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!