Group improvisation of larp rituals

16 Sep

The aim of this workshop is to teach a group of larpers to quickly on-the-spot improvise a cool magicky feeling ritual. It takes about 20-30 minutes.  This is about fake rituals for a theater experience, nothing else.

This workshop for teaching larpers group improvisation of rituals has 7 steps:

Step 1: The anatomy of a ritual: Explain the common core of all rituals in this world
Step 2: The Ritual Toolkit
Step 3: Practice your first ritual
Step 4: Some more theory: ritual leaders and followers
Step 5: Try another ritual
Step 6: Post-ritual theory
Step 7: (If there’s more time) More practice in small groups

Step 1: The anatomy of a ritual: Explain the common core of all rituals in this world

A ritual consists of 3 MAIN parts and 2 OPTIONAL parts (in italics below).

  • Make a circle
    • E.g. with people holding hands, or salt, or rope, or draw it, or place bones in a circle around the participants. Whatever is most appropriate for the context, as long as it is a circle.
    • You may state “The circle is now complete” to make certain that all participants are aware of this.
    • A circle protects those within from evil thingies outside, and also protects the outside from evil thingies inside.
  • Summon forces (optional)
  • This is optional but usually adds a cool feel.
  • Summon appropriate forces for the scenario/larp. In one larp it might be the four elements, in another it might be an ancient Egyptian god, in another it might be a fantasy creature. These will aid you and you can play on receiving power from them in the Main Act.



  • Main act
    • What’s the ritual about? This is where we bring the group together and create a cool experience by chanting, movement, light and acts and proclamations that make the narrative of the larp move forward. For example, you might be filling a protective amulet with forces or maybe you are summoning hte dead to talk to them. Maybe you have a possessed person who you want to exorcise. Use props like incense, fake blood, lights, tarot cards, draw symbols on the floor (make sure you can remove them afterwards). rökelser, ljus, tarotkort eller rita symboler på er själva/golvet.
    • Thank the summoned forces (optional)
    • If you summoned forces and forgot to thank them, then that is an excellent source for cool drama. What would the consequences be?



  • Break the circle
    • Break the circle by removing a part of the salt, erase the pencil drawing, remove the rope etc. etc.
    • Announce that you have done this loudly so that all players are aware of this.
    • It is potentially very dangerous to leave a ritual before a circle is properly broken – use this as a potential source of drama.
    • Another good drama source is if the circle is broken incorrectly or too soon! Forces going in or out. Anything might happen.


Step 2: The Ritual Toolkit

There is a single basic rule in creating rituals: the more magic it feels, the more magic it is in the larp. Introduce these tools to your larpers, and tell them that things will become clearer in STEP 3, where you practice this.

Potential tools

  • One (or more) preselected leaders of the ritual.
  • A basic soundscape, created by the participants. This basic soundscape can include:
    • A sustained tone that the group starts and maintains.
    • Whispers (the dead are talking?), hushes, vibrating hummmms (this can turn into words very easily).
    • Song (simple and repetitive ad nauseam)
    • Rhytmic clapping or finger snapping
    • Everyone in the circle mimics the ritual leader to create the basic soundscape.
  • A basic movement of the group / position in the room
    • It’s simplest form is just the people standing in the circle.
    • Or they could be moving in the circle, walking around.
    • Or they could be repeating the same gesture (tearing power from the object in the center maybe?) over and over.
  • Supplementary sounds that illustrate the magic (and thereby create the magic) which your characters supposedly do.
    • A single person sings a higher sustained note than everyone else and moves up and down the scale.
    • A single person starts snapping their fingers
    • A single person starts talking in tongues
    • A single person blows air (bc they are channeling an air elemental?) or hisses (a water elemental?)
  • Supplementary movements that illustrates the magic and thereby creates the magic.
    • A single person claps their hands, stomp their feet, presses life force into someone else.
  • Use props! Stones, incense, bones, papers with words of power, windchimes, bells etc. Remember – if it feels magical it is magical.
  • Why are we doing this?
    • We want to create the illusion that there is magic afoot.
    • We want to create a joint experience of this magic
    • We want to create something that looks cool and feels cool.
    • We want to make all participants feel like they are involved.


Step 3: Practice your first ritual

  • Put an object on the floor – tell the players that you are going to bless it.
  • Tell them that this will feel ridiculous. That’s ok! Encourage them to let it be ridiculous. (You will do a more serious thing later)
  • Tell everyone that once you start making sounds, they should mimic you to create the basic soundscape. That soundscape should then remain through the ritual.
  • Tell them that when you point to single individuals, they should add something of their own as a supplementary sound or movement atop the basic soundscape.
    • The others don’t need to mimic these individuals, but they MAY do so.
  • Tell them that you are doing a small ritual – only the three main stages (make circle, main act, break circle).
  • Alright – now put them in a circle, make them hold hands. Stay inside the circle. Say “the circle is now complete”.
  • Create the basic soundscape. E.g. a single buzzing tone and then a rhythmical clapping. The others will mimic you.
  • Vary the basic soundscape, make the group feel the power and how fun it is to make noise together.
  • Point to a single person, who starts doing a gesture or sound. Point to some others.
  • Raise the intensity of the basic soundscape.
  • Start pushing power (with gestures) into the object in the middle.
  • Raise the intensity of the basic soundscape to a crescendo. Stop it with an abrupt shout and/or movement.
  • Say “it is done”, and break the circle of hands.
  • Alright – you’ve done your first ritual. It had 3 parts – repeat them for the participants. Ask them how that felt.


Step 4: Some more theory: ritual leaders and followers

  • Leader of the ritual
    • Has an out of game responsibility to help the ritual feel cool and magicky.
    • This responsibility can be shared among two or more people, but it’s usually easiest to do it alone.
    • Sometimes the leader must be able to go out of game to talk to participants out of character before the ritual.
      • To determine (via game mechanics or decisions) if the ritual will succeed or not?
      • To determine if something particular is going to happen.
      • Depending on the larp tradition you come from, more or less transparency in this will be needed.
    • Is responsible for being clear during the ritual about what is happening (MAKING circle, BREAKING circle, “now if she falls to the floor that means that we fail and the demon wins”) so that the players now and can make their characters react accordingly.
    • May be a game master.
    • Has to be prepared to change the ritual on the spot if a participants adds something unexpected to the mix (“I sacrifice my life blood to do X…”). Roll with the punches – it’s fun!
    • Has to be able to defend the ritual from TOO MANY changes brought on by improvising participants (by saying “No!”, that usually works).
    • “Repeat after me” is a very good tool to make everyone feel connected and safe.
  • Participants
    • Add to the ritual by sounds and movements and cool ideas that they interject
    • It’s both your right and your obligation to help create the ritual
    • Help make the narrative go forward through the ritual
    • Respect the decisions of the leader – there might be a grand plan that you’re not aware of.
    • If you get confused during the ritual, don’t hesitate. Ask! Either in character or out of character.


Step 5: Try another ritual

Do another ritual – tell the participants to look at you and to enhance what you are doing. They are to illustrate the magic that you indicate with the way you roleplay.

You might for instance, be creating a portal in the middle of the circle. Like this:

  • Tell them that you are doing all five parts of the ritual (repeat them).
  • Remind them that first you are creating a soundscape, then you (as the leader) point to individuals. They should add something to the sound or the movements.
  • Make the circle with you inside it. Start the soundscape.
  • Get four people to help you call on the four elements.
  • Say “I call on EARTH”, point to one of them – they’ll improvise something. Do the other elements.
  • Channel elemnts into a point in the circle. Let the chanting increase to a crescendo (indidcate this with your own voice and with hand movements.
  • Start sounding uncertain (oh no! I’m losing focus! No!) – the group will now, of its on, follow you and illustrate this with frantic sounds. (You should not need to tell them this, at this point, most larpers have the hang of this and will improvise beautifully in concert).
  • Fall out of the circle, breaking it!
  • Go “out of character” and remark that that wasn’t too good for these characters – you broke the circle. What are possible consequences – ask them!


Step 6: Post-ritual theory

  • Talk to your players about Consequences!
    • What are some ways that characters can feel after a ritual? Tired, nauseous, giddy, high?
    • Did the ritual fail? Or succeed? How do I know?
      • The ritual leader can (often should) make this very clear. State it afterwards.
      • Or the ritual leader makes it clear that it is not clear what happened. The players can spend the next few hours worrying, and game masters can plan future events around this.
      • Usually if it FELT like the ritual succeeded, it succeeded.
      • Other things to weigh:
        • Was the ritual interrupted? That might be bad.
        • Did you thank the summoned forces?
        • Did you make and break the circle correct?
        • What would give the most amount of cool play?
        • Did it feel magical? Then it was magical.
  • Clean up after yourself
    • Blow out any candles
    • Remove salt
    • Remove fake blood quickly
    • Use a plastic sheet if you know it’s going to get messy.
  • Summary. Remind your participants about what you’ve been doing the last half hour.
    • Make a circle
    • Summon forces
    • Main act
    • Thank forces
    • Break circle
    • Everyone contributes
    • The role of the leader of the ritual
    • Did you succeed?

There is no absolute right or wrong in creating play pretend rituals. Go with your imagination! Use the dramatic power of consequences.


Step 7: (If there’s more time) More practice in small groups

  • Dela in deltagare i små grupper
  • Divide participants into small groups (around 5)
  • Give them scenarios to improvise rituals around
    • Make an amulet that carries a blessing from each of you.
    • Let a ghost possess a character to reveal its murderer.
  • Tell them that it’s better to OVERACT than UNDERACT. If they get that out of their system now, they’ll feel freer during the actual larp.
  • If there is time, have them redo the ritual, but this time with less overacting and more serious.


Good luck!

This workshop (in English and Swedish) on group improvisation of fake magical rituals for larps is based on techniques developed for several larps, including Coven (Sweden) and Ekdahl 1995 (Sweden).

These workshop instructions are based on experiences from several workshops led by Elli Garperian and Susanne Vejdemo, and this version was compiled by them in May 2017.

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