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Larp

Still Waters

I’m not sure how many larps have been written that were designed to be played by people in a hot tub. Probably not a huge number — if you know of any, let me know! My interest in them came about when the venue that’s used by Consequences, the UK’s chamber larp festival, introduced hot tubs to some of its accommodation. Nice as it is just to sit in a hot tub and enjoy it, I felt that really we ought to be doing some larping as well. And so a mode of larping was born (possibly).

The first one, a few years ago now, was Primal Soup, which I still need to write up on here. It’s basically a low-key fun experience in which people play the roles of primordial organisms gradually evolving more complex behaviours.

Still Waters is the next attempt, and it’s a very different beast. It’s been a while in the making basically because of the impossibility of playtesting it during the pandemic, but finally the other week I got the chance, at our larp retreat.

How does it work?

So, the idea of Still Waters is to use the deaths of Agamemnon, Seneca, and Marat — which all took place in their baths — as a way of examining toxic patriarchal arrogance. It’s played in pairs, so it’s either for four or six participants. (In the case of four, you drop one of the storylines.) Each pair together plays one of the three Life characters — known as The King, The Philosopher, and The Revolutionary — and its corresponding Death (The Queen, The Student, and The Assassin). They switch back and forth between these two roles, within their pairing, as they wish, using a tag-in/tag-out mechanism.

The larp is in two acts: Hubris, and Nemesis. Each is about quarter of an hour long. During the Hubris act, the Lives converse basically about how amazing they are, and the Deaths tend to them as servants. During the Nemesis act, they converse basically about how misunderstood they are, and the Deaths mutilate and torment them — finally killing them at the climax of the larp.

The whole thing is soundtracked with act music and a signal for the act break and for the end of the larp — it lasts about half an hour. (I think this is pretty much the sweet spot for a hot-tub larp.)

The playtest

Was instructive. The basic structure of the larp was fine, and the ‘dressing’ and the mechanisms (which involve crowns, grapes, fans, and wine) all seemed to work well — as did the soundtrack. And in general the Death roles played as expected and seemed to be on the right level of engagement. What turned out to be tricky was playing the Life roles. In the design I’d based them closely on the historical characters involved, and used their actual names. This seemed to be a bit of a barrier to playability — people felt unconfident about putting words into the mouths of historical figures about whom their knowledge was fairly sketchy.

I hadn’t anticipated this, because I wasn’t expecting people to even try to stick to the character — rather, to use it as a jumping-off point for freestyle invention of material. But I should probably have realized that human nature is not like that.

Anyway so that was good learning. In the revised version of Still Waters, the characters have been anonymized, and they now just have symbolic names and stories. So eg. rather than being ‘Agamemnon’, that Life is now just ‘an ancient king’, and hopefully that will make people feel freer to make up stuff about him — and so on.

The finished larp

So if you’d like to see how Still Waters turned out, and maybe give it a go yourself next time you’re near a hot tub, here’s where you can find it: https://www.holkar.net/larps/still_waters.html

I’ll be interested to hear what you think, and how it goes!

(And I shall probably run it again myself, next time I’m near a hot tub: so let me know if you want in.)

And, yes, so we need more hot-tub larps! Got any ideas that you’d like to develop?

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