At my first Intercon, I remember wandering around after my Saturday evening game, peeking into the various function rooms to see what kinds of LARPs had just gone on and check out costuming. In Hawthorne, one of the larger rooms on the upper floor, I saw some incredibly cool set dressing — tents, draped fabric, tons of pillows, trees, plates piled with grapes, various other props (not to mention lots of LARPers in really nice Roman-style costuming), and I knew I definitely wanted to play this LARP. I missed the next opportunity (it ran again at Intercon L) but I finally caught a run.
Orgia Domi Lomaximus translates to”Orgy at the House of Lomaximus.” (It was originally called Orgia ad Domus Lomaximus, then was updated to correct grammar, I think, but I’m unfamiliar with Latin.) It went up on the scheduled for Intercon Q, so I pounced on the opportunity to play. The set dressing was, again, among the best I’ve ever seen (possibly the best ever if you exclude LARPs that charge players hundreds of dollars and have budgets in the tens of thousands.) To give an idea of the effort and cost, I went with one of the GMs to rent a U-Haul van to move it all, set-up took hours, and tear down/clean up finished around 4 am, between myself, the GM, and one other volunteer for the first half. (The LARP ended at midnight.)
But the set dressing isn’t just very full and elaborate (three tents, white Roman pillars, a garden of fake plants, hotel cots turned into divans, carpets, small tables, an SPQR banner, taller tables piled with bread and grapes and cups of wood and metal to drink from — more immersive than plastic, of course — and various other props like an oil lamp and a colored glass lantern, not to mention all the lighting equipment). It all gets set up in a very deliberate manner: to encourage players to feel comfortable so they can relax and lounge, to create the illusion of privacy and offer a variety of semi-secluded nooks (without actually creating any space where players can shut one another out), and to ensure that one doesn’t see the entire location at once as they enter the game space (one large tent was situated right in front of the entrance), but rather discover it slowly as they explore. The garden was near the entrance but blocked off on three sides by one of the tents and large potted plants; one had to circle around to reach it. The tents were placed at non-right angles to the walls, which served to vary the size and space and shape of the locations available. And I particularly liked the Middle Eastern-inspired corner piled with rugs and pillows, with its low, round, Moroccan style folding tray tables (much like these). It reminded me a lot of a Bedouin tent I was once a guest in.
I did try to get some photos of it, but I only had my camera on me for early stages of set-up, and sadly never managed to catch its full glory.
The SPQR banner from Shadows of Amun found second life at a Roman orgy.
The other stand-out feature of Orgia Domi Lomaximus is are the rules of physical contact between players. Players choose a letter on their name badge (which they choose at the door and can change at any time) indicating the level of potential physical contact with other players they are comfortable with. A means no contact at all; B, “polite company” (hand shaking, a tap on the shoulder); C, you can lean on me, hug me, hold hands; D, it is ok to kiss me and caress my head, neck and face; and DD, the same as D with the option to discuss more. (The system, it’s worth noting, is not a blanket consent, just a way to express what options players are open to.)
This stands in sharp contrast with much of the local LARP culture; lots of LARPs that run around here have rules of no physical contact (many others don’t specify but it’s probably understood that no one will go beyond B-level “polite company” contact.) We’re familiar with Ars Amandi, but I have yet to play a game that makes use of it. The Accelerant rule system for boffer LARPs (popular in the local community), for example, has the No Physical Contact rule, “…You have no reason to touch another player in the Accelerant system. Physical contact is not allowed…” But we break that rule constantly during Accelerant LARPs, and other no-touch LARPs as well. Some people feel setting down very strict rules means that they will get broken, but the amount of violation of other people’s personal space will be minimized (or avoided) because people will be erring much closer to no-touch. Other people feel that setting a boundary that is extremely likely to be fudged (at least a little) just leaves room for confusion and possibly even people deciding the rules don’t count.
Hence the touching rules of Orgia — much more detailed and flexible so that players can all set their own levels, instead of having a single one-size-doesn’t-perfectly-fit-all model. Players who want the experience of being kissed in-character can enable that possibility; players who don’t want to be kissed won’t feel like they’re at risk or have to go to extra effort to avoid it. Not to mention how well it contribute to the genuine feeling of the setting and interpersonal roleplay.
There are some disadvantages to these rules. Some players don’t like the idea of having their willingness (or lack thereof) to be touched or to engage in physical intimacy on display for everyone to see and evaluate. And because this game is set at an orgy and is one of the only LARPs where kissing and other forms of physical intimacy are enabled, people are actively paying attention to the letters on one another’s name tags. It was something that made me feel a little self-conscious as we were prepping and waiting outside of the doors to the gamespace for the LARP to begin — people were curiously peering around at one another’s letters. As a result, I felt like I wanted to leave off displaying mine until the last moment; I couldn’t help wondering if people might judge me a prude depending on my choice. And with “DD” being an option, there’s always the possibility of people witnessing intimate actions they prefer not to see. (This possibility is clear from the beginning, but I think people have conscious and/or sub-conscious assumptions about how far the DD players will go, and how much effort people will put into being discreet.)
The system, and the potential it creates for intimate LARP experiences, also makes running the game fraught. Players (and potential players) put a lot of emotional weight into their potential and actual experiences, and they often express a desire for options like assigning themselves different letters for different people, knowing the list of players in advance, or creating private runs where they can control (or at least influence) the player list. Managing these desires is not an insignificant part of being a GM for this game.
There’s also a rather unusual mechanic in Orgia — the mechanic for representing sexual interactions. Every character is given a wire with beads (the wires are in the shape of, ahem, sticks for male characters, and rings for female characters.) Feathers are strewn around the game space, offering a feather to someone is an offer of sex. If the other player accepts, the players then exchange beads, which are not returned to the wire. In order to replenish the beads, characters have to lounge, receive some sort of pampering, perhaps eat some grapes, or engage in other relaxing behaviors.
It all actually gets a bit more complex than this, with elements such as options for good sex vs. better sex, and having more than two people involved; there’s also some overt symbolism and some hidden meanings players might discover over the course of the LARP. I won’t spoil it here; suffice it to say there were some very interesting and often humorous twists.
The feather element of the mechanic is new as of this run, but I found having a concrete way to make a player’s intentions for their characters’ actions clears (without explicit words, if one so chooses) and mark the beginning and end of sexual encounters quite helpful. I once played in a sex farce LARP without such markers, and it made having our characters engage in sexual behavior rather awkward. (There were more than a few moments of “um, are we… now…?” during the LARP.) The feather and beads also served as an avenue for characters to have sex even when players chose the “A” (no physical contact at all) option.
The rules and mechanics briefings prior to game start, by the way, is well scripted and quite funny, and I think they really helped reduce players’ nerves before starting.
I was surprised when I received my casting — my character was a Vestal Virgin, which seems like an unusual figure to have at an orgy. But as it turns out, I really loved my casting. It had several unexpected aspects that I always really enjoy playing in a LARP. And I think, knowing what I know now about the various characters in the LARP, I would have chosen this character for myself if I could. (My highest compliment for casting.) Playing a Vestal Virgin always made it easy to start conversations (lots of people greeted me with, “so, you’re a rather unexpected guest, what are you doing here?”) and then segue into discussions about the rules and traditions of Vesta’s priestesses. I did a bit of research online prior to Intercon, so I had answers ready when questions came up.
I also found that while I was happy to roleplay luxuriating and celebrating in the atmosphere, I didn’t really want to roleplay multiple explicit sexual encounters (even with just a feather and beads) and playing a Vestal Virgin gave me a very easy in-game reason to demure (without, I hope, putting a damper on people’s fun).
Selene the Vestal Virgin. Photo by John Kammer.
Though I think the atmosphere is the primary distinguishing feature of Orgia, there are some plots of the more traditional kind — a mystery, secret identities, and political intrigue, enough to keep the players who indicate on their questionnaires that they signed up because they like the “Roman” part, and less because they like the “orgy” part, entertained. And players can have a variety of experiences; as the questionnaire indicated; there is madcap comedy, romance, intrigue, and action. (And while comedy can sometimes override the more serious tones of a LARP, I don’t think that was the case here.)
My costume, by the way, was my old favorite stand-by: a chiton. Technically, it’s a Greek, not Roman, garment, but… it was loosely gathered fabric, which I think conveyed the right look. I found this beautiful new fabric — a yoryu chiffon of pale blue with gold metallic threads running through it. All I did was cut it into two rectangles, hem the edges, double it up (it was a bit too translucent for one layer) and pin it at the shoulders. Then I dug around in my closet for the accessories — a white lace scarf, a leafy wreath, and earrings. The gold belt is just a piece of trim with velcro sewn on.
Historically, Vestal Virgins wore all white, but the blue chiffon still looked still rather pure to me, and it was so pretty I couldn’t resist it. (And I wasn’t alone! I was tickled to see Julia, the emperor’s daughter, wearing a gown of the same exact fabric. Clearly she also shops at Jo-ann Fabrics and has excellent taste.)
Selene the Vestal Virgin in a blue chiton. Photo by John Kammer.
I almost paired the blue chiton with a white veil, as Vestal Virgins wore, but when I put it on, I thought I looked too much like I was trying to channel the Virgin Mary, who is often depicted in blue with a white veil. (To be fair, this likely isn’t a coincidence — some depictions of Mary are probably influenced by the aesthetics of Vestal Virgins, but even as just a coincedence, it felt rather wrong for this LARP and this character.)
Prior to Intercon, I had intended to sew the points along the shoulder, and maybe add some gold buttons there. But between the snow and helping pack and unpack the set dressing for Orgia, I ended up just using tiny gold safety pins. At first, I was annoyed with myself — the pins didn’t take much pressure to come undone. But this actually lead to some rather hilarious and thematically appropriate misunderstandings during the LARP. For example, at one point, I was having a private conversation with a gladiator when a pin came undone, and someone who had seen our silhouettes through the tent walls yanked aside the fabric and shouted “AHA!” just as the gladiator was helping me pin the dress back up. And later, when the same gladiator was teaching me self-defense moves, it came unpinned again, making the whole affair appear rather more suggestive. So I no longer have any regrets about the safety pins, but if I wear it again for another LARP, I will probably sew it up.
I had a lovely time playing Orgia, and I think it’s safe to say plenty of the other players did, too. (Let’s just say this includes witnessing a few moments that made me blush both in-and out-of-character.) I have one major regret, which is that I asked another player to hide with me outside of game space to help maintain a secret, and he accidentally got left out there for the last twenty minutes of the game (I had thought a GM had retrieved him) which I am still feeling guilty about. I’d still like to make this up to the player. Other than that… I don’t know if Orgia will run again, but if it does, I would absolutely play again.