Salon Moravia – Cabaret for Women Only

Salon Moravia – Cabaret for Women Only

"A new age..." (Play, Jiří Dukát)

The door shut and he was gone. At that moment, Evžénie forgot his rank. But she would never forget his short moustache waving over her, how the lips under it were feverishly mumbling something in that repulsive language. How he snorted when he humped. She slid down to the floor. Her back against the wall, she lighted a cigarette and again read the letter with a brief and clear instruction. She spilled the powder from the little vial to the General’s glass. Was he the same man with whom she slept that night? Evžénie did not know that. Everything blurred together, she saw everything through a fog…

Salon Moravia was the first larp in Czechia organised for women only. A total of 40 players attended, and according to their ratings on the Czech and Slovak larp database, it was the best chamber larp in the Czechia and Slovakia.

It was a scripted narrative dramatic game set during World War II. The players could experience the ambiance of an exclusive brothel, the difficult role of women, and the burden of that historic era. Each player could influence the story by a series of decisions.

"For your sweet memories..." (Play, Michal Kára)Salon Moravia had a detective plot which was the primary focus in the first two runs, but we gradually de-emphasized it. Starting from the third run, we included more political, national and social plots. We also emphasized the terror of inhumane actions. The conflicts among the players characters and between the characters and NPCs were expanded, concentrated and more strongly intertwined wherever player feedback showed us any weak spots.

In six (seven in case of the last two runs) approximately one-hour-long chapters, we followed the characters through six years of the duration of World War II in Czechoslovakia, and we gradually transformed the mood in the brothel using inputs (from NPCs and letters to characters).

We started out with an impression of luxury, carelessness and light flirting mood of the 1930’s and gradually tightened the mood by the gradual disappearance of Jewish and Czech characters and the appearance of German soldiers during the occupation, and by messages from the characters’ relatives about events in the country.

The diversity of Salon Moravia‘s employees reflected the diversity of the inhabitants of the Czechoslovak Republic at that time, including their nationalities (Czech, German, Slovak, Jewish), education (from illiterate to higher education and even business experience), social position (poor village girls as well as ladies originating from upstanding urban families), and even political ideas (from complete disinterest to excitement for the ideas of national socialism or communism).

"Peace in our time" (Play, Jiří Dukát)

I really thought that their killing of one of us would be the worst that could happen… And then I saw another girl on the verge of collapsing to the ground… her face… I came to her and asked what was wrong. She handed me the letter and the attached yellow Jewish star. My mouth went dry. No. Not again. I cannot bear to lose another girl. I cannot let it happen. I quickly wiped her tears, took the letter, and told her: “Come with me. It won’t happen again. We won’t hear another shot from behind a closed door spelling death. This time, it will be different.

Before the Game

"Dear sister, I must go and protect the right of everyone to live in freedom. I hope you understand." (Play, Jiří Dukát)The format was inspired by the lack of similar games around us and the apparent shallowness of female characters in various games we had played. We wanted to challenge ourselves to create believable, interesting and strong female characters.

We assigned the prepared roles according to a questionnaire wherein the players marked preferred types of experience, their comfort limits concerning intimacy and violence. They also prioritised preferred characters, marked interest in key game topics (romantics, violence, rape, betrayal, collaboration, death). According to feedback it would be preferable to update the comfort limits just before the game.

After selecting our players we would actively continue to work with them online. We had a dedicated Facebook group for each run and in the months and weeks before the game we would discuss any issues concerning the game itself, their clothing (which they had to arrange themselves), make-up, hair styling, etc. A useful technique for verifying the players’ engagedness in the pre-game online activities was asking them to “like” it to confirm that they had read and acknowledged it.

In the entire game we strived to create a 360° illusion of authenticity, but we did not maintain historic accuracy; our aim was only to represent the ambiance of the era. We therefore focused on selecting the right location and supplied a lot of material to the game: paper money, uniforms, handwritten letters, photos, and various other items. In all possible extent we also modified the locations to minimise modern features (although we were obviously limited to reversible changes).

We decided not to use Ars Amandi or any other representation of eroticism to keep our game as technique-less as possible.

Our solution was simple and relied on our NPC players’ responsibility. As a player would approach her intimacy limit, she could use the safe word “decadence” (selected so that it would not disturb the game). One could also encourage her partner to be more courageous using another key word. We used a similar technique for alcohol – when ordering a drink the players could order “as usual” to get water. This technique was inspired by the Skoro Rassvet larp.

"Rose-tinted glasses?" (Play, Jiří Dukát)After the second run we also modified and expanded most characters focusing on their political and nationalist ideas. Before each run we expanded the NPC team from the original six to the final thirteen people who represented more than twenty characters. We also added a new expendable player character to further tighten the mood in the game by killing her off after about a third of the game. This deeply impacted the other players as this “cuckoo” player would register, engage in pre-game activities and played the first third as one them.

The players much appreciated our selection and management of the NPC players. We always chose people people we knew personally to be responsible, which was necessary to make sure that no NPC would surpass any player’s comfort level. Most of them were even willing to shave mid-game to better separate the different NPCs they portrayed.

We designed the conclusion by escalating all plots before the arrival of looting revolutionary militia and Soviet soldiers who punished virtually the entire staff of the brothel for collaboration with the Germans. This punishment was deliberately inadequate and unfair to drive forward the point of injustice and randomness of certain historic events. The game ended with us turning off the lights mid-scene, and one of us would read aloud the outros for all the player characters and major NPCs, reflecting the players’ choices.

Tears… tears everywhere. How many girls did I have to console? How many trickles flowing down their cheeks did I have to wipe? I had to pretend everything was alright and that it would end soon… But it won’t. I realised that after that Kraut led me downstairs, humiliated me and took me roughly and violently. We are all collaborant whores. Nothing more, our pride, honour and conscience, everything gone.

"My dear daughter..." (Play, Jiří Dukát)I see his face in front of me, feel his hands taking me and hear his voice talking to me. Does it make it any better that I did it for her so that she has enough money for her baby girl? I doubt it. I fall to the floor, pulling my hair with one hand and helplessly slapping the wall with the other. One of the girls appears. She pushed a glass in my hand and she said precisely what I always said.”It’s going to be alright.” Does she know that it never will?

The post-game responses were generally very favourable, while providing us with useful feedback especially in the first two runs. We realised that people were expecting a more mature and terrifying game than we initially envisioned. Some of the players were also very creative and provided us with post-game stories from the characters’ perspective, initiated an after-party a few weeks later and even filmed video confessions. We would like to provide some space for the players’ own comments from the Czech and Slovak larp database.

The game is very well thought-out. For the entire time I felt my decisions are my own, that I can choose and that nothing in the organisation manipulates me, and even so they could steer my story where they needed. As much as I can tell each player’s story was full and intensive, everyone was a main character with enough to do, and each experienced their own burdens.

"Who could pay more?" (Play, Jiří Dukát)

The NPCs were crucial for this, there were more of them than players, and most played several roles over time, which was expressed by very different costumes and roleplaying. Most conflicts in game therefore were not between the players, but occurred due to the need to respond to external inputs (speeches in the radio, letters and NPC plots) which nevertheless felt very natural.

Katerina Midori, player

Count Druck von Linke has just met the ladies. (Play, Michal Kovář)

…I salute the organisers because in this topic I am quite sensitive to excessive tear-jerking and historic lapses, and I encountered none of that here. In contrast, most big topics in the game were presented in a very believable manner and not black-and-white, which I appreciated a lot. For me was tense, dramatic, well-escalated and full of strong emotions. I would like to give extra praise to the NPCs – the gentlemen were awesome and perfect…

Mivka, player

"Don't be shy!" (Play, Jiří Dukát)

Before the first run I was a little worried about characters designed without prepared relations and clearly defined goals, but it was a pleasant surprise how such “incomplete” characters developed directly in-game under the pressure of external inputs. Each character has scenes prepared just for her which I really appreciated.

Lujza, player

"Good evening, sir" (Play, Michal Kára)

Salon Moravia

Credits: Radim Bondy, Veronika Bondyová, Jan Fiala, Blanka Hanzlová, Sära Komasová, Anežka Müller
Date: November 17, 2012; February 02, 2013; November 16, 2013 and November 22, 2014
Location: Brno, Czech Republic (and Slavkov u Brna for the last run)
Length: 6 – 7 hours + one hour pre-game workshop
Players: 10 players, 6-13 NPCs
Budget: €1,000
Participation Fee: €17 per player (average)
Game Mechanics: Minimal, only safe words for intimity, violence and alcohol.

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: “If you don’t tell, take a good look in the mirror so you remember what you looked like.” (Play, Michal Kovář). Other photos by Michal Kovář, Jiří Dukát and Michal Kára.

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