Pneuma is a surreal mystery-drama, seemingly about a random gathering of people stuck on a bus in the middle of nowhere. The larp is played over four acts. The style is inquisitive and dark. We are trying to attain a feeling of mysteries and confusion. The larp was a brain-child of Hallgeir; it also used elements from escape-rooms like riddles, puzzle-boxes and a cryptex.
We decided to try something new regarding the workshops before the start of the larp. To that end, we gave the players some instructions on certain actions that should be taken during the workshop. This ranged from “3 times during the workshop you should try to be defiant” to “3 times during the workshop you should say something racist”. We wanted to do this to make the divide between the player and the character a bit blurry from the get-go. We also debriefed about this after the larp, so that the player forced to be a racist was able to explain.
We wanted the players to feel that the character was written for them, and only them. To do this, we asked all the players some bullshit before the larp started, like: “What is your star-sign?”, “What is your favourite colour?”, “Which animal represents you?” and “Write down 3 words that represent you”.
In addition to this, we started all characters with the following:
“We have tried to write the personality of your character based on which player is playing them. We do this to increase your empathy with your character and how to play the role. This is not the main theme of the larp, but we would like to use it as much as possible. If we have some misses, you are totally free to use whatever parts you want to use for play.”
After that, all characters had the same text (written by Derren Brown):
“You are a person prone to bouts of self-examination. This is in sharp contrast to a striking ability you have developed to appear very socially engaged, even the life and soul of the party; but in a way that only convinces others. You are all too aware of it being a façade…”
We divided the larp into acts in order to be able to change the black box and to give instructions and information to the players. All the characters were really aspects of one person’s personality, and inspired by a deadly sin or heavenly virtue. They were all a part of a mentally ill man’s psyche. There were two stories playing out during this larp: What happened inside the two black boxes (the consciousness and the subconscious) and the story outside.
This meant that all players had their “opposite”, and we tried to create conflicts there from the workshops before the larp. The two black boxes were set up to be the consciousness and subconscious of the character of whom the participants were playing aspects. He was a disturbed man contemplating killing his 5-year-old daughter, and what the players were really doing was deciding whether to kill her or not. So when, at the start of act 3, we held back two players and put them into the subconscious, only being able to communicate with the consciousness (the other black box) through a magical mirror, the players could start figuring out what was happening and who they were. We used some riddle-solving and actual puzzles in addition to the meta-game that was going on. It is difficult to predict how hard riddles and puzzles need to be in order to take the appropriate amount of time to solve. This is the first crack we have had at black-boxes and also the first larp we have made that was explicitly intended for reruns.
Credits: Hallgeir Gustavsen, Tim Esborn & Ståle Askerød Johansen
Duration: 5–6 hours, 4 hours play time
Participants: 14. Organizers can’t participate as ordinary players.
Organizers & Helpers: 2–3
Possible Locations: Black box, gallery, classroom, conference room
Equipment: Tables, chairs, sound-system of sorts, video-projector (not necessary, but better)
Playing Style: Realistic, riddle-solving, but with plenty of improvisation
Notes: Inspired by Agatha Christie´s And Then There Were None, and the movie Identity (2003). This larp used two connected black boxes and pre-recorded video and audio together with two “magical mirrors”. The players were not allowed to speak about the game between acts; a decision we would change in retrospect, as this could have helped solving the plot.
Cover photo: The setting of the game was as enigmatic as it was abstract (play, Tim Esborn).