Actual Play – Critical Path (3/11/2017)

GM: Kathleen Leeds De Smet and Sophie Monahan
Players: Kara Pekarek , Hakan Seyalioglu, Karen Twelves, Brian De Smet, Erik Chen, Betty Bong, Jennifer Hardee, and Chris Thomas Meyer
System: Critical Path by Amanda Brown, Jill Krynicki Dutcher, James Silverstein, Brandon Brylawski, and Doug Freedman

The tagline for this game (from

DATELINE: Cape Canaveral, 2043 – Faster-than-light Travel Possible!

“We dedicate this voyage to children around the world,” billionaire philanthropist Killian Shepard said as he and his small crew of researchers boarded their experimental craft. “It is their future we hope to secure.”

Critical Path is a game of intense, interpersonal drama and shifting perspectives set aboard the Victoria II, a prototype starship on its maiden voyage. Join the crew as they race to the edge of possibility, pushing the boundaries of knowledge – of themselves and the universe around them.

Do not worry about which run you sign up for. We will mix players between them, sorting players into runs based on responses to the casting questionnaire.

Note: This game contains mature, angst-ridden, trigger-filled themes. In fact, it’s kind of all about them. If you are concerned about this, please do not play. It is not for children under 18 and should not be taken lightly. It is low-mechanics / high drama. Don’t try to solve the problem, just strap in and enjoy the ride (but don’t say we didn’t warn you).

A larp about feelings

Because she is kind and gracious and good, Kathleen invited me to her run of Critical Path. I hadn’t heard about the larp before but the questionnaire made it pretty clear what we were in for. This was one of my favorite questions, I think it hit the nail on the head.

I think I started clicking away and then just checked All of the above because it was easier!


Like Storm Cellar (also a larp developed at Peaky Midwest), Critical Path had a bit of reading to do before the game. A few pages about the setting and situation (what everyone knows) and then a few more about your character, and the tangled web they’ve woven so far.

Karen (who played Alex Sheppard, the documentarian) and I (Jamie Williams, the government liaison) didn’t really know how to dress up for the larp, but we thought that contemporary professional attire would do. Karen wearing a sweater and scarf, me in a shirt and tie. Minor effects in the grand scheme of costumes, but they worked well…I got to adjust my tie for effect several times!

The game started late due to some last minute cancellations, so while we waited Kathleen gave us the lowdown on the larp format, which I really appreciated.

*SPOILER ALERT* Things that I don’t think should be spoilers, but some might, to follow.




Critical Path deals with alternate realities. Every time you jump into hyperwave (you’ll jump nine times during the game) you enter an alternate reality where something about your past (usually a decision you or someone else in the game made) was different, and you experience a different reality because of it. None of the other jumps, nor the “base” reality is remembered when you’re in the wave. When you come out of hyperwave the alternate reality is remembered as though it was a very lucid dream. And this effect is cumulative. Each time you enter, you start a fresh, but each time you get out, you remember all the alternate realities you’ve experienced.

The net effect is a dizzying emotional roller coaster because you get to experience a ton of “what if” scenarios. Some which work out well for you and some which are very, very bad. I’m mentioning that Kathleen told us about this in advance here because I think it was SUCH a brilliant move to do. Instead of causing tons of confusion in game that would have invariably required GM consultation/clarification, we walked into the game knowing what kind of general experience to expect, and when we got them (in the form of half page instructions about how our new reality is different) we were ready to jump into the new roles immediately rather than feeling sideswiped by them.

My take away from this is TALK TO YOUR PLAYERS, and trust in them as well. We’re in it to have fun, but we’ll have a lot more fun if we know the rules of the game before we start playing. I’m probably belaboring this now, but thank you so much for this Kathleen, it was absolutely the right call.

Victoria II

The game takes place (mostly) on the Victoria II, a space shuttle that will make the first hyperwave jump with sentient life on board. To create the Victoria Kathleen and Brian moved around their room to add custom lighting (which allowed the GM to color code when we were in and out of hyperwave), speakers for an intermittent sound track, assigned seating (which had each of her alternate reality sheets beneath them), and a number of other props that were used throughout the game. Super cool stuff.

The other thing that was present on the Victoria II was a camera (Brian’s Ipad) that Alex Sheppard used to document the entire trip. Which was a trip itself!

At the risk of starting to give away actual spoilers, I’ll stop with plot exposition and just say, this game was gut wrenching and sad in all the best ways.

What Rocked

All the work Kathleen, Sophie, and Brian did to set up the game really paid off. Because it was so well orchestrated we hardly had to call on Kathleen as GM at all during the game, and she was able to watch and listen in while we followed our many and varied fates. So well done!

Hakan, Kara, and I had a very complicated relationship, which changed several times throughout the game. Thank you both so much for going on that journey with me!

In one of the realities I played a really tyrannical version of myself. It was an uncomfortable role to fill and I’m glad I only had to do it for a few minutes, but I felt like I brought it home, which I was really nervous about as I read the write up for that reality.

Everyone in the game did a stellar job of separating out what we were supposed to know at any given time. Because of that we got to “re-meet” each other several times. It was great seeing a character and then moments later seeing them again in a very different light, just because one decision had been different years ago.

Karen was an amazing documentarian. The photos and the

This game has a lot of moving parts, but for all runs extremely smoothly with minimal GM interaction require, no conflict resolution mechanism needed, and a lot of player driven development. It promised a lot of emotional content and it delivered!

What could have improved

I was still exhausted from steaming earlier in the day and with the game starting late, I was fading toward the end of the game. I don’t think it hurt the game much, but I remember sitting down and trying to read my new reality and the words just looking blurry. I think I was the one holding us up from going to hyperwave a few times while I finished reading my update!




Actual Play – The Storm Cellar (1/14/2017)

GM: Kathleen De Smet
Players: Cameo Wood, Hakan Seyalioglu, Kara Pekarek, Sean Nittner, Kathryn Hymes, Erik Chen, Karen Twelves, and Daniel Ford
System: The Storm Cellar (By Kathleen De Smet and Eva Schiffer)

I’ve been wanting to play in one of Kathleen’s larps for a while now and I’m so delighted that I did! Kathleen invited us to her home, which she had transformed by way of blackout curtains, led candles, and mason jars of preserved fruits and vegetables into a 1930s storm cellar under a farm in small dust bowl town!

Here’s’ the description for lark from the Peaky Midwest Games website:

This is a mechanics-light, theater-style live action role-playing game (LARP) for 8 players and 1 or 2 game masters (GMs). The game is intended to last 3 hours and features rivalry and intrigue between neighbors and kin. There are no supernatural elements or magic in the game (ie. no woo). All GM materials required to cast and run the game are included.

The game is not intended for players under 16 years of age.

This game was written by Kathleen De Smet and Eva Schiffer outside of the Peaky Midwest workshops and they donated to the Peaky Midwest shop to help fund future workshops. The Storm Cellar is of a similar style to other games that were produced at Peaky Midwest workshops.


In a rural Midwestern town in 1939, eight neighbors find themselves trapped in a storm cellar waiting for a tornado to pass. Secrets and rivalries come to light in the darkness as well as golden opportunities. Just be sure the opportunities you chose are worth the price.

The Play is the Thing

Storm Cellar, being a parlor larp, is full of secrets, plots, and agendas all tangled up in the character’s backstories. To reveal the game we played would spoil the fun of finding those secrets out for yourself (hint, hint, the larp is just $5). So instead I’m just going to highlight a few of my favorite bits. Even these tease at some of the hidden plots! I played Corbin Shue, a farmhand who worked on the Rayne farm for Emery Rayne and his daughter Dotty. I absolutely loved:

  • The pride that Emery had in me choosing to stay and work with him and how I earnestly wanted to do just that even when everything else was pulling me away.
  • Falling in love with Dotty and being terrified that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her or make a good husband. Deciding about halfway through to make a bold move and proposing to Dotty and promising to take her all the way to New York for our honeymoon. Thwarting some plans but (as I found out later) playing into others.
  • Fearing those around me with more power and more knowledge, even though I had a trick or two up my sleeve as well.
  • Being genuinely unsure of others others motivations and several times going back and forth about who I trusted.
  • Being around the periphery of other thwarted love stories and new opportunities.
  • Genuinely wanting the best for the people around me but knowing I wasn’t crafty enough to make it all happen without someone I cared about getting hurt.

Pictures from the Game

What Rocked

Much of what I loved was captured above. This is a really great larp, and the people in it were fantastic.

The debrief at the end revealed a lot of hidden motivations both of the characters and of the game designers!

At one point Kathryn and I, who really hadn’t interacted much sat down together and for once in the entire night didn’t feel rushed. In fact, we both felt like our major issues were resolved (or as resolved as they were going to be) so we just chilled for a bit. It was cool seeing one of these characters relieved rather than frantically trying to accomplish something.

The snacks! Thanks Kathleen for providing us cheese and apples, carrots and saltines! And in old mason jars and tins no less!

The ambiance. You can’t see it in the picture but we played the entire game in the dark with only small candles (led for safety). There were enough scattered throughout the room that you could still see fine, but it felt very dark and gloomy indeed.

One of the things that turned me off from Larps originally was the fear that I had to perform a certain way or that I had to be the smartest one in the room to “win”. This game assuages a lot of those fears by being specifically fluid in terms of character’s gender identity and sexual orientation as well as assuring that whatever connects that do exist in the setting would be normal and not commented on. It also gave plenty of interesting directions for folks to go both outward (people to talk to) and inward (decisions to make about the kind of person that you are). I never worried that I was messing it up or that I was missing out!

What could have improved

The was a suspension of disbelief issue that I had with us all being in the same small space. One minute I’d be talking to someone and making an arrangement, and then next I’d see them walk over to someone and start conspiring and then they wold come right back to me as though I hadn’t just seen that. It was tough to have the kind of privacy I think some of these conversations called for. Of course, that’s sort of the point. We are all stuck in this little cellar with nowhere to go, but still I wanted a bit less people fanatically needing my attention (or me needing theirs) sometimes. Part of why that final talk with Kate was so nice.

Thanks again Kathleen for making this great game (along with Eva Schiffer) and running it for us. So much fun!

Actual Play – #Feminism Take 2 – The Flirt (8/7/2016)

#FeminismFacilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Andy Munich, Alex Roberts, David Leaman, and Jeremy Tidwell
System: #Feminism Nano-Games

Our last game of the con and oh, what a good one.

The Flirt

Finally, after several sessions, I added a new game in!

Flirt by Agata wistak (Poland)
Flirt is an attempt to deconstruct the game almost everyone is playing — game of hook-ups, crushes, and scoring!
4–5 players; 60 minutes; Intensity 2/5.

The suggestion that I had heard about this game was to make it a meta-game that was played while playing the other #Feminism nano-games. So. Meta.

Part of the flirt, in addition to secretly assigning roles as (The Girl, The Girl’s Secret Friend, The Flirt, and the The Flirt’s Friends) is to also make large pile of genders, gender expressions, sexual and relationship orientations, and governing moods. I was a shy, fem, cis-woman. So the intent was to play up these public identities in addition to our secret role while also playing the other nano-games. So. Very. Meta.
2016-08-07 13.41.54

Unsurprisingly, we also played the two games that I’ve come to adore:

Mentioning the Unmentionables by Kajsa Greger (Sweden)
Three games about the anatomy of women. (Dances with Vulva, Dying for a Cup of Coffee, and Just Put Some Salt on It)
3–5 players; 60 minutes; Intensity 3/5.

First Date by Katrin Førde (Norway)
A game about a date gone wrong and a rant about the orgasm gap.
2–5 players; 30 mins; Intensity 1/5.

2016-08-07 13.41.43

What Rocked

I was super concerned about Alex being the only woman at the table. It was a mix of wanting her to feel safe and wanting all the men at the table (including myself) to avoid tokenizing or fetishsizing her presence, or you know, just being jerks. I know and love Jeremy and from my knowledge of Andy and his involvement in Geek Girl Con, I felt pretty confident that we’d be in good shape and stay vigilant for any sexist or otherwise jerky behavior. David, who was unknown to me, turned out to be just wonderful as well. At the end of the game (in our overall debrief) we talked about Alex being the only woman at the table and how that affected the games we played and the interactions we had. Thumbs up all around. Yay!

The Flirt was an insidious game. Alex drew “The Girl” and I drew “The Flirt”. Jeremy and Andy were “The Flirt’s Friends”. There were these things that Andy and Jeremy did that really made my mind explode wondering why they did them and what they meant. At one point Andy gave me a very flattering compliment and I first though “wow, that was so nice of him.” Then I wondered though, how much was he doing that just to prop me up, to play his role. Jeremy made a move I didn’t even pick up on until later. He was about to sit down next to Alex but then changed his mind and said I should instead. I didn’t think twice about it, until he said in the debrief that he had done that to put us together. I know we’re always operating on multiple levels and everything has subtext but playing this prolonged social deduction game (even when I knew who everyone was) really got me thinking about all the subtle and not subtle things we do to and our reasons for them. Just like the game intended!

What a wonderful group of people and a wonderful way to end Gen Con! Thanks to all of you!

What could have improved

One thing I wasn’t able to do was stack the various gender, orientation, and governing moods onto my other roles. I picked the shy, fem, and cis-woman card because I thought I could portray those roles and identities while also facilitating other games, but I think I bombed at that pretty hard. Food for thought.

Actual Play – Gen Con #Feminism Take 1 (8/4/2016)

#FeminismFacilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Tasha Robinson, Spencer Abbe, Hillary Brannon, and Degen Gottlieb
System: #Feminism Nano-Games

I swore that I’d play different games this time, but as I flipped through them, the same ones we played just seemed so inviting. I mean who doesn’t want to say “The Vulva and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”?

So, games we played included:

Mentioning the Unmentionables by Kajsa Greger (Sweden)
Three games about the anatomy of women. (Dances with Vulva, Dying for a Cup of Coffee, and Just Put Some Salt on It)
3–5 players; 60 minutes; Intensity 3/5.

First Date by Katrin Førde (Norway)
A game about a date gone wrong and a rant about the orgasm gap.
2–5 players; 30 mins; Intensity 1/5.

What Rocked

In one of the First Date scenarios our ranter started talking about the placement of the clitoris in rabbits and I just about died laughing. The worst part is that it’s an argument someone might make. Oh my, I couldn’t take it.

There was another First Date scene where the Listener just wouldn’t leave…so it kept going, and going, and it became an endurance test for the ranter. Watching them run out of steam was pretty amazing.

Our games of Dying for a Cup of Coffee and Just Put Some Salt on it had pretty awesome debriefs. For being a con scenario in a room filled with a hundred other people I was incredibly impressed with the emotional honesty and the willingness to talk about personal experiences at the table. I felt really lucky to have such an open and thoughtful group.

What could have improved

We made it work but I don’t think #Feminism games are particularly well suited for a Gen Con sized Games on Demand area. Lots of noise and distractions. Constructing a “white sofa” out of chairs was doable, but I missed the actual sofa we had a Go Play.

Actual Play – Dying for a Cup of Coffee (7/10/2016)

#FeminismFacilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Julie Southworth, Jackson Tegu, Kathryn Hymes, and Hakan Seyalioglu
System: #Feminism Nano-Games

The #Feminism anthology is an awesome book. It has a beautiful layout done by Shuo Meng that begs you to flip through it and uncover these easy-to-digest, fun-to-read, nano games written by feminists through a feminist lens. Of particular note, each of the games are one to two pages long, have an intensity rating (one to five), and show their estimated length (all an hour or less).

Cool as all these game are, I was a bit nervous facilitating them. Many of them, even the lowest intensity games, are intimately about women’s lives and women’s experiences. I was doubting if I could, as a cis-man, facilitate these games well, and should I even be running them? Go Play NW seemed like a really good place to find out though, so I put it on the schedule and was delighted to see it fill up quickly with wonderful people I already knew and loved.

Games we Played

Here were the games we played in order. Three games but since once of them had three games within it, I’m calling it five!

Mentioning the Unmentionables by Kajsa Greger (Sweden)
Three games about the anatomy of women. (Dances with Vulva, Dying for a Cup of Coffee, and Just Put Some Salt on It)
3–5 players; 60 minutes; Intensity 3/5.

Tropes vs. Women by Ann Eriksen (Denmark)
Explore well-known movie clichés and tropes about women in a fun and not too serious way.
3–5 players; 20 minutes; Intensity 1/5.

First Date by Katrin Førde (Norway)
A game about a date gone wrong and a rant about the orgasm gap.
2–5 players; 30 mins; Intensity 1/5.

What Rocked

Everyone was fantastic about jumping in and trying these games with an open mind. Just Put Some Salt on It in particular sparked a lot of conversation during and after the game. It did a wonderful job of normalizing menstruation and as we played through it over and over (five scenes that were two minutes long and then 10 more scenes that were each 20 seconds long), something that started as embarrassing or taboo quickly became either a totally normal accident or something that would become a funny (funny positive, not funny shameful or demeaning ) story afterward.

Because many of these games had us play out the same scenes over and over, some of the reincorporation we had was amazing. The Tough Mudders, the Investments, the students noticing a smudge on their graded papers. All inside baseball I know, but very entertaining and normalizing in the moment.

The games for the most part fit in a freeform larp space. Several of them were set around the table so we sat at the table where we started, but if they called us to stand up and walk away from the table at the end (as in First Date and Dying for a Cup of Coffee did) then it was very natural to do so. I think this was in part because of our location. Campion Hall (where Go Play Northwest was hosting game this year) has all these nooks and crannies where you can game. Our game was around the corner from Monster Draft but secluded enough that we didn’t feel like getting up, moving around, or using the couch behind us was disrupting other games. Nor did we feel self conscious about the games content. It was just a great place to play in.

Among a small group of people, all of which either knew either other well and/or felt comfortable discussing their own content and touch boundaries, our negotiations of appropriate topics and level of physical contact was exceptional. Several times I noticed that before contact was made, permission was asked, and we talked frequently about the content of the games as we played them. We hat lots and lots of little mini debriefs (which were specifically called out in the games), which was great for doing course correction as we played more games.

What could have improved

I read some of the “secret” games before we played them because I wanted to be transparent about the content. I wish I hadn’t. There aren’t any big content reveals and the twists are great.

First Date…wow, that game is marked as intensity 1/5 but wow did we all feel terrible after playing the ranter. Of all the games it was the one we needed the most assurance that we weren’t terrible people afterward.

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Looking forward to playing more #Feminism nano-games at Gen Con!

Actual Play – A Crow Funeral (6/18/2016)

Crow FuneralFacilitator: Jon Cole
Players: Karen Twelves, Brodie Atwater, Sean Nittner
System: A Crow Funeral

After back to back games of Blades in the Dark I was exhausted. I went to find Karen, who had just finished up her larp and I saw that see seemed positively giddy about playing another game with Jon and Brodie. I was super dubious because I was so tired, but they promised it was a short game, so hey, let’s give it a shot.

We played A Crow Funeral by Tim Hutchings, which was  larp submission to the 2015 Golden Cobra Challenge. Here’s the brief blurb from the start of the PDF:

A Crow Funeral is a game for 2+ players which can play in 10-30 minutes. The game is intended for a busy space, like a convention or mall or the outdoors. Players should know that the game involves touching hands and people being shouted down for speaking out of turn.

In A Crow Funeral the players will take the roles of opinionated crows arguing the cause of death of a member of their murder. At the beginning of play players will split apart for a short while, then come together and join as a group. The game uses a simple hand stacking mechanic guiding who can speak at any given moment. There is no conflict resolution mechanic.

Actual Play

A game about yelling “hey, hey, hey” at each other and flying around like crows. Okay, I’m sold.

We went to just outside Big Bar II and followed the instructions:

After acquainting ourselves with the rules we will begin the game by spreading out, traveling in different directions for one minute. At the end of that one minute of travel we will stop in a safe place; this is our home. Around us is the environment we have spent our crow lives, these are the things to which we are acclimated and do not fear. Players will spend two minutes standing still and observing this environment while thinking peaceful, safe thoughts. Ask yourselves: What do I eat here? Where do I sleep? How do I spend my time?

Study the objects, the motion, the people around you. Listen to the sounds, smell the air. Nothing here is a threat.

While sitting in their home the crow should find a small object of some sort which can be used as a token: A pebble, a piece of paper, a stick, anything that conveniently fits into the palm of the hand. This object should be clean and safe to handle. If the player is uncomfortable taking something from the environment they may use something of their own, such as a coin or a die.

After the two minutes have elapsed all the crows will return to the play area for the funeral. As crows arrive they should arrange themselves back into their circle. When most of the crows have arrived the funeral will begin.

I ran into the bar itself, found a soy sauce packet that was left over on a table and then found a little place away from people and watched a boxing match that was projected on the all above me. I saw the people talking and was surprised to go largely unnoticed. One friend said hi, but otherwise I was able to think about my life as a crow there.

When I returned we found the dead crow and argued about how it died. The argument only took a few minutes, but it did include me throwing a fit when my theory wasn’t accepted and leaving the murder. This made me an outsider and I spent the rest of the game harassing the crows in my former murder, but I would never be a part of them again.


This game is very smart because it asks specific questions during the debrief.

What informed the arguments of the crows? Will they actually be safer for what was learned at the funeral? If there was a split in the murder, how will those different beliefs affect crow society?

Did anyone drop their token to remain with the murder? What did this represent?

Whose hands were usually at the top of the stack? Whose were at the bottom? Did the people who were mostly at the bottom feel respected during the funeral?

Who is speaking the most during the debrief? Is there a correlation between how people are speaking now and how they spoke during the game?

Smart stuff here! You should check it out.

Actual Play – The Upgrade (6/16/2016)

the upgradeHosts: Jon Cole and Kat Jones
Cast: Karen Twelves, James Stuart, John Stavropoulos, Kira Magrann, Dana Fried, Kristin Firth, Brodie Atwater
Audience: Preeti Gupton, Seth Gupton, Yoshi Creelman, Eric Mersman, Ross Cowman
Lighting effects: Scott Morningstar

The Line Ride

I was scheduled to host during this slot and was on line manager duty. However, after the games were all filled both the line manager (me) and the game assigner (Eric) didn’t really have much more of a job to do. Evan “Amazing” Torner said he would stay behind and collect tickets so Kristin, Eric, and me all went off to play in the upgrade, which still had six slots open!

Yay…except that we later found out that Evan ended up running a game for some folks that showed up late, making him both the admin person and a GM in a slot he wasn’t even supposed to be on. My first born is already 13 but I think by right she’s yours now Evan. Anyway… onto the game.

The Upgrade


The Upgrade! is a jeepform scenario by Vi åker jeep (We go by Jeep) that works much like a showcase for jeepform techniques. It uses telegraphing, contextualisation, monologues, insides and outsides, supporting characters, dissolves character ownership, repetition, etc.

The Upgrade! was first concieved, in a quite different format, during the Swedish con Halmicon in Halmstad, 2004 by Thorbiörn Fritzon and Tobias Wrigstad. It was then revised completely adding a third author, Olle Jonsson, to the credits roll, for Knutpunkt 2005 in Norway.

The game is about our prejudice for participants in reality shows and reality shows. In particular, Temptation Island and the like. Couples sign up to be in the show, are broken up and used to form new couples that date with cameras present and live together in the luxurious Upgrade! resort on some exotic location as far from everyday life as possible. In the end, there is a closed vote by all participants whether they would like to STAY in their old relationships, or UPGRADE to the new one. New relationsships where both partners independently votes UPGRADE get to stay together for another week at the UPGRADE luxury resort. The audience may also vote for the “couple of the week”, or by popular demand force two people into a couple if enough people believe that they would it each other. Couples that Upgrade! are rewarded in the spirit of creating good television. Couples that survive the show end up in the “Hall of Faith”. Sometimes, they will get a reward.

Our Game

We played vain people on a vain game in it for different reasons. Some of us wanted fame, some wanted to show off, some wanted adventure, some wanted a new love, some wanted money, and some just wanted to “CRUSH IT!” (probably my favorite tag line).

I’d break the game into four sections: selection and safety, character/relationship development, play, and debrief. Here’s a little bit of thought on all of those:

Selection and Safety

Not including Scott (who had already signed up to do the lighting) we had 13 players to fill 8 cast member roles, and no specific method of determining who would get those roles. As it turned out 10 folks wanted to be in the cast and two of them self selected out, which wasn’t a good feeling at the time (or as we proceeded). More on this below.

After that the eight cast members were given eight characters to pick between. I first selected a character who was casual about their infidelity and though we were playing a game that is essentially all about sensationalizing breaking the norms of relationships, I just didn’t feel like starting off with that in my background. I traded characters and settled on Alessio, who I played as far more exuberant (spotlight hog, super upbeat) than the background depicted, but otherwise felt good about.

Either just before or just after character selection we had a talk about safety techniques including the equivalent of cut/break (changed somewhat since “cut” is a term we would use as part of the directing style. Then we talked about touch boundaries, which I think is an entire other topic of conversation (and has been on G+).

Character/Relationship Development

Once we had selected characters, one of the Hosts met with the audience to prepare them for the show, and we were sent out of the room with questionnaires to fill out. One that we would do individually, and one that we would fill out as a couple. For me this was actually the funnest part of the game. Kira, John, and I sat around a table filling our forms out. About halfway through Kira (playing Patti) and I realized that we were partners and the form filling (which I know, we were supposed to do by ourselves) became much more fun. Some of the questions were really hard to imagine answers for, so bouncing ideas off each other was great.

When we got to the couple questions though, oh, it just shined so much! I felt like Kira and I were this amazing creative team making this super fallible couple were just a delight to talk about and by the end I really wanted both of them to be happy. They were self centered and vain but also cared about each other, and Patti’s young son John. I think some of my favorite antecdoes were Alessio’s pet name for Patti was was Patty-Cakes, which he would say when she got out of bed in the morning and he patted her bottom, and that “their” son was “Everything I Do” by Brian Adams. So corny!


Though the longest section, this part is the most like you’d expect. We were cast into scenes to create drama and tension, as well as audience members being cast to play other versions of ourselves (past versions, re-cut versions, future versions, etc.).

It was predictably ridiculous and horrible in that that delicious way that reality television always is. I embraced the premise pretty fully and played a character who wanted to showboat and “win” in terms of being popular on the show, but really wasn’t sure about actually “upgrading” (thought both Patti and Allessio did in the end, Hah!).

The end of the game tries to reproduce the prisoner’s dilemma but it puts the reward on the wrong side of it, so there’s no actual tension. There’s no penalty for “upgrading” so instead of the “best” result being the one that is hardest to achieve (neither member of the couple upgrades), the best result is the easiest to achieve (both upgrade) and the middling result (one upgrades, one does not) is still just as good for the one that upgrades. So it’s built up like a dilemma, but it really isn’t.


After the game we had a discussion of about how we felt, and were asked if there was anyone we want to apologize to. Debriefs, like touch boundaries are also a discussion of their own. Some of my thoughts on those below.

What rocked

After having just got out of Bluebeard’s Bride, it was great to play something light and silly (even if the premise is kind of the worst thing ever).

There were these moments, usually the ones “off camera” when I was just sitting next to Dana or John or Kira or Brodie and we had these in-character but not in-persona (i.e. we weren’t trying to showboat for the camera) moments that were just great. I really wanted to connect with Helen (played by John) but there was never quite the time to do it.

Some of the scenes were just amazing. Unpredictable, over the top, silly, and sometimes racy!

The hosts put a lot of energy into keeping our energy up, and a lot of that was done by calling on familiar tropes. Having every scene sponsored by some company, having them all shot “on location” and having the directors constantly tell us to spice it up or to make it more catty, was all great to invoke the pseudo-drama of reality TV.

What could have been improved

Suggestion for selection of roles: During sign ups have two sign up options: Cast and Audience. When you go to sign up you can pick which role you want to take until all of the cast (8 people) is filled and then you can only choose to be an audience member. That way, in being in the audience isn’t something you’d enjoy, you can just select another game.

Suggestion for safety rules: Make sure you have the rules in context. For example we had a primer on telegraphing when you’re going to touch someone, only then to determine there would be not touching. Also, if there is a no touching rule, the hosts have to be vigilant to maintain it.

Suggestion for determining touch boundaries: These may not cover every game, but there were two ideas that came up in our discussion, which were both very good:

  1. Advertise the expected touch boundaries in advance. If you know your game requires touching or not-touching, add that to the description.
  2. Treat the discussion of touch boundaries as though they are a normal thing, not something strange or foreign. We can talk about how we like to be touched (or not touched) like we talk about whether we take our coffee with sugar or cream. James’ specific idea that stood out to me was having badges or buttons that are easy to pick up and put on (or change) that indicate your comfort level (Red = no touching. Yellow = touching on hands and forearms, Green = touching on shoulders, back, and arms, or something along those lines)

Suggestion for debriefs: Even more so that touch boundaries, this may not be applicable to every game, but after thinking about this my self and reading a lot of discussions that came up after the con in G+, here are a few ideas for debriefs:

  1. Keep them positive if possible. We were asked if there was anyone we wanted to apologize to and then went around the room taking this really fun game and suddenly finding reasons to feel bad about it. Apologies should certainly be given if there is a reason but asking everyone if they have something to apologize brought the mood way down.
  2. Karen’s idea: Write specific debrief questions into your game. A Crow Funeral (2015 Golden Cobra submission) does this very well, asking questions about the game. Asking questions like: “Did anyone drop their token to remain with the murder? What did this represent?”
  3. If the game does not have questions written in, decide in advance what you want to achieve with the debrief. Brand Robins put up a great post just after Origins:

When you say debrief are you looking to:

1. De-role?
2. De-bleed?
3. Decompress?
4. Discuss?
5. Emotionally bond / de-bond?
6. Establish safety?
7. Reinforce meaning or challenge meaning?
8. Avoid the outside world by lounging in the magic circle a little longer?
9. Figure out how you feel about the other players, outside of the game?
10. Figure out how you feel about the other players, inside of the game?
11. Figure out how you feel about your own character?
12. Figure out how you feel about yourself?
13. Figure out one of the many possible combinations of the last 4 things?
14. Impose your views on others
15. Blame others
16. Congratulate others
17. Give design advice
18. Give play advice
19. Just shoot the shit and wait for the next game to start
20. Not

Because we tend to assume some combination of those things, but often without actually articulating, examining, or dealing with what that means, how we get that, or why.

  1. Make it very clear when the debrief is over by enacting a physical ritual, such as everyone getting up and putting away their chairs, leaving the room, or otherwise changing their environment. Discussion can continue if there are those who want to, but nobody is obligated to continue the discussion and the discussion doesn’t just continue unconsciously or because there is social pressure to stick around.


Actual Play – Juggernaut (12/19/2015)

juggernautPlayers: Adrienne Mueller, Eric Fattig, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Juggernaut

Oh wow. this game. this gameHere’s the premise:

JUGGERNAUT is card-based live-action roleplaying game about free will for 4-6 players from the creators of FIASCO and CAROLINA DEATH CRAWL.

It is July third, 1950. The Korean War is eight days old. National Security Council Report 68 is sitting on Harry Truman’s desk, a grim outline of the Cold War that is to enfold the world for the next 40 years. Alan Turing’s paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” is circulating for review. Cinderella is a box office sensation. And you have invented a computer that can see the future.

Employing cutting-edge Ward-Takahashi identity derivations outside their quantum-theoretical framework, JUGGERNAUT processes enormous data sets, ostensibly in the service of code-breaking once the technology is proven and refined. The unstable geniuses behind the math have reached some curious conclusions that only experimental evidence can confirm. By the numbers, JUGGERNAUT – given enough resources – should be able to crack ciphers before they are even invented.

Our cast

Dr. Takahashi (Adrienne) – In the beginning an eager, if defensive scientist. In the end, the only humanitarian among us, hateful of Brasseau, and prepared for a terrible end.

Dr. Dörflinger (Karen) – A brilliant doctor, obsessed with the legacy he would leave behind.

Major Van Der Meer (Eric) – A decorated veteran looking for solutions to military problems.  Ready to destroy the machine by the end.

Brasseau (Sean) – The voice of the people, looking for results, and obsessed with free will.

The Play is the Thing

Play was fantastic, and horrific, and surprising. From the first summary output we were on edge. By the third I was loosing my mind. By the middle we had turned against each other, then back, then against each other again. At the end, I was wrecked and wanted to give everyone a hug. Very much out of character!

What rocked

Oh man, this game is so good. And our group is so good. From the moment the game started everything was important, everything was meaningful.  Our characters were dynamic and real, with motivations that were both complex and easy to understand.

The system outputs were powerful, random, and terrible. The creative constraints they put on us were awesome. As characters we constantly railed against them. As players we fastidiously ensured they were all true. Some of the reveals (when an prediction would be actualized) were god damn creepy, even though as a player I knew were all just making sure they happened. Brains are weird that way!

What could have improved

I don’t think it’s coincidence that these situation first, rules almost never, games are producing some amazing single session experiences. Fall of Magic and this game were both fantastic. I could say the same for Witch, Inheritance, and Blood in the Bayou. These games have been great and delivered an amazing experience. They don’t lend themselves to multiple sessions or replay necessarily. And I think that is part of what makes them so good, because there is nothing to gain from them except the play itself. No experience points to gain, no treasure to loot.

The conundrum being that of course, I want to play campaign games where we see the characters grow. Yes getting all the sweet, sweet XPs, but also developing the characters, watching their relationships grow and change, seeing how the world affects us, and how we’re affected by it. Finding that sweet spot in the middle is tough. Our Blades game is there, but then that’s one that is nigh impossible to schedule. I want my cake and to eat it too!

Actual Play – Blood in the Bayou (9/6/2015)

p186700_b_v9_acGM (counter-players): Kat Jones, Evan Torner, and guest GM Jason Morningstar.
Players: Lizzie Stark (Raven, witch), Kristin Firth (Omar, human psychic), Scott Morningstar (Sam, human), Karen Twelves (Sexy Beast. werewolf), Stras Acimovic (Jolene, veteran werewolf), Shervyn Von Hoerl (Mimi, vampire warrior), Alex Roberts (Tanith, vampire), Liz Gorinsky (Celine, vampire), Barbara Ng (Cross, used to be married to Celine, human), Sara Williamson (Kim, human vampire wannabe), Jay Treat (alpha werewolf), Shawn Roske (Vanessa, human), Misha B (werewolf), Sean Nittner (Axel, vampire owner of the Nosferatu club). I may have missed some, this was going from memory.
System: Blood in the Bayou

Played out in just 52 minutes (the length of an episode of True Blood), this was one of the funnest larps I’ve ever played.

We started (the first hour or so) with Evan and Kat handing out roles that has brief descriptions, two suggestions for play, and three questions to answer. For instance I was:

Hedonist Club Owner
Revel in the sensual
Don’t take anything too seriously

1.) How did you become the owner of Nosferatu’s
2.) How did Jessie/Sam earn your respect?
3. ) Who do you pretend to hate this character?

I mean… already, it’s just dripping right? Once we had our characters we went around the room and introduced them, as well as answering the first question. For me it was performing diablerie, the worst of vampire crimes, on the previous owner Siegfried Van Helsing and taking not only his club, but also his powers. Like you do.

Some of the characters had multiple gender/name options, so the second question was answered once you knew who was in play. If the character you were supposed to have a relationship wasn’t in play, the counter-players (GMs) would match two characters missing a connection with each other and tweak the questions (if needed) to suit each other.

For mine, Sam (a mere mortal but part of a vampire hunting family) earned my respect by walking into Nosferatu’s once and showing no fear of Siegfried.

Finally, the third question was answered by finding another person you didn’t already have a connection with and building something with them. I picked Kim, the mortal who wanted immortality. I constantly dismissed her, saying she didn’t know the cost, while secretly wanting nothing more than to sire her myself.

I was also tied up in an affair with Vanessa, and killed Tanith’s sire. All sorts of juice bits.

A final conceit of the game was a living world. Each location we played in (Jacks’s Tavern, The Woods, Nosferatu Club, The Graveyard, The Hospital) had a folder with a sheet of paper in it that told everyone who looked in there what was true of the place. The decor, the vibe, the dead bodies in the freezer, that sort of thing. As we played and the world changed, we updated these sheets, changing the world around us.

Each counter-player was assigned a location or two and stayed in that area to provide provocation as needed. It was rarely needed.

Sex and Violence

We started the game split up into our faction locations (Humans in Jacks, Werewolves in the woods, etc). Our counter-players then gave us a prompt to start the game. Apparently this prompt was taken very, very, differently.

The Werewolves were told that a war with the vampires were brewing and they had better make the first move. RAWR, lets kill some vampires. Let’s also get the crazy necromancer witch to cast a spell that would control the undead. Death and victory awaits!

The Vampires were told that a ware with the werewolves was brewing. And we were like… meh. War is boring. What has our prince done for us lately. We’d rather lounge around and be sexy. Oh, and fuck you counter-player NPC, we’re going to eat you too.

So you can imagine what happened with the two forces same together.  Sex and Violence, just not in that order. We had Werewolves and Vampires fighting, only to later be making out in the hospital bed. We had humans barricading themselves up in Jack’s to hide that they had killed Jack long ago and stuck him in the freezer, but it was okay because Raven the Witch was going to bring him back to life. We had so much posturing and bravado, and feigned indifference. Oh my god, it was delicious.

What Rocked

The “combat” mechanic for the game was just awesome. Two people basically got to describe how they were awesome, landed brutal blows, got all kinds of bloody, etc. They kept narrating until one of the decided to lose and describes themselves succumbing. At that point the winner writes down the losers name and at the end of the game, says something awesome about them in the debrief. Very cool.

I was playing an idiot of a character who was trying never to let on that he had no idea what he was doing. If anyone challenged him his aloof response was usually “whatever”. I was doing my best to channel Paul Rudd’s character Andy from Wet Hot American Summer. Also I touched my chest a lot (making it sensual) and laid down on lots of things (pianos, coffins, walk in freezers, whatever). Playing a total hedonist that was way over his head was so much fun.

In particular my relationship with Kim was just so ridiculously pretentious and emo. “No Kim, you don’t know what it means to be like us… I’ll never turn you” all the while showing all the body language that meant I was just about to turn her. Similarly Kim held the sword of the vampire hunters always holding it close… was it a threat or an invitation… And, we would certainly have ended in a romp of sex and undeath had it not been for Celine, protecting Kim from her own desires… and of course from Axel.

Other great moments… there as some discussion of the bones in an urn or something. It was one of those major plot points that whipped by me but seemed to drive a lot of action. It turned out to be totally fine that I was oblivious to all of this enough through a drove a ton of the action of the game. Yay, captain oblivious!

The counter-players did a fantastic job of bringing everyone up to speed as we entered new locations… especially those with fights going on.

Our end of game debrief was awesome. We got to hear a lot of great moments from the game that we missed when they happened, and we also each had a “next time on Blood in the Bayou” scene that we narrated as a teaser for the next episode.

What could have improved

These two are related I think:

  1. There wasn’t quite enough time to get everything in. I had some fun interactions with the human’s in Jacks but I wasn’t really sure what they were up to or how it affected the vampires. I did have one creepy scene with Vanessa as I delivered their missing shipment of True Blood personally and int was all kinds of fun finding the frozen body of Jack in the freezer, but I wasn’t sure what it was all about.
  2. The vampires and the werewolves started off pitted against each other so we had a clear agenda (even if we were blowing it off) to engage with each other. I wasn’t sure where the humans fit in with that. They seemed a bit isolated from my perspective, though that may have just been me.

Our location (The Nosferatu Club) ended up being pretty much abandoned except at the beginning and the end of the game. Physically it was located between other locations so it ended up being something of a thoroughfare. It wasn’t a problem (much more interesting things were happening in the Woods, Jacks, and in the hospital beds…ooo la la) but I think if given the option, I’d make each location more of a specific destination.

Final thoughts

I <3 this game so much. I could have spent the whole con playing a season of the show!

Actual Play-ish – The Cookie Larp (9/5/2015)

Players: Eric Mersmann, Jenn Martin, Sean Nittner
System: Cooking

Okay, I’m cheating to call this actual play, but we called everything that wasn’t already named a larp at Sandcon. The porch larch, the laundry larp, the beach larp. So, since this was an event on the schedule, and I was technically the organizer, I’m listing it!

Eric, my hero of hedonism, my savior or sweets, my champion of confections, brought with him not only three rolls of frozen cookie dough, but also a veritable bounty of delights for decorating them.

Just as we started cooking Kira said she was going to the beach and wanted a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips. Though it means Jenn and I making a trip out to the beach and exposing ourselves to that terrible day star, we delivered them as promised!

Some pretty amazing cookies up in here:

What rocked

Eric’s prep. Made it all easy!

Jenn and I taking cookies out on the beach like fairy godmothers… with cookies.

Making special cookies for our hosts (Jason, Lizzie, and James).

Having fun with friends baking and getting creative with decorations! Jenn made a big dipper!

What could have been improved

It’s cookies, yo. It doesn’t get much better. Unless it was an 8 out of 10 or better brownie on the Jstav scale. Next year… brownies.