Vedergällningen was a Viking horror larp focusing on the relationships between humans, and between humans and the gods. It was played in the Berghem larp village in Sweden, on 1-3rd November 2019. Vedergällningen was created by Karin Edman under the brand Wonderkarin. The larp was run in English, with players from both Sweden and abroad, totalling about 85 participants, including both players and crew.
The larp world was set in a fictional Viking age and time where magic exists and works, the gods walk the earth, and supernatural beings roam the forests. The larp itself was set in the village of Astfanginn, a village where völvas, their disciples, and thralls lived and worked. A völva is a person who knows sorcery, or as it is called in this world, magic “seidr”. The seidr are magic rites to make something happen, from healing someone, to giving someone power in battle, to calling down the gods to the earth. The völvas are usually female, but sometimes they can be male. What sets this village apart from other villages is that in this village the residents have settled based on their merits in seidr, and then the followers who are attracted to the residents also settled there.
There was a set hierarchy in the village. The Council are firmly in the top, a group of völvas so senior they seldom leave the village. Then there were five travelling völvas, and then the followers of the travelling völvas. In the larp, there were also three different groups of vikings. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the thralls, also within their own group.
This all sounds a bit complex, so I will take myself as an example. My character was Halldora and I was part of the group The Followers of Gyrid consisting of me, Hjördis, Geirlaug and Hjerka and our leader Gyrid who was one of the travelling völvas. I had a mentor in the Council, Ljufu. I was also assigned a friend, Ranveig, in the Followers of Järngerd. This meant I had plenty of connections both to other characters and to other groups, creating an alibi for play. The other characters had a similar network of connections to explore. Each group also had their own house to sleep in, meaning it was relatively easy to find each other, even though it was dark after 9 pm and rained quite a bit.
This design worked very well for me, especially since I had signed up to the larp by myself without knowing too much who else had planned on going. And although I knew some people there off-game, I played with them very little, as I had so much play with my assigned connections. This design also meant that both I and most other players that I know of also had plenty of threads to follow, which in turn generated more play. It also created a feeling of the village being lived in, and relationships being established and being changed.
There were a number of set events within the larp; the vikings would arrive, the Vedergällningen ritual would be held calling down the gods, and the ending scene of the larp. This level of transparency gave me as a player room to steer my game and time the experience which I enjoyed.
Ingame, one dark and stormy night, Vikings arrived to the village to seek help as their ships had been destroyed, and they were in need of physical, mental and magical healing. Before the first night was over, the völvas became victims of a horrible crime. To get vengeance, the völvas called the gods for answers and aid. This did not go exactly to plan, and now the humans had to face both Loki and their beasts, as well as themselves.
Our group “The followers of Gyrid” believed in the goddess Idunn. Idunn was the goddess of youth and fertility; her symbol is the apple. Our magic powers were focused on rituals for healing and youth, using food and drink. I talked with the gods and sometimes got answers. Gyrid, the three other disciples, and I worked and lived in a small hut and this was also where I spent most of my time playing.
If you were the person in need, something like this would have happened to you:
You stand outside our hut, in the dripping wet and cold November night. The door opens and you see lights and feel the warmth streaming out.
‘Welcome, come in, what ails you?’ we ask, inviting you in. You sit down on the warm blankets and pelts on the floor, sweet smell in the air. Gyrid sits behind you, directs her disciple with small gestures and eye contact. On the chest over there you see a bowl of berries, the spine of a big animal, and cup of mead. You lean back and when you look up into the ceiling, it is covered with hanging apples and branches; the lovely smell permeates the air. Hjördis sets the tune with her staff, the rhythmic sound reverberating in the hut. Geirlaug, then takes up the tune and Hjerka and Halldora soon chime in too. The song is about Idunn and how her power is granted to them. At first it is only pleasant, the song and soft touches and small nibbles fill you; then it turns darker and the soft touch turns into restraint; and the nibbles are not so delicious anymore and you don’t want to eat it but you are forced to swallow. But it is for your own good and soon, so soon, you will feel better. The song fills the hut, the smells and the screams. And then it is over; you are healed. What do you have that you can pay with? Maybe the price was a bit more steep than you first bargained for. What is the bitter pill you have to swallow? Is it a year and a day as a thrall, or losing the ability to ever have children, or simply the rage that helped you keep your men in check that you lost? But we all know, before long, you will be back again. Now out again with you, out into the rain and cold; there’s a line waiting.
This was my most hedonistic larp this far. If you’re imagining November in the Swedish forest to be a bit cold and drab, you are completely right. But despite the surrounding setting, I slept well, ate well (including eating a mallard!), danced, sang a lot, and had a lovely time performing rituals with players I had never met before and not really talked to before either; still we managed to form a very well functioning group by just the exchange of a few words, our expectations and wishes, and setting up the hut together.
I didn’t spend time thinking of how I looked or how I acted but could just follow my character and what my character was up to. I think this was largely due to the fact that the larp was explicitly queer friendly and lesbian-themed. Most positions of power were held by women, and there were overall a lot of female and nonbinary players, compared with relatively few men. This ensured that I could relax and just enjoy myself and go with it. I also appreciated the relatively high average age in this larp, and the maturity of the players. The calibrations ensured that I had time setting up scenes and following threads, allowing me to steer the experience.
Another factor that added to my feeling of immersion was how little time I spent talking and how much time I spent doing. There’s something special about carrying water, plucking mallards (so soft feathers!), stroking and touching and restraining other players, singing and feeding and eating. Running scared through the wet forest, beasts close by. Relishing the feel of wood, and bone, cold water on the hands and hot coffee in the stomach. The sound of the other villagers, the smells of wet fur and leather. Tip-toeing around Loki and their beasts as not to spite them. All my senses were activated and my body moved most of the time. Engaging the body and the senses so much gave me a deeper relation to the larp and it is something I will steer towards in the future more than I have done before.
What made Vedergällningen good to me was that there was so much room for different experiences, such as playing with power, being scared, being used and owned as a thrall, feeling like an outsider, being a witch, being a warrior and so on. Having different gender expressions and tastes. Lots of sex (in-game of course) or none at all, go for what you like.
What made me take the step from thinking of writing up this piece was two fold. I often wish larps that I did not attend had accompanying documentation pieces, so I offer this work as a contribution to others. Secondly, Vedergällningen is being run again and I wanted to let a broader audience know about it. If you’re curious, have a look at https://vedergallningen.wordpress.com for more information. (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Wonderkarin; I just had a good experience).
Cover Photo: Skade cursing out the Viking who killed the First of the Council. Photo by Cajsa Lithell.
Editors: Elina Gouliou and Mo Holkar