When I do role-playing, the action takes place inside my head and external props are generally unnecessary. Therefore, I have never been a fan of LARP (Live-Action Role-Playing). Also, bad props would disrupt my enjoyment, like plastic swords and cars passing by the “medieval” LARP site. So I have only participated in two major LARP events since the 1990s, both meticulously staged in pseudo-modern gameworlds.
One of them — Carolus Rex in 1999 — was an outstanding dieselpunk experience. The adventure was played four times over a week. It was the same adventure, lasting 30 hours, but with new crews each time. The following photos have been contributed by Olle Sahlin, who served in crews 1 and 3. (He was a galley cook the second time. The cooks did not really play, but were charged with making sure that the “regular” crewmen did not forget to eat.) I served in crew 4.
The organizers had rented an ex-Soviet Whiskey class submarine, serving as a tourist trap in the port of Norrköping. The sub was “dead”: all machinery disabled and all important portholes welded in safe open positions. So the organizers put in their own wiring and props, creating the retro-futuristic starship HMS Carolus Rex. Her future was a dystopia: we participants were subjects to an authoritarian Sweden, created out of national-romantic notions from the late 19th century with an added layer of dieselpunk-era oppression.
The spaceship was equipped with a sound system, copper-wire communications, 1980s green-on-brown computer screens and lots of other small things that created a credible illusion of “Das Boot” meets Star Trek.
Thirteen years have passed since those 30 hours I spent aboard HMS Carolus Rex as her science officer. (Unfortunately I have no photos of myself “at work”.) What I clearly remember is how the painstaking preparations by the organizers created a great illusion. No failed props. We were cut of from the world and surrounded by the cold steel hull, blinking machinery and an excellent sound system that created humming engines, battle noise and so many other impressions. It was a fantastic stage with an extraordinary adventure for the crew in general and me personally.
The storyline dealt with Sweden’s war against Denmark among the stars, alien beings communicating through the AI, the rescue of enemy crewmen from a blasted starship and the intrusion of a mental monster. I loved entering a truly dieselpunk world, a place in which dreams and nightmares came true. The basic plot was quite trekkish, but also full of dystopian darkness. Defeat, death and failure — there was no happy ending, neither for the ship nor for the Kingdom of Sweden.
I have to commend the organizers for providing genuine Danish LARPers for the rescued enemies. Their triumphal rendition of the Kong Christian battle song at the news of Sweden’s surrender added salt to the mix.
A sound teaser in Swedish.