Helicon: An Epic Larp about Love, Beauty, and Brutality

Helicon: An Epic Larp about Love, Beauty, and Brutality

This article is the second in a series on Larping Intimacy and Relationships.

Content Advisory: Enslavement, oppression, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, addiction, dysfunctional relationships, plot spoilers

From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos…  — Hesiod’s Theogony

Helicon is a larp by Katrine Wind and Maria Pettersson. The first run was held January 5-7, 2024 in Broholm Castle, Denmark, with a second run scheduled for February 16-18. The larp focuses upon a group of artists, leaders, and scientists in the early twentieth century with various specialties who have discovered and enacted an occult ritual in their university years together. This ritual enables them to call forth the Muses of Greek antiquity, children of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory. The artists ensnare the Muses into servitude such that the Muses are spiritually bound into conferring their Inspiration to the artist who summoned them (their “Inspired”) and are not allowed to Inspire others without a direct order. They are also no longer free to leave the vicinity in which their Inspired has ordered them to stay; through the course of the larp, this vicinity was Helicon Manor, a far cry from the Mount Helicon of antiquity where they normally go for replenishment. Helicon deals explicitly with themes of artistic inspiration, addiction, emotional turmoil, power, restrictions on freedom, and dysfunctional relationship dynamics.

If you are planning to play a future run, please be mindful that this article will share spoilers about the details of the design and the ending.

Physical and Spiritual Subjugation

And, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse’s Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet…

     — Hesiod’s Theogony

In Helicon, each Muse has a specific theme that infuses their Inspiration and guides play:  Comedy, Dance, Epic poetry, History, Love poetry, Music, Painting, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Sculpture, Song, Spiritual inspiration, and Tragedy. While the power dynamics within the dyads (and in one case, triad) are complex, the Muses are essentially enslaved to their Inspired. They can be drained dry of Inspiration, which the Inspired can use to fuel great deeds or waste as they wish. They can be separated from their siblings: the only beings who can truly understand their divine nature and the millennia of memories they share. They can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually abused by their captors. Even in the kindest of pairings, they must endure the renewal ritual of binding every year, witnessing all of their siblings undergo the process of losing their free will once more. Muses are required to wear only white and gold, with their clothing chosen by their Inspired.

A person in white with a flower crown seated as a person embraces them from behind.

Omorfia and Philip Frost, Muse and Inspired of Painting. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

The Muses can also exert influence over their human captors. When their captors experience their Inspiration, whether given consensually or forcibly taken by the Inspired, the experience is akin to being high on drugs and vulnerable to the Muse emotionally such that promises can be extracted. However, whether or not the Inspired chooses to honor those promises depends entirely on their own integrity: not a common trait written within these characters. While the Inspired have different attitudes toward the binding ritual and its problematic ethics, they still willingly or grudgingly participate in subjugating the Muses each year for their own gain.

This subjugation is particularly painful within the context of the epic setting. Because the Muses are forced to give Inspiration only to one (or two) humans, the rest of the world is starving and wasting away. For millennia, the Muses were deities that evoked worship and vulnerable surrender in order to receive their blessings. They could freely give Inspiration and leave at will as befits their nature; now, they were forced into servitude. At the center of this dynamic is the frailty of the human ego: how even the “best” in the world still struggle with needing to feel recognized and important, and how such insecurities lead people to cause brutal harm to others in order to extract their vital energy and love.

The larp is a mixture of the mundane and the extraordinary, with the interactions taking on a significance not only within these interpersonal dynamics, but upon the world stage and even within the realm of gods. For this reason, I classify the experience as epic play, not only because of the context of Greek epic poetry from which it emerges, but also due to the heightened significance of these actions and the strong emphasis on great artistic production arising out of pain. To subjugate a person in order to extract their vital energy is tragic; to subjugate the Muse of Tragedy is tragic on an epic level. 

Melpomene (standing), Taylor Montgomery (left), and Thomas Montgomery (right), Muse and Inspired of Tragedy. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

The white and gold attire worn by the Muses gave them an ethereal, otherworldly quality that contrasted sharply with the Vintage Era clothing of the artists. The website describes the Vintage Era as encompassing “any time from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century” (Wind and Pettersson 2023). In contrast to this vaguely modern era, diegetically, the Muses have existed for millennia. Despite this eternal quality, however, the Muses tend to “live in the present.” This meant in practice that we may have fragments of memories from bygone eras of having inspiring historical or legendary mythic figures at will, but such memories would be less important than the present moment experience. For me, this awareness led to a strange contrast between being trapped in a mundane human experience of time and its day-to-day concerns, while also mentally leaping to other times and places, adding to the eerie and unnatural nature of the Muses’ servitude. Such elements added a sense of epicness to play.

The concept of epic play is not intended to reduce the importance of larps focusing on oppression, intimacy, and other dynamics occurring amongst “mere” humans, but rather to describe an aesthetic quality about the larp that sets it apart from larps about the mundane world. To be captured as a Muse meant we could not Inspire others, such that our lack of involvement due to our enslavement was creating ripples in reality not only inside Helicon Manor, but outside of it. The Inspired could trade or even gamble away the Muses’ Inspiration, which can be seen as a mixture of their vital essence and their labor the Muses no longer had liberty to use as they wished.

This epic aesthetic quality can also be ascribed to certain storylines within fantasy larps and themes in other games that feature a supernatural component. Epicness relies upon the ensemble of players committing to underscore the epic significance of the actions performed within play. I have had epic play experiences in other settings, such as at the Vampire: the Masquerade (1991) larp Convention of Thorns (2017) as well as within chamber larps and tabletop RPGs of various genres; indeed, this epic quality is likely what draws many people again and again to Dungeons & Dragons (1974-), which is still the most popular tabletop setting in the world.

What made Helicon exemplary in this respect was the care put into the communication, design, structure, and safety surrounding the experience such that this epic quality — and the tragic  predicament within which these characters were ensnared — was emphasized. This article will focus on these design and implementation practices, providing theoretical context from my perspective as a player-researcher enacting a Muse character where appropriate.

Circles of Trust and Betrayal

Thence they arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising… 

     — Hesiod’s Theogony

The larp designers fostered trust among the player base in a variety of ways. The website clearly communicated not only the themes of the larp, but also its structure and which sorts of experiences the players were encouraged and discouraged to enact. Players were not expected to demonstrate expertise in their respective arts or to perform during the larp, which lowered the perceived barrier to entry of performance anxiety. Despite the intimate nature of many of the relationships, the designers detailed that this larp is not intended to be an erotic larp in which public displays of sexuality are encouraged and are often a central design feature (Grasmo and Stenros 2022). While such larps can be experienced as liberating for participants (Juhana Pettersson 2021b), explicit sexuality can distract from the more subtle relationship dynamics and interactions that this larp sought to foster. Regardless of the chosen themes, expectation setting is important in creating a shared culture before signup even begins (Koljonen 2016a), provided of course that the players adhere to this established social contract. 

Similarly, the website described the structure of scenes that would occur, which included a form of fateplay (Fatland 2000) of certain scenes framing each act. It described the pre-larp scene of the Muses attempting and failing at escape, only to be dragged back to Helicon Manor: in achingly strong contrast to the real Mount Helicon, where they would gather for connection and renewal as siblings before their enslavement. 

Photo of a person in a black robe

Stella Wilson, Inspired of Spiritual Inspiration, led the rituals. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

The larp was framed with a beautifully epic theme song composed by Anni Tolvanen, which ushered us in and out of play. Tolvanen also curated a soundscape of dramatic music that echoed through the halls during the larp. The first Act began with a ritualized Punishment scene while standing in a circle, in which the Inspired enacted consequences on their Muses for their escape attempt, also forcing the Muses to punish each other. I have also utilized this technique of starting the larp by dropping characters directly into ritual space when co-designing Immerton (2017) and Epiphany (2018). I find it a particularly helpful practice to emphasize the core themes of the game, help players quickly get past the awkwardness of the first hour of the larp, and create intensely meaningful role-play moments from the beginning that can feed play later. (For further reading on these larps, see Jones 2017; Brown et al. 2018; Kim, Nuncio, and Wong 2018). 

In our discussions after the larp, Wind referred to this design technique as part of a concept she calls frontloading, which she will further describe in an upcoming article. For Katrine, this term referred to the structure and pacing in terms of intensity, which puts a lot of structured and tense content earlier in the larp. This term also resonated with Maria, who described frontloading as designing  extensive and complex character relations with focus on high playability in the larp itself, a common strategy in Finnish design. Wind explained:

This combination gives players something to immediately play on and react to that has specific relevance for their character and gives them “something to talk about immediately.” It also provides alibi to jump right into relations that might take a lot of time to ramp up and cause everything in the larp to culminate at the same time in the last few hours. . . 

If there is one or more crescendos in the beginning of the larp itself, culminations and intensity [are] spread out over the whole playtime because you can be sure that some things will only culminate in the last hours of the larp anyway.

In the next group scene, we were then instructed to go to the dining hall. The multi-course dinners and lunches were catered and high quality. What made these dining scenes particularly epic were the statues and bas reliefs decorating the room that portrayed scenes from Greek mythology. The metatechnique that guided play in these scenes was dinner warfare, also featured in Wind’s larp Daemon (2021-). Unlike the intensely visible brutality in the Punishment ritual, we sat in circles masterminded by assigned seating to maximize drama. We pretended to be members of polite society while delivering passive aggressive verbal barbs, whether about art, the Muses’ confinement, class, or any number of other dynamics. (Gender, sexuality, and race/ethnic discrimination was explicitly forbidden in the larp, but class was very much embedded in the character design). This juxtaposition of high boiling intensity in the beginning directly to a low simmer punctuated the themes of the larp quite sharply: the epic alongside the banal, the fragility of human egos, the need to control in order to feel important, the subtle bids for freedom within enforced servitude, etc. According to the designers, traditions such as arranged seating were diegetically upheld as necessary, both due to affiliation to the Inspired’s prestigious university and the necessity to keep the ritual intact. Wind told me, 

Alibi for the seats being like this was provided by the diegetic fact that the Inspired needed the repetition to make sure they could renew the Binding year after year, so they didn’t dare change the seating. It was simply, and naturally, a tradition. This meant that divorced couples and former friends were awkwardly seated close to each other for hours.

Danielle Lafontaine, Inspired of Dance, and Christian Schönburg, Inspired of Comedy, engaged in dinner warfare. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

The first Act ended for Muses with a touching final circle: a purification ritual. Diegetically, the Muses would return to Mount Helicon every 15 years to reconnect through this ritual; since we were not permitted to return to Mount Helicon or see one another at will for the last 15 years, we made do in the Manor with these stolen moments. We huddled for warmth in the dark attic, gently comforting one another through touch as we did throughout the larp. We each took water from a bowl and cleansing the Muse next to us, which felt like a ritual blessing. Then, we each shared a Secret — some revealed shameful feelings or actions, such as taking someone else’s Inspired as a lover or alerting one’s Inspired of the escape plans. While we all witnessed these admissions, the purification ritual added an element of forgiveness to the circle. At least for my character, the understanding that we were taking action under complicated situations of duress made it easy to let such admissions go, although others did hold resentments. 

People standing around a circle as a robed woman holds a glass above her head.

The Inspired awaiting the arrival of the Muses in the first Binding, the beginning of Act 2. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen. Image has been cropped.

The second Act began with a flashback scene in which we enacted the initial binding ritual. This ritual also occurred in a circle within the same room, imbuing the physical space with a certain repeated significance. This scene was particularly effective because we already had the experience of being subjugated by these relationships the night before. We then began play with a brief experience of freedom, worship, and a pure desire to Inspire outside of such subjugation, only to be bound and betrayed. This worship was especially desired by the Muses because of its unusualness in the modern world, where few still prayed to the old gods; thus the pain of betrayal was manifold.

At the end of Act 2, the characters engaged in another important informal ritual called the Party, which was also upheld every year due to tradition. In the Party, the artists drained their Muses of all Inspiration in a moment of selfish gluttonous intoxication, doing absolutely nothing of worth with these gifts. The Muses were expected to participate in the Party as celebrants as well, which we interpreted in various ways. This sort of peer pressure to maintain appearances was present in all of the rituals, with Inspired and Muse characters alike having various degrees of internal and external conflict around these traditions.

Photo of a man in a suit holding a book and a woman in a white dress with a circlet on her head, both have a statue behind them

Henry Wilson and Clio, Inspired and Muse of History. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

Close to the end  of Act 3 was the yearly renewal of the binding ritual, with a twist: the ritual was disrupted afterward by a scroll that contained a sort of counter spell, in which the Muses were offered the opportunity to make a “Choice.” The Muses could choose to stay with their captors in servitude, or leave, which would entail them to become mortal, losing their supernatural abilities, and eventually dying. The design allowed for us to spend quite a bit of in-game time focused on this Choice and its ramifications. The power dynamics were suddenly flipped: the Muses could now decide to freely go (albeit with twisted ramifications and not at all prepared for human life), or stay within the dysfunctional dynamic of enslavement, lending to the air of tragedy. 

I was cast as Clio, the Muse of History, who had a comparatively consensual dynamic with her Inspired, historian Henry Wilson, in part due to intense Stockholm Syndrome. Though Clio’s entrapment was relatively kind, she was appalled at the indignities forced upon her siblings. During the Choice, Henry wanted Clio to stay to help him uncover lost cities like Troy, which had earned him great fame with her Inspiration as an impetus. However, he had chosen to marry another human Inspired, which reinforced to Clio this sense of indignity.

The other dyads and triad had similarly complex interpersonal dynamics, which led to the Choice being difficult to make; certain characters, who experienced some of the worst oppression in the larp chose to remain enslaved. This choice mirrors human dysfunctional relationships, but was intensified by the epic quality of the larp; the Choice had far-reaching ramifications, not only to the characters present, but the world at large. In Henry and Clio’s case, they chose a third option, presented to them by Erato, the Muse of Love Poetry, and her Inspired: the artists would publicly release us from our binding, assert our independence to leave at will, and permit us to Inspire others. The questions then became: Would Clio return of her own free will to Inspire Henry, even though he was now engaged to a mortal woman? Could Henry retract this declaration at will, leaving her to be bound again? Thus, even this “easier” third option was still riddled with emotional complexity.

A group of people mostly in white seated with one standing

The Choice. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

Circles of Safety and Calibration

Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice…

     — Hesiod’s Theogony

The larp featured a pre-game call a month before the larp and extensive workshopping before the game in which we were briefed on aspects of the world and practiced specific play techniques. Most of us signed up in pairs (or triads), meaning that we likely already had developed a certain degree of trust with our main co-player(s) in the Inspired/Muse dynamic. We were instructed that we must calibrate with these co-players at least before the game, and ideally also the other relations mentioned in our character sheets. We were also instructed to check-in with our dyad or triad players after the larp. These instructions emphasized the need for emotional care for co-players, acknowledging the intensity of the experience and making it part of the shared culture of the game to tend to one another. On the other hand, we were also reminded that we are responsible for our own experience, meaning we should communicate if needs arrive and do what is necessary to care for ourselves.

Two women in white with golden headdresses embrace.

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry, and Thalia, Muse of Comedy. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

Pre-game workshops are often quite awkward experiences, especially whenpreparing to play larps of this nature. Players often feel a certain degree of social anxiety about their own role-playing abilities and their skills at interpersonal interaction (Algayres 2019). They may feel worried about costuming, physical touch, their own attractiveness, or any other number of insecurities and uncertainties. To establish trust early on, we were instructed to sit closely with our dyad or triad and touch in some way during the briefing, such as a casual touch on the arm, cuddling, holding hands, etc. Physical touch can release oxytocin (Zak 2011) and provide an experience of trust between players, although it can also backfire for participants who feel hypervigilant or triggered when touched. The website communicated that players needed to be willing to experience casual touch: “A good baseline of what you should be okay with could be a stranger touching your arm, shouting at you, holding your hand or kissing you on the cheek” (Helicon website, n.d). We also workshopped eye gazing between Muses and Inspired, which deepened the connection and helped relieve a bit of the awkwardness. Eye gazing is a simple, yet quick and effective technique for people to see others beyond the masks each of us wear in social life, as well as to feel truly seen in a short amount of time.

We also had times within the workshop to calibrate with many of our written relationships, which from my perspective provided a solid groundwork of a “home base” between player-characters within play. In my view, creating time for such calibration is critical to the success of such larps. Many players do not have the time or inclination to reach out before the larp and find it difficult to remember names, faces, and the specifics of written dynamics during play. Creating contact before the game and encouraging players to discuss what each person wants (and doesn’t want) from the dynamic is very helpful.

Woman dancing around with a sash above her head, next to a man in white and gold on a chair

Danielle Lafontaine after draining Terpsichore at the Party (Inspired and Muse of Dancing). Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

We also workshopped a scene involving the drawing of Inspiration. The metatechnique involved a white and gold sash with the Muse’s name written upon it, which we would use in some way to signify giving Inspiration. The sash could be used in many ways ranging from gentle and consensual to violent and non-consensual. We were instructed to hand over one of our three precious Inspiration ribbons placed on our name tags and transfer them to the Inspired’s name tag. The ribbons were a non-diegetic way to communicate how full or empty of Inspiration each character was, as well as who had drawn Inspiration from whom, as each Muse had different colored ribbons. We could decide to act upon this extra-diegetic information as a form of steering (Montola, Stenros, and Saitta 2015). The designers explained that they did not want Inspiration to turn into a statistic like in other role-playing games, but it still influenced play for some of the larpers. 

Another workshop emphasized playing to lift (Vejdemo 2018), meaning we took turns boosting the importance of the other characters in terms of their personality or accomplishments using “Yes, And” to build upon what others were improvising. For example, a character could say, “My recent art work has received quite a lot of positive reviews…” which we would then reinforce with added comments. Since the larp also dealt with the fragility of artists’ egos, we also practiced playing each other down, which would be initiated by the person wanting that sort of play, for example, “Lately, I’ve really been struggling to get critics to care about my work…” The co-players would then “Yes, And” to make the character feel even worse about their artistic block or lack of public recognition. This metatechnique was particularly interesting as it provided an impetus for drawing Inspiration and seeking validation from others through dysfunctional means. 

We were instructed to use “off-game” in order to quickly calibrate and negotiate consent during play or leave the space for more extensive discussion. We went off-game between acts and the default for sleeping quarters was off-game as well. Right before the larp began, we workshopped violence, including tapping out when we wanted a certain interaction to slow down or stop, as well as escalating slowly through bullet-time consent (Koljonen 2016b) to give other players a chance to opt-in or out. This practice ended up important for the first Punishment scene that we were soon to play. 

A person embracing someone with a flower crown.

Omorfia and Philip Frost, Muse and Inspired of Painting in the first Binding. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

Calibration was also emphasized in the workshops between acts in effective ways. We were given time for one-on-one discussions, but we also circled up with each player sharing a short sentence of what they would like to experience within this Act. Then, other players could raise their hand and volunteer to deliver that sort of play, which added an element of accountability to one another. Following Juhana Pettersson’s (2021a) assertion that players are engines of desire, being able to openly express one’s wishes in a group without shame is a powerful experience. For example, I tend to prefer subtle scenes and was drawn to the larp due to the emphasis on discussions of art and the creative process; through this process, I was able to ask others to approach me with those kinds of discussions if desired. It was remarkable to me the way a briefly stated request could redirect the flow of play for individual players, and thus the ensemble: a form of group steering.

Epic Dyadic Play as a Genre

Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spreads abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the homes of the immortals… 

     — Hesiod’s Theogony

At times in Helicon, I felt like I was experiencing something quite new, but I could not put my finger on why. Oppression dynamics and dysfunctional relationships are hardly new themes; indeed they are the bread and butter of many Nordic or Nordic-inspired larps. Epic storylines and supernatural abilities are hardly new either, as RPGs as a medium have featured those elements from their inception. 

A woman in white standing behind a man playing the piano with her hand on his arm.

Euterpe and Maximillian Stern, Muse and Inspired of Music, attempting to compose. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

At one point, I looked around the room during dinner warfare, surveying the artists with their Muses, thinking, “Oh! We are in a really good Toreador larp” — the Toreador being the artistic clan in Vampire: the Masquerade. In Vampire, the undead take “retainers” who are bloodbound to them, meaning supernaturally addicted to their blood and compelled to obey. Retainers bound by Toreador are often highly talented in their own right, ensnared by the vampire’s wish to keep their retainer’s talents for themselves — an especially potent theme considering many vampires lose the potency of their own talents when turned to the undead. This larp was different in many ways, of course, especially considering the retainers were mystical eternal beings. The emphasis on artistic creation as an important theme of the larp led to a depth of discussion that I often craved as a long-time Toreador player, enhanced by the setting of the beautiful castle and its art.

Man in glasses and a suit talking to a woman in black with a hat and sunglasses.

The initial binding ritual was initiated by Henry Wilson, Inspired of History, and Stella Wilson, Inspired of Spiritual Inspiration. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

At another point, I saw characters huddled in corners trying to solve various plots related to the occult rituals: the Inspired were trying to figure out ways to stop the Muses from being able to flee, whereas the Muses were trying to figure out a way for the Escape ritual to work. I thought to myself, “Oh, we’re in a Call of Cthulhu larp and those are the occult researcher characters.” As with Cthulhu (1981), Helicon’s setting is clearly playing to lose on some level; whether freedom is attained or the Muses continue to be bound, loss is embedded. But the sense of supernatural horror that pervades Cthulhu was not the emphasis here; instead, we focused on the interpersonal dramas inherent to these characters being locked in this non-consensual pact. Indeed, the occult components felt like an aberration, while the “natural” state would be to let the Muses free to choose who to Inspire. The occult components did not seem to be a goal to attain or a puzzle to solve. Rather, they were elements calling to mind the Spiritualism of the early twentieth century, as well as storytelling devices providing alibi to engage in intense rituals, which tend to amplify play. From my perspective, these spells were more of a conceit than a quest, although I steered away from play involving them so cannot speak for other players.

People standing around a circle with sashes in front of them, looking at a woman reading from a book.

The final Binding ritual. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

I keep returning to this emphasis on dyadic (or triadic) play, which is also not new. The Nordic larp Delirium (2010), about oppression within a mental institution, relied on players signing up as couples and used dyadic play to explore themes of love and failed attempts at resistance (Pedersen 2010; Andreasen 2011). Personally, I have had particularly strong experiences playing Here is My Power Button (2017), an American freeform about users purchasing an android from a company as part of a scientific experiment. What made Power Button potent was a toggling back and forth between one-on-one user/android scenes in the same room and group scenes, in which all users would interact in one room and all androids in the other. Helicon had a similar structure: we had large group scenes that were also one-on-one scenes, giving a sense of collective experience along with intimacy. We also had activities such as the Muse ritual in which we were all together and able to share about our paired experience. 

Woman in white crouched in front of a man in white.

Phren, Muse of Psychology, and Athanasia, Muse of Sculpture. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

This epic dyadic structure is also present in Linda Udby and Bjarke Pedersen’s PAN (2013-) and BAPHOMET (2015-), which feature occult storylines and supernatural content in the form of possession from godlike entities (Pedersen and Udby 2017; Nordic Larp Wiki 2019). Another dyadic larp is Wind’s Daemon (2021-), which is based upon Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000) series. In Daemon, characters have animal entities attached to them that represent their souls enacted by other players. I have not yet played Daemon, but have read many play accounts that have emphasized the powerful nature of this dyadic setup. In practice, the structure at Daemon meant that characters are instructed to stay physically close to one another at all times (Wind 2021): not exactly the same as our experience in Helicon, but was a clear inspiration. 

A woman in white huddled next to a person in a suit.

Melpomene and Taylor Montgomery, Muse and Inspired of Tragedy. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.

In reflecting upon the larp, I am now considering the combination of epic play and a dyadic (or triadic) structure as a particularly potent combination: perhaps an emerging genre of play as more and more larps are produced in this format. Helicon required a strong degree of trust between players in dyads (and triads), as well as a degree of commitment: we were expected to continue to role-play and check-in with our co-players and not abandon them, even if we wanted to steer the story into a new direction. Most characters had several other interesting and playable character relations, which helped interweave the larp into more of an ensemble (Tolvanen and MacDonald 2020), rather than incentivizing isolated play between groups of 2-3. While players may have differing experiences of the larp, my perception is that this dyadic epic play combined with emphasis on the ensemble led to a special magic of interconnectedness not always present at larps. 

I finally settled on, “Oh, we’re in a Neil Gaiman larp,” at least thematically; we were epically-infused characters with all-to-human quirks engaged in interpersonally meaningful play tinged with sadness about humanity’s flaws. Gaiman’s (2018) words describe his work well:

A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.

However, from discussions of the designers, “Calliope” was not a primary inspiration, so to speak, and the character relations were meant to be far more nuanced, which I definitely experienced. I look forward to seeing what larps are spawned as this type of design and experimentation continues to evolve.

A man in white observes a woman in white eating grapes.

Polyhymnia, Muse of Spiritual Inspiration, and Helica, Muse of Architecture (Wind). Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen.


My deepest gratitude to Katrine Wind, Maria Pettersson, Elina Gouliou, Mo Holkar, and Mike Pohjola for giving feedback on this article.


Designers: Katrine Wind and Maria Pettersson, Narrators, Inc.

Participation Fee: €630

Players: 29

First Run: January 5-7, 2024

Second Run: February 16-18, 2024 (upcoming)

Location: Broholm Castle, Gudme, Denmark

Music: Anni Tolvanen 

Photography: Bjørn-Morten Vang Gundersen

Safety: Anna Werge Bønnelycke (Jan. 5-7) and Klara Rotvig (Feb. 16-18)

Website: Katrine Kavli 

Graphics: Maria Manner

Sparring and Ideas: Emil Greve, Elina Gouliou, and Markus Montola

Character Writing Assistance: Søren Hjorth

Website Proofreading: Malk Williams


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Cover photo: Patrick and Phren, the Inspired and Muse of Psychology. Photo by Bjørn-Morten Gundersen. Image has been cropped.

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Sarah Lynne Bowman is a game scholar, designer, and organizer. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Game Design at Uppsala University, a founding member of their Transformative Play Initiative, as well as the Program Coordinator for Peace & Conflict Studies at Austin Community College. Bowman also teaches as adjunct faculty in English, Communication, and Humanities. McFarland Press published her dissertation in 2010 as The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. She helped organize the Living Games Conference (2014, 2016, 2016) and the Role-playing and Simulation in Education Conference (2016, 2018). In addition, Bowman served as an editor for The Wyrd Con Companion Book from 2012-2015. She is currently a Coordinating Editor for the International Journal of Role-Playing and a managing editor at Nordiclarp.org.