Last night at Story Games Seattle, 4 of us played Lovecraftesque. Players were B1, D, B2 and E (the facilitator).
This was the first time I facilitated a game at Story Games as well as the first time I ran this game for 4 people.
So Lovecraftesque is a game that simulates the experience of a Lovecraft, Robert Chambers, or Stephen King novel or film-adaptation. It's about coming together to tell a story about a single character's accelerating plummet into the depths of despair and supernatural terror. We will lay a trail of breadcrumbs in the form of disturbing clues that hint at the horror to come, but we will ultimately create, discover and describe this final terror only at the end of the game based on these clues.
The 4 of us came together and decided we wanted a particularly modern era albeit somewhat remote. After some discussion, we decided modern day middle east was what we wanted. We came up with a few locations that we could use in future scenes. We knew we wanted a main location to be an ancient city. We went with Syria’s ancient Palmira. We also wanted a university, an “on the way” traveling scene, and a Syrian village and coffee/tea house.
Our witness to the horror was a brilliant and compassionate Doctor Hafsa Al-Damasqi. She works as an Ancient Cultural Anthropologist at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts.
The Hall of King Aldimir is a game with strong themes of cosmic horror and the futility of mankind's actions against the vast, uncaring universe.
Viewer discretion is advised.
Our game began with a scene at Miskatonic University. Doctor Hafsa has been called into the office of her boss, Dr. Tamasz Skiba. Apparently there’s been a dreadful accident: Their friend and colleague, Doctor Lorremeer Kofka, has been found dead near in his office at the work site. Doctor Lorremeer has been near a breakthrough and found evidence pointing to the location of fabled Hall of King Aldimir, an opulent and eccentric Assyrian king. We learned that Doctor Lorremeer died mysteriously. He was in fine health, but died in with no signs of forced entry or break in.
Due to the tumultuous political climate and the prestige of finding this location, Doctor Hafsa will have to cut her holiday short and fly to Syria to take over Doctor Lorreemeer’s work (Game note: there was questions about what a watched “does” at the start in this first scene.)
On the flight over to Syria, Hofsa was talking to some of her fellow researchers. We learned some backstory about the source of Dr. Kofka’s breakthrough. Apparently there’s a scroll found with the dead sea scrolls that had the key. This scroll supposedly had a “curse” in writing on it, dooming whoever finds the Hall of King Aldimir. Doctor Hofsa begins having restless, dreamless sleep on the plane.
The plane touches down in Syria and we cut to being en route to the excavation site. Some lab equipment breaks. We arrive at the site and during the clean-up/unpacking/inventory check, Doctor Hafsa found out more about the death of Doctor Kafka. The doctor/medical examiner said that the doctor apparently had died days ago, but his body had no signs of decomposing. Apparently no workers would go in here saying it was cursed. She enters his office (and apparent scene of his death) for the first time alone. Doctor Kafka’s notes sat on his desk under a paperweight of a two-headed bull paperweight. (Game Note: the “what does a watcher do?” is long resolved and we’ve found a solid game groove.)
We fast forward a few weeks. Doctor Hafsa is having disturbing nightmares about a strange door. She is exhausted all the time and begun making sloppy requests for items and oversights. Her notes are incoherent. She’s apologizing to a staff member who was wondering why she ordered a telescope (which Hafsa did not remember ordering!) when there’s a loud crash near the dig site. Doctor Hafsa drops her coffee and the spills upward against gravity. She rubs her eyes thinking it’s her brain misfiring from a lack of sleep. Commotion in the dig site is heard. The news is bad—someone’s hurt.
Doctor Hafsa rushes to the site and sees a Syrian boy pinned underneath an ancient column. Part of the antechamber’s pillars has fallen and revealed a strange, circular door behind a broken wall. Hafsa focuses on caring for the boy, praying for him, holding him, as her staff members run to get the doctor/medical examiner. Things look grim for the boy. She closes her eyes and prays for the boy. It's then the boy begins to blabber incoherently in a language she cannot understand. It’s a strange language. Something like Proto-Ancient Assyrian. He then goes silent for a second and looks up at Hafsa. The boy passes before the medical examiner could arrive, but in his final moments, looking in the eyes of Doctor Hafsa, the boy BEGS her to not open that revealed door.
It’s only after the passing of the boy that Doctor Hafsa realizes that this is the door from her dreams! This ornate, near perfectly circular door that defies the normal Assyrian architecture. She forbids anyone from exploring or doing anything with the door as long as she can out of respect for the boy and her own fear..
Few weeks later, on a satellite call with her boss, Doctor Tamasz back in Miskatonic, she learns that her wasteful spending and lack of progress has been noted and if she doesn’t find this hall soon, her funding will be pulled and she’ll be out of job. She chooses her career and this discovery over her own well-being and honor of the boy’s wishes.
It is door opening day and the staff has gathered around this strange door in the antechamber. Doctor Hafsa is afraid of what could behind this strange door, so personally leads the opening of it. She’s too compassionate to risk another death on this expedition.
There’s a strange, square hole near the door that must be the key to opening it. She cautiously puts her hand in the old alcove fearful of what could be waiting for her. Her hand passes through cobwebs and dirt and grime until it finds gears oddly smooth. She sticks her hand between the gears and finds a central turn style which she twists. The door begins to shake. Dust falls from the top of it and she feels a sharp pang in her hand! She forces through the pain and continues to twist. She feels her hand go fiery hot, numb and swell. She continues to turn the gear until a click before she sprains and scrapes her hand out of the alcove, pushing out a small scorpion as well.
The door opens like a collapsing spiral in itself in a clockwise fashion before receding into the ceiling. Behind the door is a gigantic banquet hall with another door at the end. In this hall are dozens and dozens of skeletons in ancient, noble robes. The banquet table looks to be untouched by time. Flowers, serving plates of Fruits, nuts, decanters of dark red wine, and strange meats adorn this lavish golden table along with exquisite silverware. Doctor Hafsa steps through the door and realizes this room, for being so old, has no smell. Nothing smells here. Her hand was definitely stung. She turns around to see her staff and then the circular door shuts behind her sealing her inside. ( Game note: We have now finished part 2 and decided this is the perfect time to transition into the horrific conclusion part of the game. Time to ramp up the horror.)
Doctor Hafsa has a crisis of faith and feels regret for opening the door. What has she done?! She begins moving towards the back of the room near the other door. Ancient Assyrian Cuneiform writing sits above the door, but begins to shift and twist into modern Arabic with the message of doom to anyone who passes through this door, decreed by King Aldimir, Lord of One Thousand Worlds.
She begins hearing whispers in the same language as the boy. Her vision blurs and snaps into sudden clarity. The room is opulent and decadent. Men and women are eating and engaging in obscene sex acts. The meat on the table is human flesh. This is some sort of devilish bacchanalia.
The whispers are getting more and more intense! Hafsa makes the decision and opens the cursed door. Behind the door is the same exact banquet room. Only as her vision saw it.
She rushes through the horrific scene touching as little as possible to the door at the end of the hall. She must escape! She opens the door and is suddenly stabbed in the chest by a man holding a wicked and alien looking bronze spear. She feels her life leaving her as the members of this grotesque orgy begin to feast on her. She opens her eyes and she’s in the banquet hall again as it looked with just skeletons and the fresh food.
She feels the shadowy pain of where the spear would have impaled her. Should have impaled her. She feels the venom coursing through her arm as well. She struggles to the other side of the room and opens the door on the other end of the hallway and winds up in the office of her boss back in Miskatonic University!
In this ornate office along with Doctor Tamasz is Doctor Kofka. Alive. They both calmly ask if Doctor Hafsa is ok. They comment how she looks unwell. She has a class in 20 minutes! She shakes her head and responds confusingly. It’s only then does she realize the three of them are speaking that strange proto-assyrian and understanding each other. She’s sweating and the room is spinning. She’s now standing on the wall and as the room contorts. Her boss and colleague are now standing, from her perspective on the wall that is the floor. Behind her is a large mural which has contorted and covered the mahogany office door. Was that mural there before? The mural is a disturbing perspective of King Aldimir’s banquet hall. The angles of the room are warped and unnatural giving the room strange depth. Instead of skeletons in the banquet hall, the bodies in the painting appear dead, but remarkably preserved. The twisting perspectives cause her to trip into and through the painting into the hall once more.
She tries to regain her footing. The room begins to come alive and ignores her presence. The preserved bodies begin to chant and in ancient proto-assyrian begin to welcome King Aldimir to the banquet. She looks confused since there’s no conceivable exit or entrance anymore. King Aldimir just fades into existence is standing at the head of the table. Looking at it, our poor doctor looses any sense of strength, The king is utterly alien and mentally incomprehensible. Its appearance and proof of existence drains all human conceptual notions of good, evil, religion, and morality out of existence.
The king addresses Hafsa in a posh, brittish accent, questioning her decisions to interrupt this banquet and why. She begs for forgiveness from this awe inspiring being and only wished to discover the knowledge of this ancient culture. It scolds her and humanity’s folly at attempting to learn the universe. Professor Loremeer died because of this fact. He died because he learned the truth: King Aldimir rules every world that exists and does not exist and everything that is and was or could. It invites her to join the banquet.
A middle class family has gathered around a TV after dinner. CNN is reporting how ISIS has destroyed the ancient Sumerian City of Palmira and killed a research team there. The family comments how barbaric ISIS must be to destroy a cultural site like that.
A year later, in Miskatonic University, a prodigious young student is pouring over the scroll and any notes left over from the Doctors Loremeer and Kofka. She spots a mistranslation in her notes. The real site of King Aldimir’s Hall is in Greece.
Black screen. Roll credits.
The four of us had an awesome time with this game. We each count this experience near the top of the charts as far as RPG fun. I know this was the best experience of a horror game I've ever had. 11/10.
After the game we took a break, walked around, until we got ready to get a drink at a local bar and decompress some more about our game and what we liked/didn't. We all agreed that this game would be best with 3 people.
Additionally, we thought the game struggles at the start to find its cadence (as most story games do) but once we found it, the game just opened up and played itself. We also agree the cards may or may not be helpful.
The four of us cannot wait to play this again. The majority of the table spoke about the next time they play, we'll scale back the tempo of the horror. We agreed our game felt more like a Stephen King novel-turned movie than a Lovecraft story. We all still had fun, but now that they've played it once, they would like to try a slower burning style of story.
We all agreed the setup for the game is kind of wonky still. We spent a lot of time discussing locations, but locations weren't really even used that much and went with what the fiction wanted anyways. We think what would be important is establishing the "horror speed dial" of the story early on. We were thinking about alternative ways of beginning a game like this. This is my answer for most setup games, but I'd like to try it with a microscope palette.
(Someone on another forum wished I explained more about the structure and build of the game instead of just the fiction so here we go cross-posting...)
So structurally, Lovecraftesque is like a dance of 3 roles that builds and speeds up at the end. The three roles are Witness (The PC), the Narrator (The GM), and the Watcher(s) (Details/Questioners/NPC players).
The basic step of the dance is investigating a clue that is tied into the final horror.
-The Narrator frames a scene that focuses on the goal being the answer to this question "What is the Clue the Witness encounters that hints at the final horror?"
-The Witness explores the scene with the Watcher complimenting both Narrator and Witness descriptions with evocative language, mystery, and supplementary fiction.
-The Watcher/Narrator/Witness relationship can be "Narrator uses watcher like a random table of fiction" or "Watcher probes Witness or Narrator about a sight, scene, smell, taste, touch or feelings there which." This relationship of roles, I think, gets easier and better the more times you play this game. Like I mentioned earlier, in a game about horror, uninterrupted descriptions and pacing is kind of important.
(RE: Roles. I indicated this issue in the notes part of the story where appropriate. I was the initial narrator and, without realizing it, ended the first scene with the two watchers just sitting there not contributing. We went back and talked about it and remedied the situation as facilitator asking the Watcher to ask questions that probe what the Narrator's asking. Prod at senses. How things sound and look and smell. Things fixed themselves pretty quickly. Also, no one had any problem playing the witness. After I became a Watcher, I began asking the narrator questions such as "could you elaborate on how Professor Loreemeer's source of his breakthrough?" and such and that's when we learned it was the dead sea scroll. The watcher next to me followed my lead and slam dunked it with "so what the warning given on the top of the scroll to those who read it?" In the decompression at the end of the game, we spoke about it and mentioned they are players who learn best from example instead of reading. YMMV.)
We pass our roles to the left after the conclusion of a scene. Scenes must have 1 clue but can have more. This first part of this dance concludes after 5 clues are had. (usually 5 turns). These clues dance and skirt around the horror and should be veiled in rational explanation. Violent reports are heard secondhand. Curses are folklorish and not to be believed. That was simply interference on the radio. etc.
Following the first 5 scenes, the music picks up and now clues get evermore blatant and less obfuscated by logic and the laws of nature and man. The length of this musical crescendo is dictated fictionally with the Narrator able to transition to the next part after clue 6, and forcibly by rules, by turn 9.
In the Syrian game, we finished clue 6 (the food on the table in the hall wasn't stale) and decided, fictionally, now's the time to start Part 3.
So in part 3, the music picks up again even more. Here strict order of roles crashes down. The roles serve as masks we wear and exchange now. We hurriedly describe vignettes of the Witness' actions as they get closer and closer to the horror. At least 3 turns but less than 5 iterations are had by the 4 of us (12-16 descriptions).
Following along fictionally, this is where she has her crisis of faith and the words shift and bend. She has her visions and the reveal that door opens into her vision was, like everything, provided by a fellow player and it blew. everyone's. mind. when it happened. We were all about it. We continued to weave in the clues from parts 1 and 2 in an increasingly horrific manner the closer we got the final horrific climax with the King.
In that final climactic scene, roles come back, but it is mostly Narrator with full control. Witness is told to "enjoy the ride" and mostly comment on the horrific experience and struggle in vain.
Following which is the Epilogue, which is the nice bow on top of this box of lovecraft, once again told by a narrator, where we tell the fates of the witness and how the horror lingers to this day.
Horror, as a genre, is not something you can portray easily in a roleplaying game.
Often times the frightening nature of the terror is combative instead of frightening. Players play a game so their characters can succeed and live on! The fear of dying/losing is a primary motivator, right? It instills a cost. The risk of death is often times the sole tension of RPGs. I was skeptical if a game without that sort of particular stakeholdership in a character could work, but I'm here to tell you that it does. Swimmingly.
Lovecraftesque is a GMless, Prepless, and Diceless game that utilizes players switching between 3 roles: The Narrator (GM), Witness (PC), and Watcher (flexible detail-filler role). The narrator sets scenes that always star the Witness character that direct the witness to uncover a "clue". A clue is always something weird or alluding to the supernatural. No one knows what the final horror will be until the climax of the final scene, where a player volunteers to play Narrator and give their theory of what the horror was based on the previous clues!
The game's strength comes from its' structured parts. The game is played in 3 sequential parts. The first part of the game has the Witness uncovering clues that only allude to the supernatural and not in danger. The second part is where the heat starts getting turned on. The clues become more overtly supernatural and the Witness can be threatened. The third and final part of the game is the climax of the story where the clues come together and the Witness encounters the horror. The game ends with the following narrator delivering an Epilogue which details the follow up about the witness (if any) and how the horror continues to leave its mark on the world.
So why does Lovecraftesque succeed at emulating cosmic horror literature? Well, from a game design perspective, I think the narrative distance between Witness and player makes it so that the Witness is less agent and more victim the entire game-- as what we come to expect from a Lovecraftian tale. Because the game is also structured around a single particular witness, the game is more intimate than a story of three-plus souls hunting down the occult. What makes the witness tick, what they're thinking and feeling, all get expressed and explored more intimately than a game such as Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG. (Not saying CoC is a bad game, per se.)
By establishing the tone of the game early (Investigative Horror/Heroic Horror/Comedic Horror) players proceed to buy-in to a game with established tropes that should be utilized. Investigative Horror usually ends with the main character unable to defeat the horror and often times dying or being rendered insane by the literal revelations that are entailed. I think this tone combined with the collaborative setting/witness design phase of the game serves a lot like Palette would in Microscope.
I played a 2 player game of Lovecraftesque where neither of us had played the game before. The setting and Witness we constructed was a female communications officer during the cold war stationed in a remote electronics listening post in the mountains of Alaska. Our locations reflected our ideas perfectly: We had our station base, an army resupply center far away, we had a radio/antenna array in a crater, a remote cavern network, and a lake covered in mists.
The entire setup of crafting the era, witness, and scenes laid the perfect foundation for the type of story we wanted to tell. I can tell you my mind was jumping around to ideas about spooky radio stuff, intuit monsters, and strange cosmic phenomena.
The final horror was amazing and the emergent narrative of our game felt very crafted and polished for very little effort.
You can catch the full VOD of this game on my youtube channel. I will be playing this game again this week on Wednesday where I hope to play with a Watcher and utilize the card mechanics to see if/what changes.
Looking back at this game, I really enjoy the game as is. The game has a ton of replayability and depth for being so light on rules. Like any story game, the first few scenes suffer from "player-bearing" syndrome as we try on these fictional clothes, but the game smooths out as our storytelling brains "synch" up. This is a personal plus for me, but this game doesn't do much with the existing Lovecraftian mythos. I think this game lends itself the best to portraying a new set of cosmic horror undefined, but inspired by the original tales. There's nothing stopping you from making the final horror a shoggoth or something, but I advise players that not every monster has to be something you've seen before in literature. This game really can let you create a new, novel horror.
Lovecraftesque is made by Josh Fox and Becky Annison. It was recently funded on kickstarter and will be available for purchase at a later date. I also wanted to personally shout out and thank them for tackling the racism/xenophobic tendencies of their inspiration allowing this game to approach horror with a more diverse and open-minded sentiment.
EDIT: I played the three player version of Lovecraftesque last night and the Watcher certainly rounds out the pacing of the game. Being able to pose questions from the narrator's stance of "what eerie thing was in so-and-so's pocket?" is creatively great. I think a narrator's pacing/cadence of words, allowing pauses for the watcher to supplant additional details without breaking the pace/tension is a skill of the game that will come with further play. After playing with the cards, me and another player did not find them particularly necessary. I could see the ability to jump in as narrator/another role would be useful in, say, a 4 person game.
Here's the video of last night's 3 person game:
(Want to play? Here's a pdf link to the barebones version as hosted on Lovecraftesque's kickstarter page.)
Sources for photos- Bing search and Lovecraftesque kickstarter.
Yesterday I had the marvelous opportunity to play a game about societal collapse.
Downfall, by Caroline Hobbs, is a very finely polished game about destroying a civilization. Players collaboratively create a world that’s flawed by design and that flaw is the source of its own unmaking. The game is designed to chronicle this unspooling of societal thread from a particular point of view. The game makes a character in the story the lens of all the action revolves around. This character is appropriately called the Hero. Now what's important and cool about the hero is that they are a character who is trying to reform the flaw and doomed to fail.
In terms of design, mechanics, and structure, Downfall has a very sleek finish. The game’s mechanics and order of operations felt perfectly intuitive. For example, we played with 2 complete newcomers to Downfall and our facilitator was very experienced with this system. By the time me and the other newbie had come up with our first steps our brains were leaping at how to interpret these results, which was exactly what was to happen in the next part of the creation process. Boom. That is awesome intuitive game design. Rules and design working in a natural way to channel creative thought and motion.
So every game of Downfall starts with coming up with our society. The game calls this societal place the haven. The haven is the variable-scope term for the doomed community and is all about a central flawed idea. The three of us went with Nationalism as our flaw and things really started coming together in the following steps when we started coming up with the symbols and traditions of our haven.
We took turns imagining symbols and cultural traditions that stem from the societal flaw. We came up with this It country with a symbol of a snake and a bear at odds with one another. It was some sort of autocratic regime with a centrally planned economy with a very strong tie to it's past. When you are born, you’re heavily pressured in picking a name of one of the founding persons of the nation and upon adulthood, given a cog. This cog is your economic participatory symbol. Each exchange imprints on it proof so the older you are, the more worn out your cog becomes. This centrally planned economy with symbols of snakes and bears everywhere and many small cogs working in harmony definitely made us start thinking of some crazy Russian Big Brother, Industrial Revolution like location.
Stemming from this industrial revolution autocracy, for entertainment, I came up with the Waltz being invented in our country with a midday hour of dancing being customary. (Even factory workers had this hour off to put on their fancy shoes and dance!) Our societal elements at this point just began to fall into place. It quickly became clear we’re looking at some very proud, traditional nation that has a sort of “clockwork” like society that espouses punctuality, efficiency, and planning. The time is somewhere around the late 1800’s and our haven became the eastern European country of Allevastia.
Following the creation of our haven and society, players create the 3 character points of view of how the society is viewed. While the game is always shown through the lens of the hero, opposing the hero is the fallen that is a character who strongly believes in the flaw and the Pillar that is the neutral entity who represents the common folk.
Drawing once again from our pool of traditions, our hero was Anastasia the Speaker. Speakers were a tradition we came up where teachers behave sort of like mentors and tutors of ancient Greece. To be a Speaker, you must be one of privilege. All Speakers have a pedigree that connects you to the founding members of Allevastia. It’s a career path for these political elite who dare not actually enter the political realm. Anastasia became a strong, proud woman and former Waltz-winning Miss Allevastia many years ago. She is kind of described as a curly blonde haired Phryne Fischer.
Our game’s fallen was Andrei, who worked in a prestigious, but morbid tradition of our country—death panels. Our country enjoys economic equilibrium through tough population control. Andrei is a “Director Of Passing” in the region that Anastasia works in. Andrei and Anastasia have a past, you see. Anastasia used to date Andrei long ago when they were young in the same rural village, but as they grew up, Anastasia chose to become a Speaker instead of wife to Andrei and their love turned to embers that never really went away. Our game began with Andrei and Anastasia rekindling their love, but Andrei was married but his wife was infirm. Very taboo. In fact, it was a secret. Now it’s the Fallen’s job to introduce consequences to the Hero’s actions as we’ll see later on.
Our third character, the Pillar, was Sveta. Sveta was a seventeen year old student of Anastasia. She’s very smart and impressive dancer. Sveta’s duty is to reflect the feelings of the average citizen. With our bonfire set, we’re ready to begin burning.
Our match took the form of an unusual amount of people failing their health interviews and receiving the shiny brass cogs that mark you for death. It’s never known when your brass cog means you’re called, but it’s always less than a year. Among those who failed was Sveta’s father. A few days later, more folks got bronze cogs, including 2/3rds of her class of students. Students! Getting marked to die! There has to be a mistake somewhere.
In the meantime, smoke from the factory chimneys begins to increase. People are now normally asked to work shift-and-a-half time. Something behind the scenes happening.
Anastasia spoke with Andrei (who signs off on these death cogs) about this and Andrei was quite tight-lipped about the affair. Anastasia felt deep down that this must be a mistake and that Sveta’s father and her students were fine! Andrei only mentioned that he loves his country and his job and he does what he is told. Anastasia continues to poke and prod into the reasons for these cogs in order to save her students, but the last straw comes during an evening gala event when Anastasia and Andrei are dancing and Anastasia’s efforts to review the documents and records gets stonewalled by Andrei one last time. This was the moment Anastasia began to take matters into her own hands. This is when Anastasia went from reformer to rebel.
Determined to save the lives of these children, Anastasia travels incognito to the Capital. She abandons her job as Speaker in order to save them by getting to the bottom of this in the Capital. She gets in contact with a politician whom Andrei used to know who agrees to meet her in the train station.
After traveling east for a few days, she gets to the capital city and sees soldiers assembling and goods and supplies being taken off railcars. The bear and snake symbols of her country are being washed and changed to be only Snake. She begins to put the final pieces together after talking to her contact, but the contact betrays her and takes her into custody thinking she might be a Bear spy!
She was detained and finally vetted enough to go back home with a handler and responsible for helping detect Bear party sympathizers. She bumps into Sveta at the train station home and finds out that she was unable to save the children or Sveta’s dad. Sveta is more disappointed Anastasia missed their funerals and her marriage. Her home city seems so distant from the warlike capital. News travels slowly and unevenly in Allevastia.
Our game ended with vignettes about the fighting. Anastasia’s, Sveta’s and Andrei’s town began to modify the country’s symbols with just snakes, Bear founding father names became illegal, and the world marched on like clockwork.
This game was super fun! The way our problems blended together felt like a Russian literature retelling of 1984. I really appreciated how our group deliberately left the internal strife vague. The Bears and the Snakes were at odds in our country and fighting was breaking out. Was it a civil war? Political coup? Political purge? Downfall is a very remarkable game and I cannot wait to play it again.
In my opinion, Downfall feels like a really cool take on the game Polaris using some newer, modern game design tools as found in games like DURANCE. I can't stress enough just how much fun this game was to play and how great and clear the rules and writing are.
Downfall should be releasing in the next few weeks. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of it when it becomes available!
Last Thursday at Story Games Seattle, I had the marvelous opportunity to play "My Daughter, The Queen of France." This is a story game about the falling out between a playwright (Shakespeare) and the estrangement his (or her) daughter. Shakespeare and at least 3 friends get together and put on a play dedicated to the question "What happened to my daughter?" (you know instead of Shakespeare going to the daughter and finding out directly, to figure out what happened.)
What went wrong? Why did this happen? Who is at fault? Where is she now? and so many other questions about the specific circumstances of the estrangement are found out through play. But what makes this game really interesting is that the non-Shakespeare characters are, in the butchered words of Tropic Thunder, just dudes disguised as dudes playing another dude. Everyone plays a character who then plays someone else in a scene directed by the Shakespeare character.
Sold and onboard for this game, T, E, R, and H, worked out the setting details. T wished to be Shakespeare and together we came up with a 1950's Rockabilly setting. Of course, Shakespeare couldn't figure out why his daughter stormed off after a heated argument, broke the windows and headlights of his car, and rode off on a police motorcycle Shakespeare was borrowing for a play. (Even more so and Shakespeare the character being ignorant of this part) we decided that we're going to take this a little queer and Shakespeare's daughter, Cordelia, was falling for her best friend, Lily.
Our cast of characters became:
An interesting mechanic about the game is that every time you approach a scene, you are limited in what you are allowed to do as actors. Every time you revisit the same scene you "unlock" features that let you express and reinterpret things. For instance, the first time you do a scene you can only emotionlessly recite dialogue to one another. The next time you can then use hand motions and stage directions, etc.
The scenes we examined were concerning a sleepover with Lily and Cordelia and Portia, a scene about why Cordelia stopped going to Mr. Moore's classes (the supply closet scene), the estrangement scene where Cordelia makes her escape, and then a scene about Coredlia being introduced to the police station and a possible intern spot.
The game took a little bit to gel right. It was difficult to play a character playing another character and then not using emotion to talk, etc. It felt much more like playing an improve scene game than a story game but I liked it. We all did. Mostly.
The game started getting interesting when, us the players, started questioning and determining what happened to Mrs. Shakespeare and the truth behind her being too busy to write and wish her daughter's happy birthday on her "long trips to South America." It definitely became a game about a selfish, delusional, and controlling playwright who's power issues drove the people he cared about way and unable to trust him back which is pretty remarkably awesome! It came to be a lot of cool reveals. (For example it turned out Arthur Moore himself is a homosexual and him wanting to find Cordelia and Lily to sort of reach out to them.)
So in conclusion, My Daughter, Queen of France isn't my favorite story game, but I definitely enjoyed my time.
I'm full of feels tonight.
Session 2 of a game of Night Witches by Jason Morningstar ended this evening with a satisfied, yet sad event-- Me and my girlfriend's character's deaths.
Just a preface: Night Witches is a game with a very narrow focus. Each player is a member of the soviet 588th night bomber regiment. An all female regiment flying antiquated biplanes for the sexist red army.
So when we sat down and made characters, I decided to play the Hawk playbook. I wanted to play a serious leader and excellent pilot who knew it. So I came up with Sasha. Sasha was the eldest daughter of a well-off farming family outside of Leningrad. It was here where she learned how to fly crop dusters. Her family never had any sons so her father raised her in a very demanding way. In turn, she too would demand much from her subordinates. She let her guard down and became friends with her navigator in flight school, but she lost her navigator in a fateful crash she walked away from. Her compassion got her new friend killed so now she's a bitter and demanding woman.
Oh and the actress playing this a-hole ace maverick would be Kiera Knightley.
So here we are learning about our new Ukranian airbase and I'm making zero friends and loving it. I'm scolding the navigators for poor flight choices and blaming them that there mishaps put us in the danger in the first place (while perfectly executing my attack run moves!) From her position of perfect piloting, she would criticize others, misguidedly thinking that this consternation would make them better (as well as subconsciously protect her from making friends who would die.)
Well in the second episode, we're making great success both at base and in the air. Sasha begins to open up a little... starting with visiting a wounded comrade in the hospital (another player's character) instead of focusing on the mission at hand and retrieving some supplies from the Quartermaster. Additionally she begins to smooth out the relationship between herself and her own navigator.
Things were perfect until that fateful night, where after returning from another successful bombing mission, the German luftwaffe JG54 squadron found us. It was dark and cloudy, and one the planes in our squadron had a flashlight on to read the map when we heard the planes. Knowing she was going to be targeted, I too made a move that exposed our plane in hopes of drawing some of the fire away from her.
In a selfless act to protect her wingmates, plane 347, Sasha's plane took too much fire and was going to have to Wheels Down it on the runway. The crash landing destroyed the plane and Sasha and her navigator died of their injuries later on in the hospital.
Mechanically speaking, I had a regard for my plane and my navigator had regard for Sasha... namely that she hated me for being a jerk! So the crash caused 6 harm to be spread to both of us, but the plane's destruction meant 1 more harm to me... killing me... which meant one more harm to my navigator... killing her. Beautiful.
We'll play again in 2 weeks. Can't wait!