Last week I was away at an informal roleplaying con with a group of old friends. There were a couple of dozen of us in total, and 18 different games (mostly playtests) were run – an impressive variety and range.
Games that I played
Bluestockings is designed and was run by Liz Lovegrove, of Rise and Fall (in Pelgrane Press’s Seven Wonders collection) fame. About the lives of early female university students in the late nineteenth-century, playing out in five major scenes during the course of an academic year, it’s a thoughtful and engaging piece: it makes a strong presentation of the societal and institutional challenges that these women faced, while retaining relatability and playability. It’s mechanically very light, essentially a larp/freeform, focusing on building individual stories via conversation.
Little Grey Cells is designed by Oli Jeffery, and was being facilitated by Josh Fox. It’s a co-creative tabletop RPG of a murder mystery being investigated by a Great Detective, somewhat inspired by Lovecraftesque. As a group you create a bunch of suspects, then play out a succession of scenes (starting with the discovery of a murder) which generate clues, which are then threaded together to back up an exposure of one of the suspects as the murderer. Lots of fun – we found some of the mechanical elements a little tricky to grapple with, but that’s the joy of playtesting I guess. Looking forward to hear more about its development.
Closing Doors is designed and was run by Rei England. It’s a chamber larp for five (or possibly six) players, about a group of friends reuniting some years after their university research days. It plays out in four scenes each about half an hour long: between these scenes, the timeline jumps, forking sets of decisions progressively further back in the characters’ shared lives. We had a general character briefing at the beginning, and then in each interlude, a mini ‘this is what is no longer true from that briefing, and here’s the new reality’ explanation. As well as that, feelings and memories started to leak through between the timelines, and the universe seemed to be shutting itself down… Again lots of fun, and play felt very smooth and natural despite the absorption of the reality shifts.
Games that I ran
People who’ve been reading this blog for an implausibly long time might remember that back in 2010 (gulp!) I came up with a tabletop RPG called Haunted House – here are the related posts. It was a storygame played to a fairly exacting formula around the horror, death, and general comeuppance that can be expected if a bunch of people foolishly investigate a dangerous location. It was quite enjoyable, but kind of clunky, and subsequently I got too busy with designing boardgames and then larps to really take it much further.
Anyway so now I’ve revived it in a slightly different form: rather than being GMed, it’s now ‘GMful’ (or ‘GMless’ if you prefer) – ie. the players GM communally and for each other as required. And it turned out to fit this structure quite well! We played the second scenario, The Wreck of the Sarah-Jane, which deals with the exploration of a ship found becalmed in the South Seas in 1810.
I’ll do a proper writeup of how the game now works once I’ve worked in the tweaks generated by the playtest, but basically the system of players creating stuff together and GMing for each other worked quite solidly to create some good funny/horrible plotlines, and a satisfying set of resolutions. And we ended up with some fun drawings on index cards – this is an important thing that I’ve added to the game – as seen here:
I’m quite tentatively pleased with how the design has come along, particularly after such a long hiatus: what I think I’ll aim to do is produce a workable rules document and then try and get some outside people (perhaps you, dear readers?) to playtest it.
The Best Medicine
So this is a new larp idea that I mentioned on Facebook a few months ago. People seemed to like it, and I did too; so here we all are, and now there’s nothing can be done to stop it. It’s a larp about laughter – particularly, about the well-known finding that laughing makes you feel better, even if it is forced rather than genuine.
The larp has a group of comedians and comic actors gathered together to go on a road trip to scatter the ashes of one of their number – a great of the field, who they have all worked with. They have a network of interrrleationships themselves, too, of course. During the five scenes, they will reminisce, reveal, recriminate, and so on. But interspersed throughout all this, they will laugh – using a ‘I’m now being funny’ metatechnique, each character is able to induce laughter in the others at will.
I wanted to see if ‘larped laughter’ was as effective as experimentally-forced laughter as per the science. And it seemed to be! The metatechnique needs a tweak or two, but basically there was a load of laughing which became increasingly genuine-sounding as time went on and the alibi was less required. And also people got into their characters, and the group dynamic felt strong and genuine, and basically it worked as a small-group larp.
I’m giong to carry on working on this, to polish it up and produce a script so that other people can run it. Fix your eyes on here to keep posted about its progress!
Inbetween all this we played a bunch of boardgames, including old favourites Mysterium and Kodama, and new favourite Cottage Garden – which I ought to write about here. But this is probably enough for one post!