We are back from Demeter, a horror larp in the Baltic Sea on an actual sailing ship! Jan and me played salty sea dogs, hoisted sails, drank copious amounts of hard liquor and sang many, many sea shanties before we died horribly gruesome deaths.
It was amazing! Highly recommended, would definitely sail and die again.
I always decompress from LARPs by vomiting words all over the screen until the experience is written out of my mind. Needless to say that there are sizable spoilers here. If you are thinking about playing Demeter, you’ll probably have more fun if you don’t read this!
My character, Harding, was a German successful merchant called Goldberg who spent quite some time living a wealthy life in Zanzibar until the Germans traded away their colonies in some deal. That ruined her, so with the help of Bohndorf (Elina) she befriended a ship’s merchant called Harding who met an unfortunate end at a foot of the stairs. She took his identity and sailed off on the next ship. She was also a Stregoi, a type of mythical creature that is overtaken one night a year and doesn’t remember anything afterwards.
I wasn’t sure how to play my character or what kind of play I could provide to other players. Thankfully, that became very clear about five minutes into the game. As Ship’s Merchant I had a ton of responsibilities, and my name was shouted through the galley quite frequently by the captain and the other officers. I could overhear the passengers gossiping about me. This all worked nicely with the identity theme. I decided that being Harding was extremely important to me.
It soon became clear that my role was to provide order and normalcy to the ship and the passengers. If things were working as normal, I could be Harding as normal, I would get paid a fabulous amount and everything would be just fine.
There was a nice structure at the bow (front) of the ship where you could sit quite comfortably and look out over the sea. The movement of the ship was the most agreeable to me, and so I spent a lot of time in “my office” napping and chatting with people there. I was able to help a few people with their arc and their relationships so that worked out nicely.
I had many, many talks about the sea and how it offered a new life for anyone who would care to take it. My motto was “No land, no troubles”.
I spend quite a lot of time trying to recruit O’Brien and Drake as sailors, listening to Alfrèd’s research project and building up trust with Hutter to help her out of her gun obsession. Oh, and explaining the Rat King to people with my beautiful crudely drawn picture.
Later on we received a stack of mail for the ship. The letters were not addressed to specific PC’s, but rather to their connections or professions. It was quite a challenge to find out which letter was interesting to whose storyline. One was also for me, a letter from Harding’s widow to her cousin about how she’d been dealing with the loss of her late husband.
My main job was to keep nosy passengers out of the storage hold, a lovely cramped space filled with in game goodies that could only be reached by opening a very heavy lid and climbing down a terrifyingly small chute.
When you see a gatekeeper task like “Don’t let players do X” job on your character sheet, you know that you that a lot of players will want or need to do X, and that your job is to add a complication, not to stop the game. I negotiated with the more honest players who wanted to get in through me, yelled at the players who snuck in themselves but were caught, and took all the jokes about the revolving door of the cargo hold in stride.
When players wanted to open my cargo for strange rituals I made them find the lawyer responsible for my shipping contract and have her write an affidavit allowing one of the boxes to be opened, which complicated people’s plans but didn’t block them. She wrote an actual affidavit and it was supercool!
I climbed into the cargo hold more than anyone, and got exposed to most of the scares in there. There was coffin hidden under the crates, and there were some lovely special effects like a two way mirror that would show horrific faces, and some scary sound effects. I saw the face of a dead sailor in the mirror, and I jumped back so quickly I actually broke a case (sorry, Stefan!). After a few trips down in the hold, I found myself standing in there, with nothing at all happening, and I still felt my heart thumping in my chest. I think that was my scariest moment, at a time where nothing even happened. That’s when I broke down and told the captain that I refused to go down there ever again.
I also loved being part of the sailor’s crew. We sat at the captains table and we’re very chummy on the first night, ribbing Surrat about filling in as first mate, drinking and chatting. After Sloope died the crew fell apart. Surrat suspected me for many things, and Vane and me were suspicious of Surrat creeping around with Zelle all the time, and then starting to work on Olgarem and Vrijdank. Was he planning a mutiny? Who would want to be in charge of a cursed ship? Then we had to recruit a new sailor in port and ended up with a Bulgarian called Dracula.
Our breakfast at the Captain’s table on the second day was a beautiful contrast to the jovial atmosphere on the first night. Every remark was cutting, and accusations flew over the table, only to die there again in sudden silence before the next issue was brought up. It was beautiful! I’m very sad we didn’t take a crew picture before the end of the game.
The main mechanism for horror were the ghosts: NPCs in robes and masks that would spread a dark, malevolent influence, bring out people’s dark side, whisper in your ear and touch you with their icy fingers. This worked really well! The ghosts usually had a very big effect on play and turned up the intensity quite well.
One very nice ghost scene was when a ghost entered the galley and rang the bell. It freaked out Mr Burnham who drew his gun. Vane jumped in the way and tried to stop him from shooting at ghosts. I saw the priest sitting in the corner with his head in his hands. Earlier in the game he tried to banish a ghost and it actually buggered off to another location. It was the only time we were ever able to affect a ghost. So jumped at the priest and begged him to make the malevolent influence go away. My repeated cries of “Do it! Please, do it!” set off Mr Burnham even more, who then shot Vane. I jumped to Vane and then started yelling at Mr Burnham while a ghost was whispering “Idiot idiot idiot idiot” in his ear. It was a very cool scene, and it made me look very suspicious in the eyes of a lot of people.
They also caused a lot of eerie moments by turning off lights, pushing over things and ringing bells. In one really creepy instant a ghost was just on deck whistling and driving the sailors crazy (whistling on a ship is bad luck).
HOW MANY FISHES?!
The game had two in-character cooks. The players made a hilarious comedy duo before the game so kept a good eye on them: people who do good comedy, also do good horror! They are funny and creepy and switched from one to the other in a manner of seconds. Brr!
The cooks bring a variation of the Polar Bear game to play. It’s an inductive puzzle game much like Zendo, my favorite game in the world. I get very obsessive about these kinds of games. VERY OBSESSIVE.
You roll some dice, and then figure out how many penguins, polar bears etc. there are according to the rule for said polar bears and penguins: often it has something to do with the number of pips on the dice. I’m initially pretty quick at figuring out the rules for the each type, but I quickly get completely, utterly, maddiningly stuck on figuring out how many fishes there are.
Cook: How many fishes are there?
Me (truly confident about theory #45): Twelve!
Cook: Yes …Seven fishes.
At some point I can predict the number it would be, but still can’t figure out the rule. So maddening. Whenever the cooks play the game with new people, I’m right there to have a new shot at it, but the they torture me by asking the new players every question except “How many fishes are there?”. Polar bears, igloos, Eskimo’s, seagulls, hungry seagulls, but no fishes. You will never know the depths of my frustration!
Since sliding into madness is part of the game, I decide to take all of this in character. Yes, everyone else on Demeter was driven mad by dark secrets, horrific whispers and a supernatural evil. I was driven mad by a dice game about penguins. (I tend to be drawn towards absurdity, my extremely mindfucky CoW storyline was about mindful tooth-brushing)
This is how we die (aka Polyamorous death speed dating)
Everyone had a small hour to arrange the details of their death. This resulted in a rather comical situation that reminded me of prom night. People shyly asking their friends if they wouldn’t mind getting gutted in the storage hold, or sacrificed to the devil. People walking around anxiously trying to find a good way to go, or keeping their deaths to themselves by simply jumping into the sea.
Then came the details. “Could you please not kill me right away, I first have to dismember my friend on the upper deck, so maybe we can meet afterwards?” Some people we planning their demise in ultimate detail, others just shared a knowing wink with their killer and left the details up to chance. It was an extremely silly situation, but also very nice to see so many people working together to give themselves and each other a fitting ending.
I had been building up some animosity with the cook who had been (irrationally!) blaming me for a whole series of events I was utterly (!) innocent in. He promised to kill me gruesomely (Thank you Arne!) and we left the details in the middle.
This left me with quite some time during speeddate hour, and I spent it doing Death consulting for people. “How would you like to go? Have you considered cutting your wrists? I know some people who would love to hang you!” Mr. O’Brian is looking for a good way to go. He’s a gambling man who married wealthy women and left or killed them. So I suggest Russian Roulette and find him a revolver. We spend a lot of time asking him for details about his plot for later.
When we time in, people rush off to their scheduled events. I go upstairs and confront a Zelle, one of the sailors, with her fake shipping papers. I yell at her and and rip up the papers into little shreds. At the end I toss the shreds on the deck and storm off. I instantly feel very bad about leaving her cleaning up all the little scraps of paper. But drama!
I go downstairs and find O’Brian in one of his fits of guilt and melancholy. I feed him whisky while the ghosts circle us. He tells me how his father remarried and his new stepmother seduced him and he was twelve. I react vehemently disgusted and the ghosts helpfully make it even worse by whispering in his ear. I tell him to start a new life and leave the past behind. That sets the ghosts on my trail. Liar. You are not Harding. Killer. Killer. Brrr. “I am Harding!” I yell at no one while another ghost whispers the names of O’Brien’s wives in his ear. All the wives he married for their fortune, and left ruined or dead. Eventually I go upstairs, and as I do, I hand the cooks the letter they need to finally implicate the navigator for the murder of their father – at exactly the point the navigator goes below deck. Sounds of a gruesome slaughter emerge from the galley.
When I go upstairs, all hell is breaking loose. A religious exorcism has gone haywire, people are running around left and right. I witness Hutter (Alessa) shooting Vane (Jan) and another sailor, Olgarem, throwing herself on Hutter. I throw myself on her, yelling that “No one deserves to die. We don’t deserve to die!”. Unrepentant until the end, me! Olgarem grunts and pushes me off onto the ground. Suddenly one of the two cooks is there with a plate of sausage in red sauce in his hands. He grabs the sausage and stuffs it in my mouth, saying “Here, Harding, eat this. Navigator fingers”. I spit it out. The cook turns around and says “Oh no, brother, she doesn’t like our food!”. The other cook comes out and force feeds me more while Olgarem comes back and axes them both in her murder spree. I am left choking to death on navigator fingers.
We end up in a uncomfortably stacked pile of dead Vane, Harding and cooks. Two women (Hutter and a mystery person) come to cry over my corpse, others have to step over us to get to where we’re going. After a few minutes we get up (I found out I was lying on Nissen’s head all that time. Sorry, dude!) and go get our ghost masks.
I found O’Brian sitting on deck, crying and loading his revolver. There was quite a bit of space around him so I got crouched down and started circling around him, playing the voices of all of his wives and his step mother, caressing him with cold ghostly fingers. You promised to love and protect me until death do us part. I trusted you. I loved you. Such a pretty boy, just like your father. Next to me ghosts were urging him on to shoot himself as he went through bullet after bullet, each one failing to bring the desired release. Until the fifth bullet finally put an end to him. It was the most intense scene I witnessed in the game and I was very happy to be a part of it!
The ship we sailed on is an educational ship, its purpose it to teach new generations how to sail. Even during the LARP, there was plenty of opportunity to get to work the sails, thanks to the OOC crew of two actual sea dogs.
Their sea skills where very impressive and they were terribly kind and patient in teaching us things. We steered the ship, hoisted sails, belayed ropes, tied knots, hauled water out of the sea to scrub the deck, and coiled up so many ropes. We learned a lot! The first day of hoisting was very though but it taught us how to hoist with our body instead of our arms. The second day they went up effortlessly. I’m a big fan of working in Larps, and I really enjoyed working the ship in character.
It also gave a seaman’s schedule to the day: wake up early, push down a hearty breakfast, go up to hoist the sails, do your seaman’s chores, relax out on deck, and then take the seals down again, cook food and drink in the dark. I loved it!
The first day the weather was fairly choppy, and a lot of people were down with seasickness. I was fine, but then I stayed below deck to prepare vegetables and after about an hour, I suddenly felt my breakfast come up. I rushed to the upper deck but after a bit of dry heaving I was suddenly fine again. The sight of the sea cures it all.
Shanties! Jan had gone berserk on shanty preparation before the game and had been listening to nothing but sea shanties for weeks. A few days before the game he put on the songs and sang them all, while sitting next to me and staring at my face like a crazy wild-eyed shanty stalker. It was a little unsettling, but thanks to all this shanty expose I could join in on all the fun. With the expert lead of Shanty Master Nissen we sang at every opportunity.
It was interesting to see how shanties would enhance the game play. When the first ghost appeared, our shanty trailed off and died mid-way. After gloomy and dark events, our shanty was subdued and sober, not being able to rise over the oppressive atmosphere. During the day our singing was loud and heart-warming and kept dark thoughts at bay. Or made things even more creepy in the case of the cooks’ I cook the fish song that goes into great detail about the chopping off the head, ripping out the guts, pulling the skin, and so on.
In the final scene of the game, everyone had died and our ghosts surrounded the captain, our only survivor, at the steering wheel. He started singing The Last One That Stays and all of the ghosts joined in on the chorus. It was wonderfully eerie and a very fitting way to end the game.
We also used music to time in and out of the game. That worked really well, and was very helpful for me on day I and II.
After our deaths, we had a lovely epilogue where the real captain read the fate of the Demeter to us, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then it was time to party! People excitedly debriefed each other and eventually dropped off until only the truly debauched ones remained and we kept up drinking whisky and “apfelschlossel” deep into the night, until everyone was reduced to slurring. A most excellent end to a most excellent LARP.