Terra Incognita – A Swedish 1920’s Lovecraft larp

The expedition in the Töfsing valley. From game 2. Photo: Johannes Axner

The expedition in the Töfsing valley from the larp Terra Incognita. Portrait taken after game 2. Photo: Johannes Axner

Terra Incognita was a small and very well organized horror larp in the Cthulhu Mythos that was started with the stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The story was set in Sweden in 1922, telling the story of an expedition searching for a missing researcher, last heard of in a desolate village in the Töfsing valley.

Video documentation

After the larp was over, I interviewed a few of the players and the two main organizers Olle and Sebastian. This documentation made made to show several of the features that was used and to get show a bit of the feeling from the larp.

Setting

In the early 1920’s the anthropologist Walther Klüft from Uppsala University travels to the outskirts of the Swedish region Dalarna. He is on the hunt for traces of rituals he read about in a travel diary. Klüft reports back to the university but his letters become stranger and stranger until they finally stop arriving.

A field expedition is put together to find Klüft. The group consists  of academics and people who are experienced backcountry woodsmen. As they near the last known residence of Dr Klüft their cars break down and they walk the last miles to a small village.

Is Klüft to be found? And why are the villagers acting so strange?

Thursday April 11th.
Departure with automobile and truck to the northeast. A few miles before reaching the destination the vehicles get stuck in the snow and mud. The drivers abandon the vehicles and return to Idre for towing. The rest of you gather your most important belongings from the truck and begin to hike towards the village that Klüft has written about.

Setup

Cthulhu Mythos

De Geer with a strange find. Portrait. Photo: Petter Karlsson

De Geer with a strange find. Portrait. Photo: Petter Karlsson

The works of the pulp horror author H.P Lovecraft later became the shared Cthulu Mythos, which has been a cornerstone in the role-playing community for a long time. The Call of Cthulhu-Role-playing game was released in 1981 and Lovecraft’s world has since then also been the setting for many larps.

The idea is that cosmic horrors dwell under the surface of our normal society. But lifting the lid of what seems mysterious will drag the characters into deadlocks often with horrible consequences. Usually the stories are set in the 1920’s as in Lovecraft’s original novels.

For Terra Incognita several classical Lovecraftian elements were adapted. The members of the expedition were classical archetypes such as the archeologist, the loremaster and the big game hunter. Also the whole mystery of Klüft was presented with bits and pieces slowly being revealed until several of the expedition members went crazy in various ways.

Multiple runs

During a weekend in April the larp was held, two times, starting in the afteroon and continuing without break to the next morning. First run was held on Friday the 12th and I played the second run held on Saturday the 13th.

Pre-game and signup

The same 15 characters were used during both runs and only small changes in the design was made between them by the organizers. Only last names were given which meant that the characters were gender neutral and could be played by either man or woman. Also the content and the relations of the characters were designed gender neutral. This design choice is something that my larp-company LajvVerkstaden has used it many of it’s larps in schools and also was used in The Monitor Celestra.

During the spring many had put a lot of effort to find a good 20’s style costume which made the larp extremely aesthetically pleasing. The venue Bassebergs Medeltidsby  is often used as a medieval village for larps. For this setting it was acting as a desolate primitive village which worked perfectly.

Day 1

On the walk to the Töfsing valley. Portrait. Photo: Petter Karlsson

On the walk to the Töfsing valley. Portrait. Photo: Petter Karlsson

When we got to the location a short meet-and-greet was held and then the larp was started with the expedition moving out on foot, on the quest to find Dr Klüft. As soon as we got to the village, the trail of clues started to give us a picture of what had happened to the missing antropologist.

Eventually strange locals started to appear in what had looked like a completely empty village. Something was clearly mysterious about the place. Several signs of rituals as well as a diary and letter from Klüft made us draw conclusions of what had happened.

The larp had amazing food and and despite very simple conditions the chef made a fantastic four course meal complete with music from a hand crank gramophone.

As the evening went on, several of the expedition members went crazy, talking about an immense darkness glimpsed at the outskirts of the village. Later Klüft showed up, first seeming reasonable telling us about the stories we had read. Then, turning stranger and stranger and later attacking two expedition members and fleeing.

We learnt that we had walked into something far bigger than we first thought and eventually realized that we needed to make a ritual with a great sacrifice to stop the ongoing events. After great debate which split the expedition some of us went through with the ritual, letting the life of the volunteering poor Stigberg be the price.

Day 2

Participants after larp. Off-game. Photo: Johannes Axner

Participants after larp. Off-game. Photo: Johannes Axner

Getting in bed after knowing that someone had to die for the rest to survive was horrible. And even if we thought that it could have helped in some way, we were not sure. We were sleeping in different cabins and there were two others with me, both who had been in the ritual.

In the middle of the night we all woke up. An extremely loud and strange sound was just around the house. It came closer. Then “it” started scratching on the door.

From what we had heard the day before there was little we could do. We just held on to each other and hoped it all would go away. Eventually it did.

And by breakfast, we where not sure about what had happened last night.
But we where all alive.
Except Stigberg.

Post-larp

expedition

“Expedition back in the capital!”

After we had eaten the larp ended. We were given a handout epilogue in newspaper-form that told us that we had survived and by that probably stopped the mystical horrors that almost got loose that night.

Techniques used

Blank firing guns

This was not a larp about fighting and because of that there were very few weapons in the it. In my run only the hunters had a rifle and pistol. But to get a good realistic feel the fire-arms that was used was firing blanks. The big metal pipes, gun smoke and loud bangs was surely adding an extra layer to the look and feel.

Fate-play

Every player had recieved a few predestined things they would play out. In my case I knew that sometime after dinner my character would go out in the forest and then turn mad from the darkness, screaming loudly and then collapsing. It could also be a trigger on general playing style. I.e. meeting villagers would make me shiver, giving me a feeling that something was wrong here.

This type of triggers makes it possible for the organizer to create interaction, but it needs to be done with care so it doesn’t end up being too much in the way of the player.

Read more about fate-play at the Nordic Larp Wiki.

Sound-effects

A big backpack-soundsystem was used to simulate a monster during the night. While we could not see anything outside in the pitch black darkness the organizers walked around in the village with the horrible monster sound, making us shit scared inside the cabins.

Mp3 Sound

At several locations you could find a slightly hidden plastic bag next to a prop or a location of importance. Inside there were an mp3 player. If you found one, you made sure you were alone and then you listened to the track.

With a talking voice a story was then played out, acting like thoughts in your mind. This made the characters more and more delussional or just more afraid of the village.

Disguised digital camera

Dahlén, the photographer. Portrait. Photo: Johannes Axner

Dahlén, the photographer, played by Elin Gustafsson. Portrait. Photo: Johannes Axner

Most Nordic-style larps do not allow cameras that can not be logically reasoned to be in the larp. As an example you can usually not have a visible modern camera on a medieval fantasy larp.

As we were playing in the 1920’s and as an expedition a photographer would be extremely logical to have in the crew. To make sure we got good documentation, the organizers had a friend make them a disguised modern digital camera hidden inside an old camera.

Props

There was a great deal of very well made props. Everything from disgusting tentacles in a jar to “an extra face” for Klüft. There where letters, a diary and many more small things which added to the puzzle-solving, as well as the atmosphere.

Organizer thoughts

Terra incognita was organized through Berättelsefrämjandet with Sebastian Utbult and Olle Nyman as main organizers. I asked them and two of their great helpers the following questions.

1) Why make a larp in the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft?

2) What do you think about multiple runs of the larp in a row?

3) What was the most rewarding thing with the larp?

4) Any other thoughts about the larp?

Sofia Alonzo
Functionary and waitress for the expedition.

Some of our awesome support staff.

Stina played by Sofia, a waitress who was in the expedition support crew

1) Why not? It’s a great twisted world that has such potential. It is horror and mystery and set in the twenties! Who doesn’t love dressing up in twenties garb for a weekend? And of course it lends itself very well to the expedition form witch is a very good setting for period larps.

2) Honestly, I think it generally is no good because you get tired and loose focus. But this worked surprisingly well. Even though the night setting meant we went to bed eight times in total during the weekend never sleeping more than four hours in a row. It still turned out ok. And the possibility of fixing minor things and seeing the different ways the characters where played definitely made it worth it.

3) I always answer the people, and this time we had a great time in the organizer team. Apart from that what really amazed me is the way Sebastian and Olle created a very scary feeling and a great game with such simple methods.

4) Almost anyone looks good in twenties clothing.

Michael Hemmingsson
Playing NPC (non-player character) with the off-game mission to drop relevant and irrelevant information to the expedition.

Michael

Michael as the strange villager Kråk-Mats

1) Lovecraft’s influence on modern horror cant be ignored. Good larps in this setting are rare and I personally would love more 20’s – 30’s larps. With or without tentacles.

2) I think it’s a good thing. It gives more people the chance to participate. For me as a NPC I think it was really interesting to see what almost identical input into the two different groups of players turned out in two really different games. The first group played much more socially and the other group was much more in to problem solving and investigation.

3) To meet all the wonderful players and see the wonderful costumes they had. The level of gear was superb.

4) I hope this sets a the standard for further Lovecraftian 20’s-style larps.

Olle Nyman
Main organizer

Olle

It is hard to express post-larp-happiness more than Olle.

1) The world of H.P Lovecraft (and his co authors) are diverse, and with a very special kind of horror. And there are too few larps in that setting (both the style of horror, and the time period).

2) It is was very interesting to see how the different runs play out differently. I believe that shorter larps can give the participants the energy to play more intense. And to set up two in a row means no time wasted, and the possibility for more people to participate, without skimming on the quality.

3) The biggest reward was to see the participants go all out to meet our and their vision about what story we where trying to tell. And succeeding.

4) We have learned a lot with this project. Of all aspects of larp-organizing. Hopefully we can utilize this in the future.

Sebastian Utbult
Main organizer 

Sebastian

Sebastian doing some last minute prepartions before the start of the larp

1) The Lovecraft Mythos is such a powerful thing, horror on a pure cosmic scale where humanity is just a sidenote over eons of time. Everyone who has ever read the mythos stories can probably relate to this specific kind of crushing horror that you are quite helpless against, and it’s something very interesting to play around with and explore.

2) Challenging, but very rewarding. It was every interesting to see the story and the characters go different routes between the two larps, in such a short time.

3) Part of it was the 1920’s esthetics, costume and props, but most rewarding was probably seeing these characters we created played out and interpreted so beautifully. And managing to create some real horror for the players was fun.

4) There is always room for improvement, both storywise and things having to do with pacing and avenues of interaction for the players, that we’ll try to improve next time.

Player thoughts

Petter-Dr-Wahlund

Wahlund the historian (Petter Karlsson)

Playing Wahlund, the historian

This is pure example of an extremely well composed larp. From a very clean signup to easy digestible characters with good and playable relations. A great location with well sorted out logistics and amazing food.

The general atmosphere and the level of detail made Terra Incognita a really great piece and it also made the participants inspired to make an extra effort in the preparations. From costumes to in some cases research of their subject. In the minibus me and some others  travelled in to the site, we even played a freeform roleplaying game with our characters that some of the participants had prepared.

The horror creating effects was also great with fate-playing going hand in hand with both the props and the sound-box.

The only thing I lacked was a short workshop before start to just make the relations a bit sturdier and to get a bit more in character. I would also have wanted a short debrief afterwards, which would have been good for some of us.

All in all, one of this years best larps and for me a taste for a genre I want more of.

Further reading

Terra Incognita at the Nordic Larp Wiki

Inlajv.se – Sökandet efter Dr Klüft (och en och annan svart get) i skogen (In Swedish)
Article and also in-game diary by Karolin Dahlén who played the archeologist Dr Sundberg.

In-game photos by Elin Gustafsson

Photos taken in-game by Elin Gustafsson playing Dahlén, the photographer.

Photos by Johannes Axner

Johannes took several photo from the larp. You can see find them all on his Flickr.

Photos by Petter Karlsson

3 thoughts on “Terra Incognita – A Swedish 1920’s Lovecraft larp

  1. Pingback: Larp Culture has grown up | Petter Karlsson - Producer and designer

  2. Pingback: The Art of Darkness » Blog Archive » The Link Dump on Haunted Hill

  3. Pingback: S01E01 – Michael Hemmingsson

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