In 1937 all members of The Hermetic Order of Ardor disappeared without a trace. The Order was gathered to motivate its members to ascend to a higher plane of existence. Notes found at their estate suggest that, during one of the summonings run by the Lady Templar, two deities slipped through the cracks in the aether and slowly condemned the members to hell. The larp BAPHOMET was the story of what happened.
The Idea, Story and Setting
BAPHOMET was a larp about personal horror with the themes terror, lust, desire, power and loss of control. The story was about what happens when a group descends into madness together. During the larp, the two deities Pan and Baphomet possessed the characters, and their aspects filled the characters and slowly consumed them.
We wanted to explore a horror-themed larp where the basis of the horror was not external monsters, but how we as human beings are capable of doing horrible things if we are pushed just a little. A larp with nearly no special effects and with a focus on loss of self-control though the use of meta-techniques.
The Hermetic Order of Ardor that the characters were members of was based on a mix of real hermetic orders from the turn of the 19th century. Teachings of Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley and Danish couple Michael and Johanne Agerskov formed the basis of the world view of the order. The tome mediated by Johanne and written by Michael Agerskov, Vandrer mod Lyset (Walking towards the Light), was used as the main inspiration.
Rituals were performed in the order to heighten the mental state of the members and initiate them in the next level. It was during one of these rituals that the two supernatural powers of the larp came into the world by mistake and started to corrupt the characters.
The outcome of the larp was locked from the beginning: Everyone would die at the end as they followed either Pan or Baphomet to their realms. The interesting part was not whether you died, but how your character would get to that horrific end: how a secret order would leave all sense of reason and mental illumination, give in to temptation and dive into madness.
The larp was set in what we called The Vintage Era. The vintage era looks and feels like somewhere in between 1910 and 1950. We wanted the visual style of the period more than re-enactment. So as long as the player’s outfits, hair and makeup looked and felt vintage, we were happy.
Sign-up and Characters
BAPHOMET had three different kinds of characters: Knights of the East and West (regular characters), staff and a chef. Everyone was a member of the order. The ticket prices were different for the three types: 210 € for members of the order, 60 € for staff and the chef participated for free. This was because the staff participants had off-game duties, needed to help with various happenings during runtime, and could not expect to play the larp uninterrupted. The chef had so many duties during the larp preparing the food that time playing was limited.
If you wanted to participate as a member of the order, you had to sign up with a partner. The reason for this was that in the larp you would have a very close relationship with another character, and the larp demands a lot of trust between the two.
We also had a questionnaire you needed to fill in during the signup. The information requested was designed to help us understand the motivations of the player to participate, and to decide what character we would like to cast the player as.
“When signing up for Baphomet we were asked what we wanted out of the experience. I specified ‘exploring the topic of madness in a safe environment’, and this is one of the most valuable experiences I had during the larp.”
– Player feedback
A secret agenda for the couple’s sign up and the questionnaire was to raise the threshold for participation. A larp like BAPHOMET demands a lot from its players, and by making the threshold for participation high we wanted to make sure the participants really wanted to participate, and not sign up and then later drop out. We also assumed that if you had signed up with a partner, the chances for you to drop out would be much lower since the partner also couldn’t participate if you cancelled.
Production and Location
Since we were only two people in the production team we wanted the production to be as easy as possible.
We rented the amazing Lungholm Castle, a pristine estate located in an isolated spot of the countryside and filled with antiques, old paintings and a grand piano. The quality of the location was one of the key elements for the larp to work and the larp was partially written for the location.
“In my eyes the fantastic location was both the reason that the larp was a splendid experience but also the fault that it wasn’t amazing. Due to the cost of the castle, the amount of participants had to be doubled compared to earlier runs of PAN. This meant that the relation drama-driven design was packed with secrets and intrigues, to a point where it became trivial that someone screamed and cried in the hallway every half hour. It ended up being ten parallel explosions that dimmed each other, instead of five intertwined escalations that fuelled one another.”
– Player feedback
The runtime of the larp was done by the organizers from within the larp with big help from the staff and chef characters. To control the flow of the larp the organisers played the leaders (High Templars) of the order and could to some degree control the character’s actions.
The Game Mechanics
Since BAPHOMET was about possession and loss of control, we used a modified version of the possession mechanics used for PAN.
A possession was symbolized by a necklace; one for each god. When the necklace was placed around your neck, your character’s morals and ethics would fade and only the immediate needs and wants of the deity were present. You would be possessed, for the other players to notice and interact with, until you passed the necklace onto another player. The necklaces would move from player to player and leave a trail of intense, frightening and character-altering experiences.
To keep track of where the characters were on their path down into insanity, each player had a glass container placed on a small altar in the ritual room of the estate. Each time you had been possessed, you went and put a bead in the container. A black bead for Baphomet and a white for Pan. The more beads, the more you were in the deity’s control; and your actions would be controlled even when you weren’t wearing a necklace. We would also in some cases increase the amount of beads in a player’s container if they forgot to do it themselves due to immersion in the game. This was also sometimes done to align the bead-visualisation of the progressing state of possession with the actual pace of the possession in the game.
To underline the mood of the larp, non-diegetic music played throughout the estate day and night. The music became more and more disturbing as time passed. This was also used at PAN and has shown to be very effective and highly recommendable.
The Safety Features
A larp like BAPHOMET, which is very physical and intimate, demands a lot of trust between players. We have to be absolutely sure that players are free to explore the themes of the larp and that they can opt in or opt out of a scene or interaction at any time.
First we all agreed on not disclosing what happened at the larp to anybody not playing it. This was not done to stop people from discussing or criticizing the larp; it was done to give the participants full freedom to do whatever they felt their character should, or should not do. To remove the element of competition of e.g. who larped the most intensely.
We then all agreed that the recipient of an interaction was responsible for steering the scene in a direction that was comfortable for them. This was done to remove some of the difficult nonverbal or verbal negotiations you always see in intense scenes. This works very well but needs to be workshopped before play
We also used the Tap Out mechanic, as a last resort if you were in a situation where you felt your boundaries were met and you didn’t want to play the scene any more. You simply double-tapped the other player with your hand and the scene would stop.
“The combination of unsettling sound effects, extreme emotional play, and topics that were a little too close for comfort left me close to having to “tap out” on several occasions, but at every turn I was surrounded by caring, experienced players who made it possible for me to deal and explore, rather than fold and admit defeat.”
– Player feedback
The larp experience at BAPHOMET was a very intense and unsettling experience. Several participants have reported weird and terrifying dreams many weeks after the larp. When the possessions started the feeling of time and space slowly crumbled and you went from one interaction to the next without any time to rest. This was both good and bad, since the attrition pushed you further, but also diminished the individual experience.
“BAPHOMET was truly something else. The setting was magnificent, and as I felt that everyone shared this total suspension of disbelief, we trod down the spiral stairway into madness together. To the increasing presence of two malevolent entities possessing us in shifts. Constant immersion. Liberal amounts of champagne. Altogether overwhelming.
The intense play between the couples was full of tragedy, insanity and heartbreak. And the envisioned horror was very much present throughout. This is one nightmare I long for…”
– Player feedback
BAPHOMET will be run again in 2018.
Credits: Linda Udby (design, production), Bjarke Pedersen (design, production).
Date: October 5–8 and 8–11, 2015
Location: Lungholm Gods – Rødby – Denmark
Duration: 3 days (2 in character)
Participants: 26 at Run 1 and 28 at Run 2. Players from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, England, Ireland, Poland and the US.
Participation Fee: €210
Game Mechanics: Possession mechanics, non-diegetic sound, tap out safety rule.
This article was initially published in The Nordic Larp Yearbook 2015 published by Rollespilsakademiet and edited by Charles Bo Nielsen, Erik Sonne Georg, et al.
Cover photo: Character Irene Taylor – Run 2 (photo by Andreas Ingefjord).