Trip-master Ole, who was in charge of mind exploration via drug use at Morgenrøde (Pre-game, Jonas Trier-Knudsen)We tried to make our triad of themes as pervasive as possible. We kept love, liberation and revolution as the guiding principles for all design decisions. In our game design, this led us to designing a series of mechanics, which should enable the players to act out the three themes.

One common thread with these mechanics was a high degree of voluntarism. The players could choose which mechanics to use when, which in turn helped them steer their game experience towards one of the three themes.

For the political theme we applied house rules for Morgenrøde which the political characters could enforce, mostly via self-criticism, inspired by a quite vicious form of social control, practiced by the Maoists of the time.

We tried to give the die-hard political a micro society to shape and manipulate. The rules were modified during the free-form scenes of the joint meetings and applied to the inhabitants of Morgenrøde as guidelines on how to live their lives. The three basic rules, which we wrote pregame, were:

  1. Love your fellow inhabitants of the commune.
  2. Fight capitalism in all its forms, together with your comrades.
  3. Expand your mind, and always be ready to experience new things, together with the rest of the commune.

Seeing as hallucinogenic drugs became somewhat popular among the hippies, we chose these as the game mechanic backbone for the spiritual theme. In our experience, pretending to use drugs during a larp, whether it is snorting powdered sugar or eating candy that symbolizes pills, and trying to fake the high afterwards, never really works all too well. Thus we needed a way for the characters to take LSD without the players having to fake the following high. This became the Drug Box.

We decided that marijuana and anything like that was recreational and as such would have no effect on the characters, just as drinking a beer (which was nonalcoholic). All other substances were equal to LSD, symbolized by small squares of eatable paper with a white rabbit print on it. Taking LSD was never done alone and affected the relationship between the two or more characters taking part.

Players remarked afterwards on how natural partial or full nudity had felt. (Play, Bjarke Pedersen)The trips themselves were played out in the Drug Box – a black-box with a white sheet wall which had psychedelic visuals projected on to it and a matching soundscape. An organizer played a spirit guide and game mastered the session.

The essential thought was that a trip could be good or bad, and that the nature of the trip would decide how the personal relation which the players brought into the trip, would be affected. The art for the spirit guide was to match the psychedelic story of the trip to the changing relationships. This ended up including, but far from limiting itself to: Deer grassing in a grove, two souls trapped in a cellar being flooded, a mother-of-the-revolution carrying her child across the ocean in a train and some forty-odd trippier scenes.

For the theme of personal liberation we implemented two game mechanics. One was the option for the players to be undressed during the game (with some limitations). This was very optional and not treated as a game mechanic as such. Rather, we tried to create a safe atmosphere, where it was possible for those who wanted to explore that part of the movement. Then there was the “love room” where characters could always go to have sex.

Many of the original hippie communes actually had these love rooms and as such it seemed like the obvious choice, but it also provided a way for the players to play out sex scenes in relative public, without it being frowned upon. As such we hoped for the sexual liberation to add to the stories.


Three Things We Learned from Morgenrøde

To us, Morgenrøde was a success. We were happy with the outcome and loved the look and feel. But that, we suppose, is what most organizers would say. So instead of the usual anniversary speech-style finale, here are three things we learned as game designers:

  1. Continue to explore the crossovers. The free-form and Nordic larp-scenes have been merging for some years now. Find the interesting interactions and try the impossible. For us, this meant free-form scenes with thirty players and a highly specialized (and we dare say awesome) way of simulating drugs.
  2. Remember that history is also last year. Historical games are hard and demanding when it comes to gear and accuracy. Games about contemporary cultural history are easier and the players’ knowledge can be a lot more nuanced than is the case with most of the medieval counterparts. We are certainly not the first, but more and more games are exploring recent history. It’s worth it.
  3. Clash of playing culture should concern you. Perhaps the Nordic larp scene is becoming so homogeneous, that we’ve stopped to consider it. But a lesson is that you should always be very clear about how a game is played, the characters should be read and what can be expected when combining players from different national and/or international scenes.

The cast of Morgenrøde (Pre-game, Jonas Trier-Knudsen)


Credits: Anders Lyng Ebbehøj, Astrid Andersen, Silas Boje Sørensen, Troels Barkholt-Spangsbo, Søren Lyng Ebbehøj, Klaus Meier Olsen and Jonas Trier-Knudsen.
Date: August 12-15, 2014
Location: Græsrodsgården, Kalundborg, Denmark
Length: 2 days
Players: 31
Budget: €6,900
Participation Fee: €110

This article was initially published in The Nordic Larp Yearbook 2014 which was edited by Charles Bo Nielsen & Claus Raasted, published by Rollespilsakademiet and released as part of documentation for the Knudepunkt 2015 conference.

Cover photo: One of the joint meetings where everyone was present to discuss everything from buying a saw to taking away the right of individuals to their own body (Play, Jonas Trier-Knudsen). Other photos by Jonas Trier-Knudsen and Bjarke Pedersen.

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