Six magickal larp techniques were designed for “Walpurgis” (2018) and refined for its second run (2019). They were created to reinforce psychedelia, confusion and messing with dark undercurrents in a Psychedelic 70’s, Eurotrash surreal setting. Magickal techniques are specific and alternate ways to engage with oneself, with each other character, and with the environment in larp.
The techniques were created by Juan Ignacio Ros and José Castillo Meseguer, working together as Somnia. They were intended to be a complete set: inclusive (for all magick went through them) and prescriptive (for they had to be followed if the character was performing magick and no magick was performed outside them). They were intended as approaches to follow and not definite “spells”, and similar outcomes could be achieved by many of them. They were all about how to do magick, how to be immersed while performing, and results were secondary.
The techniques were also designed to enhance Somnia’s preferred style of seamless immersion and to avoid any blatant stepping out of the illusion to negotiate outcomes – play to flow. For that same reason, the techniques are autonomous and don’t require supervision, decisions or judgement from the larp organization. It was not an aim of the design to enable power fantasies, and we focused on psychological horror.
The esoteric and occult make-up of the magic enacted by the characters through the techniques was seen a secondary concern, or a non-issue, but they enhanced the mood. These techniques benefit vastly if three principles are also followed:
“There are no masters” – Even if characters think they are masters of the Occult, they are not, according to these techniques. There is no certain outcome for their performance and rituals.
“You cannot be wrong” – While the actual performance could be compromised, characters are confident in their works – the same as in any movie with obvious silly rituals that are taken seriously nonetheless. As long as the participant put an effort delivering their “magick”, it was accepted and slight deviations are welcomed.
“Outcomes flow along with the larp running course” – If a character wants to set up a specific situation or opportunity in advance, that is fine, but if the “magick” involve other participants’ characters, they are the ones who decide the intensity and persistence of the effects as they find them interesting. Attempts to perform them in a casual manner, to automatize or to exploit them can be seen as bad form and ignored, for these techniques are played to flow, to see what happens next, and not to abuse other participants’ goodwill.
Lastly, a desired outcome could be irrelevant or going against the larp desired experience or the larp specific phase, flow or limits, so it is expected that participants restrain themselves if such is the case.
The Second Sight is seen as the foundation technique, for it is a requirement before performing the rest of them. It is an active technique to enhance the larp experience by engaging through the inner turmoil and phantoms of the portrayed character.
The key issue is the conscious distortion of perception, and should always be done through the character’s mindset.
A recipe for workshops follows:
Stop for a moment, look inside and try to see what is unseen, the hidden meaning behind what is happening, a subtle level beyond the evident reality of what you see. Let any image, impression or idea manifest in your imagination and hold unto it. Take your insight as the truth or vision your character is perceiving, within the worldview of the larp, however irrational or outrageous it could be, and go with it, act upon it.
The Second Sight is intended to be used as often as possible for inspiration, or to decide if what another character is saying or doing is true, or to look for hints or motivations for anything, but also as a preamble to any act of magick, to “measure“ and ”perceive” hidden forces.
It is a way to generate content for the larp experience in an unilateral way.
Comment: We designed the Second Sight as a “symbolic mode” to engage the larp in a different approach than regular perception allows. We often felt that the standard portrayal of magic in larp relies too often on props, special effects and external actions. The inner action and symbolic significance of performing magick is too often overlooked or not considered, so we used this technique as a prerequisite and threshold for all participants to help them find subjective meaning in sometimes absurd and illogical actions that have sense within themselves.
We stressed the importance of the Second Sight for the second run of Walpurgis, as we found it under-used during the first run.
This technique encouraged participants to tap into their visions and ideas for the larp, situations and characters “in media res” and forge new paths of action.
This technique is performed to deliver indirect suggestions for a character ‘s next actions or path, by looking into the blurry past and the hidden present. It could be performed by a character on another, or by the character alone over themselves, as a form for diegetic steering. It requires a divination tool, but anything could be used if it makes sense for the larp itself.
When a seer performs the reading on another, they require a framework for the interpretation of the signs, and it can be as vague or specific as the consultant wants.
The answers from the divination should include situations the character who asks for the divination will most surely come across (or have the delusion of encountering), as proofs or triggers behind the divination messages.
Comment: Divination is best for “soft” influences and suggestions. Anything goes with it, and any vague statements and inaccuracies make it very fitting for the “consultant”character to fill up the blanks. It is taken for granted that the “seer” character will start any reading after they enter the Second Sight.
There is no subtlety in sorcery, a blunt and direct technique to exert power and obtain results and alterations in the outer world and in others. It is defined as engaging through forceful commands and overt manipulation.
The effects on other characters depend a lot on the dramatic abilities of the performer, for they are delivered mostly through personal influence.
Examples of sorcery execution could be the ritual delivery of a charm, talisman or potion with the intent of a direct change on another; the use of gestures, looks and words to convey psychic manipulations or cursing; the composition of some sort of semblance or doll, etc. All of them are tied to let the target character know about the intent.
There are many ways of performing sorcery, but with each one the sorcerer is sending a clear message: the character wants a specific result or course of action, is not afraid to force it, and the consequences be damned.
Comment: Successful use of sorcery goes through the principle of “play to flow” for all involved participants: go along if it is well delivered and makes sense, display resistance even if the character is going to lose, let the circumstances and the specifics of your character decide.
By design, subtle and indirect influences, charms and enchantment were not considered for “Walpurgis”, as we aimed for overt and dramatic interventions.
The technique for Journey was designed to enable travelling through other worlds, alone or in company. It is also seen as engaging through delusions and mindscapes.
It comes in two modes: a mind trip and a physical walk, and both can be performed alone or with company, and take for granted the Second Sight is being used. As a mind trip, the character sits and navigates through a predefined inner landscape of the larp, using the guidance of another character who takes the lead and suggests (but not describes) what is happening or following their own path.
As a physical walk, the character moves through a path after night falls, but projects the inner landscape they should be navigating in the outer world. It can also be performed with another character leading the path and suggesting the zones they are travelling through.
This technique has worked better when performed with some aim or purpose of what the character wanted to find, and dressed up with rituals, music, candles or special lights.
Comment: “Walpurgis” had a predefined inner landscape – the Underworld – for the characters to travel. It was broad and based on Mediterranean otherworlds (specially the Greek Hades) and the larp location, a group of cave houses in Southern Spain, was well suited to it.
Implementing this technique in a larp would require to define an inner landscape or otherworld with the principles that operate inside and the kind of experiences that the Journey might provide. Otherwise, it could end in aimless wandering and complete disconnection.
Evocation is intended as the conjuring of otherworldly beings to interact with them for information, exchanges, dealings and pacts. The technique was conceived as engaging through the perspective of a third person with an inhuman mindset: The Other, a character that is played through another character. Different kinds of Others could be conceived: long dead people, personifications of a specific emotion or complex entities who could be conscious but utterly alien.
Evocation requires two characters, the one who calls forth, and a companion who helps and will serve as the basis for the Other.
The evocation ritual is performed in a dramatic way by the one who calls, and conveys to the companion all the information they require: titles, powers, attitude, quirks and demeanor. At the climax of the ritual, the companion embodies the Other. Outwardly, there are no changes, but the magician can see them through the Second Sight.
Then follows a power play between the Other and the magician, who are constantly testing each other’s power and will through their interaction and exchange, trying to gain the upper hand. The entity could ask for prices, obedience, tasks or information. At the end of the interaction, the entity departs by its own volition or when it is banished, and the companion has some distant memories of the interaction.
A particularly dangerous – yet intense – variation is the summoning of a being of desire for the magician, a “demon lover”. The demon lover embodies the qualities and possess the gender the character finds most attractive. The companion embodies the demon lover and interacts – there could be words, touch, a playful exchange, violence, slight gratification or any kind of interaction, but there should be no fulfillment. Whatever interaction develops, it should be unsatisfying and frustrating at the end, but it might be insightful.
Comment: Consent and safety are paramount when playing with Evocation, and particularly if any kind of intimacy is going to be enacted. It is understood the participants would have negotiated before the larp their interaction limits and are able revoke them at any point. To implement this technique, it should be also stressed that whoever plays the companion character could return to their normal character even if they don’t feel threatened, but don’t like how the interaction is developing, stating that the entity has gone.
That all interactions were unsatisfying was a design feature for “Walpurgis”, but it could be different for another larp. However, we thought it was better to avoid power fantasies and any kind of wish fulfillment.
The technique for Metamorphosis is the process of becoming the alien Other, engaging inwards through a self-inflicted change of the character.
It allows to change the character by direct ritual action during the larp, to discover new or vestigial aspects unknown before or to fumble and mess with oneself in a horrible and permanent way, whatever seems more interesting. Altering character traits, mindset or basic social functions, like substituting words for humming or rhythmic clapping, or losing the capacity to express some thought or emotion could be some examples.
Tools for Metamorphosis are meditation, concentration, devotion, the invocation and absorption of god forms and specific actions undertaken as a means of transformation.
Comment: As “Walpurgis” themes were horror, confusion and lack of identity, Metamorphosis was the way to go for radical transformations and experimentation, never to “improve” the character or give them an advantage over others, but to make them different from normal human beings by becoming the Other. Metamorphosis was intended as a permanent change, for a passing influence was the purview of other techniques such as Sorcery.
An important point of note was that Metamorphosis was sought after by the character, and it was always personal. This could change for another larp in which a character could alter others’ core identities by sorcerous means.
The techniques were intended as a whole, but they allow for ample experimentation using only a couple of them. For instance, a short chamber larp – “δαίμων” (Daimon, 2019 and 2020), written by Juan Ignacio Ros for Somnia – has used only a streamlined version of Evocation. Other magickal techniques could be designed for specific larps, considering the needs, the design and how they would enhance the way the characters could interact.
We made slight adjustments on the techniques for the second run to explain them better, but they stayed mostly the same.
The biggest changes were connected to Evocation, to offer a more practical approach about it and establish better that the technique should be used with a companion who would perform the entity evoked.
We altered Sorcery so it was understood only as “brute psychic force” and not as a general guidance and manipulation, for we felt it was needed to avoid vagueness and convey the coercive nature of such magicks.
The definition of Metamorphosis was confusing for the first run, according to several participants, so we stressed that the Otherness that took over the character was inhuman, alien, unknown: connected to the chthonic and titanic nature of the Dark Gods that the characters followed.
For the second run of “Walpurgis,” an online session was set up before the larp to give examples, describe and comment on how a participant could produce their larp content through these tools. Extended workshops would be also highly advisable to practice the techniques if participants are not familiar with them.
These tools required engagement and a bit of preparation, but were designed to flesh out and guide interactions in a “magical” mindset, and to enrich the larp experience when Occult and ritual magic are considered.
Cover photo: From the second international run of Walpurgis. Photo by Stefano Kewan Lee.
This article will be published in the upcoming companion book Book of Magic and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:
Ros, Juan Ignacio. “Six Magickal Techniques.” In Book of Magic, edited by Kari Kvittingen Djukastein, Marcus Irgens, Nadja Lipsyc, and Lars Kristian Løveng Sunde. Oslo, Norway: Knutepunkt, 2021. (In press).